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Most people might not get it: you came all the way to Honolulu to escape your everyday… and now you want to go somewhere else? For some, the perfect vacation is 5-7 days of laying out on Waikiki Beach under a blazing Hawaiian sun. But that’s not the trip for me – I get bored after a day or two and want to experience some culture or scenery. Maybe it’s not the trip for you either. To that end, I’ve pulled together the best ways to escape Hawaii’s biggest city, whether it’s on a day trip or one of these weekend trips from Honolulu.
I’ve been to Honolulu several times, most recently in April 2021. And while I love window shopping and sunbathing, my idea of a perfect trip to Hawaii also includes going somewhere other than Waikiki. Even if it’s just for a day trip from Honolulu, I think you can get to know Oahu and the Hawaiian islands better by exploring beyond the major cities on each island.
In this post, I’ll break down some of my favorite day trips and weekend trips from Honolulu. I start with day trips; these are, unsurprisingly, mostly ones you can take right on Oahu. Then I move into weekend trips which will allow you to explore more of Hawaii and even other parts of the U.S. (yep – in a weekend!).
This post will inspire you, whether you’re visiting Honolulu for a short-ish trip or are living in Hawaii for any amount of time and know you can’t just stick to the tourist trails in Waikiki. After reading this post, you’ll have a good idea for your options to explore further and make the most of your time in Hawaii by taking a day trip or weekend trip from Honolulu.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Kō Hawaiʻi Paeʻāina (Hawaiian Kingdom) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. The North Shore
The North Shore is one of the most popular day trips from Honolulu – and for good reason. With beautiful beaches, huge waves, adorable shops, and tasty food joints, what more could you ask for?
Since there are so many things to do on the North Shore, it can be hard to fit it all into just a day or two. You can watch the pro surfers at Banzai Pipeline, grab a delicious acai bowl from Kahuku Farms, cliff jump at Waimea Bay, stroll through the historic Haleiwa shops, and devour a plate from one of the famous North Shore shrimp trucks.
2. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is just 25 minutes outside of Honolulu, but you can easily spend an entire day there, making it one of the best day trips from Honolulu.
While there are many amazing snorkeling spots on Oahu, Hanauma Bay is the only one that is fantastic all year round. Since Hanauma Bay is, well, a bay, it has small waves and weaker currents throughout the year, making it ideal for snorkeling.
During your day of sun, sand, and snorkeling, you’ll constantly be in awe of the beauty below the surface of the water. You’ll see everything from friendly fish to colorful coral to awe-inspiring turtles. If you’re lucky, you might even spot Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a – also known as a triggerfish.
3. Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, the U.S. navy base at Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Navy Air Service. Hundreds of Americans lost their lives that day. Over 1,000 people passed away on the USS Arizona alone. This event was so monumental that it prompted the United States to become involved in World War II.
Today, you can take a day trip to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial to pay your respects, learn about this historic event, and potentially even meet a soldier who lived through it.
4. Polynesian Cultural Center
While the Polynesian Cultural Center is technically on the North Shore of Oahu, you can easily spend an entire day at this one attraction. As a matter of fact, the Polynesian Cultural Center is known as the most popular paid attraction on the entire island!
During your time at this amazing stop, you can meander through six Polynesian villages, watch someone climb a palm tree, go to a lovely luau, and catch an evening cultural show.
Wahiawa is a little city in central Oahu that flies under most visitors’ radars. That said, there are loads of hidden gems in this little Hawaii town.
The most popular thing to do in Wahiawa is to visit the Dole Plantation, which is a little way out of town. While there, you can enjoy a Dole whip, take a train ride through the pineapple fields, buy a bunch of pineapple-flavored treats, and wander around the world’s largest maze.
But the Dole Plantation isn’t the only attraction in Wahiawa. You can also stop and smell the flowers at the Wahiawa Botanical Garden, check out the Manoa Honey & Mead, and learn the history behind the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones.
6. Oahu Road Trip
Many visitors think that they can drive around the entire island of Oahu in one day. And while it is plausible to do this as a day trip from Honolulu, I recommend making your Oahu road trip a weekend trip rather than a day trip.
If you start at one end of Oahu’s road loop (either in Waialua on the North Shore or Waianae on the Westside), it takes about four hours to drive all around the island. But this estimate doesn’t include the many amazing stops and the unfortunate reality of Oahu’s horrendous traffic. Also, as most people start in Honolulu, you may want to do a road trip up the island’s east coast, cross the central Leilehua Plateau, and drive up (and back down) the west coast.
A few must-see areas for your Oahu road trip include the North Shore, Haleiwa, and Wahiawa.
Some of the best weekend trips from Honolulu are the other Hawaiian Islands! There are loads of interisland flights on Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines, and Southwest Airlines every single day.
One beautiful island that you can visit for the weekend is Kauai; it’s a 40-minute flight from Honolulu to Lihue, where the airport is located. This Hawaiian Island is a hiker’s paradise. You can hike part of the famous Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast, trek through Waimea Canyon, and find the hidden gems of the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail.
If you’re not much of a hiker, there are other things to do on Kauai. You can soak up the sun at Hanalei Bay, shop in the little town of Hanapepe, grab a few taro-based treats from Holey Grail Donuts, and say hello to the nene geese at the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge.
Maui is another one of the most popular interisland weekend trips from Honolulu. Known as the Valley Isle, Maui offers a ton of different experiences depending on your interests. It’s a 35-40 minute flight from Oahu to Maui.
During your weekend in Maui, there are a few things that you must do. You’ll definitely want to catch the sunrise from Haleakala, drive the winding road to Hana, and learn the history behind Iao Valley. And if you happen to have a little extra time, you can also enjoy the beauty of Makena Beach, hike the Waihee Ridge Trail, explore historic Lahaina town, and devour delightful shaved ice from Ululani’s.
9. The Big Island
When taking weekend trips from Honolulu to the Big Island, you’ll need to decide if you want to visit the Kona side or the Hilo side. This is because the Big Island is pretty big to try and tackle the whole thing in a weekend!
On the Kona side, you can enjoy loads of sunshine, sandy beaches, and sweet animals. You can swim at Kua Bay, snorkel at Kealakekua Bay, say hello to the marine life at the Kanaloa Octopus Farm, and snorkel with manta rays at night.
The Hilo side, on the other hand, is rainier and quieter, but it has its own type of beauty. You can visit the beautiful Akaka Falls, check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and stop by Pohoiki Black Sand Beach.
It’s a 45-50 minute flight from Oahu to the Big Island.
If you’re looking to get off the grid but still enjoy the luxuries of being a tourist, Lanai is the place to go! Most visitors that go to Lanai like to simply book a room at one of the two elegant Four Seasons resorts and relax. But if you’d like to get out and explore, you’ll have quite a few options. You can swim with dolphins in Hulopoe Bay, check out the otherworldly landscape of Keahiakawelo, take a few pictures of Sweetheart Rock, and hike the Munro Trail.
To reach Lana’i from Oahu, you’ll fly to Maui, then catch the Lana’i ferry. This makes it a bit more travel time than the other islands.
The last Hawaiian Island that you can visit is Molokai. This beautiful island is perfect if you want to get off the grid, escape the crowds, and leave the luxuries of life behind. There are no chain hotels and very few guided tours.
That said, there are still loads of things to see and do on this little island. You can ride a mule on the Kalaupapa Trail, see the 3,000-foot Oloupena Falls, admire the blooming blossoms at the Molokai Plumeria Orchard, and watch the Molokai Ka Hula Piko Festival. On our trip to Moloka’i, we visited Hālawa Park and had a cultural experience there.
12. The Mainland
If you have a long weekend (like three days – or four if you also take a day off work), you can take a short trip to the mainland, also known as the continental United States. While the shortest flights are five hours and thirty minutes, a weekend getaway can still be worth it depending on your destination.
Some of the most popular mainland trips from Hawaii include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. As you know, I love all of these west coast cities, so you really can’t go wrong!
Since Alaska technically isn’t part of the U.S. mainland, it can count as a separate weekend trip from Honolulu. Flights between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Anchorage, Alaska are only about 6 hours – which is pretty reasonable considering it takes ten hours to travel from Honolulu to the East Coast.
Once you travel from the land of sunny skies to one filled with magical icy landscapes, you’ll find loads of things to do. You can explore Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, visit Denali National Park, and see the Northern Lights (if you visit in the winter)!
Which of these weekend or day trips from Honolulu are you adding to your itinerary? Have any questions about these day and weekend trips from Honolulu? Let me know in the comments.