The Perfect 3 Day Oahu Itinerary for a First Time Visitor

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Grass and greenery with the ocean, sand, mountains, and a building in the background
Oahu is an amazing vacation destination with lots to do for first-time visitors

Oahu is one of the spectacular Hawaiian Islands that is a must-visit when on vacation in Hawaii. The island is where you'll find popular destinations, such as Honolulu, and there are many attractions to enjoy.

If you're a first-time visitor to the destination, this 3 day Oahu itinerary will let you know what you must see. From beautiful beaches to adventurous hikes and historical landmarks, this itinerary ensures you don't miss any must-see spots!

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  • 3 day itinerary
  • Average of 5 stops per day

3 Days in Oahu Itinerary

Oahu Map

A map of Oahu. Use the map to explore all the days and stops.

Oahu’s Major Landmarks

A beach with skyscrapers to the side and a mountain in the background
Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Crater are two of the landmarks you'll see

Your first day in Oahu will see you visiting some of the island’s most well-known landmarks. The first half of the day will be spent at landmarks of historical importance. These sites include the Pearl Harbor memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

In the afternoon, you’ll tackle the hike to Diamond Head Crater, where you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding area. After that, you can relax with a laid-back trip to Waikiki Beach.

A white memorial building with an American flag in front of it, sitting on the water
Pearl Harbor is a must-see site for first-time visitors to Oahu

Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor in Honolulu is one of the most famous sites in the United States, with the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor paying homage to those killed in the WWII attack.

You can find a range of Pearl Harbor tours to choose from that will offer you an in-depth look into this National Historic Landmark. The Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum are also located at the Pearl Harbor historic site.

A gray submarine sitting above the water with grass and trees in front of it
The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum is an interesting attraction at Pearl Harbor

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum is part of the Pearl Harbor site in Honolulu. This museum is housed on a submarine, and when visiting, you can explore the vessel and learn more about its role in the military.

Exhibits cover the history of the USS Bowfin and feature a range of artifacts, from battle flags to bells. Looking around this submarine museum offers a fascinating insight into what it’s like to be on a real underwater vessel.

Do you want to see the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park on a tour?

Steps leading up to a stone memorial with US flags and greenery surrounding
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is another historical site in Oahu

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is another historic site that you must add to your Oahu vacation itinerary. This memorial cemetery is a tribute to those lost in and still missing from WWII, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. It’s also the final resting place of 25,000 soldiers who died in those wars.

Another memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is dedicated to Ellison Onizuka, a Hawaiian astronaut who perished on the Challenger. Despite being a somber site, this Honolulu landmark is a must-visit.

Do you want to join a tour to explore the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific?

A volcanic mountain with greenery in front of it under a blue sky with clouds
The Diamond Head Crater hike is offers amazing scenic views

Diamond Head Crater

The Diamond Head Crater is part of the Diamond Head State Monument, an iconic geological feature in Oahu. Hiking to this volcanic crater is one of the best free things to do in Oahu, and is a must-do if looking for an adventurous activity.

The hiking trails offer amazing views, and you’ll get to enjoy stunning panoramic views of Oahu once at the top of the crater. If looking for a more intensive workout, you can do a combination of hiking and biking to Diamond Head Crater.

A sandy beach with palm trees, blue ocean, and buildings in the distance
Waikiki Beach is one of Oahu's most beautiful beaches

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is one of Oahu’s most incredible beaches, and relaxing here is a must for all first-time visitors to the island. If visiting with your partner, hanging out at Waikiki Beach is an ideal Oahu couples activity too.

You can find many other activities to try on Waikiki Beach along with chilling on the white sand and sunbathing. These activities include surfing, sunset cruises, and going on glass-bottom boats. If you feel like visiting another beach, the pretty Ala Moana Beach is just a ten-minute drive away.

Exploring the Windward Coast

Turquoise ocean with palm trees to the side and green mountains in the background
The windward coast is a scenic area of Oahu

Day two of your three-day Itinerary for Oahu will be spent primarily on the windward coast. You’ll start the day wandering around the beautiful Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden before going birdwatching at the Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

Next, you can hang out at the scenic Kailua Beach before giving the Lanikai Pillbox hike a go. Having completed the hike and taken in the amazing views, you’ll end your day relaxing or snorkeling at Lanikai Beach.

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A lake surrounded by greenery under a blue, cloudy sky
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden features exotic plants and scenic lakes

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

If looking for a relaxing and tropical outdoor area to explore, you’ll love Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. The 400-acre garden houses a multitude of beautiful plants, flowers, and trees. You can also walk around lakes and are guaranteed to spot an array of wildlife.

Botanical collections on display feature flora from Hawaii, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and many other exotic places. If interested in birds, be sure to pick up a bird spotting guide to use as you wander through the gardens.

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A small body of water surrounded by green grass under a stormy sky
Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a Hawaiian waterbird protection area

Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a wetland habitat designed to protect endangered waterbirds. The wildlife sanctuary is an ideal place to visit if you want to bird-watch and explore a stunning natural area.

You will also discover many walking trails here to follow. As you walk around the sanctuary, you’ll spot many bird species and can take in the green marsh landscape.

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A trip to Kailua Beach must be on your 3 day Oahu itinerary
Including a trip to Kailua Beach on your 3 day Oahu itinerary is a must

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach is another stunning Oahu beach located on the windward coast. This scenic beach has white sand shores and calm waters, perfect for swimming.

Kayaking at Kailua Beach is also a very popular activity, and you can find multiple companies renting equipment. Hitting the water on a kayak is the ideal way to explore the area around Kailua Beach and spot some wildlife. Other activities to try here include windsurfing, kitesurfing, and paddleboarding.

A tropical beach town with turquoise ocean and grey mountains behind it
The Lanikai Pillbox hike offers stunning views of Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

The Lanikai Pillbox hike, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge hike, is a scenic hike that offers spectacular views of Lanikai Beach and the surrounding area. The hike is easy to moderate, so will be manageable for most activity levels.

Once you reach the highest point on the hike, you’ll discover two military bunkers overlooking the beach below. Having taken in the breathtaking views, you can head back down to check out the beach itself. If interested in watching the sunrise or sunset from this location, move this hike to the start or end of your day.

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Blue water washing onto sand with rocks on either side and mountains in the distance
Lanikai Beach is the perfect place to swim, snorkel, and hang out

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach is a picturesque beach located on the Oahu windward coast. This beach features stunning white sand and sparkling crystal blue water.

Along with hanging out on the beach, you can swim, snorkel, and kayak here. Spending a few relaxing hours at Lanikai Beach is an ideal addition to your 3 day Oahu itinerary.

Oahu’s Best Outdoor Destinations

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Blue ocean next to a sandy beach and palm tree and greenery in the distance
Waimea Beach Park is a stunning location you'll see on day 3 in Oahu

On the last day of your Oahu vacation itinerary, you’ll get to visit Oahu’s prettiest outdoor attractions. The day will start at the georgeous Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, where you can snorkel and spot exotic fish and green sea turtles. Next, you’ll head to Kualoa Regional Park before going to the Waimea Valley in search of stunning waterfalls.

In the afternoon, you can enjoy water activities at Waimea Bay Beach Park. You’ll end the day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you'll get to shop and experience a traditional luau.

A cove with sandy beach, blue ocean, and greenery-covered mountains
When snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, you'll see turtles and tropical fish

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is an Oahu landmark known for its clear waters, sandy beach, and an array of marine life. The area is actually a protected conservation area, but a limited number of tourists can visit each day.

Due to the high visibility waters and many sea creatures living here, Hanauma Bay makes for a perfect snorkeling location. When in the water, you’ll see an array of colorful tropical fish and may also spot green sea turtles, rays, and sharks.

Do you want to see the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on a tour?

A greenery-covered peninsula with sand on the edge, surrounded by ocean
Kualoa Regional Park features scenic beaches and is a great place to watch the sunset

Kualoa Regional Park

Another incredible park in Oahu is Kualoa Regional Park. This scenic park features beaches and places to fish, picnic, barbecue. You can also get to Mokoli'i Island directly from here. Other popular activities at Kualoa Regional Park include kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing on the beach.

Kualoa Regional Park is additionally one of the best places in Oahu to watch the sunset. Heading back to the park just before dark to see this beautiful sight is a highly recommended addition to your Oahu vacation itinerary.

© Ryan Stout via
A waterfall flowing into a pool with greenery-covered rocks surrounding it
The Waimea Valley features stunning waterfalls and incredible beaches

Waimea Valley

The Waimea Valley is another amazing location on Oahu's North Shore. The area boasts an array of outdoor attractions like waterfalls and hiking trails.

Hiking to the stunning Waimea Falls is one of the most popular things to do when in the area. Following the trail through the lush jungle to the breaking waterfall is relaxing and memorable. When in the Waimea Valley, you can also go to multiple beaches, including Waimea Bay Beach Park, snorkel, dive, and surf.

A sandy beach with blue water and greenery and rocks surrounding the sand
You can enjoy lots of water activities at Waimea Bay Beach Park

Waimea Bay Beach Park

Waimea Bay Beach Park is another of the stunning coastal areas in Oahu. This beach features white sand and high waves, making it an ideal surfing location. Other fun water activities to try here include bodyboarding, snorkeling, and swimming.

If you don't feel like getting in the water, you can relax on the beach and watch surfers from there. Waimea Bay Beach Park is also the perfect place to see dolphins and turtles, along with an array of other wildlife.

Do you want an easy way to visit Waimea Bay Beach Park?

A straw sign with Polynesian statues and trees and buildings surrounding it
You'll discover a vast array of attractions at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center is a fun tourist hotspot focused on Hawaiian culture and activities. The complex features six villages with a range of attractions to see.

Activities to try include canoeing on the on-site lake, shopping for unique souvenirs, and attending an evening luau with Polynesian dancing and Hawaiian dishes. Visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center is a memorable must-do activity in Oahu.

Are you interested in visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center?

In Summary

Oahu is an incredible destination, and you'll discover an array of attractions for first-time visitors. Whether you like cultural activities, spending time at the beach or hiking through beautiful scenery, you'll have an amazing time in Oahu!

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Written by Alli Sewell

allisewell WRITER Currently based in Canada, Alli has also lived and worked in the UK and Brazil and traveled in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. She loves finding the best photo-ops and food and drink locations wherever she goes.

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