Ever since 2011, when I dipped my toes into the world of solo travel with my first trip to Paris, I’ve had an insatiable appetite to explore the world on my own. The freedom and confidence growing with each solo journey is empowering and overflows into every aspect of my life.
The older I get, the more I gravitate toward the sea (and all water). There is something about water, sand and clear blue skies that has a meditative effect on me. I appreciate nature more now than I did in my 20s and 30s. That’s why Hawaii gently twisted my arm to come visit her.
Oahu is a perfect destination for us solo travelers to immerse ourselves in nature. The sea, the mountains, the lush tropical forests; it’s not just the beach and the laid-back lifestyle, but the locals are also friendly. The weather is great and Oahu is a safe destination for solo travelers.
There’s so much to do and see on Oahu, and I’m sharing a few highlights here that I enjoy when exploring the island solo.
I love the North Shore and Haleiwa is the center of that part of Oahu. The North Shore is the “real Oahu”, celebrating the surfing lifestyle.
You can easily spend a good chunk of your day in Haleiwa strolling through all the cool stores selling everything from clothes and t-shirts to surf gear and homewares. Most stores are located directly on Kamehameha Highway for a one-mile stretch. Much of this stretch has a sidewalk, but part of the path does not.
Haleiwa offers some of the best food on Oahu. I love grabbing a breakfast burrito at Kono’s in the North Shore Market, finding a picnic table nearby, and watching the island chickens scurry around. There are a few sit down restaurants.
Pro Tip: I like to avoid restaurants in favor of a plated lunch at a food truck. Oahu has a very food truck-oriented lifestyle perfectly suited to solo travelers. This is clear in Haleiwa, where there are food trucks everywhere. My favorite is the North Shore pancakes. Just look for the nice VW van.
2. Shave the ice at Matsumoto
You may encounter a long line of tourists and locals in Haleiwa waiting for a shave ice cream treat at Matsumoto. Believe me, it’s worth it.
In addition to serving shaved ice, the adjoining store sells all manner of merchandise. T-shirts, pancake mixes and other gift items are available.
Pro Tip: Ask for the vanilla ice cream too! Believe me.
Fun fact: The Matsumotos opened their grocery store in 1951, eventually converting it to sell merchandise and souvenirs, then expanded and began selling shaved ice topped with their own syrup recipes. Matsumoto’s is still a family business with only one location in the world.
3. World-Class Surfing on the Banzai Pipeline
A real treat if you visit the North Shore of Oahu during the winter months is to watch the professional surfers. You need a car to get to the pipeline. Pass Waimea for approximately 2 miles on the Kamehameha Highway to the “pipeline”.
This is Hawaii’s best-known surfer-watching spot. When the surf is good, the northwest swell forms those perfect barrels.
The best view is about 100 meters to the left of Ehukai Beach Park. If you’re lucky and get a parking space in the park, you’re only a few steps from the beach. The alternative is street parking.
Pro tip: Ask a shopkeeper at one of the surf shops in Haleiwa if the surfers are at the pipeline today. They will know if the conditions are met to go watch that day. If so, be prepared for traffic jams and know that it is worth it! It’s a wonder to see the power of nature creating these waves.
4. Kō Hana Hawaiian Farm Rum Distillery
Visiting the Kō Hana Distillery and tasting their rum is a unique Hawaiian experience. While molasses is the base of most rums, they make Kō Hana rum from the fresh juice of 36 varieties of heirloom sugar cane. These varieties are native to Hawaii, and like the winemaker’s grape, each cane variety produces a distinct flavor.
Kō Hana offers two different tours. Each tour also ends with a rum tasting. If you don’t have time for a visit, you can always enjoy a tasting.
5. Lanikai Beach
This half-mile-long stretch of beach is postcard-perfect. The spectacular blue of the water and the fine sand make Lanikai Beach one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. On the windward side of Oahu, the water is calm and a wonderful place for reef snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking.
Parking here can be difficult. There is free street parking on one side of Mokulua Drive. This area is residential, and access to the beach is via public walkways between properties, which helps reduce crowds.
Pro Tip: Get there early in the day for a better chance of parking nearby, or you may need to park at Kailua Beach and walk (less than a mile) to Lanikai Beach. Kailua Beach has ample parking and restrooms. Lanikai and Kailua Beach do not connect.
6. Mokuleia Beach
When I travel solo, I prefer to avoid the crowds. So if you’re looking for a beach that makes you feel like it’s all yours, this stretch of sandy shoreline is perfect. Although the waves are rough and you can’t swim here in the winter, it’s the seemingly endless miles of beach that appeals to those looking for an escape from the crowded beaches in many other parts of Oahu. Here you can just park your car and walk on the beach. Take highway 930 (Farrington Highway) and choose your corner of paradise beach.
7. Wahiawa Botanical Garden
The Wahiawā Botanical Garden is located in central Oahu, in the town of Wahiawā. This 27-acre botanical garden has two levels. The upper level and a ravine which is dense rainforest. Maps are available at the entrance and a self-guided tour is also included in the brochure. Access to the ravine is via a steep path, which may be difficult to navigate for some, but those with mobility issues can still enjoy the upper part of the garden. Free entry.
8. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is backed by the Ko’olau Mountains. Although you can walk around the garden, it is best to cross and stop at the parking lots to inspect. At the top, there is a parking lot and a lookout that you can walk to. The view from the platform is breathtaking. The mountains, with their blanket of greenery, surround you and you feel you can almost reach out and touch them. You can drive across in 20 minutes, but why not allow at least two hours? Free entry.
9. Wearing pearls
Pearl Harbor is a must when visiting Oahu. Taking that short, dark ride to the USS Arizona Memorial was surreal. Strolling through the park and strolling through the museum was captivating. Being there on the site itself is an unforgettable experience. You can spend half a day there.
Pro tip: If you can’t get USS Tour tickets Arizona Memorial, arrive early the day you want to go. You stand in line and they add a few appointments to each departure for the memorial. I arrived first and had no trouble getting on the boat.
10. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
Instead of battling the crowds in Waikiki looking for fun souvenirs, this is the place to go. When I travel solo, I like one-stop shopping, so I have more time for experiences, and it’s a fun place to people watch.
The exchange meeting is open three times a week: Wednesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Up to 400 vendors sell everything from ukuleles to fresh fruit. Admission is $2 for ages 12 and up. Find additional details here.
11. Bailey’s Aloha Antiques and Shirts
Ask anyone on Oahu where to get a vintage Hawaiian shirt and they’ll name Bailey’s Antiques in Honolulu. Even if you’re not looking for a shirt, still stop by to see photos of famous people who have purchased shirts here.
If you’ve been considering taking a solo trip to Oahu, you should. With a small and easy to navigate airport, a major road network that makes it easy to drive from one side of the island to the other, quiet beaches and a food truck scene perfect for those of us who dine solo. , you can’t beat it for that once-in-a-lifetime solo travel experience.
Pro Tip: Rent a car. We solo travelers are an independent bunch, and seeing the island by car is the best way to go. My suggestion is to check out Turo.