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Patrick Nichols | 10.24.2017

Hawaii is quite a paradise, from its famous beaches to its rugged mountains. Although the entire island of Oahu is best if visited over the course of many days, those looking into a shorter stay should check out this guide to Honolulu's top destinations. See the most noteworthy sites (within 20 miles of the city) in just three days for a quick vacation that you will never forget! 

Day 1

  • 7:00 a.m. Start the day early to avoid the heat and the crowds at Diamond Head Crater. This short hike is one of Hawaii's most iconic landmarks, with a unique history and superb views of downtown and the majestic Ko'olau mountains. 
  • 10:00 a.m. Now that the tropical sun is up, head to Waikīkī for brunch and an afternoon in the warm turquoise waters. This famous section of beaches is also known for its watersports, shopping, and restaurants. Spend some time paddleboarding, visiting the aquarium, or sipping drinks at the Royal Hawaiian!
  • 3:00 p.m. After a relaxing stay at the beach, head back into Manoa valley for a short and extremely popular hike to Manoa Falls. Meander through dense tropical forest to a shallow pool and towering waterfall that flows quite heavily after a recent rain. Bring some sturdy shoes for the often muddy trail!
  • 5:30 p.m. As the afternoon sun begins to descend toward the horizon, drive 15 minutes from Manoa to the top of Round Top Drive. Here at the Tantalus Lookout, sunset views are unbeatable! Look to the west and see Pearl Harbor and the Waianae Mountains in the distance. To the south is Diamond Head and the rest of the southern coastline. Make the evening romantic and bring a picnic dinner to enjoy on the lawn. 

Day 2

  • 9:00 a.m. This morning we head to the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites for a glimpse back in time to the infamous attack that precipitated the U.S. entry into World War II. Spend some time perusing the many galleries close to the entrance and take the short ferry ride to the USS Arizona Memorial. The Missouri offers an extensive below-deck look into life on a battleship while the USS Bowfin has a self-guided tour of a full-size naval submarine. 
  • 12:00 p.m. The 'Aiea Loop Trail is the next stop, given its proximity to Pearl Harbor. This popular loop trail wanders through second-growth forest and provides a perfect nature escape from the bustling city. Listen to the birds in the trees and smell the rich scent of lemon eucalyptus as you make your way through hardwoods, cloud forest, pines, and a jungle gulch. For the more adventurous, head south for a steep hike up Kuli'ou'ou Ridge with rewarding views of the windward and leeward sides of the island. 
  • 6:00 p.m. By this time you will be quite ready for dinner near the Kaka'ako waterfront. Although the park itself is rundown, the surrounding neighborhood is home to some of the trendiest up-and-coming restaurants on the island. For local Hawaiian family-style food, head to Highway Inn. For upscale, locally-sourced dishes, Moku Kitchen is fantastic, or head to the wharf for fresh seafood at Nico's Pier 38. 

Day 3

  • 4:30 a.m. No rest for the weary in paradise! By now you've seen some amazing Hawaiian sunsets, but how about those sunrises? It's still dark out and we're heading to the windward side for a quick hike up the Lanikai Pillbox Trail. Bring a flashlight or headlamp to maneuver along the narrow ridge to abandoned bunkers with an outstanding view of Lanikai Beach, the Mokulua islands, and the windward coast as the sun rises over the ocean.
  • 7:00 a.m. After a scenic drive around the southern point of O'ahu, stop at Hanauma Bay State Park before the crowds for some snorkeling around Hawai'i's famous coral reefs. Here marine life is protected, so turtles and reef fish are plentiful. Be sure to bring reef-safe sunscreen, as oxybenzone in normal sunscreen is detrimental to coral reefs. Dry off on the beach, or head up one of the many hiking paths along the crater rim for elevated views of the entire bay and surroundings.
  • 1:00 p.m. Lunch in Kahala, just south of Diamond Head, is sure to please any appetite. If you haven't had enough of the white-sand beaches, be sure to visit Kahala Beach, a quiet and less crowded alternative to Waikīkī, for one final dip in the tropical water. Then drive down Kahala Avenue and Diamond Head Road to see some of O'ahu's glamorous mansions. Just behind Diamond Head Crater is the Diamond Head Lighthouse and Kuilei Cliffs overlook, a popular surfing spot.
  • 5:30 p.m. For sunset, head back south toward the upscale Portlock neighborhood to a local scenic vista at Spitting Cave. The steep cliffs are popular among fishermen and those looking to catch a glimpse of radiant sunsets as the frothy water pummels the rocks below. Bring cash for the insanely delectable Leonard's Bakery food truck in Hawai'i Kai, delivering hot malasadas late into the night.


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