9 Best Things to Do in West Oahu- Exploring Oahu’s Leeward Coast

While many tourists flock to Honolulu and the east side of Oahu, the western side of this beloved Hawaiian island is lesser known yet has a great deal of adventurous experiences to offer. The island’s west side is by far the least explored area of Oahu, and you will likely avoid the crowds and bustle of more popular regions by visiting.

Waianae is found just north of Pearl Harbor along Oahu’s leeward side and is a hotspot for ocean-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. This area has a completely different environment than the east, with sunnier days and less rain year-round. 

The Waianae mountains glamorize the area and offer a variety of hiking trails to enjoy the beautiful west coastline of the island. You can also hike to the highest point on the island from here! Be wary when leaving your vehicle so that you don’t leave anything in sight, as theft is common in certain parts of this area.

Due to the less touristic nature of this area, it’s a very affordable place to visit in Hawaii. There are luxury resorts like the Disney Aulani Resort in Ko Olina, but you can also find the most affordable and sustainable accommodation options here. Depending on traffic, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get to either Honolulu or the North Shore, so you can also visit from either!

After living in Waianae, I’ve found the ultimate activities for a trip to Oahu’s west side! Most of these experiences are cheap or free, making them budget-friendly choices for your West Oahu itinerary.

Oahu Travel

When To Visit

  • High season is mid-December to March (whale season!) and June to August
  • Weather is warm and pleasant year-round, and low season means less crowds and lower prices!

Where To Stay

Top Experiences

1. Snorkeling at Electric Beach

A popular local spot typically unvisited by tourists, Electric Beach is a goldmine for snorkeling on Oahu’s west side. The beach, also known as Kahe Point Beach Park, is located across the road from a power plant, giving it the namesake “Electric Beach”. 

The power plant produces warmer water, attracting an abundance of marine life to this area. Diverse arrays of fish such as butterfly fish, parrotfish, and angel fish are likely to be seen here. I’ve also encountered dolphins, turtles, and octopuses here; it’s one of the greatest spots to go snorkeling or even scuba diving. 

Parking quickly becomes scarce, so be sure to arrive early around 6 or 7 in the morning to grab a parking spot before venturing out into the warm waters. 

A shore entry is required, so it may be more difficult to enter the waters when there is high surf. However, as long as you consider this, a day spent in the water at Electric Beach is a necessity when visiting Waianae. 

2. Surfing at Makaha Beach

Makaha Beach offers a plethora of activities, from relaxing beachside on its golden sands to the crystal clear waters. This beach also has cultural ties to Hawaii’s deep-rooted surf culture. This beach was first recognized by surfers in the 20th century for its great variety of wave breaks and has since become an iconic surf spot.

Makaha Beach from above with the Waianae mountains behind
Hitting the waves at Makaha Beach is one of the best things to do on leeward side of Oahu

Makaha is well-known to locals and visiting surfers alike for its excellent surfing conditions, and is one of the best places to surf in Oahu. There are year-round surf breaks here for beginner and experienced surfers alike, and Hawaii is undoubtedly a perfect spot to learn to surf.

Along with surfing, Makaha Beach is also a great spot for snorkeling, stand-up paddleboard, and enjoying the sunset. The Makaha Towers nearby are also a popular accommodation option for the area with easy access to the nearby beach.

3. Pink Pillbox Hike

The Pink Pillbox, also known as the Maili Pillbox, is a simple yet unforgettable hike on Oahu’s west side. This pill box is one of four main pillbox hikes on the island and got its name from the bright pink coloring, which popped up in 2015 after it was painted for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

The history behind the pillboxes that lie at the end of the trail dates back to World War II when they were constructed for the defense of the island. Nowadays, graffiti artists have colored the walls of the structures. 

Graffiti inside the pillbox at the summit of the Pink Pillbox Hike
Pink Pillbox Graffiti!

Locals have also brought up ladders so you can climb atop the pillboxes and enjoy the panoramic views of the western Oahu coastline. With the immaculate blue waters on one side and the rugged mountainous coastline on the other, the views from this hike cannot be missed. 

This hike is a mildly difficult but short hike; it takes about 45 minutes to climb the 879 ft elevation gain. Be sure to bring at least a liter of water to the trail, as the sun can become brutal as the route progresses. 

Laynie seen at the top of the Pink Pillbox
The Pink Pillbox is one of the best hikes in west Oahu, and my favorite!

4. Ko Olina Lagoons

Ko Olina is a resort community frequented by families and luxury travelers looking for an upscale experience at one of the many beach resorts, most commonly the Disney Aulani Resort. The lagoons of Ko Olina are four man-made lagoons that are perfect for relaxing seaside. 

These pristine beaches are a favorite for chilling out and basking in the Hawaiian sun, and the rock structures that enclose the lagoon block the waves from the sea and offer calm waters.

Many people frequent the lagoons for a stroll or run along the path that connects all four, and it’s a very enjoyable route to explore. You can also catch a bite to eat at any of the various restaurants around the lagoons like Longhi’s, a delicious Italian restaurant found in the Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. 

Parking is limited here, offering only about 20 spots per lagoon. There are typically more spots available around Lagoons Three and Four, but arriving early will help guarantee a space. People are always coming and going, though, so you have a good chance of getting a spot just by waiting a few minutes by one of the parking areas. 

5. Ka’ena Point Hike

The Ka’ena Point Hike is another unforgettable hike found on Hawaii’s leeward side and a perfect choice for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Oahu. 

There are two ways to get to Ka’ena Point Trail, from the west side or the north side. Personally, I believe that the views from the Waianae entrance are best, but both will get you to the rugged Hawaiian trail. From the west side, the trail is about 4.8 miles, and 5 miles from the north side. Coming from the west side, you can also enjoy Yohokama Bay, one of the least-visited yet pristine beaches that is just a half mile from the end of the road where the hike starts. 

It typically takes about 3 hours to complete this out-and-back trail from either side, and it’s very important to bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you as the trail (like most of Oahu’s west side) is very sunny and dry. The hike itself is easy, but the sun can become unforgiving mid-day, so hiking in the morning or for sunset is recommended.

The natural landscape surrounding the trail makes it one of the most unique and entrancing hikes on the island, with lava rocks being abundant here. You’ll likely spot wildlife along the trail to the island’s northeastern point with an opportunity to spot albatross, Hawaiian monk seals, dolphins, and whales!

6. Swim With Dolphins

With a diverse array of marine life surrounding this island, Oahu frequently sees dolphin and whale sightings around the coast. Experiencing these breathtaking creatures in the wild will be a memorable addition to your trip to West Oahu. 

Dolphin Excursions Hawaii offers dolphin snorkeling tours out of the Wai’anae Harbor, and after several trips with them, this is the best agency to book your trip with. The staff go above and beyond and are experts at finding wildlife out on the water. 

They offer three types of tours, the most popular being the Oahu Dolphin Excursion, a 3-hour excursion with guaranteed dolphin sightings! It’s not uncommon to see whales and turtles on this tour as well. 

Dolphins seen swimming below in Hawaiian waters
Seeing Hawaii’s marine life is something you should not miss in Oahu

Depending on the season, you can either take a whale watching or turtle safari. The whale watching season runs from January to April in Hawaii, and humpback whales are frequently seen during this time. Outside of that, you can discover tons of Honu (turtles) that are abundant in Hawaiian waters. 

Dolphin Excursions Hawaii is committed to sustainable tourism, and as such, they implement policies into their trips that allow for safe and ethical interactions with the animals.

7. Boogie Boarding at Makua Beach

Makua Beach is a less touristy option if you’re looking for an uninterrupted beach day. This is my favorite beach in the Waianae area! With stunning views of the rolling green valleys surrounding the beach, it’s a great place to enjoy the warm weather and catch some rays. 

Makua Beach boasts some fantastic waves that are perfect for boogie boarding- a more simplified option for enjoying Hawaii’s great surf for those who are unfamiliar with riding waves. 

You can easily find boogie boards in Oahu in grocery stores or even the ABC stores, and they are typically pretty cheap ($10-20). Getting one of your own is worth it as you can delight in the crashing waves of Makua and other beaches you visit on your trip. It’s important to exercise caution if you are visiting in the wintertime, as the swells in Hawaii during that time can lead to some crazy waves.

Golden hour on one of the best secret beaches in Oahu
Makua Beach is stunning and one of the hidden beaches in Oahu

Along with the waves, you have a great chance of seeing some iconic marine life here. Sea turtles are commonly seen here while snorkeling, and you may even be able to hear or see a pod of dolphins passing by as you explore the waters of Makua. During whale season (January to April), you may be able to spot humpback whales breaching from the shore! 

One of my favorite memories from this beach was experiencing a humpback whale breaching during sunset, a truly unforgettable sight. This western beach is yet another phenomenal spot to watch the sun go down after a long day of adventuring on the island. 

8. Pokai Bay

Pokai Bay offers a multitude of activities to enjoy in a calm beach area, which is rarely found on the wild west side! It has a breakwater that protects the beach from high surf and a sandy bottom- it was originally named Malaea meaning “calm”.

The beach is found just a few minutes from the Waianae Harbor and the Pink Pillbox Hike, making it the best place to chill out after a snorkeling excursion or hike! Fishing, snorkeling, and swimming is popular here because of the serene conditions. 

You can also grab a bite to eat at The Beach House by 604, a beachside restaurant with affordable pricing and great food! They have occasional live music and a diverse menu to appeal to both visitors and locals. 

9. Mount Ka’ala Trail

The Mount Ka’ala Hike will take you to the highest point on Oahu, and it’s a can’t-miss excursion for those looking for a challenging but rewarding hike!

The trail is steep (3600 feet of elevation gain), with many rope-assisted sections to aid you in getting up the mountain. The hike is 7 miles out and back and can take about 6 hours or more to complete, depending on your hiking experience.

Hiking Mount Ka’ala is regarded as one of the most challenging hikes in Oahu, so thorough planning is necessary. Sunscreen, lots of water, and a few snacks are vital for fueling you along the hike. It can also get a great deal chillier at the top because of the elevation gain and wind, so packing a sweater is recommended.

Once you reach the summit, you’ll be able to enjoy panoramic views of the island and the surrounding mountains wisped in clouds. The hike is truly unforgettable, and a can’t-miss experience if you’re up for the challenge.

Mount Ka'ala summit engulfed in clouds at the highest point on Oahu hike
Hiking the highest point in Oahu is not for the weak!

Many tourists skip Waianae and the leeward side of Oahu outside of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, but these activities are a perfect way to spend an adventurous trip to Hawaii.

Be sure to check out my other Hawaii guides if you’re looking to visit the other Hawaiian islands!

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