Oahu was fun and totally different from the other Hawaiian islands. It gives you the city experience with a tropical vibe. Artisan coffee, designer bikinis, acai bowls and smoothies are everywhere. There's plenty of beaches to check out, and nature to explore. The food is amazing. I loved exploring Downtown and Chinatown. The weather was perfect when we were there, and there was always plenty to do.
Where to stay
When visiting Oahu for the first time, I suggest thinking about what kind of trip you want before figuring out where to stay. Honolulu is full of shops, restaurants and plenty of little neighborhoods to explore. The North Shore is a beachy, jungle paradise. Waikiki is posh and pricey, but there are plenty of other options and dreamy Airbnbs throughout the island. If possible, I'd stay in Waikiki for a day or two and then rent a place somewhere quieter on The North Shore.
What to eat
While Honolulu's Chinatown might be my favorite neighborhood to cruise for food, be sure the check out Foodland and Shirokiya for well-priced Japanese, Asian, and fusion food options. There are a million amazing poke places spread over the island that are amazing.
You can always ask to taste poke before you order. Opt for fresh options whenever possible. There are also food trucks and roadside stands that are always worth the stop! We found amazing huli huli chicken, fresh fruit, Korean BBQ and shave ice on the side of the road. Be sure to bring cash and have small bills. Also, ask for prices (if none are listed) before you order so you don't get up-charged!
Where to go
Honolulu for shopping (check out this map I put together with boutiques and coffee shops on it!), and for the classic Waikiki experience. The beaches here are pretty crowded and not that nice, so I'd suggest just grabbing a sunset drink instead of scheduling a beach day here. For the best poke and seafood in town, head to Nico's. It's so good, it's worth going back to!
The North Shore for road-side food, tropical vibes and big waves. If the waves are big, stay out of the water and let the pros handle it. Waimea Bay has a pretty beach and an amazing botanical garden. There's Olomana Orchids is worth checking out, and so are the food trucks and poke in Hahuku. The Korean BBQ at Kalbi On Fire was the best I've ever had.
The West Side for sunny, secluded beaches with manageable waves. People used to say The West Side was for locals only, but everyone we encountered was friendly and welcoming. Always be respectful of the land, sea and people. Never litter.
The East Side is great for an afternoon drive, a hike (bring water!) and hitting the beach. The waves can be rough and currents strong, so as always use your best judgement before going out.
My favorite beach on Oahu was easily Ko'olina Beach, nestled on The West Side amung luxury hotels. The beach is actually a man-made protected cove and is great for swimming and floating. The sand is soft and white, and there are permanent shade structures dotting the shore. There aren't showers or bathrooms here, and it can get hot so bring snacks and water!
I also really liked Makapu'u Beach. We did the hike to the lighthouse, spotted the beach from above, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon there. It's a popular body boarding spot with a big shore break. Use caution if you decide to swim, and be aware that since the beach is in the shadow of the mountain the sun disappears quicker than at other beaches.