The leeward (west) side is by far the least visited of areas on Oahu, due partly to its isolated location on a no-outlet, dead-end road behind the Waianae Mountains and partly because there’s little-to-no tourism development. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to see – quite the contrary.
Oahu’s west side sparkles with beaches, hikes, and local community initiatives, centered around the agricultural valley of Waianae. Here’s what you need to know about spending a day on the west side.
We start with Ko Olina which gets its own small section because it’s quite separate and different from the rest of the leeward coast. Ko Olina is a vacation and residential community 17 miles (27 km) west of Honolulu containing 2 miles (3.2 km) of coastal frontage that includes three natural and four man-made lagoons with white-sand beaches.
This where you’ll find the only chain hotels in the west, including the Aulani Disney Resort, a Four Seasons, a Marriott, and several golf courses. If you’re interested in exploring the west side in depth, Ko Olina is a comfortable hub to call home that provides easy access.
West side Beaches
Like most of Oahu, the west side is blessed with beautiful white-sand beaches. A world-class surf break pumps at Makaha, and its shores are a local hangout, with an easy-going vibe butting up against a backdrop of mountains.
At the end of the road, at the far northern end of the west side, is Keawaʻula Beach (also known as Yokohama). When it’s calm, its rocky ocean floor is great for snorkeling, and in addition to being a large beach with a view down the coast, it provides access to Kaena Point, offering many options for an active group.
On the south end, Nanakuli is a family-friendly beach with usually calm waters and blue turquoise water.
Outdoor Activities / Adventures
Besides Ko Olina, which has all the resort-like activities you’d expect, the rest of the leeward coast activities on can be summarized in four terms: hiking, beaches, snorkeling, and boat tours.
The far north of the west side provides access to Kaena Point, a seabird sanctuary and nature preserve, via a flat walking trail that reveals the beauty of the island’s isolated northwest corner. Keep your eyes out for whales (Nov-Mar) off the rocky coast and enjoy one of the best-preserved areas of Oahu.
Confident snorkelers can swim to the offshore site at Electric Beach, a popular place for local recreation.
Don’t let the beaches blind you. The west side, specifically Waianae, is home to many Hawaiian farming initiatives, that are not only providing food to the community, but are also providing educational opportunities for local schools!
- Try out a tour and farm fresh meal at the Kahumana farm cafe for a taste of what’s happening back in the valley.
- Stop by the local farmers market in Waianae to try local products.
- Music fans shouldn’t miss the Israel Kamakawiwoole statue at the Waianae Neighborhood Community Center, which pays homage to one of the most popular Hawaiians of his generation.
Eating and Drinking
When driving along the west side, you won’t get overwhelmed with exotic food choices. In fact, most of what you’ll see are fast food chains. But, dig deeper, and you’ll see that there are plenty of local places to choose from, serving food fresh from the farms or sea.
Try the Kaahaaina Café for Hawaiian dishes with a great view; the Countryside Café for a loco moco breakfast; and Aloha Poke and Tamura’s for fresh poke bowls. If you’re looking for a more modern restaurant, check out Ko Olina – there you will find many upscale choices, including Mina’s Fish House, a “line-to-table” seafood restaurant.
Activity map for Oahu’s leeward coast
Summarizing: on the map below you can find all recommendations we make in this guide for activities, restaurants, things to do, and places to go. See also our suggestion for a 1-day itinerary for the leeward coast below the map.
Putting it all together: a sample 1-day itinerary for west Oahu:
We propose the following 1-day itinerary for you if you don’t want to make the hard choices (those of removing things from your itinerary) yourself:
No reason to get up early. Wait until after rush hour (trust us) and then make your way over to the west side for a day of beach hopping, swimming, and hiking.
Stop at Nanakuli for a swim, then cruise to Waianae for lunch in the back valley at the Kahumana Farm Café. Continue north afterwards, with stops at Makaha before ending at Yokohama Beach. If it’s calm, snorkel. Then, hike out to the bird sanctuary at Kaena Point before returning to “Yokes” for a picnic sunset happy hour. Don’t forget your beach chair to watch the sun go down!
Other 1-day itineraries for Oahu:
We have made other “1 day in …” itineraries for Oahu which are very useful to start planning your trip: