The 10 Best Places to Take Photos on Oahu
If you're heading to Oahu and wondering where the best places to shoot are - look no further! Here are my top 10 photo opp recommendations for Oahu:
Lanikai is my favorite beach in Hawai’i and I am certainly not the only one! It came in at #1 on TripAdvisor’s list of the world’s best beaches back in 2014 and #5 on National Geographic’s Top 10 Beaches list. It’s about as picture-perfect (and Instagram-perfect) as a beach can get - white sand, low surf, turquoise water, and sunshine everywhere.
The best photo opps will be early in the morning because, aside from the obvious (golden hour lighting), it will be less busy then. I often go for sunrise to shoot then go hike the pillboxes (worth it for the view alone) and return to lounge at the beach once that sun has fully come out.
FROM A DOORS OFF HELICOPTER
I’ve been to Hawai’i over 50 times and hands down my favorite photos of all time are from my doors off helicopter tour. The company that I used is unfortunately no longer in business so I don’t have a specific recommendation but there are tons of options if you poke around Yelp. Make sure to go with the doors off option so that you don’t have to deal with window reflections! If you’re scared, don’t be - I thought I would be and it ended up being more exciting than anything.
Kualoa is a beautiful ranch between Honolulu and the North Shore where many famous movies were filmed - Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Pearl Harbor to name a few. They offer countless different tours and adventures, everything from horseback rides to ATV tours to their new treetop canopy zipline tour! I have done most and would highly recommend them all.
In addition to the Jurassic Park-like section of the ranch, they have something called Secret Island which is a gorgeous and remote (non-public!) beach. Although not free, buying a ticket gets you access to the beach and unlimited activities such as standup paddleboarding, kayaking, beach volleyball, etc. for 2.5 hours. I would consider doing this in the morning and then taking a tour of the ranch in the afternoon. They have hammocks lining the beach and everything is just picture-perfect.
Pricing varies depending on age and season. You can find more specific info on their site here.
THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN & THE MOANA SURFRIDER
The Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider are two iconic Waikiki hotels. Even if you aren’t staying at one of them I would suggest walking around them both. They are beautiful and filled with photo opps. The Royal Hawaiian is pink, as are most accents like their umbrellas, and I think the above photos speak for themselves. The Moana is the oldest hotel in Waikiki, opened over 100 years ago, and is equally to die for with it's rocking chair-lined patios.
Diamond Head is probably the most defining feature of Waikiki and maybe even all of Oahu. Of course you’ll want to take photos of it from Waikiki, but I also love the view of Waikiki from the top of Diamond Head. The hike is pretty mild, although very exposed so make sure to go early or late to avoid direct sunlight, and provides a rewarding view at the end.
Waimea Bay is a beautiful bay but the reason I recommend this is for the rock that people jump off. If you’re up for some adventure you can give it a go yourself, but if not it’s also great to shoot others jumping off of while you’re standing safely on the beach below :)
THE NORTH SHORE
The entire North Shore of Oahu is one big photo opp, really. If you're heading there from Honolulu, keep an eye on your right side of the road because there's a lot of gorgeous places to pull off - ones with random hammocks on the beach, cute little huts you can buy fruit at, a palm tree to climb up, water to wade in, etc. We always make Haleiwa our destination when we go and spend an hour or two just roaming around once we arrive. Get some shave ice from famous Matsumoto's, an acai bowl at the highly photogenic Haleiwa bowls, or take an angel wing photo. Most spots I love to shoot at on the North Shore aren't a destination or landmark but are things I randomly stumble upon like the rainbow surfboards above. Definitely do some roaming!
UNDERWATER, OF COURSE!
A lot of tourists will go to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to snorkel and take underwater photos. I haven’t been since high school so I don’t have much feedback on that, but I do remember that even back then it was a bit too touristy for my liking. I skip it every time I go.
I do, however, strongly recommend that you swim in the wild with dolphins on the westside. Dolphin Excursions is the company I recommend using. The photo opps are like nothing else because you are in the wild truly swimming with them in their natural habitat. You’ll also likely run into some other creatures like turtles or octopus!
If you need some good underwater photo inspo, check out @kailua_kat on Insta.
HAIKU STAIRS (STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN)
Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, is a dangerous but amazingly beautiful hike on Oahu. I’ve never been because there's a catch - it's illegal. But people seem to often do it anyway, so I'm including it! If you do find yourself with access, the views are like nothing I’ve ever seen. Bring a camera or five.
Note: I’m not suggesting you do anything illegal. Do this at your own risk and give it a quick Google search beforehand so you understand the risk.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, do not spend all of your time in Waikiki! You will likely not enjoy your trip if you do that. But I do recommend spending some time there, as there is lots to do and many beautiful places to take photos. Waikiki waves are very mellow, so if you want to give surfing a go, I'd recommend trying it there. You can also parasail near Waikiki or try a sunset cruise. Restaurant/bar-wise, I LOVE the views from both The Edge of Waikiki and Duke's especially at sunrise. Make sure to explore a bit at night as well as there are street performers and other interesting things to see.
WHAT ABOUT BLACKPOINT POOL?
I've posted a lot of photos here which people seem to always be stumbling upon, resulting in a lot of questions. Let's clear those up! Blackpoint Pool is a private pool located inside the gated community of Blackpoint in Honolulu. It is accessible only by key and there is a large amount of security stopping you from getting in (I promise). The odds of you being able to successfully sneak in I'd say are very, very low, so instead try to make friends with someone that lives there :P
If you need to rent any gear while you are on Oahu, check out Hawaii Camera. I've rented lenses from them before and it was a quick and painless experience! I highly recommend them.