Kailua is one of those places you just have to visit on a trip to Oahu! This vibrant community on Oahu’s windward side is just 30 minutes away from Honolulu and it is home to some of the island’s most beautiful beaches, breathtaking hikes, fun hidden gems, and an abundance of island charm.
Go to Kailua for the famed Lanikai Beach and stay for cute farmers markets, shopping, local breweries, and lush mountain views.
Whether you have a day in Kailua, or a week, this list of the best things to do in Kailua, Oahu will give you plenty of fun activities to fill your time.
I compiled this list after spending a wonderful week exploring Kailua. I fell in love with this friendly town and all that it has to offer. In addition to this Kailua Oahu travel guide, I also have a handful of other Hawaii travel guides, so be sure to check them out as you plan your Oahu vacation!
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The Best Things to do in Kailua, Hawaii
1. Snorkel and Sunbathe at Lanikai Beach
Kailua’s Lanikai Beach is not only one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches, it is also a great snorkeling spot!
Less than 50 feet off the white sandy shore you’ll find an abundance of tropical fish, coral, and other marine life. Spend half your time blissfully snorkeling in the calm, turquoise blue water, and the other half taking in the beach’s pristine beauty from a blanket on the sand.
From the beach you can see the iconic Mokulua Islands, also called the Mokes, Na Mokulua, or the Twin Islands. Later on in this article I recommend kayaking and sailing tours that you can take to these islands!
It is important to note that there are no facilities at Lanikai Beach, and it can be a little difficult to because there is no parking. You can either street park in the adjacent Lanikai neighborhood (be sure to park legally!) but most times of the day, you’ll have better luck parking at the nearby Kailua Boat Launch and walking 15 minutes along the road to Lanikai Beach.
2. Hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail (Ka’iwa Ridge Hike)
Another iconic Kailua activity is the Lanikai Pillbox Trail. The trailhead is a short walk away from Lanikai Beach, and the trail boasts stunning panoramic views of the Mokulua Islands, Lanikai Beach, the Ko’olau Mountains, Kailua, and beyond. Plus, you get to see two interesting WWII bunkers at the top!
Even though this hike was hyped up, the view from the top still wowed me. I recommend doing it at sunrise and I have a full Lanikai Pillbox Trail guide with more info about it.
Just like with Lanikai Beach, parking for the hike can be limited and challenging. If you do choose to hike at sunrise, you’ll have a much easier time finding a spot in the Lanikai neighborhood. Just be sure to lock your car quietly to keep from disturbing locals’ sleep.
It’s worth mentioning that this 1.3 mile hike is not for the faint of heart. The terrain is rough, elevation gain is rapid, and there are steep dropoffs along the side of the trail. While it is not as dangerous or challenging as the Olomana Ridge Trail (later in this guide), you still want to come prepared with the proper footwear, clothing, and some water.
3. Kayak to the Mokulua Islands
Yes! You can visit those cute little islands off of Lanikai Beach. All you need is a kayak (or a sailboat—I recommend a sailing tour later in this article).
This 5-mile kayak trip is one of the most popular things to do in Kailua, so be sure to reserve your kayak or tour spot ahead of time.
You can either reserve a kayak for a self-guided tour or book a kayak tour with a local guide. Either way, you’ll have the chance to glide through gentle Kailua Bay, snorkel with tropical fish and sea turtles in crystal clear water, and explore two uninhabited islands.
4. Walk Along the Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (Local Favorite)
This Kailua hidden gem is frequented by locals by rarely visited by tourists. Since I was housesitting for a local family during my visit to Kailua, I got some local travel tips, and this was definitely the best one!
There is a well-maintained gravel trail through the marshland, right on the edge of the wildlife sanctuary. As you walk along the 1.4-mile long trail (2.9 miles roundtrip) you get to take in unobstructed views lush mountains, the marsh, and a diversity of wildlife.
With no incline and a decently sized parking lot just a few minutes away from downtown Kailua, this trail is an easy add to any Kailua itinerary. And the views don’t change, so you can walk as little or as long as you want without missing out.
The trail starts next to Kaha Park near the corner of Kaha St and Kaipii St and ends at Kailua Rd (Highway 61). I recommend parking in the lot Kaha Park and walking the trail at sunset. The views are absolutely incredible!
5. Explore Kailua’s Farmers Markets
Kailua has several farmers markets throughout the week. My favorite was definitely the KailuaTown Farmers Market (640 Ulukahiki St) on Sundays. Tropical mountains tower over the market, which is hosted a surprisingly picturesque parking lot.
It is a great place to fuel up with artisan coffee, flavor-packed smoothies, and a diversity of yummy food. There are also several local produce vendors to buy groceries and tropical fruit for the week, and plenty of art and gifts you can buy as souvenirs.
We bought locally made vegan truffle cheese (yum!), a giant green smoothie, mamaki tea (which my husband is now obsessed with), delicious seed crackers (for the cheese), some produce, a vegan bao bun, and a vanilla latte. We went a little crazy but loved having the chance to support local businesses and everything we bought was delicious!
Other Kailua farmers markets include:
Kailua Farmers’ Market (609 Kailua Rd): Hosted on Thursday evenings, this small market often has food, live music, and local art. It is a lively evening market that you should definitely stop by if you’re in Kailua on a Thursday!
Lokahi Kailua Market (340 Uluniu St): Hosted on Sunday mornings, this technically might not be a “farmers” market as there are no produce vendors, mostly local artists. However, it is a great place to explore if you’re looking for out-of-the-box souvenirs made my locals.
6. Try Local Craft Beer at Lanikai Brewing Company
Taste “Island Inspired” local beer at Kailua’s own Lanikai Brewing Company. I’ll admit, I’m not a beer drinker, but my husband is. Although I didn’t drink any beer (I did pose with it though haha!), I thoroughly enjoyed the local atmosphere and tasty cocktails on our two visits to the taproom.
I also appreciate Lanikai Brewing Company’s commitment to sustainability and their dedication to creating drinks made with local Hawaiian ingredients and flavors. I’m excited to see how this local Kailua business grows as they open up a taproom on Oahu’s North Shore and other islands soon!
Located in Kailua town, Laniaki Brewing Co.’s taproom has a fun local vibe. They serve a diversity of their beers on tap and have a full menu of craft cocktails, as well as pizza!
We did also visit Maui Brewing Co in Kailua and we both much preferred Lanikai Brewing Co, so I highly recommend this brewery if you’re looking for somewhere to stop after a day in Kailua.
7. Do a Free Chocolate Tasting at Manoa Chocolate (Local Recommendation)
Had a local friend from Oahu not recommended this place to me, I would have never visited this somewhat hidden chocolate bar in Kailua!
Mānoa Chocolate Factory offers free chocolate tastings daily. Their friendly team will serve you a diversity of creamy chocolates made from Hawaiian cacao, telling you about the chocolate’s origin and unique tasting notes.
After falling in love with natural cacao in Chiapas, Mexico, it was so fun to learn about Hawaiian cacao and the process used to make chocolate here. We tasted several chocolates, and had some chocolate tea, all for free! Of course we ended up buying a few bars to take home with us afterward.
You can do a free chocolate tasting like I did, or sign up for a $25 ‘chocolate experience’ where you get a more in-depth lesson on the chocolate making process. Check for prices and details on Manoa Chocolate’s website!
It is also worth mentioning that Manoa Chocolate transforms into a wine bar in the evenings. They often have live music by Hawaiian artists, too!
8. Dare to Hike the Olomana Ridge Trail (Three Peaks)
Experienced hikers can go on one of Oahu’s most beautiful—and dangerous—hikes, the Olomana Ridge Hike, also called the Three Peaks Hike.
I will admit, I still haven’t done this hike yet, but I plan to on my next trip to Oahu. The reason I missed it on my most recent Kailua trip is because I didn’t bring good enough shoes (oops).
Most people recommend only doing the First Peak of the three peaks. You get the best view from first peak, and it is simply not worth the risk to hike further. People have died on this trail, and injuries are common.
With that in mind, only attempt this hike is you are an experienced hiker, with all the right gear. I also recommend getting AllTrails Pro, which notifies you if you’re going off trail. Follow the trail on AllTrails and never hike alone.
9. Swim with Turtles at the Kailua Boat Launch
Whenever I go to Lanikai Beach, I park at the Kailua Boat Launch since there are almost always spots, then I walk along the road to Lanikai. But snorkeling by the small beach by the boat launch is one of the most underrated things to do in Kailua, Oahu!
It is the best place to find sea turtles in Kailua. They seem to like feeding near the small dock and along the rocks near the boat launch.
Stop here either on your way to Lanikai, or just stay here for a while and snorkel! Keep in mind that visibility in the water differs day by day and hour by hour. Sometimes it can be very difficult to see underwater, so you actually get a better view from above the water on the road.
Moments like this are the reason I recommending buying your own snorkel gear in my Hawaii packing list. There isn’t anywhere to rent a goggle or snorkel equipment nearby, so be sure to bring your own!
10. Sail to the Twin Islands
Experience Kailua in style as you sail to the Mokulua Islands on a wa’a (Hawaiian style canoe). Your local guide will teach you about the significance of these unique boats in Hawaiian and Polynesian culture, and then take you to some hidden spots on the tiny islands.
You’ll have the chance to swim in a natural pool formed in a lava tube at Queen’s Bath, snorkel with tropical fish and other marine life, relax on a secluded beach, and spot the islands’ native seabirds.
This unique sailing excursion is available on weekdays only. Be sure to book ahead of time as it can sell out in advance. Check prices and book here.
11. Drink for Charity at Grace in Growlers
Kailua Town’s Grace in Growlers is a craft beer tasting room that supports local charities. It’s also Hawaii’s only self-serve craft beer tasting room.
Grace in Growlers has a rotating tap list of locally made beer, kombucha, mead, and even cold brew coffee.
This fun, cute spot in the heart of Kailua is a great place to grab a drink and give back to the community. And if you’re curious, you can try a variety craft beers with their 5oz tasters.
12. Go Shopping
There are several cute shops directly next to Grace in Growlers and around downtown Kailua. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, an outfit to wear later on during your vacation, or something else, you’ll find plenty of unique trinkets, clothing, and other items in Kailua.
My favorite shop in Kailua is Protea Zero Waste, which was Hawaii’s first zero waste refill store. But it’s not just place to fill up on shampoo and soap. They also have an incredible boutique thrift collection. Their selection of secondhand clothing includes brightly-colored high-quality pieces that are priced fairly.
I bought a silk Hawaiian shirt for only $10, which was the way to bring a little bit of Aloha back home without buying something made by slaves. Protea also sells plenty of other eco-friendly products like shampoo bars, locally made soaps, natural perfumes, and more.
13. Kayak to Popoia Island
Popoia Island, also called ‘Flat Island,’ is a small uninhabited island about a quarter mile off the coast of Kailua Beach and the Kailua boat ramp.
Unlike the nearby Mokulua Islands off of nearby Lanikai Beach, Popoia is completely flat. Kayaking to this small island is another one of the best things to do in Kailua. It is less challenging longer kayak trip to the Mokulua Islands but you still get to cross ‘kayak to a Hawaiian island’ off of your bucket list.
You can reserve a kayak rental (or tour) with a Hawaiian ecotourism here. If you’re a strong swimmer, you can also swim to the island! That is only bucket list for my next Oahu trip.
14. Taste Kailua’s Best Food
There are plenty of places to fill your belly in Kailua. I’ll be honest: I haven’t tried a ton of the restaurants in Kailua they’re not all vegan friendly. However, I got some excellent recommendations locals and other travelers on the best food in Kailua.
Here are a few places eat at in Kailua:
★ KailuaTown Farmers Market (Vegan Options): Head to the farmers market on Sunday to find a diversity of local vendors with delicious food!
★ The Beet Box Cafe (Vegan): A cute vegan restaurant in Kailua town with a diverse menu.
★ Ganesh Dosa (Vegan Options): Delicious dosas (comparable to crepes but Indian) that make a perfect lunch to bring to the beach.
★ Valentina’s Pizza (Vegan Options): Located inside Lanikai Brewing Co., Valentina’s serves delicious pizza with a generous amount of vegan options.
★ Over Easy: Highly-rated breakfast and lunch joint with American/Hawaiian fare.
★ Kalapawai Cafe & Deli: The Kalapawai Market near Kailua Beach and Cafe & Deli in town are two of the most popular places to eat in Kailua.
★ Cinnamon’s Restaurant: A famous brunch place with a decadent menu including guava pancakes and more.
15. Travel to Japan at the Byodo In Temple
If you’re already visiting Oahu’s eastern side, you might as well take a little trip to a place that feels just like Japan, and is only a 20-minute drive from Kailua.
Located in nearby Kaneohe, the Byodo-In Temple is a stunning replica of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. This regal, yet peaceful temple is situated beneath towering lush mountains, and is one of the top to visit on Oahu.
Byodo-In makes a perfect day trip from Kailua if you’re staying in town, or a fun side trip after a morning of exploring Lanikai beach and other Kailua attractions.
Be sure to read my full guide to visiting Byodo In Temple, which includes details on what you can and cannot wear and other insider tips.
16. Go Rock Climbing
If you’re looking to get out of the heat (or rain), but still have some fun in Kailua, head to the Volcanic Rock Gym. Boulder and mingle with locals at this spot that few vacationers visit.
Day passes are available for a discounted rate when you come before 3pm on weekdays, and climbing shoes and chalk can be rented for the day.
17. Dine in Paradise at Haleiwa Joe’s
Just outside of Kailua you’ll find one of the most popular eateries on the island: Haleiwa Joe’s at the Haiku Gardens.
Situated in a lush valley, Haleiwa Joe’s has incredible views in every direction. If you go, be sure to show up early and request a table by the gardens. They don’t take reservations, and there is almost always a long wait, but you can wander through their beautiful gardens as you wait.
18. Wander Through the Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden
Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden is another place to visit near Kailua, Oahu for lush jungle and mountain views. It is free to visit and the perfect place for a long walk.
You may recognize the scenery from your Instagram feed as you drive through the entrance. The road leading into the park has arguably the best few (and most famous), but you are no longer allowed to take pictures there because of the traffic backup it creates.
Just be sure to take it all in as you drive in, then park in the free parking lot and begin your exploration of the 200 acre gardens.
19. Relax at Kailua Beach Park or Kalama Beach Park
If you’re not up for the challenging parking situation of Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach Park and Kalama Beach are both great alternatives.
With soft sand, gentle waves, and turquoise blue water, these Kailua beaches are beautiful spots to sunbathe, swim, and do anything else you’d do at a beach!
There are several parking lots, but on busy days you still might have to circle around a few times to find a spot. In addition, these beaches can get a bit busy, but the two are connected, making a long, large beach, so you’re bound to find a nice spot to chill on the sand.
20. See Mt. Olomana from the Sky on a Helicopter Ride
Soar over Kailua’s stunning landmarks on a doors off or doors on helicopter tour!
It is one of the shorter helicopter tours in Hawaii, but you make the most of your time by sailing over the iconic Mt. Olomana (Three Peaks), Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, and several other sites.
If you aren’t feeling up for hiking Olomana, this scenic helicopter ride is a great alternative!
21. Go on a Scenic Drive with an Audio Tour
Explore the eastern side of Oahu with this easy-to-use audio tour that syncs with your GPS location.
As you drive from Waikiki along the eastern coast toward Kailua, the entertaining narrator guide will tell you about each site you see out your car window. You’ll learn stories about Oahu’s history and culture, and the narrator will give you some insider tips on the best places to stop for photos, hikes, and more.
I can’t recommend this audio tour enough—it is the best way to explore Kailua and the rest of on your own time while still learning from a highly-rated professional guide as you go.
If you want an audio tour of the whole island, purchase the Oahu audio bundle which includes six tours along different parts of the island.
Things to do in Kailua Oahu FAQs
Is Kailua, Oahu worth visiting?
Yes! With one of Oahu’s most beautiful beaches, incredible hikes, and a charming downtown area, Kailua is certainly worth visiting on any Oahu vacation. Kailua is perfect for travelers who are looking a little bit of adventure and nature lovers.
How many days do you need for Kailua, Oahu?
If you’re vacationing in Honolulu, I recommending visiting Kailua for at least one or two days. If you want to go on a hike in Kailua, kayak to one of the islands, explore the town, and still have time to relax at Lanikai Beach, you’ll probably need two days. If you plan to stay in Kailua, I recommend a 5-10 day vacation.
Can you take the bus to Kailua from Honolulu?
Yes, Oahu’s public transportation system connects Honolulu to Kailua. If you’re not renting a car on Oahu or want to want to avoid difficult parking situations at Lanikai Beach, Oahu’s bus is the best option.
Is Kailua a good place to stay on Oahu?
Oahu is a wonderful place to stay on Oahu, and I personally prefer it much over Waikiki, However, accommodations in Kailua are extremely limited and the town has no hotels. Browse Kailua accommodations here.
Essential Hawaii Resources
Traveleing to Hawaii soon? There are a lot of travel companies out there, but some are better than others. After five unforgettable trips to Hawaii, here are some of my favorite websites and resources for planning once-in-a-lifetime vacations.
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