Grab your flip flops and sunscreen and get ready to explore the best Oahu Instagram spots and photography destinations that Hawaii’s most visited island has to offer!
Whether you are seeking idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees, or Jurassic mountains, Oahu is home to some of the most instagrammable spots in all of Hawaii.
Too many people think of Waikiki Beach and resort-laden shoreline when they think of Oahu. However, the reality is that you will discover some of the most amazing hikes and natural landscapes that exist anywhere in North America, perhaps the world, if you take the time to escape Honolulu and travel the rest of the island.
With that said, Oahu boasts the best, most accessible and pristine beaches of any of the Hawaiian Islands. While volcanic rock and interesting colors give the beaches of Maui and Kona some unique character, the beaches of Oahu are what your mind imagines when you daydream of a tropical Hawaiian beach.
Enjoy planning or daydreaming a trip of your own with this photography guide to Oahu and, if you’re planning on island hopping a bit, you will definitely want to click the following links to queue up our Big Island Photography Guide, Kauai Photography Guide and Maui Photography Guides as well!
Map of all the Best Oahu Instagram Spots
We’ve put together an interactive Google map of all the best Oahu Instagram spots mentioned in this blog post. Click on the image below to open the Google map to help you plan the most amazing and photogenic trip to this stunning island.
Oahu Instagram Spots and Photography Destinations
Oahu was the one island we planned the least time for. We’d expected to be underwhelmed by Oahu after spending time on the other Hawaiian islands, anticipating the shore lined with resorts and manicured beaches. How wrong we were! We absolutely fell in love with Oahu and its incredible scenery, lending to some of the best photo spots of any of the islands!
If you’re still trying to decide which Hawaiian Island to visit then let us show you why we think you should consider Oahu!
The FIRST thing we did after landing in Honolulu was to get out of the city and head South towards Koko Head. Don’t get me wrong, Honolulu is a fine place as cities go, but escaping traffic and crowds is Step 1 when it comes to finding those chilled aloha vibes.
Koko Head is a large volcano that looks like a dragon clawed at the edges. If you are interested, you can actually reach the peak in a 15-45 minute hike starting from the trailhead. There are some spectacular compositions tailor-made for Instagram of the city from the top!
Of course, the landscape or aerial photographers will find plenty of photos that feature this prominent geographic feature from pretty much anywhere in the Maunalua Bay and Hanauma Bay region.
The Lanai Lookout is where we spent more time on Oahu than any other Instagram spot we had highlighted. There were so many opportunities for landscapes photos, lifestyle snaps, drone captures, and most importantly, WHALE WATCHING!
Regardless of what type of content your Instagram account features, you will find opportunities limited only by your creativity at the Lanai Lookout. The terrain itself is a mass of swirling colors, shapes and textures set against a vibrant orange sandstone. In one direction, you have the tropical aqua and blue water of the Pacific, while the impressive Koko Head looms majestically in the other.
But, the main reason we couldn’t help but come back here over and over was the whale watching. It was easily the best I have seen anywhere!
Every single visit, we saw at least double digits spouts! Also often enough, we were able to spot pods swim and play from what felt like a stone throw away. At the time, drone regulations were very relaxed. This provides you pilots an opportunity to see them up close without bothering them with boat engines or human presence.
If you’re looking to fill your Instagram feed with more than just pretty beaches, be sure to carve out some time for the Lanai Lookout; bonus if you can spend a sunset here!
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Hanauma Bay and Nature Preserve
One of the most iconic beaches for Instagrammers, snorkelers, and vacationers is without a doubt Hanauma Bay. Just a short drive from Lanai Lookout, this Instagram heaven awaits!
Unfortunately, the bay was closed during our visit and was indefinitely closed due to issues with a sewer pipe. Check the Hanauma Bay State Park website for current opening days and times.
Do not fear, however. If there is one thing Oahu is not short on, it’s Instagram-worthy beaches!
As you continue Oahu’s most scenic drive along the Kalaiana’ole Highway, you will be inundated with incredible ocean vistas. Of those, there is one in particular that is an absolute must-stop Oahu Instagram spot, and that is Makapuu Lookout.
A large parking lot and a very short walk takes you to this unbelievable overlook, where I promise you will feel something stir inside. That something is peace, or as it’s known here, aloha!
Take some time for those Instagram photos, but also take some time away from it. Disconnect yourself for just a moment and take it all in. This is paradise!
Waimānalo Bay State Recreation Park
Alright, you’ve had your fill of interesting landscapes and mountains and whales, now its time for what you came for; a relaxing day on the beach! Enjoy the stunning drive along the Kalaiana’ole Highway from the Oahu Southern coast around the bend toward the Waimānalo Bay State Recreation Park. Here you will encounter endless postcard-perfect tropical beaches along the way…
Of the choices you’ll have, our pick for the best Oahu Instagram spot in the park is Sherwood Beach. Here, you will find the softest, silkiest white sand you could hope for, as well as distant mountainscapes and stunning turquoise water.
As pretty as Sherwood Beach is, and it is pretty, things only get better as you drive north…
You have arrived at our absolute favorite Oahu Instagram spot for beaches! Without a doubt, Lanikai Beach is the prettiest beach on all of Oahu, and probably all of Hawaii! The pure white sand meets the most clear, warm water you can imagine, while palm trees sway overhead.
If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine the most perfect, tropical beach in the world… this is what you would think of. Make sure you save a lot of time for Lanikai Beach.
And please do yourself a favor and don’t forget to put the phone and camera down at some point. As tempting as it can be to want to capture everything, it’s important that you take a moment to feel the tradewind breeze and let the sun kiss your skin while your eyes and heart feast on this heavenly paradise.
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Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this place ourselves. To be honest, we might have… but we decided to spend the entire day on the beach and follow it up with some craft beer at Lanikai Brewing Company.
We regret nothing.
Still, we had to include the Lanikai Pillbox viewpoint as it is one of the most popular Oahu Instagram destinations. It requires a modest hike of 60-90 minutes, but the view from the top offers gorgeous, sweeping views of the Lanikai region and it is often listed as one of the best hikes in Oahu.
We had spent so much time photographing already on our Hawaiian vacation, so we opted to relax instead. We decided to take this time to enjoy the beach and some local beer. Instead, we took the drone up for a slightly different view…
Once again, we regret nothing.
Kailua Beach Park
Just up the road is another one of the most popular Instagram spots on all of Oahu; Kailua Beach Park. Drive safely, as the road will take you up a scenic drive with views of the most inviting beach you’ve ever laid eyes on. Not becoming distracted by the siren call of Eden out your window will be one of the most difficult things you will have to do during your time on Oahu!
Despite being incredibly popular, Kailua Beach is extremely spacious. Even on its most crowded days, finding a spot of your own with plenty of personal space is not a problem.
Not that you could ever have enough beaches, but at this point, we recommend a detour into the Koʻolau mountains for a Jurassic Park-like adventure.
The most fuel-efficient route to cover most of the Island of Oahu is to explore it in a figure-8 rotation. Having flown in at the west-central coast, we have covered the bottom loop of the 8 so far. We will now cross back from the East coast to the West Coast via Highway 3, which is an amazing destination unto itself.
The downside of the H3 is that there are not many places to stop to get those Instagram shots. Still, the road itself is as photogenic as anywhere else on Oahu as it splices between the stunning green mountainscape.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Let me start by saying we rarely bother photographing man-made nature, such as botanical gardens. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but it feels a bit inauthentic; it’s like building a wildlife photography portfolio by going to a zoo.
With that said, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are absolutely worth the trip! They do not feel or look like any botanical gardens I’ve ever visited, but more like a National Park.
The gardens also happen to be one of the most popular Oahu Instagram spots, particularly the road at the entrance. As a result, they have strictly enforced a no stopping policy during open hours. However, at the time of our visit (Feb 2019) they were still very lenient with people who arrived early.
Even if you cannot get your iconic Instagram photo at the entrance, you still have plenty of opportunities available within the grounds. The Koʻolau Mountain Range borders the gardens and provides endless opportunities for amazing landscape photos or IG pics for with natural backgrounds.
Get here early if possible. Firstly, this will allow you to get your road shot. Also, you can then get some snaps in before the gardens start getting the heavy tourist traffic they tend to receive later in the day.
READ MORE: Big Island Photography Locations
Farrington Highway / Ka’ena Point
Once you’ve completed your drive across the H3, you will want to journey up toward the North Shore. However, there is a very beautiful detour option for those who would like to get off the beaten path a bit and explore the quieter part of the West Coast.
If this sounds like you, the Farrington Highway is a 20-mile stretch that heads north toward Ka’ena Point. At this point, the road simply dead ends. Along the way, however, you will have ample opportunity to enjoy some of the quietest, but windiest, coastline on Oahu.
In addition, the road follows Oahu’s western mountain range, the Waianae Mountains. This mountain range provides beautiful backdrops for the entirety of your trip.
Even if you don’t stop, the drive itself is quite stunning.
Whether or not you took the Farrington Highway detour, the next stop on our tour will be Oahu’s North Shore.
The Oahu North Shore is a world-renown surfer’s paradise and is a USA bucket list favorite! It is also home to some of the most Instagram worthy beaches in the United States! With that said, while a few of our favorite photography destinations are on the North Shore, the East coast still topped our list for the island’s best beaches. And if we know anything about Hawaii’s North Shore surfers, they’ll be happy we said so!
The North Shore also has some of the best food options (including some pretty places for some Insta shots). Check out this foodies guide to Oahu’s North Shore to find the most delicious options!
Just after saying most of our favorite beaches are on the East coast, there is one place on the North Shore that ranks as one of our favorites beaches anywhere on Oahu. That place is Laniakea Beach.
This is one of the most popular spots for honu, aka green sea turtles, to come to the shores for rest. As a result, it is also one of the most popular spots for tourists to flock in order to get those truly Hawaiian photos.
While the parking at Lanaikea Beach can be an absolute nightmare, it is definitely worth the stop. It is truly one of the most classically Hawaiian beaches you will come across.
It is absolutely fine to take pictures of the turtles… with a zoom. Do NOT invade their space and by all means DO NOT touch them or force them into selfies. They have become quite acclimated to sharing their beach with humans. However, they can become distressed and potentially stop coming to shore to rest if they are harassed with regularity.
If you love them, do not smother them.
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Made famous by the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Turtle Bay Resort and nearby Kawela Bay are as pristine as one would expect from a beach that is managed by a resort. It was this exact reason, however, that we did not spend too much time here. While it was pretty, we did not want to deal with the crowds and prices, and opted instead to continue south.
Laie is a small coastal town with a beautiful coastline and incredible views of the Koʻolau Mountain Range in the distance. Though the beach access is limited, it is a very quiet area and there are plenty of places to pull off from the road and borrow your own private slice of paradise.
Ka’a’awa Beach (Kaaawa Beach)
Looking at the photos, do I really need to explain why Ka’a’awa Beach was one of our favorite Oahu Instagram spots on the entire island? Not only is the scenery unbeatable, but we had this stretch of beach entirely to ourselves!
There is nowhere near as much available shoreline as the beaches we’ve covered already. However, what makes this place so special is the stunning mountain backdrop that complements the tall, blowing palm trees and perfect tropical setting.
After Lanikai Beach, Ka’a’awa Beach is where we spent the most time photographing and relaxing. We simply could not tear ourselves away from how isolated and beautiful this place truly was.
READ MORE: Maui Instagram Spots and Destinations
Kualoa Regional Park
As you continue to journey south and enter the central region of Oahu, you will approach those same mountainscapes that look like they are from another era. It’s no wonder Kualoa Ranch is where they filmed so much of Jurassic Park, not to mention so many other movies!
There are a good deal of walks and a few accessible beaches you can access in the Kualoa Regional Park. However, Kualoa Ranch is the most popular photography destination. Instagrammers and tourists of all kind flock in droves to collect photographs of scenes from their favorite movies.
After you’ve spent some time exploring here, it will be time once more to head back toward the city and Honolulu. Take Highway 61 to see some new sights along the way. The highly Instagrammable Manoa Falls are along that highway, making it the best option for those with time left.
At this point, you will have covered most of the island with the exception of the area around Waikiki.
While we did not spend any time there at all on our visit, there are a couple of places that are popular for Instagrammers that we will at least mention below.
I (Adam) had actually hiked to Diamond Head on a previous visit. While it was a short, easy hike, the crowds were maddening and the view was nice but deemed unworthy of the effort to return. Of course, part of that decision is that we have a drone that offers similar views without the crowds, time restraints, and earthbound limitations.
With all that said, we are not recommending skipping Diamond Head peak necessarily. It is, after all, one of the most popular Oahu Instagram spots there are. Only you can decide if it’s worth adding to your itinerary.
Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs)
Once upon a time, this was a bucket list item for any visitor of Oahu. However, a storm damaged several sections of the stairs and they were closed for safety reasons as a result.
There is technically a legal Stairway to Heaven hike via a back way, but it is much longer and fewer people know about it. It is called the Moanalua Ridge Trail and despite being the legal path, it is considerably more dangerous.
Instead, many people still attempt the traditional hike along the Haiku stairs. However, fines are regularly issued and they are $1000 as of Jan 1, 2020.
We might risk $1000 for a truly once-in-a-lifetime, completely unique and guaranteed prize-winning photo, but the Haiku Stairs did not make that cut for us. We looked at photos and decided this was not worth the risk; not only of receiving a fine but of upsetting an entire island of locals who try to be as friendly as possible but are losing patience for tourists.
As has been mentioned many times in this blog, however, our goal is not to condemn or condone, but to educate. If you would like to do this hike, either the legal or illegal way, the Million Mile Secrets website has a great blog on it.
You may also want to consider looking into a local tour guide. They can help you with supplies and make sure you arrive safely and without risk of a fine.
Most Instagrammable Hotels in Oahu
It seems only fitting in a guide to the best Oahu Instagram spots that the hotel recommendations are also Insta-worthy. From ocean views to pink walls and colourful murals, these hotels will inspire wanderlust and help you get those Instagram shots. You’ll find the largest range of hotels in Honolulu.
The Royal Hawaiian
This luxury beachfront hotel is an Instagrammer’s dream. The Royal Hawaiian is affectionately referred to as “The Pink Palace of the Pacific” with good reason… you’ll find pink in everything from its walls to its beach loungers, umbrellas, towels and even pancakes! Everywhere you go in this stunning hotel there is an Instagram perfect moment waiting for you.
The Laylow Waikiki
It seems that the Laylow Waikiki was designed for Instagram. With its Hawaiian floral decor in the bedrooms, lush tropical foliage and lanais with ocean views, there are photo opportunities aplenty here.
Shoreline Hotel Waikiki
For the most colourful Instagram shots, the recently re-branded Shoreline Hotel Waikiki is the place to stay! Vibrant murals adorn the walls and paper mache birds hang from the ceiling, alongside bold colored furniture just waiting to be photographed. Everything about this photogenic hotel is playful and fun.
Photography Equipment for the Best Photos in Oahu
- Camera: We use the Sony a7riii and have been in love with it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, for beginners you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start getting to grips with manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
- Waterproof camera: With incredible snorkeling and waterfalls to explore you may find yourself taking more photos from underwater than on the land! We recommend either the GoPro or Olympus TG6, both of which we use.
- Lens: The lens we use most frequently is the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS as the zoom lens allows for the most diversity. We also often use the Laowa 15mm F2 for shots that require a wider angle.
- Tripod: A tripod is essential if you are shooting in low light, at night or for any other long exposure photography. When traveling, we use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. For times when we require something more stable, we use the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod.
- Filters: A Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter (CPL) or Neutral Density (ND) filter are very useful for allowing slower shutter speeds and for cutting glare on reflective surfaces, helping to bring out the colors. This is especially useful in Oahu, where you’ll likely be shooting a lot during the day around water. The best CPL and ND filters we have found are the quartz line from Polar Pro.
Final Thoughts on the Best Oahu Instagram Spots
We truly hope you’ve enjoyed this travel guide to the best Oahu Instagram spots and photography destinations! Of all the Hawaiian islands, our expectations were lowest of Oahu. We thought of it as nothing but resorts and tourists, but we could not have been more wrong! In the end, our time on the island was one of the most joyful weeks of any in 2019.
If you are planning to do some Hawaiian island-hopping, check out our other Hawaii guides:
- Best Maui Instagram Spots and Destinations
- Big Island Photography Locations
- Most Beautiful Photography Locations in Kauai
- The Perfect Kauai Itinerary
Want to know what we gear we used to take the best Oahu Instagram photos? Check out the following blog posts:
Please leave a comment below if any of our names or information is inaccurate, or if you think we’ve left something off the list.