Oahu is a paradise island that is known for its beautiful beaches, tropical climate, and vibrant culture. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Oahu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or just a relaxing vacation, Oahu has something for everyone.
One of the best things to do in Oahu is to hit the beach. Oahu has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, ranging from tourist hotspots to secluded stretches of sand. Whether you’re looking to catch some waves, go snorkeling, or just soak up the sun, there’s a beach on Oahu that’s perfect for you.
Top Things to Do in Oahu, Hawaii
Besides it stunning beaches, Oahu is also known for its rich Polynesian culture and wide-ranging history. The island is home to several historical landmarks, including the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the Iolani Palace, and the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. Visitors to Oahu can learn about the island’s fascinating history and experience the unique blend of Hawaiian and American culture that is unique to the island. So, let’s take a look at all of the amazing things to do on one of Hawaii’s most popular islands.
1. Take a Helicopter Tour
One of our favorite things to do in Hawaii is to take a helicopter tour. We take one at each island we visit and Oahu was one of our favorite flights. The beautiful sea cliffs and waterfalls are a gorgeous view from above, but Oahu was a bit different from the other islands as we flew over Pearl Harbor giving a bird’s eye view of the warships still sitting underwater in the harbor. We flew with Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours out of Honolulu.
It may cost a few extra bucks but the views are worth it especially if the weather is nice. Make sure to ask for a window seat or you may get stuck in the middle seat like Dave and not see much.
This helicopter tour leaves from Waikiki Beach to the North Shore and it was beautiful. Magnum PI fans will love this helicopter tour in a replica of the helicopter from the series. See all the places where Magnum PI was filmed as well as the other top things to see on Oahu like the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, Sacred Falls, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, and Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).
2. Visit Pearl Harbor Memorial
One of the top things to do in Oahu is to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial. The USS Arizona Memorial commemorates the sailors and ship that went down in the harbor when the Japanese attacked in 1941 during World War II. You can take an audio tour of the memorial from the visitor’s center where you’ll hear stories from survivors and historians. (It’s voiced by Jamie Lee Curtis)
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is open seven days a week from and is free to visit the two museums and the USS Arizona Memorial. You do need to make reservations to visit the memorial for a timed entrance. You can do that here.
Your trip includes a boat ride to/from the memorial and allows for 15 minutes at the memorial.
Combine your Pearl Harbor visit with a Waikiki Honolulu City Tour. It includes a tour of Honolulu, a stop at the King Kamehameha Statue in front of Hawaii Five-0 Headquarters, the Pearl Harbor National Park, and the chance to take the boat out to the USS Arizona memorial.
3. Learn to Surf at Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is a huge beach on Oahu where you will most likely find yourself staying. Lined with hotels and restaurants, it’s an amazing place to hang out. One of the most popular things to do in Oahu and at this beach is to learn to surf.
The conditions on Waikiki Beach are some of the best for learning to surf. With nice easy waves and a sandy bottom, this is the ideal place to fulfill your bucket list of surfing in Hawaii. The Surfer Girl Academy offers group lessons.
But we highly recommend one on one surf instruction. We’ve taken surfing lessons around the world and when you have an instructor with you at all times, it really makes a difference in helping you stand. Kahu Surf School offers private lessons.
4. Oahu’s North Shore
Avid surfers won’t be surfing at Waikiki Beach but will instead make their way to the north shore. Waimea Bay Beach Park is famous as the big wave surf spot where during the winter months the waves reach 30 feet high!
Don’t worry, there are plenty of things to do at Waimea Beach besides surfing, you can simply lounge on the soft sand, or go swimming in the summer months (when the water is calm). If you want to do some snorkeling, make sure to pack your own gear. Or you can go to watch locals jump from the cliffs.
While you won’t be in the water with them, it’s awesome to watch the surfers catch a wave. Check out these The Most Amazing Facts About Hawaii
5. Shark Diving
Oahu is famous for its shark diving, and this highly rated North Shore shark cage dive tour is one for the bucket list. It’s two tours in one. A scenic boat ride takes you offshore from the North Shore where you’ll hop in a cage to see sharks swimming in their natural habitat of the Pacific Ocean. No experience is necessary.
You can even bring your own mask and snorkel as it requires no oxygen tanks. You just hold your breath and watch. Seeing sharks up close is an incredible experience. When you see them up close under the water, your fear disappears as you watch them effortlessly glide through the sea. We have done cage diving with sharks twice and it truly is an incredible experience.
6. Swim with Sea Turtles
Hawaii is one of the best places to go snorkeling with sea turtles. We always recommend a guided tour for snorkeling as the professionals know where to find them. This Hidden Gems Tour doesn’t only include a chance to snorkel with green sea turtles, you’ll also stop at Chinaman’s Hat and Sunset Beach.
Since it is a full-day tour, it’s a great way to check off a lot of the best things to do in Oahu in one day including stops at Hanauma Bay, Halona Blowhole, Makapuu Pt. Macadamia Nut Farm, North Shore Shrimp Trucks, North Shore Fruit Stand, and the Dole Plantation. Snorkel Gear
7. Sunset Beach
Speaking of Sunset Beach, surfers flock to this spot to ride the waves but it is also one of the best spots in Oahu for sunset. Hence the name. Located on Oahu’s North Shore this is another spot for big waves and is part of the Triple Crown Surfing Contest. But non surfers can go swimming and snorkeling in the summer.
However, it is the sunset that attracts a crowd. Sunset Beach is a beautiful two mile stretch of sand that you can drive right up to its free parking lot. Other great places for sunset are Ala Moana Beach Park and Ka’ena Point.
8. Go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
If you want to go snorkeling on your own, there are plenty of places offshore of Oahu. One of the best places to snorkel is Hanauma Bay. This nature preserves is a protected marine life conservation area that was voted the best beach in America. Visitors are required to watch a video to learn about conservation efforts. You can snorkel here on your own or book a tour. (Which we always recommend). There is a limited entry so make sure to arrive early.
Don’t just see Oahu from the ground, get up in the air with this helicopter tour that we did. It goes from Waikiki Beach to the North Shore and it was beautiful.
9. Diamond Head
Diamond Head is a spectacular crater on Ohau. Hike to the top of the 760-foot (231-meter) summit for panoramic views of Honolulu, and the Pacific Ocean. You can hike Diamond Head independently and the trail opens at 6:00 am so get there early to beat the crowds.
The fun, but challenging hike features a steep climb up to the viewpoint that rewards you with panoramic views of turquoise waters and the Honolulu skyline. Along the way, the trail leads you through an exciting 225ft tunnel, which is almost as memorable as the views.
There is a fee for parking and hiking Diamond Head. At just (1.6 miles) a 2.6 km round trip it is a steep but doable hike. The trail was built for defense by the military starting on a concrete walkway, and then going through a tunnel and steep stairs to the lighthouse and military bunkers. Makes sure to check out more hikes in Oahu for more hiking ideas.
10. Polynesian Cultural Center
One of our favorite things about visiting Hawaii is immersing in the strong Hawaiian Culture. A visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center offers a Polynesian experience where you can enjoy a Polynesian luau and fire show.
Located on the North Shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center is dedicated to preserving the traditions and culture of Polynesia. There are six villages representing the island nations of Polynesia including Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand (Aotearoa), Fiji, and Tahiti. See more details of this unique attraction at their website.
11. Attend a Luau
Speaking of Hawaiian Culture, no trip to Oahu would be complete without attending a Luau. This traditional Polynesian dinner with dance and entertainment is a Hawaiian tradition. There are several places to attend a Luau and you won’t have a problem finding one. As visitors to the island, you are honored guests, so there is no better reason to celebrate.
The Cultural Center is probably the most popular luau, but others include Paradise Cove at Ko Olina, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and the Waikiki Starlight at the Hilton on Waikiki Beach. The Moana Luau at Sea Life Park is another popular luau that takes you from Waikiki to enjoy a buffet dinner, hula lessons, and a fire show.
When in doubt, just ask at your hotel where to attend a Luau. Chances are, there might be one right at your beach.
12. Eat Shave Ice
When in Hawaii you must indulge in the refreshing treat of shave ice. Shave Ice is Hawaii’s answer to the snow cone, only oh so much better. Imported by Japanese migrant workers who made shaved off cool ice and topped it with pineapple juice from the island, it has now become a staple dessert of the Hawaiian Islands.
No trip to Oahu would be complete without trying shave Ice at one of the iconic shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore, Waiola Shave Ice in Honolulu, and Shimazu Store in Honolulu. We always eat shave ice when we visit Hawaii, but only managed to ever snap this photo of us while in Maui.
13. Dole Plantation
One of the top attractions on Oahu is the Dole Pineapple Plantation seeing more than 1 million visitors a year. Known as Hawaii’s Pineapple Experience, Dole offers tours to teach people about Hawaii’s agriculture. Hop on the Pineapple Express train to learn of pineapple in Hawaii and learn how James Drummond Dole made his pineapple empire as you tour the plantation in comfort.
Many day tours of Oahu include tours of the Dole plantation including this best-selling full-day Oahu island tour. It lets you see all the highlights including Hanauma Bay to the North Shore, the Kualoa Ranch, Halona Blowhole Nu`uanu Pali Lookout, the beaches of the North Shore, and more.
14. Pineapple Garden Maze
If you are visiting with kids make sure to check out the Pineapple Garden Maze which is considered the world’s largest garden maze. If you are feeling hungry, you can pop into the Plantation Grille for a bit to eat before continuing on with your Oahu itinerary.
Covering more than two acres, the maze is made up of over 14,000 colorful Hawaiian plants, including pineapple, and hibiscus. The Pinapple maze is designed to be challenging but not too difficult, making it a great activity for families with children or groups of friends.
15. Koko Head Stairs
Another popular hike on Oahu is the Koko Head Stairs hike. Like Diamond Head, it is a short hike, but a steep one. Walking along the abandoned railway is a unique trek to the summit. It’s a good thing the steps are there because it is steep. Bring plenty of water and go early to avoid the crowds. It’s a good idea to head out for sunrise.
Magnum PI fans will also love this helicopter tour in a replica of the series helicopter to see filming locations plus Pearl Harbor, Sacred Falls, and Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).
16. Iolani Palace
Did you know that Hawaii was once a monarchy? Iolani Palace dates back to 1882 during the reign of King Kalakaua. After his death, his sister Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown in 1895. It was then used as government headquarters for 80 years, but it has since been restored to its original splendor, and its open to visitors to take a Self-Led Audio Tour to learn about the royal’s Hawaiian history.
17. Whale Watching
Humpback whales make their way to Hawaii from December to May to give birth. It is one of the most magical things on earth to see whales in the ocean. You can see them from the shore, but a whale-watching tour is a must. Especially if you haven’t seen whales in the wild.
Check out this eco-friendly whale-watching tour where you are guaranteed to spot whales. (otherwise, you get another tour free!) Hop aboard a catamaran and set sail from Waianae Harbor and cruise the west coast of Oahu in search of whales that migrate from Alaska to breed and calve.
18. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is located on the grounds of the historic Ford Island in Honolulu, Hawaii. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of aviation in the Pacific, with a particular focus on the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The museum features a wide range of exhibits, including aircraft from the World War II era and beyond, interactive displays, and artifacts related to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the nearby Pacific Aviation Museum, which includes a number of historic aircraft and exhibits related to the Pacific theater of World War II.
Visiting the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the events that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the impact it had on the United States and the world. The museum offers a unique opportunity to see and learn about historic aircraft and other artifacts, and to hear the stories of the men and women who were involved in this important chapter of history.
19. Oahu Atlantis Submarine at Hilton Hawaiian Village
The Oahu Atlantis Submarine is a unique and exciting underwater adventure that offers visitors the opportunity to explore the depths of the ocean without getting wet. Get up close and personal with marine life when you take a trip in the Oahu Atlantis Submarine. It takes visitors on a 45-minute tour of the ocean floor, where you can see a variety of marine life up close, including tropical fish, sea turtles, and even sharks.
The submarine is equipped with large viewing windows that provide a clear view of the ocean floor and its inhabitants. The tour is led by experienced guides who point out different fish and share the history of the area and the role that the ocean plays in Hawaiian culture.
20. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a beautiful hiking trail located on the eastern side of the island taking you to the historic Makapu’u Point Lighthouse. The trail offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, the neighboring islands, and the surrounding mountains. The trail is also a popular spot for whale watching during the winter months.
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse was built in 1909 and has been in continuous operation ever since. The lighthouse is an important navigational aid for ships traveling in the Pacific, and visitors can learn about its history and importance through guided tours and exhibits.
21. Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch, located on the east side of Oahu in Hawaii, is a unique and beautiful nature reserve that has been the setting for many Hollywood movies and TV shows, including the famous Jurassic Park franchise. The Kualoa Ranch has been preserved as a nature reserve and is considered one of the most beautiful places on the island of Oahu.
The Jurassic Park film locations are nestled within the lush valley surrounded by towering mountain ranges, dense forests, and panoramic ocean views. Exploring these landscapes will leave you feeling awestruck and inspired.
21. Kayak or Paddle Board at Kailua Beach
Kailua Beach, located on the windward side of Oahu is a popular spot for water sports, including kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Whether you choose to kayak or paddle board depends on your personal preference and skill level.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the calm waters of Kailua Bay and nearby offshore islands, such as the Mokulua Islands. Kayaks are stable and easy to maneuver, making them a good option for beginners or those who want to take it easy. You can rent a single or double kayak from one of the local rental shops, and there are several guided tours available that will take you to some of the best spots in the area.
Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is another popular water sport in Kailua Beach. SUP involves standing on a large, stable board and using a paddle to propel yourself through the water. It requires a bit more balance and coordination than kayaking, but it’s a fun and challenging activity. SUP is a great workout for your core and upper body, and it’s a good way to see the beautiful scenery of Kailua Beach from a different perspective. There are also several rental shops that offer SUP rentals, and many offer lessons for beginners.
22. Visit Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley is a beautiful and culturally significant area on the island that offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about history, culture, and natural beauty. With a history dating back to ancient times the valley was once home to Hawaiian ali’i (chiefs), who used the area for farming and other important activities. Today, visitors can learn about the valley’s history and culture through guided tours, cultural demonstrations, and exhibits at the visitor center.
Waimea Valley is home to a lush botanical garden that features a diverse array of plant and animal life. Visitors can walk through the garden and see everything from tropical flowers to towering trees. The valley is also home to a beautiful waterfall that is a popular spot for swimming and enjoying the scenery.
23. Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art
The Honolulu Museum of Art is a world-class art museum located in Honolulu. It boasts an extensive and impressive collection of art from around the world. The Honolulu Museum of Art has a collection includes over 50,000 works of art, ranging from ancient art from Asia and Europe to contemporary works by local artists.
The museum is located in a beautiful and historic building that was originally built as a residence in the 1920s. The building features stunning architecture and is surrounded by lush gardens and sculptures.
Located in the heart of Honolulu, The Honolulu Museum of Art is easily accessible to visitors staying in the city. The museum is just a short walk from Waikiki Beach and many other popular attractions in Honolulu.
24. Watch the sunset from Tantalus Lookout
The Tantalus Lookout is a popular destination in Oahu for those who want to witness stunning panoramic views of Honolulu and the surrounding areas, especially at sunset. It offers panoramic views of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, and the surrounding areas. The views from the lookout are truly breathtaking, and watching the sunset from this vantage point is a memorable experience that you won’t forget.
The lookout is located in a tranquil and peaceful area of the island, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This provides visitors with a serene atmosphere to relax and unwind while watching the sunset. It’s easily accessible by car or hiking a short trail, making it a very popular spot for sunset and photographers.
If you’re looking for a unique and memorable way to end your day, watching the sunset from the Tantalus Lookout is definitely worth considering.
25. Take a hike through the Manoa Valley
Hiking through Manoa Valley is a popular activity in Oahu for those who love nature and outdoor adventures. It is known for its lush greenery, tropical plants, and beautiful waterfalls. The hike takes you through a dense rainforest, which provides a serene atmosphere and an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
During the hike keep an eye out for various species of birds, insects, and other wildlife in their natural habitat. This makes it a great option for nature enthusiasts who want to experience the beauty of the island’s ecosystem. The trail is well-maintained and well-marked, and there are plenty of opportunities to take breaks and rest along the way.
The star attraction of this hike though is the beautiful Manoa Falls that cascades down a cliff into a small pool. This provides a great photo opportunity and a chance to cool off after the hike.
26. Visit the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout is a popular destination in Oahu for those who want to take in some of the most stunning views of the Ko’olau Mountains, Windward Coast, and the Pacific Ocean. The views from the lookout are truly breathtaking, and you’ll have the opportunity to take in some of the most beautiful scenery that Oahu has to offer.
It is easily accessible by car, and there is ample parking available. This makes it a convenient destination for those who want to enjoy the views without having to travel too far.
The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history.
27. Take a Sunset Cruise Boat Tour
There is nothing better than getting out on the water in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands are unlike any you’ve seen with their high sea cliffs and volcanoes reaching up from the ocean. We love a romantic sunset cruise, and this Moana’s Cocktail Sunset Sail takes you along the Waikiki Coast for one of Hawaii’s most famous sunsets. Watch the skies changes as you enjoy cocktails while keeping an eye out for dolphins and win the winter months humpback whales. You’ll see famous Waikiki landmarks including Diamond Head.
28. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is a beautiful beach located on the east side of Oahu, and is definitely worth a visit if you want even more pristine white sand beaches and clear blue waters.
It consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the world, and for good reason. Its soft, powdery sand and crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and just relaxing. The beach is relatively small, which means it can get crowded, but its beauty more than makes up for it.
here is a coral reef just a short swim from the shore, which is home to a variety of colorful fish and other marine life. Snorkeling gear can be rented nearby, or you can bring your own
30. Take a catamaran cruise
If you want a little more action this Catamaran Cruise sets sail down the western coast to Ko Olina. Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales as you enjoy this beautiful catamaran cruise before diving in for some snorkelling at a hidden local spot.
It includes a Hawaiian buffet with drinks, snorkelling gear and on board shower. If you don’t have snorkeling experience, there is even instruction. There are three daily departures
31. Learn to hula dance
32. Go on a food tour of Honolulu
29. Kakaako Farmers Market
It’s always fun to go to a market, and if you happen to be in Honolulu on a Saturday, make your way to the Kaka’ako Farmers Market in Honolulu. Local vendors sell farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. A reason to go alone is to visit the hip neighborhood of Kakaako.
Where to Stay on the Island of Oahu
Home to the state capital of Hawaii – Honolulu, Oahu is one of the most exciting Hawaiian Islands to visit. With the world-famous Waikiki Beach, great hiking trails, epic swells on the North Shore, and historic landmarks such as Pearl Harbor there is something for everyone. These are the best attractions and things to do in Oahu to make the most of your trip.
Turtle Bay Resort
If you want to stay on Oahu’s north shore, a good spot is the Turtle Bay Resort. If you watched the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshal, this is the spot where Jason Seigal met Mila Kunis and enjoyed a fun-filled vacation in Hawaii. (once he got over Sarah Marshal). This is the largest resort on the island located far away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
Waikiki is the most popular place to stay on Oahu with hotels lining the beach. If you want to be in the heart of the action this is the place to stay. You can’t go wrong with the Hilton Hawaii Village Waikiki Beach Resort plus it has one of the best luaus on Oahu.
And these are some of the best things to do in Oahu. So when we can all travel again, make sure to put it at the top of your list!
Things To Do in Oahu FAQ
What is Oahu Best Known For?
Oahu is best known for its world-famous beaches, and iconic landmarks, such as the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the Diamond Head State Monument. Additionally, the island is known for its bustling capital city, Honolulu, which is home to some of the best shopping, dining, and nightlife in Hawaii.
Is 7 Days in Oahu too Long?
Ultimately, it comes down to your personal travel style and what you want to get out of your time in Oahu. If you’re not sure whether 7 days is the right amount of time for you, consider breaking up your trip with a visit to one of the other Hawaiian islands or adding a day trip to nearby attractions like the Polynesian Cultural Center or the island of Molokai.
What should you not miss in Oahu?
The top 5 things we think you should not miss in Oahu are The North Shore, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head State Monument, Hanauma Bay, and of course Waikiki Beach.
How Many Days Do you need in Oahu?
You could see most of the island in 4 or 5 days but we suggest giving yourself a full week to take in all that Oahu has to offer.
How to Get Around Oahu
There are several ways to get around Oahu, and the best option for you will depend on your preferences, budget, and itinerary. Here are some of the most popular ways to get around Oahu:
Renting a car: Renting a car is a popular option for visitors who want to explore Oahu on their own. This gives you the flexibility to go where you want, when you want, and allows you to explore some of the island’s more remote areas. However, keep in mind that parking can be limited and traffic can be heavy in some areas. Public transportation: Oahu has an extensive public transportation system that includes buses and trolleys. This is a more affordable option than renting a car and is a great way to explore Honolulu and some of the island’s more popular tourist destinations. However, public transportation can be slower and less convenient than other options. Ride-sharing services: Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are available on Oahu and are a convenient option for short trips or when you don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving and parking. However, the cost can add up quickly, especially for longer trips. Tour companies: There are several tour companies on Oahu that offer guided tours of the island. This is a great option if you want to see the sights without having to worry about driving or navigating on your own. However, this can be more expensive than other options.
Ultimately, the best way to get around Oahu will depend on your preferences and itinerary. If you plan to explore the island extensively, renting a car may be the best option. If you’re only visiting for a few days or want to explore specific areas, public transportation or ride-sharing services may be more convenient.
Why Should You Visit Oahu?
Oahu is a destination that truly has something for everyone, from the beautiful beaches and lush hiking trails to the rich cultural experiences and historic landmarks. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun on world-renowned beaches, explore the island’s natural beauty, or immerse yourself in its unique culture and history, Oahu has it all.
With so many amazing things to see and do on this beautiful island, it’s no wonder that it’s such a popular destination for travelers from around the world. So, pack your bags and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in Oahu!