Aloha! Thinking about heading to Hawaii? Most people end up on Oahu (Honolulu & Waikiki) because of the great flight options. As Hawaii’s main island (but not the biggest!) there is sooooo much to do here! Here’s 15 things to do in Oahu that you definitely shouldn’t miss:
1.Take surfing lessons at Waikiki. Surfing has a long and rich history in Hawaii and Waikiki was the birthplace of it all. Paddle out into the lineup and you’ll be hanging ten like the pros in no time. Dozens of surf schools line the beaches of Waikiki, where ideal beginner surf conditions can be found nearly every day. Most schools will provide some on land instruction as well as all of the gear you’ll need to enjoy a morning out on the water.
2. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay. It’s hardly undiscovered but Hanauma Bay is still one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. They only allow a limited number of people into the bay everyday and they close the parking lot when it reaches capacity so be sure to go early in the day. Near the parking lot is an overlook area that’s popular with the tourists and from this point is where you’ll pay your entrance fee (about $6/person) and watch a film about conservation efforts in the bay. From the top you can walk or take a tram down to the bottom where there are shower, bathroom, and locker facilities.
3. Sun bathe at Lanikai Beach. The most beautiful beach in Hawaii is the perfect place to spend the day sunbathing and frolicking through the waves. Located on the windward side of the island near Kailua town, this postcard worthy beach is accessed by beach paths between spectacular beach homes. The remoteness and laidback vibe of this area will make you feel a world away from bustling Waikiki.
4. Tour Pearl Harbor. You can’t come to Oahu and not visit Pearl Harbor. The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is the true highlight but there are plenty of other things to tour as well. Admission to two of the museums as well as the USS Arizona are free but you’ll need to secure tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial as they limit the number of visitors each day. Tickets can be obtained in person but it’s a good idea to make reservations online ahead of time.
5. Watch sunset on Waikiki Beach. It may be swarming with tourists but Waikiki is something that everyone needs to see at least once. Plan on dinner and drinks timed to see the sunset. Duke’s at the Outrigger Waikiki Resort or Rumfire at the Sheraton are both great options. There’s plenty of shopping to keep you busy well after dark.
6. Hike Diamond Head. For great views of Waikiki, consider making the trek up to Diamond Head. Diamond Head is an extinct volcanic crater and while the round trip hike can be made in under an hour, allow more time for stopping at picture points along the way.
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7. Visit the Dole Plantation. Hawaii is famous for its pineapples and while the state doesn’t grow them like they used to, the Dole Plantation is a great place to learn about the history of the pineapple plantations in Hawaii as well as the fruit itself. There’s a train tour through pineapple fields, a large maze, as well as a large gift shop where you can try the famous Dole Whip pineapple ice cream.
8. Attend the Luau at Paradise Cove. A luau is at the top of many visitors to do lists and the Luau at Paradise Cove is one of the best. Arrive early to participate in hula lessons, lei making, and a variety of cultural demonstrations before the main event. Plenty of food and a spectacular show cap off the night.
9. Watch the surfers on the North Shore. If you’re visiting Oahu in the winter months, you’ll witness some of the world’s best surfers taking on the world’s biggest waves on the North Shore. December brings the Triple Crown of Surfing to Oahu and be prepared for crowds if you plan to go out to watch the tournaments.
10. Explore Haleiwa town. A day spent on the North Shore isn’t complete without hanging out in Haleiwa town. Home to art galleries, local shops, and a famous bakery and shaved ice joint, Haleiwa will give you a feel for a real authentic Hawaiian surf town.
11. Drive the windward coast. The drive from Kailua town to the North Shore will take you past some of Oahu’s most breathtaking sights. On this drive you’ll see the true beauty of Oahu and really get away from all the traffic of the city.
12. Eat at the North Shore’s famous food trucks. The North Shore has no shortage of food trucks but the shrimp trucks are probably the most popular. The scampi at Giovanni’s is award winning and one of the most frequented.
13. Visit the Iolani Palace. Experience Hawaiian culture and history by touring the Iolani Palace. It’s the only imperial palace located on US soil and a popular tourist destination in Waikiki.
14. Find “Turtle Beach” on the North Shore. Laniakea Beach is the best place in Oahu to find Hawaiian green sea turtles. Not only can you see them swimming through the reefs just off shore, but at this beach they actually swim ashore to rest and sun themselves in the sand.
15. Explore Kualoa Ranch. On the windward side of Oahu, Kualoa Ranch is home to quite a few recreational activities including ziplining, ATV tours, horseback riding and movie site tours (films such as Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla, and the TV show Lost were all filmed here).
And don’t forget to click the image below and grab your FREE Google map with all of these places. It’s the perfect thing to download and take with you on your vacation!
If you’re looking for the ultimate Oahu resource, I highly recommend the Oahu Revealed guidebook. It has the best info and instructions for finding hidden beach entrances, waterfalls, and hikes. Things aren’t always very well marked in Hawaii and it would be a shame if you missed out on some of Oahu’s best beaches and hikes just because you can’t find them! This book is my go to resource when I’m “on the ground” in Hawaii. (Psst…this is an affiliate link so your purchase helps both of us out : )