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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. Book a 2-hour private surf lesson on Waikiki Beach right here.
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. And I strongly suggest picking up this guidebook before you go. I never would’ve found half of the hidden spots I now love on Oahu without it.
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.
RELATED: Not very familiar with Oahu? Read up on the lay of the (is)land and where to stay plus my favorite beach resorts, budget hotels, Airbnbs, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, luxury resorts, and boutique hotels.
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 Polynesian Cultural Center. Oahu’s most popular paid attraction is definitely a don’t miss. The is a series of authentic villages displaying the cultures of islanders across the Pacific. From ukulele lessons to other cultural demonstrations, if you’re interested in learning more about Polynesian culture, plan to spend half a day here. You can buy admission to the park plus tickets to the luau here.
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. Read all about my experience at the Paradise Cove Luau (plus reserve tickets) here.
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.
RELATED: Need a packing list for Oahu? Find my best packing advice here.
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). My favorite thing at Kualoa is the 2-hour ATV tour. Read all about my experience at Kualoa Ranch (plus reserve your tour) here.
And don’t forget to order your copy of the Oahu Revealed guidebook. It’s advice on how to find hidden beaches, waterfalls, and trail heads is well worth the space in your backpack.
Feeling a little overwhelmed with trying to plan the perfect Oahu itinerary? I’ve got just the thing for you!
Oahu Bound! I’ve put together the BEST Oahu itineraries you’ll find anywhere! These are the itineraries I use on my trips to Oahu (plus a few tweaks because hindsight is 20/20 right?) and they’re perfect for first time and repeat visitors who want to see the very best of Oahu.
Check it out here.
I’ve included everything from the best snorkeling spots, beaches, and excursions and it’s all broken down by each part of the island so you won’t waste any time backtracking.
So what exactly do you get? With Oahu Bound, you’ll get a 3, 4, 5, and 6-day itinerary and I’m not just talking about a bullet point list of to dos. Each itinerary comes with 10-15 pages of commentary explaining why I recommend doing certain things (plus various options to suit your interests). Each itinerary also comes with its own Google Map (broken down by day). You’ll also get an itinerary template that you can use to make your own, along with extensive tips on creating your own itinerary, a huge list of things to do on Oahu, and directions for making your own Google Maps.
This is basically vacation in a box, friend! Just add a bit of salt water and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime!
Click here to grab the Oahu Bound itinerary bundle.
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