Planning an Oahu vacation and looking for the very best things to do in Oahu?
The third-largest of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is an exciting vacation destination. It is the most visited island in Hawaii, with several million visitors seeking to escape to its beautiful landscapes each year.
O‘ahu translates to “the Gathering Place,” an apt name for the most populous of the Hawaiian islands and home to Honolulu, the bustling state capital.
Yes, the area around Waikiki Beach is built up, but if you are hankering for the natural landscapes for which the Aloha State is famous, don’t worry. Oahu also has a greener side, with mountain ranges, lush valleys, and waterfalls.
The hikes are epic, the beaches beautiful, and the variety of exciting things to do in Oahu will keep you engaged every moment of your stay on the island.
Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor. Experience the excitement of Waikiki. Snorkel with turtles. Go whale watching in winter. Hike Diamond Head for unforgettable views. Take a helicopter tour. Surf.
And if you are a foodie, rejoice! From fine dining to food trucks and farm stands, there are lots of exceptional eateries to try in Oahu.
Whether you are looking for a fun family sun-and-sand vacation, or a romantic couples’ getaway, or an adventure-filled solo jaunt, you’ll be spoiled for choice on things to do in Oahu!
Excited? Let’s get started discovering the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii!
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Things to Do in Oahu
1. Enjoy Waikiki Beach
One of the most famous beaches in the world, Waikiki Beach is a gorgeous crescent of white sand and impossibly turquoise waters.
Previously a playground for the Hawaiian royals, today the beach is a place to relax and enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.
Split into several sections, Waikiki Beach stretches from the Hilton Hawaiian Village in the west to Kapiolani Beach Park and San Souci Beach in the east.
Waikiki Beach is popular for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding, parasailing, and sunbathing.
Boat tours are also popular, especially this afternoon glass-bottom boat cruise.
You can also stroll the beach (or the promenade) and take in the epic sunsets here: with a 2-mile stretch of sand, it’s possible to walk away from the most crowded areas to enjoy a spot of relative solitude.
Walk Waikiki Beach early in the day if you want to experience its beauty without the busy crowds that throng it during the day. Plus, the light is beautiful at sunrise.
The beach is home to a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, considered the father of modern surfing.
With lots of resorts at the back of the beach, Waikiki Beach is a popular place to stay in Oahu. You’ll also find lots of restaurants here, and shopping nearby at Kalākaua Avenue.
Parking can be a hassle, so if you aren’t staying within walking distance, take a cab or a rideshare to Waikiki Beach.
There are public restrooms and outdoor showers at several different sections of Waikiki Beach.
Every Friday night, the Hilton Hawaiian Village puts on a spectacular fireworks show.
Head to the beach at about 7.30 p.m. to stake out a spot to watch the show, which starts at 7.45 p.m. or 8 p.m. depending on the time of year.
Or watch the show on this catamaran cruise!
Planning your Oahu itinerary? Read our guide to the best Oahu tours and excursions, from shark cage diving to snorkeling with turtles and kayaking to the Mokes!
2. Hike the Diamond Head (Lēʻahi) Summit Trail
Arguably the most popular hike on Oahu, the Diamond Head Summit Trail offers sensational views of the southeastern Oahu coastline.
The moderately challenging trail is relatively short, at 1.6 miles round trip, but steep.
You’ll start at the floor of the crater and work your way up the interior wall via a series of switchbacks. Stop to catch your breath and take in the views of the ocean from the first lookout.
At the top you’ll encounter some steep stairs and a tunnel before you hit the summit.
But the views from the observation decks are well worth the climb!
The 360-degree panoramas include the Koko Head Crater, the Ko’olau Mountains, and of course the postcard view of the coast from Waikiki to Waianae.
The trail up the volcanic crater was built in 1908 by the US Army. At the top you’ll see military bunkers, and a lighthouse built on the coast outside the crater.
You can also get stunning views of the crater from the steps.
Start early or late for the best experience: it gets hot in the middle of the day. Also wear good walking shoes!
The Diamond Head Summit trail is one of the best sunrise hikes on Oahu, and also one of Oahu’s best sunset hikes, but keep the park’s operating hours in mind (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the time of writing, last entry 4 p.m.).
Good to know: Out-of-state visitors require advance reservations for the Diamond Head Hike. Parking is $10.00 for a standard vehicle, and entry fee $5.00 per non-resident.
The Diamond Head Hike is insanely popular so if you do not want to deal with parking issues at the Diamond Head State Monument, take a shuttle from Waikiki!
This shuttle will get you to the park early in the day and bring you back at a designated time. Transport is air-conditioned and the park admission fee is included.
Or consider this shuttle, which provides transport for both Diamond Head and Makapuu Lighthouse, for back-to-back hikes starting early in the day.
3. Go Snorkeling with Green Sea Turtles in Turtle Canyon
Turtle Canyon is easily one of the best places to snorkel with turtles in Oahu.
Turtle Canyon is a nature preserve that’s a “cleaning station” for endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles. Turtles float in the waters here while reef fish eat the algae off their shells.
While the waters at Turtle Canyon are a bit deep for snorkelers, at 20 to 45 feet, you’re almost guaranteed turtle sightings. Visibility is usually excellent in the clear waters.
And you may see them come up for air even if you are just relaxing on the boat!
When snorkeling with turtles, remember to obey all local laws and do not attempt to touch or feed the turtles.
And if you are not staying within walking distance of the harbor, take a cab or a rideshare to avoid parking hassles.
There are several Turtle Canyon snorkeling tours from which to pick.
This incredibly popular Turtle Canyons snorkeling excursion lasts 2 hours, and there are several departures. Snorkel gear is included.
4. Visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, learn about the December 7, 1941, attack on the harbor that led to the entry of the USA into World War II.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is one of the top things to do in Oahu.
Start your visit at the Visitor Center, where you can get oriented in Aloha Court, tour the exhibit galleries, view the park film, and browse the bookstore.
Visit the Remembrance Circle, where you can pay your respects to those that lost their lives as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Perhaps the most significant thing to do here is a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. To avoid missing out, be sure to reserve your spot on the 45-minute program at recreation.gov before your visit.
You’ll take a boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the spot where the battleship was sunk on December 7, 1941. In the explosion, 1, 177 personnel on board were killed.
You will have some time on the memorial to pay your respects, and then take the shuttle boat back to the Visitor Center.
You can also reserve ahead of time to take the fully-guided Ford Island Bus Tour, which will bring you to the less visited USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials on Ford Island.
There is a parking fee at Pearl Harbor National Memorial, $7.00 per vehicle at the time of writing. Entry is free.
Good to know: There are other historic sites and museums to visit at Pearl Harbor, and we’ve described some of them later in this article.
If you plan to spend a day touring all the Pearl Harbor sites, consider buying a Passport to Pearl Harbor global ticket.
If you do not want to drive, check out this very popular guided tour that includes transport from Waikiki and back, plus informative commentary.
You’ll visit the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and the USS Arizona Memorial.
>> Check pricing and availability for this half-day Pearl Harbor tour now!
Or check out this highly-rated tour, which includes both the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri, which was the site of the Japanese surrender that ended WWII.
>> Check pricing and availability for this Pearl Harbor tour now!
5. Snorkel Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is one of the most beautiful places on the island of Oahu.
Located inside a volcanic cone, the crescent shaped bay has a dramatic backdrop of dark crater walls. The waters are a surreal aqua and the sandy beach is golden.
Protected by a reef, Hanauma Bay has calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is one of the best things to do in Oahu!
Expect to see a variety of marine life when you snorkel Hanauma Bay, from several dozen varieties of tropical fish to colorful coral, sea turtles, and other forms of marine life.
Given its jaw-dropping beauty, Hanauma Bay Natural Preserve is one of the most popular places to visit in Oahu, and entry is regulated to protect the ecosystem.
The preserve is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays. You can enter from 6.45 a.m. until 1.30 p.m. The beach is cleared at 3.30 p.m. and all visitors must exit by 4 p.m.
For non-residents, there is an entrance fee of $25.00 per person at the time of writing. Reservations are a must for non-residents.
Parking is $3.00 (cash only) per vehicle, first come, first served, but the parking lot is small and fills up quickly. It is much better to arrive on a tour from Waikiki, so you do not have to drive or park.
Snorkel equipment is available for rental at the preserve.
A hassle-free way of visiting Hanauma Bay for snorkeling is on a guided tour, which includes round-trip transport from Waikiki and the use of snorkeling gear.
Choose an early morning departure for the most pleasant experience!
6. Hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
One of the best easier hikes in Oahu, the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a must on your Oahu itinerary.
Located inside the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline park, the hike offers gorgeous views of the ocean, and, in season, excellent opportunities for viewing humpback whales.
From the trailhead, you’ll hike to the top of the ridge, an elevation gain of about 500 feet. While the trail is paved and family friendly, it is a bit steep in places.
While you can’t visit the lighthouse itself, you can see it from the viewing decks at the top of the ridge.
The viewing areas at the top offer spectacular views of Makapu’u Beach, Koko Crater, and offshore islets that are bird sanctuaries.
If it’s really clear, you can see as far as Molokai and Lanai, islands that lie off the coast of Maui!
If you hike the trail during winter, be sure to stop at the scope along the trail to look for whales. If you are lucky, you may even spot them with your naked eyes.
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is best hiked early or later in the day, when temperatures are more pleasant.
It’s a popular hike, so arrive early to snag a parking spot, or book round-trip shuttle transport from Waikiki.
You can also book a half-day excursion that provides round-trip transport for a duo of top Oahu hikes: Diamond Head Summit and the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail.
7. Enjoy Epic Views on a Helicopter Ride over Oahu
A helicopter ride over Oahu is a bucket list experience.
Flying over the island’s landscapes and the ocean is exhilarating, and you’ll get a whole new perspective of Oahu’s beauty from your bird’s eye position.
Most full island flights take you over the signature coastline of Waikiki and the iconic saucer-shaped Diamond Head Crater for memorable photos.
You may also fly over Pearl Harbor and see the USS Arizona Memorial “floating” in the aqua waters.
Snap photos of stunning Hanauma Bay and the surreal Kaneohe Sandbar, the Jurassic Park landscapes of Kualoa Ranch, and the scenic north shore.
You can choose a doors-on or doors-off helicopter flight. Doors-off flights allow for better photo-taking and better viewing opportunities.
Pick a morning flight for a higher chance of clear skies and nice light for photography.
Shorter flights that focus on one part of the island are also an option, if you want to keep trip costs down but still experience the thrill of a helicopter flight on your Oahu vacation.
This highly rated and popular doors-off helicopter flight is a 50-minuted narrated flight over Oahu.
You’ll fly over Honolulu, Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor, and much more.
Rather have the doors on? Consider this highly rated Oahu helicopter flight that lasts about one hour and comes with commentary from your pilot.
There are multiple departure times from which to choose, and you can elect to do a doors-on or doors-off flight.
8. Take a Circle Island Tour of Oahu
If your time in Oahu is limited, it makes sense to stay in Waikiki, and enjoy seeing the sights elsewhere on Oahu on a full-day circle island tour. That way, you do not even have to rent a car.
Even if you are staying longer, if it’s your first time on Oahu, a circle island tour is a great way to get an overview with a local.
With someone else doing the driving and the parking, you can just sit back in an air-conditioned vehicle and enjoy the scenery and the sights.
This popular Oahu circle island tour from Honolulu drives you up the windward coast of Oahu to the north shore and the charming town of Haleiwa.
Along the way, you’ll stop at places like Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, the Halona Blowhole, and the Byodo-In Temple.
The tour takes about 9 hours. so allow a full day!
9. Enjoy Sunrise at Lanikai Beach
One of the best beaches in Oahu, Lanikai Beach is a great spot to catch a colorful Hawaiian sunrise without hiking.
Lanikai’s soft white sand and unreal blue-green waters have placed it on many lists of the best beaches in the world. It offers beautiful views of the Mokulua Islands.
While the beach is nice to visit any time of the day, its beauty takes on an added dimension at sunrise, especially if there are colorful clouds that turn the sky pink and orange.
If you want a more active start to your day, the Lanikai Pillbox Hike overlooks the beach, but you can also just take in the sunrise from the beach itself.
Lanikai Beach is located on the windward (east) coast of the island, about a 40-minute drive by the highway.
The beach is located in a residential neighborhood and there are no restrooms or other amenities.
The only parking is residential, and thus very limited, but you may be able to get a spot for sunrise viewing. Beach access is via passageways between homes, so please be respectful of the residents as you walk to the beach.
We suggest parking at the smaller parking lot at Kailua Beach Park, and then walking to Lanikai Beach. It’s about a 15-minute walk.
Good to know: Kailua Beach, which does have amenities like restrooms and parking, is also a great spot to watch the sun rise, if you’d rather not deal with parking issues at Lanikai Beach.
You can also get some coffee at Kalapawai Market!
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
10. Discover the Charming Town of Haleiwa
Located on the island’s scenic north shore, Haleiwa is one of the most charming small towns in Hawaii, reminiscent of Paia on Maui or Hanalei on Kauai.
Many of the buildings here feature plantation-era architecture, harking back to the town’s days in the sugar industry. Rainbow Bridge, over the Anahulu River, is a popular photo spot.
Haleiwa is rich in island history, and you can take a local-guided historic walking tour to admire the many historic sites in town.
The little town features several small shops and art galleries to browse.
Of course, since it’s located in one of the most famous surfing areas on the planet, you’ll find lots of surf shops in town. But you’ll also find shops and galleries showcasing gifts and art. Look for unique souvenirs to bring back home from your Oahu trip!
You’ll find many topnotch restaurants here, as well as some of the popular Oahu food trucks.
Be sure to stop for some shave ice at Matsumoto!
About an hour’s drive from Waikiki, Haleiwa is a chance to enjoy a much smaller, laid-back surf town in Oahu.
11. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu
Located on 40+ lush landscaped acres on the northeastern coast of Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-visit for adults and kids alike.
Here you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in island culture!
The center features six villages that represent different Polynesian island nations: Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.
Each village offers cultural presentations, with opportunities for you to participate. Learn how to fish without a net, play with poi balls, toss a spear, paddle a canoe…and much more.
The Hukilau Marketplace offers places to eat and shop for gifts and Hawaiian crafts. We love the made-to-order New Zealand style fresh ice cream!
Later in the day, enjoy the Alii Luau, deemed one of the best luaus in Oahu. The lavish buffet includes imu pua’a pork and huli chicken, along with fresh poke, vegan choices, and a lot more. There’s entertainment as well. The luau is open between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m.
End your day at the center by watching HĀ: Breath of Life, a spectacular show that features over 100 Polynesian performers.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is closed Sundays, Wednesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. On other days, it is open 12.30 p.m. to 9 p.m., but food places and shops may have different hours.
The center offers a variety of ticket options. If you are based in Waikiki and do not have a car, you can also book a shuttle, along with your ticket purchase.
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
12. Discover the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor
For history buffs, a visit to the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor is an experience not to be missed.
Designed to be a fast battleship, the USS Missouri was built during World War II and commissioned in June 1944.
The USS Missouri played an important role in the war, including participating in air strikes on Tokyo and Okinawa and bombarding the shores of Okinawa.
She was hit in a kamikaze attack and you can still see the damage on the starboard side, a little below the level of the main deck.
The USS Missouri is most famous as the site of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II. The Surrender Ceremony took place on deck on September 2, 1945, bringing the bloody conflict to an end.
In subsequent years, the USS Missouri took part in the Korean War and the Gulf War. before being decommissioned in 1992.
In 1999, the Battleship Missouri Memorial opened to the public.
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is open daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Your admission ticket to the memorial includes a 35-minute guided tour, and we suggest you join! The tour is incredibly informative and afterwards you can explore further on your own.
If you’d rather not drive to Pearl Harbor, or you do not have a car, you can take a guided tour of the two Pearl Harbor sites that bookended US involvement in WWII: the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
The small-group tour includes insightful historical context and commentary, and round-trip transport from Waikiki.
13. Tour Kualoa Ranch
A filming location for the Jurassic Park movies, Kualoa Ranch is a private nature preserve on Oahu’s windward coast. Hence its nickname, Jurassic Valley.
Although several dozen movies have been filmed here, and the preserve is popular Oahu tourist attraction, Kualoa Ranch is also a working cattle ranch.
The landscapes at Kualoa Ranch, encompassing 4,000 acres, are spectacular, with ridged mist-shrouded mountains and lots of lush green tropical vegetation.
But, to see anything other than the gift shop on site (or the cafe), you have to join a paid tour.
Kualoa Ranch offers a wide variety of tours and experiences, from horseback rides and UTV tours to e-bike tours and a zipline.
Arguably the most popular tour is the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour, a 90-minute bus tour that takes you to various filming locations on the property.
But if bumpy roads aren’t a problem, consider the Jungle Expedition, a 2-hour tour that takes you into the rainforest and includes a short hike to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the Ka’a’awa and Hakipu’u Valleys.
The Jurassic Adventure Tour is another great option. You ride in an open vehicle through the Kualoa, Hakipu’u, and Ka’a’awa Valleys, visiting sites made famous by the Jurassic movies.
14. Do a Shark Cage Dive on Oahu’s North Shore!
Oahu offers unparalleled opportunities when it viewing comes to marine life, and one of the most thrilling experiences you can have on the island is a shark cage dive.
Cage diving with sharks tours in Oahu are offered on the island’s north shore.
On this very popular north shore cruise, where you are accompanied by an experienced professional crew, you can go down into the depths of the blue Pacific to see sharks in the wild!
You’ll be in an underwater cage that protects you from predators while being able to watch them up close as they swim gracefully in the open ocean. The waters are very clear, with excellent visibility.
The underwater cage experience is about 20 minutes, but you are guaranteed shark sightings in that time.
You can also look for them from the boat if you’d rather not go underwater.
Sandbar sharks, hammerhead sharks, and Galapagos sharks are commonly sighted. They range from 5 to 15 feet and you may see them inches from your cage!
En route to the shark viewing area, look for Hawaiian sea green turtles, dolphins, and, in the winter, humpback whales.
The view of the coastline from the water is beautiful, and you may see surfers riding the waves as well.
The 2-hour excursion includes snorkel gear.
15. Enjoy the Tranquility at the Byodo-In Temple
Located on the windward coast of Oahu, the Valley of the Temples has a spectacular setting in the midst of mountains.
In the lush green valley sits the Byodo-In Temple, a beautiful red structure that stands out against the green Ko’olau Mountains behind.
The temple is a smaller replica of the centuries-old Byodo-In Temple is Uji, Japan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Oahu temple dates back to 1968, when it was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The architectural detail will leave you awe-struck.
The non-practicing Buddhist temple is made of wood. There’s a gigantic bell in the bell-house you ring with a soft wood shu-moku before entering the temple to enjoy a few minutes of silence and meditation.
On the beautifully landscaped grounds you’ll find little waterfalls, a koi pond, with bright-colored fish, turtles, and black swans you can watch, and a lovely little stream. You may also see wild peacocks.
The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park also houses temples from other faiths, and a Japanese cemetery.
The Byodo-In Temple is open from 8.30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. everyday. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and has reduced hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
General admission is $5.00 at the time of writing, with discounts for seniors and kids. Cash is not accepted on site. You can buy tickets online here.
16. Hike Kaiwa Ridge (Lanikai Pillbox Trail)
The Lanikai Pillbox hike, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu.
The moderate to challenging hike is about 1.5 miles round trip. Although it’s short, it’s the elevation change — 625 feet — and scrambling needed at the start that makes Kaiwa Ridge a somewhat challenging hike.
The trail offers gorgeous views of the ocean along most of its length. From the trailhead, the first pillbox (bunker) is about 20 to 30 minutes, and the second one another 10 minute walk up.
You can go further, but most hikers turn around at the second pillbox.
From the top, you get outstanding views of Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach, and the little Mokulua Islands. If it’s clear, you may be able to see Chinaman’s Hat in the distance.
The trail is packed and loose dirt, and you’ll need proper footwear with good grip.
Lanikai is about a 40-minute drive from Waikiki, or one hour by bus. The trailhead is on a small street off Ka’elepupu Drive, marked by a sign.
Parking is on the side of the street, and very limited. You can also park at Kailua Beach, about a 15-minute walk away.
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
17. Visit the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar
A unique and surreal destination on Oahu’s northeast coast, the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar is a low tide phenomenon you have to experience!
The large sandbar, about 8 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, is located about a 15-minute boat ride from the shore, and a boat tour is the easiest way to visit.
When you are on the sandbar at low tide, it feels like you are on a beach in the middle of the ocean!
The views from the sandbar are spectacular. You can snap great photos of the ocean, of course, but also the Ko’olau Mountains, the island of Mokoli’i (Chinaman’s Hat), Moku O Le’e (Coconut Island), and other small islets.
Because Kaneohe Bay is protected by a reef, the waters are usually calm, great for swimming and snorkeling. Snorkeling Kaneohe Sandbar is one of the coolest things to do in Oahu.
You’ll find people enjoying beach volleyball on the sandbar, and other visitors relaxing on beach chairs.
Make sure you check the tides when planning a trip out to the sandbar if you want to enjoy standing on the sand.
You can arrive at the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar on a boat tour, or you can rent a kayak, and paddle out to it. Boats and kayaks set out for the sandbar from the He’eia Kea Small Boat Harbor.
18. Discover Waimea Valley
Located on the island’s north shore, inland from Waimea Bay Beach Park, Waimea Valley is home to natural and cultural sights.
Visiting Waimea Valley is one of the best things to do in Oahu if you enjoy gardens and waterfalls.
Waimea Valley’s botanical garden contains several dozen themed gardens featuring tropical and subtropical plants, including some rare and endangered species. You can join a tour everyday at 12.30 p.m.
Beautiful Waimea Falls is a natural 40-feet waterfall with a gorgeous green plunge pool and lush surrounding vegetation. Depending on conditions, you can swim in the pool here!
The waterfall can be accessed via a paved trail.
Along the way, stop to explore the cultural sites, including the traditional Hawaiian living site. There’s also a resident artisan program and you can meet the artisans and watch them as they work.
Waimea Valley is open everyday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the summer and until 4 p.m. at other times of the year. It is closed Mondays from January until May, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
General admission for non-residents is $25.00, with discounts for seniors and kids. You can book tickets online.
This well-reviewed experience includes admission to Waimea Valley and a Polynesian luau with fire knife dancing. The luau is highly rated.
19. Stroll (or Drive Through) the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Hawaii has many spectacular botanical gardens, but most of them have an admission fee. But the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is free!
Located on the windward side of Oahu inland from Kailua, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is set on 400 lush acres and features a lovely man-made freshwater lake.
The garden is surrounded by mountains, making for a very picturesque setting.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden features tropical flora from around the world, arranged geographically. You can drive through the garden or stroll parts of it to view the collections.
You’ll see plants from Hawaii, of course, as well as other Polynesian countries, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and the Americas.
Bring your binoculars if you enjoy birding: the garden is home to many bird species.
There are several parking lots in the garden where you can park and walk the many nature trails, and it takes about 30 minutes if you just drive through.
The garden is open everyday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Good to know: You are not allowed to stop on the side of the road at the stunning entrance to take photos!
20. Do the Koko Head Stairs Hike!
One of Oahu’s epic hikes, the Koko Crater Trail to the top of the Koko Head Crater is challenging, but very popular.
On this grueling hike, you will climb more than 1,000 steps (actually old railroad ties!) for your payoff: panoramic views over the coast of east Honolulu and Hanauma Bay.
On the opposite side, you can look down into the heart of the crater, now a botanical garden. Ocean views are spectacular.
Sunrise and sunset from the top are especially spectacular, and intrepid adventurers hike up at dawn or down at dusk with headlamps and flashlights. However, first-timers should hike Koko Head Stairs in daylight hours.
Th US military built the Koko Head tramway during WWII times to transport supplies to the top of the crater. Koko Head eventually became a regional park in the mid 1960s.
The trail is very steep, about 1.6 miles round trip, and there’s no shade, so hike it as early in the day as you can and bring lots of drinking water! Proper footwear is also a must.
Allow plenty of time for the hike up as well as the descent.
There is no fee to hike Koko Head Trail and it’s open all day, year round. The parking lot at the park, however, is open from 6.30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
21. Visit the Dole Plantation
One of Oahu’s best attractions for both kids and adults is the Dole Plantation. It started out as a fruit stand, but today is a full experience.
Take the Pineapple Express train tour, a narrated 20-minute ride that describes the history of the pineapple in Hawaii and how James Drummond Dole built his empire.
Th vintage style trains are very photogenic!
There are eight gardens to explore at the Dole Plantation, featuring plants like coffee and cacao, and plumeria, the fragrant flowers often used to make leis. Their fragrance is heavenly!
Also walk the Pineapple Variety Garden, which features different varieties of the fruit from all over the world.
You’ll want to allow for time to walk the gigantic pineapple maze, which covers over 3 acres. Pathways are lined with colorful Hawaiian plants, making it a pleasure to try to find your way to the heart of the maze.
Browse the gift shop, and stop by the Pineapple Grille for a meal or a serving of Dole soft serve ice cream!
The train, the garden, and the maze are fee activities and you can buy tickets on site when you visit.
If you have a rental car, the Dole Plantation is about a 40-minute drive from the Waikiki area. If you do not have a car, you can take the bus, which will, of course, take longer.
If you time on the island is limited, this popular circle island tour of Oahu includes the Dole Plantation. You will get just under an hour to explore here.
22. Hike to Manoa Falls!
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Oahu, Manoa Falls can be accessed via a trail that’s worth doing in its own right.
Traversing the rainforest scenery in Manoa Valley, the Manoa Falls Trail takes you past scented eucalyptus trees, banyans with multiple trunks, colorful tropical flower bushes, and even bamboo!
From the top of the trail, you will get beautiful views of Manoa Valley.
Manoa Falls plunges 150 feet into a plunge pool. Swimming isn’t advised, though, because of the possibility of getting infected by the leptospirosis bacteria. The flow is best after rains.
The trail to the falls and back is about 1.6 miles round trip. Although you will walk uphill to the falls, the grade isn’t too steep, making this hike is a great family-friendly option in Oahu.
If you visit after rains, though, note that the trail can be quite muddy (and slippery in places). Proper footwear is essential.
There’s shade along the trail, but wear sun protection regardless and use bug spray!
If you enjoy plants, the Lyon Arboretum, near the start of the trail, is home to several thousand plant species.
Manoa Falls Trail is located about a 20-minute drive from downtown Honolulu.
23. Tour Iolani Palace
The only royal palace in the USA, Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu is a must-tour if you enjoy local history.
The former residence of Hawaiian royals King Kalakaua, and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, the palace has been restored to its glory days.
Completed in 1882, the palace was the grand setting for receptions, balls, and performances during the time of the monarchy.
When the monarchy was overthrown, Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned in the palace. It became the headquarters of the provisional government and later the State Capitol.
Many of the original furnishings were sold, but the palace was restored in the 1970s and is now open for public tours.
You can tour many of the rooms, including the Grand Hall, with its majestic staircase, and the Throne Room, as well as stroll the beautiful grounds.
The palace is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The palace offers a variety of tours, and you can choose from self-guided audio tours or docent-led tours.
Different tours are available on different days so visit the palace website to select and book your tour.
There are several other historic sites you can visit in downtown Honolulu. If you are a history or culture enthusiast, consider a walking tour of the historic quarter!
A local guide will take you past the various sights while offering insightful commentary. It’s a fascinating peek into Hawaii’s past.
>> Check price and availability on this Downtown Honolulu historic walking tour now!
24. Visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Oahu has many historic sites worth visiting, and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located in the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, is one of them.
The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 50,000 veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
The crater itself, formed 75,000 to 100,000 years ago, is a magnificent setting for the cemetery.
A pathway through the cemetery, Memorial Walk, is lined with memorials donated by various organizations. Overall, there are more than 70 memorials in the Punchbowl Cemetery.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific features a 25-bell carillon and Bicentennial Medal of Honor headstones.
The Honolulu Memorial, which features a majestic stone staircase, bears the names of close to 29,000 members of the US Armed Forces missing in action or lost in the Pacific during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
If you plan to stay in Waikiki, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is just a short drive, or you can take the bus or a rideshare.
The cemetery is open daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
25. Look for Green Sea Turtles at Laniakea Beach
Laniakea Beach is better known by its other name: Turtle Beach, and for good reason! This beach is one of the best places in Oahu to spot turtles.
Hawaiian green sea turtles love to laze on this beach, soaking in the sun. You may also see them coming in from the water or going back into the water!
While you can photograph them or make videos from a respectful distance, it is against the law to touch or pet a turtle, or feed one.
You may, in fact, see volunteers roping off viewing areas to protect the turtles.
While the turtles are undoubtedly the star attraction at Laniakea Beach, the beach itself, fringed with palms, is beautiful, and worth strolling, away from the turtle viewing areas.
If you visit here in the winter, you’ll see the giant waves for which Oahu’s north shore is known. While it is not safe to swim if the waters are not calm, the beach is great for strolling and sunbathing.
You’ll find Laniakea Beach along the island’s north shore, about a mile past the town of Haleiwa. There’s a small parking area across the street.
The best time of year to see turtles at Laniakea Beach is the summer, usually between May and September. You are more likely to see them on the beach during the hottest part of the day, between noon and 3 p.m.
26. Surf (or Watch the Action!) at the Banzai Pipeline
Come winter, surfing experts and enthusiasts from all over the world head to Oahu’s north shore, where the waves are huge and the action legendary.
Ehukai Beach Park, on the north shore of the island, is home to the Banzai Pipeline, also known as Pipeline Hawaii, or simply Pipe.
You can stand or sit on the beach at Ehukai Beach Park, and watch expert surfers ride the waves a few yards off shore.
Many surfing competitions are held on Oahu’s north shore each winter, and if your visit coincides with one of them, make sure to catch the exciting action!
Pipeline is dangerous and has claimed many lives, but expert surfers still make the trek to ride the waves at this hallowed surfing spot.
Ehukai Beach Park offers parking, restrooms, showers, and a picnic area.
27. Dine at Haleiwa Joe’s in Kaneohe!
Haleiwa Joe’s has two locations, one in the little town of Haleiwa on Oahu’s north shore, and the other in Kaneohe, on the windward side of Oahu.
The food is delicious at either location, but one of the big reasons to put the Kaneohe location on your Oahu itinerary is the spectacular view!
The open-air restaurant in Kaneohe is set in the midst of a lush valley, with fabulous views out to the Ko‘olau mountain range.
And what’s more, the restaurant features its own tropical gardens and koi pond, perfect for a stroll before or after you dine.
We would go here just for the view and the garden, but we though the food was great as well.
They offer a variety of pupus (we loved the poke and the sizzling mushrooms!), lots of salads, and seafood as well as meat mains.
Both locations are open for dinner, and the Haleiwa location also offers Sunday brunch. They do not currently accept reservations, so arrive early to get a table!
28. Sample the Eats at Oahu’s Food Trucks
Food trucks are everywhere in Oahu, and no Oahu vacation is complete without sampling the delicious fare many Oahu food trucks dish out.
While you’ll want to stop often to try different places, be sure to check out these popular trucks!
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck has attained legend status in Oahu. The shrimp scampi is delicious, but also try the lemon butter shrimp and the hot and spicy shrimp. They also do a jumbo garlic hot dog.
Giovanni’s currently has two locations along the Kamehameha Highway, in Kahuku and in Haleiwa. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is easily spotted, because it is covered in autographs from its customers!
Haleiwa Bowls in Haleiwa offers yum bowls and smoothies in many flavors. We love the Hapa Bowl and the acai smoothie, but you can’t go wrong with any of the tasty combinations.
Mike’s Huli-Huli Chicken is another favorite. Located along the Kamehameha Highway in Kahuku, the truck was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and also serves garlic shrimp!
And of course, if you see a Malasada Mobile, you have to stop for a golden-crusted dough ball! The truck versions of the super popular Leonard’s Bakery offer hot malasadas at four different locations on the island.
29. Attend a Luau
When in Hawaii, you have to attend a luau!
Enjoying a traditional Hawaiian feast, accompanied by music, dance, and thrilling performances, is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Oahu.
We’ve already talked about a couple of topnotch luaus in this article — the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Toa Luau in Waimea Valley — but here are some other luaus to consider!
Paradise Cove Luau is one of the most popular luaus on the island of Oahu. Set along the oceanfront in Ko Olina, on the west coast, Paradise Cove offers a Hawaiian arts and crafts village to browse as you sip your Mai Tai.
Then enjoy a royal feast against the backdrop of a Hawaiian sunset, while performers entertain you.
Chief’s Luau is the creation of Chief Sielu, a world champion fire-knife dancer and famous Polynesian entertainer.
The two-hour highly rated experience starts with a Mai Tai, followed by a lavish Hawaiian feast and a Polynesian show that features a thrilling fire finale.
Ka Wa’a, the luau at the Disney Aulani Resort, is held on the Hālāwai Lawn at the resort on select nights. Salads, sides, and dessert are served buffet style, while your entrees are brought to your seat at a table.
The show is wonderful, and you can pose for photos with some of the artists afterwards!
30. Get Cultured at the Bishop Museum
Get an immersive insight into Hawaiian culture and history at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
Established all the way back in 1889, the museum has a vast collection of items that showcase the natural, cultural, and historical treasures of Hawaii. Of course, only a percentage of the items is on display at any given time.
The Hawaiian Hall is fascinating and takes you through three different realms of Hawaii. The Picture Gallery is home to masterpieces of 19th century Hawaiian art.
Stroll the Nā Ulu Kaiwi‘ula Native Hawaiian Garden, where you can see some plants that are found only in Hawaii, to plants brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians.
There’s also a science center and a planetarium to explore, as well as murals to admire on the grounds.
Bishop Museum is located in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu, less than a 10-minute drive from Waikiki.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
General admission for non-residents is $28.95, with discounts for seniors and kids. You can buy tickets online here.
31. Explore Ko Olina on the Leeward Side of Oahu
Ko Olina, on the western shore of Oahu, offers lots of activities, plus the opportunity to stay at one of the resorts that are based here, away from the bustle of Waikiki.
If you plan to visit Oahu with young kids, you’ll want to consider a stay at the Disney Aulani Resort. If you are planning a couples getaway, the Four Seasons is the perfect splurge stay.
Prefer to base in Waikiki and explore Ko Olina on a day trip? That’s fine too!
Bring your swimsuit, so you can enjoy swimming in one of the four lagoons in Ko Olina. The protected lagoons are some of the best places to swim on Oahu and there’s public access.
You can also go stand-up paddleboarding here, and the snorkeling is excellent if you swim out towards the rocks.
Enjoy hiking? Drive further north up the coast to Kaena Point, where a 3.5-mile coastal hike offers spectacular ocean views.
Want to do a spot of wildlife watching? Dolphin watching cruises and whale watching cruises leave from Waianae Harbor, about half-way up the coast.
And finally, you are on the west coast of the island in Ko Olina, so you’ll get to watch spectacular sunsets each evening!
32. Take in the views from the Tantalus Lookout!
Just a short drive from Waikiki, the Tantalus Lookout at the Puu Ualakaa State Park offers stunning views from the top of the just over 2,000 foot tall Mount Tantalus.
You’ll see the lush green Koʻolau Range, the Diamond Head Crater, the skyscrapers of Waikiki, and, of course, the city of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean.
While the views are spectacular any time of the day, the Tantalus Lookout is a particularly great spot for sunset. It’s also a fantastic place from which to view rainbows!
There’s a grassy area in front of the lookout pavilion where you can spread out a blanket for sunset. Bring a light wrap if you plan to visit early or late.
The drive to the top and back is scenic as well, although the road does wind through residential areas on the way to the top.
At the top, it’s a very short stroll from the parking area to the viewing gallery. There are informative signs to tell you what you are seeing.
It’s a high theft area, so signs warn you to carry valuables with you and put belongings out of sight in your car, which you should lock.
The park opens at 7 a.m., and gates close at 7.45 p.m. in the summer and 6.45 p.m. in the winter. The park is free to visit!
33. Hike the trail to Ka’ena Point in northwestern Oahu!
Nature lovers that visit Oahu will definitely want to consider putting the Ka’ena Point Trail on their itinerary for the island!
The remote point can only be accessed on foot, by hiking a coastal trail, either going north from the parking area at Wai’anae on the west shore, or going west from the parking area in Mokuleia on the north shore.
The west coast trail is considered more scenic, but I thought the north shore trail was also plenty beautiful, with insanely lovely views over the ocean.
The trails are located within Ka’ena Point State Park.
Ka’ena Point Trail offers the chance to spot birds and whales in the water in winter. There’s also coastal flora to admire.
Rated as a moderately challenging trail, the west side hike is about 2.4 miles each way, while the north shore hike is about 2.5 miles each way.
This hike is exposed the entire way, so try to hike it early or late in the day and bring sun protection and drinking water.
Also be sure to stop at one (or more!) of the pristine beaches on the approach road if you are doing the north shore hike!
Where to Stay in Oahu
Waikiki, with its many resorts, shopping, and dining, is where most visitors to Oahu choose to base.
Hotels and Resorts in Waikiki
The Halekulani Hotel is a luxury hotel that’s perfect for a splurge stay. If you plan to honeymoon in Oahu, or celebrate a special anniversary, this is the hotel to pick! The grounds are gorgeous, saltwater pool sublime, and restaurants exceptional.
The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort Hotel is a popular stay option in Waikiki. Its beachfront location means you wake up to the sound of the waves. The resort is home to iconic Duke’s Waikiki, and there’s live Hawaiian music nightly.
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa is located on Kalakaua Avenue, steps from the beach. The pool overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and the spa offers a full menu of pampering treatments. Get a room overlooking the ocean!
Vacation Rentals in Oahu
This cozy condo is the perfect Waikiki getaway for two! The air-conditioned unit features a kitchenette and a balcony that offers 180-degree ocean views. The condo is walking distance to shopping and dining.
This spacious penthouse features two beds and two bathrooms along with an open living space and a fully-equipped kitchen. One bedroom faces the ocean and the other faces Diamond Head. It’s a great place for a family or two couples!
Best Oahu Tours
Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?
Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!
The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.
Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!
Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.
A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu advennture for your bucket list.
We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.
Renting a Car in Oahu
If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu on your vacation, you should get a rental car.
Oahu’s popular attractions are spread over the island: the windward coast, the North Shore, and Ko Olina are great places to explore beyond Waikiki (or the greater Honolulu area).
While Oahu does have public transport options that are better than the other islands, a car offers a lot more flexibility and time savings.
We always use Discover Cars to book Oahu car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle
If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!
This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!
More Oahu Travel Inspiration
Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!
Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.
Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!
More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.
Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.
We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!
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