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If you are planning a trip to everybody’s dream destination, Hawaii, check out all the amazing things you can do in Oahu so that you can decide your itinerary accordingly. In this post, expert travelers and writers share their favorite places and things to do on Oahu Island.
Oahu at a Glance
As you will find out reading through this post Oahu is not only endless beaches and breathtaking sunsets.
By all means please don’t miss those, but the island of Oahu also boasts a thriving cultural activity, a tasty culinary scene, and many thrilling outdoor activities that you can enjoy while on the island.
Also, you may imagine that Oahu has pleasant temperatures all year round, and you will never go wrong if you chose this beautiful island as your vacation destination.
However, you should keep in mind that it is also one of the best places to visit in July in the USA, because this month sees some of the least rainfall all year so that you can enjoy all the exciting activities.
Amazing things to do in Oahu in the water
Enjoy Lanikai Beach
Luke Storey @ The Coastal Campaign
Lanikai Beach is not only the best beach in Oahu, but it is also one of the best beaches in the USA. This palm tree-lined stretch of sand is absolutely spectacular and is the perfect place to spend a few hours basking in the sun.
Lanikai Beach is famous for its white sand and crystal-clear blue water and because it is on the east side of the island, the water is usually quite calm. This makes it ideal for swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
If you fancy a bit of a challenge, you can kayak out to the Mokulua Islands which are a relatively short distance from shore and provide amazing views from the beach. It is worth mentioning that there are no facilities and no lifeguards at this beach but you can find facilities at the nearby Kailua Beach Park.
Lanikai Beach is really easy to get to as you drive to Kailua on the east side of Oahu and then drive south on Mokulua Drive.
The beach is lined with houses but there are walking paths down to the beach every hundred meters or so. This is an absolutely pristine and beautiful beach that should definitely be on your Oahu bucket list next time you visit.
Try scuba diving with Waikiki Dive Center
by Debbie Fettback @ WorldAdventurists.com
If you have ever wondered what it is like to explore the underwater world, Oahu is a fabulous place to try scuba diving in its warm waters.
If you love it, you could even complete your basic certification by the end of your trip.
You will need to have basic swimming skills to be able to safely scuba and complete the basic certification.
Learning to scuba dive may feel daunting at first, but it is important to master the basic scuba skills and know-how. This will help you to safely explore the underwater world after completing your Open Water Diver scuba certification.
Below the surface is an entirely different world to explore. Each dive has its charm and adventures, with different creatures to discover. No two dives are alike!
Scuba diving is a great escape from all the hustle and bustle on land. As you are swimming through the ocean, you can hear nothing but your breath and thoughts. You can move freely, without having to resurface every time you need to take a breath.
It is a magical feeling to experience being part of the marine life as you feel like you are weightless in their slow-motion world. There is no experience like it!
Turtle Canyon, Waikiki
Karen @ Big Adventures for Little Feet
Positively one of the most amazing activities we have done anywhere in the world was to take a catamaran tour from Waikiki Beach to Turtle Canyon. Just a 30-minute sail from the front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue, and you will be prepped ready to drop into the deep waters of the turtle canyon.
On entering the water, you are immediately surrounded by these majestic creatures as they glide and dive around you totally unphased by the human arrivals. There are beautiful tropical fish as well but it is the turtles who definitely steal the show.
The only way to experience the turtle canyon is on a guided tour, with a number of operators leaving directly from Waikiki Beach.
They will supply all of your snorkeling equipment and expertly know where to find the turtles to maximize time in the water. You will not want to come back on board the boat as this is some of the best snorkeling to be found in Hawaii.
The trip is simple and fun and takes a total of around two and a half hours including a relaxing sail back into the beach whilst taking in the views of Waikiki and Diamond Head.
Learn to Surf in Waikiki Beach
by Chantae Reden @ The Salt Sirens
Hawaii is home to the sport of surfing, and there are few better spots to surf than the friendly waves of Waikiki.
While the North Shore of Oahu hosts some of the world’s most iconic waves like Pipeline and Waimea, Waikiki is a much mellower spot to learn how to surf. Because there are plenty of fellow beginners out in the water, the vibe at Waikiki is playful and welcoming to newcomers.
From the water, you’ll be able to see the Honolulu skyline and admire Diamond Head from a unique perspective.
You can sign up for surf lessons and hire a surfboard directly on the sandy shores of Waikiki. These surfboard stands also have lockers for hire, where you can safely store your wallet and keys while you’re in the water.
You can take one-off lessons for about $60 per hour at a surf school, or hire a surfboard for about $15 per hour. For an immersive experience, stay at a surf camp like Polynesian Hostel.
This surf camp is within walking distance from Waikiki’s surf break and has beginner-friendly surfboards for hire. Clean and centrally located, it’s perfect for travelers on a budget, solo travelers, and groups who want to make friends.
Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii outdoors – hiking
Hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse
by Michelle C. @ Intentional Travelers
The Makapu’u Lighthouse trail, located on the southeast corner of the island, is one of the most popular hiking paths on Oahu. It’s also one of the few paved hikes, making it accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, so the whole family can enjoy it.
Makapu’u lighthouse viewpoint is one mile each way on a wide, paved path with beautiful views of the sea and Koko Head.
The main trail is an easy-to-follow out-and-back hike, though there is an elevation gain.
There are a few unpaved side trails if you want to explore the rest of the hill. There are also some tidepools down below the main trail.
Getting down to the tidepools should be approached with extra caution, though, as there is no maintained trail and it requires agility to climb the rocks.
This area does get busy as well as hot, so it’s best to do this hike first thing in the morning if you can. We have often seen the parking lot overflowing by noon, even in the middle of the week. Since there’s no shade on the trail, be sure to wear sunscreen and bring water, too.
A visit to Waimea Waterfalls
by Noel Morata @ Visit Oahu Now
If you are looking for a fun and safe waterfall to hike to in Oahu, then a nice day trip to the North Shore at Waimea Valley is a must.
Part botanical garden, waterfall hike, and even a luau if you want to have the full experience, this nonprofit organization shares the history of the gardens, a restored Hawaiian village and the beautiful Waimea falls to enjoy and even take a safe dip with a lifeguard in the pond area.
You can drive up to the Northshore in either east or west directions to get to Waimea Valley Waterfalls don’t rush your drive since the areas up here are scenic, slow, and beautiful at discovering, stop and go as you please and the same with Waimea Valley’s botanical garden which shares the area’s historic past, recreated villages, endemic plants and other exotic plant species are grown in the area.
The hike itself to Waimea falls is mostly paved and some graveled paths to the entrance and it is less than a mile walk on a mostly flat surface road.
Once on-site go to the check-in desk to get a life jacket which is mandatory for any swim around the waterfall area.
For free entrance to the park and waterfall, a purchased ticket to the luau performance allows for admission to the parking area.
Hike to Koko Head
By Erin Tracy @ Traveling Through History
Koko Head is a 642ft tuff cone in Koko Head Regional Park in southeastern Oahu. During WWII, the military used Koko Head as a lookout, but abandoned the post shortly after.
The tramway used to transport supplies to the concrete pillbox bunkers is still in place, which hikers use to reach the summit.
At the top, there are some pretty fantastic views of Maunalua Bay, Hanauma Bay, Kahauloa Cove, the Pacific Ocean, and the entire Port Lock Peninsula. Hikers can climb on the top of the pillboxes for near-360 degree views. It really is fantastic.
Finding the trail is pretty easy. You can see it when driving around the area or when on the freeway. There’s a short walk from the parking lot to the base of the trail, which is hard to miss.
It is literally a straight shot of almost a mile from the bottom to the top. There are over 1,000 railroad ties, which means it can be a little bit of a challenge. If you have problems with your knees, sit this one out.
Be sure to bring lots of water, snacks, and a hat because there aren’t very many safe places to sit in the shade for a rest.
If you do need to stop, be sure to sit or stand to the side of the trail so you don’t block the path for those who wish to pass. There is one section of the hike that can be daunting for those afraid of heights. Part of the railroad ties goes over a 40ft drop.
Many people choose to sit and scoot over the ties for this part and some choose to make use of the thin dirt trail just to the side of the railroad ties.
This is the only area with a dirt path, which ends at the edge of the drop.
Once you get to the top, you will be rewarded with shade, spectacular views, and some really interesting things to see. The military pillbox bunkers are still in place, which can be fun to explore or climb on.
Be aware that the wind can be quite strong and use caution when standing near the edges of the ridges or on top of the bunkers.
Also to note, there are no places to sneak off and use the restroom while hiking up and there are no facilities at the top.
If you enjoy military history and historic sites, you’ll definitely want to check out these historic sites on the east coast.
Diamond Head Hiking & Lookout
by Chris Fry @ Aquarius Traveller
Imagine standing at a lookout point with 360-degree views of the famous Waikiki beach Skyline and the surrounding areas. This is exactly what you’re going to get when hiking to the top of Diamond Head.
Even better, it’s only a 10-minute drive from Waikiki beach to get there.
The crater was formed over 300 thousand years ago during an eruption on the island of Oahu.
Due to its high position, the military created the hiking trail in 1908, and this helped in the Island’s coastal defense in World War 2. Today, the hiking trail is only used for local exercise, tourist discovery, and learning its history.
Hundreds of tourists will visit the Diamond Head State Park every day. The path up the mountain is only 1.6 miles return, and you can expect to complete it in 1.5 to 2 hours. It does require a moderate level of fitness for the steep inclines and a lot of stairs.
Additionally, depending on the number of people, you might be held up entering the narrow pathways. At any rate, best to start the trip in the early morning or late afternoon. This will ensure a quiet, casual walk with fewer people on the track at once.
Once at the top, you’re introduced to several bunkers for exploring, history boards, and those amazing views of Oahu and Waikiki’s beaches. Don’t pass up the photo opportunity, and ensure you take your camera for this hiking experience.
Oahu Activities in the air
Skydiving on the North Shore of Oahu
Val & Nick @ Wandering Wheatleys
If you’re planning a vacation on the island of Oahu and are craving a bit of adventure, then skydiving on the North Shore should definitely be on your list of things to do! There’s truly no better way to experience the beauty of the island than from 10,000 feet in the air.
You’ll be able to see the spectacular rugged coastline, the turquoise blue water, and the lush vegetation far below. All while getting an incredible adrenaline rush!
There are two main companies with skydiving operations on Oahu – Skydive Hawaii and Pacific Skydiving Center. Both have impeccable safety records but Pacific Skydiving also has a “14,000 foot + guarantee” so you know you’ll be getting the most out of your jump. I’ve done not one but two jumps on the North Shore and chose Pacific both times. Everyone on staff is super friendly and will make sure you have the best possible experience (using humor to help ease your anxiety).
Both companies are located in a rather remote area of the North Shore, west of Haleiwa town, off of Farrington Highway. You’ll want a car to get out here since public transportation on the island is limited.
Travel even further west and you’ll come to Ka’ena Point State Park, an area of the island that’s not accessible by car.
It’s worth checking out the Ka’ena Point Trail while you are in this neck of the woods.
If skydiving is on your bucket list, Oahu is one of the most amazing places in the world to do it.
Cultural activities in Oahu
Attend A Luau
Cortney @ Tincanliving.blog
Oahu is the most populated of all the Hawaiian Islands and offers a wide variety of things to do. One popular activity that many visitors enjoy is attending a Luau. At these events, there are plenty of traditional foods and performances by talented artists from Hawaii. Although they have been around for centuries, Luaus are still going strong today.
The word “luau” is Hawaiian for the feast. To attend a Luau, you need to know where the one nearest to you is being held and then buy tickets in advance. The price range can vary greatly depending on location and when it is happening, but they average from $50-$150 per person. The price of your ticket includes traditional foods such as Kalua pig, lomi salmon, and poi. You can also expect to see an assortment of traditional Polynesian dances and colorful costumes.
A Luau is a great way for visitors to understand more about the culture in Hawaii while enjoying delicious food and beautiful performances. If you are heading there soon, make sure to add this exciting and traditional activity to your to-do list!!
Polynesian Culture Center
by Candice @ CS Ginger
The Polynesian Culture Center takes visitors through seven villages from the Pacific Region. Each village has something unique and great culture worth learning about. Samoa and Tonga are two of the most popular village to visit but if you have time, try to visit all of them.
At each village, there are performances, demonstrations, and villages to walk through. In Tonga, you can also go on a guided canoe ride. The highlight of the day occurs every day at 2:30 at the Canoe Pageant. Dancers from each of the villages ride down a river on a canoe showing off their cultural dances.
Be sure to end your evening at the Polynesian Culture Center with the show called Ha “Breath of Life.” It is a great performance filled with Polynesian dance, music, and fire knives.
There are a variety of different admission tickets that include a luau dinner, the show, and general admission to the Polynesian Culture Center.
The Polynesian Culture Center is on the North Shore in the town of Laie. Laie is about 55 minutes from downtown Honolulu. The easiest way to get there is with a car however there is a bus line that takes about two and a half hours.
Carol @ Wayfaring Views
There are far more things to do in Oahu than just hanging out on the beach. You can have some seriously cool urban adventures in Honolulu. We recommend that you get out of Waikiki and spend some time exploring the Kaka’ako neighborhood.
The POW!WOW! organization has been operating a street art festival in Honolulu for 10 years and the murals in Kaka’ako are world-class.
The organization is passionate about the neighborhood and in addition to curating street art, they also offer arts education programs for local kids. So, the whole enterprise exudes a spirit of Aloha.
The Kaka’ako neighborhood isn’t very large and you can spend 1-3 hours wandering around the streets and alleyways spying the large-scale murals and small-scale graffiti. You’ll see murals from famous artists like Tristan Easton, Kevin Lyons and Rone along with a lot of works from local artists. And if you work up a thirst checking out the murals, you can visit one of the (many) microbreweries in the neighborhood.
If you have a rental car, you can simply drive to the neighborhood and find metered street parking. But Kaka’ako is also easily accessible on the city bus route that runs through the Waikiki neighborhood and Ala Moana Mall.
Visit Pearl Harbor
By Erin Tracy @ Traveling Through History
Pearl Harbor is a place almost everyone has heard of, a place that recalls somber reflections of one of the darkest ages of recent history. Everyone who visits Hawaii should visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The park is free to visit, as is the USS Arizona Memorial. Park hours are 7am to 5pm.
When visitors come to Pearl Harbor, they will be greeted by museums, memorials, exhibits, and military memorabilia. Even those who are not especially interested in history will enjoy the beauty and peace of this sacred place. There are beautiful views over the harbor that can be enjoyed while listening to an audio tour, reading, or sitting in quiet contemplation at one of the many benches that line the manicured grounds of the park. Visitors will also find a bookstore with books, videos, posters, audio recordings, and other momentos related to the attack on Pearl Harbor and WWII.
To see the USS Arizona Memorial, visitors will need to reserve a time-specific spot on the boat up to 8 weeks in advance. Same-day tickets are no longer available. While the ticket is free, reservations made on recreation.gov do have a $1 reservation fee. This processing fee is worth it to stand over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona and see the beautiful memorial that has been placed above. Prior to embarking on the boat trip to the memorial, there is a 23-minute documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbor to help visitors understand the significance of the site.
When visiting the memorial, visitors should be aware that certain items are not allowed inside. Anything big enough to hold more than a cell phone is prohibited, unless it is a clear plastic bag. This includes purses, backpacks, camera bags, fanny packs, diaper bags, etc. Glass containers, musical instruments and cases (without a permit), sporting equipment, skateboards, skate shoes, frisbees, flowers, aerosol containers, and any type of weapon are also prohibited. Storage facilities are available for items not allowed inside the site. Most items can be stored for $6 each, luggage is $7.50 per piece. The hours for the storage facility are 6:30 am to 5:15 pm.
Smoking is not allowed anywhere within the Pearl Harbor site. Wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be used in all areas of the site, including the boats to the USS Arizona Memorial and the memorial. Service animals are allowed under ADA guidelines.
If you’re into history and want to learn about another historic site that is sacred to the Hawaiian people, check out the Kaniakapupu Ruins.
Byodo-In Temple and Gardens
Claire B. @ Claire Pins Travel
Located on the eastern coast of O’ahu, the Byodo-In Temple is a distinctive red building featuring Japanese-style architecture with white and yellow accents. It is situated at the base of a fog-covered mountain range among a beautiful background of tall trees and landscaped gardens.
Interestingly, this temple on O’ahu is a smaller replica of the original 950-year old Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The gardens feature walking paths and a reflection pond full of koi fish, along with other wildlife such as black swans and wild peacocks. The gardens provide an atmosphere of tranquillity which is perfect for a relaxing walk in nature or some quiet meditation.
The nearby Japanese tea house building contains a small gift shop which sells fish food for visitors who want to feed the koi. There is an additional structure outside the temple called the Bell House where visitors can ring a large sacred brass bell before entering the temple, where they will be greeted by a 9 foot tall golden carved Buddha statue.
This peaceful destination is located at the base of the Koʻolau Mountains, within the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. It can be reached by car or taxi in about 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu. It is also possible to reach the site using public transportation by bus from Honolulu, but it will take around 1 hour and 30 minutes and the trip includes a half mile walk from the bus stop.
The Byodo-In Temple welcomes people of any faith to visit the inside of the building and the surrounding grounds. As a non-denominational site, there are actually no monks in residence. Visitors should be aware that there is a small entrance fee and they will need to remove their shoes before entering the temple as a sign of respect.
Things to do in Oahu – culinary experiences
Brittany Sawyer @ Travel by Brit
If there’s any restaurant that should be on your Oahu bucket list, it’s Haleiwa Joe’s. This open-air restaurant on Oahu’s Windward Coast serves up some delicious meals and overlooks tropical gardens, lush greenery, and the Ko‘olau Mountains.
There’s no doubt that Haleiwa Joe’s in Kaneohe is one of the best places to eat on Oahu. If you don’t arrive 15-20 minutes before the restaurant opens, you’ll find yourself waiting in a two to three-hour line!
Once you’re seated at your table, your waiter or waitress will serve you piping-hot fresh bread with delectable guava butter. You can also choose to order an appetizer, like Poke, Calamari, or Spring Rolls, or a drink from the cocktail menu—the Mai Tai is fantastic!
Haleiwa Joe’s entrée menu features popular surf ‘n’ turf items, like the Coconut Shrimp, Teriyaki Top Sirloin, and Grilled Salmon.
However, despite the fantastic food, the real showstopper at Haleiwa Joe’s is the lush, tropical scenery your eyes will feast on during the meal. Kindly ask your waiter or waitress to seat you near the ledge of the restaurant overlooking the gardens. It’s one of the most incredible views in Oahu!
After dinner, you can walk down to the Haiku Gardens to explore and take photos of the gardens, koi pond, and gazebo. If you have to wait for a table, you can stroll through the gardens before eating since the gardens close at sunset.
Hawaiian Style Cooking Class
by Sydney @ A World in Reach
One of my favorite things that I did while visiting Oahu was learn to cook traditional Hawaiian dishes at a Hawaiian Style Cooking Class. This unique experience is a great way to dig deep into the Hawaiian culture through its cuisine.
The Hawaiian Style Cooking Class is hosted by Linda, a professional chef who has been in the food and beverage industry for decades. The classes are held in her beautiful home in the southern part of Honolulu, just minutes away from Waikiki. Several different classes are offered, including Hawaii Local Favorites, Traditional Hawaiian, and Asian Fusion. You can also work with Linda to customize a private class
Before attending the class, I was a bit nervous as I’m nowhere near an expert cook. My nerves were quickly eased at the start of the class – this class is perfect for both novice cooks and seasoned pros. Though you don’t need much skill, it might be worth brushing up on things like basic knife skills before your class. If you need help, no worries – Linda is always willing to provide instruction or help out!
During the class, you and your fellow classmates will work together to prepare a delicious multi-course Hawaiian style meal, which you’ll enjoy together at the end of the class. You’ll leave with all of the recipes you learned during the class so that you can make them at home.
Standard Hawaiian Style Cooking Classes start around $109 per person. Classes can be booked on the official website or on Airbnb Experiences.
Oahu Map of points of interests and where to stay
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