diamond head mountain and waikiki beach

The Best Things To Do On Oahu

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The island of Oahu, in Hawaii, is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world! From the lush green mountains to iconic blue waters, Oahu is full of adventure and beauty. The Waikiki and Honolulu area is urban and full of nightlife and tourist favorites. However, you are missing out if you don’t leave Honolulu during your trip. There are endless places to explore outside of Waikiki!

For the past three years, I’ve been living on Oahu and welcoming travelers to this beautiful island. I finally compiled a list of the best things to do on Oahu! Some are more touristy and others are a bit more local. I hope that you can use this list to explore the island and help you fall in love with it.

Waikiki/Honolulu Area

1. Waikiki Beach Walk

Waikiki Beach is the iconic tourist beach of Oahu. With beautiful views of Diamond Head on the east and Honolulu on the west, there is a beautiful landscape surrounding the beach. From walking down the beach, to snorkeling, to taking surf lessons, spending time on Waikiki Beach is a must-see on Oahu! The beach itself is about two miles long. Take some time to walk the beach and catch all of the sights!

2. Snorkel Turtle Canyon

Oahu is best experienced by land and sea. If you can swim, snorkeling is a must-do on Oahu. One of the more tame, novice-swimmer, and family-friendly snorkels is Turtle Canyon. Turtle Canyon is a reef not too far off the shore of Waikiki where sea turtles can be found swimming around, as well as some other fish. Many catamarans go out to Turtle Canyon daily. I’ve personally used Pink Sails catamaran and was impressed with the sail!

a turtle swimming in the water in turtle canyon
Swimming with sea turtles on a turtle canyon sail

3. Take A Surf Lesson In Waikiki

A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without surfing. If you’ve never surfed before, no worries! The calm, rolling waves of Waikiki beach are the perfect place to learn how to surf. Grab a board and go with a private or group surf lesson. http://gonesurfinghawaii.com/

4. Duke’s On Sunday

“People here and all over the world

Men, women, boys and pretty girls

Gather ’round by the seaside, Beach fun and tropic skies

Diamond head and palm trees, surf riders on the sea

It’s the place to be, it’s the place to be

On the beach at Waikiki, that’s where you’ll find me

Here on the southside, Beach Boys paradise

Duke’s on Sunday” – Jimmy Buffett 2006

Jimmy Buffett’s lyrics about Duke’s on Sunday beautifully capture the typical scene at the lanai on Duke’s restaurant in Waikiki between 4pm and sunset on Sundays. Hawaiian music legend, Henry Kapono, plays your all time favorite hits while the crowd sings along and dances under the breeze of the palm trees.

5. Waikiki Sunset Sail

Sunset is a magical time on Oahu. To get an unobstructed sunset view in Waikiki, go out on a sunset sail. The boats, which leave from Waikiki beach around 5:30pm, sail for about an hour to an hour and a half until the sun sets and then go back to shore. If you’re lucky, you can also see dolphins and whales (season depending) during the sail.

My favorite sunset sail catamarans are the Mano Kai which is more chill and family-friendly (aka where I take my family members) and the Na Hoku II, which is more of a party-centric booze cruise.

sunset over the ocean
View of the sunset from an ocean sail

6. Hike Diamond Head

The best views are often from above. Iconic Diamond Head is completely hikeable and has some of the best views of the ocean and Waikiki. This hike does get crowded, and during the day it is exposed to the sun. Make sure you wear appropriate footwear and bring plenty of water.

7. Hike Manoa Falls

A trip to Oahu isn’t complete without seeing a waterfall! Venture into the jungle to see one of the most iconic waterfalls on Oahu, Manoa Falls. Manoa Falls is a highly trafficked hike that takes you directly to a waterfall and pool in the middle of a lush jungle.

For more hikes on Oahu check out: 3 Pillbox Hikes With Amazing Views

8. Fireworks at The Hilton

Like clockwork, every Friday at 7:45pm, fireworks shoot off from The Hilton Waikiki over the ocean. There is an unobstructed view of the fireworks from Waikiki Beach and the beachfront bars on the water. Also, any high balcony with a view of the water will also have a view of the fireworks. The sunset sails (as mentioned above) are also another good place to view the fireworks. Although on Fridays, there is a premium price for the fireworks sails.

9. Eat Pupus at Uncle Bo’s

Located centrally on Kapahulu street (and also in Haleiwa on the North Shore), Uncle Bo’s is a great place to get a taste of Hawaiian eats. Family style is the way to go here. Get a bunch of pupus (small plates to share), grab some chopsticks, and share this meal with your family and friends.

10. Eat Dinner At Roy’s

Roy’s is a popular chain restaurant in Hawaii and for good reasons! They have amazing fresh fish and extraordinary dishes that draw locals and tourists alike. If you want a high-quality meal and fresh seafood, check out Roy’s!

11. Mai Tai at The Barefoot Bar

On Waikiki Beach, you may notice that the beach is a dry beach. No alcohol allowed on the sand and no bar service to the beach. There are, however, many beach bars that sit on the edge of the beach. You can sit at these bars, have a drink with a flower, and relax under beach umbrellas.

The iconic drink of Hawaii is the Mai Tai. In my opinion, the best Mai Tai in Hawaii is made at The Barefoot Bar. The Barefoot Bar is the beach bar at the Hale Koa hotel, which is the military/government hotel. While all patrons are more than welcome at The Barefoot Bar, persons with military and government IDs get a discount at the bar.

Drinker beware! The Mai Tais are STRONG! They don’t particularly taste strong, but they do hit very strong! One Mai Tai is enough to get most people tipsy. Two or more can be very wicked!

12. Arnold’s Beach Bar

Dive bar lovers rejoice at Arnold’s Beach Bar. Arnold’s is an old-school style tiki bar fully equipped with a topless woman mannequin. Go to Arnold’s to grab a beer or a Mai Tai after the beach. There is live acoustic music during the early evenings and a fun beach vibe. While they don’t serve food, they do have unlimited free popcorn (when available).

13. Get a Plate Lunch At L & L Drive In

If you want to experience some authentic Hawaiian food, head to L & L Drive-In. There are locations around Oahu, including conveniently located inside the Walmart on Keeaumoku. L & L serves up the iconic plate lunch, which is meat served with rice and a serving of macaroni salad. If you want to get some local eats, stop by L & L for a lunch plate.

14. Eat A 7-11 Musubi

Speaking of local food, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t eat a Spam musubi on Oahu. Spam was initially introduced to Hawaii during World War 2, and it has blossomed in popularity from then on. Hawaii loves its Spam and consumes more than any other state in the nation.

One of the more popular Spam dishes is the Spam musubi, which looks like a Spam sushi sandwich. It’s a ball of rice, with a slice of Spam on top of the rice, and a seaweed wrap. While there are countless places that sell musubi, year after year, 7-11 is ranked the best place to get a musubi on Oahu. Yes, that 7-11, the convenience store. Believe it or not, 7-11 on Hawaii is quite a step above the mainland and has a lot of good eats.

15. Walk Through The Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo, located an easy walk from Waikiki, is home to some exotic animals that you will only see here, including snakes! The kids will love this one!

16. Visit Pearl Harbor

Step back into history and onto the USS Missouri battleship at Pearl Harbor. Take a boat out to the USS Arizona memorial. Although as of this writing (May 2019), the memorial is closed for repair.

17. Admire The Street Art in Kakaako

Kakaako is a vibrant and changing neighborhood in downtown Honolulu. Older buildings have been renovated into breweries and eclectic spaces. This is the hub of street art in Oahu and the home to the Pow Wow! art show annually. Walk around Cooke Street and the Salt complex to explore murals and street art designs.

a women standing in front of a mural
Standing with street art in Kakaako

East Side

When you leave Honolulu and head east on the H1 to the Kalanianaole highway, you’ll find some of my favorite beaches and coastlines on the island. This is a beautiful drive, even if you don’t stop at any of the places that I’m mentioning.

Please note that I don’t mention Hanauma Bay on this list. While Hanauma Bay is consistently listed as a “must-see”on the island, I find it to be super crowded, overrated, and disappointed that the reef is dead. Plus, you have to pay to enter. If you like snorkeling, check out some of the other beaches that I mention on the list.

a view of koko head stairs
The view from the top of the Koko Head stairs

18. Hike the Koko Head Stairs

The Koko Head Crater trail, also known as “the stairs” is a Stairmaster of over 1000 railway planks that go to the top of Koko head crater. This hike is not for the faint of heart. It is very challenging and very dangerous. Go at your own speed and make sure that you have plenty of water. This is not a hike for beginners or people who do not have good cardio endurance.

19. Halona Blowhole and Cockroach Cove

As you are driving east through Oahu, you pass some beautiful lookout points. Be sure and stop at Halona Blowhole. There is a parking lot and viewing railing where you can watch the water splash from the blowhole below. You can also venture down to Cockroach Cove, which is a secluded beach that is fun for lounging, swimming, and jumping into the water from the cliffs above.

a picture of cockroach cove beach
The view of the beach from Halona Blowhole parking lot

20. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park

If you want a beach to visit outside of Waikiki, go to Waimanalo! Waimanalo has beautiful white sand, a long beach line, and easy parking! Definitely a beach that you want to check out, if you plan to get out of Waikiki.

21. Hike Makapuu Lighthouse (And Tide Pools)

The hike to Makapuu Lighthouse is one of the easiest and most accessible hikes on Oahu. You can walk on a paved trail, with a small incline, and get some stellar ocean views. During whale season, you can see whales breaching and blowing from the trail. On clear days, you can see the outlines of the neighboring islands of Lanai, Maui, and Molokai.

If you feel adventurous, you can hike from the main Makapuu Lighthouse trail down to the tide pools. You will notice the (small) trailhead right at the binoculars that you come to on the easternmost facing portion of the trail.

a lighthouse on the ocean edge
Makaapu lighthouse

North Shore

While Waikiki Beach and Honolulu are urban and have plenty of nightlife and entertainment, the North Shore is more relaxed and chill. No high rises and no late nights out on the North Shore. If you don’t eat dinner by 8pm, you may not find a restaurant open to serve you.

22. Stroll Through Haleiwa

Haleiwa is the main town on the North Shore. Take some time to park your car and walk around all of the small shops and businesses. If you need a bikini or board shorts, you can surely find something in the many beach shops in Haleiwa.

a women snorkeling
Snorkeling at Three Tables

23. Snorkel At Three Tables

If you’re looking for a beach on the North Shore, Three Tables is a beautiful spot with some good snorkeling. Bring a mask, swim around, and enjoy the day. Swimmers beware: the rip current can get strong at Three Tables. Pending the weather and your swimming skills, you may want to avoid swimming far out into the water.

24. Grab Lunch From The Shrimp Trucks

The North Shore is known for its shrimp trucks. Stop at Giovanni’s http://giovannisshrimptruck.com/ and try out some of the fresh garlic shrimp!

25. Eat/Drink at Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort is the primary beach resort on the North Shore of Oahu. If you’re staying on the North Shore, this may be where you are residing! It also may look familiar because it was the filming site of the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Whether you are staying at the resort or not, you can go for a beachside drink or bite to eat at the variety of restaurants and bars on the property. This is a great place to sit and relax on the ocean.

26. See Turtles Come To Shore at Laniakea Beach (Aka Turtle Beach)

Laniakea Beach is located right off the highway on the North Shore. A quick walk to the beach, and you have a high chance of seeing sea turtles coming to shore and resting on the sand.

A turtle spotted at Turtle Beach

27. Matsumoto’s North Shore

While walking around in Haleiwa, stopping at Matsumoto’s for some iconic shave ice is a must! Shave ice is the cold refreshment of choice on Oahu and is famously served up at Matsumoto’s!

28. Swim with Sharks On The North Shore

Swimming with sharks is one of the more majestic adventures out there. You can learn more about sharks and free dive with One Ocean or snorkel in cages.

29. Check Out The Pipeline For Surf Competitions

Wintertime on the North Shore means surf competitions! If you are on-island during a competition, grab a towel and head out to the pipeline to watch the show!

30. Kualoa Ranch

Kualoa Ranch is the famous filming location of many Hollywood blockbusters, including Jurassic Park. The ranch is more of an eco-adventure park now with lots of fun adventurous activities. Kayaking, four wheeling, and zip lining are all adventure opportunities at Kualoa.

31. Polo Beach North Shore

Every Sunday from April through September (season may vary, please check the website for schedule), you can go to the North Shore to enjoy polo and live music! The scene is vibrant with a parking lot full of tailgating and fun! https://hawaii-polo.org/

Windward Side

pillbox hike at lanakai
View of the mokes

32. Kayak At Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach has two iconic islands, aka “mokes,” which have been photographed and have become very recognizable. You can spend the day lounging at Lanikai, or rent kayaks and kayak out to the mokes!

33. Botanical Gardens

Oahu is home to many beautiful botanical gardens. Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, located in Kaneohe, is free to the public and open every day accept Christmas and New Years. Hoomaluhia has stunning views of the Koolau mountains, vast vegetation, a lake, and some small hikes that you can explore.

a women standing in front of a mountain
The view at Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

West Side

34. Attend a Luau

Learn about the culture of the Pacific Islands and try traditional foods at a luau. Check out Germaine’s Luau in Kapolei!

35. Snorkel At Electric Beach

The west side of Oahu is one of the less explored tourist areas. If you do get to the west side, take some time to enjoy Electric Beach. Located parallel to an electric factory, the beach has more naturally warm water and is home to some great ocean life for snorkeling.

If you made it to the bottom of this post, I hope you enjoyed reading through my must-do list for Oahu! Please add any of your favorites to the comments section!

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