Oahu is one of eight islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is home to some of the world’s finest beaches, Hawaii’s largest city Honolulu, and the majority of Hawaiian residents.
Oahu translates to “the gathering place,” and the number of people on the island, combined with its breathtaking natural beauty, means there are near limitless activities for people of any age.
Before you head to Oahu, be sure to brush up on the local rules and regulations regarding tourists. Hawaii embraces sustainable tourism to maintain and protect the natural beauty, so they ask guests to leave no trace and support local nonprofit organizations that promote these initiatives.
Whether you’re traveling with your family, partner, or a group of friends, we’ve put together a list of the 51 best things to do in Oahu to make your vacation planning as easy as possible.
1. Diamond Head State Monument
If you want the perfect Instagram photo from Oahu, Diamond Head State Monument is your best bet. It has some of the most scenic hiking and stunning overlooks on the island. When you get to the top of your hike, you’ll have panoramic views of the lush green on Oahu, the Honolulu skyline, and the Pacific Ocean.
If you aren’t a Hawaii resident, you will need to make a reservation and pay a $10 vehicle entry fee, along with a $5 fee per visitor over three years old.
2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
No matter whom you’re traveling with, Pearl Harbor is worth a stop if you stay in Oahu. The memorial is steeped in devastating but powerful history, and includes the USS Arizona Memorial, The USS Utah Memorial, and the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
The best way to make the most of Pearl Harbor is to book a Ford Island Bus Tour, where you can see the Oklahoma and Utah memorials. The memorial for the USS Arizona is separate from this tour.
3. Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is located on the North Shore of Oahu Island. Kualoa Ranch has hosted many incredible TV shows and movies, including Lost and Hawaii Five-0. It is also called the Jurassic Valley because part of the Jurassic Park movie franchise was filmed there.
You can book horseback riding, e-bike tours, Jurassic ATV tours, Hollywood Tours, visits to secluded beaches, and an incredible zipline experience.
4. Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is the best way to experience the rich heritage of Hawaiian culture on any of the Hawaiian Islands. At the evening shows, you will be able to experience a traditional luau that includes hula dancing and incredible fire displays.
The Polynesia Cultural Center also offers an authentic Hawaiian dining experience and gorgeous handmade souvenirs.
5. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is one of the best beaches in Oahu. Located in the town of Kailua, Lanikai is on the island’s windward side and offers stunning views of the bluest ocean you’ll ever see.
Getting to Lanikai can be difficult as there is no public access except for boardwalks between people’s homes. Parking can be difficult, especially on the weekend, so it’s best to visit during the week if you can. There are also no lifeguards on duty for this beach.
While Lanikai may be difficult to reach, it makes this beach one of a few hidden gems less crowded than other parts of the island. Our home Hale Oahu Cottage is only a couple of miles away from this beach.
6. Sunset Beach Park
Sunset Beach along Oahu’s north shore is one of the most incredible beaches in the world. In the winter, the giant waves make it a famous beach for surfers. If you’re unfamiliar with beaches and surfing, staying out of the water on good surfing days is a good idea.
Sunset Beach is the perfect place to go snorkeling during the summer when the winds and surfing waves have calmed. Of course, the beach also lives up to its reputation—it’s the perfect place to catch a sunset no matter the time of year.
7. Dole Plantation
Visiting the Dole Plantation isn’t like seeing any other farm. It has many unique experiences that are perfect for the whole family. Since 1898, the Dole Plantation has been the place for tourists to explore a Pineapple Express Train Tour, a pineapple garden maze, and an incredible guided tour of the gardens.
While the plantation can be a fun place to visit with your family, it is also rich in history. The plantation has been used for centuries, and the foods grown there are a mainstay of Hawaiian culture.
The Dole Plantation is also known for its incredible treats, such as Dole Soft Serve, freshly picked pineapples, and estate-grown Waialua chocolate.
8. Byodo-In Temple
Nestled in the foothills of the Ko-olau Mountains, the Byodo-In Temple is a temple built to honor Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. Dappled with luscious flora, quiet waterfalls, and iconic Japanese Koi, it’s no wonder that the temple is a popular wedding destination for couples from Japan and the US alike.
9. Iolani Palace
The Iolani Palace is one of Hawaii’s finest historic sites. For years it was home to Hawaii’s King Kalakaua and then his successor and sister, Queen Liliuokalani. When the monarchy was overthrown, the palace served as the capital for more than 70 years.
In the 70s, the palace was restored to look like its original royal home. They offer tours where you can learn about Hawaii’s connections with Japan, the traditional attire of Hawaiian royalty, and more.
10. Ala Moana
Ala Moana is a shopping district in Honolulu jam-packed with local cuisine, incredible stores, hula dancers, ukulele players, and activities for children. With hundreds of stores, Ala Moana is easily a full-day activity all on its own.
11. Kailua Beach Park
Kailua Beach is the best beach for active travelers. Located on the windward half of Oahu, you can canoe, kayak, snorkel, or try your hand on a stand-up paddleboard.
There are plenty of amenities available as well, including BBQ pits, picnic shelters, bathrooms with showers, and lifeguards. If you’re staying in a vacation rental on Lanikai or Kailua Beach, you can even get free gear delivered to this picturesque beach.
12. Hanauma Bay Tours
Hanauma Bay Tours offers an incredible experience for the whole family with their Turtle Canyon tours. You and your family will be able to see wonderful marine life up close and its native habitat, including green sea turtles and Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
If you’re visiting from December to April, you may even get lucky and see a humpback whale.
13. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
This iconic garden includes 400 acres of peaceful land for you to explore. You will be able to see native Hawaiian plant life, of course, but you will also be able to explore botanical collections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Africa, and more.
The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are a great place to learn about nature, wildlife, and the fragile ecosystems of the Hawaiian islands while enjoying gorgeous scenery unlike anywhere else.
14. Ko Olina lagoons
Ko Olina includes four lagoons that spread across 642 acres of land. This beach is one of the more accessible beaches in Oahu, as daily public parking is available.
Ko Olina beaches are best for those that want a quiet beach where they can sit in the sun. Because it is privately owned, Ko Olina has banned alcohol, cigarettes, pets, loud music, and most active beach activities.
If you’re an adult looking for the best place to sunbathe in peace and enjoy the sounds of the waves off of one of Oahu’s finest beaches—Ko Olina is your best bet.
15. Oahu shark diving tour
If you want to ditch the relaxing beaches for a day and have a thrill instead, you can go diving with sharks with North Shore Shark Adventures. They guarantee you will see sharks on their tour, so your time and money are insured with this adventure.
You and your family will be able to observe the true majesty of sharks up close and personal in a cage dive. If you’re planning on visiting Oahu and you can find the time, a shark diving tour is not something you want to miss.
The United States military had to endure intense onslaughts during WWII in Oahu. They built concrete structures called pillboxes around the island to serve as lookouts for the enemy.
Because they were important lookouts, these pillboxes often come with astonishingly beautiful views. Though soldiers built many around Oahu, two of the most popular pillboxes are in Diamond Head Lookout and along the Lanikai Pillbox Trial.
17. Matsumoto Shave Ice
Shave ice is one of Oahu’s most iconic treats, and Matsumoto Shave Ice is one of the most iconic places to get it. Located in Waialua on the island’s north side, Matsumoto has been open since 1951.
This little shop has regular flavors like watermelon, strawberry, and lemon, as well as unique flavors like guava, lychee, and ume. If you want to try something really different, you can even add adzuki beans for a little extra protein.
18. Makapu’u Lighthouse
As a chain of islands, it’s no surprise that Hawaii is home to many different lighthouses. No lighthouse in Hawaii is more iconic than Makapu’u Lighthouse.
To see this lighthouse on the eastern point of Oahu Island, you’ll have to hike 2 miles round trip on Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline. The trail difficulty is moderate, so it’s suitable for most families.
If you decide to make the trek out, bring binoculars to see as much wildlife as possible- whales, seabirds, dolphins, and much more are all often visible from the lighthouse.
19. Halona Blowhole Lookout
The Halona Blowhole Lookout is located near Hanauma Bay off Kalanianaole Highway and is worth a stop. Waters from the Pacific Ocean violently crash against the shore, and an old volcanic tube throws the sea waves high into the air.
Aside from the blowhole itself, the lookout offers spectacular views of the water and a great place to pull over and stretch your legs.
20. Tantalus Lookout
There is perhaps no better way to see the skyline of Honolulu than from Tantalus Lookout. Originally named Pu’u Ualaka’a, Tantalus Lookout is perched atop an extinct cinder cone volcano.
The lookout also offers a fantastic view of the island’s craters—- including Diamond Head Crater—- which formed after large volcanic explosions thousands of years ago. While on the lookout, be sure to explore the Ualaka’a Trail, a short 1-mile loop that offers a unique view of the Hawaiian jungle.
21. Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout is a beautiful and historically significant site in Oahu. This lookout is a must-see just five miles from Honolulu if you’re staying in or near the city.
This lookout is the location where the battle of Nu’uanu took place in 1795. During the fighting, hundreds of soldiers died, many by being pushed off the rocky cliff. It was during this battle that King Kamehameha I united Oahu for the first time.
22. Oahu helicopter tours
There are a few different helicopter tours in Oahu that launch from different locations. Wherever you’re staying, planning to experience Oahu via a helicopter tour couldn’t be more worth it. From the sky, you’ll be able to see Hawaii as the birds do.
From incredible waterfalls and lush green forests to the Honolulu skyline and the cerulean ocean, there is no better way of experiencing the breathtaking beauty of Oahu than from the sky.
23. Waikiki Beach
Located near Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is one of the most iconic beaches that Hawaii has to offer. This world-renowned beach is lined with a half-dozen surfing schools for those looking to learn. The smaller waves on this side of the island are perfect for those getting onto a surfboard for the first time.
If only part of your group is interested in getting on a board, the rest can spend their day shopping or enjoying entertainment just steps away from the beach.
Skydiving isn’t for everyone, but if you’re ready for the freefall, this activity is one of the best things to do in Oahu. A few different businesses offer skydiving along the island’s North Shore.
Starting from as high as 14,000 feet, most tours offer freefalls that last as long as 20 seconds. If you’re ready for the thrill of a lifetime, you can check out Pacific Skydiving or Skydive Hawaii to make a reservation.
25. Waimea Bay
The waves at Waimea Bay are not for the faint of heart. This bay is on the windward side of Oahu, and it shows. In winter (roughly November to April), the waves on this beach can be more than 20 feet tall.
The water at this beach is best traversed only by expert surfers and lifeguards. Waimea Bay is the place to be if you want to see expert surfers in action, not if you’re looking to ride your first wave.
In the summer, the waters of the bay calm, and this area becomes a popular spot to relax, snorkel, and dive.
26. Ka’ena Point Trail
The Ka’ena Point Trail is located in Ka’ena Point State Park on the northwestern point of Oahu Island.
On hotter days, hikers should keep in mind that Ka’ena Point Trail is a longer hike that doesn’t offer much shade and has no drinking water available along the trail. Still, if you’re willing to make the 2.7-mile one-way trek, it’s worth it for what you will see along the way.
This trail offers views of the Kaneana, a sea cave that is said to be the home of the Nanaue Shark Man of ancient Hawaiian mythology. If you hit this trail early, you might also be lucky enough to see dolphins swimming in the nearby waters.
27. The ‘Aiea Loop Trail
Located in Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, the ‘Aiea Loop Trail stretches 4.8 miles of easy and moderate terrain. On average, this trail takes 2 to 3 hours to complete.
The ‘Aiea Loop Trail offers some of the most memorable beauty in Oahu. Lined with lemon eucalyptus trees that leave a lingering citrus smell in the air, this trail offers spectacular views of the southern Oahu coast. You will likely see incredible wildlife along with your views, making this trail a must-see for anyone in the area.
28. Camping in Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area
Campsites in Oahu aren’t easy to come by, but if you get a chance to camp in Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, take it. With just ten campsites open only from Friday through Wednesday, the State Recreation Area offers the finest way to spend a night outdoors.
The campsites in the recreation area have showers, water fountains, and bathrooms available, though alcohol is not permitted anywhere in the park. You should come prepared for bugs—especially mosquitos. However, it’s well worth it as camping in Hawaii is a truly memorable experience.
29. Wahiawa Freshwater State Recreation Area
Freshwater fishing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii, but Wahiawa Freshwater State Recreation Area offers an area to do that. You can fish right off the shore of the Wahiawa Reservoir, or you can fish off a boat.
This recreation area has water fountains, bathrooms, picnic tables, and a boat ramp for your convenience.
30. Kayak to the Mokes
Looking out from Lanikai Beach, you can see two small islands in the distance—the Mokes. Kailua Beach Adventures offers kayaking tours to these secluded islands, from the beach to these islands, where you’ll experience some of the best beaches in Hawaii and spectacular views from the water.
Once you kayak the 30 minutes to the islands, you can hop out of your kayak, swim in the shallow waters, and explore the land. Whether renting a kayak and visiting the islands alone or following a guided tour, The Mokes are a must for anyone visiting Oahu.
31. Koko Crater Trail
The Koko Crater Trail—more commonly called the Koko Head Stairs–is one of the most iconic hikes in Oahu. As Oahu’s most difficult hike with more than 1,000 stairs, this trail is best left to more experienced hikers and groups without small children.
Remember that you will have to descend any stairs you climb up on your way back down. As with all hikes, it’s best to turn around if you feel you’re becoming depleted of your energy or have used half of your water supply.
To do this hike, you can park in the Koko Head District Park parking lot and follow trail signs. The higher you go, the better the views get until you reach the top. There may be no better view of Oahu than from the top of the Koko Crater Trail.
32. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is home to many legendary Pearl Harbor and WWII planes. Located on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor, this museum is the perfect stop for any group with a history buff.
In this museum, you can walk around an old plane hangar packed with dive bombers, flight simulators, and tons of history.
33. The Manoa Falls Trail
The Manoa Falls Trail is a good choice for those with less experience to get some hiking in on Oahu. The trail has only a gentle slope and is a short 1.6 miles long. It’s also just a 15-minute drive from Honolulu—perfect for families with restless children.
The size of the waterfall at the end of this trail may vary depending on the season and weather. Water from this waterfall depends on rainwater, so if you visit in the dry season, don’t be surprised when the water is a smaller trickle.
Regardless of Manoa Falls waterfall, the trail will take you through a luscious green jungle under a gorgeous canopy of trees. This hike is absolutely worth the effort for the views along the way.
34. Hawaii State Art Museum
The Hawaii State Art Museum is the perfect activity for anyone that wants to learn more about the local culture while getting some time out of the sun. There’s always something new to see with an ever-changing array of exhibits that feature local artists.
The sculpture garden is a permanent exhibit at the art museum. Designed to evoke the image of an urban oasis, the sculpture garden has free admission.
35. Waikiki Submarine Tour
Atlantis Adventures offers a submarine tour of the clear waters of Waikiki. A submarine tour is not for those with claustrophobia, as you’ll dive 100 feet underwater in a tight space to see the marine life below the water.
This tour is one of the best ways to observe fish in their natural habitats. The trip lasts over an hour, during which you will see coral, a sunken shipwreck, and even a crashed airplane.
If you have children on the trip, it should be noted that there is a minimum of 36-inch (3-foot) height for safety reasons.
36. Kaniakapupu Ruins
The Kaniakapupu Ruins are an important historic site on the island of Oahu. Just a short hike off Old Pali Road, nestled in a bamboo forest, is the broken-down walls of the Kaniakapupu Ruins.
These broken walls represent what was once King Kamehameha III’s summer home, originally built in 1847. It was in this summer home that King Kamehameha III would consult with his people and his chiefs, away from the prying eyes of Westerners.
37. Waikiki Aquarium
The Waikiki Aquarium is part of the University of Hawaii. Originally built in 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium is the second oldest in the United States and sees more than 300,000 visitors annually.
While visiting, you’ll see incredible marine life up close and personal—from sea horses to jellyfish, the aquarium has more than 3,000 animals in its care.
If you add the Waikiki Aquarium to your itinerary, do not miss the aquarium’s two most popular attractions, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Exhibit and the Living Reef Exhibit.
38. The Honolulu Zoo
The Honolulu Zoo is home to many unique animals you won’t have the chance to see elsewhere. From mammals and birds to reptiles and amphibians, the zoo is the perfect way to get close to wildlife without endangering it or yourself.
Pythons, tortoises, giraffes, and flamingos can all be found in the zoo. You’ll want to dedicate a full day to the zoo and its activities with dozens of exhibits.
If you’re looking for an extra memorable experience, you can stay in the park after the gates close on Saturday nights for Twilight Tours.
These tours are two hours long and will take you throughout the zoo to observe the animals at a unique time of day. Animals’ behavior changes as the sun sets, and you’ll get extra time to ask questions on the guided tour.
39. Queen Emma Summer Palace
The Queen Emma Summer Palace is another important historical site that will take your breath away. In Hawaiian, it’s called Hanaiakamalama.
This palace was home to Queen Emma of Hawaii and her husband, King Kamehameha, for nearly forty years. They raised their son, Prince Albert, in the Nu’uanu Valley.
The palace spans more than 22 thousand square feet and was saved from demolition in 1915. The Daughters of Hawaii stopped this historical site from being destroyed, and they still run it to this day.
40. The Bishop Museum
The Bishop Museum is one of the best ways to learn about Polynesian culture and the history of the Hawaiian islands. The museum hosts information about native wildlife, local culture, and the history of the building itself.
The Bishop Museum has more than 25 million treasures from Hawaii and Polynesia. These items paint a picture of the Pacific islands’ history, making the museum the perfect stop for history buffs.
The Bishop Museum is also home to a planetarium, where you can see a show to learn more about the night sky overhead.
You can walk the same halls as Queen Emma alone or follow a guided tour. Whatever you decide, if you’re going to the Nu’uanu Valley, this palace is worth a stop.
41. Washington Palace
Washington Palace, completed in 1847, is an important historical landmark in Oahu history. It originally housed Mary Dominis, who named it after George Washington with permission from King Kamehameha III.
While the house was originally Mary’s, it is most known for being the home of Queen Liliuokalani, who married Mary’s son John Dominis. Queen Liliuokalani lived in the home from the time she was married until she ascended to the throne in 1891.
At Washington Palace, you can walk amongst this history and learn about the life, career, and death of Queen Liliuokalani—the last monarch of the Hawaiian islands.
42. Honolulu’s Chinatown
The Hawaiian Islands’ proximity to Asia has meant that China and Japan have significantly impacted Hawaiian culture. Honolulu is even home to its own iconic Chinatown.
Chinatown in Honolulu stretches from North Beretania to Honolulu Harbor. You’ll find a bustling and vibrant art scene within Chinatown, restaurants that blend Hawaiian and Chinese cuisine, and incredible nightlife.
43. Sea Life Park
The Sea Life Park is a perfect experience for families staying in Oahu. It is a great place to see a luau, watch marine life play and swim, and eat unique local cuisine. Sea Life Park is one of the few places where you can interact up close with dolphins and monk seals.
You’ll also get up close and personal with whitetip reef sharks, small sharks native to the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Whether you go to the Sea Life Park for a dolphin encounter, a seal encounter, or just to get a closer look at the penguin habitat, make sure to pre-book your tickets and passes online, as they tend to sell out during peak seasons.
44. Segway tours
One of the best ways to get a full view of Honolulu (without being in a car) is to take a Segway tour. Many companies offer Segway tours around the city, and you can bring your entire family along.
In recent years, some places have even begun to offer tours riding hoverboards- the cool older sibling of the Segway. Segways are all-terrain vehicles, and with the right tires, you can smoothly transition from the city streets to the beach and back again.
There are 40 golf courses on the Island of Oahu, and each offers a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. There are options for every budget, from those who want a luxury PGA-golfing experience to those just looking to hit the course while they travel.
The Ko Olina Golf Club course offers a quintessential Hawaiian golf experience. Boasting roughly 35,000 square feet of land, waterfalls, and breathtaking views, it’s not a surprise that Ko Olina was chosen for Golf Digest’s ‘Top 75 Resort Courses in The United States.’
Kitesurfing, also called windsurfing, is a sport where you use a board and a small sail to glide across the water at high speeds. The best kitesurfing on Oahu is in Kailua Bay.
If you have never done this kind of surfing before, it’s best to start with an instructor who can help you learn how to navigate safely. Fortunately, Honolulu is home to plenty of kitesurfing schools that can help you get started.
Once you get going, kitesurfing can offer you the experience of a lifetime. From breathtaking views of the island from the water to the thrill of feeling like a low-flying, there is nothing like zipping across the water with only the wind to pull you along.
There are tons of bike trails around the island of Oahu. Whether you’re looking to experience some unique island mountain biking or you want to navigate the city’s streets, bike rental companies can get you started so you don’t have to bring your bike from home.
48. Distillery tours
Whatever your alcohol preference, you will likely find an Oahu distillery to match it. Around the island, you’ll find distilleries that produce rum, whiskey, scotch, and more. Because of the Japanese influence on the island, you can even visit a shochu (Japanese rice alcohol) or sake distillery.
49. Leonard’s Bakery
Leonard’s Bakery has been a staple of Oahu since 1952. It was opened by Leonard and Margaret DoRego, descendants of Portuguese immigrants. When they first opened the bakery, they stuck to traditional American desserts but quickly decided to include traditional Portuguese baked goods as well.
When the owners of Leonard’s included malasadas on the menu for the first time, they were reluctant. They weren’t sure if the food would take off with white Americans or natives of the island, but it was a hit with both. To this day, Leonard’s Bakery represents the blend of cultures that makes Oahu and the surrounding islands unique.
Today, the bakery serves traditional Hawaiian baked goods like Pao Doce, Portuguese foods like malasadas, and traditional American desserts like pies and cupcakes.
50. Koko Crater Botanical Garden
The Koko Crater Botanical Garden is located on the eastern side of Oahu near Honolulu. It includes sixty acres of gorgeous gardens in the basin of the 200-acre Koko Crater.
The botanical garden includes plants from Hawaii, Africa, and Madagascar. There are tropical plants as well as plants native to arid climates.
Due to the garden’s size, it is recommended that you wear good shoes and come prepared to walk. Guided tours are available, but you can also stroll through the garden alone or with your group. Most people spend about an hour and a half walking around the park.
51. Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design offers a unique way to learn about Islamic art and design. Exhibitions are always changing, so there is always something new to explore, even if you’ve been there before.
While exhibits are always changing, the museum is home to more than 4,000 permanent objects of cultural importance from Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and more. The collection was put together over sixty years by Doris Duke.
While there are many things to do on all of the Hawaiian islands, including Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii itself, Oahu offers the most diverse array of activities in the archipelago. These 51 things to do in Oahu will keep you busy whether you’re staying just for a weekend or a week.
Still looking for a place to stay in Oahu? Check out our Oahu vacation rentals.