The Top 17 Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii

Aerial view of H-3 Interstate highway, Oahu
Royce Bair/Getty Images

Oahu, known as "the Gathering Place," is the island most often visited by travelers to Hawaii—and rightfully so. From scenic beaches, parks, interesting museums, and moving historical monuments, there are so many things to do on Oahu that you'll never be able to do them all in just one visit. Families especially will find tons of kid-friendly activities at many cultural venues and nature destinations throughout the island. Here, we've chosen our top things to do on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

01 of 17

Go Rum Tasting

Dark rum being poured into a flight of glasses

Kō Hana Distillers

92-1770 Kunia Rd #227, Kunia Camp, HI 96759, USA
Phone +1 808-649-0830

Sugar cane was first planted by the ancient Hawaiians and has grown in Hawaii's tropical climate for centuries. On the North Shore, you can visit Kō Hana Distillers, a sugar cane plantation and distillery that uses this historic crop to make rum.

As the first and only rum tasting room, it's a perfect excursion for cocktail-lovers to experience a taste that is uniquely Hawaiian. You can go for a traditional tasting with a small introduction to the cane plantation or go for the full estate tour, which also provides for a nice view of the Waianae Mountains and a chance to see how the rum is made.

02 of 17

Go Off-Road on the North Shore

Green landscape of Oahu's northshore

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Kamehameha Highway and, Cane Haul Rd, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
Phone +1 877-521-4453

You can learn about Hawaiian culture and sustainability with a Hawaiian guide while visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations on the North Shore. Sustainable tour companies like North Shore Eco Tours whisk visitors away from the crowds of Waikiki and take them off-roading and hiking on private reserves.

During these tours, a local guide will explain the meaning of "Aloha ʻĀina" which is the Hawaiian value of taking care of nature. As you get a rare inside look at Oahu's lush mountain valleys, you'll learn more about the history of Hawaii and the importance of protecting these beautiful landscapes.

03 of 17

Go Whale Watching

A whale breaches above the water

Atlantis Adventures

The best time to visit Hawaii if you want to see whales is between December and May when Pacific humpbacks migrate from Alaska for the mating season. It's a wonderfully relaxing way to spend time in Oahu and many different tours run in the morning, afternoon, and sunset.

Some whale watching tours offer a more rustic small-boat experience, while luxury ships like the Majestic provide live music, meals, and a cocktail bar. Many tours leave from Honolulu, but you can also find cruises leaving from the west side of the island. If you're lucky, you might not even need to get on a boat to see some whale tails flipping in the ocean as whales are frequently spotted from the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail.

04 of 17

Explore the Bishop Museum

Large Whale in main hall of Bishop Museum

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA
Phone +1 808-847-3511

The Bishop Museum is recognized as the State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The official name is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum after the wife of Charles Bishop, to whom Bernice had left her personal property upon her death in 1885, fulfilling their dream of preserving Hawaii's cultural heritage.

The Bishop Museum is the largest museum in the state of Hawaii and the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific. The museum houses the world's most extensive collection of Polynesian cultural and scientific artifacts. Throughout its history, the museum's commitment has been the gathering and the dissemination of information on Hawaii and the Pacific.

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05 of 17

Attend a Luau

Hula dancers at the Polynesian Cultural Center's Luau

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

Oahu puts on some of Hawaii's best luaus and tourists are spoiled for choice. Germaine's Luau is held on a private beach on Barber's Point west of Honolulu, and another popular option is the Paradise Cove Luau, held on a 12-acre beach at the Ko Olina Resort. It features great food, Polynesian entertainment, traditional Hawaiian games, and lessons in lei-making.

Many luaus also take the opportunity to educate attendees on Hawaiian history in a fun entertaining way. For example, the Polynesian Cultural Center's Ali'i Luau pays tribute to Queen Lili‘uokalani and The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa's Waikiki Starlight Luau tells the story of the Polynesian voyagers who discovered the Pacific Islands while showcasing traditional Tahitian, Samoan, and Hawaiian dance.

06 of 17

Walk Around Historic Honolulu

Interior of Iolani Palace

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813-2900, USA
Phone +1 808-522-0822

Located in the heart of Honolulu you'll find many of Hawaii's most historic buildings including the 'Iolani Palace, home to Hawaii's last monarchs. It is the only royal palace on U.S. soil.

You'll also want to visit the Hawaii State Capitol, the Kamehameha I Statue, Kawaiaha'o Church (the first Christian church in Hawaii), the Mission Houses Museum, and the Old Federal Building. All of historic Honolulu is within easy walking distance of downtown parking at the equally famous Aloha Tower.

07 of 17

Explore the North Shore

Shops in Haleiwa

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

North Shore, Waialua, HI, USA

Known as the "surfing capital of the world," Oahu's North Shore spans from La'ie to Ka'ena Point. Still, it's an area that far too many visitors never take the opportunity to see. An easy hour-long drive from Waikiki will bring you to lovely Haleiwa town where the North Shore begins. From there you can drive in an eastward direction around the North Shore.

Oahu's North Shore is home to the top surfers in the world when the winter waves reach their majestic heights. Be sure to stop at the Banzai Pipeline where you can see surfers make their way through the middle of a wave. Other North Shore places to visit include Kahuku with its shrimp trucks, Turtle Bay, Waimea Valley, Waialua, Mokule'ia, and Kaena.

08 of 17

Honor America at Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, USA

Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial remain top tourist destinations in Hawaii with over 1.5 million visitors annually. As the gravesite where 1,177 lost their lives, a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial is a solemn and sobering experience.

The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park at Pearl Harbor offers visitors the chance to tour the World War II submarine USS Bowfin and view submarine-related artifacts on the grounds and within the Museum. The USS Missouri or Mighty Mo, as she is often called, is anchored at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor within a ship's length of the USS Arizona Memorial, forming fitting bookends to the involvement of the United States in World War II.

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09 of 17

See Waikiki and Oahu from the Top of Diamond Head

View of Waikiki from Diamond Head

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Diamond Head, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

Diamond Head looms large over the Waikiki. Named Le'ahi by Hawaiians, it received its more well-known name in the late 1700s when British seamen saw calcite crystals sparkling in the sunshine and thought they had found diamonds.

A hike to the top of Diamond Head takes about an hour over a well-worn path. The trail up, for the most part, is not too steep. There are handrails along the entire 1.4-mile round-trip journey. There are also benches to sit on if you want a break and it's a popular route with trail runners. The summit offers a spectacular 365-degree view of Oahu and is a must-see at sunrise or sunset

10 of 17

Tour the Polynesian Cultural Center

Entrance to the Polynesian Cultural Center

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762-2113, USA
Phone +1 800-367-7060

The best place in Hawaii to learn about the culture and people of Polynesia is at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Laie, the gateway to Oahu's North Shore. The Center has been Hawaii's top paid visitor attraction for over 35 years. The PCC features seven Polynesian "islands" in a beautifully landscaped 42-acre setting. Young men and women share the arts, crafts, and culture of their homelands with visitors.

The Center's Rainbows of Paradise Canoe Pageant show is performed daily on the main lagoon. The PCC is also home to Hawaii's first and only IMAX™ Theater. The Center's evening Ali'i Luau is followed by their spectacular 90-minute evening show, Ha: Breath of Life. Canoe rides are also available.

11 of 17

Visit the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium

Entrance to the Waikii Aquarium

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

151 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Phone +1 808-926-3191

Located in Kapi'olani Park on the east end of Waikiki, the Honolulu Zoo is too often overlooked by visitors and is ever-changing and modernizing. Beginning in the 1990s, numerous exhibits were redesigned to feature more natural settings for the animals on display and that work continues today.

Located nearby at the shoreline, the smaller Waikiki Aquarium also offers exhibits, programs, and research focus on the aquatic life of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific. Over 3,000 organisms are on exhibit representing more than 500 species of aquatic animals and plants. The aquarium is located next to a living reef on the Waikiki shoreline.

12 of 17

Get a Taste of Honolulu with Hawaii Food Tours

Fresh fruits at Oahu Market, Chinatown.
Linda Ching/Getty Images

Hawaii Food Tours was born to help people find some of the great places to eat in the Honolulu area. Together with his partner and wife, Keira Nagai, Matthew Gray (an accomplished chef and former food critic for the Honolulu Advertiser), will take you on one of the most fun adventures you've had on any vacation.

Their most popular tour is their "Hole-in-the-Wall Tour," which is offered daily. On this tour, you'll visit several mouth-watering local, ethnic, and exotic restaurants and marketplaces, primarily in Honolulu's Chinatown, and two of Hawaii's most famous bakeries.

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13 of 17

See Oahu from the Air

Aerial view of Waikiki skyline

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

300 Midway St, Kapolei, HI 96707, USA
Phone +1 808-969-7392

As is the case with all of the Hawaiian Islands, there are many areas of Oahu that can only be viewed from the air. Even places that you're used to seeing from the ground gain a whole new perspective when viewed from above. From a helicopter, you'll be able to see the oil slick that still gently flows from the hull of the sunken USS Arizona, and you'll be able to appreciate the beauty of the sandbars off of Kaneohe on Oahu's eastern shore.

Paradise Helicopters is locally-owned and flies out of the Kalaeloa Airport as well as Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's North Shore. They also offer the only full-circle tour of the island by helicopter. Makani Kai Helicopters flies out of the Honolulu International Airport and the Ko Olina Resort and offers free round-trip transportation from Waikiki.

14 of 17

Visit Kualoa Ranch on Oahu's Windward Shore

Kualoa Ranch

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA
Phone +1 808-237-7321

Kualoa Ranch on the Windward side of Oahu is a working cattle ranch whose owners have dedicated themselves to keep the ranch, including its two majestic valleys and large fish pond free of commercial development and in as natural a state as possible. Shuttles are available to the ranch from Waikiki and it's recommended to make reservations two to three weeks in advance.

To accomplish this goal, the ranch has developed several activities and tours which have become more and more popular every year. These include a Hawaiian Experience tour, Movie Site & Ranch tour, Jurassic Jungle Expedition, Fishpond & Garden Tour, as well as ATV tours and horseback rides.

15 of 17

Drive to Oahu's Leeward Coast

Aerial View of Leeward Coast

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

With the increased development of the nearby Ko Olina Resort, highlighted by the opening of the Disney Aulani Resort, more visitors are choosing to explore the Leeward Coast since it is closer to their accommodations than most other areas of the island.

The Leeward Coast is a beautiful part of Oahu with quite a different geography than you'll see elsewhere. There are strikingly beautiful valleys such as Makua and awe-inspiring coastlines such as you'll find at the end of the road at Yokohama Beach and Kaena Point. Along the coast, there are some great hidden wonders such as the Kane'aki Heiau in Makaha Valley.

16 of 17

Take a Drive to the Manoa Valley

Hawaii, Oahu, Manoa Valley, Chinese Cemetery at Woodlawn, well-known for being haunted.
Ray Laskowitz/Getty Images
Mānoa Valley, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

Located just a short drive from Waikiki on the other side of the H1 Freeway is the Manoa Valley. Primarily a residential area, the valley has some great places to visit. It's a perfect day trip for visitors staying in Honolulu and Waikiki who don't want to have to spend most of the day driving.

Within the valley, you'll find the University of Hawaii's main campus. The campus itself is quite lovely, but one of the highlights is the University of Hawaii bookstore. Between the university and the back of the valley is a highly populated residential area that you need to drive through to get to the valleys true gems, the beautiful Manoa Chinese Cemetery, the Lyon Arboretum, and the trailhead to the Manoa Valley trail which will take you to Manoa Falls.

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17 of 17

Hike to Makapu'u Point in Southeast Oahu

Aerial view of Makapu'u Point

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail, Waimanalo, HI 96795, USA
Phone +1 808-587-0300

One of Oahu's most rewarding hikes is the 2.5-mile round trip hike to Makapu'u Point, the most eastern point of Oahu. The hike to the point is mostly uphill and takes about an hour each way. It's best to get a head start early in the day when the sun is still behind the cliff face as you climb. The views of Waimanalo Bay to the north and Sandy Beach and Koko Head to the southwest are spectacular. If hiking between December and May remember to keep your eyes on the water below just in case any humpback whales decide to make an appearance.

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The Top 17 Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii