Whether you have visited Hawai’i before or are planning your first trip to the islands, Oahu is the best place to start. The island of Oahu in Hawai’i is home to the state capital, Honolulu.
Being born and raised on O’ahu, I might be a little biased, but I genuinely believe that it is the best island to visit, no matter what kind of adventure you are looking for!
Whether you’d like to visit new beaches, see famous filming locations, or learn about the rich culture of the Hawaiian islands, you can find what you’re looking for on Oahu. There are endless things to do in Oahu, Hawai’i.
Once on Oahu, I highly recommend renting a car to explore the island. Oahu is so much more than things to do in Waikiki. I suggest looking on Kayak for the best car rental deals.
This guide will be a great starting point for you to plan which Oahu attractions to visit.
Table of Contents
- Fun & Best Things to do in Oahu, HI
- 1. Have Fun in the Sun at Waikiki Beach
- 2. Experience a Hawaiian Luau
- 3. Visit The Polynesian Cultural Center
- 4. Explore the Honolulu Zoo
- 5. Hike Diamond Head Crater Trail
- 6. Have an Epic Adventure at Kualoa Ranch
- 7. Visit The Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- 8. Experience the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
- 9. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
- 10. Go on a Once-in-a-Lifetime Whale Watching Tour
- 11. Use Your Imagination at The Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center
- 12. Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation
- 13. Hike the Koko Crater Railway Trail
- 14. Visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
- 15. Visit the Tranquil Byodo-In Temple
- 16. Take a Helicopter Tour of the Island
- 17. Spend a Day at the North Shore
- 18. Watch Huge Waves Roll in at Pipeline
- 19. Explore the City of Honolulu
- 20. Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art
- 21. Enjoy a Romantic Sunset Dinner Cruise
- 22. Hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse
- 23. Visit the Royal ‘Iolani Palace
- 24. Hike to the Lanikai Pillboxes at Sunrise
- 25. Watch the Sunrise at Lanikai Beach
- 26. Swim Alongside Green Sea Turtles at Kailua Beach Park
- 27. Take a Catamaran Cruise Around Waikiki
- 28. Hike the Aiea Loop Trail
- 29. Spend a Day at Ko Olina Lagoons
- Map of Oahu Attractions
- Do I need a passport to visit Oahu, Hawaii?
- Do I need travel insurance to visit Oahu, Hawaii?
- Are Oahu day trips to other islands possible?
- Most Significant Landmark – USS Arizona Memorial
- Best Park – Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
- Best Free Activity – Waikiki Beach
- Best Activity for Kids – Waikiki Zoo
- Best Activity for Adults – Sunset Dinner Cruise
- Best Food – Moku Kitchen
- Best Nightlife – SKY Waikiki
- Best All-Around Accommodation – Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
Fun & Best Things to do in Oahu, HI
Whether you’re looking for the perfect sandy beach to sunbathe, a botanical garden to wander, or places to learn about World War II history, O’ahu has it all!
1. Have Fun in the Sun at Waikiki Beach
When flying into Honolulu, one of the first sites you will see is the world-famous Waikiki Beach – one of the most iconic beaches in the world. Waikiki has been a pillar of Hawai’i since before the Hawaiian Monarchy reigned over the islands.
The long stretch of white sand is lined with palm trees, high-end shops, and beautiful hotels. The iconic Waikiki Beach Boys can still be found surfing their home break. For a fun experience, join this group surfing lesson hosted by Surfer Girl Academy to learn to catch waves from an expert.
After hitting the surf, stop by Sunrise Shack at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort for a refreshing smoothie bowl. My favorite item on the menu is the Monkey Bowl. The smoothie blend is unlike anything I’ve had before, and I love the chocolate-covered almonds as a topping!
For luxury shopping, check out the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. It is the premier spot for high-end shopping in Honolulu. The shopping center also has a few local shops like Hawaiian Island Arts and ‘Oiwi Ocean Gear.
At the end of the day, enjoy some drinks at Rumfire or SKY Waikiki. Rumfire is right on the beach, while SKY Waikiki boasts expansive views of the Waikiki strip.
Staying in Waikiki can be done at almost any budget. Here are a few of my favorite hotels in the area:
- Budget – Pearl Hotel Waikiki
- Mid-Range – Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
- Luxury – Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa
2. Experience a Hawaiian Luau
Enjoying a Hawaiian luau is a great way to end your day of adventures. A luau is a party or gathering with friends and family that includes food, games, and entertainment.
When arriving at a luau, guests are often greeted with a lei and a welcome drink. Tranquil Hawaiian music is usually playing in the background. Games and activities are set up around the perimeter of the area.
I highly recommend playing a traditional game like ‘ulu maika (similar to bowling) or learning how to make a lei. Basket or mat weaving is also a popular activity to try.
My favorite luau on Oahu is the Paradise Cove Luau. The dancers move elegantly and beautifully tell the tales of ancient Hawaii and other Polynesian lands.
The food at Paradise Cove is absolutely delicious! I highly recommend trying the fresh poke (raw fish) and poi. Haupia, a traditional Hawaiian dessert made of coconut milk, is also a must-try.
See Related: Best Places Like Bora Bora to Visit
3. Visit The Polynesian Cultural Center
Located on the iconic North Shore of Oahu, The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the great things to do on Oahu for the whole family to learn about Hawaiian culture.
The best thing to see at the Polynesian Cultural Center is the “Islands of Polynesia” park. The park is composed of several villages showcasing six Polynesian nations: Hawai’i, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, and Aotearoa (New Zealand).
In each village, you will learn about the culture and language of each nation through song, dance, games, and cultural activities.
Most performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center are of Polynesian descent, so giving the most authentic portrayal of their cultures is a high priority. This authenticity certainly shines through in the performances.
After the villages, you can spend the rest of the day watching live performances of traditional dances, exploring the shops at the Hukilau Marketplace, or make it a whole day experience by enjoying the Ali’i Luau Buffet and Show.
4. Explore the Honolulu Zoo
Looking for a great activity to do on Oahu with kids right in Waikiki?
Look no further than the Honolulu Zoo.
The Honolulu Zoo is located just two blocks away from the iconic sands of Waikiki.
It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and houses not only your usual zoo residents like elephants, monkeys, and lions but also several species indigenous to Hawaii, such as the ‘Io (Hawaiian Hawk) and the Pueo (Hawaiian Short-Eared Owl).
If your day is jam-packed and you’re looking for an activity to wind down, check out the zoo’s Twilight Tours held every Saturday evening. The two-hour tour will take you through the zoo as some animals are ending their day while others are just waking up.
See Related: Best Hikes in the World
5. Hike Diamond Head Crater Trail
Diamond Head is one of the most emblematic vistas of Hawai’i. The crater gets its name from Western explorers in the 1700s who mistook the calcite crystals of the volcanic crater to be diamonds.
The Hawaiian name for Diamond Head is Leahi, meaning brow of the tuna.
The Diamond Head Trail is a scenic hike adventure that takes about one hour to complete. It’s an easy hike, and the views are beyond worth it. The Diamond Head Crater Trail is a tremendous first hiking trail to discover the area due to its proximity to Waikiki.
The trail starts as a paved path, then turns into a few flights of stairs and a tunnel before you are greeted by vast, gorgeous views of Waikiki and the rest of the Honolulu area.
Don’t forget to bring a hat and water as it can get quite hot in the middle of the day and shade is limited. Reservations for the trail must be made in advance with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
6. Have an Epic Adventure at Kualoa Ranch
Ever want to visit the site where some of your favorite TV shows and movies were filmed? Taking a tour of Kualoa Ranch is the perfect place to do this and undoubtedly one of the most fun Oahu things to do.
Over 79 movies and TV shows have been filmed at Kualoa Ranch, including Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Hawaii 5-0, Jumanji, and Lost- just to name a few.
Not only will you get to see some of the sites of these famous movies, but you’ll also get to take in the island’s breathtaking natural beauty at the same time.
Kualoa Ranch offers several types of tours of these Hollywood movie sites and famous locations, including horseback riding and ATV tours, so it’s easy to find one to fit your vacation.
Here are a few of the best tours offered at Kualoa Ranch:
- ATV Raptor Tour
- Hollywood Movie Sites Tour
- Jungle Expedition Tour
- Horseback Walking Tour
- Best of Kualoa Ranch Experience Package
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in the USA
7. Visit The Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Pearl Harbor is one of the most important sites to visit while on Oahu. It was the site of a terrible attack by the Japanese army on December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” which provoked the United States into entering World War II.
Start your visit at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, where you will learn the history of Pearl Harbor and learn more about the things to see at Pearl Harbor.
I recommend checking out the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater immediately after to learn more about the history of Pearl Harbor and to orient yourself in the area.
You can then take a boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial honors the memory of those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Below the memorial, you can see the remains of the sunken USS Arizona, where she has remained since that fateful day. It is quite a sobering experience but a great place to pay your respects to those who had fallen on that day.
This Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial Tour will pick you up from Waikiki and take you through the historic national memorial. It also includes a brief drive through the somber National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where thousands of heroes have been laid to rest.
8. Experience the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
After touring Pearl Harbor, take the free shuttle bus from the visitor center to Ford Island to visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. It is just a few minutes from the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
The collection of over 50 unique aircraft includes a Boeing F/A-18C Hornet (Blue Angel) and Curtiss P-40E Warhawk fighter jet. In addition to the many planes and helicopters, the museum also showcases articles, photos, and videos related to the history of aviation throughout the Pacific.
Hangar 37 focuses primarily on artifacts and aircraft specifically from the attack on Pearl Harbor. In contrast, Hangar 79 has a broader collection showcasing the rise of the United States air power in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor.
If you want to save money on a tour get the Pearl Harbor Passport and access to enjoy a complete tour experience.
Ever want to experience flying in a fighter jet?
The Fighter Ace 360 Flight Simulator allows visitors to step into the pilot seat of a fighter jet and experience flying through the skies in a powerful aircraft.
See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in the World
9. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Hanauma Bay is the premier place for snorkeling on Oahu and is just teeming with colorful tropical fish and other marine life! As a state park and nature preserve, the bay is taken care of by the City and County of Honolulu, and conservation of the bay is the highest priority.
The coral reef of this natural bay makes for a perfect home for native sea life and hundreds of fish species. Some things you can do to preserve the life of the bay include:
- Not kicking or stepping on the coral.
- Wearing reef-safe sunscreen.
- Not bringing any wildlife out of the bay with you.
Hanauma Bay is a perfect place to snorkel whether you are a beginner or an avid snorkeler- making it one of the great things to do in Honolulu for the entire family. You might even spot some green sea turtles.
Keep in mind that the bay is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, so plan accordingly. The entrance fee is $25 for adult visitors and free for children under 12. Reservations must be made in advance online due to limited space.
No need to pack all your snorkel gear in your suitcase; you can rent snorkel gear here to use during your time at Hanauma Bay.
10. Go on a Once-in-a-Lifetime Whale Watching Tour
Do you dream of seeing the gentle giants of the sea in their natural habitat? Why not join an Oahu Whale-Watching Excursion!
Whale watching is a seasonal activity that can be done off the coast of Oahu from December to May. The Humpback Whales migrate to the warm waters of Hawai’i during the winter months to breed and raise their young.
Humpback Whales, known as Kohola in Hawaiian, were once considered an endangered species with less than 2,000 whales in the wild. In the past twenty years, the population has grown to over 20,000 whales due to incredible conservation efforts.
Watching whales breach is just one of those indescribable moments that take your breath away. I highly recommend joining a whale-watching excursion like this one if you will be visiting Oahu in the winter months.
See Related: Best Whale Watching Places in the World
11. Use Your Imagination at The Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center
If you’re looking for things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii that is great for younger children, check out the Hawai’i Children’s Discovery Center. Located between Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, it’s a great place to stop if you’re planning to visit the Honolulu area.
My favorite exhibit is the “Your Town” area, which allows children to explore different career fields. The exhibit showcases many local companies; kids can become pilots for Hawaiian Airlines or imagine themselves driving TheBus. The exhibit perfectly combines dress-up and imagination.
Plan to visit the discovery center for a few hours; I recommend at least two to three. There are many interactive displays for the kids to enjoy, along with performances and workshops.
The Hawai’i Children’s Discovery Center is open every day except Mondays, and the cost of admission is $12 per person.
12. Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation
The Dole Plantation is a feast for all of your senses. As you pull up to the visitor center, you are greeted by the sweet smell of pineapples and stunning views of the endless pineapple fields.
The pineapple has become one of the iconic symbols of the Hawaiian islands, but it hasn’t always been this way. Pineapples are not native to Hawaii, they were first brought to the islands by Spanish explorers in the early 1800s.
But it wasn’t until James Dole commercialized the crop in Hawaii that it became the symbol of the islands that we know it as today.
Once you arrive at Dole Plantation, try your luck at the Pineapple Garden Maze, declared the world’s largest maze in 2008. There are eight stations to find in the maze to successfully complete it, and you can even download an app to track your time and progress.
After the maze, head to the gift shop, my favorite part of visiting Dole Plantation. Why would the gift shop be my favorite part of this attraction? The iconic pineapple Dole Whip!
There are several options for Dole Whip desserts, my favorite is the traditional Dole Whip in a cup with coconut flakes. Check out the Pineapple Grille restaurant within the gift shop for other pineapple-filled foods. I recommend the Kalua Pork Quesadilla with pineapple salsa.
Dole Plantation is located in the island’s center, halfway between Waikiki and the North Shore. The most efficient way to get there is by renting a car as taxis from either side of the island could be quite expensive and public transportation in the area is limited.
For a unique experience, check out this North Shore Dole Pineapple Farm Tour, where you can go into the pineapple fields and see how they are harvested and eventually packaged.
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13. Hike the Koko Crater Railway Trail
More commonly known as Koko Head, this steep hike is a challenge for visitors and locals alike. Despite this, it remains one of the most popular hikes on the island.
The hike starts off as an unpaved path, but once you get to the start of the ascent, you begin to climb old train tracks. The tracks get steeper and steeper as you ascend to the top of the hill. Once at the top, you will be at an old military bunker and will have the absolute best view of the south side of Oahu.
Due to the nature of the hike, I recommend you only do it if you consider yourself to be in great physical shape. I have seen some people have to get rescued via helicopter because they could not make it to the top or back down.
The hike is short, but certain spots of the tracks become like a ladder, hovering several feet into the air. Hiking this part of the trail requires great balance and strength. The challenge of the hike makes getting to the top that much sweeter.
14. Visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Chances are you have seen this iconic view of the Ko’olau Mountain Range on social media. It is actually the view from the entrance of Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, located in the sleepy east side town of Kaneohe.
The gardens stretch over 400 acres and include many species of native and tropical plants as well as a small lake. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it while admiring the lush greenery of the gardens.
The botanical gardens are also a great place to visit with kids. There are many free activities for the little ones, like catch and release fishing, drawing, and painting.
Admission to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens is free and open daily from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
15. Visit the Tranquil Byodo-In Temple
The beautiful Byodo-In Temple is tucked away in the lush, green Ko’olau Mountain Range within the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The Byodo-In Temple is the park’s main landmark; its name translates to “Temple of Equality” in Japanese.
I highly recommend ringing the sacred bell, or bon-sho, when first entering the Buddhist temple. Ring the bell using a large wooden log; the deep, rumbling sound is said to bless visitors with happiness and longevity. Guests are also able to light incense and offer prayer.
The grounds of the park are just as peaceful as inside the temple. The beautiful koi pond is a great place to explore and hang out.
Consider joining this Oahu Circle Island Tour with Byodo-In Temple Admission if you are looking for an all-day adventure. The tour stops at several popular attractions and includes lunch.
The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and admission is $5.
16. Take a Helicopter Tour of the Island
Helicopter tours around Oahu are a great way to get a new perspective of the island! You’ll get to see parts of the island most people will never see in their life.
From the iconic beaches to remarkable views of Honolulu and beyond, a helicopter is a great way to see the island, especially if its not your first time to Oahu.
Just a few years ago, I took my first ride in a helicopter. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous at first but as soon as we took off I found it even more comfortable than flying in an airplane! And the breathtaking views of my home island on this scenic helicopter flight made the nerves completely worth it.
I highly recommend this Doors-Off Circle Island Helicopter Experience operated by Paradise Helicopters. It is the only true full-circle helicopter tour of Oahu and the pilots double as splendid tour guides.
17. Spend a Day at the North Shore
Growing up in Hawai’i, my favorite days were when my family would pack up the car and head up to the North Shore for the day. There’s really nothing like laying out in the warm sun, swimming in the clear water of Ke ‘Iki Beach, and sometimes being lucky enough to spot a sunbathing Hawaiian Monk Seal.
Some of the most beautiful beaches on the North shore include Ke ‘Iki Beach, Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and Shark’s Cove. Laniakea Beach, appropriately nicknamed Turtle Beach, is a great place to stop and admire honu (Hawaiian Sea Turtles).
The North Shore also boasts some “ono grindz” (good eats in Hawaiian Pidgin)! Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is a local favorite- the classic garlic shrimp scampi is always my pick.
For some much lighter fare, check out Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. Shave Ice is a local dessert made of ice shavings and flavored syrup, sometimes with the addition of ice cream or Japanese Azuki beans. Super refreshing for a hot day under the Hawaiian sun!
I highly recommend renting a car if you plan to visit Oahu’s North Shore for the freedom to stop at many beaches and sites on your own time. Check out rentalcars.com for great deals on rental cars in Honolulu.
If you don’t want the stress of driving during your Hawaiian vacation, look into this highly-rated North Shore Circle Island Adventure tour with many stops along the east side of Oahu and the North Shore. Circle island tours are a great way to see the entire island in a short amount of time.
The North Shore is a great laid-back option to stay in if you want to get away from the bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki. Here are some great accommodations:
- Budget – Hawaiian Aloha Treasures 808 Garage Studio
- Mid-Range – Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore
- Luxury – Turtle Bay Resort
See Related: Best Vacation for a Group of Friends
18. Watch Huge Waves Roll in at Pipeline
If you plan to visit Oahu in the winter, don’t miss the World Surf League professional surfing competitions at the world-famous Pipeline Beach. Watching pro surfers ride monster waves is truly something special.
The excited energy in the air is contagious and it’s a great time for the local community and worldwide surfing community to come together.
Waves on the North Shore can reach heights of 25 to 30 feet in the winter. It can be pretty dangerous to swim, so like the lifeguards say, “If in doubt, don’t go out.”
But don’t despair, waves are practically non-existent in the summer so it’s usually safe to swim at this time of year. The water is clear and glassy and you can see all the way to the sandy bottom. Bring some snacks and drinks and plant yourself on the beach for a great day.
19. Explore the City of Honolulu
Honolulu is the lively, vibrant capital of Hawaii and is certainly worth your time visiting. I went to high school and university in Honolulu, so I’ve spent a good amount of time exploring Downtown Honolulu and the nearby neighborhoods; there are so many hidden gems.
My favorite neighborhoods to explore in Honolulu are Chinatown and the Kaka’ako area. Both neighborhoods are very hip and are sprinkled with cute cafes and unique shops and boutiques.
Chinatown is just on the outskirts of the downtown area. You can find so many unique restaurants and great stores to buy local snacks and tropical fruit you may not have heard of before.
Check out Fighting Eel, one of my favorite local boutiques, where everything is designed and made in Hawaii. After doing some shopping, stop by The Pig and the Lady for some delicious Vietnamese food; I recommend the Oxtail Pho.
Kaka’ako has recently gone through a beautiful transformation and is now a place for young professionals to work and live. The street art is unmatched, often created by PowWow Hawaii or famous local artist Kamea Hadar.
SALT at Our Kaka’ako is a great place to stop by. It has the best food, fun, and shops that Kakaako has to offer. My favorite restaurant on the island, Moku Kitchen, is located here. Try their delicious Monkeypod Mai Tai, a twist on the traditional Mai Tai topped with honey-lilikoi (passion fruit) foam. The out-of-this-world taro ravioli and green beans are amazing as well.
If you’re not planning to rent a car, this Waikiki Trolley Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Honolulu is a great way to explore the downtown area.
See Related: Best Surfing Spots in the World
20. Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art
The gorgeous Honolulu Museum of Art first opened its doors in 1927 and is a gathering place of art, culture, and history. The museum was originally a house belonging to a prominent missionary family in the late 1800s who greatly appreciated art.
The museum houses over 5,000 works of art from all over the world, highlighting artwork from Asia, America, and Europe. There are also many pieces made by native Hawaiian artists and works about daily life in Hawai’i and around the Pacific.
Besides appreciating the artwork, spend some time in the courtyard of the main building of the museum. It’s stunning and makes you feel as if you have been transported to a faraway land.
The Honolulu Museum of Art is open from Thursday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and general admission is $20.
21. Enjoy a Romantic Sunset Dinner Cruise
Interested in a sunset cruise on the romantic Hawaiian seas?
Why not make it a whole evening experience and make it a sunset dinner cruise!
A dinner cruise is a great way to have a beautiful view of the island while enjoying Hawaiian hospitality with delicious food and great entertainment. The south shore of Oahu, a.k.a. Waikiki and Honolulu, is one of the best places to watch the sunset with unobstructed views.
See Related: Best Romantic Getaways in the USA
22. Hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse
The Makapu’u Lighthouse trail is just 20 minutes away from Waikiki and is one of the most popular hikes on the island. The path to the lighthouse is fully paved and goes on a gradual incline.
You can enjoy magnificent views of the vast Pacific Ocean and on a clear day, you can see all the way out to the islands of Moloka’i and Lana’i. Stop every now and then to look out at the ocean, you may get to see a pod of humpback whales.
Once at the end of the trail, you can view the lighthouse for which the trail gets its name. You can also see down to Makapu’u Beach, the Makapu’u Tide Pools, and just a spectacular view of the island’s east side including Waimanalo Bay.
If you’re looking for adventure off the beaten path (literally), check out Alan Davis Beach. As you walk to the start of the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail from the parking lot, just to the right of the trail you will see an unpaved path to the Kaiwi Shoreline.
Follow the Kaiwi Shoreline Trail for about 15 minutes and you will find Alan Davis Beach and a natural lava rock formation called Pele’s Chair. Alan Davis Beach has some of the clearest water on the island and a fun “plank” to jump from into the water. I highly recommend it if you have the time.
23. Visit the Royal ‘Iolani Palace
There is a rich history behind the palace, from the height of the monarchy to the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. I definitely think it’s worth a visit and one of the key things to do in Honolulu.
It also served as the capital building until the 1970s, when it was restored. Today, you can visit and view beautiful parts of the palace like the thrown room and see the vast collection of art, furniture, and other decorative pieces.
Several tour options are available including self-guided audio tours and docent-led tours. The Palace is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Tuesday to Saturday.
See Related: Real, Magical Castles in Fairytales to Visit
24. Hike to the Lanikai Pillboxes at Sunrise
Lanikai Pillboxes is undoubtedly the best hike to do at sunrise on Oahu. Watching the sun peek over the horizon at the start of the day will immediately make the local phrase “Lucky we live Hawai’i!” so easy to understand.
The “pillboxes” are old, abandoned military bunkers. Today, they are covered with colorful murals and graffiti. The best part of the hike without a doubt is the stunning view. You will see the Mokulua Islands, also known as “the mokes”, and the breathtaking colors of the sunrise.
The hike is moderately easy, many people bring their dogs and children on this hike. The hardest part of the hike is the beginning, where you will ascend a steep hill. This takes less than 5 minutes and is definitely worth it when you get to the top.
The rest of the path is unpaved but relatively flat with a few spots to climb over small rocks. It takes less than 30 minutes to get to the top of the pillboxes. If you choose to do this hike in the middle of the day, bring lots of water and sun protection. There is no shade on the entire path.
After the hike, continue on to Lanikai Beach.
25. Watch the Sunrise at Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches on the island. The turquoise water perfectly contrasts with the fine, white sand. The Mokulua Islands, seen at Lanikai Beach, are one of the most iconic views around the islands.
This beach is perfect for lounging all day and you’ll often see residents out walking their dogs on this beautiful beach. Yeah, I’m jealous of those dogs, too.
Get to Lanikai Beach early, as street parking is extremely limited and the only option for parking in this area. You can also park at Kailua Beach, but plan to walk about 30 minutes to get to Lanikai Beach.
I recommend this highly-rated Kayaking Tour of Kailua Bay. The kayak tour starts with a paddle out to The Mokes followed by a tour of Lanikai Beach, where you can frequently spot green sea turtles.
See Related: Best Spring Break Destinations for Families
26. Swim Alongside Green Sea Turtles at Kailua Beach Park
If you plan to do a circle island tour of Oahu, Kailua Beach Park is a great place to stop on the island’s east side. It is located just a few minutes away from Lanikai Beach. The advantage of Kailua Beach Park over Lanikai is that there is much more parking available and the beach is much wider than Lanikai.
Picnic tables are spread out throughout the area, so make sure to pick up some Foodland poke bowls or Lanikai Juice acai bowls and spend lunchtime under the shady trees here.
Kailua Beach Park is a local favorite for spending time with the family; you can often find people barbecuing and setting up large tents for the day. Local reggae music plays through portable speakers, making you feel like you’re part of the islands.
27. Take a Catamaran Cruise Around Waikiki
Any Hawaiian vacation is incomplete without getting out on the water in some way. If surfing or snorkeling is not your thing, why not try a boat tour? Catamarans are designed to have more stability than a traditional boat, significantly decreasing the risk of becoming seasick.
This Afternoon Waikiki Glass Bottom Boat Cruise is a perfect way to appreciate the sea life that surrounds you without having to get into the water. It’s not uncommon to see pods of dolphins swimming by while out on one of these tours.
For a relaxing evening activity, check out this Waikiki Sunset Cocktail Cruise. This 90-minute cruise takes you around Waikiki and Diamond Head while you enjoy some delicious cocktails and appetizers.
28. Hike the Aiea Loop Trail
The Aiea Loop Trail is one of my favorite hikes to do on the island. The trail is located just 15 minutes from Honolulu International Airport and 30 minutes from Waikiki.
It starts as a wide-open path through the forest and eventually you are at the top of the Koolau mountains with a stunning view of Kaneohe Bay.
Aiea Loop Trail is a moderate hike, but I have seen people do it with their children and dogs with no problem. Some parts of the trail get thin, so watch your step!
The trail can be pretty muddy sometimes, so be sure to wear good shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty on this scenic hike.
29. Spend a Day at Ko Olina Lagoons
Located on the west side of Oahu in the town of Kapolei, Ko Olina is a resort community that I would describe as a paired-down version of Waikiki.
There is not a lot of nightlife in Ko Olina, but there are several family-friendly resorts, including Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, along with great boutiques and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a relaxing area to stay on Oahu that’s away from the commotion of Waikiki, I would highly recommend checking out Ko Olina. It is especially great if you are traveling with younger children.
When you arrive at Ko Olina, you are immediately welcomed with a stunning view of the electric blue ocean and an “Aloha!” from a friendly greeter. If you are staying in Ko Olina, make your way to your hotel property for parking before you explore the rest of the resort.
The resort area is made up of four man-made lagoons, each protected from the ocean waves. If you are just driving in for the day, I recommend parking at the last lagoon (lagoon 4) because it is the largest and has the most parking stalls. Try to get there early as public parking spots can fill up fast.
Hotel restaurants like Aulani’s Ulu Cafe and Four Seasons’ La Hiki are delicious and boast gorgeous views, but also come with expensive price tags.
For a more affordable option, check out the shopping and dining area of Ko Olina, located right across from the first lagoon. My favorites include Island Vintage Coffee, Eggs ‘n’ Things, and Monkeypod Kitchen.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Ko Olina:
- Budget – Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu Kapolei
- Mid-Range – Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club
- Luxury – Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
Map of Oahu Attractions
Do I need a passport to visit Oahu, Hawaii?
If you are a US citizen, you do not need a passport to visit Oahu. If you aren’t a US citizen, yes, very much so, AND an appropriate Visa if you’re visiting from another country.
Do I need travel insurance to visit Oahu, Hawaii?
No, but travel insurance is a good idea for any trip. It’s an especially good idea if you’re planning on watersports. We recommend Insured Nomads.
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