Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. See our Advertising Policy
Picking the best things to do on Oahu can be a stressful endeavor, especially if you want to make the most of your time here on Oahu.
As an avid traveler and someone who grew up with the stunning beauty and rich history of Oahu, I am thrilled to share with you the best things to do on Oahu. Whether you’re seeking natural wonders, historical landmarks, or thrilling adventures, Oahu has it all. Join me on this virtual tour as we explore some of the top attractions and activities that make Oahu an unforgettable destination.
I have visited, hiked, and explored the majority of the things to do on this list, I hope to do them all someday.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
A visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a must for history enthusiasts. This iconic site commemorates the events of December 7, 1941, when the United States was thrust into World War II. Explore the USS Arizona Memorial, which stands as a somber tribute to the brave souls who lost their lives during the attack. Take a guided tour to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of this historic landmark.
I created an in-depth guide on Pearl Harbor that talks about the ticketing process and other museums located on the grounds. Give it a read if this is something you plan on doing. This is probably the most popular of the “best things to do on Oahu” activities.
Tip for Pearl Harbor National Memorial: Arrive early to secure your ticket for the USS Arizona Memorial tour if you don’t have a reservation, which is not required but recommended. They are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis in the standby line.
If you prefer to take a guided tour or want to incorporate shuttle service and other sights into your trip then look at these tour offerings.
Hike Diamond Head Monument
For breathtaking panoramic views of Oahu’s coastline, venture to Diamond Head Monument. This dormant volcano offers a moderately challenging hike, rewarded with stunning vistas at the summit. Don’t forget your camera as you soak in the mesmerizing beauty of the turquoise waters and lush green landscapes.
Reservations are now required so be sure to check the official site for hours and additional information.
Tip for Diamond Head Monument: Start your hike early in the morning to beat the heat and avoid crowds. Don’t forget to bring water and wear sturdy shoes.
If you like tours, here is a 5-Star rated Diamond Head and North Shore hiking tour.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Nature enthusiasts and snorkeling aficionados should make their way to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Dive into the crystal-clear waters of this protected marine sanctuary and witness the vibrant coral reefs and an array of tropical fish. Immerse yourself in the beauty of this underwater paradise while fostering a deep appreciation for marine conservation.
Reservations are required now and sell out fast, use the official website for up-to-date information and booking.
Tip for Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve: Check the tide and weather conditions before heading to the bay for optimal snorkeling visibility. Respect the marine life and reef by avoiding standing or touching the coral.
If you want to avoid the stress of parking and driving to this location this tour can take care of that for you.
Battleship Missouri Memorial
Continuing our journey through history, the Battleship Missouri Memorial is another fascinating destination on Oahu. Step aboard the mighty USS Missouri, the site where the Japanese surrendered, effectively ending World War II. Explore the ship’s decks, stand on the spot where the historic signing took place, and delve into the stories of those who served.
Tip for Battleship Missouri Memorial: Take advantage of the guided tours offered on the ship to gain a deeper understanding of its history and significance.
If you are on another island you can purchase day trip tours that handle the logistics for you. Otherwise flying over in the morning and spending the day here with a late evening flight back is doable from any of the other Hawaiian Islands.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
If you’re seeking a picturesque coastal hike, look no further than the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail. With breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, this easy/moderate trail takes you on a journey through scenic cliffs and offers glimpses of the iconic Makapu’u Lighthouse. Don’t forget your binoculars, as you might spot humpback whales during the winter months.
Tip for Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail: Bring binoculars to spot whales during the winter months and enjoy the panoramic views from the lighthouse lookout.
If you just need transportation to and from the trailhead from Waikiki this tour does just that, and cheaper than Uber or a taxi. They also stop and the famous Leonards Malasadas on the way back, yum!
Koko Head Crater Trail
For adventurous souls seeking a challenging hike, the Koko Head Crater Trail is an ideal choice. Ascend the steep railway stairs to reach the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the island and the shimmering ocean below. This trail is not for the faint of heart but promises an exhilarating experience for those who dare.
This was also one of my picks for the best sunset spots on Oahu, just don’t get caught in the dark heading down.
Tip for Koko Head Crater Trail: Be prepared for a challenging hike with steep stairs. Bring plenty of water and wear proper footwear for traction.
With its pristine white sands and azure waters, Lanikai Beach consistently ranks among the world’s top beaches. Bask in the sun, swim in crystal-clear waters, or grab a paddleboard and explore the offshore islands. The tranquil beauty of Lanikai Beach is truly a slice of paradise.
Tip for Lanikai Beach: Arrive early to secure a parking spot, as it can get crowded. Respect the local residents by keeping noise levels down and cleaning up after yourself.
To delve into the captivating history and culture of Hawaii, a visit to the Bishop Museum is a must. This world-class institution houses an extensive collection of artifacts, exhibits, and interactive displays that offer insights into the rich heritage of the Hawaiian people. Explore the Polynesian Hall, learn about the ancient voyagers, and gain a deeper understanding of Hawaii’s unique cultural tapestry.
Tip for Bishop Museum: Plan your visit ahead of time to make the most of the museum’s extensive exhibits and interactive displays. Don’t miss the planetarium show.
Get your general admission tickets ahead of time. Parking and some exhibits are additional.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl Cemetery, is a place of solemn reverence and remembrance. Located in the heart of Honolulu, this cemetery pays tribute to the fallen soldiers who have bravely served their country. Take a peaceful stroll through the meticulously maintained grounds and honor the sacrifice of those laid to rest here.
Tip for National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific: Take a moment to reflect and pay respect to the fallen soldiers. Check the schedule for the daily “Courage and Sacrifice” presentations.
Embark on a journey through lush rainforests to discover the captivating Manoa Falls. This picturesque waterfall cascades down a 150-foot cliff and offers a refreshing retreat from the island heat. The moderate hiking trail to the falls winds through a verdant canopy, providing a serene escape into nature’s embrace.
Tip for Manoa Falls: Wear mosquito repellent and closed-toe shoes for the muddy trail. Respect any signs or closures due to weather conditions.
If you want to go with a local guide that also provides transportation to and from then consider a guided tour. Several to choose from and one is rated 5 stars
Experience a piece of Hawaiian royal history at Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States. This architectural gem served as the residence of Hawaii’s monarchs and now stands as a testament to the rich heritage of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Take a guided tour to explore the opulent interiors, adorned with fascinating artifacts and historical treasures.
Tip for Iolani Palace: Book your tour in advance to secure your spot and learn about the history of Hawaii’s monarchy. Respect the palace’s rules and regulations.
For those seeking a laid-back beach experience away from the bustling crowds, Kailua Beach is a hidden gem. Its turquoise waters and soft, golden sands offer the perfect setting for relaxation and rejuvenation. Whether you choose to swim, paddleboard, or simply soak up the sun, Kailua Beach promises a tranquil escape.
Tip for Kailua Beach: Enjoy the calm waters and soft sands, and consider renting kayaks or stand-up paddleboards to explore the coastline.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Polynesian culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center. This living museum showcases the traditions, dances, and customs of the Pacific Islands through interactive exhibits and captivating performances. Indulge in a traditional luau feast and witness the mesmerizing spectacle of the Polynesian evening show.
Tip for Polynesian Cultural Center: Opt for the full-day experience to immerse yourself in Polynesian culture, and don’t miss the evening luau and show.
There are multiple tours of this place with some focusing on the location itself and others including circle island tours along with other sights. Compare pricing and read recent reviews before picking one.
Oahu Diving and Snorkeling
Discover the vibrant underwater world surrounding Oahu through diving and snorkeling adventures. From exploring coral reefs teeming with colorful marine life to encountering majestic sea turtles, Oahu offers an array of dive sites suitable for both beginners and experienced divers. Don’t miss the chance to witness the beauty that lies beneath the surface.
Tip for Oahu Diving and Snorkeling: Choose a reputable dive operator or snorkel tour and follow their safety guidelines. Remember to apply reef-safe sunscreen.
Nestled on Oahu’s North Shore, Waimea Valley is a haven of natural beauty and cultural significance. Take a leisurely stroll through lush botanical gardens, admire cascading waterfalls, and learn about the rich history of the area. With ample opportunities for swimming, picnicking, and immersing yourself in nature, Waimea Valley offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
If you’re willing to spend a few hours volunteering at Waimea Valley and see some of the places the general public cannot check out my review of Volunteering at Waimea Valley. I have personally volunteered here and it is simply amazing.
Tip for Waimea Valley: Take your time exploring the botanical gardens and swimming in the refreshing Waimea Falls. Respect the cultural significance of the valley.
Step into a world of adventure at Kualoa Ranch, a sprawling nature reserve offering a wide range of outdoor activities. From horseback riding through scenic valleys to zip-lining through the treetops, Kualoa Ranch caters to thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike. Don’t miss the chance to explore the iconic filming locations of movies such as Jurassic Park and Godzilla.
Tip for Kualoa Ranch: Make reservations in advance for specific tours or activities, such as ATV rides or movie site tours. Enjoy the stunning views of the ranch’s landscapes.
The Jurassic Valley zipline has over 200 reviews and is rated 5 stars, multiple other activities on site.
Nestled in the lush Manoa Valley, the Lyon Arboretum offers a tranquil escape into nature’s embrace. This 200-acre botanical garden is home to a vast collection of tropical plants and flowers, making it a paradise for plant enthusiasts and nature lovers. Take a leisurely stroll along the winding trails, breathe in the fragrant air, and allow the serenity of the surroundings to wash over you.
Tip for Lyon Arboretum: Check the visitor hours and consider joining a guided tour to learn about the diverse flora and fauna of Hawaii.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Another botanical gem on Oahu, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden captivates visitors with its breathtaking landscapes and serene atmosphere. This garden spans over 400 acres and showcases an extensive collection of plants from around the world. Enjoy a leisurely walk around the picturesque lake, soak in the beauty of the towering mountains, and connect with nature in this idyllic setting.
Tip for Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden: Pack a picnic and enjoy the scenic beauty of the garden. Take note of the driving restrictions and speed limits within the park.
Honolulu Museum Of Art
Art enthusiasts will find solace at the Honolulu Museum of Art, home to a diverse collection of artwork from around the world. From traditional Hawaiian art to contemporary masterpieces, this museum offers a comprehensive exploration of artistic expression. Browse through the galleries, attend engaging exhibitions, and expand your horizons through the power of art.
Tip for Honolulu Museum of Art: Check the museum’s schedule for special exhibitions or events, and take advantage of the audio guides for a more immersive experience.
USS Bowfin Submarine
Step aboard the USS Bowfin Submarine and delve into the fascinating world of underwater warfare. This historic submarine played a crucial role during World War II and now serves as a museum, allowing visitors to experience life beneath the waves. Explore the cramped quarters, learn about submarine operations, and gain a profound appreciation for the bravery of those who served.
Tip for USS Bowfin Submarine: Allow enough time for the self-guided audio tour to fully explore the submarine’s compartments and learn about its role in World War II.
Find peace and tranquility at the Byodo-in Temple, a stunning replica of a 900-year-old temple in Japan. Nestled at the base of the majestic Ko’olau Mountains, this temple offers a serene escape from the modern world. Admire the intricate architecture, stroll through the tranquil gardens, and take a moment to reflect on this sacred space.
Tip for Byodo-in Temple: Respect the temple’s sacredness by observing quiet and respectful behavior. Ring the large bell for good luck and inner peace.
This circle island tour has over 500 reviews and still maintains a 5-star rating, including a stop at the Valley of the Temples.
Embark on a wild adventure at the Honolulu Zoo, home to a diverse array of animal species from around the world. From majestic lions and playful monkeys to exotic birds and endangered species, the zoo offers a captivating glimpse into the animal kingdom. Take a leisurely stroll through the beautifully landscaped grounds and connect with the wonders of the natural world.
Tip for Honolulu Zoo: Plan your visit during feeding times to see the animals in action, and consider participating in educational talks and animal encounters.
No visit to Oahu is complete without a stop at the famous Dole Plantation. Experience the history of Hawaii’s pineapple industry, take a ride on the Pineapple Express train, and challenge yourself in the world’s largest outdoor maze. Indulge in delicious pineapple treats and bring home a taste of the island’s sweetest fruit.
Tip for Dole Plantation: Try the famous Dole Whip ice cream and take a scenic train ride to learn about the plantation’s history and pineapple cultivation
Witness the power of nature at the Halona Blowhole, where ocean waves surge through an underwater lava tube, creating a dramatic spray of water. Located along the southeastern coast of Oahu, this natural wonder offers a mesmerizing sight and serves as a reminder of the island’s volcanic origins.
Tip for Halona Blowhole: Be cautious when approaching the blowhole and maintain a safe distance from the edge. Stay aware of the ocean conditions for the best viewing experience. People have been seriously injured here in the past, follow all posted signage.
Experience a Luau
No trip to Oahu is complete without immersing yourself in the vibrant and festive spirit of a traditional Hawaiian luau. Feast on delicious island cuisine, marvel at captivating hula performances, and engage in cultural activities that celebrate the rich heritage of Hawaii. A luau is a true celebration of Hawaiian hospitality and aloha spirit.
See my complete list of luaus for all the islands including Oahu. A luau is always rated highly as one of the best things to do on Oahu.
Tip for experiencing a Luau: Make reservations in advance for the luau of your choice and arrive early to secure a good seat. Many shows allow you to skip meals if you want to eat elsewhere or have special dietary considerations.
Shark Cage Diving
For the ultimate adrenaline rush, brave the depths of the ocean and embark on a shark cage diving adventure. Dive into a world inhabited by majestic sharks and witness these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. This thrilling experience promises an up-close encounter with some of the ocean’s most magnificent predators, all while ensuring your safety within the protective confines of a cage.
Tip for Shark Cage Diving: Choose a reputable and certified operator for shark cage diving. Follow the instructions provided for a safe and memorable experience.
This tour operator has over 1700 reviews and maintains a 5-star rating, impressive!
Helicopter Tours On Oahu
To truly appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of Oahu from a unique perspective, embark on a thrilling helicopter tour. Soar above lush valleys, cascading waterfalls, and majestic mountains as you take in panoramic views of the island’s breathtaking landscapes. Capture unforgettable aerial photographs and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Tip for Helicopter Tour: Consider booking a morning flight for the clearest visibility. Opt for a window seat and bring a camera to capture the stunning aerial views of the island.
There are 5 tour operators listed that have 5-star reviews for Oahu, good luck!
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
Experience sweeping vistas of Oahu’s windward coast at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. This stunning vantage point offers panoramic views of the coastline, framed by towering cliffs. Learn about the historical significance of this site as the location of a legendary battle and let the cool breezes whisk you away into tranquility.
Tip for Nu’uanu Pali Lookout: Bring a jacket or windbreaker, as it can be windy and cool at the lookout. Take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the Oahu coastline.
Ka’ena Point State Park
Nature lovers and adventure seekers will find solace at Kaena Point State Park. This rugged and remote park offers scenic coastal hikes, where you can marvel at untouched beaches, observe native seabirds, and feel the raw power of the ocean. Leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city and connect with the untamed beauty of Oahu’s westernmost point.
Tip for Kaena Point State Park: Pack sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water for this remote coastal hike. Stay on designated trails and be mindful of the fragile ecosystem.
Ko Olina Lagoons
For those seeking a tranquil beach experience away from the crowds, Ko Olina Lagoons offers a peaceful oasis. These man-made lagoons boast crystal-clear waters, soft sandy beaches, and a calm atmosphere perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or simply unwinding under the warm Hawaiian sun.
Tip for Ko Olina Lagoons: Arrive early to secure a spot on the beach and enjoy the calm, crystal-clear waters. Respect the resort area’s rules and regulations.
Oahu Circle Island Tours
To truly experience the diverse beauty of Oahu, embark on a Circle Island Tour. This comprehensive excursion takes you on a journey around the entire island, allowing you to witness stunning beaches, dramatic cliffs, lush valleys, and cultural landmarks. From the vibrant energy of Waikiki to the tranquil shores of the North Shore, a Circle Island Tour offers a glimpse into the diverse landscapes that make Oahu so captivating.
Tip for Circle Island Tour: Consider taking a guided tour to maximize your time and learn about the island’s highlights. Bring snacks, water, and a camera for the scenic stops.
Sunset Cruise On Oahu
End your day in paradise with a magical sunset cruise along Oahu’s coast. Sail into the horizon as the sky transforms into a breathtaking canvas of vibrant colors. Unwind with a tropical drink in hand, enjoy live music, and create lasting memories as you witness nature’s spectacular evening show.
Tip for Sunset Cruise: Dress comfortably and bring a light jacket or sweater, as it can get cooler on the water in the evening. Enjoy the breathtaking sunset views while cruising along the coastline.
Multiple to choose from and several have 5-Star reviews, can’t go wrong.
Parasailing On Oahu
For an exhilarating adventure with a bird’s-eye view, try parasailing off the coast of Oahu. Soar high above the shimmering ocean, suspended by a colorful parachute, and take in panoramic views of the island’s stunning landscapes. It’s an adrenaline-pumping activity that combines excitement and beauty in equal measure.
Tip for Parasailing: Choose a reputable parasailing operator and follow their safety instructions. Capture the stunning aerial views of the island and enjoy the exhilarating experience.
This parasail company has over 3000 reviews and still maintains a 5-Star rating, impressive.
Glass Bottom Boat Tour
If you prefer to explore the underwater world without getting wet, a glass-bottom boat tour is the perfect option. Cruise along Oahu’s coast aboard a boat with a glass viewing area, allowing you to peer into the vibrant marine ecosystem below. Marvel at the colorful coral reefs, observe tropical fish in their natural habitat, and gain a unique perspective on the island’s underwater wonders.
Tip for Glass Bottom Boat Tour: Sit near the glass panels for the best underwater viewing. Listen to the guide’s commentary to learn about marine life and coral reefs.
Learn to Surf On Oahu
Oahu’s world-renowned waves make it an ideal destination for surfing enthusiasts and beginners alike. Sign up for a surf lesson and ride the iconic waves that have drawn surfers from around the globe. Whether you’re a first-timer or aiming to improve your skills, the warm waters of Oahu offer the perfect playground to catch a wave.
Tip for Learning to Surf: Take a beginner’s lesson with a qualified instructor to learn the basics and practice in a safe environment. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen and have fun! Practice your balance before your trip and learn even quicker.
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Expand your knowledge of aviation history at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. This comprehensive museum showcases a vast collection of aircraft, artifacts, and exhibits, paying tribute to the pioneers of flight and the role aviation played in World War II. Explore the hangars, immerse yourself in the stories of aviation legends, and gain a deeper appreciation for the evolution of flight.
Tip for Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum: Allow enough time to explore the extensive exhibits and aircraft displays. Don’t miss the opportunity to sit in a flight simulator.
Atlantis Submarine Ride
For a truly unique and immersive underwater experience, embark on an Atlantis Submarine Ride. Descend below the surface in a state-of-the-art submarine and explore vibrant coral reefs, shipwrecks, and marine life up close. Witness the wonders of the ocean without getting wet, and let the captivating beauty of Oahu’s underwater world unfold before your eyes.
Tip for Atlantis Submarine Ride: Book your submarine ride in advance to secure your spot. Keep your camera ready to capture the fascinating underwater world.
Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch
Channel your inner adventurer and visit Kualoa Ranch, a place made famous by its appearances in numerous movies, including Jurassic Park. Take a tour of the sprawling ranch, explore iconic filming locations, and soak in the awe-inspiring landscapes that transport you into a world of cinematic wonder.
This one tops the list of best things to do on Oahu.
Tip for Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch: Take a movie site tour at Kualoa Ranch to explore the locations of famous movies, including Jurassic Park. Enjoy the picturesque scenery and immerse yourself in the film history.
Horseback Riding On Oahu
Discover the beauty of Oahu’s landscapes on horseback. Take a guided horseback riding tour through lush valleys, majestic mountains, or along pristine beaches. Immerse yourself in nature, bond with your noble steed, and create unforgettable memories as you explore the island’s hidden gems.
Tip for Horseback Riding: Wear closed-toe shoes and comfortable attire for the ride. Follow the instructions of your guide and enjoy the scenic trails and views.
Kayak Kailua Beach
Escape the crowds and embark on a kayaking adventure along the scenic shores of Kailua Beach. Paddle through turquoise waters, explore hidden coves, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Keep an eye out for sea turtles and enjoy the serenity of this picturesque setting.
Tip for Kayak Kailua Beach: Rent a kayak or join a guided tour to explore the pristine waters of Kailua Beach. Pack water, snacks, and sunscreen for a memorable adventure.
Honolulu Food Tours
Indulge your taste buds and embark on a Honolulu food tour to savor the flavors of Hawaii. Sample local delicacies such as poke, plate lunches, and shave ice while learning about the multicultural influences that have shaped Hawaiian cuisine. From food trucks to traditional eateries, this culinary adventure will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the island’s diverse gastronomic offerings.
See my article that highlights the best places to eat on Oahu.
Tip for Honolulu Food Tour: Come hungry and open-minded to try a variety of local flavors. Listen to the guide’s recommendations and embrace the culinary diversity of Honolulu.
Oahu is a treasure trove of captivating experiences, from historical landmarks to stunning natural wonders and adrenaline-pumping adventures. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, cultural immersion, or thrilling escapades, the island offers something for everyone. So pack your bags, embrace the spirit of aloha, and embark on an unforgettable journey through the best that Oahu has to offer.