Oahu offers a ton of enjoyable activities to keep you going. Regardless of your travel type or length, there’s something for everyone. Below you’ll find a great selection of attractions and activities to take advantage of. Whether you’re planning an Oahu day trip, or you’re spending a week on the beautiful island, we’ve got you covered.
You will never find yourself bored in Oahu. You can stay active. You can relax island-style. You can enjoy some of the best cuisine you’ve ever tasted. The longer you stay, the more you’ll realize that this Hawaiian island has it all.
Before you begin planning your Hawaiian getaway, keep in mind a few things about Oahu. Many adhere to the the misconception that you can see all there is to see on one island within a day. That’s just not the case. This isn’t your average island, and it isn’t something to skim over in a few hours.
Oahu is the third largest island in the state of Hawaii, and houses close to a million residents. Despite all those residents, it still has room for pristine nature, mountainous hiking paths, and sandy shores. It’s also home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu! Honolulu is a metropolitan area that carries with it its own culture and set of must-sees.
Among these must-sees are the historic spots that everyone has heard of. There is also luxury shopping fine dining if that tickles your fancy. Want to party? Bustling nightlife that travelers expect from a metro is available in plenty. Truth told, you could spend forever exploring the many mysteries of Oahu. How about we save you some time? Here are the top recommendations for any trip length.
As stated above, it’s impossible to see and do everything that Oahu has to offer in just one day. You might have a hard time even with two for that matter. Still, you can make a point to cross off many of the most notable stops in one or two days. Your days will fill up fast with many activities.
At least you’ll be able to experience the spots most people think of when they hear “Oahu” though! These are the bucket list items; ones that everyone knows and the ones you’ll regret not seeing if you don’t!
You likely already know you want to stop by Pearl Harbor. Whether you’re a history fan or not, there’s no arguing this important spot is an integral part of Oahu. Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial can be a lengthy process. But, it’s an attraction that’s worth the wait times.
Yet, you more than likely want to avoid the crowds so you can experience the full effect of the memorial. To do so, you can visit the memorial early in the morning to beat the crowds, and then skip visiting the USS Missouri. If you end up having a second day, though, you may want to stop by the USS Missouri.
Don’t forget to also visit Punchbowl, the beautiful cemetery dedicated to military lives lost. History buffs will love the long lasting impressions felt at these sites. It may just end up being the highlight of your trip.
After you’ve visited Pearl Harbor, a grand idea would be to schedule a tour of the entire island. You can see it by bus, or, if your budget can manage it, a helicopter. A secondary option is to rent a car and drive it on your own. You may not have time for many stops if you decide to do it on your own in a rental car.
This options does afford you the ability to choose to stop, go, and snap a lot of photos at your own pace though. A group tour may suit your needs best if you won’t be visiting any of the other Hawaiian islands. This way you can see all the beautiful topography this unique destination offers.
If you prefer to ditch the car on vacation, opt for an ATV tour. You again have two options here. Either go as a group, or rough it on your own. Exploring the island with the wind whipping through your hair is unforgettable.
During your drive around the island, do be sure to check out Byodo-In Temple. You’re in for a little taste of Asian culture in the islands. This gorgeous spot is inspired by, and in honor of, Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants. Immerse yourself and you’d think you were actually in Asia just by looking at it. Byodo-In is an exact replica of Japan’s own Fuji Temple.
If you’re not into all the history the island offers, stop off at one of the pineapple plantations. The well-recognized Dole company has a plantation on Oahu that is open to the public to enjoy. Not quite a fan of pineapple? Macadamia nut plantations are also found on the island for those who favor savory over sweet.
End one of your one or two days with a traditional Hawaiian activity is a must. It is imperative that you have experience a luau at least once. You can find these events hosted by many of the local resorts. There are even a few larger recreational operations who host nightly luaus as well. You can usually pay one price for your meal, drinks, and entertainment.
It’s a great way to relax after cramming as much Hawaiian culture into one or two days as possible.
If you have three or four days on the island, of course you should still enjoy the above listed activities. But, you do have increased freedom, and some breathing room in your itinerary. This will allow you to see some of the more hidden gems that the amazing Hawaiian Islands have to offer.
Although they are gems, they’re a little less well known. Don’t let that deter you though, come along as we explore some more activities!
One favorite is the Polynesian Cultural Center. This authentic cultural experience will immerse you in the history and culture of Hawaii. That’s not all though! You’ll also get a feel for Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji, Marquesas, Tahiti and Tonga. The Polynesian Cultural Center is the perfect place to visit.
Patrons will enjoy the visitor activities, scenery, and myriad of presentations. Curious scholars will feel engaged. Families with children will also love this destination as well! The Polynesian Cultural Center also offers island tours which explore various lookout points. These points include the Dole Plantation we mentioned above, and much more.
It’s a great way to knock out several activities at once. You’ll also find luaus and performances on a regular basis, many of which are top-rated.
Since your three- to four-day trip will allow you a little bit of relaxation time, why not head to the beach? Ala Moana Beach Park is 100 acres of wide beaches for more than half a mile. The man-made beach is protected by an outer reef. This makes it a great spot for swimmers who are just learning. Beware though!
Make sure your new swimmers stay away from the 25-foot-deep drop. The park is also a great spot to enjoy some down time away from the water. Guests can enjoy the grassy lawns for picnics, and also a multitude of games. Lots of events take place at the outdoor venue, so you may even be able to catch a concert.
Want outdoor activities a little more rigorous than playing catch or soaking up rays? Head to Diamond Head State Monument. Here you can hike to your heart’s content. To complement the rigorous hike, take in spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. The ancient crater is recognizable by most, and a favorite hiking spot for many visitors.
The trail can be difficult for some, but is well worth the effort. Do keep in mind that the last bit of the trail is extremely steep and all stairs. Those with a fear of heights may not be up to the challenge.
You can always trade in your hiking shoes for accessories of a different kind if shopping is your forte. The shopping on Kalakaua Avenue is world-renowned. Often comparison is drawn to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. The street’s known as the heart of the Waikiki region and offers a nice mix of shopping, no matter your tastes.
Love luxury? Head to one of the several luxury boutiques for your fix of Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent. Stop by the Galleria for duty-free luxury items from Prada, Armani and more. The Royal Hawaiian Center also has its own selection of well known names like Bulgari and Cartier.
If you’d rather forgo the international luxury names and find something unique, there’s a place for you too. Local and artisan gifts are available at the International Marketplace. Check it out for everything Hawaiian-made, from décor and artwork, to books and gastronomy.
When you have five or six days on Oahu, you start to get a feel for the island. Besides seeing all the bucket list spots, you get a chance to explore the aspects of the culture that you love. This allows for delving into your own interests and passions.
For some, this may be the perfect opportunity to savor the local cuisine. There are several items that Hawaii’s famous for, and you’ll definitely want to try them all. You may already know that spam is a tried and true favorite in Hawaii, and the same holds true in Oahu. If you’re lucky, you may even be in town for the annual Waikiki Spam Jam.
Try it in musubi form — served up stacked amongst white rice and dried seaweed. You can get it on almost any street corner. Looking for more of the best Hawaiian eats on Oahu? Visit Leonard’s Bakery. Considered the the best donut shop in all of Hawaii, Leonard’s specializes in malasadas.
Feed your guilty pleasure with a deep-fried dough ball coated in sugar. Or try poke, a fresh raw seafood dish marinated in a variety of amazing flavors.
A great place to sample the local culture and cuisine of any destination, as many frequent travelers know, is by going to the local market. If you prefer to cook your own meals, you’ll love the Kapiolani Community Farmers Market. Here you can pick out some local produce to cook up if your suite has the proper equipment.
If you’re not quite the best in the kitchen, you can easily eat a full meal at the farmer’s market. Buy a few items from a few different vendors, and you’re golden. There are plenty to choose from!
If you’d rather explore the islands’ arts than stuff your face, pay a visit to the Honolulu Museum of Art. You can enjoy your own private tour, or join up in a group, or just wander the galleries at will. You’ll find more than 50,000 works of art. Among these works is one of the largest single collections of Asian art in the United States.
The museum has two locations; the second is the Spalding House, which overlooks Honolulu and Diamond Head. The museum also owns Shangri La, which houses tobacco tycoon Doris Duke’s collection of Islamic art.
Another interesting museum to pay a visit to is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Having trouble locating the museum? It’s also known as the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. It is the largest museum in Hawaii. Also, it is home to the world’s largest collection of Polynesian artifacts and specimens.
Exactly how many specimens is that, you ask? The museum owns more than 24 million items. Among this is the third-largest insect collection in the country.
Keeping the museum theme going, pay a visit to the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii. The museum explores the modern American military’s presence on the islands. Ancient Polynesian warfare is also touched upon! Times from the Middle Ages through feudalism, colonialism, and more will be covered.
There are 17 permanent exhibits on display and occasional educational events. Located within Waikiki, the museum is an easy trip from many hotels and resorts in the area. It’s the perfect quick historic stop after lunch, or between beach visits.
If you’re into snorkeling, you’ll definitely have time to fit some in during a trip of this length. One of the top snorkeling spots in Oahu is Shark’s Cove. This attraction ranks as one of the best in the world by several of the top travel publications. You’re sure to always find a vast array of sea life in this spot’s vibrant blue waters.
It does get a little bit crowded, due to its popularity, but it’s well worth it, regardless. Do keep in mind, however, that this isn’t a spot suitable for children, as it can get a little rough.
For another worthwhile hiking trip, try the two-mile hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse. While not nearly as popular as Diamond Head, it’s a great spot to view the ocean and many offshore islets. While you’re not allowed to approach the actual lighthouse, there are plenty of other attractions to see. Of of the most remarkable sites is the migrating humpback whales.
This event takes places between November and May most years. Bring along a pair of binoculars and you can also see the many birds who make the offshore islets their home. The hike is relatively easy, at least in comparison to Diamond Head. This can be a great way to involve travelers in your group who may not be as fit.
It’s also perfect for younger children to take part in the Hawaii hiking experience.
A week or more is plenty of schedule space to experience everything on the island. You’re sure to have found at least a few (if not more!) activities to try in the paragraphs above. Still check below for a few more indulgences you may have time for if you’re making your trip to Oahu an extended one.
If you have a full week on the island, there’s nothing wrong with taking a full day to enjoy a visit to the spa! The many luxury resorts and hotels on the island come with their own spas. More often than not though, you can book a line up of treatments without actually being a guest.
Enjoy traditional Polynesian treatments that incorporate organic ingredients sourced right from the island. Pick the right spa and you can indulge in an outdoor therapy session. What would therapy be without views of the lush greenery, or the ocean?
If you’re feeling guilty about indulging, you can follow it up with a climb up Koko Head Stairs. There are more than 1,000 steps to the top, so you’ll be sure to work off your breakfast. With a hike that long, you’ll be ravenous for lunch afterwards. The steep ascent is challenging to some.
It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is not a trail for those who get winded after just one flight of stairs back home! That said, you’ll still see plenty of locals sprinting straight to the top and down again.
Take a tour of ‘Iolani Palace, the royal home for the ruling family of Hawaii until Hawaii eventually became a state. The palace is a beautiful space that’s still maintained with the utmost care today. You can visit it for a tour, or even rent out parts for an event or destination wedding.
There is also a full calendar of events happening on the palace grounds at all times. Activities range from concerts and parties, to classes and workshops.
For another hiking adventure, pay a visit to Maunawili Falls. This is one of the very accessible hiking trails to a waterfall on the island, easier for both children and the out of shape. Make sure to bring something you can get dirty, though.
This lush trail is so densely vegetated and filled with streams that you’ll be tromping through the mud like a local before you know it! Make sure to follow the main trail, as you may get lost if you wander too far off. This hike is only two and a half miles in total.
If you want to see even more of Hawaii’s beautiful and diverse plant life, pay a visit to Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden. Hoomaluhia is just one of several botanical gardens in and around Honolulu. Entry is completely free, and there’s always a bevy of activities to keep you entertained. These activities include family fishing, bird watching, camping, and more.
You can choose to explore the 400 acres on foot or by car. If you choose the pedestrian route, you can see the lush flora up close. This route also allows you to soak up what may be one of the only tropical biospheres you’ve ever visited.
If you’re ready to enjoy some casual nightlife, or just an easy-breezy day of strolling and window shopping, head to the Waikiki Beach Walk. You’ll find a ton of shops, bars, restaurants and more, open every day of the year until 10 p.m. You can enjoy authentic Hawaiian products and live performances almost every day.
At the Walk, you’ll also find some of the most famous and preferred eateries and watering holes. You could come back to this shopping spot every day of your visit, and still see something new to catch your eye.
One of the most preferred active attractions on the island, alongside hiking and water sports, is golfing. With many award-winning and challenging golf courses all over the entire island, it’s easy enough to find one that suits your tastes. You can go straight from your hotel to the golf course, and take along a group of your friends or the family.
There are courses for every skill level and level of interest, and most offer a quick lesson or two so you can brush up on your game.
The Gathering Place
It should come as no surprise that Oahu means “the gathering place.” With so many activities to tempt travelers, and so many ways to have fun, there is something for everyone on the island of Oahu. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking advantage of a one-day layover. It doesn’t matter if you’re extending a business trip.
It doesn’t matter if you’re planning a week-long Hawaiian vacation. You won’t lack for things to keep you occupied and entertained. The longer you stay, the further you can dig into the state’s fascinating culture, history, and lifestyle. You can start at Pearl Harbor and Diamond Head, and work your way into the culture.
After awhile you’re finally eating, shopping, and celebrating like a local. Don’t take our word for it, though! Find out for yourself how Oahu is the perfect Hawaiian island for any type of traveler on any length of trip.