Traveling to Oahu can be both exciting and overwhelming. There is so much to do; where do you start? Lucky for you, I tried out pretty much everything Oahu has to offer (the good and the bad) so you don’t have to! This list of the 12 best things to do on Oahu will guide you through your planning process. Mahalo, and enjoy!

This free page might contain affiliate links. I’ll receive a small commission when you purchase from my links, at absolutely no cost to you. I appreciate your continued support!

Oahu Travel Tips

Before I give you my list of the 12 best things to do in Oahu, here are a few travel tips to get your journey started:

  • Ideally, you should split your trip into two parts, meaning two different hotel stays: on the laid-back North Shore and in the busier Honolulu area. The North Shore has some beautiful tranquil beaches and hikes, whereas Honolulu is closest to most of the popular tourist attractions. If you can only stay in one area, choose Honolulu; just be sure to sign up for a circle island tour or rent a car so you can get a taste of what Northern Oahu has to offer!
  • I highly recommend renting a car if you plan on going all over the island. It is easy to venture out of Honolulu, but ridesharing and taxi services are not always readily available to get you back. If renting a car is not an option, consider booking a tour that provides transportation.
  • Take a circle island tour, especially if you are a first-time visitor. This is the best way to see most of the popular tourist attractions outside of Honolulu without breaking the bank. A few attractions I will mention in this article are accessible via one of these tours.
  • Respect the wildlife! Hawaii has very strict laws protecting its wildlife, especially sea turtles. Do not get too close to them; not only does it make them uncomfortable, but it is also very illegal. If you happen to spot a sea turtle, you must stay a minimum of 10 feet away from it.
  • I cannot stress this enough: WEAR SUNSCREEN.
    • Even if you are one of those “I don’t burn, I just tan” types of people, wear sunscreen! Despite my pale complexion, I usually do not burn; however, the Hawaiian sun destroyed me. It is much stronger than it feels. You don’t want to get sun poisoning during your relaxing island getaway!
    • Make sure your sunscreen is reef safe. Many sunscreens contain an ingredient that bleaches the coral, which can harm the wildlife (including the beloved sea turtles!).
  • Pack water shoes. It is pretty easy to scratch yourself up on the rocks and coral, especially when snorkeling.
  • If you plan on eating at a nice restaurant in Honolulu, make reservations well in advance. When I was there in July, one of the restaurants was only taking reservations starting in October!

The 12 Best Things to Do on Oahu

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor was a naval base that was attacked by Japan during World War II. Currently, it is a memorial park allowing visitors to take a walk through one of the most defining moments in the history of the United States. If you take a trip to the memorial and look into the water, you’ll catch a glimpse of the U.S.S. Arizona on the floor of the harbor; oil from the ship still floats to the top of the water today.

At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you can also take a walk through the U.S.S. Bowfin, which is a World War II-era submarine converted into a museum.

Pearl Harbor is located just outside Honolulu, so the local bus service can get you there quickly and easily. Ridesharing and taxi services can also bring you to and from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is located in Honolulu and is probably the most popular beach in Hawaii; if you didn’t visit this white sand beach, you definitely didn’t experience Oahu! When you approach the beach, you’ll be welcomed by a big bronze statue of the famous surfer Duke Kahanamoku. The water at Waikiki Beach is usually clear enough to snorkel, and the waves are usually big enough to surf. Personally, I prefer just to swim; it is also perfect for that. Although this beach gets rather crowded, it is one of the prettiest beaches I have been to.

If you stay near Waikiki Beach, it is a great half-day activity (you don’t want to get sunburnt!). Most of the major hotels in the area are either on the beach or just a few blocks away. I have never stayed on the beach, but all the hotels I’ve stayed in have been a convenient walking distance from it.

You have absolutely nothing to worry about if you get hungry at Waikiki Beach. The beach is right off the main road, where you can find tons of restaurants and quick-serve food. If you need a break from the sun, there is also a lot of shopping in the area.

Diamond Head Crater Hike

That “big mountain” you see in many of photos of Honolulu is actually a dormant volcano called Diamond Head; even better, you can hike it and go inside the crater! It is not a long hike, but it is not necessarily “easy” either. The terrain is a bit rough at times, and there are a lot of steep steps. I went while it was raining, which definitely made the climb a bit more challenging. Even if you are not a hiker, I highly recommend the Diamond Head trail; the views from the top of this state monument are breathtaking.

A word of advice: check the hours before you go! Most people wouldn’t expect to have to do this, but they do close the trail at certain times. During my first couple of trips to Hawaii, the trail did not have any unexpected closures; however, in the summer of 2021, the trail was closed on Wednesdays. At the time that I am writing this (May 2022), it has reopened on Wednesdays, and the hours are 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM daily; however, you must double-check before you go. I would hate for you to have to reconfigure your itinerary!

Catamaran Ride

Although a catamaran ride is not the conventional must-do Oahu activity, it was one of the most enjoyable parts of my trip! I booked my ride through Manu Kai Catamaran, and they did not disappoint. The boat picked us up behind Duke’s Waikiki, which is an exclusive restaurant located conveniently on Waikiki Beach.

Once we got out on the water, we had a beautiful view of the sun setting over Diamond Head. The ride itself was very enjoyable; just a bunch of people having a great time dancing, talking, and drinking! The crew members went around the boat and danced with guests to keep the fun going. Another bonus: complimentary unlimited cocktails!

Before you rush to book your catamaran ride, I have some warnings. The water is extremely rough when the boat is heading out because it goes against the waves. At times, I thought the boat was going to flip! However, I asked the captain, and he assured me it was completely normal. We were fine, of course, but it is important to be aware. If you are prone to seasickness, you may want to choose another activity instead. I had a great time because I do not get seasick, but my friend was a little nauseous (for the record, she did not take any medication to prevent it). If you think you may get seasick and still want to go, take an over-the-counter motion sickness pill before your journey!

Kayak to Popoiʻa Island and the Mokulua Islands

Many kayaking tours are offered on Oahu, but the journey to Popoiʻa Island (Flat Island) and the Mokulua Islands is definitely the most famous. The trip will most likely set off from either Lanikai Beach or Kailua Beach Park. From there, you can either kayak to Popoiʻa Island or Mokulua Nui (the left-most Mokulua island – the other is not accessible to the public).

To complete this journey, you’ll need to rent a kayak; luckily, there are many options in the area. You’ll also need a permit to land on the islands, which most watersport shops provide with the rental. Landing on Popoiʻa Island and Mokulua Nui is prohibited after dark and on Sundays, so make sure to plan your itinerary accordingly. You can take this kayaking route with a group by signing up for a tour package, or you can go solo. I went solo through Kailua Beach Adventures.

This is a pretty intense kayaking journey. I have read online that the route to Popoiʻa Island is “family-friendly,” but I would think twice before bringing children. From my experience, the waves were sometimes tough to fight; remember, ocean kayaking is not the same as lake kayaking! I was winded at the end of my journey (but don’t get me wrong, it was totally worth it). The Mokulua Islands are farther away, and the currents can be strong; it is considered by some to be moderate level, so I do not recommend attempting this part of the trip if you’re a first-time kayaker.

Popoiʻa Island is nicknamed “Flat Island” because it is pretty much completely flat. Once you land and take a walk around, you’ll run into a lot of birds; that is because this quaint little island doubles as a bird sanctuary! If you plan on going to this island, I have two tips. First and foremost, bring water shoes! The island is very rocky, and you can easily cut up your feet. Secondly, I recommend renting or bringing along your own snorkeling gear. The water surrounding Popoiʻa Island is very clear, so you may be able to spot some sea creatures!

The photos and video above were all taken from Popoiʻa Island.

Mokulua Nui is much bigger than Popoiʻa Island. It is also a bird sanctuary and home to one of the most popular cliff diving spots “on” Oahu. If you feel you are physically capable, this island is worth visiting.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are staying in Honolulu and plan on doing this activity, make sure you arrange a ride back before you go. It can be extremely difficult to get back to Honolulu because there are not many taxi and rideshare drivers in the area; it is also a pretty lengthy drive for them to make, so many don’t want to do it. If you try to schedule a pickup with a rideshare app, you may be waiting hours (if you are lucky!).

Kualoa Ranch

Kualoa Ranch is your one-stop-shop for family-oriented outdoor activities on Oahu. Catamaran tours, ATV tours, ziplining, electric mountain biking, horseback riding, watersports at a secret beach, cultural experiences, and eco-adventures are just a few of the activities Kualoa Ranch has to offer. Interestingly, to date, approximately 79 movies and television shows have been filmed at Kualoa Ranch (such as Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Lost, 50 First Dates, and Godzilla Vs. Kong); for this reason, movie tours are also offered. I took one of these tours and got to see the set of Jurassic World in person, which was pretty cool. There truly is something for everyone at Kualoa Ranch.

Kualoa Ranch is located outside of Honolulu; however, transportation is available from select hotels for select tours. The transportation options have changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, so check what is being offered before you book anything.

Laniakea Beach (A.K.A. Turtle Beach)

Please read: I chose to share this photo from my trip so you can get an idea of what this destination has to offer; however, some of the people in the photo are breaking the law. Standing closer than 10 feet from a sea turtle is strictly prohibited; this law is in place to protect you and these endangered sea creatures. Please, even if other people are doing the wrong thing, make sure you do the right thing and respect the Hawaiian wildlife.

If you visit Laniakea Beach, you will almost always see a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. I have been there twice, and both times I’ve spotted several of these beautiful creatures. The water is a bit murky, at least it was during both of my visits, but you can still clearly see the turtles swimming around and nibbling on the reefs. If you are lucky, you may catch one sunbathing in the sand!

Laniakea Beach is located on the North Shore of Oahu but is easily accessible from Honolulu via a circle island tour. Most of them include this as a snorkeling stop in their itineraries.

It is super exciting to see a turtle, but please do not get too close to them. By law, you must stay at least 10 feet away from them. It upsets both the turtles and the native Hawaiians; this is their home, not ours. Please respect it and them. You should also avoid stepping on the reefs; by stepping on them, we are destroying the sea turtle’s main food source.

As a warning, Laniakea Beach gets pretty crowded, and there isn’t always much real estate on the sand for sunbathing. If you are looking for a relaxing day at the beach, this would not be your best option. I would only visit Laniakea Beach if viewing sea turtles were my primary goal.

Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay is my all-time favorite place on Oahu. The water is crystal clear, which really gives it that Polynesian Island feeling. At Waimea Bay, people use a huge rock for cliff diving; I gave it a try, and it was exhilarating! A church is located across the water from the cliff diving rock, and the locals joke that it was strategically placed there so you can pray for safety while jumping! Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or a casual beachgoer, Waimea Bay is the perfect place for you.

Waimea Bay is located on the North Shore of Oahu, making it a bit of a trek from Honolulu; however, many circle island tours make a quick stop there. If you break up your trip and stay on the North Shore for a bit, I hope you make good use of your time and spend it at Waimea Bay!


It is hard to imagine going to Hawaii without attending a luau (I have done the trip without it, but I do not recommend this!). Attending a luau is a great way to immerse yourself in the Hawaiian culture. You will be served traditional Hawaiian dishes, such as poi and kalua pig, while being entertained by hula and fire dancers. There are often crafts and activities; at my luau, they taught us how to make leis, hula dance, and play traditional Hawaiian instruments.

There are tons of luaus on Oahu. I went to the luau held at the Waikiki Aquarium; the luau was located in the outdoor area, which was on the water. The performances were excellent and seeing the cute seals for free was a major plus. I hear the Polynesian Cultural Center puts on a great luau, although I have never seen it.

If you plan on attending a luau (which you should), be sure to book it way in advance. Because of their popularity, a luau should be the first thing you look into after booking your trip. They have been filling up even faster than usual post-COVID because of the higher demand. I have attended luaus, but not during all of my trips to Oahu; that is because I waited too long to book it!

Mokoliʻi (A.K.A. Chinaman’s Hat)

This picture captures one of the most iconic views from Oahu. Mokoliʻi, nicknamed “Chinaman’s Hat” because of its resemblance to the Asian conical hat, is located in Kāneʻohe Bay and is considered a part of Kualoa Regional Park. You can kayak approximately 1/3 miles from Kualoa Point to this basalt islet and hike up to the top if you feel adventurous. Otherwise, there are plenty of great locations on Oahu to take epic photographs of it; the “official” Chinaman’s Hat Scenic Viewpoint is located in Kualoa Beach Park (this is where the photo above was taken from!).

Polynesian Cultural Center

Visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center is a great way to start your journey and immerse yourself in the island way of life. It is not located very close to Honolulu, but the Polynesian Cultural Center provides transportation from many major hotels (you should be offered transportation options upon purchasing your ticket).

Here, you’ll visit “villages” showcasing the culture of the six Polynesian islands: Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji, and Hawaii. At each “village,” you can watch cultural performances and participate in related activities; some I enjoyed were fishing using an old-fashioned Tahitian fishing pole, getting a Fijian “tattoo,” dancing in Hawaii and Tahiti, and playing Tititorea in Aotearoa. You’ll also have the opportunity to take a guided canoe ride or paddle yourself through the lagoon that flows through the Polynesian Cultural Center.

If you buy your ticket early enough in advance, you may have the opportunity to reserve a seat for the luau. Unfortunately, I could not attend it because I purchased my ticket too late, but you’ve been warned; don’t make the same mistake I did! I hear it is an incredible performance.

The outside grounds of the Polynesian Cultural Center are arguably just as fun as the inside. Before entering, you can check out Polynesian-themed shops, food trucks and stands, restaurants, and live music. One of the stands was selling smoothies that you could drink from a coconut or pineapple! The food trucks were also worth visiting; I bought some delicious chicken and bubble tea.

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

I stumbled upon the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail accidentally, and I am certainly glad I did. If you are not the most physically fit but still want to get a bird’s eye view over Oahu, this is the hike for you. The entire way is paved, so you don’t need to worry about rough terrain. I did this hike in the rain, and it worked out because there was no mud! Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is perfect for you if you are looking for a casual scenic walk, and the view from the top is unbeatable!

This area is also known for whale watching. Once you reach the top, look out over the ocean and let me know if you see any of our marine mammal friends!

The trail is not located in Honolulu but is a quick drive away. It is a nice escape from the major tourist attractions. There are also some great restaurants in the area; the Kona Brewing Company offers a quiet atmosphere with some delicious traditional Hawaiian food and drinks, not to mention a beautiful view of the water and mountains!

Like this post? Pin it for later!

What do you plan to do on Oahu? Contact me or comment below!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *