Oahu is not the largest island in Hawaii, yet you’ll never run out of things to do here. There are a crazy number of beaches on its coasts and you’ll be able to find a few that are just right for you! Hikers will find some great trails all over the island, many of which end in lookouts with unparalleled views. Canoeing, swimming, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving…you can do it all when you are on a Hawaiian island. Read on for the top 10 things to do in Oahu.
1. Have a solemn moment at Pearl Harbor
This is a place that almost always secures a spot in a first-time visitor’s Oahu itinerary. Pearl Harbor is easy to get to from Honolulu and it’s visited by a million visitors every year, so it’s an easy choice for the top 10 things to do in Oahu.
Pearl Harbor is a grim reminder of the lives lost and the destruction caused by the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941. When the Japanese struck this place, over 1000 soldiers were killed, many of them on board USS Arizona, which now lies on the site. Visitors can take a boat from the visitor center to the National Monument that stands like a bridge over the sunken USS Arizona.
Not far from this ship that marked the beginning of the US’s active participation in the Second World War stands the ship that marks the end of the war, Battleship Missouri Memorial. This is the vessel on which the Japanese surrender officially took place. And across the channel is moored the submarine that’s called the Pearl Harbor Avenger — the USS Bowfin. Having served in the war and later as a training ground, this submarine can now be seen with a guided audio tour.
Also on Ford Island near the USS Arizona & Battleship Missouri Memorial is the Pacific Aviation Museum. The museum displays military aircraft and screens films about the Pearl Harbor attack and footage from encounters in the air. There’s also an aircraft maintenance workshop that you can tour.
2. Mix with the crowd at Waikiki Beach
If it’s Oahu we’re talking about, we have to bring up beaches and the most popular one here is Waikiki Beach! Being close to the capital city and having white sand and clear turquoise water, this beach draws the most visitors.
The area also has a lot of hotels & resorts, restaurants, bars & shopping options. Waikiki Beach is popular for swimming & surfing, too. And it has Diamond Head State Monument for a picturesque background.
3. Relax at Lanikai Beach
And when you want to move to another beach, a quieter one, Lanikai Beach on the Windward Coast is a neat place to head to. It’s just around 20 miles away from Waikiki and is also known for its sand & water. It’s often said to be the most beautiful beach on the island.
When you’re in the Lanikai Beach area, you could hike to the pillboxes on Kaiwa Ridge near here. There are two military guard posts up there and the views only get better as you go higher up. From the top parts of the ridge, you’ll be able to see sweeping views of the Windward Coast, Lanikai Beach, the neighborhoods near it & some islands off the coast of Oahu. This hike is sometimes called the Kaiwa Ridge Trail.
4. Explore the Diamond Head area
Diamond Head is a scenic headland in the southeastern part of Oahu. Created by a volcano that rose from the ocean floor, Diamond Head now offers visitors a hike to the top of its crater and panoramic views of the Waikiki Beach & the South Shore. This vantage point was used as a military lookout for quite some time. The bunkers are still there and can be explored if you come with flashlights.
If you have more time to spend in the area, you could walk down to Diamond Head Beach Park, south of the crater, and take a look at Diamond Head Lighthouse near there. This is a beautiful spot that’s one of the top 10 things to do in Oahu.
5. Enjoy the beauty of Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is another well-known area in Oahu. Here you have a bay formed out of a tuff ring or a low-lying crater this is partially submerged in the water. Apart from the fact that it’s a well-defined bay, the water here is just right for spotting the green sea turtle and the coral reef here makes it an ideal place to go snorkeling.
6. Watch the spectacle at Halona Blowhole
Near Hanauma Bay is a fascinating spot called the Halona Blowhole. If you’re at the Halona Blowhole at high tide or when the water is particularly rough, you just might be able to witness a unique sight here.
When the water comes in with great force, it shoots out of a blowhole creating quite a show! This beautiful spot definitely made its way onto the list of top 10 things to do in Oahu. There’s also a small beach area — the Halona Cove, also known as the Cockroach Cove where you can spend time if the water is calm.
7. Tour Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a vast area of a privately owned, working ranch with agricultural activities, cattle, and all. But what makes it famous is the fact that it has played the setting for many movies and television shows.
There are many guided tours offered here, including one of Hollywood movie sites. What makes it all the more exciting is that you get to do your tour on horseback, bikes, ATVs, or UTVs; you pick your mode of transport. There are even some ziplines over the Ka’a’awa Valley that you might have seen in Jurassic World! A super cool thing to do in Oahu.
8. Follow the Manoa Falls Trail to the waterfall
The Manoa Falls is a place where waterfalls over a 150-foot drop from the Ko’olau mountain range in the southeastern part of the island. The fall, the pool into which it’s emptied, and the route to the waterfall attract a lot of hikers.
The trail through the rainforest is 1.6-miles round trip but it can be a slippery one if it rains. Come prepared with the right footwear and make sure you don’t begin your hike too late in the day.
There’s also an Arboretum close by if you are interested in learning about the native vegetation.
9. Take in the sights of Nu’uanu Pali
On the other side of the Ko’olau range is an area that’s perfect for a super-scenic drive with stunning vistas at the end of it. Take the Pali Highway through the green thicket of trees & some tunnels and head to the lookout that’s above the tunnels. From here you’ll be able to see parts of the highway, the windward coast, the bays & beaches on that side as well as the islands off the coast. Also, look out for one that looks like a Chinaman’s hat. That’s Mokkolii. The island is also called Chinaman’s Hat for its shape.
10. Attend a Luau
Before you leave Oahu — or any island of the Aloha state, for that matter — make sure to attend a Luau or a traditional Hawaiian feast with Hawaiian food & drink, accompanied by Polynesian song & dance. This is probably my favorite on the entire list of top 10 things to do in Oahu!
Some Luaus might be more traditional, some a bit touristy. Look up the Luaus in an area near you, find out the festivities they have, and make your reservations. When in Oahu, the Paradise Cove Luau, Waikiki Starlight Luau & Nutridge Luau are some you could consider. If you’re invited to a private one, you could try that too as it just might be an authentic one!