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Are you planning your Hawaiian vacation soon, perhaps to the island of Oahu, and cannot figure out what things to do in Oahu? Well, it’s your lucky day! This article is here to solve all your troubles and help you plan the perfect vacation for you and your friends and family!
Things to Do in Oahu
1. Hike to a Volcano Crater
Unlike the Big Island of Hawaii, which is home to active volcanoes, Oahu has no active lava-filled giants. But do not let that bring your spirits down yet, because Oahu does have many craters of dormant volcanoes—namely Diamond Head and Koko Crater—that date back to 100s of years ago! We bet hiking to an actual volcano crater was not on your list of things to do in Oahu.
1.1. Diamond Head State Park
Diamond Head State Monument graces the list of Hawaii’s most well-renowned landmarks in the world. The Diamond Head crater is a wide and circular crater on a volcanic cone. Locally, Diamond Head is known as Leahi, translated roughly, means the “brow of the tuna.” The crater is situated on the southeastern corner of the island of Oahu. The Diamond Head State Park spans about 475 acres of land and is divided into two park sections.
A visit to Diamond Head is probably one of the most enticing things to do in Oahu if you love hiking. Though the crater’s floor is easily accessible, the hike to the summit is a challenge and can prove difficult for some people. But if you are looking for one of the best and most picturesque views of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean, the hike is more than worth it.
The trip on the hiking trail going up to the summit of the Diamond Head crater is particularly steep, even though it is only 0.8 miles. For most visitors, barring experienced hikers, the trip takes at least an hour and a half and can be very physically taxing.
Diamond Head State Park lies immediately adjacent to Honolulu’s Waikiki neighborhood and is close to other top attractions in Oahu.
1.2 Koko Crater Trail
The Koko Crater Trail comprises 1,048 stairs built on the steep side of an extinct volcano crater. Many Hawaiian locals and visiting tourists enjoy the Koko Trail stairs because it makes for a good workout and calorie burn, the spectacular sunrise and sunset being the cherry on top of the cake. Who thought hiking a volcano crater amongst all the things to do in Oahu would be great exercise?
Though it is not a dangerous hike up to the Koko Crater, it can be a true fitness test and may not be enjoyable for everyone.
2. Take a Trip to the North Shore
One of the furthermost visiting points of the island of Oahu, the North Shore is about an hour’s drive from Honolulu. Unless there is an event, the North Shore is an excellent place to visit if one of the things to do in Oahu is you want to avoid the tourist crowds and spend a peaceful and relaxing time on its beautiful sandy beaches and fantastic sea waves. You can also participate in fun beach activities like snorkelling and spotting green sea turtles.
For people looking for a place that guarantees a thrilling surfing experience (arguably one of the things to do in Oahu), the North Shore of Oahu is the right place to go.
During the winter months, the North Shore, especially an area nicknamed the “Seven Mile Miracle“, has some of the biggest waves in the world and is considered one of the best surfing locations in the world!
The North Shore offers two equally great choices when it comes to beaches:
2.2.1. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach on the North Shore is known for its calm, soft sand and clear, turquoise waters. It is considered one of the most gorgeous beaches in the country!
The shores of Lanikai Beach are rarely bothered by large waves and strong currents, which makes it a fantastic kid-friendly destination to visit on your trip.
Lanikai Beach offers a wide range of entertaining and fun-filled activities like building sandcastles on the beach and swimming in gorgeous and calm waters; Lanikai Beach is a wonderful place to spend some good family time with your kids.
Did you think Lanikai Beach had activities for only children? That’s not quite true! Older kids and young adults can join a kayak tour and embark on a sea adventure, kayaking, and snorkeling.
2.2.2. Sunset beach park
Sunset Beach Park in Oahu has surf which is great for surfing, but it’s no ordinary surfing place, it is one of the longest stretches on the earth, winning it the title of a “premier surfing destination”. The waves here can reach heights of up to 15 to 30 feet!
Plan the ideal date to spend with your partner at Sunset Beach Park to spend a glorious time together, forming pristine memories. With vast and immense shorelines, you can partake in numerous fun activities at this Beach Park. The breathtaking scenery will be the perfect setting for you and your partner to have a romantic time.
You and your partner can also partake in activities like surfing the waves, snorkelling in the sea, taking a romantic stroll on the beach, searching for sea shells, going on a stroll hand-in-hand, and cuddling by the shore as you witness the magnificent sunset together. Sunset Beach Park is perfect for a romantic getaway!
3. Visit a Temple
The Byodo-In Temple is a Buddhist temple in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. This temple was built as a replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan, though it was built on a much smaller scale than the original. The temple welcomes guests and visitors of all faiths and is a superb epitome of the representation of traditional Japanese architecture present in Hawaii. You will not be blamed for thinking if you suddenly landed in Japan!
Hawaii and Japan share a long and special relationship, arising due to the role played by the island as a stopping point for many travellers and voyagers crossing the Pacific Ocean. The Byodo-In Temple in Temples Memorial Park was made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hawaii, first welcoming the very earliest Japanese immigrants.
In Byodo-In Temple, you can meditate in the scenic and peaceful gardens, admire the peacocks passing by, click as many photos as you want with your friends and family, and shop at the gift shop for souvenirs, like Japanese trinkets.
A visit to the iconic Byodo-In Temple should be a must on your list of things to do in Oahu. Enshrined with breathtaking landscapes, art, and decorations, as well as a 9-foot-tall Amida Buddha statue (one of the largest outside Japan), this temple is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in the world!
4. Go to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Pearl Harbor is perhaps one of the most well-known and talked about incidents in the history of the United States. Whether you are a history buff or a patriot, you cannot miss the Pearl Harbor Memorial on your list of things to do in Oahu!
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is dedicated to the surprise raid attack by more than 350 Japanese planes, launched from numerous ships, on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, in which over 2,400 American lives were lost and destruction or damage was endured to 19 US ships. This fateful incident marked the United States’ entry into World War II.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial consists of a visitor center and 2 museums that feature a variety of different pieces explaining the history of the day of December 7, 1941, and the naval war against Japan that followed.
The harbor houses the very well-preserved and looked-after wreckage of the USS Arizona in the USS Arizona Memorial. You can also tour the deck of the historic USS Missouri, the battleship on which the emperor of Japan surrendered to the United States on September 2, 1945, ending World War II.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial is about 30 minutes from Waikiki Beach and is open to the public for all days of the week. The visit to the visitor center, the museums, and the battleships are free of cost for all visitors! How many of those will you find on the Oahu list of things to do?
5. Experience Hawaiian Culture
If you are looking to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture and get the historical experience to its full extent, out of all the things to do in Oahu, going to the Polynesian Cultural Center is your best bid!
Perhaps one of the best ways for tourists to experience the culture of the Hawaiian Islands is by attending a luau. A luau is a traditional feast in the Hawaiian culture, which is accompanied by music and involves people adorning lie flower necklaces and hula dancing around a fire. And the Cultural Center is, without doubt, your go-to destination for the perfect luau, having won the Kahili award for ‘Most Authentic Luau’ on the island of Oahu!
There are innumerable options for entertainment at the Polynesian Cultural Center, including (but not limited to) luau buffet dinners that serve exquisite Hawaiin cuisine, spectacular fire knife displays, live music and dance shows, canoe rides, and arts and crafts displays.
Did you have “relishing the Hawaiian cuisine” on your checklist of things to do in Oahu? Well, you can cross it off while in the Polynesian Cultural Center! Here, you cannot miss the all-you-can-eat feast with various cuisines from many places across the vast Pacific, the Ali’i Luau Buffet!
The all-you-can-eat style of this buffet means you can partake of exactly what food you want to try sans the formality of various other dining experiences.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is in Laie, located on the northern windward side of the island of Oahu. The center is spread over 42 acres of land in the North Shore area of the island, covering 6 villages, each focusing on a different style of Pacific Island.
6. Tour the Film Sites
The island of Oahu has been the site for shooting many blockbusters films, including the original Jurassic Park movie and many other popular Hollywood box office hits such as King Kong, Jumanji, The Hunger Games, Godzilla, and the sequels to Jurassic Park. Various scenes in these movies have made expert use of the tropical flora and beaches of the island.
The film sites here are well-known tourist destinations out of all the things to do in Oahu for people visiting Hawaii who are looking to live through some pop-culture references!
6.1. Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is the most sought-after location in Hawaii for filming. This magnificent valley is so beautiful and picturesque that it has been the set of more than 14 blockbuster movies, like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Godzilla, and 50 First Dates. It is surely a one-of-a-kind place out of all the things to do in Oahu.
Lualoa Ranch offers tours of all film sites, such as the Jurassic Adventure Tour, in which they will take you to famous sites where the filming of the Jurassic Park franchise took place, and the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour, in which you can explore different prominent sites shown in movies.
Apart from the film tours, other fun outdoor activities in Kualoa Ranch are guaranteed to keep your whole family well-entertained, like zip lining, horseback riding, mountain biking, four-wheeling, and exploring the tropical jungle aboard a jeep.
Get transported to the world of Jurassic Park by zip-lining through the Ranch, where you will zoom through various amazing scenes and backgrounds featured in the internationally hit movies (not to mention the gorgeous views of the valley itself)!
6.2. Manoa Falls
Considered one of the best hikes on Oahu, after Diamond Head, Manoa Falls is yet another place in the Hawaiian Islands that has been the filming set for movies like Jurassic Park and Lost.
It is recommended to undertake the hike to Manoa Falls in the company of a guide because of just how many species of plants native to the Hawaiian Islands you might overlook without one. You might also come across some flora that can only be found on the island of Oahu specifically!
At the end of the hike, you will find the amazing Manoa Falls, a stunning 150-foot waterfall. Now that will be the highlight of the hike!
7. See the Lighthouses
Out of all the things to do in Oahu, I bet you did not think lighthouses on a tropical island would be at the top of the list. Well, you stand corrected, because the island of Oahu actually has several lighthouses you can visit, and two of them happen to be very photogenic too!
7.1. Makapu’u Lighthouse
The most famous lighthouse in Oahu, Makapu’u Lighthouse is a very well-recognized structure on the island’s southeastern side. Built-in the year 1909, this lighthouse is over a century old!
You can have a closer look at the Makapu’u Lighthouse by undertaking a hike on the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, which is a two-mile round trip around the lighthouse and takes about 2 hours with some steep changes in the elevation.
Off-limits itself to casual tourists and travelers, the Makapu’u Lighthouse stands on a beautiful cliff shore with outstanding views of the horizon as well as many local birds. The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail hike can be hot and exposed, so it would be better to come prepared for a warm trip.
The hike tends to get windy towards the summit, a feature that is appreciated by the climbers for the cooling effect that comes with it. The trip back on the trail is more or less downhill, making it comparatively easier than the hike up to the lighthouse.
7.2. Diamond Head Lighthouse
The Diamond Head Lighthouse is another great lighthouse on Oahu. Although it is not open for public visitations, you can surely catch it from the road nearby. For even better views of the lighthouse from above, keep an eye out for it on your hike up to the Diamond Head Crater!
7.3. Barber’s Point Lighthouse
If 2 lighthouses are not enough, add another one to your list of things to do in Oahu! For those looking to get off the beaten path and explore something different, Barber’s Point Lighthouse is their destination. The lighthouse is located right on the beach in Kapolei. You are guaranteed to get a breathtaking view of the subset!
8. Go Snorkeling
Adventure seekers should add this to their things to do in Oahu. The most famous snorkelling spot in Hawaii is undoubtedly Hanauma Bay in Oahu. Home to about 400 different species of fish thriving in its turquoise waters, Hanauma Bay, is an excellent site for swimming because of its shallower waters.
Hanauma Bay is the optimum place for beginners to learn how to snorkel since a coral reef covers the entire bay, making the seawater level relatively gentle and shallow. You will come across numerous diverse kinds of colourful fish, green sea turtles, eels, and other marine life that inhabit the Bay waters!
The Hanauma Bay State Park also has a Marine Education Center wherein you can learn about the marine life of Hawaii before diving into the Bay waters to witness it in real life!
Despite the tendency of the beaches in Hanauma Bay to be a bit crowded with throngs of tourists, they still make for a lovely destination just to hang out and chill.
9. Stroll in a Botanical Garden
The island of Oahu is home to at least 8 distinct and interesting botanical gardens. Along with housing thousands of fascinating plant and tree species, these gardens also provide a nice space for a stroll amongst the greenery or clicking pretty photos. Some of them also feature their own (artificial) ponds or waterfalls! This tops the list of things to do in Oahu for nature enthusiasts.
9.1. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Sometimes simply known as HBG, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is perhaps the best botanical garden in Oahu. Situated along a 32-acre freshwater lake, this botanical garden covers about 400 acres of land on the island’s windward coast. With walking paths that wrap around a magnificent koi pond and an enchanting backdrop of the Koolau Mountain Range, the Garden boasts an impressive and wide collection of tropical plants.
The garden was originally built in 1982 by the Army Corps of Engineers as a flood protection measure for the area. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is laden with plants from the continents of Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa.
The garden remains open almost every day all year round. It is the optimum one-stop destination for nature activities like fishing, hiking on scenic trails, exploring the greenery, camping overnight (though with a prior reservation), and painting some of the beautiful flowers grown here.
9.2. Other things to do in Oahu in Botanical Gardens
Apart from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, Oahu has some other gardens you can add to your list of things to do in Oahu (the nature enthusiast edition).
9.2.1 Lyon Arboretum
Lyon Arboretum is a tropical rainforest spread across 194 acres of land. This rainforest is filled with 5000 different varieties of exotic plants and is home to many species of songbirds. You can visit this when you go to Manoa Falls.
9.2.2. Wahiawa Botanical Garden
You can visit this 27-acre high-elevation garden on your way to the north shore. This garden is free and surely underrated.
9.2.3. Waimea Valley
With a scenic waterfall, this is a beautiful jungle valley on the north shore.
10. Explore a Plantation
Make sure to stop by the Dole Plantation on your way to the north shore to get a taste of the juiciest, mouth-watering pineapples you have ever tasted. Lying about a 45-minute drive north of Honolulu, this place is bound to be an absolute delight, out of all things to do in Oahu, for foodies and nature enthusiasts alike.
Dole Plantation offers various exciting tours for the visitors, such as the Train Tour aboard the Lady Liberty or the Pineapple Express and the ‘Stroll through the Plantation Garden Tour’ that takes you around the 8 gardens here.
Get lost in Pineapple Garden Maze (claimed to be the world’s largest!), which is made in the shape of an actual pineapple, and spend some quality time with your family partaking in other fun activities at Dole Plantation, a must on your list of things to do in Oahu.
You can also shop for souvenirs, goodies, and food and drinks produced here. One cannot miss the staple of Dole Plantation, the Dole Whip, a pineapple-flavoured soft serve ice cream. And while you are at it, you can also grab some fresh pineapples to make a deliciously refreshing fruit salad or sweet pineapple juice!