20+ Of the Very Best Things to Do in Oahu

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Rachel Off Duty: The Best Things to Do in Oahu

Getting excited for your trip to Oahu? Heck, I’m already stoked for you! Growing up on Oahu and returning to visit my family every year, I’ve kept tabs on all the things I love doing, and all the things I love sharing with my friends who visit for the first time. This list includes all of the absolute best things to do in Oahu that I’ve discovered along the way!

If you’ve already read my Hawaii For First-Timers guide, you’ll know that I always recommend Oahu as the best island for your first visit to Hawaii. Of course, there are equally amazing things to do on Maui, the Big Island, and Kaua’i too. But, whether you’re into nightlife, beaches, or rich cultural experiences, Oahu is bound to give you the most well-rounded Hawaii vacation. 

From popular attractions to local favorites, chill sightseeing to daring adventures, here are 22 of the best things to do on Oahu! And, if you need help planning your itinerary, be sure to check out my 5-Day Guide to Oahu next.

RELATED: How to Plan a Trip to Hawaii – Everything You Need to Know

20+ of the Very Best Things to Do on Oahu

1. Explore Oahu Beaches

Rachel Off Duty: Best Things to Do in Oahu – Oahu Beaches

The small island of Oahu has something like 100+ beaches, and Oahu frequently ranks as having some of the top beaches in the world. Hitting the beach is no doubt one of the most popular things to do in Oahu!

  • Famous Oahu Beaches: Waikiki Beach, Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach, Ehukai Beach (also known as Banzai Pipeline) 
  • Good Family Beaches: Sans Souci, Kualoa Regional Park, Haleiwa Beach Park, Ko Olina Lagoons, Turtle Bay 
  • Good for Surfing, Bodyboarding, or People Watching (for Non-Surfers): Sandy’s, Makaha Beach, Queen’s Surf, Makapu’u Beach Park 
  • My Personal Favorites: Waimea Bay, Yokohama, Sandy’s, Sans Souci, Lanikai Beach 

The time of year that you visit Oahu can drastically impact the ocean conditions of any of these beaches. Check out my Hawaii Trip Planning Guide next to find out what time of year might be best for you. Also, always check the weather and pay attention to any lifeguard warnings when you arrive! 

Parking at Oahu beaches isn’t always easy, so consider alternative transportation like ride-share or the bus.

2. Witness Oahu’s Marine Life Up Close

Rachel Off Duty: Woman on a Boat in Oahu

The Hawaiian islands are home to unbelievable marine life and unique underwater ecosystems. There are countless ways to responsibly see Oahu’s marine life on your trip – here are some I recommend: 

  • Snorkel in Hanauma Bay, a famous nature preserve and marine life conservation area
  • Go swimming with honu (sea turtles), spot spinner dolphins, and possibly even see whales on Oahu’s westside, with Wild Side Specialty Tours, a woman-owned company that donates a portion of all bookings to marine conservation and research 
  • Snorkel with sharks on the North Shore with One Ocean Diving
  • Try cage diving with sharks on the North Shore with Native Hawaiian-owned company Haleiwa Shark Tours

It’s also not unheard of to spot honu or Hawaiian monk seals when you’re just chilling at the beach, so keep an eye out! As Hawaii’s wildlife is fiercely protected, be sure to always keep a respectful distance. Don’t touch, don’t feed, and always carry reef-friendly sunscreen only! 

3. Study Up on Hawaii’s History

Rachel Off Duty: Iolani Palace OahuImage Credit: Go Hawaii

Hawaii is so much more than a travel destination or honeymooner’s paradise. It’s an island chain with rich, complex, and challenging history. Taking some time to learn about Hawaii’s history will help you appreciate this beautiful place and its culture that much more! 

  • Visit Iolani Palace, the last official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy before it was overthrown. 
  • Pay respects at Pearl Harbor by visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.
  • Check out the Bishop Museum for Hawaiian history and special exhibitions.

4. Immerse Yourself in Polynesian Culture and Traditions at the Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of Oahu’s biggest attractions and most popular things to do. Located on the North Shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center is dedicated to the preservation of culture, arts, heritage, and traditions of Polynesia – Hawaii, Aotearoa, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and Fiji – with a themed village dedicated to each island throughout the grounds.

Each island village offers presentations, exhibits, and interactive activities to introduce visitors to the customs unique to each region.

Depending on the ticket package you purchase, you can also enjoy an Ali’i Luau dinner buffet, and the Ha Breath of Life evening show. The Polynesian Cultural Center even offers transportation options that you can book separately, which you’ll probably want to do considering it’s about an hour and a half from Waikiki.

5. Make Your Own Lei Po’o (Flower Crown)

Rachel Off Duty: Making Flower Crowns in Oahu

Lei in Hawaii are symbols of greeting, love, friendship, or honor. More than just a fun way to be greeted at the airport, giving and receiving lei is a rich tradition that dates back to the early days of Polynesian settlers on the islands. You can easily buy a lei at a local flower shop and even in some grocery stores on Oahu, but why not make your own from scratch? 

The one in the photo above is just a quick ‘hack’ I made using free hotel orchids and a zillion bobby pins. But, I have fond memories of growing up making real lei in school each year for May Day!

It’s a fun way to learn a bit more about Hawaii’s rich culture and customs (and get something cute you can wear for photos, as a bonus). Make your own custom lei po’o (flower crown) using tropical flowers with The Happy Haku, Paiko, or via this Airbnb experience.

6. Hike Your Way to Oahu’s Best Viewpoints and Vistas

Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Hikes
Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Hikes

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Oahu, because you’re rewarded with beautiful ocean views or lush greenery, no matter where you go. 

That said, Oahu also has countless dangerous and even illegal hikes located on private property. Be mindful of this and always use your best judgment with your own abilities as a hiker. Visitors sadly make headlines constantly in Hawaii for getting lost or needing rescue from hiking trails – don’t be one of them, if you can help it!

  • Easy, Well-Maintained Oahu Hikes: Diamond Head, Makapu’u Lighthouse, Manoa Falls, Waimea Valley Trail 
  • Moderate Oahu Hikes: Lanikai Pillboxes, Koko Head Stairs, Ehukai Pillboxes
  • Strenuous / Long Oahu Hikes: Kuliouou Ridge, Lulumahu Falls, Olomana Three Peaks (Important to note: Olomana is not for the faint of heart. There is a good amount of vertical ascent and rock scrambling required. As a result, even though I’ve hiked this countless times, I have never gone past peak two. Peak three is supposedly very sketchy, and I would not recommend!)

7. Eat Your Way Through Oahu’s Vibrant Culinary Scene

Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Culinary Scene
Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Culinary Scene

To be in Oahu is to be in a foodie paradise! 

Oahu has the most diverse and abundant food scene in the Hawaiian islands. From food trucks to fine dining, Oahu will give you a little bit of everything. 

And, unlike going to the Philippines in search of Filipino food, or Mexico for the best Mexican food, you won’t just find Hawaiian food on the menu. Oahu is a diverse emulsion of flavors, influences, cultures, and generational traditions, all woven together into a sort of culinary “quilt.”

In fact, lots of the “local” food in Hawaii is a result of the generations of people who’ve arrived in these islands over the centuries, most notably including China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines! 

For some of the absolute best food experiences on Oahu, add these to your list: 

  • Wander the foodie hotspots of Kaimuki, Kaka’ako, and Chinatown 
  • Taste traditional Hawaiian food at Helena’s, Waiahole Poi Factory, Highway Inn, and Kalo Hawaiian Food 
  • Have a local ‘plate lunch’ (typically consisting of meat, rice, and macaroni salad) at Rainbow Drive-In or Zippy’s. My forever favorite is the chicken katsu and the loco moco with scrambled eggs! 
  • Sample delicious Asian fusion at The Pig and the Lady, Lucky Belly, Marukame Udon, and Side Street Inn
  • Enjoy brunch at Cinnamon’s, Goofy’s, and Koko Head Cafe 
  • Fix up your sweet tooth at UBAE, Liliha Bakery, Banan, Scoop of Paradise, Waiola Shave Ice, Matsumoto Shave Ice, and Leonard’s Malasadas
  • Grab some comfort food with an Asian twist at Jolene’s (the lobster rolls are famous here) 
  • Get all the poke you can handle from Fresh Catch and Foodland (yup, a grocery store!) 
  • Sample Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a culinary style favoring locally grown, farm-to-table concepts that best showcase the many flavors of Hawaii, at Eating House 1849, Koko Head Cafe, and Roy’s

8. Seek Out Oahu’s Food Trucks

Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Food Trucks
Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Food Trucks

Food truck culture is alive and well in Hawaii, and Oahu’s food truck scene is definitely not one to miss! 

One of the most famous food trucks on the island – and one I always take friends to – is Giovanni’s. It’s known for its buttery garlic shrimp, but they also do insane garlic hot dogs! 

In addition, Impossibles Pizza, North Shore Tacos, and Crispy Grindz are also great food trucks. For your best chance at seeking out the most Oahu food truck variety, just cruise through the North Shore! 

RELATED: The Ultimate Local Guide to North Shore Oahu

9. Taste Local Produce, Delicacies, and Snacks

Part of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement is a commitment to emphasize local flavors and locally grown foods. And, you don’t need to visit a fine dining establishment in order to enjoy all the local deliciousness Oahu has to offer.

10. Experience Oahu’s Beer and Craft Cocktail Scene

More than mai tais (but hey, those are great too), Oahu has a vibrant beer and bar scene that just seems to keep growing every time I come back to visit. 

For beer, check out Lanikai Brewing Company, Aloha Beer Co, Maui Brewing Company, Beer Lab HI, Off the Wall, and Inu Island Ales. 

For cocktails, I love Gaslamp, Bar Leather Apron, Skull & Crown Trading Co, Bevy, Pint + Jigger, HI Brau, Podmore, and Encore Saloon.

And of course, for a solid mai tai, the word on the street is that Monkeypod Kitchen and Duke’s Waikiki make some of the tastiest on the islane. 

These are just a few – ask around and you’re bound to find even more amazing places to grab a drink during your trip!

Rachel Off Duty: Cocktails and Beer in Oahu

11. Try Out a New Water Sport

Rachel Off Duty: SUP on Oahu

I hate to admit it, but I actually didn’t really learn (or like) surfing at all growing up. Looking back, that’s such a shame because I recently took a surfing lesson in Maui and for the first time – I LOVED it! 

Surfing, SUP (stand-up paddleboarding), snorkeling, bodyboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and windsurfing are all super popular water sports that you can try in Oahu. In fact, it’s one of the truly best things to do in Oahu, because you get to enjoy Hawaii’s famously warm waters while seeing the island from a whole new perspective. 

12. See Oahu from Up High with a Helicopter or Skydiving Tour

While I personally haven’t gone skydiving (yet!), I know it’s a crazy popular thing to do on Oahu. And hey – if you’re going to skydive, you might as well make sure the view is as epic as it gets, right? 

Skydiving in Oahu takes place on the beautiful North Shore, where you’ll climb 8,000 – 15,000 feet into the air with sweeping views of the island. The two companies that offer skydiving on Oahu are Pacific Skydiving and Skydive Hawaii

Another option – one I’ve tried and loved – is taking a Hawaii helicopter tour. A helicopter tour is one of the absolute best things to do on Oahu because you get front-row seats to the island’s dramatic mountains, white sandy beaches, and famous valleys. While you’ll find many helicopter tours on Oahu, I can recommend Mauna Loa Helicopters from experience. For any photographers out there, they even offer photography tours where you have extra flexibility to get the perfect shot. 

13. Take a Sunset Catamaran Ride

Rachel Off Duty: Sunset Catamaran Rides in Waikiki

What better way to see Waikiki than from out at sea? There are plenty of options for catamaran rides on Oahu, but this sunset catamaran ride is great for a fun night out. All drinks included! 

And no, I wasn’t actually steering the boat (in the above picture). The captain graciously let me have my photo opp before jumping back into the driver’s seat.

For more of a daytime adventure that’s family-friendly, take a tour of Turtle Canyon and snorkel with honu.

14. Visit Oahu’s Botanical Gardens

Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Botanical Gardens
Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Botanical Gardens
Rachel Off Duty: Oahu Botanical Gardens

Hawaii is home to so many exotic, endangered, and endemic plant species that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The best way to admire them is by visiting one of Oahu’s botanical gardens. 

My favorites are:

15. Go Offshore to Visit Oahu’s Islets

Rachel Off Duty: Visiting the Mokes in Oahu

There are several tiny islets off the coast of Oahu – some of which you can actually visit! 

The most popular islets to visit are the Mokulua islets (also known as the ‘Mokes’), which are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary. The larger island, Moku Nui, has a small beach that you can park your kayak on and explore. The smaller island, Moku Iki, is off limits. 

Another island you can visit by kayak is Mokoli’i (also known as Chinaman’s hat). 

My favorite place to rent kayaks and paddleboards is Kailua Beach Adventures. They’ll even help you mount your rented gear on your car so you can take your kayak or paddleboard with you to other Oahu beaches. 

16. Attend a Luau

In Hawaiian culture, luau are big gatherings to commemorate special occasions and to welcome visitors. There are tons of luau to choose from, where you can expect to eat classic Hawaiian dishes like kalua pig and poi and watch performances under the stars. 

The most well-known luau include: the Ali’i Luau at Polynesian Cultural Center, the Paradise Cove Luau at Ko Olina, the Ka Wa’a Luau at Aulani, and the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park.

17. Enjoy Oahu’s Festive Fridays

Friday nights are when Honolulu comes alive. If you find yourself on Oahu for the first Friday of the month, head downtown for First Fridays. It’s a monthly celebration of art galleries, exhibits, food, and boutiques staying open late to get in on the fun. 

Every Friday night, you can also enjoy a fireworks display at Waikiki Beach. The show is organized by the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but you can easily watch for free from the beach.

18. Visit the Byodo-In Temple

Rachel Off Duty: The Byodo-In Temple on Oahu
Rachel Off Duty: The Byodo-In Temple on Oahu

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains, the Byodo-In Temple is a beautiful site and one of the lesser-known things to do on Oahu. 

A smaller-scale replica of the 950 year-old Byodo-In Temple in Japan, Oahu’s Byodo-In Temple commemorates the arrival of Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. It’s open every day from 8:30 am to 5 pm and costs just $5 to enter.

19. Zipline Through Oahu’s Lush Valleys

I can’t believe I hadn’t gone ziplining in Oahu until I was in my twenties. It’s such a beautiful way to see the island! Two of the best places to go ziplining are at Kualoa Ranch and CLIMBWORKS Keana Farms

Both tours are about three hours long and offer panoramic views of Oahu’s lush valleys, tropical forests, farmland, and the ocean as you zip through the sky.

20. ATV Through Jurassic Valley

ATV Tour at Kualoa Ranch Oahu
ATV Tour at Kualoa Ranch Oahu

Speaking of Kualoa Ranch, you might recognize this place because it has served as the backdrop in countless shows and movies – most famously, Jurassic Park! 

Explore the storied Ka’a’awa Valley (also known as Jurassic Valley) by ATV on Kualoa Ranch’s most popular tour: The ATV Raptor Tour. I recently tried this tour for the first time with my mom and my boyfriend and had a blast! The unmatched views, the funny and knowledgeable guides, and the ATVs themselves all made for a super enjoyable experience, whether you’re local or an out-of-towner.

21. Visit Oahu Waterfalls

Rachel Off Duty: Waterfalls in Oahu

Oahu waterfalls aren’t as easily accessible or as abundant as you might find on other islands (specifically, Kaua’i and the Big Island). But, there are a handful you can visit! 

  • Waimea Falls: This waterfall is in a botanical garden. Though you have to pay to enter, it’s one of the easiest waterfalls to swim in in all of Oahu. The walk is paved and takes around 30 minutes from the entrance to the falls.
  • Maunawili Falls: To get to Maunawili Falls, you’ll need to hike about 1.5-2 miles (3 mi roundtrip) through tropical rain forest. It can get pretty muddy, so dress appropriately. [CLOSED – at the time of writing, this hike is currently closed until 2023 for repairs]
  • Manoa Falls: Manoa Falls can be accessed by a short, well-maintained 1.7 mi hike.
  • Lulumahu Falls: To access Lulumahu Falls, you’ll need to first obtain a permit here. From there, it’s just 1.6 mi out and back.
  • Waimano Falls: Another muddy hike, Waimano Falls requires a 3 mi round-trip journey. But, you are rewarded with beautiful falls and natural swimming holes at the bottom!

22. Give Back by Volunteering on Oahu

Rachel Off Duty: Volunteering and Malama Hawaii Programs
Rachel Off Duty: Volunteering and Malama Hawaii Programs
Rachel Off Duty: Volunteering and Malama Hawaii Programs
Rachel Off Duty: Volunteering and Malama Hawaii Programs

From beach clean-ups to reforesting Oahu’s valleys with native trees, there are endless volunteering opportunities you can get involved with if you want to give back!

In fact, at the time of writing this post, some participating hotels on Oahu will even give you a discount or a free night’s stay for volunteering during your trip, as part of the Malama Hawaii Program. This initiative was created to enrich your experience as a visitor by connecting you with the ‘aina (the land) in a deeper way, and encouraging you to leave the islands better than they were when you arrived. 

I personally recommend checking out Oahu’s legacy forest, booking a Malama tour at Kualoa Ranch, or getting involved with Sustainable Coastlines, but you can check out all of the ways to volunteer on Oahu here.

There you have it! Of the 20+ of the very best things to do on Oahu that made this list, which are you most excited to do? Be sure to check out my Hawaii Trip Planning Guide and the rest of my Hawaii series next!

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The Best Things to Do in Oahu - Rachel Off Duty
The Best Things to Do in Oahu - Rachel Off Duty

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

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