Top 10 Things To Do In Oahu

Oahu might only serve as the international gateway for some visitors to Hawaii, but the most populated island in the state ranks as one of the most beautiful in the chain. Home to Hawaii’s only “real city,” Oahu offers visitors the benefits of a large metropolis along with the freedom to hit the road on epic road trips. In one of the more “action-packed” islands in Hawaii, here are the absolute top things to do in Honolulu and Oahu.

Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!

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10. Driving and Hiking to Manoa Falls

Manoa Falls may not be the most impressive in an island chain home to so many majestic waterfalls (100ft, 30m), but at just a few minutes by car from downtown Honolulu, it’s an easy escape. To reach the falls, embark on a scenic detour along Tantalus Drive. This short urban scenic drive boasts million-dollar views of Honolulu and Diamond Head.

Honolulu Panoramic View - Tantalus Scenic Drive - Oahu - Hawaii
Hike to Manoa Falls - Oahu - Hawaii

9. Paying Respect in Pearl Harbor

President Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy”. In a shocking move, 353 Japanese planes attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 Americans. The memorials in Pearl Harbor are a powerful reminder of that day. The USS Arizona Memorial hovers above the sunken battleship that still holds the remains of some of its fallen servicemen. Other highlights include the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and more.

USS Arizona Memorial - Pearl Harbor - Oahu - Hawaii by Bernard Spragg. NZ

8. See and Be Seen in Waikiki Beach

Love it or hate it, it’s difficult to visit Honolulu without visiting Waikiki Beach. In an effort to “escape the city”, Waikiki was frequented by Hawaiian royalty in the old days. When the Royals weren’t around, it was primarily a farming area. Things started to change in 1901 with the opening of the first hotel, and Waikiki never looked back. Waikiki Beach is magnificent if you can ignore the high rises.

Waikiki Beach - Honolulu - Oahu - Hawaii
Surfing in Waikiki Beach - Oahu - Hawaii

7. Road Tripping Along the Windward Coast

Oahu’s windward coast is a reminder of how beautiful the island really is and how life may have looked like in the pre-development days. Signs of “keep the country, country” greet you as you exit the engineering marvel that is the scenic Interstate H-3. As you begin heading north along the coast, Honolulu‘s gravitational pull is slowly replaced by a relaxing mix of mountains, ranches, and lots of blue. Begin this scenic road trip on one of Kailua’s fine beaches (Lanikai Beach is the best) and continue all the way to the north shore beaches.

Cliff jumping - Laʻie Point State Wayside - Oahu - Hawaii
Lanikai Tropical Beach - Oahu - Hawaii -2

6. Daring to Surf in North Shore Beaches

If you aren’t a serious surfer, looking rather than doing is the name of the game in Oahu’s north shore beaches. These are among the world’s greatest surfing beaches, where waves pound the golden sand at impressive heights. It’s also where some of the best surfers in the world come to hang out. The north shore is dotted with a number of prime surf hotspots, the best of which is Ehukai Beach and the prettiest of which is Waimea Bay.

Ehukai Beach - Oahu North Shore - Hawaii - wave and sand
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A surfer at Ehukai Beach - Oahu North Shore - Hawaii

5. Admiring the Beauty of the Pali Coast

Oahu is among the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. This means that, unlike the still-expanding Big Island, Mother Nature has had millennia of rain and wind with which to sculpt Oahu’s peaks. There’s no better place to admire Oahu’s Ko’olau Mountain Range (without breaking a sweat on a hike) than at the Pali Lookout. At a height of 1,200 feet, the lookout is also of historical significance. It is from here that the winning forces of King Kamehameha the Great literally tossed about 500 enemy soldiers to their deaths.

Pali Cliffs - Oahu - Hawaii
Pali Lookout - Oahu - Hawaii

4. Working on Your Tan in Waimanalo Beach

Easily making the list of the best beaches in Oahu, Waimanalo Beach is the longest uninterrupted white-sand beach on the island. Visitors are treated to miles and miles of soft white sand that meet the bluest of waters. There’s plenty of room and shade, thanks to ironwood trees acting as a buffer between this natural gem and the coastal road. Waimanalo is great for swimming (when the ocean is calm) and bodysurfing, but you’ll have as much fun chilling on the beach and admiring the view.

Waimanalo Beach - Hawaii - Oahu

3. Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay

Spectacular Hanauma Bay has to rank among the prettiest bays in the world. The bay is hidden from the outside world thanks to towering cliffs, and its sheltered waters are teeming with life thanks to a pristine coral reef. Hanauma Bay was the playground of the ancient royal family and was off-limits to the public for many years due to its delicate marine ecosystem. The good news is that you can now visit and snorkel in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Marine Park.

Hanauma Bay - Oahu - Hawaii
Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay - Oahu - Hawaii

2. Hiking to the Summit of Diamond Head

Overlooking Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head is the symbol of Oahu and Hawaii’s most recognized landmark. Blasted ash, coral, and other debris from an underwater volcanic eruption formed the crater. Known as Le’ahi to Hawaiians, Diamond Head got its name when early Western explorers mistook its calcite crystals for diamonds. Later on, U.S. forces erected artillery firing stations as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system. Hiking to the summit of Diamond Head is an absolute must. The unobstructed views of Waikiki Beach from its summit are the hallmark of any visit to the island.

Hiking Diamond Head - Honolulu -Oahu- Hawaii
Waikiki Beach from Diamond Head - Honolulu Hawaii

1. Catching Panoramic Views from Makapu‘u Point

Exposed to the elements (mostly wind) and commanding a breathtakingly beautiful spot overlooking the Pali Coast, hiking to Makapu‘u Point is among the most rewarding hikes in Hawaii. The short and paved trail starts with awesome views back to Koko Head before rising to an old lighthouse overlooking Makapuu Beach and the island’s windward coast. Along the way, pause for a look down at the deep blue from atop the sea cliffs, and you might even spot a family of sea turtles cruising up the coast.

Pali Coast from Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail - Oahu - Hawaii
Old Lighthouse - Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail - Oahu - Hawaii

What’s Next?

There you have it, the top things to do in Oahu! Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!

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