What to see and do with only one day on Oahu

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona National Memorial

I continue the series of articles of what to see with only one day on each island with a day trip to Oahu. Before we dive into the details, I though I’d give you just to give you a little background on this Oahu day trip. I first visited Oahu on a day trip from Maui. At the time I was taking my first vacation to Hawaii and silly me, I thought this vacation would be my one and only to Hawaii. So, the plans I’m about to share are what I actually did on a one day visit to Oahu.

Though Oahu has beautiful beaches and views, in my opinion, its top attraction is its rich history and significance in World War II. The historic sites are mainly concentrated in Pearl Harbor. With that in mind, here’s what I advise you see in one day on Oahu:

  • USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor marks the beginning of World War II. You’ll watch a brief film before taking a boat ride to the memorial. Get here as early in the morning as you can to avoid crowds and make sure you are aware of their strict security guidelines. Visiting this memorial is free. You do need to be prepared before you visit the memorial, so see my detailed tips on visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.
  • USS Missouri (Mighty Mo) at Pearl Harbor. This battleship marks the end of World War II. There is an admission fee to tour this ship.
  • Soak in the scene and have lunch on Waikiki Beach (Dukes would be a good choice.)
  • See Punchbowl Cemetery (National Memorial of the Pacific). This solemn site is in the middle of the extinct volcanic crater, Puowaina. Visiting this site is free.
  • If you have time drive up to the Pali Lookout for a nice view of the windward side of Oahu. See my post with more information on seeing the Nuuanu Pali Lookout.

Arrival and arranging transportation:

First, you’ll probably arrive in Honolulu at the airport or at the cruise ship harbor. From there you can either rent a car or arrange for a guided tour. In my case, I had Polynesian Adventures arrange the entire tour including air and ground transportation with a guided tour. I normally prefer touring on my own, but with the city streets of Honolulu, I decided to let someone else do the driving this time. Note that traffic in Honolulu can be difficult at times so make sure you plan adequate time in for your return to the airport or cruise ship.

What if I don’t like war history stuff? What else would you recommend I see and do?

Pali LookoutI would take a tour around Oahu. This tour is usually called a “Circle Island Tour”. There are lots of tour companies who provide a narrated tour, which for a first time visitor takes much of the hassle of planning and logistics off your plate. If you abhor tour buses, you can drive it on your own. I would see the North Shore beaches, Haleiwa (try to get a shave ice here), Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, the Byodo-In Temple, and the Pali Lookout.


What if I have two days or more on Oahu?

Well, one thing is for sure, you’ll never have a lack of things to do on Oahu. I would consider spending an entire day and evening at the Polynesian Cultural Center. You’ll learn tons about the various Polynesian islands and their cultures, catch a luau, and see the best Polynesian music and dance show I’ve seen.

Hurley's Golf Course @ Kualoa RanchFor fans of the TV show Lost, you may enjoy renting a car and driving to see some of the Lost filming locations. Seeing Police Beach where the survivors beach camp is filmed was one of the top spots I wanted to see. Also, in the same day that you visit the beach camp, you could tour the Kualoa Ranch where many scenes are filmed.

For more ideas, see my popular article on the top 10 best free activities and sites on Oahu.


Update: After writing this article, I planned another day trip to Oahu. Please check out this excellent Oahu day trip itinerary to help you develop your own practical plan for an Oahu island hop.

  1. At the Arizona Memorial… There is no limit to how much you can bring in with you… They only limit bags for some reason which limits what you can bring…

    However… There is an easy work around. Don’t bring a large bag inside with you. Get a bag for your stuff inside the memorial.

    So… Carry everything you own like diapers, camera, etc, in both arms from the car to the checkpoint. (It’s not a very long walk) Then… Once inside… Buy a postcard and ask for one or more large plastic bags to carry your stuff in.

  2. Excellent tip, Dave! Mahalo!

    Just to add a little bit more – they don’t allow bags of any kind -not even camera bags.

  3. We leave for Hawaii on Friday (June 13, 2008) for an entire week. Since we can’t bring a bag into the Arizona Memorial can I wear a vest with “many pockets” or would they consider these items concealed?

    I understand the need for security but it feels odd to go on a day trip to Pearl Harbor without my purse or a bag for my camera. Do they allow us to check bags?

    My husband wears his wallet chained to his belt; do you think this will be a problem? We’ve been turned away from an amusement park because they considered the chain a weapon (and no, we don’t look dangerous).

    Does the USS Missouri have the same security arrangement? We’ve been on other ships of the same class and had no problem but I would understand if they consider Pearl Harbor an especially sensitive site.

    I really appreciate all the wonderful information I’ve found at this site. I even asked a question at one webpage but then I never found that page again to go back and look for replies (this time I’m bookmarking it). 🙂

  4. Hi Kathleen – Their security measures are a bit of a pain, but I guess they have a good reason for them. I’d recommend that you contact the park directly to get them to answer your questions. Here’s their contact info: http://www.nps.gov/usar/contacts.htm

    The USS Missouri also has the same security policy: http://www.ussmissouri.com/visitor-information

    There is a facility near the Bowfin that you can store your bag for a fee of $3 per bag. I’m copying this excerpt from the USS Arizona website:

    A storage facility, operated by a private vendor, is available for visitors coming to the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum. The facility can be found at the enterance to the USS Bowfin Sumarine Park. There is a nominal storage fee. The storage facility is in operation daily 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Visitors may use the same bag storage and parking stall for all three tours.

    Have a great time in Hawaii and please do come back and share your experiences here at Go Visit Hawaii.

  5. The book store at the Arizona Memorial is pretty good. Besides lots of books about WW2, they also had some other memorabilia and paintings there. My husband bought a plastic model kit of the Arizona ship. We were there a few years ago.

  6. HVG – It’s a good place to walk around while you are waiting for your entrance time to the theater in preparation for the visit to the memorial. I remember reading letters that servicemen sent during that time. It was moving.

  7. Thanks for the feedback.

    As long as there is a place to chek our bags we’ll be fine. I’ll make my husband leave is chained wallet at the hotel.

Leave a Reply

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

You May Also Like