Over 50 awesome things to see, try and do on your Oahu vacations

awesome oahu vacation things to do

Need suggestions for what to do and see on your Oahu vacations? We’ve compiled a list of the top adventures, attractions and special foods to try. Whether you’re planning your first Oahu trip or your tenth, you’ll certainly find this list includes plenty of great ideas for a very happy vacation and lasting memories.

We’ve organized this list into the categories of:

  • Adventures and water sports
  • Sights and attractions
  • Cultural highlights
  • Great Oahu foods to try

Adventures and water sports

1. Kayak over turquoise water to the Mokulua islands.

2. Snorkel to discover Oahu’s underwater world. Take one of the many snorkeling boat/catamaran cruises from Waikiki or Ko Olina or head out to the island’s Hanauma Bay.

3. Visit Waikiki Aquarium to see tropical fish and ocean life without getting wet.

4. Hike to Manoa Falls to stand at the base of a 100-foot tall lacy waterfall. See our tips for hiking to Manoa Falls.

5. Hike to the top of Diamond Head (Le’ahi) crater for sweeping views of Honolulu. See our tips for hiking Diamond Head.

6. Learn to surf from one of the many beach boys on Waikiki Beach. Arguably one of the safest ways to learn surfing is from Honolulu firemen with Hawaiian Fire.

7. Try stand up paddle boarding. For the experienced, you can rent paddle boards. If you are a beginner, we recommend taking a lesson.

8. Enjoy a beach day at one of Oahu’s many beautiful beaches. Lanikai Beach is arguably the most beautiful.

9. Take a sunset sail or cocktail/dinner cruise.

10. Enjoy a scenic Oahu trail by horseback ride. Kualoa Ranch and Turtle Bay Resort both offer good horseback riding.

11. Swim with dolphins at Dolphin Quest or Sea Life Park. Read about our Dolphin Quest experience.

12. Ride an outrigger canoe. You can find outrigger canoe tours along Waikiki Beach, Kualoa Ranch and in Ko Olina. See our outrigger canoe tour from Ko Olina article.

13. Take an ATV (all terrain vehicle) tour of dirt trails. Kualoa Ranch offers ATV tours on Oahu.

14. Swim at a waterfall. One of the best and probably safest place to swim at a waterfall is in Waimea Valley. See our post where to swim at a waterfall in Oahu.

15. Experience deep sea fishing on an Oahu fishing tour.

16. Go paragliding off the Koolau Mountains.

17. Take a sunrise walk along the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. During winter months keep an eye out for humpback whales that frequent this area.

Oahu sights and attractions

18. Tour the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor for a heart-gripping glimpse back into World War II history. See our tips for visiting USS Arizona Memorial.

19. Stop at Dole Plantation to learn all about pineapples. Try a refreshing Dole Whip. Take their plantation train ride and test your maze navigating skills.

20. Enjoy the view of Mokoli’i, an island in the shape of a chinaman’s hat, at Kualoa Beach Park.

21. Shop for souvenirs and treasures at Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, in the North Shore at Haleiwa or in one of the many Waikiki shops ranging from budget-friendly ABC Stores to the high-end shops of Kalakaua Avenue.

22. Take a Segway tour. We enjoyed a Segway tour of historic Honolulu.

23. Catch the Hilton Hawaiian Village fireworks show on Waikiki Beach. For many years, the show was only held on Friday nights, but starting August 2013, the fireworks show will also be held on Tuesdays.

24. See filming locations from 50 First Dates, Jurassic Park and Godzilla on the movie tour at Kualoa Ranch.

25. Discover LOST filming locations.

26. Find Hawaii Five-0 filming locations.

27. Watch professional surfers surfing the giant waves at world-famous Banzai Pipeline or in Waimea Bay during winter months.

28. Take a drive through a jungle on Round Top and Tantalus Drive.

29. People watching at Waikiki Beach provides continuous entertainment.

30. Watch for honu (Hawaiian sea turtles) at Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore, but please don’t approach these endangered species. Laniakea Beach is located off Kamehameha Highway (Hwy 83) near the western intersection of Pohaku Loa Way. See this Google Map with Laniakea Beach marked. Note the parking across the road, which can be full at times.

31. See the Duke Kahanumoku statue honoring one of Hawaii’s greatest swimmers and surfers.

32. Stop at Tropical Farms where you can try many interesting flavored macadamia nuts.

33. A visit Byodo-In Temple may make you feel like you’ve suddenly been transported to Japan. The temple’s architecture and colors are especially beautiful with the mountainous backdrop.

34. Tour Mighty Mo, the USS Missouri Battleship in Pearl Harbor.

35. Visit Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for its somber beauty.

36. Tour a tropical garden.

37. See the sea arch created by the 1946 tsunami at Laie Point.

38. Take in the sweeping views from Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.

Hawaiian and Polynesian cultural highlights

39. Spend a day learning about the many Polynesian cultures at the Polynesian Cultural Center. See our Polynesian Cultural Center review.

40. Enjoy Hawaiian foods, music and a Polynesian dance show at one of Oahu’s many excellent luaus. Oahu’s most popular luaus are Germaine’sParadise Cove, and the Polynesian Cultural Center.

41. See a heiau, which is an ancient Hawaiian temple. The largest Oahu heiau is Puu O Mahuka.

42. Learn to play Hawaii’s most loved instrument — the ukulele. With only four strings, the ukulele is one of the easiest musical instruments to learn. Many resorts and ukulele shops offer free or low cost ukulele lessons.

43. Learn to dance a hula. Many resorts and luaus offer free hula lessons.

44. Learn how to make a lei at one of the resorts or shopping centers.

45. Explore Bishop Museum for their wonderful Hawaiian history and cultural exhibits as well as their newly upgraded planetarium.

46. See the torch lighting and free Waikiki hula show at Kuhio Beach Mound.

47. Tour the USA’s only royal residence at Iolani Palace.

Great Oahu food to try

48. Try a a refreshing shave ice. Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa on the North Shore is famous for their shave ice.

49. Enjoy a cool drink or mock/cocktail while listening to live Hawaiian music at sunset. In Waikiki, we recommend these four places for sunset cocktail, with Halekulani’s House Without a Key being our number one spot.

50. Taste local-style food like a Loco Moco, Plate Lunch or Mixed Plate. Rainbow Drive-In near Waikiki is a good local spot. See this article for more favorite local Oahu restaurants.

51. Sink your teeth into a hot, sweet malasada. Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu near Waikiki Beach makes the island’s most famous malasadas.

52. A Coco Puff from Liliha Bakery in Honolulu is definitely a favorite among locals. It’s our personal favorite sweet treat in all of Hawaii.

53. Hawaii loves SPAM so much so that they even make a sushi-like form of it wrapped in rice. Stop into a 7-Eleven store to try Spam Musubi.

54. Share a slice of Hula Pie that’s famous across Hawaii. It’s mac nut ice cream on a cookie crust topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and nuts. You can Hula Pie from Dukes or Hula Grill in Waikiki.

55. Hawaii knows and loves pancakes. Two of our favorite Oahu spots for pancakes is at Eggs n Things in Waikiki and at Cinnamon’s in Kailua.

56. Taste locally grown produce or freshly prepared foods from a farmers’ market. The Saturday morning farmers’ market at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) is one of the island’s best.

57. Enjoy a relaxing and romantic Oahu sunset picnic on a stunning Oahu beach.

58. Stop into colorful Ted’s Bakery on the North Shore for a slice of their famous chocolate haupia (coconut) cream pie.

We hope you’ve found this list to be useful for your vacation planning. If you are a seasoned Oahu visitor, please comment to tell us your favorite things to do.

  1. I’d love to do all (well most) of this in one week. Do you have an itinerary where you actually managed to see and do it all? I can’t find a minute by minute guide of how to put it all together anywhere. The day by day guidebooks are too vague and don’t pack enough into our time so that we have to eliminate and choose too much, more for the slow paced relaxing style travelers it seems to me. we dont care to stay and experience all places slowly, just a quick overview so we visit the most places for the highlights. We are experienced world travelers and usually plan our vacations action packed down whirlwinds to fifteen minute increments so we maximize the fun! And don’t tell us to slow down, because we do schedule down time at the spa or on the beach, we just want it written down so we don’t waste a second of paradise time. I want driving directions and schedules all in my notebook before we leave. We have traveled to 52 countries with our family of six (preschooler, elementary, teen, parents, and grandparent) and this will be our first return to Hawaii since our honeymoon! We will go to five islands in 17 days in September. Any resources for specific schedules where you have done a lot would help. Love your website! Thanks.

    1. Mm – seeing and doing all of these in one week is ambitious, but go for it! 🙂

      For Oahu, we put together this one-day itinerary that we created for an island hop from Maui. https://www.govisithawaii.com/2011/04/04/a-day-trip-island-hop-to-oahu/

      Maybe you could take one of the busier itineraries that you’ve seen in guidebooks or take a look at these online itinerary resources https://www.govisithawaii.com/2008/05/15/best-7-day-hawaii-vacation-itineraries/ and use them as your skeleton guide, so to speak. Then add and slot in additional sights and activities where you perceive that too much time was allowed or where you think you’ll have extra time due to your preferred pace.

      Happy planning!

  2. Thank you! Planning a trip in January 2020 and reading your amazingly detailed and varied articles regarding locations, tips and activities has been a great way to refresh my memory of the island a well as find things I missed the first time around. Excellent descriptions, wonderful photos and links to interconnect locations and activities was so enjoyable to read.

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