Oahu, Hawaii has a reputation for being the ultimate tropical paradise. If you have ever been there then you know that this reputation is well deserved.
None of the Hawaiian islands are that big, but they are all packed with unique and amazing things to see and do for everyone from beach bums to adrenaline junkies. Not only is Hawaii a dreamland of natural geography, but the Hawaiian people show what a gem Polynesian culture really is.
I am especially grateful for the Hawaiian islands as I partially credit them for the ability to “trick” my now-wife into marrying me. I scored some free flight buddy passes to Oahu and immediately invited her to join me on a quick weekend getaway. I knew she couldn’t resist a free trip to an exotic paradise, even though she may have had concerns about me being the company.
Once we were there, I think she wrongfully applied her love of Hawaii to me, and thankfully I was able to keep those positive associations going straight through our wedding!
Tip – Get familiar what what you can expect on each of the Hawaiian islands. Also, when in Hawaii I highly recommend renting a car to get the most out of your experience. It would be difficult to see all the beautiful places in Hawaii without a car. Reserve a car here.
Curious what you should not miss on Oahu? Keep reading to discover the best things to do in Oahu.
Where to Stay on Oahu
We stayed in the Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach Hotel and we loved it! The location was right by the beach and price was perfect! You can book and check out current prices here.
Staying right on Waikiki Beach was a dream!
What to Pack? Before traveling to Oahu, make sure to read my Hawaii Packing List guide so you can know exactly what you need to bring to Hawaii.
Best Things to do on Oahu
There is no way to choose just 15 things to do in Hawaii, so this post focuses on the top 15 things to do on Oahu (the most commonly visited island).
1. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is a must do in Oahu. This beautiful bay features is easy to get to and excellent location to snorkel.
There are over 400 species of fish and an abundance of (my favorite) sea turtles.
Check out our updated guide to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay here. (Things have changed A LOT – you now need reservatios)
Tip – Make sure if you snorkel you have a waterproof phone case (I have this waterproof housing from amazon that works ridiculously well) and a good dry bag for your electronics. This is my favorite dry bag. I never travel without it. Go pro also works wonders!
If you want to be able to take over/under water pics you will need an additional dome housing. I have this one from amazon that connects perfectly to my axis go waterproof phone case and is expensive, but works amazing.
Note – even the newest waterproof iPhones can not be used in the ocean. Salt water will destroy your phone so make sure to put it in a case. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Waterfalls at Ko’olau Mountain Range
This mountain range was formed by ancient volcanoes erupting. Today, there are dramatic cliffs left on the Eastern side of Oahu. On a rainy day water pools at the top and you can see spectacular waterfalls coming down the cliffs.
Planning a trip to Maui? Check out the most amazing waterfalls >> 6 Easily Accessible Maui Waterfalls
3. Polynesian Cultural Center (Best luau in Oahu)
The Polynesian Cultural Center is the perfect place to experience traditional Polynesian Culture. They have recreations of traditional villages and an amazing luau with native Polynesian dancers. Honestly, it is probably the best luau in Oahu.
Here are some other extremely popular luaus in Hawaii:
- Paradise Cove Luau – 5.5 hour experience. You will watch the sunset and enjoy entertainment from fire twirlers, hula dancers, and Hawaiian musicians. Includes an authentic Hawaiian buffet dinner – including fresh seafood, kalua pork, and tropical fruit. Yes, please!
- Toa Luau at Waimea Valley – This Luau includes entrance to Waimea Valley and falls. Life jackets will be provided if you want to go swimming in the falls. And of course, traditional Polynesian dancing and cultural performances while you taste Hawaiian specialties and sip tropical cocktails. Read more about Toa Luau at Waimea Valley 2022.
4. Take an Open Door Helicopter Tour of Oahu
You have to do this! Get your adrenaline pumping with this 60 minute open door helicopter tour over Oahu (if you prefer to have the doors you can do that to).
With this tour you will fly over Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, North Shore’s Banzai Pipeline, the Chinaman’s Hat, Makapu’u Lighthouse, the Sacred Falls, Kaneohe Bay and so many more famous landmarks!
They will even give you a complimentary recording of the flight afterwards. This tour is one of the best-rated tours on Oahu.
Click Here to check the rates and availability.
5. Cliff Jumping at La’ie Point
(this picture isn’t actually from La’ie Point, but you get the idea)
While visiting Oahu there will be lot of places one can cliff jump; some are actually pretty dangerous. The one where I safely jumped was La’ie Point on the North Shore. Not for the faint of heart!
You might also be interested in: What to expect from each Hawaiian Islands
6. Go Shark Diving
This incredible 2-Hour Shark Dive is one of the most popular tours on Oahu.
An Oahu shark dive in infested waters while you are protected in an underwater cage sounds like something that only National Geographic researchers would get to do right?
Shockingly, shark cage diving in Oahu really is something that you can book here!
At first I didn’t actually believe it was a real, but if you are brave enough you really can literally swim with sharks off of Oahu’s North Shore.
You take a boat ride out to the shark hot spot and if you aren’t too afraid you can get in the safety cage where you will be mere inches away from sharks that grow up to 15 feet. One caveat is that you won’t be in the shark cage for the full two hours (that part only lasts for about 20 minutes).
Full disclosure, I was too scared to do shark cage diving Oahu when there, but I still regret it today. The guides train you on the essentials to ensure your safety.
Make sure to bring your underwater camera so that you can capture the moment, otherwise, most people won’t believe you actually did it.
Full disclosure, I was too scared to do shark cage diving Oahu when there, but I still regret it today. The guides train you on the essentials to ensure your safety.
Click here to check rates and availability. Equipment is included.
Here are more of the most popular Shark Diving Tours on Oahu:
- *Top rated Oahu Shark Dive – This Shark Dive has over 1,100 positive reviews and it one of the top rated tours on Oahu.
- Shark Cage Diving In Oahu
- Swim with Sharks (cage-free) – For the adrenaline junkies.
- Incredible 2-Hour Shark Dive on the North Shore
7. Visit Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This devastating attack pulled the United States into World War II, which ultimately changed the entire face of the globe.
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a sobering reminder of what we have come through. Though this changes the tone from the rest of Hawaiian vacation, it needs to be included.
Book your tour: Pearl Harbor and Honolulu City Tour
Book your tour: Salute to Pearl Harbor half day tour
8. Go Snorkeling at Turtle Canyon
The warm waters of Oahu feature some of the most stunning giant sea turtles in the world. In order to do this you do need to go on a cruise, but I promise you, it is well worth it!
This Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise is incredible if you want to swim with turtles in Oahu.
On top of the sea turtles, you can also expect to see a plethora of tropical fish as well as some of the most beautiful spots on Oahu.
This is a great snorkeling trip to take if you don’t want to spend the entire day out on a boat. You will get picked up from your hotel and taken out for a short boat ride. Click Here to check the rates and availability of this tour on the booking website.
Another popular snorkeling tour on Oahu is this one where you get to snorkel with dolphins and sea turtles! Click here to check out the details.
9. Hike Diamond Head
This mountain/volcanic crater is one of the best spots in Hawaii for a quick hike. It is only about a mile long and not difficult (seriously Grandmas do it). Once at the summit you have breathtaking views of Waikiki and the endless blue ocean.
Book your tour: Diamond Head Hiking and Waikiki Tour
10. Oahu Ziplines and Rope Bridges Through the Rainforest
Though there are many places in Hawaii that you can zipline above and climb up platforms via rope bridges through the dense rainforest canopy, Climb Works is one of the best. They feature zip lines, ATV rides, rappelling, and suspension bridges.
Another one of the best places to zip line in Oahu is in Kualoa Ranch. The area looks just like Jurassic Park.
It is one of the most beautiful places in Oahu and has even been used as the backdrop for multiple movie sets, including Jurassic Park. Reserve your spot in advance here.
11. Stairway to Heaven Oahu
Ha’iku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven) Hike is now illegal due to private land ownership and liability issues, though I know some people are still choosing to do it. I include it because it is something you will hear about when planning a trip to Hawaii and should know that it is currently off limits. The metal stairs and ladders created a challenging but dangerous hike for those that got to experience it.
11. Surf Lessons at Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular Oahu attractions. This is the busiest tourist spot in Hawaii.
The white sand, clear blue water, and never ending small waves make this a perfect spot for beginners to become a grommet (supposedly this means beginning surfer). Great instructors make this possible for even the least athletically inclined. Check out some of the most popular surf lessons I could find here.
This is an excellent place for lessons since the waves are consistent, big enough to ride, but not so big that you will get thrown around when you fall off the board.
Book your tour: Oahu: Group Surfing Lesson in Waikiki Beach
12. Dole Plantation Hawaii Tour
Some people think the Dole Pineapple plantation Hawaii is dull, but I loved learning about the agricultural history of Hawaii, getting lost in the garden maze (like a corn maze, but bigger), and the samples of fresh island fruit (the fruit samples alone make it worth the stop).
Book your tour: 120-Mile Full-Day Circle Island Tour of Oahu. This best selling tour includes a visit to the Waimea Valley and Dole Pineapple Plantation.)
13. North Shore Surfing
The Northern shore of the island is not nearly as developed as other parts of Oahu, but should also be on your list. Each winter the shore is pounded with 30 ft tall waves that make it a surfers’ paradise.
It is easy and fun to spot professional surfers riding the waves all day. Even though I promised to remain a spectator I tried to ride the waves myself. This was a big mistake as I got tossed like around a rag doll. If you are a beginner but still want to learn to surf on the North shore of Hawaii these beginner surf lessons come highly recommended.
Looking for some Oahu hidden gems? Read >> Best Things to do in Oahu (You Probably Haven’t Heard of)
15. Watch the Sunset at Sunset Beach
The best place to watch sunset on Oahu is Sunset Beach on North Shore. (One of the best places anyway as there are so many!) In the winter season, Sunset beach is also world renowned for the big wave surfing.
Book your tour: Star Casual Sunset & Show Cruise
Frequently Asked Questions about Oahu
How long does it take to drive around Oahu?
With no stops it would take you about 4 hours to drive around Oahu. You cannot drive along the entire coastline of Oahu in a complete circle since there are not ‘drivable’ roads along the entire coastline.
What to pack for Oahu
- Quick Dry Travel Towel – This quick dry towel is amazing to travel with. We honestly usually travel with 2 of them. It really will come in handy when you need extra room in your suitcase.
- Snorkeling gear – for obvious reasons.
- Sandals – LOVE these Tevas sandals. You can actually hike in them which is perfect for hawaii if you don’t want to bother with hiking boots.
- Hiking Boots – The hikes in Hawaii are MUDDY. Make sure to pack a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots so trekking through the mud and puddles doesn’t make you miserable. Nothing worse than wet socks. These are my favorite hiking boots. They are cute and comfortable. I never go hiking without them! Buy them from DSW here.
- Tank tops – Free people is my go to place to buy cute and affordable tank tops (Depending on the style of course). I have this tighten up tank in almost every color.
- Shorts – Anyone who is traveling to Hawaii needs a good pair of shorts. Khakis are great for guys. For women, cute athletic shorts or denim shorts are perfect for a breezy summertime look.
- These denim shorts are my current favorites!
- These high waisted athletic shorts have gone viral on instagram and for good reason, they are AMAZING.
- Hat – essential. Shop my favorite hats at Nordstrom here.
- Dresses for Hawaii – Packing a few good dresses is essential for Hawaii. Dresses have become my go to on trips to help quickly put an outfit together.
- Tennis Shoes – I guess you could wear sandals hiking this trail but I would recommend tennis shoes. It can get narrow and slippery in parts. I never go anywhere without my white Air force ones. They are the most versatile shoe I own.
- These Nike tennis shoes are also my current favs. Only bummer is they sell out so fast! If they are sold out I would check out the newest released Nikes here. They look so cute with shorts too!
- Beach cover-up – Having at least one good cover-up is essential on any beach trip. Amazon actually has amazing ones at really affordable prices. If you aren’t a fan of buying clothes off Amazon I recommend ASOS, Nordstrom and Revolve as well.
- Camera Gear – The iPhone 13 Pro is amazing and probably all that most people need. BUT, if you want something more I can’t recommend the Sony A7IV mirrorless camera enough. It is AMAZING. If you are more into video than taking photos I recommend the Sony A7SIII or the Canon R5 for you Canon lovers.
- Travel tripod – This Peak Design travel tripod is the best I have ever used. It is so easy to carry around because it is literally the size of a water bottle. Fits perfectly in a backpack. I have never seen a tripod so compact. It’s life changing. You can check it out here if you’re interested. Note – It isn’t cheap, but that’s why I bought it from backcountry.com. They frequently have 15% off sales so I was luckily able to purchase during a sale.
Planning a trip to Oahu? Read more of our Oahu blog posts below!
My husband and I have been to Oahu many times and have written up more blog posts to help you plan your trip. These are my most popular blog posts and Hawaii travel guides to help you plan your trip.
Best Things to do in Oahu
- 15 Places You Can’t Miss in Oahu (Hawaii) – our most viewed post ever!
- 11 Best Things to do in Oahu (You Probably Haven’t Heard of) – For those looking for more unique things to do in Oahu
- The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List – What to pack!
- Best Doors off Helicopter Tour on Oahu
- Shark Diving in Oahu – Everything you need to know!
- Visiting the Secret Mermaid Caves Oahu – MUST visit!
- Halona Blowhole – Lookout, Beach & Lava Tube
- Laniakea Beach – The TRUE Turtle Beach in Oahu!
- Kailua Beach Park – Oahu’s Best All Around Beach
- Lanikai Beach – Great, but not my favorite
Best Cliff Jumping in Oahu
- Waimea Bay Cliff Jumping on Oahu – amazing cliff jumping spot
- Laie Point Cliff Jumping Spot on Oahu’s North Shore – more cliff jumping!
- Spitting Caves in Oahu – Underrated!
- China Walls on Oahu – another great cliff jumping spot.
Best Snorkeling in Oahu
- Best Snorkeling in Oahu
- Sharks Cove Oahu – Great snorkeling here
- Hanauma Bay
- Electric Beach Snorkeling – (Kahe Point Beach Park)
- Kuilima Cove Snorkeling at Turtle Bay Resort
Best Hikes on Oahu
- Diamond Head Hike– updated for 2023 – you now need reservations.
- Koko Head Hike – The world’s Largest Stairmaster
- Kapena Falls – One of the best easy hikes on Oahu
- Likeke Falls Trail
- Lulumahu Falls Hike – Everything you need to know
More Hawaii Blog posts:
- The best places to see on all the Hawaiian Islands – 27 Incredible Places To Visit In Hawaii
- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Hawaiian Islands – and what to expect on each island: What To Expect On Each Of The Hawaiian Islands
Thanks for a great list! Hawaii is on my list to visit.
Thanks sara! You will love it!
I love Hawaii. You made me want to go back!
I live at the beach in California and yet this seems sooo much better! It makes me want to head back to Hawaii asap! Thanks for linking up with Travel Tales!
Thank you so much Julie! And thank you for the invite!
I have a list just like this (ckanani.com/blog/oahutop10) and loved reading this to see the differing opinions!
I just read your list Christie! Love it! I will have to check out some of the things you listed next time I am in Hawaii!! Thanks for sharing.
First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask
if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you
center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have
had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out.
I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying
to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?
Unfortunately your experience sounds almost exactly like what happens to me! haha I just have to keep trying until something works. If you figure out the secret though, please let me know!
Now I’m missing Hawaii. I only have two words for the Dole Plantation: DOLE WHIP!! :-)
Definitely looking forward to the waterfall mountain range. Did you all rent a car or use the bus system? When we go, we’re trying to do it as cheap as possible, but rental cars on the islands definitely tap into an already limited budget.
Islands can be so expensive, I totally get it. However, if at all possible I definitely recommend renting a car in Hawaii. It is easy to get around and will save you a TON of time. Plus you will have freedom to stop and get out whenever you want. We use autoslash.com for all of our car rentals and it is AMAZING!
If you make your reservation through them, they constantly look for discount codes and re-search the prices for your trip. If they find a lower price, they automatically book you at the new rate, and cancel the original reservation. This process can happen multiple times before your trip, and requires absolutely no effort on your part. Me and my husband are heading to Puerto Rico tomorrow and our original rental car price was booked at $160 for 4 days. Autoslash has rebooked us multiple times lowering our price to $80! Seriously, it is amazing.
WOW, so many wonderful places to explore in Hawaii. Your photos are great. These places has to be exciting :) Loved your post :)
Thank you so much Mark! Hawaii is definitely exciting. :)
you’ve got to take down Stairway to Heaven and Laie jump. Promoting illegal and dangerous activity. There are so many other things to do that are not either.
Hi, there, I agree with you that no one should miss these amazing places in Hawaii Oahu! And I have learned some new and interesting things. Thanks dear for sharing with us.
I am so glad you agree! Thanks so much Meagan! :)
Great list! we’re Oahu locals, seen your other blog about the Hawaiian Islands. Great job!
Thank you so much!! I am so glad you like it.
Why are these all on Oahu? Hawai’i is a lot more than Honolulu/Waikiki. Yes, these are awesome places, but what about Haleakala, Hana, Hilo, Ia’o needle, or a visit to Madame Pele’ on the Big Island? Big Beach at Makena is amazing, and a trip to Lanai is like turning back the clock 100 years to a day before electric lights were invented.
Hey Patrick! We have other posts on the rest of Hawaii. On this particular trip we only explored the island of Oahu, but we couldn’t agree more! The rest of Hawaii is incredible! Sounds like you have seen a lot of Hawaii?!
Hey! I was wondering if we could be featured on your awesome Hawaii Blog! We have a small adventure tour company called Mahina Hawaii, taking people on private customized adventures of a lifetime! Check it out at http://www.mahinahawaii.com and @mahinahawaii.
Next time you’re here we could even take you out on the house for a trade!
Let us know!
These places are very beautiful and must-visited places. You really made me want to visit those places.
Anyway, how about Honolulu or somewhere??
I want to say this post is extremely WHITE especially the part about hiking on private land despite it being illegal and Dole Plantation feature. Just WOW
Just an FYI for those considering doing Haiku Stairs, the current trespassing fine is $1000.00. You can still do the Moanalua Hike, the legal way to access the view from the top of the Stairs and a hike for serious hikers only, but if caught using Haiku Stairs you absolutely can be trespassed and fined. There are lots of great hikes in Hawaii and on Oahu, please do a little research and figure out what hikes are “open” and legal and what hikes require trespassing to access. No one needs an avoidable fine while on vacation.
Thanks so much for the info Anne! This is good to know.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the most unique and fascinating experiences. My second time to Hawaii was spent mostly on Maui but we were forced to fly out of Oahu. So we planned two days there. I had already vacationed to Oahu before so I knew exactly what I wanted to do. The PPC was our top pick and I loved every minute.
We loved it as well! It is really unique and loved the show they put on!
Haiku Stairs: Has been illegal for at least 40 years since Coast Guard gave it up. It is posts like this that have ruined it for residents. The neighborhood is sooo over people climbing around their yards to get access . Saying your posting this to promote the current issue is crap! You blog is part of the problem that has caused the stairs to now be decommissioned and torn down ! You just want the attention to your blog, otherwise you wouldn’t put a photo of the stairs on your opening page ! BTW, Promoting the consequences of being illegal is mild compared to having a neighborhood pit bull chase and bit your ass ! Take all Haiku Stair promotion off your blog!