15 Places You Can’t Miss in Oahu (Hawaii)

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!

Curious what you should not miss on Oahu? Keep reading to discover the best things to do in Oahu.

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.

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!

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

Snorkel at Hanauma Bay in Hawaii

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. Make sure if you snorkel you have a waterproof phone case (I have this case from amazon that works well) and a good dry bag for your electronics. This is my favorite dry bag. I never travel without it.

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.

Check out our updated guide to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay here. (Things have changed A LOT – you now need reservations)

Book your tour: North Shore and Hanauma Bay Tour

2. Waterfalls at Ko’olau Mountain Range

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. Take an Open Door Helicopter Tour of Oahu

Oahu helicopter tour

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 is one of the best-rated tours on Oahu. Click Here to check the rates and availability.

4. Cliff Jumping at La’ie Point

Cliff jumping in Hawaii 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

5. Go Shark Diving

Shark diving Oahu
Oahu Shark Dive tour

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!

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.

This incredible 2-Hour Shark Dive is one of the most popular tours on Oahu. 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:

6. Visit Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor in Oahu.
Photo: Prayitno / JEB / U.S. Navy Page / Flickr

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

7. Take a Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise

The warm waters of Oahu feature some of the most stunning giant sea turtles in the world. The 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 the rates and availability.

8. Hike Diamond Head

Diamond Head Hike on Oahu.
Photo: Brian Snelson / Flickr

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

9. 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.

10. Polynesian Cultural Center (Best luau in Oahu)

 11 Places You Can't Miss In Hawaii (Oahu). A quick preview of the top spots you need to see on your next trip to Hawaii! - Avenly Lane Travel
Photo: Daniel Ramirez / Kim / Steven Tom via Flickr

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.

11. Surf Lessons at Waikiki Beach

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

 11 Places You Can't Miss In Hawaii (Oahu). A quick preview of the top spots you need to see on your next trip to Hawaii! - Avenly Lane Travel
Photo: Smart Destinations / Frankie Victoria / Kate Ure / Flickr

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: Waikiki: Oahu 120-Mile Full-Day Circle Island Tour (This best selling tour includes a visit to the Waimea Valley and Dole Pineapple Plantation.)

13. North Shore Surfing

Surfing on the North Shore of Hawaii!

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)

14. Oahu Ziplines and Rope Bridges Through the Rainforest

Zip lining in Hawaii

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.

15. Watch the Sunset at Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach Oahu
Sunset Beach Oahu

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

  • 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.
  • Sandals – LOVE these Birkenstocks. Shop cheaper but still cute Birkenstocks here.
  • 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.
  • 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 ASOSNordstrom and Revolve as well.
  • Quick Dry Travel Towel – This quick dry towel is amazing to travel with. It really will come in handy when you need extra room in your suitcase.
  • Snorkeling gear – for obvious reasons.
  • 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.

OUR MOST POPULAR HAWAII BLOG POSTS

My husband and I have been to Hawaii 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.

The top things to do on Oahu – 15 Places You Can’t Miss in Oahu (Hawaii) – our most viewed post ever!

The best places to see on all the Hawaiian Islands – 27 Incredible Places To Visit In Hawaii

Best Things to do in Maui: 10 Cool Things to do in Maui Hawaii

What to Pack for Hawaii: The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List

For those looking for more unique things to do in Oahu11 Best Things to do in Oahu (You Probably Haven’t Heard of)

Guide to visiting one of the best beaches Maui offers – Red Sand BeachGuide to Visiting the Red Sand Beach in Maui

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Hawaiian Islands – and what to expect on each island: What To Expect On Each Of The Hawaiian Islands

The Best and Most Easily Accessible Maui Waterfalls: 6 Easily Accessible Maui Waterfalls

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