Oahu Things To Do
When I posted photos and stories of Oahu on my Instagram account, a lot of my followers from around the world said visiting Hawaii is their dream. It goes to show how popular Hawaii is. Oahu is the most popular of them all as many airlines fly directly to Honolulu Int’l Airport. Oahu is also famous for being the filming spot for movies like Jurassic Park and ‘Lost’ TV show. Compared to other islands like Maui (check out my Maui’s must do things here), Kauai, Oahu might seem very touristy to some people but I beg to differ.
I highly recommend visiting Oahu for your first visit to the Hawaiian Islands for many reasons. Oahu is easily accessible, has more food options and has an active nightlife and it also gives you an idea of the island pace and lifestyle. Oahu also offers many things to do that are unique and off the beaten path that are not super crowded and touristy. If you venture off the popular Waikiki and Honolulu areas, you will find great trails, incredible views, amazing waterfalls and beautiful beaches that are nearly empty. Here is everything you need to know to visit the most popular Hawaiian Island and my list of Oahu’s things to do, some touristy and some off the beaten path.
HOW TO GET THERE?
The best and the only option for most people is flying. Many airlines offer direct flights from major US cities and some airlines offer direct international flights as well.
I recently found out that you could take a cruise to Hawaii from the west coast! Yup! Several cruise companies offer 10 day cruises from big cities like SF, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Diego. Just be prepared to spend 4-5 days at sea each way!
WHERE TO STAY?
Waikiki is the most popular area where many hotels and airbnbs area. We preferred Waikiki because of the many restaurants and hotels to choose from. Other areas closer to Waikiki are Diamond Head Crater and Ala Moana both of which are less crowded and still close to Waikiki shopping and restaurants.
If you prefer to be away from the crowds and closer to nature, try North Shore or Ko’olina areas of Oahu.
HOW TO GET AROUND OAHU?
Rental car is the way to go. If you only intend to stay in Waikiki and visit nearby areas, you could get away with walking and public transit. But if you would like to explore the beauty of North Shore, access pristine beaches and rainforests or hike beautiful waterfalls, I suggest renting a car.
PRO TIP: Most hotels in Waikiki charge parking fee in the range of $40-$50 per night. Also note that getting in and out of Waikiki could be a problem during peak hours.
WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT?
I have you covered here (with a broad smile :D)!! Read my blogpost dedicated to the best food and local eats in Oahu.
WHAT TO SEE & THINGS TO DO?
NOTE: Some of the popular spots (stairway to heaven, several waterfalls, trails for example) that you see on Instagram and popular blog posts are illegal to access/take photos for various reasons like our safety and respecting the neighbors’ privacy. Keep this in mind when you visit any island in Hawaii to avoid disappointment and follow the rules as a sign of respect to the locals. There are a lot of other pretty spots in Hawaii to explore! 🙂 I have not included any of those here because what’s the point?
Here is my list of Oahu’s things to do and not to be missed!
Drive from Waikiki to North Shore
Amongst the many things to do in Oahu, my top suggestion is to spend a day driving along the coast from Waikiki to North Shore. The drive is breathtaking with many beautiful views of the coast as well as the tropics of Oahu. Most of the places mentioned in my list are along the coast. Start at Waikiki and pick a few stops between Waimanalo beach, Kualoa beach, Ho’omaluhia botanical gardens, Byodo-in temple, Waimea Bay and North Shore.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
I have included the gardens first to make a point that Oahu is not just about the beaches. The lush green mountains and tropics are home to great botanical gardens. My favorite are the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. These gardens are so peaceful and surprisingly less crowded and will make you feel like you are in a tropical paradise. The gardens are huge and can be accessed by car. There are multiple parking spots at different points of interests. From the parking lots, you get to walk along the trails to the most beautiful gardens focussed on educating visitors about different plants. If you prefer peace of mind amongst tropical plants, add these gardens to your visit!
PRO TIP: With lush green mountains in the background, these gardens are a great spot for a photo shoot.
Byodo-in Japanese Temple
This is my favorite place in Oahu. I loved it so much the first time that we visited it again during our second and recent trip to Oahu. This is a unique temple set in a picture perfect location, quiet surroundings and dense greenery. I could stay there for hours meditating! You MUST go there to appreciate it’s true beauty! Enjoy the sounds of nature and be mindful of the people praying. There is also a fruit stand in the temple premises that sells freshly squeezed juices and coconut water and they accept cards!
This is a popular spot for snorkeling in Oahu. We went there on our first trip to Oahu and enjoyed the snorkeling experience. Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu’s top things to do if you are visiting for the first time. You are guaranteed to see lots of fish.
PRO TIP: Try to go as soon as the park opens when the water is calmer and parking is not a nightmare. Snorkel equipment is available for rental at the bay.
The most popular and crowded beach in all of Oahu and for a reason! It is only steps away from Waikiki hotels. I suggest going either early in the morning or during the evening to watch the most beautiful sunset. Do not miss the sunset on Waikiki beach!
This is a beautiful beach but parking is only available around the residential areas around the beach on weekdays. On weekends, it is illegal to park in the residential areas.
This is a gem of a beach that is surprisingly less crowded. There is ample parking available unlike Lanikai beach and the water is the most gorgeous turquoise color. Go there, you won’t regret it!
This is a peaceful beach overlooking Chinaman’s hat. While you are there, stop by Kualoa Ranch. It is where Jurrasic Park was filmed. They only do tours but you could visit the store to see what it’s all about.
I get it! Vacation is meant to be relaxing but I read somewhere that the best way to see the beauty of Oahu is to hike. So try to go on at least one hike to checkout the beautiful coastline and mountains of Oahu! And don’t hate me during the hike! 😉 These are a few of my favorite hiking trails.
Diamond Head crater
Closest to Waikiki and a popular hike. It is a volcanic crater formed due to eruption some hundreds of thousands of years ago. The scorching sun can be hard to escape during the afternoon so start early!
Makapu’u lighthouse trail
My favorite trail because it is paved, doesn’t take too long and offers incredible views of Oahu! And in the end, you get to see the amazing coastline of Oahu, the lighthouse and the islands of Maui and Lanikai on a good day.
There are other incredible hikes like the sunrise hike to Lanikai pillbox, Koko Head crater but we haven’t done those. I did some research and learn that they are medium-difficult hikes and need some planning if you want to watch the sunrise.
So there you go! All my favorite things to do in Oahu! All these places are incredible but don’t sweat it out on your vacation to checkout all of them and just relax and enjoy your time there! We chose one or two activities per day and spent the rest of the time relaxing and reading novels in our hotel room! Isn’t that what vacation is all about? 🙂
Enjoy your time in Oahu!
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I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.