Oh, Hawaii. The vacation of all vacations. Who doesn’t dream of going to Hawaii? It’s got beaches, jungles, mountains, and tropical fruit. What more could you ask for? My recent trip to Oahu was a complete dream. I squeezed as many amazing things into 10 days as I could, and the things I couldn’t do? Well, I guess I’ll just have to come back, right? 🙂
How do you list only a few things to do in Oahu? Your options are endless! There’s numerous hikes, beautiful beaches, and plenty of excursions to keep you happy for days on end. But (typically) we only have a week at best to get stuff done, so that’s why I am sharing with you the TOP things that should be on your Hawaii bucket list. I am confident you will have an amazing time!
Hawaii is only a plane ticket away. I hope you get to go and I hope this guide helps you when you do!
10 (Awesome!) Things to Do on Oahu
First, let’s discuss where you’re staying. Do you need a hotel for your trip to Hawaii? Check hotel rates here.
I pride myself on being a budget traveler and splurging on awesome activities (like epic helicopters tours – see #8), so I decided to stay at the Seaside Hawaiian Hostel in Waikiki (which I would highly recommend).
Okay friends, we’re starting with Waikiki because it is likely where you will be staying and it’s also going to be your first introduction to Oahu. Here’s what you can expect, it’s a large metropolitan city. There’s TONS of shopping. You can stay at some of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels and dine at some of the fanciest restaurants in the world. And of course, let’s not forget Waikiki Beach, which is an iconic spot and is a must (but don’t be fooled, it’s a man-made beach).
Honestly? Waikiki is “meh” to me but it still HAS to be done. For starters it’s a great base for other adventures listed below. I would say if you didn’t at least spend a day around Waikiki, then you haven’t truly DONE Oahu.
My tip though, rent a car or book a few excursions so you can spend the majority of your trip doing everything else that’s on this list. 🙂
2. Visit Pearl Harbor
Since you’re already in Honolulu, consider paying your respects and make a visit to Pearl Harbor. The tone of this visit will be different from the rest of the recommendations included, but I would still encourage you to go.
For any international readers who aren’t aware, On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The USS Arizona Memorial is a battleship that was bombed and still remains where she fell, submerged in about 40 feet of water off the coast of Ford Island.
Entry to the memorial, visitor center, and museums are free, however you will need a free timed ticket to see the memorial. You can either reserve tickets online, or you can get a walk-in ticket which is available at the visitor center ticket desk on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets go quick, so I recommend arriving early.
If you would rather take a tour for more detailed information and commentary about Oahu during the war, I recommend this half day tour of Pearl Harbor from Honolulu.
3. Hike Diamond Head
Once again, since you’re already in Waikiki, might as well do one of the most iconic and popular hikes on the island, Diamond Head. Diamond Head is actually a volcanic crater with an amazing 360-degree views at the top.
Don’t be fooled though, Diamond Head is not really that challenging of a hike at all. It’s about a mile long and only takes 40 to 60 minutes to reach the summit. You’ll seriously see people of all ages hiking it. A great tour that provides commentary of the crater’s history is the Diamond Head Crater Adventure.
My word of caution: it’s SUPER windy at the top. There’s no way to really prepare for that (except maybe bring a hair tie), but at least now you now.
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4. Lanikai Beach
Forget Waikiki Beach (well, don’t forget it, but don’t spend all your time there) you HAVE to head to Lanikai Beach. This beach is seriously famous! This is the beach paradise you are looking for with white sandy beaches and turquoise-blue waters.
You’re going to want to get there early because parking can be rough and the beach fills up fast. Popular activities include renting kayaks and paddling out to the nearby islands. Kayaking tours are SUPER popular here and I would recommend this tour which also includes a lunch. 🙂
And you must not forget the famous Pillbox Hike that’s nearby.
For snacks or lunch, don’t miss Kalapawai Café & Deli.
5. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
THESE GARDENS!! I have no clue why, but no one really talks about how amazing these botanical gardens are. You know that awesome shot in the Jeep? Yep, that’s taken at the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens.
The best part, (wait for it) IT’S FREE. Hawaii is honestly a pretty expensive place to vaca, so when I see an awesome attraction that’s also FREE, you better believe I am jumping on it. I only heard about this little gem from a fellow Instagrammer friend (leave it to the Instagrammers to know the best spots on the island).
6. Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is where Jurassic Park was filmed. Do you need any other reasons to go visit? 🙂 A little disclaimer, I went to Kualoa Ranch, but I arrived too late and didn’t do any of the activities. Sad, I know. The activities are honesty the whole point of going, so, major fail on my part. Next time I am making sure Kualoa Ranch happens!
At Kualoa Ranch you HAVE to book a tour to even access the ranch and partake in their plethora of fun activities which including horseback riding, ATV tours (which is what I wanted to do), ziplining, and more! Little added bonus, there’s also a secret island.
Everyone says Kualoa Ranch is the highlight of their Oahu vacation, so make sure you do this. I’ve listed out some tours below so you can take a peek. 🙂
- Horseback Adventure at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu
- Price: $84.95
- Kualoa Ranch Experience Pass
- Price: $119.95
- Kualoa Ranch Off-Road Adventure Tour
- Price: $45.95
- Kualoa Ranch Zipline Tour
- Price: $159.95
- Kualoa Ranch Movie Tour
- Price: $45.95
- Kualoa Ranch ATV Adventure
- Price: $84.95
7. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Welcome to Hanauma Bay, the most popular snorkel spot and most visited beach outside of Waikiki. You do have to pay to visit ($7 at the time of writing), but the snorkel is worth it. Hanauma Bay is popular not so much because of the beach, but mostly because it’s a nature preserve and the snorkel experience is excellent! There’s over 300 different Hawaiian fish species around the coral reefs.
If you do decide to snorkel, it’s super helpful and budget friendly to be prepared. Consider purchasing snorkel equipment before you come instead of renting (here's the one I LOVE in the mint color), and make sure to bring your Go Pro or have a waterproof phone case (I have the mint color - are you starting to see a pattern? lol). For anything water-related a waterproof (floating!) dry bag for your electronics is a must! This dry bag is a best seller on Amazon, and also comes in a bunch of amazing colors, including pink. :)
If you wanna book a tour, the Hanauma Bay Snorkeling Excursion is great!
8. Helicopter Tour of the Island
Wanna know the most epic way to take in the island, this would definitely be it. The price tag can be hefty, but I would HIGHLY recommend saving those pennies and splurging on a helicopter tour.
Going doors off is a bit daring, but honestly there just no better way to do it. It's best to book in advance, especially when traveling in the summer. If you decide to go, I definitely recommend this tour.
9. Visit the Dole Plantation
Don’t roll your eyes at me. Yes, I am actually recommending this. :) I have to admit, I wasn’t the most excited about going because it’s so touristy, but it was actually a ton of fun!
At the Dole Plantation you’ll be in pineapple heaven. There’s a little (or actually quite large) gift shop and café area where you can buy pineapple everything including pineapple candy and the world-famous Dole Whip.
Activities include a Pineapple Express Tour (yep, I did this), a Plantation Garden tour, and Pineapple Garden Maze that just so happens to be the largest in the world.
10. The North Shore
I can already hear you, “Tiffany, what about the North Shore?!”. Don’t worry, there’s no way I could end this post without mentioning the North Shore. Honestly, get your but up there! Better yet, do as I did and just book a few nights up there after spending a few days in Waikiki. I stayed at Backpackers Vacation Inn which has a great location right across the street from the ocean.
That was honestly the BEST decision. As I said before, Waikiki is a must and also a great base, but it’s a whole other experience when staying on the North Shore. The vibes are completely different and you’ll find it’s more remote, slower paced, and its absolute heaven to be able to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Some must-sees, check out the Haleiwa town which is super cute and then I highly recommend snorkeling at Shark’s Cove where I assure you, there are no sharks. :) Another must see is Laniakea Beach aka “Turtle Beach” where the turtles come in to eat algea on the rocks.
Quick funny story: My boyfriend and I decided to go out to just "any beach" to relax in the nice calm water. Turns out the tide was INTENSE, and I jumped out immediately while my boyfriend made fun of me for being a wimp. Turns out, we were at Pipeline Beach!! Yeah, you know the one. The super famous surfing beach with giant 30-foot waves. I'll show a photo just so you know what I'm talking about. It was the off-season so the waves weren't THAT crazy, but still, I think it's safe to say I was not being a wimp. You guys agree, right? :)
I realize I have barely discussed food in this post and that’s mostly because I ate California poke bowls almost every single day (don't pay the restaurant prices - the best ones are found in grocery stores and convenience stores). But for food on the North Shore, there are some pretty famous food trucks, especially the shrimp food trucks. I tried Fumi’s Shrimp Truck and it was amazing. Just be warned that they cook the shrimp with the shell on. Even though there’s a big sign saying “shell on” I was still surprised.
Alrighty, are you excited for your vacation in Hawaii yet? I actually can’t wait to go back! It’s so gorgeous and trust me there’s PLENTY to do. Let’s just say Oahu is KILLING IT at tourism.
What are you excited to do on your Hawaii vacation? Love to know in the comments below!
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