10 Best Things To Do in Oahu

The dream of many travelers with an adventurous spirit is to visit Hawaii, an idyllic place in Polynesia that looks like paradise.

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

11 min read

10 Best Things To Do in Oahu

Paradise views in Oahu | ©Brent Storm

Oahu, the third largest island of Hawaii after Maui and Big Island, has it all. A breathtaking nature, an intense cultural life and multiple leisure options to have a great time during a vacation. Do you want to know what to do in Oahu during a trip to Hawaii? I'll tell you in detail!

1. Tour the historic center of Honolulu

Statue of King Kamehameha with Iolani Palace in the background| ©Edmund Garman
Statue of King Kamehameha with Iolani Palace in the background| ©Edmund Garman

South of the island of Oahu is Honolulu, the state capital. Although it is the largest city in Hawaii, compared to other cities in the United States it is a small city but it is full of tourist attractions and you can take a short tour of the South King Street area. Here are some of the must-see sights in Oahu:

Iolani Palace

A good plan to do in Oahu is to join one of the guided tours of the Iolani Palace, the only one where a king once lived in the United States and where the last monarchs of Hawaii resided: King Kalakaua and his successor Queen Liliuokalani.

During the visit you will be able to contemplate the American Florentine style in which this palace was built (something unique in the world) and learn about the Hawaiian monarchy. Here you will see the portraits of the royalty, the gold crowns of the kings, their attire and jewelry, the private rooms of the royal family or the throne room among other rooms.

The statue of King Kamehameha

In front of the Iolani Palace stands the statue of King Kamehameha I, the unifier and peacemaker of Hawaii in the 19th century. Every year, on June 11, he is honored with an offering of lei flowers, the most typical of the archipelago.

If your trip to Honolulu coincides with this celebration, attending it is one of the best things to do in Oahu, as it will allow you to get in direct contact with the local history and culture.

Hawaii's Capitol

Behind the Iolani Palace is the Capitol, the seat of the Hawaiian government in the country. Its architecture is striking because it does not resemble that of Washington or imitate its large domes, but has a very peculiar postmodernist style with which they wanted to highlight the uniqueness of Hawaii.

I recommend a walk through the grounds of the Capitol of Hawaii to appreciate the architecture of this unique building, which was designed to allow the passage of wind, rain and light as a symbol of union with nature. It also features a reflecting pool representing the Pacific Ocean.

Washington Place

Washington Place is the current seat of the governor of the island. On its grounds is the governor's residence and a former palace converted into a National Historic Landmark, where the last queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, lived shortly before her overthrow.

The palace is open to visitors every Thursday at 10 AM, so I recommend you take the opportunity to know it inside in a free guided tour of one hour by its dependencies. It is another of the most interesting routes to do in Oahu!

Book a bus tour of Oahu

2. Discover Pearl Harbor

Views of Pearl Harbor from the Arizona USS Memorial| ©Bernard Spragg. NZ
Views of Pearl Harbor from the Arizona USS Memorial| ©Bernard Spragg. NZ

Who has never heard of Pearl Harbor? It is the famous American naval base that during World War II was bombed by Japanese aircraft and whose destruction caused the entry of the United States in the conflict.

Films and documentaries have been made about this event, but nothing compares to seeing in person the place where the events took place. If you like history, this is one of the must-see sites on Oahu.

What will you see during your visit to Pearl Harbor?

Visiting Pearl Harbor is an experience that will not leave you indifferent. You will be able to see the various exhibits with photographs and videos about Pearl Harbor, where the survivors narrate what happened on the morning of December 7, 1941.

The highlight of the visit comes with the subsequent documentary on the attack on the naval base and the ferry ride to the Arizona USS Memorial to see the remains of the ship sunk by the bombs and the memorial in memory of the victims of the attack.

It is a site that truly impresses and moves us to imagine the tragedy that happened there and how many lives were lost. Undoubtedly, a place that makes you reflect on the catastrophic effects of war.

It has tours adapted to children, so do not exclude this plan if you travel to Oahu with children.

How to book your tickets to Pearl Harbor?

Since this is one of the most visited places by tourists who go to Hawaii, my recommendation is to book your tickets online before traveling so you don't run out of tickets. In the post Pearl Harbor Tours I explain all the options to visit the naval base.

Book a Pearl Harbor tour in Oahu

3. Ride on historic ships and planes

Hangar of the Pacific Aviation Museum| ©Daniel Ramirez
Hangar of the Pacific Aviation Museum| ©Daniel Ramirez

If you are interested in the World War II period as well as the world of aviation and navigation, to complete your visit to Pearl Harbor other tours to do in Oahu that you may like are:

  • Pacific Aviation Museum: it has an exhibition of restored vintage aircraft very cool with two hangars of World War II that resisted the bombing. You can even try a flight simulator here.
  • Battleship Missouri Memorial: the last battleship built by the United States where, in addition, the surrender of Japan was signed, ending the war.

Book the Oahu sightseeing streetcar

4. Have fun in Waikiki day and night

Enjoy watersports in Waikiki| ©Joris Visser
Enjoy watersports in Waikiki| ©Joris Visser

If you want to enjoy a bit of the city atmosphere and mingle with the locals, then you have to go to the Waikiki area, which is the center of tourist life on the island. The main avenue is lined with restaurants, stores, skyscrapers and nightclubs where you can party in the Pacific at sunset. Dare and know the Luau or Hawaiian shows, because in Oahu you have a lot to do at night.

As for the beaches of Oahu, Waikiki is one of the most famous in the world and the first that comes to mind when we think of Hawaii. It's a great place to start your adventures in Honolulu's waters, whether it's snorkeling or surfing.

If you don't have much idea about water sports, don't worry because there are very good schools that offer classes for all levels although if you already have some experience you can also join a snorkeling cruise or do a scuba diving tour in Oahu.

So don't hesitate, seeing the depths of the island is one of the most fun activities to do on Oahu and one of the most enjoyable on vacation.

Book a snorkeling cruise in Oahu

5. Dare to swim among sharks in Oahu

Swim among sharks| ©Ji Wang
Swim among sharks| ©Ji Wang

If you feel like experiencing strong emotions during your vacations in Hawaii and you have plenty of courage, one of the most exciting experiences you will never forget is swimming with sharks in Oahu.

You will feel the adrenaline rush when you are immersed in the ocean inside a cage and they approach you to look at you with curiosity! If you want to know more, in the post Diving with sharks in Oahu I tell you all the details.

Another more relaxed option for those adventurers who don't want to come face to face with a shark is to go on a dolphin watching cruise or swim with turtles. It is also a very nice experience to do in Oahu and you will take home a nice souvenir.

Speaking of seeing animals on the island, if you travel to Hawaii with your family you can't miss the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo. The little ones will love seeing so many animals together (some of them endangered) and they will learn a lot about environmental protection.

Book a shark diving experience in Oahu

6. Try some authentic Hawaiian poké

Taste the delicious Hawaiian poké.| ©Miu Sua
Taste the delicious Hawaiian poké.| ©Miu Sua

Another way to get to know the culture of Hawaii (very rich, by the way!) is through the local cuisine.

Poké is the traditional Hawaiian dish that has always been part of the diet of the natives, but as a result of the cultural exchange with Easterners and Westerners in the 19th century, poké went from being a simple morsel of gutted and marinated fish to a salad that combines raw fish, white rice, soy sauce and various vegetable toppings.

And it's delicious! Take advantage of your stay in Hawaii to try the authentic poké because the recipe has become fashionable and is crossing borders but none will be like the original, the one from the islands.

If you consider yourself a foodie, do not rule out a gastronomic tour of Hawaiian food. If you enjoy eating it is one of the best things to do on Oahu.

7. Surf the waves in Oahu

Ride the best waves on Oahu| ©Pete Markham
Ride the best waves on Oahu| ©Pete Markham

It is well known that Hawaii is a surfer's paradise! Do you dare to grab a board and ride the waves? It is one of the essential things to do in Oahu... or at least try it.

Did you know that in the past this sport was reserved for the Hawaiian nobility? Who would have thought that today it is one of the most popular sports disciplines in the world and available to everyone. In fact, in almost all the beaches of Honolulu rent surfboards to those who want to try their luck with the waves.

If you are new to surfing, I advise you to go to the south of the island, specifically to Waikiki Beach where you can learn to surf in one of the schools on the island. On the other hand, if you already have some notions and surfing is not a secret for you I recommend you to go to North Shore, where the biggest waves are formed. I show you here the best surfing lessons.

However, if surfing is not your thing, you can always paddle in a kayak, take a ride on a catamaran or even a quiet boat ride. You also have numerous cruises to enjoy the sunset in Oahu and others that include dinner.

Book a glass-bottom boat ride in Oahu

8. Take a series and movie tour in Hawaii.

Admire the beautiful natural landscapes where your favorite movies and series were filmed.| ©jai Mansson
Admire the beautiful natural landscapes where your favorite movies and series were filmed.| ©jai Mansson

The beauty of Hawaii's landscapes has been taken to the movies countless times with films like "Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "Jurassic Park" (1993), "Pearl Harbor" (2001) or the series "Lost" (2004) and "Hawaii Five-0" (2010), among others.

How about taking a guided tour around the island of series and movies visiting the main filming sites of these productions? Isn't it one of the best things to do in Oahu? If you are passionate about movies and series, you will love this experience where you will be swollen to take pictures.

So important was the filming of Jurassic Park on the island, that there are unique tours about the movie that fans of the saga can not miss.

Book a Jurassic Park Tour on Oahu

9. Discover Oahu by land and by air

Discover the most breathtaking views of the island from the helicopter.| ©Edmund Garman
Discover the most breathtaking views of the island from the helicopter.| ©Edmund Garman

Touring Oahu by tour bus is a very practical idea to move around the city, as it will allow you to discover the most important areas of the island in a fast and comfortable way. It is a great option to visit Oahu by land in a short time.

Now, flying over Oahu by helicopter and seeing Hawaii from a bird's eye view is an incredible experience that everyone should do at least once in a lifetime, even if you have a bit of vertigo. It's really worth it because the views are absolutely spectacular.

If you want to know more details about it, take a look at the articles The best tour buses in Oahu and Helicopter tours in Oahu. Or maybe you are more interested in knowing what are the best parasailing flights in Oahu.

Book a parasailing experience in Oahu

10. Explore the nature of Oahu

Enjoy the beauty of Waimea Falls| ©Heath Cajandig
Enjoy the beauty of Waimea Falls| ©Heath Cajandig

Although the origin of this beautiful archipelago is volcanic, its landscape hides among cliffs endless greenery, an intense blue sea that bathes white sand beaches, valleys, bays and endless sites whose beauty will leave you speechless.

Some of the most impressive places to see in Oahu during your stay are the waterfalls of Manoa Falls and Waimea, Hanauma Bay, Dole Plantation or the top of Diamond Head volcano (from where you will have the best views of Honolulu and the most fascinating sunset over the Pacific Ocean).

To explore the nature of the island and these beautiful sites, nothing better than a tour of Oahu and even a tour of nearby islands such as Maui or Big Island. If you want to know more about these activities, don't miss the article Island Tours in Oahu, or the one about The best nature tours in Oahu and surroundings.

You might also be interested in The best SUV tours to move around the city or if you are one of those who like to walk the streets, check out our post about The best hikes you can do in Oahu and surroundings.

Book a tour in North Oahu

Tips for an unforgettable trip to Oahu

If you are organizing your trip to the island of Hawaii, you are surely thinking about how to enjoy and not miss anything but without overspending. Therefore, the first thing I advise you to do is to plan your Honolulu airport transfers in advance, so you can choose the best option to get to your hotel early or return without hassle.

Secondly, I recommend you to get the Oahu Go Card. With this tourist pass you will have many activities included and you will not have to waste time waiting in line.

But it is also important to choose the right date for your trip and know when is the best time to visit the paradisiacal island. Therefore, I suggest you visit these guides where you can see the best plans in Oahu by month:

Or you can make a day-by-day itinerary: