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With its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and lively city of Honolulu, Oahu is one of the most popular Hawaiian islands for visitors. If you’re wondering what to do in Oahu, you’ve come to the right place!

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Visit Waikiki Beach, hike to Manoa Falls, explore the North Shore’s famous surf beaches, tour Pearl Harbor historic sites, shop and dine in Honolulu’s Chinatown, and enjoy a Polynesian luau.

But there’s much more to experience in Oahu than just the highlights.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll suggest can’t-miss attractions, activities, restaurants, and hidden gems that will make your Oahu vacation unforgettable. You’ll discover the best things to do from mountain ridges to marine preserves.

By the end, you’ll be an expert on how to make the most of your time on Oahu!


Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is undoubtedly the most famous stretch of sand on Oahu. Located on the southern shore of the island, this 2-mile long beach boasts stunning views of Diamond Head, turquoise waters, and plenty of resorts and shops.

It’s always buzzing with activity – surf lessons, outrigger canoe rides, musicians, and hula dancers entertain the crowds. The weather is sublime year-round making Waikiki an ideal beach destination.With an average water temperature of 25°C (77°F), swimming and snorkeling are popular activities.

North Shore Beaches

Oahu’s North Shore is known around the world for its epic surf. Waves can reach heights over 30 feet here! Top spots include the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. The massive swells roll in between November and February, attracting pro surfers and spectators.

The rest of the year, the ocean is calmer, perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and beginner surf lessons. Must-visit North Shore beaches include Ehukai Beach Park (Banzai Pipeline), Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay Beach Park, and Turtle Bay. The little towns here like Haleiwa offer a funky, laidback vibe.

Windward Coast Beaches

The scenic Windward Coast on the eastern shores of Oahu boasts lush mountains, hidden waterfalls, and quiet sandy coves. Top beach picks here include Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach Park, Waimanalo Beach Park, and Makapuu Beach Park.

Sparkling azure waters lap onto the soft golden sands, backed by palm trees swaying in the breeze. You’ll feel like you’re on your own private island paradise. Many Windward beaches offer excellent opportunities for snorkeling, surfing, stand up paddleboarding and kayaking.

Or you can simply relax on the sand with a good book.

Leeward Coast Beaches

Along Oahu’s western and southern shores, you’ll discover the warm, calm beaches of the Leeward Coast. Excellent for swimming and snorkeling amongst tropical fish and sea turtles. The top beaches here include Ko Olina Lagoons, Yokohama Bay, Electric Beach (Kahe Point), Pokai Bay, and White Plains Beach.

Ko Olina boasts four man-made lagoons with pristine turquoise waters perfect for families. And Electric Beach gets its nickname from the electricity plant nearby that warms the shallow bay to temperatures around 85°F! For stunning views of Honolulu and Waikiki, check out Kaena Point State Park.

Outdoor Activities

Hiking Trails

Oahu has some incredible hiking trails that allow you to experience the island’s lush rainforests, breathtaking overlooks, and dazzling waterfalls. Popular trails include the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, offering spectacular coastal views, the Manoa Falls Trail leading to a picturesque 150-foot waterfall, and the summit hike to the top of Mt.

Olomana with its panoramic vistas. With over 100 trails ranging from easy family-friendly walks to strenuous challenges for avid hikers, Oahu’s diverse hiking options let you admire the island’s stunning scenery up close.

Snorkeling and Diving

The warm, clear waters surrounding Oahu make it a world-class destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. Top snorkeling spots include Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove on the North Shore, and Electric Beach near Waikiki. These areas burst with colorful fish and sea turtles.

For diving, popular sites are the Mahi Shipwreck stuffed with schooling fish, the Ka’ena Point Caverns with their unique lava tube formations, and the Koko Crater area with its underwater archaeology. Guided snorkel tours by boat and scuba diving charters can take you to more remote spots.

With an abundance of marine life and dazzling reefs, Oahu offers unforgettable underwater adventures.


With some of the world’s most legendary waves, Oahu is a surfer’s paradise. Top spots include the powerful Banzai Pipeline and jaw-dropping waves at Waimea Bay on the North Shore, attracting pros in winter.

In summer, the South Shore’s surf camps at Waikiki Beach offer lessons for beginners wanting to hang ten. Intermediate surfers can try spots like Laniakea and Chuns Reef on the North Shore for thrilling rides. With board and gear rental shops dotted around the island, it’s easy to hit the waves.

Watching expert surfers conquer big swells is also an exciting spectator sport during surf competitions held through the year.

Kayaking and Paddleboarding

Paddling sports are a fantastic way to experience Oahu’s coastline and rivers at a slower pace. Guided kayaking tours launch from locations like Kailua Beach to paddle to offshore islands and see sea turtles, dolphins and rays up close.

More adventurous kayakers can tackle the exciting Kapalama Canal near Honolulu. For paddleboarding, Anahulu River is perfect for a scenic nature tour standing on your board, while the North Shore’s Haleiwa area offers crystal clear waters for paddleboard cruising.

Rental shops around the island offer gear and advice. With a little practice balancing, kayaking and paddleboarding allow you to take in Oahu’s tropical beauty from a unique vantage point.

Helicopter Tours

For unbeatable bird’s-eye views of Oahu, helicopter tours are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As you soar over the landscape in a comfortable modern chopper with floor-to-ceiling windows, you’ll see stunning sights like the sparkling azure waters of Waikiki Beach, the rainforest-draped cliffs and waterfalls of the Manoa Valley, the North Shore’s towering waves, and the steep folds of the Koolau mountain range.

Special tours fly right up to thundering waterfalls for a heart-pounding vantage point. With their ability to access remote areas, helicopter rides provide perspectives you simply can’t get any other way. Strap in for an exhilarating adventure!

Historical and Cultural Attractions

Pearl Harbor Historic Sites

Pearl Harbor is known for the devastating Japanese attack on December 7, 1941 that propelled the United States into World War II. Today, visitors can tour various Pearl Harbor historic sites to learn about that fateful day.

The main attraction is the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits above the sunken battleship USS Arizona. You can also see the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

ʻIolani Palace

ʻIolani Palace in downtown Honolulu gives visitors a glimpse into Hawaii’s monarch era. This National Historic Landmark was the official residence of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last two monarchs to rule Hawaii before the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

Guided tours let you explore the palace’s throne room, grand hall, and other elegantly furnished rooms.

Bishop Museum

Founded in 1889, Bishop Museum is often called Hawaii’s “Smithsonian” for its vast collection of Hawaiian cultural artifacts and natural history specimens. Its galleries showcase Hawaiian history, from early Polynesian settlers to modern times.

Other exhibits highlight Hawaiian art, music, royal family heirlooms, cultural performances, and a planetarium.

Polynesian Cultural Center

At the Polynesian Cultural Center, visitors can immerse themselves in the cultures of Polynesia. This popular attraction on Oahu’s North Shore features seven mock island villages representing Hawaii, Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and other islands.

Local students demonstrate traditional songs, dances, games, and arts in each village.

Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout

The Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout offers sweeping views where the Pali Highway snakes its way through the steep Koʻolau mountain cliffs. This was the site of the Battle of Nuʻuanu in 1795, considered one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history. Interpretive plaques detail the battle’s events.

With strong trade winds blowing through the mountain pass, it’s an iconic Oahu vista point.

Shopping and Dining

Luxury Shopping in Waikiki

The upscale neighborhood of Waikiki offers world-class luxury shopping for those looking to splurge. The open-air Waikiki Beach Walk features high-end boutiques like Coach, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., and more.

For local Hawaiian designers, browse the racks at Martin & MacArthur or the Royal Hawaiian Center. These shops offer one-of-a-kind fashion, art, and jewelry to take home as the ultimate Hawaiian souvenir.

Eclectic Boutiques in Kailua

The beach town of Kailua on Oahu’s windward side has a relaxed, friendly vibe and unique small shops. Manuheali’i has locally-made Hawaiian products, while Book Ends and Beginnings bookstore hosts author events. For upcycled fashions or gifts, check out boutiques like Coconut Animals.

Kailua offers a nice change of pace from the bustle of Waikiki.

Chinatown Markets and Eateries

Honolulu’s bustling Chinatown district transports visitors to another world. The area’s markets overflow with tropical produce, fresh fish, fragrant spices, and imported Asian goods. Browse Chinese cookware stores, herb shops, and lei stands as you take in the sights and smells.

When hunger strikes, Chinatown’s mom-and-pop restaurants serve up everything from phở to dim sum. Can’t decide? Take a food tour to sample bites at establishments like Little Village Noodle Cafe or Pig & the Lady.

Hawaiʻi Regional Cuisine

Oahu chefs put a fresh spin on Hawaiʻi Regional Cuisine by incorporating locally-grown ingredients. Menus change seasonally based on availability from island farms, ranches and fisheries. You may find island-caught mahimahi and grass-fed Oahu beef featured alongside tropical fruits like guava, lychee, mangoes or starfruit.

Signature dishes fuse flavors from the state’s diverse cultures like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Filipino. Top spots for artfully-plated Hawaiʻi Regional Cuisine include Chef Chai, MW Restaurant and DKT Restaurant.

Plate Lunch Favorites

Nothing says “local food” in Hawaii like a heaping plate lunch. Voted best on Oahu multiple times, Rainbow Drive-In serves classic combos of teriyaki beef, chicken katsu or fried mahimahi with rice, mac salad and kim chee.

Other popular spots include Tony’s Mexican Food Truck for tacos, burritos and loco moco plates, or Ono Seafood for massive garlic shrimp plates dusted with cajun seasoning. Nothing costs over $15!

North Shore Shrimp Trucks

Line up at one of the legendary North Shore shrimp trucks for plate lunches piled high with sweet, succulent shrimp fresh off the boats. Famous stops include:

  • Giovanni’s – known for hot and spicy shrimp scampi
  • Fumi’s – try the coconut shrimp for a local twist
  • Macky’s – generational family business open since the 1950s

Pair your massive plate with a tropical fruit smoothie or shave ice while you take in breathtaking ocean views. It’s casual outdoor dining filled with the aloha spirit of Hawaii.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Lūʻau and Hula Shows

No trip to Hawaii is complete without attending a traditional Hawaiian lūʻau feast and hula show. Lūʻau feature tasty Hawaiian dishes like kalua pork, poi, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, sweet potato, and haupia coconut pudding.

The feast is accompanied by beautiful hula dancing and music that shares the history and culture of the islands. Some top Oahu lūʻau include the Paradise Cove Lūʻau with flame dancers and a beachside setting, Germaine’s Lūʻau with nearly 40 years of experience, and the Chief’s Lūʻau at Sea Life Park with views of sea animals.

First Fridays Street Party

On the first Friday evening of every month, the Chinatown district of Oahu transforms into a vibrant outdoor street festival with art, music, cultural performances, food vendors, and more. From 5pm-9pm, local artists showcase their work while musicians keep the crowd entertained.

With different themes each month like “Future Forward” or “Lucky Summer Nights,” First Fridays attracts 5,000-10,000 attendees eager to experience island culture.

Jazz and Island Music Clubs

In addition to traditional Hawaiian music, Oahu has a bustling local jazz scene. Top venues include the Blue Note Hawaii which hosts famous jazz artists from around the world and local performers at its open mic nights.

Downbeat Lounge offers live jazz, blues, funk, and soul acts in an intimate setting. Anna Bananas is a casual bar featuring reggae bands most nights of the week. And Hawaiian musicians like Kapena and Kimie Miner often play shows around the island.

Craft Breweries in Kakaʻako

The Kakaʻako neighborhood near downtown Honolulu has experienced a craft beer renaissance, with over 10 breweries opening up shop over the last several years. Some standouts are Aloha Beer Company brewing unique island-inspired ales, Honolulu Beerworks which uses local ingredients and has a rooftop bar, and Village Bottle Shop and Tasting Room with 30 taps.

Many breweries offer tours and tastings as well as regular event nights with local musicians providing entertainment.


We hope this guide has shed light on the diversity of experiences and adventures that await you on Oahu. From world-class beaches and natural wonders to fascinating culture and cuisine, there are endless memorable moments to be had.

Just be sure not to pack your schedule too tightly. Part of the magic of visiting Hawaii lies in appreciating life’s simple pleasures — feeling warm sand between your toes, catching a sunset over tranquil waters, listening to ukulele music carried on the breeze. Take time to soak it all in!

Oahu rewards those with an appetite for both activity and relaxation. Spend your days exploring this vibrant island, then unwind at night with a mai tai in hand. However you choose to spend your time here, Oahu is sure to captivate you with aloha!

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