White sandy beaches, salty air, palm trees, and turquoise water are just a few reasons to book a trip to Oahu, Hawaii.
Whether you are island hopping or staying on Oahu for your entire vacation, this island is packed with outdoor adventures you don’t want to miss.
This island paradise has amazing restaurants, beautiful beaches, historical landmarks, and vibrant nightlife. I recently visited Oahu for almost 2 weeks to celebrate my 40th birthday and I wish I could have stayed forever!
The Best Activities to add to any Oahu Itinerary
Here are 17 best things to do on Oahu
Hike Diamond Head
It’s your first full day on the Hawaiian Islands and what better way to get it started than hiking up Diamond Head for amazing 360-degree views of the island.
Diamond Head Crater once was a military base. Its elevation, steep mountain walls, and 360-degree views made for the perfect spot to view any incoming ships on the water.
The hike is only about 1.5 miles round trip and consists of narrow, windy trails and steep stairs. Because of the steep incline, plan to spend 2-3 hours at the site. I promise you it will take longer to climb than you think.
Just remember that as your thighs are burning and your breathing becomes labored that multiple food trucks are waiting for you at the bottom! Nothing like enjoying a smoothie out of a freshly cut pineapple to reward yourself after the hike.
Starting early to avoid the lines and crowds is a must. The parking lot fills up early and only accommodates about 50 cars. If you are unable to secure a parking spot, you will have to park down the hill and walk through a tunnel before you reach the beginning of the hike.
The entrance fee is $5 per car and $1 for the hike.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial pays homage to the fallen sailors who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked the island.
Guests can visit the USS Arizona Memorial, tour Battleship Missouri, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and go aboard the USS Bowfin submarine.
With over 2 million visitors, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is free to visit, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Tickets can be reserved up to 8 weeks in advance.
Before touring the USS Arizona Memorial, guests will watch a 23-minute video before boarding a boat to the memorial. Once at the sight, you can still see oil leaking from the ship.
While at Pearl Harbor, I highly recommend purchasing passes to the USS Bowfin Submarine and Battleship Missouri. They are both fascinating, kid-friendly, and educational.
There are several restaurants and food trucks located at Pearl Harbor. Prepare to spend at least 4-6 hours at the memorial if you plan to visit the national memorial, battleship, and submarine.
Located on Oahu’s North Shore, is this epic snorkeling destination. Not only is this a free place to snorkel, but the amount of sea life is abundant. This small rocky bay forms part of Pupukea Beach Park.
The bottom of the cove is made up of boulders and small caves. Makes it easy for marine life to hide and the boulders are great places to stand and take a break if needed.
On the south side of Sharks Cove are the Pupukea tide pools with a sandy beach. This is a great place for families with small children.
There is a small parking lot and places along the street to park. It’s best to get there early to find parking. The North Shore is crowded during the summer months and people don’t seem to head back to Honolulu until after sunset.
Across from Sharks Cove is a dining area with about 5 food trucks that offer everything from burgers, shrimp trucks, and smoothies.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of the most famous snorkeling spots on Oahu. But, honestly, it’s not my favorite. I prefer the snorkeling spots on the North Shore. Plus with the new reservation system, they implemented, getting reservations can be frustrating.
Visitors must have reservations they secured online before entering the park. They only sell 1,400 tickets per day and are hard to come by. Guests can rent equipment or bring their own.
Koko Head Crater
Trek up the foothills of the Ko’olau Mountains for sweeping views of Hanauma Bay.
This nature reserve uses old train tracks to line the trailhead to the top of the crater. This 1.6-mile hike is not for the faint of heart.
It takes about 2 hours to complete the hike. Be sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen. There is zero shade on the trail and gets extremely hot.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike was my all-time favorite hike on the island. There are pillboxes still scattered across the island, but this one has the most epic views.
The entrance to the hike is in a neighborhood with zero parking. There are signs all along the side streets and in neighborhoods stating that towing is enforced. Your best bet is to park at Lanikai Beach and walk to the trailhead.
Do not let this 2-mile hike fool you. It’s steep and proper footwear is needed. However, when you reach the military bunker that overlooks the crystal blue water of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua islands, then you will forget all about your burning thighs.
This is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. The sand is fine and soft with gentle waves of turquoise water. Makes for the perfect place to cool off and relax after hiking up to the Lanikai Pillbox.
Ala Moana Center
Located just steps from the blue water of Waikiki Beach, is the largest open-air mall in the world. Stroll through the high-end shops, department stores, and unique boutiques.
The shopping center is spread out over four floors and has a massive food court and garage parking.
Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
Located on the eastern tip of Oahu is the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail which is part of the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline.
This is an easy to moderate hike. It’s 2.5 miles round trip and is paved the entire time. The best time of day to make the trek is early morning or sunset.
The first stop on your drive to the North Shore should be the Dole Plantation.
Wind your way through the garden maze, take a ride on the vintage-style train through the pineapple fields, buy some souvenirs and order a Dole Whip before heading off to more fun on the North Shore.
This is a more adorable beach town. With its laid-back style and food truck parks, this is the perfect place to stop.
The historic village has food trucks, restaurants, shave ice, and great t-shirt shops.
Matsumoto Shave Ice
You can’t visit the North Shore without stopping to shave ice from Matsumoto. The lines can be long but are worth the wait.
They have every flavor you can think of and picnic tables out front to sit and enjoy your treat. Be sure to get in line before closing. They have an employee that will turn away guests if they do not get in line before closing.
This beach is famous for epic waves in the winter, beautiful sunsets, and the most gorgeous palm tree.
During the summer this is a great place to boogie board and snorkel.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
This lush and beautiful 400-acre garden is located on the windward side of Oahu. Open daily from 9 am – 4 pm and admission is free.
This is a great place to picnic, take family photos and hike the trails. Photos are not permitted on any of the roads and are enforced!
Downtown Honolulu is a bustling area on the island, with many fun things to do for a few hours or the day.
Tour the Iolani Palace, picnic at Foster Botanical Garden, take a photo at the Kamehameha Statue, or shop in Chinatown.
Located on the south shore of Honolulu, you’ll find the busy and sometimes chaotic Waikiki. Although this is a busy destination, it’s a must-do.
The area is packed with hotels, shopping, restaurants, and of course the beach.
Spend the day working on your tan, riding the waves, eating from a food truck, taking a photo at the Duke Kahanamoku statue, dinner at Duke’s (don’t forget the famous hula pie for dessert), and ending the day watching the sunset.
Located on the windward coast, Kualoa Ranch is the place to go for non-beach adventures.
They off ATV adventures, horseback riding, ziplining, and movie tours. The movie tours take guests to filming locations for Godzilla and Jurassic Park.
For visitors that did not rent a car, you can book a shuttle service to the ranch with your adventure ticket.