As the world slowly comes out of this crazy year, we can finally dream of traveling again. Now that vaccines are rolling out and Hawaii is opening to tourists (who have a negative COVID test in hand) we are looking forward to traveling freely to the United States soon. All this good news has us reminiscing about our Pre-COVID travel days. One of our favourite trips was taking a luxury cruise through the South Pacific. Starting in Australia, our journey ended in the Hawaiian islands where we had the chance to check off some the best things to do in Oahu.
So lets sit back and be whisked away to paradise as we explore the top attractions and sights on the Island of Oahau.
Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii
Note: some attractions may still be affected by COVID-19, before booking or traveling, be sure to check for restrictions and closures. You can find more information at the State of Hawaii.
Take a Helicopter Tour
One of our favourite things to do in Hawaii period is to take a helicopter tour. We take one at each island we visit. The beautiful sea cliffs and waterfalls are a gorgeous view from above, but Oahu was a bit different from the other islands as we flew over Pearl Harbor giving a birds eye view of the warships still sitting underwater in the harbor. We flew with Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours out of Honolulu.
- This helicopter tour goes from Waikiki Beach to the North Shore and it was beautiful.
- Magnum PI fans will love this helicopter tour in a replica of the helicopter from the series. See all the places where Magnum PI was filmed as well as the other top things to see on Oahu like the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, Sacred Falls and Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
One of the top things to do in Oahu is to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The USS Arizona Memorial commemorates the sailors and ship that went down in the harbor when the Japanese attacked in 1941. You can take an audio tour of the memorial from the visitors centre where you’ll hear stories from survivors and historians. (It’s voiced by Jamie Lee Curtis)
Combine your Pearl Harbour visit with a Waikiki Honolulu City Tour. It includes a tour of Honolulu, a stop at the King Kamehameha Statue in front of Hawaii Five-0 Headquarters, the Pearl Harbor National Park and have the chance to take the boat out to the USS Arizona memorial.
Learn to Surf at Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is a huge beach on Oahu where you will most likely find yourself staying. Lined with hotels and restaurants, it’s an amazing place to hang out. One of the most popular things to do in Oahu and at this beach is to learn to surf. With nice easy waves and a sandy bottom, this is the ideal place to fulfill your bucket list of surfing in Hawaii. The Surfer Girl Academy offers group lessons on Waikiki Beach.
Oahu’s North Shore
Avid surfers won’t be surfing at Waikiki Beach and instead make their way to the north shore. Waimea Bay Beach Park is famous as the big wave surf spot where during the winter months the waves reach 30 feet high! While you won’t be in the water with them, it’s awesome to watch the surfers catch a wave. Check out these The Most Amazing Facts About Hawaii
Oahu is famous for its shark diving, and this highly rated North Shore shark cage dive tour is one for the bucket list. It’s two tours in one. A scenic boat ride takes you off shore where you’ll hop in a cage to see sharks swimming in their natural habitat of the Pacific Ocean. No experience in necessary. You can even bring your own mask and snorkel as it requires no oxygen tanks. You just hold your breath and watch. Seeing sharks up close is an incredible experience. When you see them up close under the water, your fear disappears as you watch them effortlessly glide through the sea.
Swim with Sea Turtles
Hawaii is one of the best places to go snorkeling with sea turtles. We always recommend a guided tour for snorkeling as the professionals know where to find them. This Hidden Gems Tour doesn’t only include a chance to snorkeling with green sea turtles, you’ll also stop at Chinaman’s Hat and Sunset Beach. Since it is a full day tour, it’s a great way to check off a lot of the best things to do in Oahu in one day including stops at Hanauma Bay, Halona BlowHole, Makapuu Pt. Macadamia Nut Farm, North Shore Shrimp Trucks, North Shore Fruit Stand, and the Dole Plantation.
Speaking of Sunset Beach, surfers flock to this spot to ride the waves but it is also one of the best spots in Oahu for sunset. Hence the name.
If you want to go snorkeling on your own, there are plenty of places off shore of Oahu. One of the best places to snorkel is Hanauma Bay. This nature preserves is a protected marinelife conservation area that was voted the best beach in America. Visitors are required to watch a video to learn about the conservation efforts. You can snorkel here on your own or book a tour. (Which we always recommend). There is limited entry so make sure to arrive early.
Diamond Head is a spectacular crater on Ohau. Hike to the top of the 760-foot (231-meter) summit for panoramic views of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and the Pacific Ocean. You can hike Diamond Head independently and the trail opens at 6:00 am so get there early to beat the crowds. There is a fee for parking and hiking Diamond Head. At just (1.6 miles) 2.6 km round trip it is a steep but doable hike. The trail was built for defense by the military starting on a concrete walkway, and then going through a tunnel and steep stairs to the lighthouse and military bunkers. Makes sure to check out more hikes in Oahu for more hiking ideas.
Polynesian Cultural Centre
One of our favourite things about visiting Hawaii is immersing in the strong Polynesian Culture. A visit to the Polynesian Cultural Centre offers a Polynesian experience where you can enjoy a Polynesian luau and fire show.
Attend a Luau
Speaking of Luau, no trip to Oahu would be complete without attending a Luau. This traditional Polynesian dinner with dance and entertainment is a Hawaiian tradition. There are several places to attend a Luau and you won’t have a problem finding one. As visitors to the island, you are honored guests, so there is no better reason to celebrate. The Cultural Center is probably the most popular luau, but others include Paradise Cove at Ko Olina, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and the Waikiki Starlight at the Hilton on Waikiki Beach. The Moana Luau at Sea Life Park is another popular luau that takes you from Waikiki to enjoy a buffet dinner, hula lessons, and a fire show.
Eat Shave Ice
When in Hawaii you must indulge in the refreshing treat of shave ice. Shave Ice is Hawaii’s answer to the snow cone, only oh so much better. Imported by Japanese migrant workers who made shaved off cool ice and topped it with pineapple juice from the island, it has now become a staple dessert of the Hawaiian Islands. No trip to Oahu would be complete without trying shave Ice at one of the iconic shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore, Waiola Shave Ice in Honolulu, and Shimazu Store in Honolulu.
One of the top attractions on Oahu is the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Known as Hawaii’s Pineapple Experience, Dole offers tours to teach people about Hawaii’s agriculture. Hop on the Pineapple train to learn of pineapple in Hawaii and learn how James Drummond Dole made his pineapple empire as you tour the plantation in comfort.
Many day tours of Oahu include tours of the Dole plantation including this best-selling full-day Oahu island tour. It lets you see all the highlights including Hanauma Bay to the North Shore, the Kualoa Ranch, Halona Blowhole Nu`uanu Pali Lookout, the beaches of the North Shore and more.
Koko Head Stairs
Another popular hike on Oahu is the Koko Head Stairs hike. Like Diamond Head, it is a short hike, but a steep one. Walking along the abandoned railway is a unique trek to the summit. It’s a good thing the steps are there because it is steep. Bring plenty of water and go early to avoid the crowds. It’s a good idea to head out for sunrise.
Did you know that Hawaii was once a monarchy? Iolani Palace dates back to 1882 during the reign of King Kalakaua. After his death, his sister Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown in 1895. It was then used as government headquarters for 80 years, but it has since been restored to its original splendor, and its open to visitors to take a Self-Led Audio Tour to learn about the royal’s Hawaiian history.
Humpback whales make their way to Hawaii from December to May to give birth. It is one of the most magical things on earth to see whales in the ocean. You can see them from the shore, but a whale-watching tour is a must. Especially if you haven’t seen whales in the wild.
Check out this eco-friendly whale watching tour where you are guaranteed to spot whales. (otherwise, you get another tour free!) Hop aboard a catamaran and set sail from Waianae Harbor and cruise the west coast of Oahu in search of whales that migrate from Alaska to breed and calve.
Kakaako Farmers Market
It’s always fun to go to a market, and if you happen to be in Honolulu on a Saturday, make your way to the Kaka’ako Farmers Market in Honolulu. Local vendors sell farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. A reason to go alone is to visit the hip neighborhood of Kakaako.
Where to Stay on the Island of Oahu
Turtle Bay Resort
If you want to stay on Oahu’s north shore, a good spot is the Turtle Bay Resort. If you watched the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshal, this is the spot where Jason Seigal met Mila Kunis and enjoyed a fun-filled vacation in Hawaii. (once he got over Sarah Marshal). This is the largest resort on the island located far away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
Waikiki is the most popular place to stay on Oahu with hotels lining the beach. If you want to be in the heart of the action this is the place to stay. You can’t go wrong with the Hilton Hawaii Village Waikiki Beach Resort plus it has one of the best luaus on Oahu.
And these are some of the best things to do in Oahu. So when we can all travel again, make sure to put it at the top of your list!