Aloha, and welcome to our Oahu Tourism Guide, everything you need to know for an incredible visit to Oahu, Hawaii.
Oahu is the Capital Island of the Hawaiian Island chain with Honolulu the main city and State capital. It’s the most populated island and in fact it homes two-thirds of the state’s population. It is also very busy from a tourist perspective. This may make you think realizing the tropical paradise dream is not possible on such a bustling island. However, most of the population is clustered around Honolulu leaving much of the island to the natural beauty synonymous with Hawaii. That said even Honolulu is still an incredibly beautiful place in its own right.
Things to Do in Oahu
After suggesting to friends that Hawaii would be a great honeymoon destination they responded with “but what is there to do in Hawaii other than drinking and sitting on a beach?”
We were quite taken aback, Knowing the huge variety of activities and adventures to have the island we were a bit perplexed that people have this view of the islands. Oahu, being one of the most visited of the islands, naturally has a huge number of sights, tours, and activities available. We doubt a lifetime is enough to experience everything this island has to offer, let alone a 2-week vacation!
Unfortunately what happened in 1941 at Pearl Harbor is probably as (in)famous as the islands themselves. While Pearl Harbor is still a military installation on Ford Island and the majority of the old naval base is now a memorial to all that lost their lives that day. The area no hosts 4 museums and the USS Arizona memorial. It is the number one tourist destination in Oahu and something we feel everyone should experience.
The area is just steeped in history and the whole experience is VERY sobering, The USS Arizona is a war grave, and the bodies of 155000 US Navy personnel rest in the sunken hull of the battleship. The Visitor Center and Memorial have no charge (fitting for a site of such importance) however The Memorial Ferry gets VERY VERY VERY busy. We strongly advise booking as early as humanly possible if you don’t want to miss out on ($1 booking fee is required for this).
The USS Missouri Museum, The Bowfin Museum, and the Pacific Aviation Museum all have a charge.
See Our full guide to the Visitor Center experience for everything you need to know.
It may be incredibly Cheesy but really you shouldn’t come to Hawaii without visiting a Luau. Essentially a Hawaiian feast with a traditional (or not so traditional in some cases) Hawaiian Dance show afterward, and normally an open bar too.
We still head to at least one Luau even now as it just feels so Hawaiian. And normally the food is very good and who doesn’t like bottomless Mai Tai’s. Really if you choose a good one it’s a great night out, we rarely feel short-changed even if the entry is rather steep.
Snorkelling / Diving
Oahu’s pristine tropical oceans are the perfect draw for anyone wanting to experience life under the sea. Whether you are a complete novice or advanced scuba diver the abundant sea life, crystal-clear warm water, and calm conditions will Amaze anyone. Endless colorful reef fish, Majestic giant sea turtles, Coral, Urchins, octopuses are just a few of the abundant creatures you can see just from a short snorkel off the beach.
Take things a bit deeper with the scuba gear and some of the finest dive locations in the world are just offshore.
Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve
This underwater nature reserve is a must-visit for anyone interested in diving or snorkeling. While fantastic snorkeling can be found all around the coast but Hanauma Bay is the pinnacle the island has to offer. Either take a guided trip or just turn up with your own gear you really can’t miss this underwater miracle.
Learn to Surf
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Hawaii, Surf!
Hawaii is the birthplace of this legendary sport so it would be rude not to give it a go while there. Even if it’s just a bit of bodyboarding. It really is a must-do to get out and ride some waves. There are many surf schools based in Waikiki and your hotel may well offer a program, for an extra charge. Waikiki is the perfect beginner’s beach and one of the best places in the world to learn this ancient art.
There are far more advanced dives available all over the island but beginners would do well to stay away and more advanced surfers would know far more about this topic than us.
Read Our full guide to things to do in Oahu for more detailed information and further ideas.
Food And Drink in Oahu
Hawaiian cuisine is a wonderful blend of foods and tastes that is quite likely like nothing you have tasted before. A reliance on clean fresh ingredients blended with pacific rim influences creates a cuisine that is as delicious as it is healthy. Fresh seafood, traditional Island fare, and incredible fruit and desserts mean you will be sure to come home pining for the incredible tastes you left behind.
Hawaiian Food really needs its own article… and look here it is!
Being Isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years has led to a unique ecosystem on the Hawaiian Islands. Unfortunately, the few decades of human occupation of the islands have had devastating effects on this unique ecosystem. The good news is in recent years we have realized the effects we are having and are now far better at having a low impact on the island’s nature. So Wildlife and nature are in abundance on all the islands.
Being incredibly remote the animal life is fairly limited. Only creatures that have managed to hitch a ride somehow have got a foothold on the islands. There have been quite a few critters that have only hitched a ride more recently such as rabbits, deer, and goats. Even the abundant reptile life, lizards snakes, frogs, etc. are all introduced in the last few hundred years. The islands are so remote even birdlife has struggled to make it to the islands and there are relatively few species actually endemic to the islands, especially since the arrival of humans has wiped out a lot of the more fragile species.
The Majority of the island is covered with lush green foliage making Oahu a genuine tropical paradise. Even Honolulu a built-up city, is planted with abundant tropical plants flowers, and trees. The Entire Hawaiian culture is intertwined with nature, flowers, and fruit. The Hawaiian people knew how to live off the land and this shows their affinity with nature.
While the large distances and high seas have been a hindrance to land animals getting to Hawaii Sea Life has had a much less troublesome time of it. Marine life is abundant. Sea Turtles, abundant colorful tropical fish, Seals, Whales, Dolphins, Octopus, Urchins, and coral. The seas are completely alive, whether you are snorkeling, diving or just viewing from the shore there is always something to see in the beautiful Oceans of Oahu.
Where to Stay
While the Bulk of Oahu’s visitors head for Waikiki there are a number of other resorts and locations around the island, while we feel at least a few days should definitely be spent in Waikiki it’s great to get out to some of the more peaceful and beautiful parts of the island, or better still island hop to one of the other islands
The vast majority of visitors head for the world-famous Waikiki beach area. It’s not hard to figure out why. The beautiful pacific ocean paradise merges seamlessly with a busting American metropolis for the perfect blend of beach and city life.
Luxury hotels, fantastic dining options mingle with a tropical beach setting for a truly unique getaway. The built-up nature of the area may not be the perfect paradise locale you had envisaged, which is why we recommend staying elsewhere for some of your trips. But it’s a very unique and fantastic place to visit.
This sleepy beach district a short distance from Honolulu has had a bit of an explosion of popularity since a certain someone started taking their vacations here (Cough Obama Cough). And this hasn’t gone doe exceptionally well with the locals who feel their little piece of paradise has been overrun.
However, there are several nice hotels in the area and if you stick to these you should have very little issue enjoying a really laidback piece of Hawaiian beauty.
Ko Olina / Kapolei
Ko Olina Lies to the west of Honolulu past pearl harbor. Attached to the small town of Kapolei, it is a luxury resort area boasting a stunning natural setting and pristine harbors and bays. The hotels here are not cheap but it’s a fantastic location and completely different from a Waikiki break.
Kahuku / North Shore
With only one resort and limited settlements, this peninsula is the perfect getaway. Home to the famous Turtle Bay Resort, this really is a corner of paradise. Options apart from Turtle Bay are fairly limited to private rental condos. The North Shore is the rugged wild shore, expect big waves and dramatic scenery, especially in winter. This really is just the spot to get away from everything.
Read Our full guide to Oahu districts and areas to Stay here
Most people imagine glorious sunshine and warm temperatures when thinking of Hawaii. The truth is they are probably right! However, it’s worth noting that it will probably rain. All the lush greenery has to get its water from somewhere and it’s normally from the daily rains. However, while there is a good chance it will rain there is a good chance you will see the sun every day too. This leads to the formation of an incredible number of rainbows
Year-round temperatures never fall too low, even at night, in the winter it will still be pleasantly warm. and even in the heights of summer things don’t normally get too scorching. Rain tends to come in short bursts enough to water the plants and cool things down a touch. There is a large variance in weather on different parts of the island and many different Micro Climates exits, owing to the island chain’s location…in the middle of nowhere.
The take-home message is Oahu will have warm tropical weather any time of the year you can expect fantastic weather in this island paradise.
Read our more detailed weather page for different conditions throughout the year in different parts of the island.
Getting around in Waikiki couldn’t be easier. The district is so small just about any part of it is within walking distance. And Cabs are incredibly cheap as again the distances are so short. The only issue with getting around comes when you wish to leave the Waikiki district.
The obvious solution is to hire a car and this is our preferred choice. We find a hire car in Oahu to be bordering on essential. Driving, outside of the city is a very sedate affair, no one is ever really rushing and it’s very easy to get used to island driving. But for those unable or unwilling to use a hire car there are options.
Shuttle buses Will take you from the Airport to either your hotel or resort for a fixed fee or you can use one of a number of private hire companies to deliver you where ever you need to go.
“The Bus” offers an extensive service to most parts of the island. Including North Shore, Kapolei, and Kahuku. Not the most luxurious way to travel not the fastest, but Cheap, Reliable, and easy if you are on a tight budget.
An exciting development for the Island is the Honolulu HART metro rail system currently under construction. this will link the airport with Honolulu downtown, Waikiki pearl harbor, and Kapolei. But not before 2025.
Read Our Full Guide to getting around Oahu in our guide here.