There is far more going on in Oahu than just beaches and cocktails. While they are not to be ignored and some downtime should definitely be spent on any visit, there are enough incredible sights, attractions and activities all over the island to keep you occupied for a lifetime. There is never a reason to be bored in Oahu…Unless you want to be. But what things should you do first? What are Oahu’s MUST do attractions? Well our top 10 things to do in Oahu, Hawaii will guide you through all of the islands best and must-see attractions.
1: Pearl Habor
The number one rated attraction on Oahu (and Hawaii as a whole) in both terms of customer ratings and visitor numbers also tops our list. With good reason too. A visit to this Infamous location really brings out the importance and historical significance of the events that took place.
The site is split into 5 parts, the Visitor centre, the Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri, The Bowfin Museum and the Pacific Aviation Museum. The Visitor centre and the Arizona memorial being so culturally important are free of charge to visit. These are two things no one visiting the island should miss out on.
It should be noted here again that this attraction rates as the most visited attraction in Hawaii and as such booking ahead for the Battleship Arizona memorial tour is almost essential. Tickets become available 2 months beforehand and can be only be booked here at the official site. If you have missed the two-month mark, chances are your dates are sold out if so don’t despair there are still options. But if at all possible book ahead. While it is free there is a $1.50 booking fee. The Visitor centre is also free and only accepts walk up, it can be busy but can handle the numbers.
Read Our full Pearl Harbor guide here
USS Battleship Missouri Memorial – $27:00
This is an incredible tour around a real Battleship, the one that actually accepted the Japanese surrender. Here you can stand at the actual spot the second world war came to a close. It doesn’t get much more significant than that. Walking around the ship is an awe-inspiring experience the scale of these behemoths is staggering. We highly recommend adding this to your day.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum -$12:00
The Bowfin Museum is a tour around the USS Bowfin, a submarine that developed quite a reputation for exacting revenge for the attack on pearl harbor. Very fitting it is enjoying its retirement sunning itself in pearl harbor. The tour gives a look at the living conditions endured by the US Sailors as they lived beneath the waves.
Pacific Aviation Museum -$25:00
The Aviation Museum is housed in the hangers of ford island that are still standing from the War. Bullet holes are still visible from the attack. It is a very interesting museum for aviation enthusiasts but does appeal to most as it finishes off the whole Pacific theatre experience. Along with the Missouri, it is the only way civilians can get onto Fordislandd aswell.
We find attending a Luau is very high up on most people’s lists of things to do when visiting Hawaii. We certainly agree and despite it now becoming incredibly cliché and really a bit naff, it is still something most people want to tick off. Essentially a dinner and show with a huge dollop of Hawaiian culture.
Different Luau’s vary in authenticity with even the most authentic still probably a long way from anything like REAL Hawaiian Culture. The Feast will normally take the guise of a Hawaiian all-you-can-eat buffet, featuring many types of Hawaiian food. The Centrepiece is a Kalua Pig. A full Pig cooked in a traditional underground Oven called an IMU. If you like the currently trendy Pulled Pork you will adore Kalua pork, as it’s a very similar concept that the Hawaiians have been cooking for centuries.
On top of this will be a huge array of Hawaiian foods and fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables. Traditional Luau foods include LomiLomi Salmon, Poke, laulau and Poi. You should definitely try Poi, just to see how bad it tastes!
There are normally a lot of things going on before the feast such as traditional arts and crafts, or you can just soak in the setting and make a start on the Mai Tai’s while posing for a Lei clad Selfie!
After the feast is the Show. While these vary quite a bit they are all variations of a theme. Featuring incredible Hula Dancers loud Hawaiian Tribal Music and sometimes fire Dancers (sometimes omitted for authenticity).
Overall we think every visitor to these islands should experience a Luau at least once. Get over the overtly tacky nature and just go with the flow and you will surely have a great night. Finding one with an open bar should definitely help in that regard!
Looking for the best Luau? We have a full guide here to all of Oahu’s BEST Luaus
3: Head Underwater
Hawaii’s position, basically in the middle of nowhere, means the waters around Oahu are crystal clear and teaming with life. It would be a terrible shame to miss out on this remarkable spectacle.
Most people are content with snorkelling to see the underwater jewels the island has to offer. And in our experience, we can really see why. Apart from a few very specialist dives, you can see almost anything you would diving from the surface. The water is crystal clear and the reef shallow and teeming with life. Coral is abundant but quite limited in variety, even Coral has struggled to make it out here!
Given Oahu’s remote location can mean conditions are not always suitable for snorkelling. Obviously, high swells coming off the Pacific in the winter can make the seas very unsafe, but the abundance of sheltered bays normally means there is somewhere you can take a dip. Hanauma Bay reserve is normally very calm and offers some of the best snorkelling on the island. There are a number of companies offering tours here if you are not confident hitting the sea on your own.
There are a number of boat and catamaran tours as well, see out Ocean Cruise section below for details.
Those wanting to take things further can be assured Diving options on the island are abundant. Diving conditions vary from excellent to just incredible. 100+ft visibility is regular. Whether you are simply taking in a relaxed reef dive or hunting large pelagics diving on Oahu has it all.
Sheltered shallow reefs mean it’s great for beginners too, and a large number of dive centres all competing with each other means standards are high and costs are kept reasonable, It’sHawaiii so it’s not cheap, but the competition keeps it in check. A PADI course takes 4 days out of your trip but it’s 4 days of exploring the ocean but it’s something to be aware of, and if you don’t fancy studying on your holiday you can do the learning at home and then just do the dives when in Hawaii. Head to the PADI website to start that journey.
Diving isn’t cheap but it’s full valet service diving. With everything done for you. Just turn up and enjoy the dives. Although you can find more basic operators if that doesn’t sound like your thing.
A lot of people have swimming with turtles high up on their bucket list. However Human activity has made these beautiful creatures very rare and threatened species, Meaning they can be very difficult to track down to interact with in the wild. Not in Hawaii. The photo below is taken from our lanai in the middle of Waikiki on our first day of our honeymoon. Turtles can seem everywhere in Hawaii.
This isn’t an accident strict laws and huge conservation efforts have brought the Turtles of Hawaii back from the brink. It’s one of the few Conservation good news stories out there and it really shows what properly determined conservation efforts can achieve. The reward is anyone visiting Hawaii wanting to experience wild sea turtles should have very little difficulty ticking that box.
Hawaii is the Birth Place and Spiritual home of surfing, so it’s no surprise to see surfing have a huge presence on Oahu. Waikiki has huge numbers of surfers every day enjoying the States national past time. It seems just about everyone on Hawaii Surfs.
As a visitor, Waikiki is one of the best places in the world to learn to surf. The break is quite mild but reliable so beginners can learn the art almost every day. There are many Surf schools on the beach to help you get to grips with the art. Even if you don’t fancy a day in a surf school you can easily grab a boogie board and have a great time messing about on the waves.
Any more experienced Surfers coming to the island will be in their element with numerous breaks all over this island and some real world class advanced level breaks available on the north shore. We are far from surfing experts so we will leave it to more specialist advisors to help you seek out the best waves the island has to offer.
5: Ocean Cruise
There are multiple options for getting out on the ocean and enjoying the beauty of the island from the sea, a completely different perspective. Wheather that is a romantic sunset cruise, a snorkelling trip to visit some more remote reefs or a Whale or wildlife spotting cruise there is something for everyone. You can even go below the waves with a Submarine tour.
We adore Snorkelling tours, the crews know all the best spots for wildlife and will more often than not get you in the water with the best sea life Oahu has to offer. Expect Turtle and Dolphin encounters and even Giant Humpback spotting when in season (Dec-Apr).
A More relaxed experience is a dinner sunset cruise. A fantastic dinner while cruising blissfully along watching the sunset over the ocean is an unforgettable way to spend time with your significant other or Family. These types of cruises vary from large boats serving many customers to more intimate catamarans With prices increasing along with the intimacy.
Or go for something totally unforgettable and actually sail under the waves with a submarine tour. This is certainly not for people who dislike confined spaces but it is certainly a unique experience. Easily the best way to see the underwater world if you don’t want to get wet.
6: Helicopter Tour
Seeing the Island from the air is an experience you will never forget. But almost all of us get this experience on approach to Honolulu International Airport. So is it really worth paying the rather hefty prices to see it from a helicopter? We think so.
The View from the helicopter tours is a million miles away from the restricted glimpse we get from the small scratched airline window. The big clear windows of the helicopter give a phenomenal view, and any seat will give the “piolets” eye view out the front of the aircraft. The tours also take you to the best parts of the island, not just the approach route handed out by Air Traffic Control. In short, it is NOTHING like takeoff or landing from a commercial flight. It’s a truly unforgettable look at all of the island finest highlights.
The modern Helicopters used are incredibly safe and stable. We have been in plenty of light aircraft and they can be simply terrifying. The helicopters feel nothing like that, Only people with a severe fear of flying will be uncomfortable but they are unlikely to be considering a helicopter ride. If you are just a little worried you will probably be fine but make sure you let your pilot know you are nervous and they will help reassure you. Personally, we have never had an issue despite having a mild fear of flying myself.
There are multiple tour operators with each offering different tours of the island and even taking in the other islands. The different companies are pretty much one and the same and all have impeccable safety standards and records otherwise they would simply not be allowed to operate, the FAA doesn’t do risk. Really we love helicopter tours of any of the Hawaiian islands they are only down in 6th spot as they are expensive, worth it but could be out of a lot of peoples budgets.
7: Visit Jurassic Park
While a lot of Jurrasic Park was filmed over on Kauai, Some very memorable scenes were filmed here on Oahu. Most notable the T-rex attacking a Flock of Gallimimus. And yes the Fallen tree is still there.
The Kualoa Ranch Movie site tour will show this and a whole host of other famous movie sites of Oahu, which has been used for filming for decades being Hollywood’s goto tropical destination of choice. The Kualoa Ranch offers much more besides the movie tour and has multiple tours including Jungle ATV, Private Beach and Catamaran Tours.
8: Tour the Island
While Waikiki is the centre of everything tourist wise there is so much to see and do around the island. A great way to get a taste of this is on one of the many island tours available. We tend to get out in the hire car and explore ourselves which we strongly encourage you to do the same. But some people just do not want the hassle self-guiding brings.
There are many tours available that get you out of Waikiki and out into the island. Most Island Circle tours will include another activity such as pearl harbor or snorkelling. These offer great value in both time and money.
With so much of Oahu still left to nature there are a huge amount of walks or hikes available and for all levels. While we headed this section, Hikes we don’t want to scare less active people off. Even small short walks in Oahu can have surprising payoffs. As you will see from the diamond head section next.
On the more challenging side, there are breathtaking coastal walks, Remote jungle treks and incredible mountain hikes with the most incredible views. There is something for everyone on Oahu even dangerous and highly illegal hikes like the Stairway to heaven. Which we can unfortunately no longer recommend.
10: Diamond Head
No list of things to do on Oahu would be complete without mentioning Diamond head. Towering high above Waikiki beach this relic of Oahu’s Volcanic past silhouettes everything Waikiki. Almost half our Photos seem to end up having it in even without trying.
The 0.75-mile Hike to the summit sounds easier than it is. It gains over 230m in elevation on uneven terrain. However, the payoff is …well they say a picture paints a thousand words.
While we are at pains to suggest there are seemingly endless things to see and do, It’s important you also spend time doing NOTHING. Find a fantastic beach grab a Mai-Tai and just kick back in the sun. Hawaiian Life is very laid back and relaxed so it would just be missing the point to spend the whole time tearing around the island sightseeing. Either on the beach or lay back on your Lanai, just watching the time tick by on the island is possibly the best thing to do in the world.
If you are looking for the ultimate Beach read our Full Oahu Beach Guide
Let us know what your favourite things to do in Oahu are? Have you done any of the Attractions or activities we listed? What do you think? Let us know or drop us a comment below if you have any questions or anything to say in general?