Are you looking for the ultimate list of things to do on Oahu? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!
As an Oahu local, I know there are so many things to do on Oahu, Hawaii, especially considering its less than 600 square miles. From beaches to hikes to festivals to restaurants, your Oahu bucket list is going to be packed with excitement!
Things to Do in Honolulu and Waikiki (The South Shore of Oahu)
Try a Malasada
Malasadas are Hawaii’s replacement for the typical American donut. For a long time, Oahu didn’t have any donut places. No Dunkin’ Donuts, no Krispy Kreme, and no artisanal one-location donut shops. But we always had the puffy, fried, sugar-coated rounds of deliciousness.
Now the question should be, “Where can I get the best malasada on Oahu?” Well, there’s a debate about that. Most people will vote for the long-standing malasada joint: Leonard’s Bakery. But I think the new competitor, Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery, is putting up a good fight!
Tackle the 1,000 Steps of Koko Head Crater Hike
Feel like you can conquer 1,000 steps up an old rickety train track? Koko Head Crater Hike is the place to try it out! Once you finish, you’ll get a stunning view of the southeast tip of Oahu. (Not to mention you’ll feel like a champ after that challenge!)
Looking for another Oahu hike to do? Here are 15 of the best hikes on Oahu.
Dine at Opal Thai and Try the Signature Dish
I was hesitant to put restaurants on my list of the top things to do on Oahu, but a couple still made the list. One is the unique dining experience at Opal Thai. First, you won’t order for yourself; Chef Opel will choose for you. Are you ready for an experience like that?
Oh, and we can’t forget about the secret signature dish! If it’s your first time, Chef Opel will definitely give it to you. (I won’t spoil it for you!)
Looking for other tasty Oahu restaurants? Here’s a list of my faves.
Immerse Yourself in Hawaiian History at Iolani Palace
From 1882 to 1893, Iolani Palace was home to Hawaiian royalty, including King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch. As a matter of fact, it is the only palace in the entire United States! And lucky for you, it’s open to the public!
Try on an Aloha Shirt from Rix Island Wear
You know those tacky aloha shirts (what mainlanders call “Hawaiian shirts”)? You know, those matching brightly colored shirts used for family photos on the beach? Well, that’s NOTHING like the aloha shirts from Rix Island Wear. Rix Island Wear has muted down background colors, like olive green or greyish blue, with the leaf patterns splayed in black or toned-down white. Their designs are so professional that locals actually wear them on a daily basis to their jobs!
Aloha shirts from Rix Island Wear are the perfect gift to give to people after your trip to Hawaii! Here is a list of some of the others (that you can buy online too!)
Play an Ukulele at The Ukulele Store
The Ukulele Store on the second floor of the Waikiki Beach Walk offers free ukulele lessons twice a day (10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.). See if you can hit the right notes and even play a song! And, if this little introduction sparks your interest, there are dozens of ukuleles to choose from right there in the store!
*Pro Tip: If you’re going to buy a ukulele, be sure to buy a wooden one, not a colorful touristy one. The wooden ones always sound better.
Walk Around the Streets of Kakaako and Watch Artists Paint the Walls for the PowWow Hawaii Festival
PowWow Hawaii! is easily the coolest art festival in Hawaii. Artists from across the globe come each February to paint the walls of Kakaako with stunning murals. It’s amazing to watch these art pieces come to life right in front of your eyes! If you happen to be staying nearby during the festival, come and check on your favorite murals are few times during the week to see the progress.
If you don’t happen to be on Oahu in February, you can walk around Kakaako and see their work still standing.
Go to the Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market
The Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market is the place to go on Saturday mornings. This is easily the biggest farmer’s market on Oahu with vendors selling everything from locally grown fruits and veggies to high-quality beef to local honey. I would recommend a visit.
If you can’t make it to KCC on Saturday morning, be sure to head to another farmer’s market or two instead!
Get a Delicious Fusion Brunch from Koko Head Café
Koko Head Café in Kaimuki is run by Chef Lee Anne Wong, who has been featured on several shows on the Food Network. This local chef represents Hawaii’s iconic fusion food so well. While my personal favorite is the Korean bibimbap, the most popular dish is the cornflake French toast. Oh, and don’t forget to try her interesting combination of fusion flavors in her dumpling of the day!
Get Lost in Ala Moana Shopping Center, the World’s Largest Outdoor Mall
Ala Moana Shopping Center is HUGE. I remember when it was SIGNIFICANTLY smaller – like could be walked crossed in fifteen minutes – and I still thought it was huge. And it’s just kept growing and growing since then. Honestly, you could probably find anything you want at Ala Moana Shopping Center. I mean, there are the fancy stores like Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo, but there’s also Target. And then there are sit-down restaurants and a food court, but there is also a grocery store. Ala Moana has basically everything you could want. Just remember where you parked your car, because it might be hard to find at the end of the day.
Head to Ala Moana Beach Park for the Lantern Floating Ceremony on Memorial Day
Every Memorial Day, thousands of lanterns are set afloat in the Pacific Ocean from Ala Moana Beach Park. Each lantern has the name of at least one loved one who has passed away. It’s such a meaningful moment depicted in such a beautiful way.
Take a Catamaran Ride Out Past Diamond Head
Want to get the best view of Oahu’s iconic Diamond Head? Take a catamaran ride. Hop on one of these boats at Waikiki Beach and get some stunning pictures. There are several companies that offer catamaran rides from Waikiki Beach out past Diamond Head. This is definitely a fun activity to do in Honolulu.
Watch the Friday Night Fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
For some reason, watching the fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Friday night has become one of the must-do things to do on Oahu for tourists. I’ll even admit that I’ve watched this firework show more times than I can remember! So lay out a mat or towel on Waikiki beach and watch the colors burst in the sky!
Take a Ride in a Submarine
Want to get up close and personal with a bunch of Hawaii’s amazing sea creatures without getting wet? A ride in a submarine is a fantastic option. Maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a. The only company that does submarine tours on Oahu is Atlantis Adventures, so check them out if you’re interested!
Book Here: Waikiki Beach Atlantis Submarine Tour
Go to a UH Sports Game
In Hawaii, we don’t have professional sports teams. So instead, we root for our college teams, the University of Hawaii Warriors, as if they were professional sports teams. Maybe get in on the excitement by going to one of the UH games and cheering on the Warriors!
Discover a New Fruit to Try While Walking Around Chinatown
Rambutan, star apple, sapodilla, lilikoi, mango, star fruit, lychee, mangosteen, guava, papaya, strawberry guava, jackfruit, apple banana, breadfruit, mountain apple. Hawaii is the perfect environment to grow tons of weird fruits. Chinatown is the place you’re most likely to find them on any given morning.
Spend Some Time at Waikiki Beach
I’m not a big fan of Waikiki Beach. At all. But it’s an iconic place, and if you’re a tourist in Hawaii and you don’t spend any time at Waikiki Beach, that’s a little bit weird.
Take a Drive on Lagoon Drive
For some reason, no one knows about Lagoon Drive. And honestly, I think cruising along Lagoon Drive is one of the most underrated things to do on Oahu. This drive is on a road right next to – I mean like INCHES away from – pale blue teal water. And this water is dotted with dozens of little rounded islands with a ton of trees growing on each of them. When you get to the end of the road, you’ll reach a parking lot where you can sit and watch planes fly over this beautiful landscape. Pretty awesome, right?
Find the Petroglyphs at Nuuanu Memorial Park
Petroglyphs were the native Hawaiians’ form of pictorial writing. (Think of Egyptian hieroglyphics – kind of similar to that). On Oahu, there is only one place to for sure get a glimpse of petroglyphs. (There are rumors that you can see petroglyphs on some parts of the island when the tide is high, but I’ve had no luck.) That one place is Nuuanu Memorial Park. Drive to the end of the road and the parking lot. You’ll see a thin, slightly muddy path. Walk a few steps and on your left, you’ll see a small section that’s barred off. Peer through the bars and you’ll see a few petroglyphs!
Munch on a Gyro at the Greek Festival
Most people think of Hawaii as a melting pot of cultures – but primarily Asian and Islander cultures. That is not quite the case, and the Greek Festival of Honolulu is evidence of that. Every August, the Greek Orthodox Church of Honolulu hosts their annual Greek Festival as a fundraiser for their church. And let me tell you, their gyros and baklava are delicious! If you’re looking for one of the things to do in Honolulu that’s a little bit different, this is a great option!
Go to the Honolulu Fish Auction
The Honolulu Fish Auction is where all of the local restaurants (and even some mainland ones) get the freshest fish possible! The fisherman will come in with their catch of the morning and auction it off to the highest bidder. Be prepared to see some HUGE fish! It’s not uncommon to see 100-pound ahi go up for auction!
To see all of this go down, you have to be prepared to take the Hawaii Fish Auction Tour at 6:00 a.m. (Yes, it’s very early.) For an hour and half tour, it’s $25 per person. Remember to bring some closed-toed shoes!
*Note: rumor has it that you can just show up and watch instead of paying for the tour. After all, you may be there to buy some fresh fish!
Things to Do on the Windward Side of Oahu (The East Shore of Oahu)
Kayak to the Mokes
As such an ocean-centric community, it is possible to do every and any water activity on Oahu. One of my favorites is kayaking. And the most popular place to kayak on Oahu is the Mokulua Islands, also known as “the Mokes.” Kayak through the stunning waters of Kailua Beach and maybe do a short hike once you reach the island!
Want more information about kayaking to the mokes? Or maybe looking for another kayaking adventure? This post has everything you need to know!
Drive on H-3 through the Koolau Mountains While It’s Raining
One of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on Oahu is the Koolau Mountain range. And what’s even more amazing is that you can drive through it on one of our three highways and experience one of the best scenic drives on Oahu! We’re talking about H-3. AND to add to the already stunning beauty and the accessibility, when it rains, waterfalls are created in every little nook and ridge of the already bright green mountain range. It’s magical.
Paddle Board to and Hike Chinaman’s Hat
One of the most unique things to do on Oahu is what I like to refer to as the adventures of Chinaman’s Hat. In order to safely get to the island commonly referred to as Chinaman’s Hat, one must either kayak or paddle board over. And because I just recommended a kayaking adventure to the mokes, why not paddle board over to Chinaman’s Hat?
Then, once you get to the island, you have a gruesome 20-minute hike waiting for you. But at the top, all of that effort is completely worth it. The views of the Pacific Ocean and the Koolau Mountain Range are absolutely stunning.
Here’s a post for you with more details about how exactly to pull of this Chinaman’s Hat adventure.
Go to the Makapuu Tide Pools
The Makapuu Tide Pools are a hidden cove of tide pools just off of the easy Makapuu Lighthouse hike. Chill in one of the pools and watch the waves crash in. But be sure to watch out for the sea urchins!
Hike to Lanikai Pillbox for Sunrise
If your goal is to find the most amazing spot to watch an Oahu sunrise, Lanikai Pillbox is definitely the spot for you. Regardless of the time of day, the Lanikai Pillbox hike is definitely one of the best things to do on Oahu. But doing it at sunrise just makes it all the more spectacular.
Do you want to hike to Lanikai Pillbox for sunrise? Here’s everything you need to know.
Or if you’re looking for a less popular Oahu sunrise hike, we’ve got you covered too.
Tackle the [Illegal] 4,000 Steps of the Stairway to Heaven
One of the most iconic things to do on Oahu is to tackle the Stairway to Heaven. But in case you didn’t catch my warning in the title, it is illegal! However, if you’re committed to doing this hike, here is a post to help you figure out the details.
Hike to Lulumahu Falls
Lulumahu Falls is one of the largest waterfalls on Oahu. With a relatively simple hike, you can reach this 30-foot waterfall. And if you get lucky, you might get the place all to yourself! But disclaimer, because it crosses onto private property for a bit, it’s illegal.
Take an ATV Tour at Kualoa Ranch
Rev up your engines! It’s time to take an ATV Tour of Kualoa Ranch! Kualoa Ranch alone is such a naturally beautiful landscape with the Koolau Mountains and the views of Kaneohe Bay. But then to get an amazing tour showcasing various movies filmed on the property, Hawaiian mythology, and if you’re lucky some local fruits straight of the tree ALL WHILE ON YOUR OWN ATV, it becomes so much better.
Visit Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
One of the most underrated things to do on Oahu is visit the botanical gardens. You know all of those Instagram pictures of people standing on a wooden platform facing a lake with stunning green mountains in front of them? Or the ones where there is someone on a single-lane road with green plants growing on both sides and those same stunning green mountains in the background? That’s Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden. Check it out.
But Hoomaluhia isn’t the only botanical garden on Oahu that is worth your time. There are five other blooming botanical gardens on Oahu.
Check out the Views from the Pali Lookout
The Pali Lookout is one of the only places on the island that you can drive up to (as opposed to hike up to) and get a breathtaking view of Oahu. From the Pali Lookout, you can actually see a good portion of the southeastern part of the island.
Drive Up the East Side of the Island and Just Stare at the Ocean
No one really tells you about the east side of Oahu farther north than Kaneohe. But the drive up that coast all the way up to the North Shore is breathtaking. You’ll be able to watch the color of the ocean start at a light turquoise and then fade into a darker blue as you continue.
Visit the Byodo-In Temple and Ring the Bell
Nestled within the Koolau Mountains is the Byodo-In Temple. This temple is a miniature version of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan (which also happens to be a United National World Heritage Site). While at the Byodo-In Temple on Oahu, you must ring the giant bell. It takes some full body movement to get the momentum going. Traditionally in Japanese culture, this bell is rung 108 times on New Year’s Eve in order to get rid of evil spirits.
Go to Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is one of those picture-perfect beaches with beautiful turquoise waters and glistening white sand. While Hawaii has many of those, I think what separates Lanikai Beach from the rest is the fact that you can’t see or hear cars while you are there. There are houses and bushes blocking any sight of the street, truly making it one of the most relaxing things to do on Oahu.
Hike Up to Makapuu Lighthouse and Take in the Views
Makapuu Lighthouse is one of the easiest hikes on Oahu – if not THE easiest. And considering the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the southeast Oahu coastline that you get to see at the end without much effort, this is definitely one of the can’t-miss things to do on Oahu.
Find the Lava Tube at Cockroach Bay
Here’s another one of those secret things to do on Oahu. Are you up for the challenge?
Watch the Water Spray Out of Halona Blowhole
A blowhole is an interesting natural phenomenon. On Oahu, we only have one (well, one that’ll show up on a map): Halona Blowhole. In order for a blowhole to occur, there needs to be a series of events. First, there need to be some pretty big waves. Second, these waves need to crash into some rocks. Third, the rocks will need to have a decent-sized hole on them pretty close to the edge. Then, when the waves hit the rocks, the water will shoot up from the hole in the rocks, creating a sort of eruption-like image.
*Bonus: The Halona Blowhole almost always creates rainbows!
Find the Hidden Bridge Behind Maunawili Falls
Maunawili Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes on the island. But, to be honest, I always wondered why it was so popular. The waterfall wasn’t that big for the effort needed. But then I found out about the hidden bridge. It turns out that if you climb over the falls and wander down another, much less clear path, there is a hidden wooden bridge!
*Note: please try to find the bridge with someone who knows where they are going! We don’t want anyone getting lost.
Things to Do on the North Shore of Oahu
Watch a Surf Competition at Pipeline
One of the best things to do on Oahu is watch a surf competition at Banzai Pipeline. Hawaii is known around the globe for its prime surf, and Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu is the place to go to watch surfers. Throughout the winter months when waves reach 20 feet (or 40 feet for anyone who’s not local – we measure wave size differently), there is bound to be a surf competition happening. From Da Hui Backdoor Shootout to Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational to Billabong Pipe Masters, there’s definitely something happening.
Go Cage-Diving with Sharks
Are you an adrenaline junky? Do you want to get face-to-face with sharks? Do you still want to be semi-protected by some cage bars? Why not go cage-diving on Oahu?
Cliff Jump at Waimea Bay
Feel like experiencing just a little bit of the thrill? Cliff jumping at Waimea Bay is the activity for you! This fifteen-foot jump is a lot safer than it looks. The waves are chill, the water is deep, and hundreds of people do it every day without getting hurt. It’s got a pretty good track record.
Do note that during the winter, the waves at Waimea Bay can get quite high, making it unsafe for cliff jumping. An easy way to tell if its a good day for cliff jumping is just to see if the locals are doing it that day.
Planning on spending the day on the North Shore but not exactly sure what to do? My Ultimate Guide to the North Shore of Oahu should help!
Skydive at Dillingham Airfield
Do you want to have the most memorable trip of all time? It’s not enough to just come to Hawaii. But it may be enough to skydive in Hawaii. There are a few skydiving companies based at Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore, including Pacific Skydiving and Skydive Hawaii.
Hang Out with Turtles at Laniakea Beach
Looking to spot at turtle while you’re hanging out on Oahu? Laniakea Beach is the place to go for your best shot. While in the winter months it might be a rather rare (the turtles aren’t fans of the big waves), in the summer I’ve seen half a dozen of them just chilling on the beach. If you’re hoping to actually swim with turtles, we’ve got a guide for that too.
*Note: Be sure to be respectful of the turtles when you see them! Give them their space and don’t fed them please.
Zipline at Keana Farms (For Three Hours)
At Keana Farms, they have a three-hour ziplining tour. That’s an insane but awesome amount of time to be ziplining. And you’ll also get to find out a lot of interesting information about Keana Farms, the North Shore, and Hawaii in general.
Book Here: Keana Farms Ziplining and Farm Tour
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is such a unique cultural experience on Oahu. Learn about many Polynesian islands and their cultures! See hula dancers and fire dancers! Take part in a luau! Maybe even watch the evening show, “Ha: Breath of Life.”
Find a Sunrise Shell (at Sunrise)
You know those bright orange and pink ombre shells that people commonly make jewelry out of? Those are sunrise shells. Why are they called that, you ask? It’s not only because of the color resemblance. It’s also because it’s much easier to find sunrise shells at sunrise (it has something to do with the tide)! Are you up for the challenge?
If you can’t find a sunrise shell but still want to take this treasure home with you, consider purchasing one from Rise Jewelry. This local company makes the most beautiful sunrise shell creations! Use the code BORDERS15 on the Rise Jewelry website to get 15% off your order!
*Local Tip: For your best chance of finding a sunrise shell, head to the North Shore of Oahu (at sunrise, of course.)
Watch the Waves Crash at Laie Point
Laie Point is one of those viewpoints on Oahu that I think should be more famous. There is honestly nowhere else on the island that has the same view and the same crashing waves as Laie Point. There are huge waves crashing, small islands off in the distance, a little peace that makes you feel like you’re far away from the busy world.
Taste the Lilikoi Butter Mochi at Kahuku Farms (And While You’re There, Get an Acai Bowl Too)
For the longest time, I was convinced that the only way to get quality butter mochi was to get it from someone who made it at home. The ones you could buy at the store just didn’t hold up. That is until I tried the lilikoi butter mochi at Kahuku Farms. Not only did they make fantastic butter mochi, but they also added lilikoi (passion fruit) to it! It’s fantastic.
*Note: Butter mochi is different from mochi and mochi ice cream.
*Bonus: Kahuku Farms is also the only place on Oahu to sell acai bowls made from locally grown acai. That’s why this little nook has made it onto my lists of the best restaurants on Oahu’s North Shore and the best Hawaii farms.
Snorkel at Three Tables
When you look up the best things to do on Oahu, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is undoubtedly going to come up. I would disagree. I think Three Tables on the North Shore provides a much better snorkeling experience. Colorful schools of fish and a couple of sea turtles swim around the intricate maze of coral below you. I will say that the current is much stronger at Three Tables than at Hanauma Bay, so please watch you position before you drift farther than you plan.
Wander Around the Shops in Haleiwa
The shops in Haleiwa have this old-timey, slightly country feel to them. And inside they are selling tasty treats, delicious coffee, or the perfect souvenirs. If you’re a shopper, you should definitely add this to your list of things to do on Oahu.
Get the Garlic Shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is hands down the best North Shore shrimp truck. They have two locations: one in Haleiwa and one in Kahuku. Don’t get fooled into trying a different shrimp truck. Oh, and remember, get the garlic shrimp! They’ll also have a spicy option, but if you value your tongue, taste buds, and entire digestive system, DO NOT GET THE SPICY SHRIMP! It is WAY too spicy for anyone! Honestly, I think they have it to taunt people’s egos into buying it. It’s a good marketing strategy, I guess.
Stop by the Original Red Dirt Shirt Store
Something you may notice on your trip to Hawaii is that our dirt is red. Like bright red (it’s because it has a ton of iron in it). The Original Red Dirt Shirt store decided to capitalize on that fact. With several locations across the islands and even in Arizona and Utah, they are thriving. The only Oahu location is in Haleiwa, so be sure to make that a stop on your trip to the North Shore!
Things to Do on the Leeward Side of Oahu (The West Shore of Oahu)
Get Shave Ice from Island Shave Ice and Creamery
Everyone will tell you to go to Matsumoto’s on the North Shore for shave ice on Oahu. No. I strongly disagree. As a matter of fact, I think it’s one of Oahu’s biggest tourist traps. The lines are too long, and the syrup is too sweet.
Island Shave Ice and Creamery has it figured out though! Their syrups are fruity, not just sugary. And the best part is that no one really knows about it (so no lines!)
Interested in trying all of Hawaii’s unique and delicious food? Here’s a Hawaii Food Bucket List. Try to complete it!
Find Some Wild Dolphins to Swim with on the West Side
You know all of those dolphin encounters in pools at hotels or theme parks? They aren’t worth your money. Instead, find some WILD dolphins to swim with on the West Side of Oahu.
Now, I will be the first to admit that trying to find these wild dolphins on your own can be quite difficult at times, even if you know the right location and the right time. Plus, it can require a lot of swimming. So to help make this process a little bit easier, I recommend taking a dolphin watching and snorkeling tour.
If you’re looking to spend more time on the West side of Oahu, consider checking out the booming town of Kapolei.
Hop on Board the Hawaiian Railway Society’s Daily Train Ride
If you’re taking a family vacation to Hawaii with some little toddlers, you may be looking for something a little more chill than skydiving and ziplining. Instead, take a train tour across a good portion of West Oahu, as run by the Hawaiian Railway Society.
Swim with Stingrays at Electric Beach
I’ve decided to add another sea creature to your list: stingrays. While swimming with stingrays might seem like a scary thought (after all, they do have stingers), if keep your distance, you’ll be just fine!
Watch the Sunset at the Ko Olina Lagoons
The sunsets at the Ko Olina Lagoons are actually so stunning that I’ve written an entire post on it! As a matter of fact, the photo above is completely unedited! From the stunning colors to the perfect angle to the palm tree silhouettes, Ko Olina is definitely the place to go to for an amazing sunset.
Staying in Ko Olina and looking for other things to do in the area? This Ultimate Guide to the Ko Olina Lagoons has everything you need to know.
Find the Mermaid Cave
One of Oahu’s best hidden secrets is the Mermaid Cave. It took me years to find its location – and I’m a local! Let’s see if you can find it!
*Note: certain aspects of finding the mermaid cave may be dangerous. Please do your research (particularly about the tide. We want it to be low and stay low.) before heading out.
Go Scuba Diving and Find the Mahi Shipwreck
It’s time to strap on your oxygen tank and get ready to dive! Just a half a mile off of the west side of Oahu lies the Mahi Shipwreck. Because of all of the ocean coral and plant life that have started to grow on it, it has become a hub for sea creatures as well, making the experience just that much better. Interested? Kaimana Divers will take you there!
Discover the Makua Caves
The Makua Caves out on the west side of Oahu are relatively unknown, but you can see some stunning views of that portion of the island from those caves.
Things to Do in Central Oahu
Devour a Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation
Dole whips from anywhere except the Dole Plantation are subpar. That’s why you have to devour a Dole whip at the Dole Plantation. I personally prefer the one with pineapple topping around the edges.
*Bonus: it’s vegan! And even better, it doesn’t taste vegan!
*Local Tip: if you have a local friend, they can get a discount with his or her Hawaii ID.
Swing Off the Rope at Waimano Falls
Waimano Falls is one of the more difficult legal waterfall hikes on Oahu. But at the end, the result is totally worth it. Not only do you end up at a stunning 25-foot waterfall, but you also will find yourself at a pool with a rope to swing off of! It’ll make you feel just like Tarzan!
Want to do a waterfall hike on Oahu, but this one just isn’t your style? Here are seven more!
Step into History at Honouliuli National Monument on Oahu
In Hawaii, we are not ones to shy away from our history. The good and the bad. We remember King Kamehameha uniting all eight of the Hawaiian Islands. We remember the overthrowing of Queen Liliuokalani, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. We remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. And we remember the internment camps that Japanese Americans were consequently forced into, like at the Honouliuli National Monument.
Built and used in 1943, the Honouliuli Internment Camp was forgotten for quite a while, until it was rediscovered in 2002. In 2015, it was announced that this location would become the Honouliuli National Monument.
It is unknown when this national monument will officially open.
Get Poke from Tanioka’s
Poke – cubed fish with soy sauce and seaweed – is a dish that MUST be tried in Hawaii. I’ve had poke on the mainland (a.k.a. the continental United States) a couple of times, and it was terribly disappointing. On the whole, locals will agree that the best place to get poke is Tanioka’s in Waipahu.
If you’re looking for an authentic place to get poke that’s a little closer to you, here are a few more options.
Visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial
On December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Navy Air Service, which prompted the United States’ involvement in World War II. Hundreds of Americans gave their lives that day. Over 1,000 passed away on the USS Arizona alone.
A visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial will allow you to learn about and remember December 7, 1941.
Book Here: Official USS Arizona Memorial Audio Tour
Spend Your Morning at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
Aloha Stadium is Hawaii’s biggest stadium. Looking for a reason to visit but not all that into sports? Or looking for authentic souvenirs? The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is for you! Find everything you could ever imagine from miniature surfboard to sarongs to tikis to local snacks.
Wander through the World’s Largest Maze at the Dole Plantation
That’s right. The tiny island of Oahu, Hawaii has the world’s largest maze. And we are committed to keeping the title. At one point in time, someone built a maze that was slightly larger. The Dole Plantation was not about that, so it expanded its maze and reclaimed the title. So it’s definitely worth a wander.
*Bonus: You can turn it into a competition! Who can complete and find their way out of the maze first?
Things to Do Anywhere on Oahu
Find a Secret Beach by Driving Around and Finding a Bunch of Cars Parked on the Side of the Road
Whenever tourists come to Hawaii, they are convinced that we have secret beaches. And they’re right. We do. And one of the best things to do on Oahu is find them. While sometimes we find out about these secret beaches from our friends, other times we find them by driving around, seeing a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road, parking beside them, and finding out where they went. (Hint: it’s usually to a secret beach or hike.)
Want an easier way to find some of Oahu’s most stunning beaches? Here are 10 of them.
Watch for Whales in the Winter
Whales migrate down to Hawaii in the winter, because the rest of the world is too cold for them. That means there are tons of whales hanging out in our oceans, making it the perfect time to see them. The whales tend to like the southeast corner of Oahu the best, so the hike to Makapuu Lighthouse is a great place to catch a glimpse of them!
*Note: The easiest way to know where the whales are is to look for their spouts!
*Bonus: It’s even possible to swim with whales in Hawaii during the winter!
Spot Rainbow Trees
The tall trees that look like they have been painted with bright orange and lime green, famously known as rainbow trees, can be found at several hidden locations across Oahu – particularly on hikes. For example, they can be found at the beginning of the Waimano Falls hike. While the middle and end of the Waimano Falls hike are fairly difficult, the beginning is flat and totally doable, so you can pop by just for the rainbow trees.
Help Remove Invasive Plant Species with Travel2Change
Travel2Change is a nonprofit organization that encourages travelers to do their part to offset the negative environmental impact caused by travel. (Think of all that pollution a plane ride creates!) On Oahu, Travel2Change offers many opportunities to do so from hikes to kayaking adventures to beaches. On many of these adventures, the Travel2Change team guides volunteers to remove invasive plant species, as they can harm and overrun the rare native plant species of Hawaii. Consider doing your part to help the special environment on Oahu!
Do a Beach Clean-Up or Hike Clean-Up
We all know that the nature on Oahu is beautiful. But in order to keep it that way, we all need to do our part. Consider dedicating a few hours of your trip to do a beach clean-up or hike clean-up. Picking up a just a few pieces of trash could make more of a difference than you know.
Support Hawaii’s Local Artists
Heather Brown is one of the best surf artists in the world. Karen Whitworth captures the bright colors and dazzling light of Hawaii’s flowers, landscapes, and animals. Nick Kuchar designs some stunning Hawaii-themed vintage posters. And Sarah Caudle creates realistic, sleek ocean scenes (Use the code “Borders&BucketLists” for 10% off!). Check out their art and support Hawaii’s artists!
We also have a longer list of Hawaii artists for you to explore if you’d like.
Husk and Open a Coconut
This is much, much harder than it sounds. And if you look up videos of people doing it on the internet, it’ll still seem easy. (I mean, this guy manages to do it with his teeth!) But let me tell you from personal experience, it is not easy. Those husk fibers are ridiculously strong. And there are a lot of them all woven together, which just increases their insane strength.
*Tip: if you want to preserve the coconut water, make a small crack in the coconut shell and drip it into a cup.
*Note: if the coconut water is any color but clear, the coconut has gone bad.
Attend a Luau (Preferably One Hosted by Locals)
Luaus first came about in 1819, when King Kamehameha II decided to abolish the practice of men and women eating separately. In celebration of this declaration, King Kamehameha II planned a huge feast with both men and women.
Many locals today host luaus of their own with all the traditional dishes, including kalua pig, poi, and poke. While it may be difficult to get an invite to a luau hosted by locals, there are many other luau options. And to make sure that you don’t fall victim to a tourist trap, here’s our list of the most authentic luaus on Oahu.
Learn How to Blow a Conch Shell
Blowing a conch shell is a symbolic part of many Hawaiian ceremonies – both past and present ones. It is typically blown to signal the official beginning of a ceremony. Furthermore, it is blown only during daylight hours (except for luaus), in certain directions, and a certain number of times. Each of these details symbolizes a specific meaning in the Hawaiian culture. That means that as you learn how to blow a conch shell, please be mindful of Hawaiian culture.
Try Some Variation of Poi
Poi is a Native Hawaiian dish that comes from taro root. When the taro root is pounded into a purple sticky pudding consistency, it is poi. I’m personally not a fan of the sticky pudding consistency of poi, so I like it in bread form. It tastes like normal bread, but it’s a cool bright purple color.
You can find poi at several farmers’ markets across the island and even at the Whole Foods in Honolulu! For the most authentic poi experience, head to Waiahole Poi Factory.
Find a Beach Swing
Beach swings seem to be most popular on the east side of Oahu. So when you see one, plop down on it and just enjoy the amazing view.
Go to an Obon Festival
This Japanese Buddhist custom has become very popular in Hawaii. Around summer time each year, the Japanese Buddhists believe that their ancestors’ spirits return to the earth to visit them. Graves are visited, lanterns are hung, bon dances are performed, and food offerings are made. If you want to visit one, the Moiliili Obon Festival is the most widely attended Obon festival on Oahu.
Watch a Movie at a Consolidated Theater to See the Local Movie Intro
Before every single movie played at a Consolidated Theater in Hawaii, there is a little Hawaiian introduction with hula dancers, fire dancers, and even Native Hawaiian petroglyphs (the Native Hawaiian form of pictorial writing). Find a Consolidated Theater near you so you can have this fun local experience in Hawaii!
Learn How to Make a Lei
Leis, which are like fresh flower necklaces, were used in native Hawaiian culture to indicate sacredness, status, and peace. Today, many hotels will offer leis to guests upon arrival. Women will usually receive ones made of orchids, and men will receive ones made of kukui nuts. In addition, many hotels also offer lei-making classes. The process is actually quite simple, as it only requires some flowers, string, and a long needle. Consider taking some time to learn about this special Hawaiian tradition.
Take a Helicopter Tour
On this list, I’ve already given recommendations of how to see Oahu from both on land and in the water. Now, I’m giving you a third option: in the sky. There are several companies that do helicopter tours over the island of Oahu, so take your pick!
Book Here: Oahu 60-Minute Helicopter Tour
Take Home a Jar of Smooth Big Island Bees Honey
I love Big Island Bees Honey. It’s so good. It’s probably the best honey I’ve ever had, and I go out of my way to try weird types of honey. What makes Big Island Bees special is that each honey is made from the pollen of a specific, rare type of Hawaiian flower – and the pollen from the flowers don’t mix!
My favorite type of honey is Big Island Bees’ ohia lehua blossom honey. The ohia lehua blossom is actually only found in Hawaii, so it’s definitely a unique one. While you may be able to find little taster packs at souvenir stores for quite an expensive price, Costco actually tends to have very large jars for a reasonable price. If you can’t find it there, Amazon has some for a bit more money.
Spot a Mongoose
Mongoose are kind of like Hawaii’s version of squirrels. They are both commonly found in natural areas and both quickly scurry away from humans. With a similar physique to ferrets, these little creatures are most commonly seen at the Ko Olina Lagoons or other beach areas filled with leafy greenery.
Buy Swimwear from Sundaze Bikinis (It’s Made from Cleaned up Ocean Plastic!)
Sundaze Bikinis is such an admirable company. They take ocean plastic that is harming the environment and turn it into a product that can be used to enjoy that environment! Plus, with their designs, you don’t have to worry about straps untying, which is a great bonus.
Use the code BORDERS15 on the Sundaze Bikinis website to get 15% off your order!
Just in case you’re interested in supporting more sustainable Hawaii-based businesses, we’ve got a list of 22 just for you!
Embrace the Aloha Spirit and Let Someone into Your Lane While You’re Driving
There are some aggressive drivers across the mainland (a.k.a. the continental United States). On the whole, in Hawaii, we are pretty calm drivers (although the influx of people moving from the mainland has caused us to become a little more aggressive than before). Sometimes we’ll let people cross the street even if there’s no crosswalk. Sometimes we’ll let someone into our lane if they just signal. We’re just spreading the aloha spirit. You should try it out too!
Eat a Spam Musubi from 7/11
I know. I know. It seems sketchy to get food from 7/11. And it kind of is. But you have to trust me on this one. Spam musubis are cubes of rice with a slice of spam on top, all wrapped in seaweed. And spam musubis from 7/11 are undoubtedly the best in Hawaii.
Don’t believe me? Honolulu Magazine, the most popular local magazine across the islands, backs me up.
Watch a Hula Competition
To the native Hawaiians, hula served as a way to remember their history, tell their stories, and keep their culture blossoming. When English missionaries came to Hawaii, they actually tried to suppress hula. But this valuable, culturally-rich tradition managed to pull through and is still practiced today. As a matter of fact, there are many hula competitions across the Hawaiian Islands. Some on Oahu include the King Kamehameha Hula Competition, the Prince Lot Hula Festival, and the World Invitational Hula Festival.
Stop by a Neighborhood Pride Shop
Recently, there’s been a lot of neighborhood pride happening on Oahu. #keepitkaimuki and #ourkakaako are growing hashtags. And guess what? This movement of neighborhood pride has a few shops to go with it! SoHa Living at Kamakana Alii has some West Side pride. And if you’re around Kaimuki, keep your eye out for a “Keep It Kaimuki” tote bag, because it can actually get you some discounts!
Enjoy Some Mochi Ice Cream from Bubbies
Bubbies has been THE PLACE to go for mochi ice cream for as long as I can remember. While once upon a time you could go to their brick-and-mortar locations and get practically any flavor you could imagine, that’s no longer the case. Bubbies has expanded internationally (good for them!), but in the process, they’ve had to close their locations on Oahu.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy bubbies ice cream! Check the freezer section at practically any grocery store on Oahu. Get flavors like lilikoi (passion fruit), chocolate, mango, and lychee in a box of six. Or if you’d prefer to get a taste of the old in-house Bubbies experience, head to any of the Whole Foods locations on the island. You’ll be able to select from a wide range of flavors, and get as many as you want. Do you want two sakura (cherry blossom), one guava, and one matcha (green tea)? You can do that!
Read Pidgin to Da Max at one of the branches of the Hawaii State Library
Pidgin to Da Max is kind of like a hilarious dictionary of all of the words used in the local dialect known as Pidgin. Not sure what I’m talking about? Here’s an introductory post to get you started. And once you’re done with that, get your hands on Pidgin to Da Max. It’s definitely worth a read!
Paint Oahu’s Nature
One of the most unique things to do on Oahu is to paint Oahu’s nature. Even I haven’t gotten around to doing this yet, but it seems like such a cool idea! I would love to plop down at a beach or a botanical garden and just paint the landscape in front of me. The famed Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden actually has a designated painting time every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to noon, so if you want to meet up with some fellow artists, this would be the perfect opportunity!
Experience the Rain and the Sun at the Same Time
I’ve heard that in other places they call this meeting of events a “sun shower.” During the winter on Oahu, there’s a good chance you’ll experience this for a short while on any given day.
Taste Fresh Lilikoi (Or At Least Something with Lilikoi in It)
Lilikoi – also known as passion fruit – is absolutely fantastic. It melds together both tangy flavors and sweet flavors. If you haven’t tried it, try it. To find it, your best bet is to head to a farmer’s market.
Try Your Hand at Surfing
You’re in Hawaii. We’re known across the globe for surfing. So something you have to do on Oahu is attempt to surf. Think about trying it out with an instructor on some very chill waves (in Waikiki perhaps?).
Book Here: Group Surfing Lesson in Waikiki
Book Here: Kid-Friendly Surfing Lesson in Waikiki
Try Your Hand at Body Boarding
Don’t have the balance for surfing? Try body boarding instead! Instead of using a huge surf board to slide down the waves, hang on to a little body board! Sandy Beach is the place that locals go to body board.
Or Maybe Even Body Surfing
If body boarding is still a little too difficult, body surfing is the easiest of all.
Step 1: Find a semi-wavy beach with no rocks. (I usually opt for one on the west side of Oahu.)
Step 2: Position yourself about five feet from the shore. Face your body towards the shore and your head towards the ocean.
Step 3: When you see a wave coming, paddle and kick as fast as you can!
Step 4: Slide onto the shore with the power of the wave.
Try a Manapua
A manapua is Hawaii’s version of the Chinese char siu bun. And it’s delicious. Plus, if char siu meat isn’t your favorite, you can find places around the island with fill it with a few other local favorites, including kalua pig. It’s actually so iconic that we have someone known as the manapua man. See if you can find him!
Sip on Some POG
POG: Passion Orange Guava juice. The local drink of Hawaii (well, I guess, maybe I should include Kona Coffee too). You definitely need to try a glass on your visit to the islands. It’s served at many breakfast joints, but you can also buy some at grocery stores across the island.
Spot a Monk Seal
So far on this list I’ve recommended that you see turtles, dolphins, whales, and stingrays. Hawaii is very much a refuge for sea animals, so I’ll recommend one more: monk seals. These creatures will just plop themselves onto a shoreline and sunbathe in the warm weather. They’re fantastic at finding the spots that we humans haven’t touched yet. So odds are, if you want to see them you’ll have to go out of your way and off the beaten path.
Trying to figure out what other things to do in Hawaii? Here is my Hawaii bucket list, as a local.
Or maybe you’re looking for a more kid-friendly list of things to do on Oahu? Here are 60 options for you and your little ones!
Are there other things to do on Oahu that you think MUST be on this list? Or did you have an absolutely amazing experience doing one of these activities? Tell me about it in the comments! (I promise I’ll respond!)
Are you planning a trip to Oahu any time soon? Or maybe just dreaming about one? Pin this for later, so you don’t forget about all of these awesome ideas!