20 Best Things to Do on Oahu
Oahu is an incredible island with a variety of things to do including hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, and visiting breathtaking beaches. If you are looking for a mix of relaxing and exploring, Oahu is the perfect island to visit. Plan your trip to Oahu with this list of the 20 best things to do on Oahu.
1. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay, located on the southeast coast of Oahu, is one of the best places to snorkel on the island. While snorkeling in this nature preserve you can see Yellowfin Surgeonfish (Pualu), Trumpet Fish (Nunu), Teardrop Butterflyfish (Kikakapu), Christmas Wrasse (Awela), Orangespine Unicornfish (Umaumalei), Yellow Tang (Lau’ipala), green sea turtle, and more. Make sure to make reservations ahead of time and bring your snorkel gear. I used this snorkel set for Hanauma Bay and highly recommend it.
2. Learn to Surf in Waikiki
Wakiki is one of the best places to surf in the world. A trip to Oahu isn’t complete without attempting to learn how to surf. There are several surf lesson options, including a private lesson or a small group lesson. You can take a look at the surf lessons available and book on Viator.
3. Hike to Lanikai Pillbox
One of the best hiking trails on Oahu takes you to two pillboxes, where you can see beautiful views of Lanikai Beach and Waimanalo Bay as well as two small islands called Moku Nui and Moku Iki. There is no shade on this trail and it can get very hot, so make sure to bring plenty of water. The hike is very steep until the pillboxes, where you can enjoy the views and then continue along the ridge. The best part of the trail is past the pillboxes where you can see breathtaking views of the mountains, ocean, beaches, and the town of Kailua.
4. Explore Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is a well-known (and free) botanical garden on the windward side of Oahu. You can drive through the large garden and stop at different areas within the garden to take a walk and see unique plants. One of the best parts of this botanical garden is that it has incredible views of the mountain ridges.
5. Hike to Waimano Falls
A 3-mile round trip hike leads you to Waimano Falls. Waimano Falls is a beautiful clear blue waterfall that drops into a pool that you can swim in. The hike can be slippery so make sure to wear shoes with good traction. I hiked with these Salomon Hiking Shoes for this trail as they are light and have good traction. The trail starts on a paved road, which later turns into dirt and rocks. Follow the river upstream, and you will first see a small waterfall with a small pool. Make sure to continue up the trail to see a view of the full Waimano Falls with the bigger pool. If you choose to swim in the pool keep in mind that it does require a dangerous climb down into the pool.
6. Sunset Cruise in Waikiki
One of the best things to do on Oahu is to watch the sunset from the water. There are several different sunset cruise operators you can choose from depending on what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend. Enjoy a relaxing evening watching the sunset from a boat with views of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. This BYOB sunset cruise is a great budget option.
7. Hike Kuliouou Ridge
One of the best things to do on Oahu is to hike up one of the ridges for views of the windward side. Kuliouou Ridge takes you to an incredible viewpoint with Hawaii Kai on one side and Waimanalo on the other. The trail starts from the end of a neighborhood valley with many switchbacks. You will then reach a pine forest and continue walking up to the ridge where you will have to climb countless stairs to get to the top. As you are climbing you will see views of Koko Head and Hawaii Kai harbor. The clouds often pass through so if it is cloudy when you get to the top try to wait it out a bit.
8. Relax at Lanikai Beach
Located on the windward side of Oahu, Lanikai Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island. Lanikai Beach has views of the Mokulua Islands and very clear blue water making it the perfect scenic beach for a swim. The beach can get very crowded, so try to visit during on a weekday. Be respectful of the residents when parking in the neighborhood and be aware of the signs.
9. Explore Kualoa Ranch & Private Nature Preserve
Kualoa Ranch is a private nature preserve and a working cattle ranch. Since the 1950’s there have been over 70 Hollywood movies filmed here including Jurassic World, Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Godzilla and 50 First Dates. There are a variety of tour options to explore this beautiful area including a UTV tour, boat tour, and a Jurassic adventure tour.
10. Snorkel at Three Tables Beach
One of the best things to do on Oahu is to snorkel at Three Tables Beach on the north shore. The name comes from the three flat reef formations in the water. Make sure to bring snorkel gear so you can enjoy this top snorkeling destination. The best place to snorkel is close to the reef formations as that is where you will see the most fish and sea turtles. Be careful because the waves can push you towards the reef. You will have the chance to see a variety of colorful fish here such as the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaii State Fish), parrot fish, cornet fish, blue tang, yellow tang, and more.
11. See Incredible Ocean Views from Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail
This 2.5 mile roundtrip trail on Oahu is known for views of the lighthouse, Rabbit Island, Waimanalo Beach, Olomana (three mountain peaks), and more. The trail has no shade and it can get very hot, so make sure to bring water and sunscreen. On a clear day you can also see the nearby islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui as you are hiking up the trail. The top of the trail has three viewing platforms where you can enjoy views of Oahu and in the winter it is possible to spot whales.
12. Kaneohe Sandbar
Kaneohe Sandbar is a raised area of sand in Kaneohe Bay off the coast of Oahu that is about 1 mile wide and 3 miles long. How exposed the sandbar is depends on the tides. Usually during low tide the water is ankle deep, while at high tide it is waist deep. It is rare that the sandbar is completely exposed, but the shallow water makes it even more beautiful since it is a clear turquoise color. Kaneohe Sandbar also has reefs nearby which makes it the perfect place to snorkel. You can get to Kaneohe Sandbar by kayak or boat. Follow this guide for how to kayak to Kaneohe Sandbar. Consider booking this boat tour to Kaneohe Sandbar if you are looking to get to Kaneohe Sandbar by boat.
13. Visit Waimea Botanical Garden
Waimea Valley is a beautiful botanical garden with a waterfall located on the north shore of Oahu. The 1.5 mile (roundtrip) walking path to the waterfall is paved and guides you through a botanical garden and historical sites. Depending on conditions, you could swim in the pool below the falls but it is a requirement to wear a life vest while in the water, which are available for rent.
14. Kayak to the Mokulua Islands
The Mokulua Islands (Mokes) are a set of islets off the coast of Lanikai on the windward side of Oahu. Kayaking to the Mokes is a challenging experience that makes for great memories. On your way to the Mokes you can snorkel above live coral and see different fish and sea turtles. When you get to the Mokes you can relax on the beach, hike to Queens Bath, and see tide pools and sea birds. Plan your adventure to the Mokulua Islands with our guide to kayaking to the Mokulua Islands. If you don’t feel comfortable navigating on your own you could book this Guided Kayak Tour to the Mokes. Another option is to book this sailing adventure to the Mokulua Islands.
15. Helicopter Tour of Oahu
If you are looking to see more incredible views of the ocean, mountains, and rainforests on Oahu, you could book a helicopter tour of the island. There are several helicopter tour options including this 30-minute doors off /on helicopter tour.
16. Visit Secluded Beaches on the West Side
The west side of Oahu has beautiful secluded beaches that are worth checking out. Visiting these beaches on the west side is a good option if it is raining on other parts of the island as this is the dry side and it is more likely to be sunny here. First visit Makua Beach which is the second to last beach on the west side of the island. This beach has beautiful sand and is surrounded by mountains. It doesn’t usually get too busy because it is located far from other sights. Next, continue to Keawaula Beach, the final beach on the west side of the island. This scenic beach has beautiful blue water that is really nice to swim in and is also surrounded by large mountains.
17. Kayak to Chinaman's Hat and Climb to the Top
Chinaman’s Hat Island, also known as Moloki’i island is a small islet off the coast of the windward side of Oahu. Moloki’i translates to “little lizard” and is based on a story from Hawaiian Mythology. One of the top things to do on Oahu is to Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat Island and hike to the top of the island. Kayaking to Chinaman’s Hat is a short 15-20 minute paddle. The hiking trail up to the top of Chinaman’s Hat is very challenging and requires climbing using your hands and feet. The climb up can take about 15 minutes or less, depending on your scrambling skills. At the top of Chinaman’s Hat you will be rewarded with incredible 360-degree views of Oahu and the ocean. If you don’t feel comfortable hiking up Chinaman’s Hat you could hike around the circumference of the island instead. For more information, read to this guide on How to Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat.
18. Swim with Sharks in the North Shore
If you are looking for a unique experience, book a tour to swim with sharks in the North Shore of Oahu. You can choose from a tour where you dive in a cage or a cage-free tour depending on what you feel comfortable with. These tours from Haleiwa give you the opportunity to swim with sharks and learn more about them.
19. Take a beach walk on Waimanalo Beach
Waimanalo Beach is the longest beach on Oahu, at about 3 miles long. This beautiful stretch of white sand beach is the perfect place to take a beach walk. From the beach you can see Rabbit Island, the Mokolua Islands, and the mountain ridges. The water here is perfect for swimming, boogie boarding, and body surfing. Make sure to check for Portuguese Man O’War before entering the water here because they are common on Waimanalo Beach on windy days.
20. See Plumerias in Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Koko Crater Botanical Garden is a free botanical garden with a variety of plants. The best time to visit this botanical garden is between March and October when the Plumerias bloom. This botanical garden is large and has several sections, but the main one worth seeing is the Plumeria Grove when it is blooming. The Plumeria grove can be found right at the entrance of the garden.
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