The island of Oahu is the most popular island in Hawaii. It is most known for Waikiki, but there is so much more to do around the island.
After having travelled to Oahu a few times, I have really fallen in love with the island. The island is vibrant and full of locals who are friendly, the food choices that are diverse, and the natural environment is just breathtaking.
Here are my top 21 things to do in Oahu.
Swim & Surf at Waikiki
Waikiki Beach is not only a great spot for swimming, but is also a great spot to surf. You can rent surfboards all along Waikiki Beach.
If you don’t know how to surf, Waikiki is a great spot to learn and many of the vendors renting boards, will also offer surf lessons. I did my surf lesson through the Hans Hedemann Surf School, which is located right behind the Starbucks next to the Honolulu Zoo on Kapahulu Avenue.
I am also a big fan of swimming at Waikiki, because on a sunny day the water is a beautiful turquoise blue and I find that when swimming closer in the waves are not too big.
I would look for a spot to relax and swim towards the side of Waikiki beach where you’ll find Duke Kahanomoku’s statue and the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. It’s less crowded (but can still be busy) than if you head to the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Hotel / Sheraton Waikiki side of the beach. Of all the things to do in Oahu, relaxing at the beach is my favourite.
Mai Tai at Duke’s Waikiki
The Mai Tai is a popular cocktail in Hawaii and you can find it at most bars and restaurants. My favorite spot to enjoy a Mai Tai is at Duke’s Waikiki during the sunset time. Duke’s Waikiki is located at the Outrigger Waikiki and offers a fantastic atmosphere for drinks and a meal.
If you head to Duke’s for sunset drinks or dinner, do go slightly early to grab yourself a good seat, as it does get quite busy during sunset. Probably best to look at booking a table.
You should also try the Hula Pie for dessert – it’s delicious and huge. Best to be shared between 2-3 people.
Hike up Diamond Head
You’ll recognise Diamond Head as the hill that overlooks Waikiki. You can hike up Diamond Head to see beautiful views of Oahu, including a panoramic view of Waikiki.
The park opens from 6am to 6pm and you should allow for about 1-2 hours to hike. I would recommend hiking up first thing in the morning, before it starts to get too hot. If you start at 6am, you may get to enjoy the sunrise from the top.
Go Shopping at Ala Moana
Ala Moana is Hawaii’s largest shopping centre and offers an open-air shopping mall experience. There are many of the main brands located here, from high-end luxury stores to department stores and other retailers.
There is also a free hula show that you can watch on most days during the early afternoon. It lasts about 20-30 minutes.
To get there, take the trolley to Ala Moana and then take a taxi back, once you have done all your shopping.
Take the trolley to get around
The trolley in Honolulu is a great and affordable way to get around the island. It can get a bit confusing as there are a few different types of trolleys. Many Japanese tour companies run their own trolleys.
Look out for the Waikiki Trolley, which run a blue line, green line, red line, and pink line that takes you to different locations, depending on what you are looking to do. For instance, the red line is the historic line, which will take you to all the key historic sights around Honolulu.
Watch the surf North Shore
The North Shore is a beautiful spot on Oahu and it is much less crowded than Waikiki. When considering where to stay in Oahu, I suggest planning a couple of nights in the North Shore. It is also famous for its surf breaks, including Pipeline and Waimea Bay. On a good day, sit by the beach and watch surfers attempt to ride these famous breaks – it’s really quite a sight, especially when the waves are of a considerable size. You might even spot a famous surfer!
Visit the Turtle Bay Resort
The Turtle Bay Resort in the North Shore is a resort that boasts lovely views of the Kuilima Cove and Kawela Bay. If you are not staying at the resort, enjoy sunset drinks at the pool bar whilst watching surfers ride the waves at Kawela Bay. And the best part about Turtle Bar is that this is the best spot to snorkel with turtles in Oahu.
You can also book a kayaking tour through the activities desk, which is a great experience and fantastic way to enjoy the bay.
Savour the Japanese fusion cuisine at Morimoto Waikiki
The food here at Morimoto Waikiki is probably some of the best Japanese fusion food I have had. The restaurant is owned by Chef Morimoto, who is known as one of the Iron Chefs from the Food Network’s show “Iron Chef America.”
The food was delicious and we found the service excellent. The menu is on the expensive side, but we found it to be worth the quality of the food and drinks. I would say that the food served is more Japanese fusion rather than traditional Japanese.
Our waiter gave us a Sake Tasting Plate, which had 4 different styles of Sake that complimented what we were eating. I also recommend the Morimoto Hazelnut beer, which you can also get at several ABC stores.
The dishes that I enjoyed were the Hamachi Tacos, Wagyu Carpaccio, Sashimi Combination, Angry Chicken and Braised Black Cod
Go Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay
If you are looking to snorkel, Hanauma Bay is one of the best parts of the island for this. Hanauma Bay is a protected natural reserve located in the southeast side of Honolulu.
Before you are able to snorkel, you have to watch a short educational video about Hanauma Bay. And if you didn’t bring any snorkelling gear, you can rent a set.
Definitely bring a towel, and essentials like sunscreen and a hat. If you plan to spend a while here, bring some light food and drinks.
Try Shaved Iced
Shaved ice is a popular desert around Hawaii – its just like a snow cone. You can get shaved ice all around the island and they come in so many different flavours. The cost of the shaved ice is reasonable.
I enjoyed the Green Tea flavoured shaved ice – it was like a less creamy version of a Green Tea ice cream.
Enjoy the view at Nu’uanu Pali
When we first hired our car from the airport, we decided to head up to see the view at Nu’uanu Pali. It is just off the Pali Highway and provides a beautiful view of Oahu. It can get very windy up there so take care of your hats.
Rent a convertible
On a perfectly sunny day, driving in a convertible was a fun experience and it was a great way to really enjoy the coastal roads of Oahu.
Keep a close eye on rainy weather – if you see grey clouds heading your way, quickly close the top. On the Ford Mustang we rented, the top wouldn’t close while driving so we had to pull over. And when you leave the car, make sure the top is down and the car is locked up, because unfortunately car break-ins do happen.
Sunset at Kahanamoku Beach
This beach is located in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel and just around the corner from the Modern Hotel. Sit by the rocks to enjoy the sunset – this area has a more unobstructed view of the sunset over the water and is much less crowded.
And after the sun has set, head to the Modern Hotel for a drink at their pool bar. This bar is really lovely in the evening – with candles and lanterns everywhere.
Beer at the Yard House
The Yard House in Waikiki has over 100 different types of beers to choose from around the world. They have a great variety of American beers, including a number of beers from Hawaii. Hawaiian beers that you should try include Maui Brewing’s “Coconut Porter” and “Mana Wheat,” as well as Kona Brewing’s “Fire Rock Pale” and “Longboard Lager.”
The staffs are quite knowledgeable about the range of beer – so if you want to select a beer that pairs well with your food, do ask your waiter for any suggestions. And if you still don’t know what to pick, the Yard House offers a tasting plate.
Eat Tacos & Burritos from the Surf N’ Salsa Food Truck in Haleiwa
You can get Mexican food from many places around the island. My favourite spot is the Surf N’ Salsa food truck in in the town of Haleiwa up on the North Shore area. They are located on the Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa. My favourite dishes here are the chicken tacos, steak burrito and the carne asada plate
Scoff down a plate of shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore
Around the North Shore, there are several shrimp trucks serving up a delicious dish of garlicky shrimp with rice. My favourite is from Giovanni’s Shrimp truck, which you can find in two different locations up in the North Shore. The Giovanni’s truck on the Kamehameha Highway in Kahuku is less crowded than the one in Haleiwa, so I would recommend this one.
The Shrimp Scampi is my choice – the shrimp is well cooked and comes with a deliciously garlicky sauce.
Watch the free hula show at the Kuhio Beach Park
At Kuhio Beach Park, which is located right near Duke Kahanomoku’s statue, you can watch a free hula show several times during the week. The show lasts about one hour during the evening.
The show can get quite packed, so come a little early so you can save yourself a seat on the lawn.
Eat Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory
When you get to the Cheesecake Factory, especially around dinnertime, you’ll see huge lines of people waiting to get in. The Cheesecake Factory has been around for a long time, but I think it was really made famous because of the show “The Big Bang Theory.”
Personally, I felt that the food was ok, not sure if I would wait in a long lineup. But what I did love was the cheesecake – I mean after all, it is the ‘cheesecake factory!’ So if you are only after some delicious cheesecake, skip the long food line and head straight to the cake counter. You can order your cheesecake to go and enjoy it by the beach.
The selection of cheesecake is huge and it can get mind-boggling to pick the flavour. After a few trips here, I have picked my favourites to be the Lemon Meringue, Pumpkin Pecan, Red Velvet and Salted Caramel.
Watch a Luau
A luau is a Hawaiian feast, which features an array of traditional Hawaiian foods and a Polynesian dance show.
I have to admit that the two times I attended a Luau was on the island of Maui, so it is hard for me to recommend any one on Oahu. But based on chats with friends who have been to a Luau in Oahu, they would recommend Germaine’s Luau and the Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Centre.
Buy souvenirs from the ABC stores
ABC stores are in abundance around Waikiki and I found these stores the best spot to buy souvenirs and snacks. Some will also offer great deals on bottle water, which is handy to stock up on if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing. If you don’t want to eat at a restaurant or café, you can also buy food here, such as sandwiches.
Eat Pancakes at Mac 24/7
Mac 24/7 is located the Hilton Waikiki Beach hotel and offer an all day breakfast. I love the pancakes here.
If you are keen, try the pancake challenge, where you have to eat 3 x 14 inch pancakes topped with all various toppings within 90 minutes. If you succeed, the pancakes are free and you get a t-shirt along with your photo on the Wall of Fame.
In addition to my above list of things to do in Oahu, my bonus tip is – while staying in Waikiki, if you can afford it, opt to book an ocean view room, preferably with a balcony. Trust me, it’ll be well worth it!