Palm trees, coconuts, fresh fish, lush rainforests, white sand beaches with turquoise-colored waters. Hawaii is a destination most people dream of experiencing at least once in their lives.
The combination of the beautiful scenery, alluring weather, and enriching culture all contribute to making it one of the most popular vacation destinations!
Making an itinerary for a trip to Oahu can be hard. There are so many things to do and see, ranging from shopping to eating, going on hiking adventures to exploring botanical gardens, and parasailing to even sky diving!
Sure, there are the typical touristy things to do such as hiking Diamond Head and snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, but I wanted to share with you all the other fun things you could do in Oahu.
This Oahu bucket list is conveniently broken out into four different sections–one for each part of the island:
- South Oahu – Waikiki and Honolulu areas, Kahala, Makapu’u, Hawaii Kai
- North Oahu – Ka’ena, Kahuku, Pupukea, Haleiwa
- East Oahu – Kailua, Lanikai, Kaneohe, Punalu’u, Waiahole
- West Oahu – Ko’olina, Kapolei, Nanakuli, Makaha
Continue reading to discover the ultimate Oahu bucket list of things to do. You’ll find no shortage of exciting excursions, dining recommendations, and off-the-beaten-path gems!
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Grab a pen and paper because you’re gonna have a lot of itinerary ideas after this post!
OAHU IN A NUTSHELL
Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!
- When To Go: December through March (peak season). September to November or April to June (off-season, for equally pleasant weather and fewer crowds).
- Nearest Airport: Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
- Where To Stay: The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club – it’s cute and retro, has no resort fee, AND free parking! Or we recommend Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei – not directly in Waikiki, but has no resort fees, free parking, AND free breakfast!
- How to Get Around: You will need a car. We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal. Book early because rental cars in Hawaii go like hotcakes!
- Must-Do’s: Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, spend a whole day exploring the North Shore, and be touristy by experiencing a luau — Paradise Cove Luau is by far one of the most famous luaus on the island!
- Before You Go: Pack your snorkel gear to avoid having to rent! And remember to pack a rain jacket — Oahu’s weather can be unpredictable, and rain is possible at any time of the year. Oh yeah, pack a beach bag too!
Things To Do In Oahu: South Shore (Honolulu and Waikiki)
- Get a feel for the whole island on a full-day Grand Circle Island and Haleiwa tour – 9 hours of pure awesomeness where you’ll get to see all of Oahu’s most important landmarks, from Diamond Head to the North Shore.
- Walk Waikiki Beach – you’ll pass great beaching spots like Queen’s Beach, Kuhio Beach Park, and more.
- Spend a day at the Honolulu Zoo – expect Asian elephants, hippos, lemurs, tortoises, Komodo dragons, and more.
- Hike Manoa Falls – Falls are located just 0.8-miles from a trailhead that takes you through the lush rainforest. This is a quick and easy side trip that complements any day of exploration.
- Snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – Oahu’s most popular snorkeling spot! While beautiful, there is a rather steep admission fee (and snorkel rentals are not included in that price).
- Snorkel for free at Kiona Beach Park – if you bring your own snorkel set, it’s completely free! Please note there are no snorkel rentals on site.
- See Honolulu from the air on an exhilarating 60-min helicopter tour – you’ll fly above the island’s most well-known landmarks, such as Diamond Head, Sacred Falls, the Dole Plantation, and Pearl Harbor.
- Hike Koko Head – a total butt-burner, but the views at the top are totally worth the effort. Try a sunrise hike! The views in the morning are just beautiful.
- Climb the Diamond Head State Monument – this is one of the best-known volcano craters in the world. The view from the summit of this 760-foot crater is well worth the climb! There is an admission and a parking fee, so if you can’t justify paying a fee to hike, skip this one.
- Rent surfboards or take surfing lessons at Waikiki.
- Go on a parasailing adventure – despite it looking scary and intimidating, it’s actually quite calm and scenic at the top!
- Eat at Zippy’s or Rainbow Drive-In – At Zippy’s, get the Zip Pac, Korean Chicken, or Chili Rice. At Rainbow, get the combo plate lunch!
- Take the kids to Waikiki Aquarium – be sure to check the calendar of events to see if anything special is happening!
- Visit the USS Arizona Memorial to learn all about Pearl Harbor.
- Visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum – the hangars housing the museum were bombed during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, and you’ll explore the place where history happened.
- Tour the USS Missouri at the Battleship Missouri Memorial – the site of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the US that brought an end to Japanese involvement in WWII.
- Go on a snorkel excursion of Turtle Canyons – one of the most epic snorkeling tours offered on the island! Green sea turtles, tropical fish, spinner dolphins–what else could you want?
- Go to the KCC Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at the Kapiolani Community College.
- Go shopping at the Ala Moana Center – the world’s largest outdoor shopping center! The best part is, all the parking here is free! Be sure to stop at Foodland Farms (a massive Foodland grocery store) to pick up fruits, poke, local treats, and bento boxes before heading home.
- Pick up souvenirs at Don Quijote – they have snacks, groceries, gifts, and literally anything else you can think of.
- Learn about Hawaiian royalty history at the Iolani Palace – the grand staircase area is drop-dead gorgeous!
- Explore the cafes, restaurants, and art galleries in the Arts District.
- Take a free lei-making class at the Royal Hawaiian Center – check out a bunch of their other free events here.
- Go on a dolphin-watching snorkel cruise from Honolulu – you can do so many water activities on this cruise; snorkel gear, kayaks, and paddleboards are available onboard.
- Stroll through a tropical rainforest research center at Lyon Arboretum.
- Go shopping for discounted premium goods at Waikele Premium Outlets – they have stores like Tori Burch, Kate Spade, and more.
- Attend the nighttime farmers market at the International Market Place – a great place to pick up local jams, honey, and other handmade gifts. You can also find many retail stores and restaurants here.
- Go on a catamaran cruise – we did a sunset catamaran cruise and had a very relaxing time (with those unlimited drinks). And even saw dolphins!
- Visit Chinatown – spend an hour or so strolling through Chinatown, making sure to peek into all the noodle factories, herbal shops, grocery markets, and gift shops.
- Learn all about Polynesian culture at the Bishop Museum – enjoy fun exhibits on Polynesian culture, 22 million specimens of animal and plant life, and even an ‘active’ volcano display.
- Explore the Queen Emma Summer Palace – a seven-room home that was once the royal family’s retreat, featuring a unique blend of Victorian furniture, royal art, and the hallmarks of Hawaiian royal style!
- Pick up traditional Hawaiian snacks and candies at Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks – be prepared to spend a lot of money here, especially if you like dried fish and li hing candy!
- Art lovers, visit the Honolulu Museum of Art.
- Pick up cheap and delicious musubis at Musubi Cafe Iyasume – they have locations across the Waikiki/Honolulu area!
- Eat poke – there are so many awesome poke spots on Oahu! It’ll be impossible to try them all, but in this area, we are fans of Ono Seafood, Maguro Brothers Hawaii, and Fresh Catch. If these places run out of fish, the poke at Foodland is always a reliable option!
- Visit the Hawaii State Art Museum – one of the few state-sponsored art museums in the country. Did we mention this museum is completely free to the public? Score!
- Get underwater via a submarine with Atlantis Adventures – you’ll go down to the depths of ~120 feet and explore the Atlantis reef, home to exotic marine life. There are sunken ships, airplanes, and other structures to see too!
- Explore the Hawaiian Mission Houses, a National Historic Landmark – the site of Honolulu’s oldest structures.
- Attend the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet for affordable souvenirs, gifts, tasty local snacks, and more. Bring cash!
- Get malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery. The haupia-filled and the plain ones are our favorite flavors!
- Swing by Liliha Bakery or Kamehameha Bakery for soft and delicious poi donuts.
- Try a haupia pie or taro pie at McDonald’s – only in Hawaii! We always try to bring home a dozen to freeze and enjoy later.
- Watch the Kuhio Beach Torch Lighting and Hula Show – these impressive 60-minute shows are held every Saturday from 6:30pm to 7:30pm (or 6:00pm to 7:00pm from Nov to Jan).
- Attend First Fridays in Chinatown and the Honolulu Arts District – a monthly event where the art galleries, restaurants, and nightspots become bustling from around 5-9pm.
- Enjoy free cultural activities at the Royal Hawaiian Center – classes include lei-making, hula lessons, Lauhala weaving, ukelele lessons, and Hawaiian quilting. They sometimes even have rooftop stargazing that’s open to the public, too.
- Listen to free live music at Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club (this is also one of my favorite hotels to stay at in Waikiki–free parking, no resort fees!).
- Cool yourself off at Waiola Shave Ice – don’t forget to order a side of the mochi balls, the best toppings ever.
- Snap a few photos by the Duke Kahanamoku Statue – the statue commemorates Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the “father of modern surfing” and one of Hawaii’s most influential people.
- Go humpback whale watching (when whale sightings are guaranteed) – During the months from December to May, pods of humpback whales migrate through Hawaii’s warm waters, and this tour guarantees whale sightings.
- Try taro pancakes at Bogart’s Cafe – this is the only place I’ve found that has fresh taro chunks as a topping, so delicious!
- Eat made-to-order taro donuts at Holey Grail Donuts – can you tell I love taro everything yet?
- Marvel at Islamic art at Shangri La – Be sure to book tickets for this tour as early as possible (tours are run by the Honolulu Museum of Art).
- Get a crash course on Hawaiian food at Helena’s Hawaiian Food – Not sure what to get? Start with the lau lau (pork steamed in taro leaves), kalbi ribs, beef stew, and poi. I hope you love all of it!
- Grab a plate lunch meal at Yama’s Fish Market – Do not miss the sweet potato haupia pie! This is our go-to spot to pick up food before heading to the airport!
- Shop for premium vintage aloha shirts at Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts.
- Pick up some of the freshest mochi you’ll ever taste at Nisshodo Candy Store.
- Get shave ice at Ululani’s (in my opinion, the most delicious shave ice across all the islands).
- Dine at STIX ASIA, Hawaii’s premiere Asian food hall featuring ramen, omusubis, matcha, and more.
Things To Do In Oahu: North Shore
- Take a full-day guided tour of the North Shore – This makes sense if you don’t want to drive all day or won’t have a car during your stay. Here are a couple of tours you could opt for – Tour of North Shore and Sightseeing or Full-Day North Shore Activities Tour.
- Go tandem skydiving – this is probably one of my favorite memories in Oahu. It’s less scary than it thinks because the guide is the one doing the jumping!
- Explore Waimea Valley – there’s a beautiful waterfall that you can actually swim in, as well as a botanical garden here.
- Try free coffee samples at Green World Coffee Farm – this is a great place to pick up a morning coffee and any coffee/tea gifts you plan to bring home!
- Visit the Dole Plantation – take the free self-guided Plantation Garden Tour, and if you’re traveling with kids, do the Pineapple Express Train Tour and the Pineapple Garden Maze. Don’t leave without a DoleWhip!
- Soak up the sun and get some beach time at the picturesque Waimea Bay.
- Catch basking sea turtles at Laniakea Beach, otherwise known as “Turtle Beach”.
- Go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove, Malaekahana Beach Park, or Three Tables at Pupukea Beach – they are all epic snorkeling spots in the summertime!
- Head to Sunset Beach for some of the island’s best sunsets and see the legendary Banzai Pipeline (in the winter season).
- Go on a caged shark dive – this cage dive allows you time in the water to view primarily Galapagos sharks and sandbar sharks!
- Get shrimp plates on the North Shore – Giovanni’s is the popular choice, but we like Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp, Big Wave Shrimp, and Jenny’s Shrimp.
- Get a poke bowl at Poke For The People – this spot is on my list of top 3 poke spots on the entire island!
- Explore historic Hale’iwa Town – browse art galleries, boutiques, and surf shops, then grab lunch plates at one of the many food trucks in town.
- Take a picture by the colorful Hale’iwa surfer sign as you enter town – the sign is so cool and elaborate, there are 2–one on each side of the town.
- Stroll around the Waialua Sugar Mill – the historic sugar mill features local crafts, products, and services in a unique, old-Hawaii setting.
- Get acai bowls at Hale’iwa Bowls and Sunrise Shack – if you can get both during your time at the North Shore, you’ll be so lucky! The bowls here are to die for!
- Get Matsumoto’s Shave Ice – these guys have been serving cool and delicious treats for more than 50 years! Don’t leave without buying one of their cute t-shirts.
- Go horseback riding like an authentic paniolo in Kahuku – Take a 1.5-hour horseback ride along a scenic mountain trail with ocean views as you learn about the life of the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys).
- Go ziplining at Keana Farms – CLIMB Works Keana Farms offers a 3-hour guided zipline tour that includes Oahu’s longest ziplines. Great for people who love views and adrenaline rushes!
- Try Hawaiian-style chicken at Mike’s Huli Chicken – featured in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives!
- Get free mac nut tastings at North Shore Macadamia Nut Co. – a great place to pick up food gifts to bring home.
- Visit Turtle Bay Resort for some world-class golfing – also if you can afford it, it’s also a top-notch resort to stay at!
- Go snorkeling at Kuilima Cove (it’s even safe to snorkel there in the wintertime).
- Go to Kahuku Farms for the farm tour, cafe, tours, and shopping.
- Make a pit stop at Waiahole Poi Factory for a plate lunch, ice cream with kulolo, and of course, poi!
- Do the Ehukai Pillbox Hike.
- Head to Banzai Pipeline to watch professional surfers tackle the infamous Pipeline wave.
- Surf at Chun’s Reef.
Things To Do In Oahu: East Shore
- Hike the Lanikai Pillbox (Kaiwa Ridge) – this short and sweet trail features two military bunkers decorated in colorful graffiti that you can climb on in order to enjoy panoramic views of Lanikai Beach.
- Have a beach day at Kailua Beach – recognized as one of the nation’s top beaches and a consistent favorite among locals and visitors alike. It’s certainly one of my personal favorites!
- Hit up Lanikai Beach – this beach is consistently voted Oahu’s “most beautiful” beach. In fact, it’s even been ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world!
- Kayak to the Mokulua Islands (two bird sanctuaries) from Kailua – To get to “the mokes”, both guided tours and self-guided rentals are available.
- Spend a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center – opt for the Ali’i Luau Package (package comes with a traditional Hawaiian Luau and the best evening show on the island, Ha: Breath of Life).
- Visit Sea Life Park – see dolphins, monk seals, sea lions, rays, sharks, and native fish at this day park featuring lots of interactive programs, shows, and talk sessions with trainers.
- Explore Kualoa Ranch – a massive ranch that offers a bunch of different tours including horseback riding, ATV excursion, a jungle expedition, Hollywood movie set tour, Jurassic Park tour, farm tour, and more.
- Zipline above the treetop canopies at Jurassic Valley in Kualoa – features 7 tandem sections, 2 suspension bridges, and 3 mini-hiking nature trails.
- Kayak to Mokoli’i (Chinaman’s Hat) – Launch your kayak from Kualoa Beach Park under the towering cliffs of Kualoa Ranch. You can paddle to Chinaman’s Hat in less than half an hour.
- Check out the Makapu’u Point Lookout – featuring dramatic sea cliff views and epic ocean views. From here, you’ll also be able to spot Manana Island, aka Rabbit Island (aptly named for its shape).
- Hike to the lighthouse on the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail – great whale spotting opportunities along the 2-mile out-and-back route!
- See the Halona Blowhole – marvel at the natural and breathtaking blasts of water in the air! When wind and tide conditions are right, this blowhole shoots water up to 20 feet in the air.
- Go bodyboarding and picnicking at Waimanalo Beach Park – a great boogie-boarding spot as the waves are not too high and break close to shore!
- Visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden – Laid out on 400 acres backdropped by the beautiful Ko’olau Mountains. Admission is free, and guided hikes are offered.
- See the majestic Byodo-In Temple – a replica of the magnificent 900-year-old Byodo-In Temple of Equality in Japan. This temple was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii!
- Pick up musubis for your East Shore adventures at Got’z Grindz – They’ve got the best (and most creative) musubi flavors ever!
- Drive to Pali Lookout for one of the most epic views of the East Shore, Kaneohe Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
- Paddle out to the Kaneohe Sandbar (also known as “Sunken Island”) – This is a total hidden gem! Paddling to the sandbar can take up to an hour, but it’s well worth it. This gorgeous multi-mile-long bank of sand in the middle of the bay is always between waist and ankle-deep, and when the tide is very low it can be completely exposed!
- Buy macadamia nuts and other gifts at Tropical Farms Macadamia Nuts.
- Catch a sunset at China Walls – known as a hidden gem for sunsets!
- Take a factory tour of the Manoa Chocolate Factory.
- Eat mac nut pancakes or guava chiffon pancakes for breakfast at Cinnamon’s Restaurant in Kailua.
Things To Do In Oahu: West Shore
- Spend the night at a luau at the Paradise Cove Luau – stroll the village, sip on mai tais, learn to craft, or play traditional Hawaiian games. Then eat and enjoy the nighttime entertainment!
- Go to the Wet n’ Wild waterpark – the only water-themed amusement park on the Hawaiian Islands! There are over 25 rides and attractions to choose from in this 29-acre park, from mild to wild and everything in between.
- Visit the Hawaii Plantation Village in Waipahu.
- Charter a fishing boat at Ko Olina Marina – there are a number of fishing charters in the Waikiki/Honolulu area as well.
- Visit the Coral Crater Adventure Park for some epic ATVing and ziplining.
- Go on a rum tasting tour at Ko Hana Distillers.
- Head to Ka’ena Point State Park for some challenging rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking – this is where the road dead-ends on the West Shore!
- Go on a half-day sailing and snorkeling excursion from Ko’olina
- Hike the beautiful Makua Cave during sunset.
- Go snorkeling at Electric Beach – very, very good snorkeling, but only good for intermediate to advanced snorkelers only.
- Visit the Ko’olina Resort – this region features 4 lagoons and the popular Aulani Disney Resort and Four Seasons. Even if you’re not staying around here, Ko’olina Beach is still a fantastic place to swim, relax, and explore.
- Enjoy the luxurious KA WA’A Luau at Aulani Hawaii Resort & Spa, if you can snag reservations (need to book a month or two in advance).
- Calling all Disney lovers! Have breakfast with your favorite Disney characters at Makahiki.
- Hike up Mount Lahilahi for epic views of Waianae.
- Take a farm-to-table tour and enjoy a farm-fresh meal at Kahumana Farm.
Consider Getting The Go City Oahu Pass
We love an affordable vacation just as much as the next person. Having done almost all of Oahu’s free attractions throughout our four previous visits, on our fifth trip, we wanted to explore some of the island’s premier paid attractions such as Kualoa Ranch and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
On our latest visit, we got the Go City Oahu Pass. This all-inclusive attraction pass is a great way to see some of Oahu’s best attractions at steeply discounted prices.
Instead of paying full-price admission for each tour, museum, and guided excursion you want to do, you’re able to do unlimited things with the All-Inclusive Pass for one fixed price. You can check out all the attractions they offer here.
We experienced it for ourselves–the Go City Oahu Pass really is the easiest way to see the very best of Oahu! During our last trip to Oahu which you can read all about here, we were able to do a lot with the All-Inclusive Pass.
But even more importantly, we were able to save a ton of money!
The All-Inclusive Pass gets even cheaper the more days you opt for. The 1-day pass costs $84, 2-day pass costs $144 ($72/day), 5-day pass costs $309 ($61/day), so on and so forth. You can choose between a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7-day All-Inclusive Pass.
Do note that Go City does offer “Premium Attractions” that are only available to those who opt for a pass of 3 days or more. These premium attractions include full-day tours, luaus, sunset catamaran sails, and more!
Getting access to one of these attractions was so worth it (we opted for the catamaran sail). I’d highly recommend going with a 3+ day pass, especially if you’re going to be visiting Oahu for 4+ days.
And that about wraps up our Oahu bucket list of things to do. I hope you were able to discover a few new activities to make your trip that much more fun. Thanks for reading!
Looking for more Hawaii travel tips? Read more:
- 7 Best Hotels In Oahu With NO Resort Fees
- What To Pack For A Week In Hawaii: 60 Essential Things To Bring
- 30 Fun and Free Family Activities In Oahu
- The Ultimate Oahu 4-Day Itinerary For Budget Friendly Travelers
- Oahu North Shore: 10 Stops For A Perfect Day Trip Itinerary
- 9 Best Snorkeling Spots In Oahu, Hawaii