Where do we even begin espousing the marvels of Oahu? Surf hideouts and idyllic beaches might steal the headlines, but the island also has coffee farms, cultural attractions, and many must-try restaurants. What’s more, Oahu is also home to the Hawaiian state capital of Honolulu, another underrated cultural hub. From hiking terrains and history to beaches – and everything else in between – there are many best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii, including the amazing HI North Shore. Oahu, which means “Gathering Place” in the native language, is also the most visited Hawaiian island – and rightfully so. There’s something for every kind of traveler here, whether you’re a laidback person or like hopping all over the place.
Besides Honolulu and the amazing North Shore, there are also Kailua, Waikiki, the Makaha Valley, and Pupukea parts of the island to explore. Additionally, Oahu also happens to be one of the most spectacular sunset locations in the world. So, what are you waiting for? Here are the top 13 things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI), including North Shore.
Table of contents
- Iolani Palace
- Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
- USS Arizona Memorial
- Byodo-In Temple
- Ala Moana
- North Shore Shark Diving
- Diamond Head State Park
- Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
- Manoa Falls
- Attend a Luau
- Sunset Dinner Cruise
- North Shore Zip Line Adventure and Farm Tour
- Cool Facts About Oahu, HI
- Get Some Culture in Oahu, HI
- Grab A Bite in Oahu, HI
How would you like to explore the “only” palace in all of America? Behold the mesmerizing Iolani Palace, one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI). Since Hawaii was formerly a sovereign nation, Iolani Palace was the monarchy’s home until sugar plantation owners overthrew it. So this historic action led to Hawaii”s statehood. What’s more, visiting the palace gives you a deeper understanding of Oahu and Hawaii beyond its sun-sand-and-sea image. It also explains some of the tensions on the island here even today. Plus, you can see the royal family’s private chambers, including where the king played cards and where the queen was imprisoned and sewed a quilt. Finally, on Fridays, enjoy a picnic on the lawns and watch the rousing 1836-founded Royal Hawaiian Band play.
One of the stops on this exhaustive 6-hour Waikiki Private Custom Oahu Tour is Iolani Palace. Since a guide leads this tour, you can also ask them questions.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
One of the most iconic landmarks on Oahu is the stunning 1909-built Makapuu Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on a spectacular 600-foot sea cliff and overlooks Makapuu Beach. What’s more, the path that leads to it is a very popular trail, especially since it’s a moderately easy hike and ends with one of the island’s most scenic viewpoints. The parking lot, which lies 15 minutes from Hanauma Bay, leads to the two-mile paved trail full of incredible lookout points. On a clear day, you can not only see Oahu’s eastern coast and can even spot the Kaohikaipu islands, Manama, and even Molokai.
Moreover, it’s also a fantastic place to catch whale sightings during the December to May season. Additionally, there are many swimming spots nearby, such as Alan Davis Beach, which has a secluded beach. Finally, one of the most popular natural attractions nearby is the Makapuu Tide Pools, including a small blowhole. Fool’s Gold, anyone?
One of the best ways to explore this lighthouse is to indulge in the Makapuu Lighthouse or Koko Head Sunrise Hike. Begin your day right with this amazing sunrise hike on the east side of Oahu, which also includes hotel transfers. That sounds pretty great, isn’t it?
USS Arizona Memorial
As the generation that fought in and remembered World War II wanes, it’s all the more important to keep history alive for future generations. That’s why visiting the iconic USS Arizona Memorial is not just one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI), but also one of the most important. Board a Navy boat from the Pearl Harbor visitor center on the mainland to this offshore memorial. It’s dedicated to the brave sailors who went down with the USS Arizona in the surprise Pearl Harbor Japanese attack in December 1941. The memorial sits stop the wreck, from where oil still seeps to the surface; it’s a ghostly and ghastly reminder of the lives lost here.
This guided Pearl Harbor Tour with Arizona Memorial from Honolulu sees your guide tell you fascinating and horror-filled stories. You not only get to experience the island’s wartime history but also get to explore the key sites.
Yes, we know what you’re thinking; a Japanese temple in Hawaii? But it’s true. The stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of Byodo-In Temple in Oahu is a highly detailed replica of the centuries-old Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan. This offbeat attraction on Oahu’s Windward Coast is a serene place with lush, ornate gardens. Its name translates to the “Temple of Equality” and has been made entirely without nails! What’s more, this peaceful oasis is home to turtles, wild peacocks, Japanese koi carp in a large reflecting pond, small waterfalls, and meditation corners.
One of the highlights of this non-practicing Buddhist temple is the 18-feet-tall golf-leaf-covered Buddha, where you can light incense and offer a prayer. Keep your eyes peeled for the sacred bell, which you ring before entering the temple and whose deep sounds fill the grounds. Sounding the brass bell is said to signify longevity and happiness.
If you prefer a guided tour, this Full-Day Island Sightseeing Day Trip by Bus includes a stop at this majestic temple.
How would you like to shop at the largest open-air mall in the entire world? Yes, it’s in Hawaii! Welcome to Ala Moana in Waikiki, one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI). Furthermore, it’s also one of the most amazing shopping malls in the world. The massive shopping district features many stores that sell both local products and those from famous international brands. What’s more, you’ll also find many eateries that serve a wide assortment of delectable local Hawaiian and international fare. But that’s not all. The mall offers the perfect Hawaiian ambiance, with live performances of ukulele players and hula dances. Finally, some of the other highlights at this mall are the daily hula show and the weekly farmer’s market.
Do you want to experience Ala Moana on a guided tour? This Hoverboard Tour of West Waikiki & Ala Moana, where you get to board a self-balancing, all-terrain hoverboard. Plus, this guided tour takes you on a fun tour of the beautifully scenic West Waikiki, and one of the stops is Ala Moana.
North Shore Shark Diving
Adrenaline junkies, this activity is for you. Those looking to experience shark encounters (safe ones, might we add) will love going shark diving on Oahu’s famed North Shore. In fact, it’s one of the most popular and best things to do in North Shore Oahu. For instance, this Shark Cage Dive on the North Shore offers not just guided shark diving excursions but also up-close views of the most fierce creatures in Hawaii. Your adventure begins as you venture three miles to sea, spotting other local Hawaiian wildlife, including humpback whales (November-May), Hawaiian green sea turtles, and dolphins. What’s more, you also get to feast your eyes on fabulous North Shore views.
As you approach the diving cage site, the visibility is excellent – around 150 feet or even more. One of the most thrilling best things to do in North Shore Oahu is spotting the sharks swimming up from the deep blue depths. Usually, the most common are Sandbar and Galapagos sharks. And if you’re lucky, you might spot hammerheads, tiger sharks, and blue sharks! Furthermore, one of the best things to do in North Shore Oahu is more than just a thrill-seeking adventure – it’s also educational. Guides will also highlight the role of sharks in the marine ecosystems and the importance of the ocean, and Hawaii’s role in the same.
Diamond Head State Park
Exploring the spectacular Diamond Head State Park is one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI). The state park sits on a volcanic cone and is locally known as Lēʻahi, roughly translating to the “brow of the tuna.”
What’s more, it’s home to the epic Diamond Head Crater, which offers the best view in all of Hawaii! One of the most popular activities is hiking to the top of the summit, which is a steep enough one-hour climb – but the views make up for it. In fact, it graces many postcards from the Aloha State, and one can catch bird’s-eye views after a 1.6-mile roundtrip hike. In fact, the steepest portions are the stairs, which makes climbing quite straightforward. What’s more, there are even lookouts and benches along the way. Other things to do at the state park are ascending a 99-step staircase to an old military bunker and even exploring the historical monuments of World War II.
This fabulous 10-hour Diamond Head Crater Hike and North Shore Experience allows you to learn all about Hawaiian culture by exploring Diamond Head State Park, including doing the hike.
One of the best things to do in North Shore Oahu is surfing, and Waimea Bay, with its 30-feet-tall waves, is where some of the bravest surfers in the world venture out to. The beach is a legendary spot on the North Shore, especially in winter, since it’s also the birthplace of big wave surfing. The surf constantly creates huge waves and is nicknamed “The Bay,” a place where pro surfers tackle the impressive waves here. It’s when the deepwater swells hit the local lava shelf, creating more than 20-foot high waves. During summers, the waters are calmer, making it a fabulous spot for diving, snorkeling, and swimming.
While it’s a popular surf spot, surfers should be careful as the rip currents are powerful. Also, the shoreline drops off quickly and goes from shallow to deep waters within seconds. So another popular spot for surfing on the island is Waikiki Beach, where you can enjoy this Group Surfing Lesson in Waikiki Beach. It’s a great spot to begin learning surfing in a group, so you’re not intimidated.
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
Climbing to the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout is one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI). This must-do activity takes you to a point on the scenic Pali highway between Kailua and Honolulu. What’s more, it offers some of the most incredible panoramic views in all of Hawaii; that of the lush Windward Coast and the Koolau cliffs. Drive through the dense forest and towering trees of the Pali Highway, where this lookout is perched more than 1,000 feet above the Oahu coastline. Also, be prepared; it’s very windy up here! Furthermore, you can even see areas of Coconut Island, Mokolii, Kailua, and Kaneohe on a clear day. You could even head to the island’s famous North Shore or go straight to Kailua’s beach town.
If you want to explore this part of the island properly, then you’d better get on this Multi-Stop Island Highlights Tour of Oahu. It takes you on a fantastic 9-hour tour of the best sights to see on Oahu, including the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.
If you’re a hiking person and have already done the Diamond Head Crater hike, then the Manoa Falls hike is for you. In fact, it’s considered one of the best hikes on Oahu and is also famous as the setting for both Jurassic Park and Lost. What makes this particular hike so awesome, especially with a guide, is the many native species of plants you could see helped by the guide. Moreover, some florae are found only on Oahu specifically, which means you might come across some very rare florae too. However, the standout lies at the end in the form of the incredible 150-feet-high Manoa Falls, complete with a stunning pool.
One of the best ways to enjoy the entire experience is to book this Manoa Falls Rainforest Tour with Healthy Lunch. This tour picks you up from eight central hotel locations in Waikiki, followed by a guided trek through the Manoa Vallery rainforest to the breathtaking waterfall. The best bit? The tour even includes lunch!
Attend a Luau
You cannot go to Hawaii and not attend a Luau, which is one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii (HI). Since Hawaiian culture is a huge part of Oahu’s identity, a luau is important. That’s because the authentic experience takes people back in time that shows how the Hawaiian people celebrated, lived, and ate. The beauty of this Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park with Dinner & Show is that you not only enjoy a buffet luau but also experience storytelling and traditional performances. This top-rated tour also gives you a deeper understanding of the traditions and history of the Hawaiian people. What’s more, the buffet includes tropical fruit, kalua pork, and fresh seafood, which you can dig into while feasting your eyes on a Hawaiian sunset. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also entertainment in the form of fire twirlers, hula dancers, and Hawaiian musicians.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
Couples will love this activity, for sure! If world-class food and entertainment are how you want to end a day in Oahu, why not head out to sea for the same? We’re talking about this Waikiki Sunset and Cocktail Cruise, which allows you to see Oahu in the evening from the waters. The bonus is the gorgeous colors of the sunset that accompany the activity. If that wasn’t enough, you even get to enjoy cocktails and a delicious and hearty buffet onboard. You’re picked up right from your hotel and transferred to the boat, where you can even mingle with other passengers. If you’ve been hiking or doing solitary activities all day, this dinner cruise is a fabulous and relaxing way to end the day.
North Shore Zip Line Adventure and Farm Tour
A zip line and farm tour adventure are not just one of the best things to do in North Shore Oahu, but the entire island of Oahu, Hawaii (HI). In fact, this North Shore Zip Line Adventure with Farm Tour is one of the best things to do in all of Oahu, Hawaii. Imagine feeling the adrenaline rush soaring from atop one of Oahu’s longest ziplines – that makes it so thrilling! The tour begins with a short ATV ride to the top of the mountain. From there, you get to zip on extra-quiet zip lines whose height is between 500 and 2,400 feet. As you zip along, soak in the stunning and panoramic mountain and ocean views of Oahu’s famed North Shore. Along the way, you also encounter scenic boardwalks, sky bridges, and encounter rappels in a controlled and safe way.
Cool Facts About Oahu, HI
- After a day of traipsing all around Oahu, you need a great place to put your feet up. Leave the sleeping to world-class resorts and hotels. Check out the best Honolulu hotels and the best luxury hotels in Waikiki.
- Honolulu happens to be one of the cleanest cities in the world.
Get Some Culture in Oahu, HI
- Honolulu Festival: This is Hawaii’s premier cultural event that promotes ethnic harmony, economic cooperation, and mutual understanding between the people of the Pacific Rim region and Hawaii. The Honolulu Festival Foundation hosts many educational activities and programs that showcase the vibrant and rich blend of Hawaiian, Pacific, and Asian cultures. The three-day extravaganza takes place on the weekend in March annually. The festival culminates with a spectacular parade down Waikiki’s main street, Kalakaua Avenue.
Grab A Bite in Oahu, HI
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food: Do you want to enjoy classic Hawaiian soul food? The fluorescent-lit, no-frills Helena’s is where you’ll find it, where it’s been serving such amazing food since 1946. The menu comprises delicious native Hawaiian staple dishes, along with dishes influenced by immigrants. Must-eat dishes are the legendary pipikaula, poi, and kalua pig.
- Mahina & Sun’s: Dig into local, sustainable seafood at this cheery restaurant with an aloha-meets-midcentury-modern vibe. For the ultimate experience, order the Mahina’s Family Feast, an entire fried fish served with pohole salad and buttered ulu, among others. It ends with a tropical fruit pavlova for dessert.