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Hawaii: A List of Oahu’s Main Tourist Spots

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Zeko likes traveling and sharing her travel experiences and photos with other like-minded people.

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If you are planning a first-time visit to Oahu, Hawaii, you want to make the most out of your vacation by hitting all the major tourist spots and attractions. However, many people have busy schedules and finding the time to research a new destination can be a challenge, so I have put together a list of the island’s main tourist spots to help you plan your trip and maximize your experience once you get there.

Places to Visit In and Around Honolulu

Since Honolulu is the place that most people head to first, I will start the list with the main tourist spots in and around the city.

Waikiki beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and needs no introduction. It is usually very crowded, but nevertheless a good place for water sports and beach activities if you are a first-time visitor staying in Honolulu. The water is generally calm year round, making it safe for children.

  • Location: Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, HI
  • Parking: You can park for free at the Waikiki Shell parking lot (2777-2781 Monsarrat Ave, Honolulu)
  • Restrooms and showers: Yes

Although people call it “the Hilton lagoon” because of its location in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort, it is actually a public beach, which means that anyone can swim there. This saltwater lagoon is perfect for families with little kids because the water is always calm and there is no undercurrent like in the ocean. Families can even rent paddle boards, paddle bikes, and other water toys to play with.

  • Location: 2005 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI (two blocks from Waikiki Beach)
  • Parking: There is a free parking lot on the ocean-side of the lagoon, but it is usually full and difficult to find a spot there.

The Royal Hawaiian, often called the “Pink Palace”, is one of the oldest hotels in Hawaii and it is hard to miss its flamingo-pink exterior. You can walk around the hotel grounds, hang out in the lobby, have a coffee, and enjoy the beautiful architecture even if you are not staying there as a guest. The hotel also offers free historic tours every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 PM.

  • Location: 2259 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI

Aliʻiōlani Hale is the Hawaii State Supreme Court building. There is a small, free museum about old Hawaiian law inside. Across the street from the Aliʻiōlani Hale is the Iolani Palace – the residence of the last monarchs of Hawaii, and the only royal palace on US soil.

  • Location: Aliʻiōlani Hale, 417 South King Street, Honolulu, HI
  • Opening hours for Iolani Palace: 9 AM to 4 PM.
  • Admission fees for Iolani Palace: Depend on the type of tour you take.
  • Parking: Metered parking is available on the Iolani Palace grounds and the nearby streets. Parking is more difficult during weekday work hours.

5. Diamond Head Crater Hike

View of Honolulu from Diamond Head volcano.

View of Honolulu from Diamond Head volcano.

The popular hike of the iconic, dormant volcano offers some of the best views of Honolulu. In terms of exertion, the hike is considered easy to moderate and it is a combination of paved paths, packed-earth trails, and steep stairs. If you want to avoid the crowds, you need to get there early.

  • Location: Diamond Head State Monument, Honolulu, HI
  • Opening hours: 6 AM – 6 PM.
  • Admission: $1 / person, or $5 / car. Cash Only.
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Only at the parking lot.

Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve and a very popular and very crowded snorkeling spot on Oahu. The sheltered bay harbors a coral reef that is home to a huge variety of fish, many of which you can see only in Hawaiian waters, including their state fish: the humuhumunukunukuapua'a (try to spell that).

  • Location: 100 Hanauma Bay Road, Honolulu
  • Opening hours: 6 AM – 7 PM. Closed on Tuesdays
  • Admission: $7.50/person. Free for children 0-12 years old.
  • Parking: $1
  • Restrooms: Yes

The Tantalus lookout is another spot from where you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Honolulu. From there you can also see the Diamond Head volcano and even Pearl Harbor. Unlike other lookouts in the island, this place is not crowded. It is just a short drive from Honolulu up Mount Tantalus, via Round Top Drive.

  • Location: Puu Ualakaa State Park, Honolulu, HI
  • Opening hours: 7 AM – 7:45 (April 1 to Labor Day); 7:AM – PM 6:45 PM (Labor Day to March 31)
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes, at the picnic area.

The Lyon Arboretum is a 200-acre tropical rainforest managed by the University of Hawaii and used for studying and conserving plants from over the world. Although this rainforest is less than a half hour drive from downtown Honolulu, it is not packed with tourists. Inside there are several walking trails, a number of themed gardens, and a hike to a waterfall. Because the arboretum is located deep in the Manoa Valley where it rains quite often, it is a good idea to bring some rain gear and insect repellant.

  • Location: Lyon Arboretum, 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM; Sat 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM; Sun - Closed
  • Admission: There is no official entry charge but they ask for donations (usually $5).
  • Parking: Free but extremely limited. Alternatively, you can park in the Manoa neighborhood or at the Paradise Park lot ($5 flat rate).
  • Restrooms: Yes

Moanalua Gardens was once home to the Kamehameha royal family that founded the Kingdom of Hawaii. There you will find two main attractions: the summer cottage of the fifth monarch of Hawaii and a massive monkeypod tree known in Japan as the Hitachi Tree. The tree is famous for advertising the Hitachi brand in Japan and brings thousands of Japanese visitors to the gardens every year. It is estimated to be 130 years old, 75 feet tall, and 120 feet wide.

  • Location: 2850 Moanalua Road A, Honolulu, HI
  • Opening hours: 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM
  • Admission – $3
  • Parking: Free

10. Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona National Memorial, Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona National Memorial, Pearl Harbor

If you want to learn about Hawaii’s World War Two history, a visit to Pearl Harbor is a “must-do”. Free daily tours of the Arizona Memorial, Aviation Museum, Battleship Missouri and the Bowfin Submarine are available from 8 AM to 3 PM.

  • Location: 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu
  • Admission: Free. No bags allowed – bag storage is $3 / bag.

A Map of Tourist Spots In and Around Honolulu

Oahu’s Leeward Coast

The Leeward Coast is the West side of the island that is sheltered from the winds by the Waianae Range and is much drier than the rest of Oahu. It is a beautiful coast with uncrowded beaches, small rural towns, and a luxurious resort.

The Ko Olina Resort is about 40 min. drive from downtown Honolulu and has four protected, crescent-shaped lagoons that provide calm water for swimming even when the surf outside is choppy. They are connected by paved pathways and beautiful beachfront lawns. Although the lagoons are tucked away in the resort’s beachfront property, public access is allowed because in Hawaii no beach is private, unless it has been appropriated by the government for military use.

  • Location: 91-1001 Olani Street, Kapolei, HI
  • Parking: Free. There is a parking lot by each lagoon. The lots by the three lagoons closest to the entrance are pretty small (15-20 spots) and fill up fast (after 9:30 AM you won’t find a spot there). The biggest lot is by the farthest lagoon from the entrance. All are equipped with automatic barrier gates that open only if there is a free spot. They also close automatically at sunset and you can’t enter the parking even if it is empty.
  • Restrooms and showers: Yes

Tourist Map of Oahu’s Leeward Coast

Oahu's Windward Coast

The East coast of the island, also known as the Windward coast, is the wetter and greener side of Oahu. The easiest way to see the breathtaking scenery of the Windward coast is to rent a car and drive up the Kalanianaole Highway. Here are the main tourist hotspots.

1. Halona Blowhole Lookout

Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

The blowhole is a lava tube under the water that acts like a wave-powered geyser. On windy days, when the waves and surf are high, the water shoots up through the lava tube, sometimes as high as 20-30 ft.

  • Location: 8483 Highway 72, Honolulu, HI
  • Parking: Free. Never leave anything valuable inside your car because the lookout is known for car break-ins.

2. Makapu'u Lookout

View from Makapu'u Lookout

View from Makapu'u Lookout

This lookout is located a little further up the road from the Halona Blowhole. From there you get a gorgeous view of the Makapu'u Beach Park, the mountains, the cliffs, and the nearby islands. And if you are lucky, you may even spot a whale or two.

  • Location: Makapu'u Lookout, Kalanianaole Hwy, Waimanalo, HI
  • Parking: Free. Never leave anything valuable inside your car because the lookout is known for car break-ins.

Bellows is part of a military base and because of that is open to the public only during the weekends (from noon Friday). The beach is located just outside the town of Waimanalo and is somewhat of a hidden gem. It is popular mainly with the locals who want to get away from the crowds. There is also a large ironwood-shaded camping area.

  • Location: 41-43 Kalanianaole Hwy, Waimanalo, HI
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes

This is one of the most beautiful spots on the island. In fact, Lanikai has been rated one of the top ten beaches in the world. Its sand is powder soft, the water is clear and turquoise-blue, and the two little islands, the Mokaluas, just offshore are a magnet for photographers. The water is calm year round and with no shore break waves. However, the beach is in a residential area with no public facilities and lifeguards. You can find public showers and restrooms less than a mile away in Kailua Beach Park.

  • Location: Lanikai Beach, Kailua, HI
  • Parking: Free street parking in the residential area. Finding a spot is very difficult. You can also try to park at the Kailua Beach Park (less than a mile away), which is also tough, because the lot there is small.
  • Restrooms and showers: No
  • Access: The access to the beach is via small paths between the houses along the Molukua Drive.

Hoomaluhia, which means "to make a place of peace and tranquility” in Hawaiian, is a 400-acre botanical garden, planted with tropical trees and shrubs from all over the world. It is also a home of a large dammed up reservoir that was dug out in the 1970s to protect nearby residents from flood waters. The garden is perfect for nature walks, picnics, and catch-and-release shoreline fishing. Fishing is allowed only during the weekends (10:00 AM – 2:00 PM) and the visitor’s center even offers free bamboo fishing poles. You don’t need a permit or license. Since Hoomaluhia is located on the rainier side of the island, you might need to bring an umbrella and insect repellent.

  • Location: 45-680 Luluku Rd Kaneohe, HI
  • Opening hours: 9 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Parking: Free
  • Admission: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes

Byodo-In is a non-functioning Japanese temple located at the back of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, near the town of Kāneohe. It was built in 1968 as a tribute to the Japanese emigrants and it is a small-scale replica of a famous Buddhist temple complex in Uji, Japan. The grounds include a reflection pond full of koi fish, a small bamboo grove, a meditation pavilion, a Bell house, and a gift shop. There are also black swans, peacocks, and turtles roaming the grounds.

  • Location: 47-250 Hui Iwa Street, Kaneohe, HI
  • Opening hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Admission: $3.00 / adult; $1.00 / child. Cash only.
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes

Tropical Farms is a macadamia nut outlet that sells flavored macadamia nuts, coffee, and other local goods. They offer free samples to help you decide which flavor you want to buy. At the back of the store, you will find a big bin of shelled macadamia nuts that you can crack yourself with a rock and eat. For a fee, you can also get a tour of the farm, which can be a fun activity for kids.

  • Location: 49-227A Kamehameha Hwy, Kaaawa, HI
  • Opening hours: 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM
  • Parking: Free

Kualoa Ranch is a huge nature reserve and cattle ranch, offering tourist activities like jungle tours, movie set tours, ATV tours, ziplining, horseback riding and much more. It is recommended to book tours at least three days in advance because they sell out fast. The ranch is not only a very busy tourist hotspot but also a popular movie hotspot. The Ka'a'awa Valley, which is located in the northern part of the ranch, has been featured in many movies and TV shows like Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-0.

  • Location: 49-560 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI
  • Opening hours: 7:30 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free

This large, grassy, and not too crowded park is located just across the road from Kualoa Ranch. If you are driving around the island, this is the perfect location to stop and stretch your legs, have a picnic, and take some pictures of the dramatic Ko'olau Range and the Chinaman's Hat Island. There are picnic tables, public restrooms and plenty of free parking.

  • Location: 9-545 Kamehameha Highway, HI
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes

Tourist Map of Oahu’s Windward Coast

Oahu's North Shore

The North Shore is the more rural, relaxed, and laid-back part of the island. It is the complete opposite of Honolulu and Waikiki. It is also considered to be the surfing mecca of the world during the winter months. Here are the main tourist stops along the North Shore.

The pineapple is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Hawaiian Islands and at one time, the Aloha State was the leading producer of pineapples in the world. The famous Dole Corporation used to have large processing and canning operations in Oahu, but today they grow pineapples only for the fresh fruit market. Their plantation near the village of Wahiawa is more of a tourist site, but it is worth a quick stop if you are driving to the North Shore. The grounds around the visitor’s center are beautifully kept and there is a nice garden with different varieties of pineapples, native Hawaiian plants, and rainbow eucalyptus trees. The entrance to the garden is free. There are also paid experiences like a Pineapple Express train and a maze, if you are into that sort of things.

  • Location: 64-1550 Kamehameha Highway, Wahiawa, HI
  • Opening hours: 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free

Hale'iwa is a colorful, surfer-dude town, filled with art galleries, rustic surf shops, cafés and century-old buildings. The once bustling plantation town is now known for its laid-back atmosphere, shrimp trucks, shave ice, and big wave break. The town is also a good place for dinner on the way back from the North Shore.

Turtle Beach, or Laniakea Beach, is where you can see huge green sea turtles in their natural habitat. They come to the rocky shoreline of this beach to feed on the seaweed that grows on the rocks. Remember, the turtles are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act and it is illegal to disturb, touch, or get too close to them. Thankfully, there are volunteers at the beach who keep them safe and are happy to answer any of your questions.

  • Location: Laniakea Beach, Haleiwa, HI
  • Parking: No. You have to park on the side of the road.
  • Restrooms: No

The word Waimea means "reddish-brown water" in Hawaiian and the name probably comes from the reddish-brown-colored silt that the Waimea River sometimes brings down from the mountain range. During the summer Waimea Bay is a great place for snorkeling, swimming in underwater tunnels, and rock jumping. During the winter, however, the bay is a completely different place – the waves get so gigantic that prestigious surf competitions are held there.

  • Location: 61-031 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI, USA
  • Parking: Free, but limited.
  • Restrooms: Yes

5. Banzai Pipeline

The Banzai Pipeline is home to some of Hawaii's biggest waves.

The Banzai Pipeline is home to some of Hawaii's biggest waves.

If you want to see the world-famous Banzai Pipeline, which is known for its massive waves, you need to head to 'Ehukai Beach in Pūpūkea. The waves there literally break in the shape of enormous pipes and almost directly onto a razor-sharp reef. This place is popular with wave-chasers all year round, but during the winter months, it becomes a pro surfer’s paradise because the swells bring the biggest waves.

  • Location: Ehukai Beach Park, Haleiwa, HI
  • Parking: Free, but limited.
  • Restrooms and showers: Yes

Sunset Beach is another popular surfing spot during the winter and a swimming and snorkeling paradise during the summer when the water is usually calm. And as its name suggests, this is the best place to watch the sunset on Oahu.

  • Location: Sunset Beach, Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, HI
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes

Tourist Map of Oahu’s North Shore

Comments

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 23, 2018:

Wow, I was in awe of the many beautiful spots I missed when I visited Hawaii. We were there maybe in the early 90s and it was for work so we only were able to go to Waikiki. Time to go back.