The Top 5 Things to See and Do in Oahu, Hawaii

Updated on July 22, 2017

Ask hundreds of millions worldwide where they would like to go on vacation, and Hawaii will be at or near the top of every list. With beautiful beaches, mountains, volcanoes, and plenty of history, Hawaii has much to offer. However, when planning a trip to the islands, the huge list of things you can do in Hawaii can overwhelm many travelers. What you need is a Hawaii travel guide that tells you the best places to visit in Hawaii and lets you choose which Hawaiian attractions you have time to visit.

On the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, attractions include the historical, the beautiful, and the fun. Not only are there places you will want to see in Waikiki, the main tourist shopping and hotel area, but there are great things to do all over the Island of Oahu. Here are some of the places you will want to visit to make your Hawaii trip the most memorable. There are some other great places to visit, along with great sports opportunities such as some of the best golf courses around and some great boat tours and fishing, but this list will have you well on your way to a great vacation.

1. Visit Pearl Harbor

The number one destination on Oahu on this Hawaii travel guide or any Hawaii travel guide is Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. On Dec. 7, 1941, the second largest total of lives were lost on American soil since the Civil War. During that attack by the Japanese, many US ships were sank, including the USS Arizona, on which 1,177 American sailors died.

Both beautiful and sobering, the USS Arizona Memorial is the biggest, "don't miss" for any visit to Oahu. Along with visiting this memorial, be sure to complete the historical part of your trip by also visiting these sites:

  • The nearby USS Missouri

  • The Wheeler Army Airfield

  • The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

There are plenty of historic sites to see in Hawaii, so plan your trip out to give you enough time to see them all! There are also great Hawaiian historic areas where you can learn more about Hawaiian culture and history; a great way to get the most out of your trip! Just a few of these sites are the Iolani Palace, the Puu O Mahuka Heiau (an ancient Hawaiian temple), and the Huilua Fish Pond, one of the last remaining structures of its kind on the Oahu shore.

There is much history on Oahu, U.S. history and native Hawaiian history. For both of these there are plenty of island tours you can utilize or you can rent a car and make your own path. Either way, be sure to take in all the stories this island has to tell!

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2. See the North Shore

Perhaps no other area of Hawaii is known better to both sports enthusiasts and photo enthusiasts alike than the North Shore of Oahu. This area is known for its large waves, great surfing, and beautiful beaches and scenery. In the area that stretches from Haleiwa, Hawaii to Kawela Bay, there are several can't miss stops all along the Kamehameha Highway.

The first stop, Haleiwa and Waialua Bay, has beautiful beaches and great shopping. From their, going north, you will come to Waimea Bay, home of a beautiful beach and the annual Eddie Aikau Classic surf contest. While in this area, be sure to visit the breathtaking Waimea Falls.

Further up Kamehameha Highway, you will find two beautiful beaches. The first, Banzai Pipeline, is a great beach, but it is know for its surfing. The Pipeline is known by many as the world's deadliest wave and has injured or claimed the lives of many surfers. Just up the road, Sunset Beach is one of the most scenic and photographed beaches on the island. Relaxing and taking some photos here are a must!

At the apex of the island you will find Kawela Bay, now called Turtle Bay. This is the site of one of the most beautiful resorts on the island and has been the backdrop for scenes from Magnum PI, Hawaii 5-0, and the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

If you decide to visit some of these breathtaking areas, be sure to seek plenty of assistance should you try to surf the awesome waves. There are many inherent customs you will need to know about and many safety concerns as some of these sites have very dangerous geological structures where their waves break. Both of these issues can cause serious bodily injury if the appropriate amount of preparation is not obtained prior to visiting.

3. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay

One of the most fun activities in Hawaii is to enjoy the ocean by snorkeling or diving, and on the far east end of the island of Oahu is one of the best places to do so. Everyone who visits Hawaii should visit the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve at least once, whether traveling as a family or traveling alone.

Here you will find a great picnic area, a wonderful education center to learn about the geology, the sea life, and the history of Hanauma Bay, and of course the bay itself. With all of that, you can also enjoy a theater, scenic overlooks, and live music. Hanauma Bay is both a fun and an educational experience to be had by all. For more information about the Bay and the park, please visit http://www.hanaumabaystatepark.com/ .

4. Hike up Diamond Head

When people think of volcanoes in the Hawaiian Islands, they usually think of Mt. Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mt. Kilauea is a live volcano near which visitors can see actual lava flows. There is, however, a great dormant volcano to visit on Oahu, just minutes from Honolulu and Waikiki. Diamond Head overlooks the far southeast end of the island and provides beautiful views of Waikiki, Honolulu and even the entrance of Pearl Harbor.

While the interior of the volcano crater is home to Ft. Ruger and also an FAA installation, you can visit the volcano and take the 3/4 mile hike up the rim of the crater. From observation points you can see down the whole south side of the island. This hike, though not extremely difficult, is not an easy one for children or anyone who has difficulties with stairs and steep inclines, as there are many steps to get to the top observation point.

Even though there is not much at this location as far as amenities or educational buildings, the view alone is one that you should not leave the island without seeing. Be sure to take snacks, water, and your best camera and enjoy. Put it on the top of your list of stuff to do in Waikiki, as it is just a short drive from the Waikiki strip. It is a definite must see!

5. Experience the Hawaiian Culture

When many Americans go on vacation, they are planning to simply see the sights, enjoy relaxation, and don't generally take part in the local culture. Most of the stuff to do in Waikiki has little to do with Hawaiian culture and more to do with making money. In Hawaii, however, if you do not enjoy the Hawaiian culture, you are missing out on memories that can last a lifetime. Every week in Hawaii, there are luaus, parades, and parties, many of which you can enjoy as a tourist. There are over 20 Christmas parades on the islands; Hawaiian's will have a parade for any reason!

While on Oahu, you can go to luaus that are thrown by most of the larger resorts on the islands every week. At least once a week, some of the resorts / hotels in Waikiki will let off great fireworks that can be seen from anywhere around Honolulu and Waikiki. You also may want to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center where you will see some of the most amazing Hula dancing Hawaiian Culture.

There are also great boat tours and party boats that run out of the Honolulu harbor, including charter fishing and even a small submarine ride!

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      • profile image

        Ethan 

        9 months ago

        I also enjoyed these all fabulous thins during my last journey and have a joyful time with my friends. I hope so that your shared information would be useful for all visitors which who have a plan to go there in coming up days.

      • Truckstop Sally profile image

        Truckstop Sally 

        7 years ago

        Loved your virtual trip to paradise. Saying a prayer for their people today as the tsunami approaches.

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