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To kick off our big trip to America we spent two weeks in Hawaii and visited three of the most popular Hawaiian Islands – Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.
We spent six days on Oahu and it wasn’t nearly enough. The island may be small, but it has a lot to do! There scenery and landscape is jaw-dropping and the attractions were fascinating; where else in the world would you see a volcanic crater turned into a cemetery?
With top attractions in Oahu such as Pearl Harbor and the stunning beaches of Waikiki, you will never run out of things to do in Oahu. In fact, the capital of Honolulu has enough attractions to fill a week.
If you’re not sure what to do in Oahu, then don’t worry, because this guide has all the best things to do plus some hidden gems.
- Getting Around Oahu
- 29 Best Things to Do in Oahu Hawaii
- 1. Diamond Head Walk
- 2. Road Trip around Oahu with Kids
- 3. Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
- 4. Pearl Harbor Tour – Top Oahu Attraction
- 5. Spend a few hours (or a whole day) on Waikiki Beach
- 6. Swim at Lanikai Beach – Best Oahu Beach
- 7. Indulge in an Acai Bowl
- 8. Have a Surfing Lesson
- 9. Enjoy a Waikiki Sunset
- 10. Stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort – family friendly
- 11. Witness Big Wave Surfing
- 12. Play at Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon
- 13. Eat Poke
- 14. Relax on Kahanamoku Beach
- 15. Drink a Lanikai Juice
- 16. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
- 17. Kuhio Beach
- 18. Cool down with Shave Ice
- 19. See a Polynesian Luau
- 20. Eat WONUTS
- 21. Learn About Pineapple Farming at the Dole Plantation
- 22. Snorkel in the Turtle Canyon
- 23. Swim with Sharks
- 24. Go Whale-Watching
- 25. Hike the Stairway to Heaven
- 26. Hike up to Koko Head for Sunrise
- 27. Spend a Day at the Beach
- 28. Explore the Natural Beauty of Waimea Valley
- 29. Visit Manoa Falls
- Additional Ideas for Oahu Activities with Kids
- Before You Go
- Free Oahu Bucket List PDF
- More Tips on Travel to Hawaii
Getting Around Oahu
Oahu is a reasonably simple island to get around. It’s a small island and has a bus network that connects most parts of the island. The bus is inexpensive, but it’s slow. You do need some patience when waiting for the bus.
The best way to get around the island is by car. You can rent a car pretty easily and drive from A to B. RentalCars.com is the best way to find a rental car. It’s the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, and Alamo.
If you want to step your trip up a notch, consider embarking on a road trip and camping in an RV.
Outdoorsy is the largest RV rental marketplace on the planet. They offer ease, flexibility, and some unique and cool campervans for your Oahu road trip.
If you’re planning on seeing other islands in Hawaii on your trip, you’ll need to take internal flights from island to island as ferries no longer operate. Skyscanner is the best way to find cheap flights.
29 Best Things to Do in Oahu Hawaii
So if you are looking for tips on what to do in Oahu, down below we’ve listed the top activities in Oahu we did experience and recommend you add them to your itinerary for your own Hawaii vacation.
1. Diamond Head Walk
One of the most famous Oahu activities to do in Oahu is hike the Diamond Head walk.
It was right at the top of our things to do in Waikiki list and we really enjoyed it – the views over Waikiki Beach and the Pacific Ocean are stunning!
Go early though, we arrived at the entrance at about 8 am and it felt like the whole of Waikiki was there, so I suggest getting there for the park opening at 6:30 am. It is one of the top things to do in Oahu, Hawaii for a reason!
Whilst the walk looks hard and steep, our kids managed it no problem as there are a lot of switchbacks making it a relatively easy ascent, and I’d allow at least 90-minutes to complete the walk.
Just be sure to take the 900 steps and follow the crowd in an anticlockwise direction to ease the flow of traffic.
2. Road Trip around Oahu with Kids
You can’t spend every day laying on the beach in Waikiki, well you could but driving around the Island of Oahu is a great way to spend a day on your trip to the Hawaiian Islands.
We rented a car in Waikiki and spent a full day driving around Oahu, well half of it – we got to Haleiwa on North Shore Oahu then cut back through the middle of the island to Honolulu.
It was such a pretty drive, especially on the South East Coast.
And this road trip is how we visited Hanauma Bay, Lanikai Beach, the North Shore beaches and the historic town of Haleiwa. See tips for these places below.
3. Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Visiting Hawaii with kids? One of the other most popular things to do in Oahu Hawaii on a family vacation is visiting Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to explore the marine life of Hawaii. It’s one of the best places in Hawaii to go snorkeling.
Located 30-minutes east of Waikiki, this stunning cove was once a volcanic crater and now plays home to clear blue waters and lively reefs full of colorful fish.
Hot tip: Go early, arrive around breakfast time as this place gets CRAZY busy and there are only 300 parking spots. And if you wait till mid-morning or lunch the water gets churned up which affects visibility for snorkeling.
Bring your own snorkeling gear if you have it, we rented masks, snorkels, and fins for $20.
Hanauma Bay is open every day except Tuesdays. The entrance fee is $7.50 per person (kids 12 & under are FREE).
4. Pearl Harbor Tour – Top Oahu Attraction
One of the most important and historical Oahu points of interest is Pearl Harbor.
We questioned whether it would be appropriate for our kids to do a tour of Pearl Harbor and would it be worth the expense?
They’d never been exposed to anything to do with war before, and another day relaxing on Waikiki Beach is hard to give up.
But I’m glad we did, it was a fantastic educational experience for our kids and we know recommend it as one of the best things to do in Honolulu with kids.
It was a beautiful memorial, and you can visit the grounds and museum before catching a boat over to the USS Arizona Memorial, the ship that sunk and is now the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed.
You can also wander the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, The Battleship Missouri Memorial, and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park.
This is the place to go to learn more about WWII history and Hawaii’s involvement in the war.
As we were short on time, and without a car, we joined a tour.
5. Spend a few hours (or a whole day) on Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach on Oahu Island is famous.
Whilst the main section in front of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel (the Flamingo Pink) gets crowded and it can be hard to find a spot to put your towel, as a city tourist beach, we were impressed.
The water is perfectly temperate, generally safe for kids to swim with calm waves, and the views over Diamond Head are like a picture from a postcard!
It’s here where most of the outrigger boats operate and learn to surf schools. Once you get sick of the beach, you are right near the main shopping area of Waikiki along Kalakaua Ave.
It’s definitely at the top of the list of things to do in Waikiki for families.
6. Swim at Lanikai Beach – Best Oahu Beach
Probably our favorite spot on our drive around Oahu was Lanikai Beach.
Consistently rated the best beach in Oahu, this strip of beach is just gorgeous and a perfect place to stop and have a swim with your kids.
It was so much quieter than Waikiki Beach or Hanauma Bay when we visited, and would be a great spot for kayaking or stand up paddle boarding – if we had more time we would have kayaked to the nearby islands or enjoyed supping.
Put it on your itinerary for your drive around Oahu! It’s a fantastic family-friendly Oahu activity.
7. Indulge in an Acai Bowl
We’ve had acai bowls before in Australia and abroad, but they seem to be on offer everywhere in Hawaii. And if you’re looking for a healthy breakfast option, it’s hard to go wrong with this superfood from Brazil.
If you haven’t tried one before, an acai bowl is like a really thick smoothie topped with oatmeal and fruit.
For a great acai bowl, we recommend the Goofy Cafe, the Heavenly Island Lifestyle Cafe, or Bogarts Café & Espresso Bar – eat at Bogarts after you have done the Diamond Head walk (25-minute walk from the Monument, so if your kids are tired catch an Uber).
8. Have a Surfing Lesson
Our eldest daughter Kalyra learned how to surf back in Australia, so she just wanted to hire her own board and play in the waves with me.
But if you are interested in learning to surf, this is one of the most fun things to do in Oahu with kids and Waikiki Beach is one of the best places to learn.
With clear waist deep water and gentle waves, you’ll be standing up in no time.
There are several operators spanning the beach, offering group or private lessons, and a 90-minute surfing lesson runs about $95, or you can simply do what we did and hire a board – we paid $25 for two hours of board hire!
9. Enjoy a Waikiki Sunset
Just press play every evening and nature will provide a stunning sunset over Waikiki Beach.
After a day of exploring Oahu or shopping in Waikiki, why not grab a spot on the sand or sit in one of the restaurants on the beach to enjoy a spectacular Waikiki sunset – one of the best free things to do in Oahu!
Sunset is also a good time for a walk along the beach, especially down the western end of Waikiki near the Hilton Hawaiian Village – some cool bars along that stretch too!
10. Stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort – family friendly
Our friends raved about this resort before we visited Hawaii, as do thousands of other travelers on TripAdvisor, and we ended up loving our stay there too.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village is a huge property with 5 towers and has a lot going for it:
- Best kid-friendly hotel in Waikiki
- 5 pools and waterslides
- Amazing location on Kahanamoku Beach but easy walk into the hub of Waikiki
- 5-acre salt water lagoon
- Spectacular Friday night fireworks display
It’s one of the best places to stay in Oahu with kids for a reason.
We stayed in the Rainbow Tower as guests of Hilton Hawaiian Village and this tower has extraordinary views of Waikiki Beach.
Watch our video review of Hilton Hawaiian Village:
11. Witness Big Wave Surfing
We were hoping to witness the big waves that North Shore Oahu is famous for but considering we visited in March we were a little too late.
It’s wintertime when the huge waves roll in (between November and February is best), so if you find yourself in Hawaii during winter, one of the top things to do in Oahu would be watching big wave surfing in swell that can reach up to thirty feet high!
Definitely on our bucket list of things to do in Oahu with kids when we return to the Hawaiian Islands!
We still stopped in at the famous North Shore beaches including Sunset Beach, Pipeline, and Waimea Bay for a look on our drive around Oahu, with some decent waves still rolling in at Pipeline.
12. Play at Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon
Even if you don’t stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, I highly recommend you take your kids to this lagoon.
We enjoyed a fun afternoon playing on the paddle boats, stand-up paddle boarding, swimming, and kicking back on the sand.
Kalyra loved perfecting a cartwheel on the stand-up paddle-board (SUP) how does she do that? And Caz had fun taking Savannah for a ride on the SUP board.
It’s a safe place for families to hang out and a nice spot to take in the sunset.
13. Eat Poke
For a traditional Hawaiian dish, order some poke.
This food is trending around the world and people are embracing it. One place we ate Poke at was the Barefoot Beach Cafe which is like a beachside kiosk with amazing ocean views – it’s a locals fave!
We ordered the spicy and Hawaiian poke and enjoyed the fresh, light, tasty and healthy dish. Cost $9.
14. Relax on Kahanamoku Beach
Looking for a bit more space to lay your towel for sunbathing and calmer waters for a swim?
Kahanamoku Beach is a curved section of beach at the western end of Waikiki, right in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort (another reason to stay here)
The sand is golden and the water crystal clear. It’s protected by the breakwater and pier, and if you fancy a snorkel there’s coral running between them.
It would be easy to spend a day under one of those beach umbrellas and a perfect family friendly Oahu activity.
15. Drink a Lanikai Juice
After our swim at beautiful Lanikai Beach, we stopped in Lanikai town and grabbed a smoothie from the Lanikai Juice Bar before continuing on our North Shore Road trip.
This bar is awesome, with a great range of drinks and food from smoothies to juices to healthy salads – definitely make a pit stop here on your drive around Oahu.
Oh, and they also have another location on Oahu, within the Hilton Hawaiian Village (2005 Kalia Rd, at the Tapa Pool).
16. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Who loves shrimp?
On your drive to the North Shore of Oahu, the town of Haleiwa is a lovely historic town to visit and here you will find a congregation of food trucks on the side of the highway, one being Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (66-472 Kamehameha Hwy).
The shrimp truck industry is thriving on the North Shore, and Giovanni’s was the first truck to begin serving shrimp back in 1993.
We ordered their shrimp scampi, a dish that has made Giovanni’s famous – a dozen shrimp marinated in olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, and rice drizzled with a garlic lemon butter. Delish!
17. Kuhio Beach
If the main section of Waikiki Beach or Kahanamoku Beach is not to your liking, you have another option in Kuhio Beach.
Further east toward Diamond Head, this family-friendly section of beach is protected from the ocean waves by a sea wall and is away from the hustle and bustle
It’s pretty here with the palm trees and uninterrupted views of Diamond Head.
Kapiolani Beach Park is another family-friendly beach in Waikiki. Across from here is Kapiolani Park named after Queen Kapiolani. This 300 acre park also has the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Shell, and basketball courts.
18. Cool down with Shave Ice
In need of a cool treat? Shave ice is a popular dessert in Hawaii made by shaving a block of ice with flavored syrups added and absorbed by the ice.
The most famous shave ice in Oahu is at Matsumoto in Haleiwa, but we took one look at the LONG line and kept driving. We ended up buying our kids shave ice from a food truck called Snow Factory at the same location as Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.
There was no line and our kids had nothing to compare it to and loved their treat!
19. See a Polynesian Luau
Can you come to Hawaii and not see a Luau? Probably not!
A favorite memory from our Hawaii trip was when Savannah got a tattoo from one of the male performers at the Starlight Luau who happened to look just like Maui from Moana.
We had her convinced it was him and the look on her face was priceless.
You might think a Luau would be a bit kitsch and over-touristy, but we thoroughly enjoyed the dancing and music from the show which highlights the stories and culture of the different Polynesian islands.
The spirit of the Hawaiian people really shines through, and a buffet dinner and a couple of free drinks never go astray – mai tai time anyone – put it on your list of things to do on Oahu with kids. It’s important they learn the cultural significance of the places they visit.
20. Eat WONUTS
What’s a wonut? A hybrid between a waffle and a donut.
After the kids begged us for long enough, we gave in and they got to try them for dessert one evening.
21. Learn About Pineapple Farming at the Dole Plantation
The Dole Pineapple Plantation is half a museum and half amusement park. It’s where you can learn all about the history and cultivation of pineapples in Hawaii, and also ride the Pineapple Express land train.
There’s also a maze and garden.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Oahu with kids, this is definitely up there as one of the more unique activities.
22. Snorkel in the Turtle Canyon
Have you ever wanted to snorkel with green sea turtles? Then a cruise out to Turtle Canyon is where you want to go.
Oahu’s Turtle Canyon is about a 2-3-hour journey out from Waikiki by boat and is the best place to find sea turtles in their natural habitat. In fact, some snorkel tours are so confident you will see a turtle, that if you don’t, you get your tour for free!
Sometimes you might also see dolphins and whales as you make your way to Turtle Canyon. And of course, you’ll see plenty of tropical fish.
23. Swim with Sharks
If you want to take on a more adrenaline-fueled activity in Oahu, then how about swimming with sharks? Sharks often get a bad rep because of horror movies like Jaws and Sharknado, but they are actually very misunderstood creatures.
They are still dangerous though, which is why it’s best to swim with sharks via a shark cage, to separate you from these wild predators.
The sharks are usually found off the coast of Oahu’s North Shore in the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Here you can find wild Galapagos, Hammerhead, and Sandbar sharks. The sharks can be anywhere from 5-15 feet long, so this is definitely not an activity for the faint-hearted.
If you time your visit right, you might also see whales and dolphins on your way out to the shark spot.
24. Go Whale-Watching
Of course, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without going whale watching. The best time to see whales is from December to May when these majestic creatures come to Oahu to give birth to their calves.
You can see whales from the shore in certain spots, if you look closely and have a pair of binoculars. Otherwise, you can take boat tours out on the West Coast.
This is the best way to see them in their natural habitat but from a safe distance so as not to disturb them.
25. Hike the Stairway to Heaven
The Haiku Stairs, or the Stairway to Heaven, is a challenging hike up 3,000 steps to the ridges of the Oahu’s Ko’olau mountain range. The ladder is a steep, steel staircase that was used by the former U.S. Navy to get to their communication facility.
Today, it’s a popular hiking trail that leads to the breathtaking scenery of the rugged mountains. Reaching the summit is definitely a rewarding experience, though may be too challenging for those visiting Oahu with kids.
26. Hike up to Koko Head for Sunrise
Another challenging hike in Oahu is the Koko Head Crater Tramway hike. This hike takes you up a vertical 2.6-km former tramway, which takes you to a viewpoint from the top of Koko Head.
It’s best completed for sunrise, as the views are just incredible when washed in the orange glow of morning.
It takes roughly an hour and a half to hike this trail, but it’s steep, so not suitable for those with small kids or dogs.
27. Spend a Day at the Beach
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Oahu is to visit the beaches. Some of the most famous beaches on the island are Kailua Beach, and Laniakea Beach.
Kailua Beach is a soft white sand beach that’s great for kite surfing and snorkeling. It’s well maintained and has all the facilities you might need including changing rooms and showers. This is the beach you go to if you enjoy swimming and sunbathing.
Laniakea Beach is also known as Turtle Beach and is famous for being the place where many Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles come to bask in the sun. It’s a protected beach and not really for swimming, aside from being home to turtles the waves are really big, but you can see plenty of turtles enjoying some rays here.
28. Explore the Natural Beauty of Waimea Valley
Oahu is really a true paradise on Earth, and if you need proof of this, you only need to visit Waimea Valley. It’s a lush, green landscape known for its hiking trails and waterfalls.
The hike through the valley is around 3.5-miles and is mostly flat, paved ground, which is perfect for families. The path passes through gorgeous gardens and historical sites, as well as passing the iconic Waimea Falls.
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in Oahu in nature, then make sure to stop by this gorgeous place.
29. Visit Manoa Falls
Manoa falls is a huge 150-foot waterfall, which is a wonderful sight to behold. Its magnitude is impressive, and the surrounding green landscape with trees almost as tall as the falls and moss-lined cliff faces, makes it feel even more powerful.
The waterfall lands in a pool, though it’s not really for swimming. You’ll find plenty of hiking trails, picnic areas and scenic views in the surrounding park.
Additional Ideas for Oahu Activities with Kids
- Families who love to shop will want to visit the Royal Hawaiian Center, an outdoor shopping center in the shopping district of Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki.
- Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center and see Hawaiian culture come to life.
- Honolulu’s Bishop Museum is Hawaii’s largest museum where you can learn the cultural history of Hawaii and the Pacific. Kids will love the planetarium and Science Adventure Center here as well.
- Visit the Byodo-In Temple, a Buddhist temple in the Ko’olau Mountains.
- Take a stroll through the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.
- Wander around downtown Honolulu and do some souvenir shopping.
- Kualoa Ranch is where you’ll find your Jurassic Park scenery and movie setting tour. Book tickets here
- For more cultural history, visit the Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs and served as the official royal residence and the residence of the Kingdom’s political and social life until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.
Before You Go
So there you have it, those are all the best things to do in Oahu and as you can see, I wasn’t wrong when I said the island has a lot to offer.
Whether you’re staying for a week or a weekend, you now have the resource to plan a really unforgettable trip.
To make sure you don’t miss out on anything and have everything planned, make sure you book your accommodation in advance.
The island is small and the best hotels get booked up early. Not to mention the prices soar when booking last minute. Grab yourself an early deal and check Booking.com, which has over 500 hotels in Oahu to choose from.
Free Oahu Bucket List PDF
Don’t miss these amazing Oahu experiences and attractions. Your free printable PDF bucket list will help your planning.
More Tips on Travel to Hawaii
Are you planning to visit other islands in Hawaii? Then you should check out these other resources:
- Ultimate Guide – Driving The Road to Hana, Maui
- Why You Should Visit Kaanapali Beach Maui
- Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii
- 5 Day Big Island Itinerary
- A review of Disney’s Aulani on Oahu
- Best Things to do in Maui on a short break
- 20 Amazing Places to visit in Hawaii on a family vacation
- 10 Tips for Planning a Trip to Hawaii with Kids
- 27 Fun Things to do in Hawaii with Kids
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Do you have any tips on what to do on Oahu? Most of our time was confined to the Waikiki area and we’d love to explore more of Oahu. What do you think are the best things to do in Oahu. Please share in the comments down below.