Planning a trip to the USA?
To kick off our big trip to America we spent two weeks in Hawaii visiting three of the Hawaiian Islands – Oahu, Maui and the Big Island and it’s hard to say which island we loved best.
They all have their own unique personalities.
Six days on Oahu wasn’t nearly enough.
There are so many amazing things to do in Oahu Hawaii that we didn’t have time to see it all – which is always a great excuse to go back right?!
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 to your itinerary for your own Hawaii vacation.
20 Things to do in Oahu Hawaii
1. Diamond Head Walk
One of the most famous Oahu activities is 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 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 park opening at 6:30 am.
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.
If you are traveling solo and don’t want to do the Diamond Head walk by yourself, check out the Diamond Head Crater Adventure Guided Tour.
Watch our video here of our Diamond Head Walk + a little more of beautiful Waikiki:
2. Road Trip around Oahu
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 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
Probably one of the other most popular things to do in Oahu Hawaii is visiting Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve as 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.
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. Entrance fee is $7.50 per person (kids 12 & under are FREE).
If you are not confident with snorkeling, or just want to be lead around, you can join a guided snorkeling tour.
4. Pearl Harbor Tour
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.
It was a beautiful memorial, and you can visit the grounds and museum before catching a boat over to the Arizona Memorial, the ship that sunk and is now the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed.
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 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 a perfect temperate, generally safe for kids to swim with calm waves, and the views over Diamond Head are picture postcard!
It’s here where most of the outrigger boats operate from 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.
6. Swim at Lanikai 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 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!
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 super food 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 on Oahu 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
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 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 winter time 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 Hawaii when we return!
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
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.
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 of 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!
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 from the different Polynesian islands.
The spirit of the Hawaiian people really shine 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.
There’s also this farm to table Luau that offers organic food! I wish I knew about that one.
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.
More tips on travel to Hawaii:
- Ultimate Guide – Driving The Road to Hana, Maui
- Why You Should Visit Kaanapali Beach Maui
- 5 Day Itinerary – Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii
- A review of Disney’s Aulani on Oahu
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.
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