The island of Oahu in Hawaii packs a ton of activities into just 597 square miles. In this list, we’ll run you down our favorite activities, and attractions on Oahu. Even though these are our top recommendations, they’re definitely not the only things to do on Oahu. As the most populated Hawaiian island (nearly a million people call the Gathering Place home!) Oahu offers a ton of activities to keep you busy. Let’s jump in with a classic must-visit . . .
#1: Tour Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was a pivotal moment in world history that drew the United States into World War II. 1,117 sailors and Marines lost their lives during the attack. The USS Arizona Memorial within Pearl Harbor National Memorial pays tribute to their memory. The park sees an average of 1.8 million visitors each year making it one of the most popular attractions in the state. In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, you’ll also find exhibit galleries, a theater, several museums, and more at the park.
- Admission: Free for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, although tickets are required to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. However, tickets are not required to enter the park or walk the grounds. Tickets are required to visit the additional museums found within the park, which include the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
- Website: Pearl Harbor National Memorial
#2: Take in the Views from the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Breathtaking coastal views, including vistas of Koko Head and Koko Crater, await you on this fairly easy 2.5 mile out-and-back hike. If you enjoy hiking, the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse is just one of many opportunities you’ll find on Oahu. There are trails all over the island that range from an easy strolls to challenging uphills. Some, like this trail, offer gorgeous ocean views. Others give you the chance to head mauka (inland, toward the mountains) and explore the unique flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere but Hawaii. As you’re exploring Oahu by foot, bring your adventurous spirit. However, make sure you respect the island’s landowners and avoid crossing private lands without permission.
- Admission: Free
- Website: Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail; AllTrails is also an excellent resource for additional hikes on Oahu
#3: Explore Hawaiian History, Culture, and Heritage at the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace
Located just a few miles apart in Honolulu, these two stops will give you a rich background in the history and culture of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s a great learning experience about the people who settled these islands originally. At the Bishop Museum, you’ll explore native plants and discover the alii who ruled the islands. It’s a great way to explore the Hawaiian culture and system of beliefs. Iolani Palace, built in 1879, will give you a glimpse into the life of the last monarchs who ruled the Kingdom of Hawaii. (Fun fact: Iolani Palace got electric lighting before even the White House!) If you want to understand Oahu and the people who live on it, these two stops are a great place to start.
- The Bishop Museum Admission: $24.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors 65+ and $16.95 for children aged 4-17; discounts available for kamaaina, military personnel, and online ticket purchases
- Iolani Palace Admission: $20 per adult, $6 for children 5-12; discounts available for kamaaina and active military
- Website: The Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace
#4: Live Life on Island Time on Oahu’s North Shore
Despite Oahu’s relatively small size, different parts of the island can feel like they’re worlds away. If you spend all your time in busy Waikiki, you’ll miss out on the laid-back experience of Oahu’s North Shore. You might already know the North Shore’s reputation for world-class surf breaks. Waves like Pipeline and Waimea act as a training ground during the winter months for serious surfers. But the North Shore has plenty of attractions for non-surfers, too. These include taking heart-pumping cage dives with sharks, browsing through the fun little shops in Haleiwa. Or explore the tide pools at Pupukea Beach Park and enjoy a shave ice from Matsumoto’s. While you’re there, it’s nice to slow down and enjoy the laconic pace that’s a signature of North Shore living.
#5: Bask in the Tranquility of the Byodo-In Temple
As you spend time on Oahu, you’ll discover all kinds of testaments to different ethnic groups who made their way to Hawaii. The branguina, a Portuguese instrument that inspired the ukulele, is one. The Byodo-In Temple, a non-practicing Buddhist temple, is another. It was established in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. People of all faiths are welcome to visit these serene grounds and enjoy a quiet, meditative experience. Don’t miss the gift shop, which is stocked with unique treasures.
- Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 65+, $2 for children aged 2-12
- Website: Byodo-In Temple
#6: Step onto a Movie Set at Kualoa Ranch
As you take a turn around Kualoa Ranch, you might feel a sense of déjà vu—the creeping feeling that you’ve been here before. That’s because Kualoa Ranch has been the filming site for movies and TV shows including Jurassic Park, King Kong, Lost, and, most recently, Netflix’s Goonies tribute, Finding Ohana. If you’re a film buff, make sure to choose the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour. The 4000-acre ranch also offers e-Bikes, ziplining, or piloting your own Raptor UTV around the park’s grounds. Just watch out for stampeding Ankylosaurs. (Not really—but the landscape makes it easy to imagine them around every corner!)
- Admission: Varies by activity
- Website: Kualoa Ranch
#7: Experience the Ancient Hawaiian Art of Hula
The original settlers to the Hawaiian Islands didn’t have a written language. Instead, they passed down their stories and history from person to person through chant, songs (mele), and dance (hula). If you get the chance to attend a hula festival or competition, grab it. The artistry, power, and beauty of the dances will blow you away. However, if you’re only in Oahu for a short time, you can still catch an authentic performance right in Waikiki. Head to the Kuhio Beach Hula Show and see the students from one of Hawaii’s finest halau (schools) to get a true taste of Hawaiian culture.
- Admission: Free
- Website: Kuhio Beach Hula Show
#8: Discover an Underwater Wreck
What is it about an underwater ship that ignites our spirit of curiosity? Oahu has a number of wrecks to explore.
These include the Mahi, a U.S. Navy Minelayer (named a top U.S. wreck dive by Scuba Diving Magazine), the Sea Tiger (originally a Chinese trading ship), or the YO-257 (a former Navy oil barge). For something a little different, try the Corsair wreck, a World War II-era plane located not too far from the YO-257. Several of these are advanced dives, so it’s a great excuse to get certified with either PADI or NAUI. Use these dives to work your way to the advanced certification level. Hawaii has a tremendous number of endemic species that have made these wrecks their home so you’re almost guaranteed an interesting dive.
- Admission: The dives mentioned are all boat dives. You’ll need to either befriend a fellow diver with a boat or go out with a commercial dive operation. Get started with one of the dive companies listed below.
- Websites: Honolulu Scuba Company and Island Divers
#9: Lounge on Postcard-Perfect Kailua Beach
We saved the best for last. Of course, Hawaii is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches, complete with turquoise waters and palm trees swaying in the breeze. Kailua Beach Park offers that Instagram-worthy beach experience, plus all the comforts of bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, and easier parking than many of Oahu’s other beaches. This is also a popular spot for kitesurfers, so you can enjoy their acrobatics while you stroll the nearly 2.5-mile beach.
- Admission: Free
- Website: Kailua Beach Park conditions at HawaiiBeachSafety.com
Making the Most of Your Time in the Gathering Place
Whether you’re visiting Oahu for a few days or planning to make a permanent move you’ll find plenty to do on the island. This list of top attractions and activities, will keep you busy as soon as you arrive. If you’re making a move to Oahu, we’d be happy to help you make a safe, easy, and affordable one! It all begins with a complimentary quote from one of our experts. Just reach out to get started.
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