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Oahu is one of the top tourist destinations in Hawaii and the starting point for many Hawaiian vacations. Once you fly into Honolulu and settle in your beachfront hotel, you can be guided through a variety of tourist attractions, get out into nature to experience the island’s natural beauty, and find some amazing cuisine that’s iconic to Hawaiian culture. Check out the top things to do in Oahu.
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When you’re in Oahu, there really is no such thing as a non-scenic hike. The coastlines here are truly spectacular and perfect for exploring on foot as you go for a hike. Some hikes here are very popular and usually packed with people, such as Stairway to Heaven, Diamond Head, and the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. However, there are also plenty of opportunities to find peace and solitude on Oahu’s trails and get a slice of paradise all to yourself. One of the top Oahu coastal hikes is to Kaʻena Point on the westernmost tip of the island.
To embrace the Hawaiian tourist vibe and really learn a lot about local cultures, plan to spend a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center. This theme park is on the northern shore of Oahu in Laie and is a must-visit spot if you want an Oahu experience without having to plan too much on your own. Here you can visit six Pacific island villages, attend a luau with dinner, shop for souvenirs, take a canoe ride, watch live cultural presentations, and see an evening dance and fire-themed show. Multiple package deals are available depending on how much you want to see and what you want to spend.
In Hawaii, it doesn’t get much more iconic than pineapple, and you can visit the Dole Plantation on your trip. This family-friendly attraction features a train ride through the plantation fields, a large maze to navigate, and a lovely garden with tropical plants. At the plantation, you can also watch live demonstrations about how to cut and serve pineapple, enjoy delicious pineapple soft-serve ice cream, and shop for fun souvenirs too.
While you’re in the Honolulu area, also make a point to visit some of the historic attractions, including the World War II memorial sites to learn about Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military endeavors. The USS Arizona Memorial stands over the sunken battleship from the Pearl Harbor attack. Other sites to see here are the Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Oahu is also home to many beautiful waterfalls, which you can see on hikes of all types and lengths. One popular waterfall is Manoa Falls, which is a 150-foot waterfall at the end of a muddy trail that’s about 1.6 miles round-trip. Waimea Falls on the north shore of the island is another popular and easily accessible waterfall to see. Waterfall-lovers will also enjoy Maunawili Falls, Lulumahu Falls, and Waimano Falls while visiting Oahu.
Another quintessential Oahu experience is a luau, which is a traditional Hawaiian event involving hula dancing and a feast. At a luau, you can try local specialties like kalua pig cooked in an underground oven, poke, poi, and taro while listening to Hawaiian music and watching dancers perform. There are numerous luau options on Oahu, and most of them are fairly similar in price. A couple recommended dinner theater options are the Germaine’s Luau and the Paradise Cove Luau.
While many travelers in Oahu stay in all-inclusive resorts, you can get a more local and affordable experience by pitching a tent in a campground. Good campgrounds in Oahu can be hard to come by, as some have issues with homeless populations and late-night partying. However, Camp Mokulēʻia on the north shore of Oahu is a great option for budget-conscious travelers who want to wake up in a tent right next to the ocean waves. Here you’ll find private outdoor showers, yurt toilet facilities, a friendly staff, and easy access to a chill beach.
Many cities have their own Chinatowns, and Honolulu is no exception. This is a fun place to visit for a local vibe when you need a break from the tourist circuit. The neighborhood spans about 15 blocks and has outdoor shops selling delicious boba tea and fresh produce, as well as some excellent restaurants. Check out the architecture of the Hawaii Theatre here, shop for some trinkets, and stop by the Chinatown art galleries here.
Poke bowls have become tremendously popular in the Mainland U.S., but this Hawaiian specialty was a local staple before it was trendy. Oahu is a great place to enjoy a fresh poke bowl with sliced raw tuna over rice and with vegetables and sauce. Some recommended poke spots in Oahu are Poke on Da Run in Pearl City, Poke & Box in Honolulu, and Da Hawaiian Poke Company in Kapahulu.
Waikiki Beach is a center of tourist activity in Oahu and where many people call their home base while on vacation, as its full of top-rated hotels. This is an area of the island packed with high-rise hotels, bars, restaurants, pristine beaches, and steady traffic. The beach is always popular among surfers, swimmers, and is one of the most popular beaches in the entire world. Here you can see outdoor music events, canoe races, hula dancing, and play beach volleyball.
But if you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe in Oahu, don’t miss out on exploring the many small towns here. Small Oahu towns are great places to get to know the local vibe a bit better, beat the crowds, enjoy authentic food, and shop for locally-made goods. For example, the artistic hub of Haleiwa on the north shore has some charming boutiques and surf shops to see. Other small beach towns to add to your itinerary include Kailua, Kaneohe, and Waimanalo.