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Best Things to Do in Oahu, Hawaii

As I stepped out of the airport into the tropical Hawaiian breeze, the excitement of being back in Oahu washed over me like a wave. This island paradise had been calling my name, with its iconic beaches, lush rainforests, and rich Hawaiian culture. Oahu is so much more than just Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. During my two weeks exploring, I discovered hidden local gems, conquered new adventures, and fell even more in love with Hawaii’s most populated island. From outdoor excursions to historical sites to incredible food, here are 10 can’t-miss Oahu experiences for an unforgettable vacation.

8 Epic Adventures For An Unforgettable Oahu Vacation

Explore Waikiki Beach and Neighborhoods

While Waikiki Beach may be touristy, no visit to Oahu is complete without a stroll down this iconic stretch of sand. Watch surfers catch waves in the morning, then meander past luxury resorts like The Royal Hawaiian. As the sun dips low, find a oceanside bar to toast the sunset with a fruity Mai Tai in hand. Beyond the beach, immerse yourself in Oahu’s local culture by exploring neighborhoods like Chinatown with its bustling markets, street art, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Don’t miss the Honolulu Night Market on the last Friday of each month, when artists and food vendors fill Chinatown’s streets.

See the Views from Diamond Head Lookout

For sweeping panoramic views of Waikiki and the southern coastline, take on the hike up to the 760-foot summit of Diamond Head crater. This volcanic cone sits just above Honolulu. While a steep climb with several sets of stairs, completing the 1.6 mile round trip trail is achievable for most fitness levels. Just be sure to prep with sunscreen, water, and decent footwear. You’ll be rewarded with 360 degree views of the entire south shore – easily one of the best vantage points on the island! Arrive early before it gets crowded.

Spend a Day at Pearl Harbor Historic Sites

Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and Battleship Missouri Memorial provides a profoundly moving look back at the attacks on Pearl Harbor that forever changed history. As you step foot on the gleaming white memorial spanning the sunken USS Arizona, peering at the names of the 1,177 lives lost, it’s impossible not to feel deeply. Compliment the day by also exploring the Battleship Missouri, the Pacific Aviation Museum to see WWII aircraft, and the USS Bowfin submarine for different perspectives on the infamous day that still lives in infamy. Plan to devote a full day, arrive early to avoid long ticket lines, and bring tissues.

Snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

With an underwater park protecting nearly 450 species of marine life, Hanauma Bay offers some of the island’s best snorkeling. After watching the introductory safety video, head right to the inner reefs and rocks to see Green Sea Turtles and schools of brightly colored tropical fish up close. I could have spent hours staring through my mask at the dazzling underwater world! Arrive early to get one of the limited parking spots, or take the bus. Bring your own snorkel gear to save money, and don’t touch any coral. To beat crowds, consider visiting on a weekday.

Watch the Surfers at North Shore Beaches

During the winter months, Oahu’s legendary North Shore boasts some of the biggest and best surfing waves in the world at spots like Pipeline, Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. Watch in awe as expert surfers carve down monster swells and local kids rip up the smaller breaks. Drive along the coastline taking in one epic wave after another. Stop into the funky surf shops and food trucks like Ted’s Bakery for plate lunches and delicious pie. Time your visit for the winter surf season, and pray for big waves!

Shop the Weekend Farmers Markets

For the freshest local produce, baked goods, arts and crafts on the island, hit up Oahu’s weekend farmers markets. The Saturday market at Kapiolani Community College is my favorite with live music and ample free parking. The Wednesday market at Hawaii Kai has an awesome coconut stand and plenty of poke bowls to sample while you browse. Bring reusable bags, get there early for the best selection, and expect to stock up on delicious tropical fruit to enjoy through the week.

Take in Views on a Hike or Ridge Trail

Countless scenic trails allow you to experience Oahu’s natural side with stunning coastal vistas for the effort. For an easy hike with Instagram-worthy views, head up Lanikai Pillbox Trail along thewindward coast overlooking the offshore Mokulua Islands. For a North Shore option, hike up to the WWII-era bunkers on the Ehukai Pillbox Trail. If you just want a ridge-top stroll, the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail rewards with sweeping views of Oahu’s easternmost tip.

Watch the Sunset at Sandy Beach Park

Head to Oahu’s east side to catch a spectacular sunset over the rocky Halona coastline. Sandy Beach Park is especially lovely, with grassy areas perfect for laying out a blanket or setting up beach chairs pre-show. There are also sheltered picnic tables if you want more comfort. BYO snacks or grab a bite from Sandy’s food truck, which serves grinds like shrimp plates, poke bowls and refreshing coco ice cream bars well into the evening.


After two weeks exploring Oahu’s storied shores and legendary landmarks, my next trip can’t come soon enough. I still have countless beaches, hidden hikes and must-try restaurants left on my Oahu bucket list! Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventure, indulging in plate lunches, learning about history, or soaking up the island vibe, Oahu offers endless opportunities for an epic Hawaiian getaway. Just be sure to experience these ten quintessential activities I’ve recommended to make the absolute most of your time on this island gem. Aloha and mahalo, Oahu!