Updated: January 14, 2020
From world-class surfing to some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling, Oahu is a vacationer’s paradise. But it’s also a place steeped in history–home to Pearl Harbor and Honolulu’s rich historical district. If you’re planning a trip to the island, there are many incredible things to do during your vacation. Enjoy a classic Hawaiian luau on Waikiki beach, watch the sunset from a luxury catamaran, or go on a dolphin adventure. Find out more by checking out our list of the top 10 things to do on Oahu.
#1 – Go on a Sunset Dinner Cruise
Watching the sun set from the water will remind you of why you came to Hawaii in the first place: to discover the beauty of paradise. But of course the sun doesn’t get all the credit here—once the show’s over, you’ll be stunned by views of the Honolulu city lights as they shimmer in the water’s reflection. There’s no better way to enjoy a Honolulu sunset than on a luxury dinner cruise. Makani Catamaran departs from Kaka’ako, just west of Waikiki, and includes a delicious dinner buffet, one complimentary beverage, as well as a full cash bar. Check out our discounted advanced rates to save on your booking!
Pro tip! If you’re looking to sail Friday night, check out their Friday Evening Fireworks Cruise.
Discounted rates | Free Waikiki hotel pick up | Food and drink included
#2 – Feast at a Farm-to-Table Hawaiian Luau
It’s not a Hawaiian vacation without a luau! And Oahu is known as having some of the very best luaus in all of the islands. Check out Diamond Head Luau, conveniently located a short walk from the Waikiki strip. This beachside luau is famed for its farm-to-table buffet of incredible, locally sourced, authentic Hawaiian fare — so tasty! Entry also includes admission to the Waikiki Aquarium. Be sure to book early as this one fills up well in advance!
Family-friendly | Food and drink included
#3 – Swim with sharks
Give yourself a dose of adrenaline on Oahu’s North Shore on this shark cage experience run by Hawaii Shark Encounters, a tour company that specializes in education and ecology. As you climb into the cage, you’ll have a chance to encounter these incredible creatures up close and personal in their natural habitat. This is a small-group tour of no more than ten people and lasts two hours total. The objective is to shed a different light on these much-misunderstood aquatic creatures. One thing’s for sure—you’ll remember your experience for a lifetime!
Small-group tours | Equipment provided | Hotel pickup available
#4 – Take a helicopter tour
If you’ve always wanted to take to the skies in a helicopter there’s no better place to do it than Hawaii. Imagine the incredible contrast of blue ocean and vibrant mountain views from above. Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours offers an incredible 1 hour Private VIP Tour for up to 4 passengers where you’ll see Diamond Head, the North Shore, Jurassic Valley, and fly over Pearl Harbor on your way back. If you prefer, you can also check out their shared seating tour for the same views at a lower price. This one is definitely bucket list worthy!
Hotel Pick up | Bucket list
#5 – Swim with dolphins
If swimming with dolphins in the wild is on your bucket list, this one’s for you. Dolphin Excursions offers daily cruises along Oahu’s leeward coast, led by seasoned island naturalists with years of experience on Oahu. They’ll take you out to the natural habitat of the beloved Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Watch these spectacular creatures perform superb aerial stunts (for which they are named) and have a chance to passively interact with them in the water. Dolphin Excursions also offers afternoon Whale Watching Tours during the winter months.
Hotel pick up included | Food & drink included | Ages 4+
#6 – Learn how to surf
There’s a reason the North Shore is surfer central. Famed for its waves reaching up to 30 feet, Oahu’s North Shore is home to annual international surfing competitions and some truly fearless surfers. But don’t worry, there are plenty of sheltered bays along the coast perfect for beginners. Check out Sea & Board Sports in Haleiwa for the ultimate North Shore surfing experience.
If you’re in the Waikiki area, Gone Surfing Hawaii has reasonably priced 2 hour lessons which assign an instructor exclusively to your group of 2 – 3 people. If you’re solo, you can also check out their private lessons.
For those staying in the Kapolei area, check out Surf HNL Kapolei for the closest option to you. They offer private, semi-private, and group lessons in 1 or 2 hour durations.
Small-group classes | Family-friendly | Equipment provided
#7 – Take a catamaran cruise
After lounging on Waikiki Beach, you’ve probably been thinking to yourself, what’s the view like from out there on the water? Or maybe, what’s the other side of Diamond Head really like? Well the best way to find out is to hop on this luxury catamaran for a 2 hour cruise, sip a cool beverage, and take in the beauty of Oahu from a whole new angle.
Hotel pick-up included | Discounted Online Tickets
#8 – See the whole island in one day
Taking a Circle Island Tour is a must-do on Oahu. From the glitz and glamor of Waikiki to the laidback surfers’ paradise on the North Shore, exploring the island from coast to coast is the best way to get the most out of your trip. Check out this island tour—you’ll visit Diamond Head, the Halona Blowhole, Makapu’u Beach, Sunset Beach, and more. This is also the only Circle Island tour on Oahu that includes snorkeling with sea turtles on the North Shore!
Hotel pick up included | Family-friendly | Equipment provided
#9 – Go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Not all snorkeling destinations are created equal. On Oahu, look no further than Hanauma Bay. This extinct volcanic crater is a rich bed of diverse marine life and arguably the best place to go snorkeling in all of Hawaii, let alone Oahu. You’ll see Hawaiian sea turtles, colorful butterfly fish, the conspicuous convict tang, and the famed reef triggerfish, also known as humuhumu-nukunuku-apua’a, or the Hawaiian State Fish. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Honolulu but we recommend reserving a snorkel tour. They’ll drive you out there, provide all the gear, and guarantee park entry. If you drive yourself you may get turned away if the parking lot is full, which some days can happen as early as 8am!
Hotel pick up included | Family-friendly | Equipment provided
#10 – Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor
A visit to Pearl Harbor is a must during your time on Oahu. Explore the historic museums, watch live footage from the attack, and climb abroad a Balao-class submarine, the USS Bowfin. But the real show-stopper is the USS Arizona Memorial, an iconic white structure built directly over the final resting place of the USS Arizona. You need to take a short boat ride to get to the memorial, and tickets are limited, but this is the part of the experience that brings you closest to the tragedy that occurred on December 7, 1941. We recommend visiting the memorial in a small-group tour—not only is transportation included, but you’re also guaranteed a spot on the boat over to visit the memorial. They also stop at Leonard’s Bakery for tasty malasadas on the way!
Hotel pick up included | Family-friendly | Snack included
Did you know that Hawaii has recently banned the use of sunscreens that aren’t considered reef safe? Check out our review of the best reef safe sunscreens to make sure you’re protecting yourself, and the environment.
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