What are the 45 things you have to do when visiting Oahu, to make your trip incredible?
More specifically, what are:
- The beaches you need to visit…
- The hikes you must do…
- The activities you’ve gotta book…
- The places you absolutely need to eat at…
- The views you can’t miss…
- And the most gorgeous photo spots?
Well, that’s exactly what I’ll be revealing through this article – for free.
I’m certain there will be things here that even most locals (that have lived here for decades) don’t know about. Seriously.
Don’t believe me? Stick with me and I’ll prove it to you.
Let’s just jump right into the first best thing to do when visiting Oahu, Hawaii…
1. Swim With Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins was probably the most “magical” experiences I’ve ever had. And the best places for swimming with them are Makua Beach and Electric Beach.
If I were you, I would go to Makua Beach (really early – before 8am), as I’ve gone to Electric Beach countless times and haven’t ever spotted any dolphins there. Yet, I’ve gone to Makua Beach and have multiple times… including some turtles, eagle rays, and so much more gorgeous sea life.
So by now, you know you want to swim with dolphins – and you also know where to go… What do you do now?
Well, you could either:
1). Drive all the way across the island, end up spending a ton of money on gas, have to purchase your own snorkeling gear, park in an area with the highest theft rates on the island, and then swim allll the way out to where the dolphins swim at… and hopefully they’re there. Plus, on your way back to the shore, you might even have to go through heavy currents. And for me, those heavy currents nearly threw me towards some vana/sea urchin… which are all over the rocks along the coast. (yeah… not good. Funnily enough, ended up using one of those GoPro sticks to keep my distance!)
2). You could choose to go on one of the most incredible snorkel cruise with dolphins on Oahu. Meaning, you just wake up. Get picked up in a nice bus with A/C… sit back & relax, taking in all the incredible views… and then, you’ll get complimentary snorkeling gear. Oh. And you’ll have a TON of fun. Because you’ll be on an incredible boat – with a slide, with great company, with complimentary snacks, and of course – dolphins.
Hey, the choice is up to you.
Personally, I chose the first… as I’ve lived here for decades and had snorkeling gear, so it made sense for me to do so… but in most cases, I would highly recommend otherwise — booking an incredible snorkel cruise tour with dolphins.
2. Find The Tantalus Tower
The hike starts off with a slight incline and after roughly 5-10 minutes you’ll be greeted with a beautiful bamboo forest. Shortly after, in around 20-25 minutes, you’ll get to the Tantalus Tower. The view at the top is INCREDIBLE. The only downside? The strong winds blowing from every direction. Which isn’t super fun, especially while you’re climbing up and down the (not in the best condition) ladder. And it’s also not super fun when you’re standing on a tower that you can feel sway. But hey, the view’s worth it! If hikings your “thing” and you want more incredible one’s like Tantalus Tower, read about more here.
3. Visit Waimanalo Beach Park
Waimanalo Beach Park is located in between Halona Blowhole/Cockroach Cove and Lanikai Beach… and is a great alternative to Lanikai beach, because Waimanalo Beach Park has the same white-sand, vibrant blue waters, and incredible backdrop – just like Lanikai Beach… but without all the hassle of looking for (and unlikely finding) any parking.
Local Tip: After visiting Waimanalo Beach Park, continue down the road (away from Lanikai Beach) and in a few minutes, you’ll see a cute pier on your left side, that’s perfect for taking some cute photos. You don’t want to skip this if you’re in the area!
Want to discover more incredible beaches? Then you’re going to love our article “15 Best Beaches on Oahu, Hawaii“.
4. Visit The Sunflower Fields
Swing by the Waimanalo Sunflower Fields and snap some cute pictures (like this one above 😉). If you like cute pictures, like having fun, then you should probably visit. It’s located just down the road (with some twists and turns – definitely Google Maps it) and it costs nothing to enter.
5. Hike Stairway To Heaven For Sunrise
Hiking the Stairway to Heaven for sunrise was one of the most rewarding, yet the scariest experience of my life. Starting off the hike by sneaking past a guard before dawn and hiking in the pitch black to be greeted by a long staircase of nearly 4,000 steps. With both unsteady and slippery railings and steps, you get a feeling of unease. At some points, the stairs go completely vertical and you’re left gripping on for dear life as the strong wind blows from all directions. Reaching the very top takes lots of perseverance as there are checkpoints along the way that makes you question continuing. As the sun rose, the sky cleared up and left us with the most beautiful glow and sunrise we’ve ever seen. It’s no question why so few have the courage to take on this hike.
6. Jump Off The Waimea Bay Rock
Waimea Bay is one of the most lively beaches on the island. There are always people playing football or soccer and having a good time. If you’re trying to jump off the famous Waimea bay rock, which is also to referred to as Devil’s rock, we recommend going during summer months. The rock is 7 meters in height (or 23 ft.). During winter months, the waves reach up to 30-40 feet high, which is a good time to sit back and relax and watch the professionals surf. Don’t expect to swim during these months. At Waimea Bay, there is a wall that people can climb year round which is 8 meters tall (or 26 ft.) The only downside to Waimea Bay is the small parking lot. Want to have a blast at Waimea bay? Check out our article on 5 Awesome Things to Do at Waimea Bay Beach Park.
7. Watch The Fireworks Show At The Hilton
Every Friday night at 7:45 pm, the Hilton lights up the city with the most beautiful fireworks show that you absolutely cannot miss. If you’re in the area and have some time – you must see it!
8. Watch A Sunrise At Lanikai Beach
Lanikai beach just feels perfect – when you get there you’ll know what I mean. From the perfectly soft sand, cool water, and overall vibes, Lanikai beach is the perfect place to relax. You cannot miss it when visiting the east side of Oahu. Click here to see 7 Awesome Things To Do in Kailua Hawaii – with one of the best being Lanikai Beach!
9. Hike The Tom-Tom Trail For Sunrise
If you’re looking to a beautiful perspective of the East coast of the island – then you’re looking at the right place. The Tom-Tom trail starts off with a nice incline and continues that for roughly 15-20 minutes until it starts to ease out more. You can stop at any point because there is no definite end to this hike.
10. Hike Makua Cave For Sunset
Viewing the west side of Oahu from Makua Cave is absolutely spectacular during sunset. You simply can’t miss this hike – It’s easily my favorite hike for sunset on this side. If you want more of a view of the entire west side, then we would recommend checking out the Maili Pillboxes, which is listed on our 15 best hikes on Oahu here.
11. Visit The Gorgeous Mermaid Cave
Located at Nanakuli Beach Park is the beautiful Mermaid Caves. There is something so special about this place that you can only understand when you get here. It can get dangerous at times due to swells that can fill up the cave.
12. Get A Poke Bowl
Poke is a raw fish salad that is typically served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine, but for most locals – the main course. Eating a poke bowl is a definite must if you want to truly experience the local lifestyle. Ono Seafood is a popular local spot located in Honolulu.
13. Get Shave Ice at Matsumoto’s
Matsumoto’s is an extremely popular store to grab shave ice from. Its only location is on the North Shore in the heart of Haleiwa Town. This is definitely the best way to cool off on a hot summer day. Click here for more things to do in the North Shore
14. Try An Acai Bowl
An Acai Bowl is a Brazilian dish made from frozen and mashed acai palm fruit. It’s typically served in a bowl and usually topped with granola, banana, and other types of fruits and treats. We would say the North Shore is home to some of the best acai bowls on the island – so we recommend trying some from there! Our personal favorite is Haleiwa Bowls or Crispy Grinds.
15. Visit Lulumahu falls
Located right off the Pali Highway, Lulumahu Falls is a 2.5-mile out-and-back trail. We rate this hike as moderate due to the fact that you need to hike across streams and since it can get quite slippery. We recommend this hike over Manoa falls for the fact that the waterfall is nicer and it’s not as well-known/crowded. If you’re thinking of hiking to see a waterfall – this is the one to do!
16. Eat Garlic Shrimp From The North Shore
Eat the famous North Shore Garlic Shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – The perfect place to stop to get a delicious bite to eat with some friends. Don’t miss out on some of the best shrimp on the island – make sure to visit Giovanni’s Shrimp truck. Click here for more things to do in the North Shore
17. Hike Pali Notches
Hiking the Pali Notches is for the extreme adventurers. With strong winds blowing from all directions and walking on a ridge that gets as narrow as 2-3 feet – this hike is no joke. It is one of the most dangerous hikes on the island and is only recommended for experienced hikers. Please make sure to research this hike plenty before taking it on.
18. Go Skydiving At The North Shore
Skydiving on the North Shore is a must. The views are absolutely spectacular and the feeling you get from skydiving is one you just can’t replicate – and can’t miss out on. North Shore is such a beautiful place and makes it the perfect place to take that jump out of your comfort zone!
19. Go Cliff Jumping At China Walls
Located in Hawaii Kai – China Walls is one of Oahu’s most popular cliff jumping spot, another being the North Shores Waimea Bay “Devils Rock”. This is definitely perfect for those adrenaline junkies that are reading this.
Along China Walls is also another (dangerous) cliff jumping spot called Spitting Caves. To get there, simply continue walking down left, until you see a bigger drop off (look at the picture – you’ll know when you’re at Spitting Caves).
20. Visit Oahu’s Popular Manoa Falls
If you’re visiting Oahu – then you definitely don’t want to skip Manoa Falls. The hike to the waterfall alone makes the entire visit worth it… Not even considering the jaw-dropping view of the waterfall. Now, when I say “hike”, what I really mean is a walk through a nicely paved path, with gorgeous views of a jurassic-park-like forest. It’s seriously incredible. What makes it even better is the hike is easy & suitable for people of all ages – whether you’ve hiked a ton, or not. So feel free to hike it just by yourself, with your significant other, or bring the kids along.
So, Manoa Falls sounds incredible, right? (right). Well, there’s a couple downsides. First of all, there’s a small $5 fee for parking. Which isn’t too bad considering how amazing the hike is. If the $5 fee for parking makes you not want to hike Manoa Falls, then you can simply park down the road. I estimate the walk from the parking you might find to be around 10 minutes or so.
The other downside is the waterfall doesn’t flow out a ton of water – unless it’s just rained. So if you want better pictures (which you probably do) then I highly recommend going after heavy rainfall.
21. Experience An Open-Door Helicopter Ride Around Oahu
Experience Oahu from above with an open-door helicopter tour. See gorgeous views of places like Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hanauma Bay, Kualoa Ranch, the North Shore, West Oahu, and so much more! Whether you’re a local, or are visiting, you definitely don’t want to skip taking a helicopter tour. And if you want to book one of the best on the island, then you’re going to want to click here.
22. Zipline At Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000 acre set of land that holds so much history to it. This is the location that they shot Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and a few other hit movies. They hold tours, horseback riding, ATVing and also ziplining! If you’ve ever fantasized about zip-lining through Jurassic Park, then this is the perfect place to do it! To learn more about (and to book) this incredible zipline tour, click here.
23. Swim With Sharks
Throwing yourself into the sea with some of the most frightening creatures seems crazy at first – until you do it. But once you realize get underwater – you get to realize how graceful and beautiful sharks really are. The adrenaline rush you get from being surrounded by these guys is one of the best feelings in the world. If it’s something you’ve been thinking of doing, there’s no better time than now, and the North Shore is the perfect place to do it. If you’re looking for the best company, then look no further because this one is it.
24. Snorkel At Electric Beach
Yes, you read that right – this beach is called Electric Beach. (It’s official name is “Kahe Point Beach Park”) It gets the name because it’s located right across from a power plant… Which is quite incredible, because the water at the beach is on the warmer side, which attracts droves of incredible fish and sea life!
Put simply: This beach is out-of-the-world for snorkeling. I’ve sea turtles and tons of other unique fish here. Some even say they’ve spotted dolphins here! Now – it can tend to be a little bit harder to swim at and snorkel at some times, so quick heads up regarding that.But overall, if you’re looking for somewhere to snorkel – or – relax on the beach, this is definitely a great place to go!
25. Hike And Watch The Sunrise From Chinaman’s Hat
Located on the East Coast of Oahu, Chinaman’s hat is an offshore island that is perfect to kayak out to. It takes about 30 minutes in each minute, and the island itself can be hiked up – making for an awesome day-adventure. The views at Chinaman’s hat is incredible during sunrise!
26. Drive Around The Island Listening To Reggae Music
There’s no better way to get that “local experience” than driving around with the windows down, listening to raggae music!
27. See The Halona Blowhole And Visit Cockroach Cove
The Halona Blowhole is a popular tourist destination located in-between Makapu’u Lighthouse and Hanauma Bay. Located right beside Halona Blowhole is this nice little cove that is perfect for sunbathing or jumping off into the water. The current is normally pretty rough – so it’s definitely not a beach to relax at.
28. Visit Tantalus Lookout During Sunset
This is probably the nicest place to go for a drop-dead gorgeous panoramic view of Oahu… where you can see beautiful views of Diamond head, down to the west side of Oahu. And the views during sunset? Don’t even get me started. Seriously beautiful. (Do you see the image?!)
It’s also a great spot to relax and have a nice picnic, to just bask in the incredible views, or to snap some really nice pictures at.
29. Go Cliff Jumping At Waimano Falls
Waimano Falls is a 2.8-mile out-and-back trail located within Pearl City. Parking is located on the street and is easy and safe. Waimano Falls is an awesome spot for cliff jumping – with a jump of approximately 20 feet. It includes a rope swing – which makes things that much more fun! If you’re looking to have a good time with friends and let loose, Waimano Falls is a perfect choice.
30. Relax At The Beautiful Yokohama Bay
Yokohama Bay is the most western beach on the island and is well-known for surfing and bodyboarding. The beautiful mountains in the background combined with the beautiful white sands and vibrant blue waters are what makes this beach so perfect to visit. The waves can get pretty big – especially during winter months, so swimming is probably not an option.
31. Hike The Hanauma Bay Rim Trail
The Hanauma Bay Rim Trail is a 3.6-mile loop trail located at the Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve Park. We would rate the difficulty of this hike moderate. It’s absolutely beautiful during sunrise. After hiking the Hanauma Bay Rim Trail – we recommend snorkeling at Hanauma Bay to cool off. Snorkeling at the beautiful Hanauma Bay is something you absolutely cannot miss out on.
32. Snorkel At Hanauma Bay
Located on the East side of Oahu, Hanauma Bay is the most famous snorkeling locations on all of Oahu due to its high fish population and calm shallow waters. We recommend visiting Hanauma Bay very early in the morning because it gets crowded very quickly. The entrance fee is $5 per person, but the fee is waived for those under 13 years of age or for residents of Hawaii. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is perfect to cool off at after hiking the rim trail. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is something that you absolutely cannot miss out on.
33. Find The Crouching Lion
The Crouching Lion Trail features astonishing views of Kahana Bay and is a hike you should do in any weather condition because of how different it looks from each time. It get’s very slippery, though, so bring some grippy shoes or hiking boots. Parking can be quite difficult for this hike – make sure you park legally because people do get their cars towed/ticketed.
34. Visit The Makapu’u Tidepools
There’s no doubt if you have an Instagram that you know about the incredibly beautiful Makapu’u Tidepools. These tidepools rest in the eastern part of the island right beside the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail. Accessible by hiking up the Makapu’u Lighthouse and then scaling down the mountain – the Makapu’u tidepools are absolutely beautiful and is a nice treat after hiking. Click here for our full guide on how to find the Makapu’u Tidepools.
Note: This side of the island is very hot and dry – make sure to bring lots of water and use sunscreen. When visiting the tidepools – make sure to wear shoes because the rocks that surround it tend to be slippery and sharp. Take note of how the water breaks on the reef. It can get quite dangerous – so make sure to be safe and use proper judgment when visiting the Makapu’u Tidepools.
35. Find The Hidden Bridge At The Maunawili Falls Hike
Maunawili Falls is a great hike – roughly 2.8-mile round-trip. This hike tends to get extremely muddy and it’s no doubt you might slip so make sure to wear shoes that you don’t care for. Roughly half-way through the hike, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of Kailua.
Most that visit here jumps off the top part of the waterfall – which is roughly a 15-25 foot drop. Beside the waterfall is an even higher point to jump off which adds around 10 feet more in height.
There is a hidden bridge located along the hike to Maunawili Falls – it’s all about exploring what’s around you!
36. Watch A Surf Competition
During winter months, Sunset Beach is the perfect place to visit to watch professionals surf some of the biggest waves on the island. Sunset Beach is home to the World Cup of Surfing competition and some other big surf competitions. With its soft sand and cool waters, it’s a solid beach that you just cannot miss out on.
37. Watch The Sunset (…At Sunset Beach)
As its name implies – Sunset Beach is an incredible place to lay back and watch the sunset. During summer months, this beach is perfect to relax at – but during winter months, waves can get up to 30 feet in height.
38. Kayak Out To The Mokuleia Islands
The Mokes (Official name: Mokuleia Islands) are two small islands located off the coast of Lanikai Beach. They’re only a few miles off the shoreline, and can make for a great day if you choose to Kayak out to them… where you could go cliff jumping (see the picture above) or simply relax on the beach. If you do choose to go kayaking, it takes around 30-45 minutes to get to the Mokuleia Islands. To get a kayak, I would recommend doing so from Kailua Beach Adventures. A double kayak typically costs $65 for 4 hours from them. If you want to Kayak out on a guided tour, with lunch included, then click here to book one of the best.
39. Visit Cromwell’s Beach
Located only 10 minutes from Waikiki, Cromwell’s beach is a nice secluded place to visit during morning hours. During this time, not much people are here – and it makes for the perfect place to relax at.
40. Endure The Kokohead Crater Hike
Located right next to Hanauma Bay, The Kokohead Crater hike consists of 1,048 steps and is a 1.8 mile out and back trail. This hike is absolutely beautiful during sunrise and the hike itself takes you to an old pillbox bunker – which is a popular place that locals and tourists take pictures at. If you’re looking to push yourself – this is the hike to go with.
41. Survive The Three Peaks
The Olamana Ridge Trail (Three Peaks) is an extremely tough hike to complete all three peaks. It takes on average 3-7 hours and is very dangerous. It is only recommended that the most daring adventurers take on this hike!
42. Relax At Ko’olina Resort
Located in the western part of Oahu, the Ko’olina Resort is an awesome place to stay at. Inside the resort is the Disney Aulani Resort, Four Seasons, and the Marriot’s Ko Olina Beach Club. This type of resort is very comparable to the Turtle Bay in the sense that it’s more of a private getaway. Within the Ko’olina Resort are 6 public lagoons that are the ultimate place to lay down and relax on the west side of Oahu. It can get pretty crowded on the weekends, so we recommend coming earlier in the day.
43. Find An Octopus
Finding an octopus is something so unique. It’s more common for divers to find, but you can find it while snorkeling as well if you’re in the right place! They live their lives within tiny holes, so you will find them within coral areas.
44. Snorkel At Shark’s Cove
Pupukea Beach Park is where Sharks Cove is located. If you’re looking for the absolute best snorkeling spot on the North Shore, this is the place to be. It is safest to go during summer months due to the strong currents during winter months. The parking lot is on the smaller side, so we recommend coming earlier in the day (8:00 am – 10:00 am) to ensure a spot. If the parking lot is full, or the current is too strong, a good alternative to Sharks Cove is Kuilima Cove, which is located at Turtle Bay Resort.
Keep in mind: The parking lot is on the smaller side – make sure to come earlier in the day
45. Find The Coconut Forest
Yes – this is located on Oahu, Hawaii – and it’s absolutely magical. This coconut forest is something so different from all other parts of Oahu. Running around this forest makes me feel like a kid again – and is a spot you definitely won’t regret visiting!