27 Best Things To Do In Oahu Hawaii (Fun, Couples, Free)
Even though the island of Oahu is the most populated island in Hawaii, it’s just as beautiful as the other islands, and there are so many good things to do in Oahu for every kind of traveler.
Some of the best things to do in Oahu include hikes, beaches, waterfalls, botanical gardens, water sports, wildlife sightings, and more.
There are also some unconventional things to do in Oahu, like seeing lighthouses, visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial, or touring the Jurassic Park film site.
I’ve been privileged to visit the Hawaiian islands many times, so I’ve done a bunch of hiking, exploring, and sightseeing all over Oahu, including some of the most far-flung corners of the island.
This travel guide is our complete list of the best things to do in Oahu Hawaii!
Oahu Hawaii: Areas Explained
Oahu is an oddly-shaped island, but it can be split into four main areas with their own sights and activities.
These main areas are:
- South. This is the main tourist area, encompassing the city of Honolulu and Waikiki. It has the airport and many famous sites.
- North. The island’s beloved quiet side, although it’s still very popular with tourists. Go here for surfing, food trucks, beaches, and country vibes.
- East. Usually called the windward side, this area is home to Kailua and Jurassic Park (Kualoa Ranch), along with dramatic mountain views and some of the best beaches on the island.
- West. The driest and least touristy side of the island, although it still has plenty of hidden gem hikes and white sand beaches.
Regardless of where you choose to stay and explore, there are lots of great things to do in Oahu on all corners of the island!
Best Things To Do In Oahu Hawaii
1. Hike The Trails
Oahu has almost 300 documented hiking trails, featuring jagged green mountains, coastal views, jungles, and waterfalls.
Many of these hikes are easy and doable for all ages or fitness levels, although Oahu also has epic and dangerous hikes for the serious thrill seekers.
Read More: Best Oahu Hikes
2. Visit The Pillboxes
During World War II, the U.S. military built concrete bunkers all around the island of Oahu as lookout posts for spotting enemy activity.
These bunkers, or ‘pillboxes’ as they’re called, usually have stunning views of the Oahu coastline and some of them are nicely perched for watching the sunrise or sunset.
3. See The Waterfalls
There are dozens of nice waterfalls on Oahu, and they can usually be reached with a short, easy hike through the jungle.
Don’t expect any giant Jurassic Park-style waterfalls like the ones on Kauai or the Big Island, but Oahu’s falls are still worth a visit.
It’s a fun change of scenery from the beach and mountains, and sometimes you can swim in the water too. Two favorites are Maunawili Falls and Lulumahu Falls.
4. Climb The Stairway To Heaven
This hike is so amazing it deserves a special mention. It’s also epic, dangerous, and illegal. Still interested?
The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ takes you to the top of the Ko’olau mountains via 3,922 metal stairs of pure adrenaline and doom. At some points, the stairway is almost vertical, clinging to the side of the steep mountain.
There’s an old World War II radio station at the top of the mountain, but the stairway has been closed since the 1980s, and fines of up to $1,000 have been given out to people caught climbing it. The area is even patrolled by security guards around the clock.
Still, thousands of people make the climb every year, and for good reason — it’s one of the most spectacular hikes on Earth!
Read More: Stairway To Heaven Hawaii
5. Relax On The Beaches
There are so many white sand beaches in Oahu it’s hard to choose a few to highlight, but I’ll try.
On the windward side of the island, Lanikai Beach has powdery white sand and it’s ranked as one of the best beaches in the world.
On the north shore, two great choices are Laniakea Beach (where you can spot sea turtles) and Sunset Beach.
Even the touristy beaches at Ala Moana and Waikiki are pretty nice if you can handle the crowds. Regardless of which side of the island you decide to explore, you’re sure to encounter some fantastic beaches!
6. Stroll A Botanical Garden
The island of Oahu is home to a bunch of different botanical gardens — at least eight of them!
Aside from having thousands of interesting plant and tree species, these gardens are nice for taking a stroll or snapping photos, usually featuring their own ponds or waterfalls.
Arguably the best botanical garden in Oahu is Ho’omaluhia, which has free walking paths that wrap around a koi pond, and stunning green mountain backdrops that are fit for Jurassic Park.
Two other great ones to check out are the Lyon Arboretum (right outside Manoa Falls) and the Waimea Valley on the north shore, which also has a nice waterfall of its own.
7. Try Shave Ice
You can’t leave Oahu without trying shave ice, the iconic frozen treat of Hawaii.
They have dozens of fun flavors like bubblegum, guava, lemon, and passion fruit, plus add-ons like ice cream, Azuki beans, and Mochi (Japanese rice balls).
You can find good shave ice shops in every corner of the island, but one of the best (and the most famous) is definitely Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, which is located on the North Shore.
Here are some other good shave ice shops to check out:
- Island Vintage Shave Ice (Honolulu)
- Shimazu Shave Ice (Honolulu)
- Waiola Shave Ice (Honolulu)
- Banan (Honolulu, Waikiki, Kailua)
- Island Snow (Kailua)
8. See The Lighthouses
Lighthouses may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of tropical islands, but Oahu is actually home to a number of them, including two very photogenic ones.
Makapuu is Oahu’s most famous lighthouse, and you can see it up close by hiking the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, which is a family friendly hike on the southeast corner of the island.
If you want to get off the beaten path, check out the Barber’s Point Lighthouse, which is located directly on the beach in Kapolei, with a nice view of the sunset!
9. See The Wildlife
Hawaii is home to several native wildlife species, including the chubby Hawaiian monk seals.
If you’re lucky, you can also spot whales, sea birds, turtles, and all kinds of colorful fish. Seeing this wildlife in its natural environment is definitely one of the best things to do in Oahu!
Remember to keep a healthy distance from wildlife, especially the seals and turtles. They’re endangered and highly protected, so you can get hefty penalties for being too close.
Here are a few great places to see wildlife in Oahu:
- Ka’ena Point — You’re practically guaranteed to see seals and Albatross birds here, plus occasional whales in the distance! This is a family friendly hike on the northwest corner of Oahu.
- Makapuu Lighthouse Trail — Hands down one of the best spots to see whales from the shore! This is a family friendly hike on the southeast corner of Oahu.
- Laniakea Beach — One of the best places to see turtles on the beach. They come here almost every day and like to lounge on the sand.
- Hanauma Bay — This nature preserve is Oahu’s most famous place to go snorkeling. You can see lots of colorful fish here, up close and personal. Great place to learn how to snorkel!
10. Take A Scenic Drive
Oahu has a bunch of scenic roads where you can enjoy the landscape without even stepping out of your car.
A favorite is the coastal route from Waimanalo to Hawaii Kai, driving along the Kalanianaʻole highway as it travels the southeast coastline and circles the Koko Head Crater.
Another good one is the drive from Kaneohe to the North Shore, which gives you stellar views of the green Ko’olau mountains and the windward coastline.
Last, but not least, the North Shore is always good for a scenic drive. This stretch of the Kamehameha highway, from Laie to Haleiwa, is covered with good beaches!
11. Tour The Film Sites
The original Jurassic Park movie was filmed in Oahu, and many other blockbusters have since made use of the island’s tropical scenery and beaches.
That includes popular Hollywood hits such as King Kong, Jumanji, The Hunger Games, Godzilla, and the Jurassic Park sequels, which all had scenes filmed in Oahu.
The most popular filming location in Hawaii is Kualoa Ranch, where they sell tours of all the film sites, as well as other fun activities like four wheeling and zip lining.
Book Now: Hollywood Movie Sites Tour
12. Visit The Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is a fun, free place to see on your way to the North Shore.
Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but I think it’s still worth at least one visit for the souvenirs, history, and ‘Dole whip’ ice cream (pineapple soft serve).
They also have a pineapple shaped garden maze (billed as the world’s largest) and lots of other fun activities for families.
13. See The Rainbows
The Hawaii state license plate features a rainbow, and there’s a good reason for that. These islands are loaded with rainbows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rainbows in any other place on Earth!
There was even a 2021 study by Dr. Steven Businger that found Hawaii is the ‘rainbow capital of the world’ and has perfect conditions for rainbow sightings because of its latitude, trade winds, sunlight, and other weather conditions.
14. Go Island Hopping
One of the best things to do in Oahu is island hopping to the nearby small islands and sandbars, particularly on the windward side.
For a real adventure, kayak Chinamans Hat and climb to the top of the rock! Alternatively, head over to the Kailua area and kayak out to the Mokulua islands, which are the little twin islands you can see from Lanikai Beach.
Or, if you fancy relaxing on a sandbar, there’s a big one near the coast of Kaneohe that can be reached by kayak, standup paddleboard, or a boat tour.
15. See The Landmarks
It’s worth spending a half day exploring Honolulu city and seeing the popular landmarks.
Two city landmarks that stand out are the King Kamehameha Statue, dedicated to the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and the Iolani Palace, which was the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs.
The Waikiki Trolley is a great way to get around town and see some of the sights. You can buy a trolley pass online.
16. Visit Pearl Harbor Memorial
The Pearl Harbor Memorial is dedicated to the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which killed over 2,400 Americans and marked the U.S. entering World War II.
This memorial and museum is a short distance from Waikiki and it’s open to the public seven days a week. The visitor center, two museums, and USS Arizona program are free for all visitors, but a guide is still helpful for explaining everything.
The highlight of this experience for me was touring the deck of the USS Missouri battleship, which is where the emperor of Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. Aside from the history, the ship is also an impressive piece of hardware.
17. Enjoy The Viewpoints
If you’re in the mood for scenery but don’t feel like hiking, check out some of the scenic viewpoints in Oahu!
Here are a few top recommendations:
- Tantalus Lookout — Relaxing hilltop near Honolulu with stunning views of the city, rainbows, and the Diamond Head crater. Also good for sunset.
- Nuuanu Pali Lookout — This is a popular viewpoint on the Pali highway, and it has panoramic views of the whole windward side of Oahu island. It’s also a historic landmark known for the Battle of Nuuanu in 1795, where King Kamehameha I won the struggle that finally united Oahu under his rule and hundreds of warriors were forced off of the Pali’s sheer cliffs.
- Halona Blowhole Lookout — Also known as Eternity Cove, this is a popular coastal spot near Koko Head where you can see an active blowhole shooting out water. It also has Halona Beach, one of the nicest beaches on Oahu.
If you want to see even more viewpoints in Oahu, here are a few extra recommendations:
- Makapuu Lookout — Not to be confused with the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail (which requires hiking), this is a nearby pulloff spot where you can park and get similar views of the Makapuu coastline without doing any hiking.
- Lanai Lookout — Another coastal lookout by Koko Head, with panoramic views of the ocean and cliffs. Also good for sunrise.
- Punchbowl Lookout — Small hill with scenic views of Honolulu city. This one is located inside of the Punchbowl Crater, so it requires a bit of walking to reach.
- Laie Point — This is a remote, lesser known viewpoint with neat rock formations on the northeast corner of Oahu. It’s a good place to stop while driving from Kaneohe to the North Shore, or vice versa.
All of the scenic viewpoints listed above can be reached by car. No hiking needed!
18. See A Temple
Tucked in the hills of Kaneohe is a photogenic Buddhist temple called Byodo-In, and it’s open to tourists seven days a week.
Interestingly, it’s a true to life replica of a real temple by the same name in Japan, which can be seen near Kyoto.
The original Byodo-in Temple in Japan was built in the 11th century, while the one in Oahu was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii.
It’s a very photogenic temple with a reflective pond, small waterfalls, Japanese landscaped gardens, an 18-foot tall Buddha statue, a giant brass peace bell, and schools of koi fish for the kids to feed.
19. Go Snorkeling
Hawaii’s most famous snorkeling spot is Hanauma Bay, which is home to about 400 species of fish in its turquoise waters.
Hanauma is a great place to learn how to snorkel because the entire bay is covered by a coral reef, making the water relatively gentle and shallow. You can see all kinds of colorful fish, sea turtles, eels, and more here.
I learned how to snorkel for the first time at Hanauma Bay, and it was such a fun experience! Being up close and personal with the fish is just amazing.
20. Take A Helicopter Tour
If you really want to shell out some money and splurge on something special in Hawaii, nothing beats a scenic helicopter tour!
The island of Oahu is even more beautiful from above, and you can fly over some of its most famous landmarks, like Diamond Head, Makapuu Lighthouse, Chinaman’s Hat, and Sacred Falls.
These helicopter tours are normally available with the doors on, but they can also take the doors off for more thrills and better photography. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Oahu!
21. Go Whale Watching
The whale watching season in Oahu generally runs from December to May, as this is when the whales like to come to the warm waters of Hawaii to breed and give birth.
You can sometimes see whales with the naked eye from shore, but the best way to get a good look is with a whale watching tour or boat charter.
Whale sightings are almost guaranteed if you come in the right season, and it’s an amazing experience!
22. Skydive In Paradise
Skydiving is a once in a lifetime experience, and what better place to do it than in paradise?
I did a 14,000 foot tandem jump with Skydive Hawaii several years ago, and it was an amazing experience. Bucket list stuff, for sure!
23. Try Watersports
The Honolulu area is popular for watersports, and you can rent jet skis, banana boats, wakeboards, parasails, and more.
Me and a friend did the jet skiing one time and had a blast. Some of these companies also have photography services, so they can take pictures of you having fun on the water.
On the windward side of the island, Kailua is great for kayaking and standup paddle boarding. There are a bunch of companies offering kayak rentals for a half day or full day.
24. Swim With Sharks
If you want a unique thrill in Hawaii, you can dive with sharks on the North Shore!
The most popular shark diving tours have a metal cage for protection, and you can get up close with sandbar sharks, galapagos sharks, and hammerheads. It’s snorkeling, not scuba diving, so you don’t need any certification (although swimming experience helps).
Some of these companies also have cageless shark diving, where you can swim freely with sharks. I did this with One Ocean Diving and it was awesome.
Obviously there are no safety guarantees in the ocean, but their website points out that they’ve “taken hundreds of thousands of people out in the ocean with zero incidents for over twenty years.”
25. Visit Tropical Farms
There’s a little store in windward Oahu called Tropical Farms, and they sell coffee, chocolate, and macadamia nuts.
This is a family owned business that’s been in operation for 30 years, and their store is located near the Kualoa Beach Park.
The main reason to come here is for the macadamia nuts, which are delicious. We love the Kona coffee flavored mac nuts.
They have free samples of every flavor, so you can do a taste test before you buy!
26. Watch The Sunrise
A tropical sunrise is hard to beat, and there are plenty of good sunrise watching spots on the windward (east facing) side of Oahu island.
Some of our favorites include the Lanikai Pillbox Sunrise Hike, Lanikai Beach, Kualoa Beach Park, and pretty much any east facing beach.
Book Now: Oahu Sunrise + Photography Tour
27. Watch The Sunset
For every sunrise there’s a sunset, and Oahu has lots of great places to see it.
Pretty much any west facing beach on Oahu has a good view of the sunset, so pick one and enjoy the photo ops! Some of our favorites include Ka’ena Point, Ala Moana Beach Park, and any of the North Shore beaches (especially Sunset Beach).
Better yet, you can book a sunset catamaran cruise and watch the sun dip below the horizon as you take in Hawaii’s beautiful coastline!
Book Now: Waikiki Sunset Cruise
More Things To Do In Oahu Hawaii
I hope you enjoyed this list of some of the best things to do in Oahu!
We’ve only scratched the surface here, and the list is always growing as we explore every corner of this wonderful island, and experience more of what to do in Oahu.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my complete Oahu Hiking Guide for more tips, info, and photos of the best hikes and other things to do in Oahu Hawaii!