If you’ve been to Oahu, you’ve probably caught the island bug and already know that there are hundreds of things to do on the island. Every single person I have talked to that has visited Hawaii has either moved there, has dreams of doing so or keeps going back year after year. There are plenty of things to do in Oahu whether you’re a foodie, outdoor sports lover, surfer, beach lover or interested in diving.
Oahu isn’t a big island – you can go from north to south in about 2 hours or so. It’s easy to maneuver and very distinctive with it’s cloud-tipped mountain peaks that follow you wherever you go. You’ll quickly realize that this list of things to do is actually quite short when compared to just how many activities are available on Oahu!
You may want to check out our itinerary guide to Oahu.
Things to do on Oahu Hawaii for free
Visit Haleiwa town
Your list of what to do on Oahu should definitely include a visit to Haleiwa, or at the very least, the North Shore. This town is an adorable surfer town filled with cute beach, coffee and shave ice shops as well as countless food trucks. It’s a great place to spend at least a day wandering around enjoying the laid-back vibes, beaches and food. You’ll also see surfboards in every color you can imagine.
Unique things to do in Oahu
Take an open door helicopter ride
An absolute must. I took my first helicopter tour when I was in the Grand Canyon and it was life-changing. I promised myself that from then on I would be taking as many helicopter tours as possible as they give you a completely different perspective.
While there are many companies to choose from, I’d recommend going with Paradise Helicopters. Safety is their priority and they have an extensive list of tours that you can take. I loved the Magnum Experience (perfect for Magnum PI lovers) and it was just the right amount of time to fly without feeling rushed.
Acai bowl from Nalu
One of my favorite Oahu activities was visiting as many açaí bowl shops as possible to determine what the best one was. Out of the 5 I tried, Nalu won for best of Oahu IMO. Nalu is located in Kailua and not only has great coffee and ahi sandwiches but also their açaí bowls are filled with delicious açaí (minus the freezer burn taste that many bowls have), fruit and granola.
Watch a surf competition
We got lucky as Banzai Pipeline was taking place the same week we were in Oahu. It was amazing to watch as these pros took on wave after wave showing zero fear and so much talent. If there isn’t a competition when you go, just head up to the North Shore beaches. It won’t take you long to run into surfers if the waves are high.
Kayak to the Mokes
The Mokes are two uninhabited small islands off of Kailua. On our first visit to Oahu years ago we kayaked out to the two islands. It was challenging but totally doable and a full day activity depending on how long you want to explore the islands.
There are hundreds of hikes on Oahu. This trip wasn’t a hike-focused trip but I’m already planning on returning for an entire week of hiking because every hike on Oahu is more beautiful than the other. My top hikes would be Haiku Stairs (fyi – this hike is actually illegal), Moanalua Valley, Pali Notches and Olomana Peaks.
These hikes are also some of the most dangerous hikes so hike at your own risk and read up on each hike and take precautions before you go! Some of the more family friendly hikes that are at the top of my list are Koko Crater and Diamond Head. I can personally recommend the Lanikai Pillboxes Trail (photos below). This hike is easy, fun and perfect for a Saturday afternoon. I’d shoot for arriving during sunset or sunrise as the views are stunning.
Visit Kaneohe Sandbar during low tide
We didn’t visit the sandbar at complete low tide but it was close. I think the water was maybe 2 feet deep when we went. We actually kayaked through a rainstorm (note the heavy cloud coverage in the photos) and were surprised to see quite a few other boats and kayakers. In fact, one group had lawn chairs sitting in the water so don’t be afraid to come here even if it isn’t 100% void of water.
Grab a bubble tea from Bee & Tea
This might be the best bubble tea ever. This stuff is delicious and you can request to have it made in a lightbulb which I did since you get to take it home with you. We tried a frozen white chocolate and a lavender bubble tea. Both were amazing!
Shrimp from a food truck
The North Shore is FULL of food trucks. In fact, I would say that food trucks are the restaurants of choice in this part of Oahu. Giovanni’s is great as well as Fumi’s but I’m sure there are plenty of other delicious options.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
I’m sure you’ve seen the photos on Instagram: palm trees lining a long driveway with a gorgeous mountain peak as the backdrop. Welcome to Hoomaluhia where nature is beautiful and there are so many photo ops it’ll make your head spin. Exploring these gardens in full takes a few hours. Come prepared for rain since it seems to rain quite often here.
Finding the spitting cave can be a challenge if you’re looking for a traditional trail. The trail starts in a neighborhood between houses so be mindful of where you park and don’t be loud. Once you walk a few feet, you’ll come to the rocky outcropping. The cave is to your left but the views are all around you!
The tidepools trail is on your way to the Makapuu Lighthouse. You’ll hike the same trail to the lighthouse for a while until you reach the whale watching station which has binoculars and an informative sign on whales and their habitat. Take the trail to the left of the station and you’ll quickly see the tidepools way below along with people hiking back. Note that this isn’t much of a trail – it’s pretty much rock scrambling until you reach the very bottom so wear the right shoes!
Museums & Temples: Byodo-In, Shangri La & Iolani Palace
While most of the things to do on Oahu center around outdoorsy, foodie activities, there are a few museums and interesting sites to visit that will appeal to some. Byodo-In is a beautiful temple set in the mountains and is worth a visit. Iolani Palace in Waikik and Shangri La, an Islamic museum of art and architecture, are as well. We didn’t have the chance to visit Shangri La as it requires advance ticket purchase so be sure to check into reservations before you go!