13 Fun Things to Do on Oahu Hawaii
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!
These all look awesome! I have never been to Hawaii but after reading this and seeing you fabulous pictures, I definitely need to consider it!! Thanks so much for sharing! Your pictures are stunning!
Yes! I hope you can make it out there. It’s so beautiful and definitely memorable!
Such stunning photos! I spent 5 weeks in Hawaii earlier this year and completely fell in love! I also loved the Lanikai Pillboxes but thought I was going to die going up Koko head hike over the train tracks haha soooo unfit! You’ve definitely captured the Aloha spirit beautifully!
Thank you! And what an amazing amount of time to spend there!
Your photos are gorgeous! We were just on Oahu last week and now I’m ready to go back. The helicopter ride sounds incredible! I’ve been too chicken to do one!
It’s sad to come back, right? And hopefully you can do a helicopter tour someday! They’re pretty incredible 🙂
First of all, I LOVE your photos!! The colours are so soft and pretty.
Thanks for sharing all these ideas for things to do on Oahu 🙂 We used to live there and are looking forward to going back for a visit in a few months. Even though we lived there, it felt like we didn’t get to do all the “touristy” things we would have liked. So definitely going to do some of these when we return!
How awesome that you lived on Oahu! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live there…totally different from a visitor’s POV, I assume!
Such amazing pics of Hawaii Grace! I love the colors. Makes we want to visit right now. I hope I get to one day. 🙂
I hope so too! It’s a wonderful place to experience 🙂
Ah Hawaii has been on my list for so long!! This article has reignited my desire to go here and SOON! It looks incredible. Thank you for sharing 😊
Go! You won’t regret it 🙂 It’s an amazing place and Oahu isn’t the only island that is beautiful. I’ve heard great things about Kauai and Maui!
Yup, I really need to get to Hawaii. For years I’ve had no interest in going. But the more I hear and see of it, it’s moved up on the list. Especially with the all great hiking that is there on all the islands. Thanks for the inspiration!
There is definitely an abundance of amazing hiking there. I’m so excited to go back just for that!
Your photos are incredible, especially those from the helicopter tour! I love how you can have both a tranquil, relaxing or adventurous experience! Oahu really seems to blend every possible experience anyone is seeking. I can see why people keep going back year after year.
I’ve never been to that island but it looks gorgeous. I love the cute coffee shops!
Hawaiian coffee is soooo good! 🙂
Really enjoyed reading, your pictures are awesome! Defiantly a place on my list 🙂
Thanks so much!
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