Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Although Oahu is the most visited Hawaiian island, it’s often overshadowed by the highly touted neighboring islands of Maui and Kauai. If I had to guess why, I’d say that it’s because people often associate Oahu with Honolulu and don’t necessarily think of it as the remote, tropical destination that it is. It’s unfortunate because if you know where to look, you’ll find that Oahu is home to extraordinary beaches, amazing mountain views, and an eclectic food scene that is sure to delight even the most particular foodies.



In my guide to Kauai, I mentioned that one of my best friends, Madeleine, lives on Oahu. Because of this, I went against my typical Type A travel planning routine and relied on her to organize my entire trip. It’s a good thing I did because she knows ALL the hot spots and hidden gems on the island and made sure I had an incredible time.


If you’ve been to Hawaii before, you know where I’m going with this. Tourism can be a controversial subject in Hawaii. On one hand, tourism accounts for more than 20% of the state’s economy. On the other, the growing level of tourism has negative impacts on the local environment and Hawaiian Natives. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on the various issues at play, but I am sensitive to them. If you choose to go, please be conscious of your impact on the aina (land), be mindful of local customs and traditions, and respect sacred sites. This site has a few recommendations to consider, but be open to learning and adjusting as you plan your trip.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the top five things to do on Oahu.


Who knew that such a small island could offer so many unbelievable hikes? If you want to see the most spectacular views of Oahu, hitting the trails is your best bet. The good news is that there are dozens of hikes ranging from easy to incredibly difficult so you can decide what to do based on your own comfort level. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite trails below.

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  • Olomana (4.4 mi, 1,856 ft)—Also known as “Three Peaks”, I personally think this trail is a can’t miss if you’re up for some steep inclines and light rock climbing. Even just hiking to the first peak offers breathtaking views.
  • Pali Notches (0.7 mi, 472 ft)—Short, but intense, this trail offers an incredible panorama of the windward side of the island and the rest of the Ko’olaus. With that said, it’s probably not a great option if you’re afraid of heights!
  • Crouching Lion (0.4 mi, 216 ft)—The top of this trail offers a gorgeous view of Kahana Bay. If you’re headed to the North Shore for the day, it’s a great pitstop on the way.
  • Makapu’u Point Lighthouse (2.5 mi, 505 ft)—This is a hike suitable for almost anyone. The paved trail leads you along sea cliffs to an observation deck and lighthouse with 360° views. I highly recommend taking the excursion down to the tidepools while you’re there.
  • Kaiwa Ridge (Lanikai Pillbox) Trail (1.8 mi, 649 ft)—If you’re looking for a sunrise hike, this is it. Nothing beats watching the early morning rays illuminate Na Mokulua—two offshore islands known locally as the Mokes.
  • Koko Crater Arch Trail (0.9 mi, 347 ft)—If you’re looking for something a little different, this trail is located on the drier side of Oahu. As you climb up, the arch is hidden which makes seeing it for the first time even more spectacular.

A lot of trails on Oahu overlap so I’d recommend downloading AllTrails to ensure you follow the right path. I use the application weekly and have always had a great experience. You can use most features for free, but if you pay the $29.99 annual fee for the upgraded version, you can download trail maps for offline use which comes in handy when you don’t have service.

For me, the most interesting aspect of hiking on Oahu was that each trail was unique and offered an entirely different experience. I’m sure there are many other amazing options on the island that I’m not even aware of. I suppose that means I’ll have to make a return trip!


The North Shore is known for drawing professional surfers from around the world, but it has more to offer than just amazing waves. If you have a rental car (which I highly recommend), drive the scenic route up to North Shore and spend the day hopping from location to location. If you’re coming from the east side of Oahu, make sure to take the Kamehameha Highway around the exterior of the island for amazing views the entire way. It’s a slightly longer route, but so worth it. Below are the top things to do on the North Shore.



  • Explore Haleiwa—Haleiwa is an adorable town with tons of shops and restaurants.
  • Visit Waimea Bay—Waimea is famous for its 30-foot waves in the winter and is a top place to watch some of the world’s best and bravest surfers.
  • Look for turtles at Lanikea—Laniakea Beach is also known as Turtle Beach and for good reason. Almost daily you can see green sea turtles basking in the sun.
  • Catch some rays at Sunset Beach—This two-mile stretch of sand is great for a beach day or catching one of the most beautiful sunsets of your life.


The last thing I’ll mention about the North Shore is this—go hungry. The region is known for its unending food trucks and low key restaurants. If you’re traveling with a group, I recommend splitting and sampling a little bit of everything. Some great options are Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Haleiwa Bowls, and Aoki’s Shave Ice.


Kaneohe Bay is the largest sheltered body of water in the main Hawaiian Islands and one of the most idyllic destinations on Oahu. The bay is surrounded on all sides by the jaw dropping Ko’olau Mountain range and has bragging rights for the most brilliant blue water you’ve ever seen.

Home to several tiny islands including Chinaman’s Hat and Coconut Island, Kaneohe Bay also houses a large sandbar smack dab in the middle. If you have a free afternoon, I highly recommend renting a boat and making the short journey out to the sandy paradise. It’s the perfect spot for snorkeling, spotting sea turtles, or even setting up a makeshift barbecue. Madeleine and I saw no less than 6 turtles when we went and had a great time relaxing in the knee deep water.


If you’re going to Hawaii, it’s a given that you’ll spend a good amount of time oceanside. The great news is that Oahu offers an overwhelming number of options when it comes to beaches. I already mentioned several surfing hot spots on the North Shore, but my absolute favorite beach on Oahu was Lanikai Beach.



Lanikai Beach is found on the windward side of Oahu and is known for its powdery white sand, calm aqua blue waters, and picturesque view of the famous Mokes. It’s the perfect place to go swimming, snorkeling, or just for a relaxing day in the sun. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even kayak out to one of the adjacent islands. Both Mokes are protected sea bird sanctuaries and are mostly off limits to humans, but the Northern Moke has a small beach that is permissible to land on.


The other beach to mention is, of course, Waikiki. Even though Waikiki is the most famous of all Oahu beaches, it’s definitely not the prettiest. The enormous crowds it draws and its proximity to the city are somewhat of a turnoff. With that said, it is the best beach for beginner surfers. If you’re interested in taking lessons or simply trying to learn on your own, Waikiki is the place to do it. The waves are very forgiving and even though the water can get crowded, people tend to be patient with newbies. If you go, just remember to watch out for fellow surfers and observe surfing etiquette.


Okay, so in all transparency, wine isn’t the best word to use here. Sorry for the false hope, I just couldn’t resist a catchy title! Interestingly enough, there aren’t any wineries on Oahu. But don’t fret! What the island lacks in rosé, it more than makes up for in craft beer.

The Kaka‘ako area in Honolulu is home to several breweries that are worth a visit. The hip neighborhood is characterized by urban street art and a vibrant food scene that feels worlds away from Waikiki. Two of my favorite breweries in this area were Aloha Brew and Honolulu Beerworks. If you’re looking for a snack in between drinks, try Bevy, an industrial-chic locale known for its inventive cocktails & eclectic small plates.


Another can’t miss in Honolulu is Opal Thai. Located in Chinatown, the restaurant is family owned and offers an experience unlike any other. Instead of ordering from a menu, Opal—the owner and head chef—came to our table, asked us a few questions about our tastes and then started bringing plate after plate of phenomenal food. We had no idea what we were eating, but everything was delicious. If you’re interested in going, just make sure to make reservations in advance and embrace your adventurous spirit.

You can’t talk about the Hawaii food scene without mentioning poke. If you’re looking for the tastiest, freshest poke on the island, you have to go to Off the Hook Poke Market. The cute poke shop is located in Mānoa, a residential neighborhood of Honolulu. If you’re not sure what to get, my absolute favorite flavor was cold ginger. I still dream about it.

So there you have it! Those are my top five favorite things to do on Oahu. No matter what you choose to explore, I’m sure you’ll have an incredible time. It’s a magical island that will undoubtedly steal your heart. Enjoy!

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By Liga