Oahu Tours & Activities > Top 10 Iconic Oahu Attractions
1. Waikiki Beach
A holiday to Oahu is not complete without a visit to Waikiki Beach! This popular shoreline is made up of seven different beaches, each one with its own special qualities. We recommend heading to Duke Kahanamoku Beach for the widest stretch of sand, Fort DeRussy Beach Park for excellent park facilities including BBQ grills, Kuhio Beach Park for ocean pools protected by rock-walls, and Queen’s Surf Beach to watch the sunset. As the birthplace of surfing, Waikiki Beach is the ultimate place to learn to surf. It’s also home to one of the best snorkel spots on the island, Turtle Canyon. If relaxing on the sand is more your style, rent a set of beach chairs and an umbrella.
2. Diamond Head
Diamond Head crater, the postcard backdrop of Waikiki Beach, is a well-known natural icon of Hawaii. In the early 1900s, the U.S. Army began using it as a military site. Today, its a Hawaii State Park open for hiking pursuits, however, some areas remain under military use. The 1.6mi (2.5km) roundtrip hike incorporates stairs and tunnels as it ascends 560ft (170m) to an observation deck on the southern slope. Enjoy breathtaking views over Waikiki and extending out to the west and east side of the island. Online reservations are required to enter Diamond Head State Monument, they can be made up to 30-days in advance. Entry fee is $5 per non-Hawaii resident and children under three are free. Parking is limited, $10 per vehicle. You can catch The Bus, Waikiki Trolley, Taxi/Cab, Uber/Lyft or self-drive to Diamond Head. Alternatively, book a Diamond Head tour.
3. Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
On the 7th of December 1941, the Japanese led an attack on Pearl Harbor killing 2,402 Americans, this caused the United States to enter into World War II. Each year millions of people from around the world visit Pearl Harbor to learn about this significant event and pay respects. There are five Pearl Harbor Historic Sites to visit including the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the USS Oklahoma Memorial. Online reservations are required for the USS Arizona Memorial Program, they attract a $1 service charge and are released daily at 3pm Hawaii Standard Time (HST) in two windows: 24-hours and 8-weeks in advance. E.g. On 1 January, tickets release for 2 January and 28 February. Online tickets are recommended, however, you can ask a Park Ranger about the availability of standby seating on the day. Alternatively, book a Pearl Harbor tour.
4. North Shore Beaches
Hawaii is where modern surfing is said to have originated, it’s a way of life in the islands. Oahu’s North Shore has some of the world’s most incredible surf breaks including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline). In Hawaii’s winter (Nov-Apr) surfs up with waves as high as 40ft (12m), this is when the major league surfing events take place. In the summer months (May-Oct) the ocean is calm and more conducive to swimming, snorkeling, and stand-up paddleboarding.
5. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a designated Marine Life Conservation District on the island of Oahu. Take in magnificent views of the bay from the top of the parking lot, before watching the mandatory water safety video and descending onto the beach. It’s one of the best places to spot living coral, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and tropical fish including Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa. Online reservations are required for Hanauma Bay and can be made two days in advance starting at 7am Hawaii Standard Time (HST). If you are not able to make an online reservation, you may purchase a walk-in ticket at the park when it opens at 6:45am. Walk-in tickets must be used on the day of purchase. Plan on arriving early as the daily walk-in tickets are limited and sell out quickly. Entry fee is $25 per non-Hawaii resident and children 12 and under are free. Parking is limited, $3 per vehicle. Alternatively, book a Hanauma Bay tour.
6. Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a stunning piece of land in Kaneohe, on Oahu’s north side. It’s a favored location for filming movies and a hub for outdoor activities. The ranch offers a variety of tours daily starting from 7-8am with regular departures until around 4pm. Some of these tours sell out months in advance, so rather than chance it please book your Kualoa Ranch adventure ahead of time. Kualoa Ranch is about 45-minutes drive from Waikiki. Some tours (but not all) offer the opportunity to add-on transportation for an extra cost, otherwise we recommend booking Charley’s Taxi flat-rate transfers. If you have a hire car, the drive up is incredibly scenic especially if you travel the long way around the south-east coastline. There are many Kualoa Ranch tours to choose from.
7. Polynesian Cultural Center
Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu’s North Shore is one of Hawaii’s biggest attractions. This non-profit organization aims to preserve the traditions, cultural heritage, and arts of Polynesia. On-site villages offer a traditional experience of the islands they represent: Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, and Tahiti. Visitors can watch cultural presentations and shows, try hands-on activities including workshops and canoe rides. There are also dinner venues, a luau, and a theatre show at the center. Book at least 10 days in advance and SAVE 10% at Polynesian Cultural Center. Alternatively, book a tour that includes Polynesian Cultural Center in its itinerary.
8. Ala Moana Center/Waikele Premium Outlets
Ala Moana Center is an open-air mall, a short 10-minute journey from Waikiki. It’s the largest outdoor shopping mall in the world, an extensive maze of over 340 merchants including more than 70 dining options, surrounded by tropical gardens and koi ponds. There’s even four Starbucks on-site! It’s home to a superior collection of luxury retailers, major department stores including Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Target, and several Hawaii boutiques.
Waikele Premium Outlets are Oahu’s only outlet center. Expect designer brands at heavily discounted prices including Adidas, Calvin Klein, Coach, Converse, Guess, Kate Spade, Levis, Marc Jacobs, Michel Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Bahama, and Polo Ralph Lauren, to name a few. For additional discounts, sign up to the VIP Shoppers Club online to access coupons. Located 30-45 minutes drive from Waikiki, Shuttles are the most popular way to get there and back.
9. Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaiian royalty from the time of King Kamehameha II through to the last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. Located in Downtown Honolulu, Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and the only palace on U.S. soil. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned in one of the small upper rooms of the palace. Later, Iolani Palace became the territorial capitol and the U.S. military headquarters during World War II. The storied building is accessible for guided tours and the gorgeous grounds are open to the public. The Red Line (Historic Honolulu) on the Waikiki Trolley stops at Iolani Palace.
10. Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum, often referred to as Hawaii’s Museum, is located in Kalihi a 15-minute drive from Waikiki. It’s operated by the estate of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, founded after her death in 1889. The museum holds the world’s largest archive of natural history specimens, plants, cultural artifacts, and artworks of Polynesia. It hosts extensive exhibits on Hawaiian culture, contains a planetarium, and is noted for its large entomological (study of insects) collection. Regular public programs are held on its grounds, along with cultural festivals and musical performances.
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Image Credit: Waikiki Beach Stays/Ashlee Galea