A Hawaii vacation is on so many people’s bucket lists! From gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, world class beaches, and a rich culture and history, it isn’t hard to see why. Oahu is the most populous of the Hawaiian islands and truly offers something for visitors of all ages. Today, we wanted to share with you 30 places to visit on Oahu during your Hawaii vacation.
Located on the south shore of Honolulu, the world-famous Waikiki Beach offers a sandy beach full of coral and seashells along with calm waters, which are perfect for a surfing lesson. High-end boutiques, shops, and restaurants are just steps away. After the Waikiki sunset, the fun continues with amazing nightlife and live music. Don’t miss the photo op with the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, either.
Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi) sits prominently near the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline and is arguably Hawaii’s most recognized landmark. Diamond Head State Monument offers an historic hiking trail, stunning coastal views, and military history. It is open from 6 am to 6 pm daily, including holidays. The last entrance to hike is at 4:30pm. Gates lock at 6:00pm daily.
The Honolulu Zoo is 42 acres and home to 905 different animals from the tropics. Komodo Dragons, orangutans, elephants, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a variety of African animals can be seen daily. The Honolulu Zoo is the only zoo in the United States that originated in a King’s grant of royal lands. The Honolulu Zoo is open 9:00 am to 4:30 pm daily, day except Christmas Day.
Just steps away from Waikiki Beach, you can visit the International Marketplace. Here, you’ll find over 80 stores in addition to Waikīkī’s largest collection of restaurants on their open-air Grand Lānai. With extraordinary eateries from award-winning chefs like Michael Mina and Roy Yamaguchi, the next chapter in your culinary journey is just around the corner. Bring your appetite and let your culinary story unfold.
Located on a live coral reef, the Waikiki Aquarium is home to 460 species of marine life with a creature count of over 3,000. You’ll find fish, sharks, and the only chambered nautilus born in captivity, among others. The Waikīkī Aquarium is the second-oldest public aquarium in the United States. The Aquarium is open every day, except Christmas and New Year’s Day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ala Moana Center
The refreshing Hawaiian wind blows through Ala Moana Center, the world’s largest open-air shopping center. There are more than 350 shops and restaurants to explore, including four department stores, first-class boutiques and over 160 dining options. The center’s retailers specialize in everything from casual wear to unique Hawaii surf gear, Aloha shirts, swimsuits and much more. Join us for a shopping excursion in paradise, and don’t forget to enjoy the hula and ukulele performances.
The Manoa Falls trail is a 1.6 mile well maintained path through the rainforest, ending at a stunning water fall. The beginning of the trail crosses over a footbridge and then crosses a small stream through a grove of Eucalyptus trees. The trail gradually ascends through a lush rainforest ending at a viewing area set back from the base of the falls. There is a low rock wall and suspended cable with signs indicating the danger of landslide and instructing hikers to not go beyond that point. The trail ends at a graveled viewing area from which the public may view the waterfall and pool. Because of its location and its relatively easy terrain and short length, Manoa Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu.
Hawaii State Art Museum
The Hawai‘i State Art Museum (HiSAM) has some of the best contemporary art from across the state of Hawaiʻi. The museum cafe, Artizen by MW, is open for breakfast and lunch Monday – Friday. The museum shop, HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop x MORI, features artwork and gift items made by local artists and artisans. HiSAM is a venue for the Art in Public Places Program of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Most of the collection is on display in public buildings, including libraries, schools, and state offices. Artworks in the collection are primarily contemporary works by artists with a connection to Hawai‘i. Admission is always free. The museum is open Monday – Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, and with extended hours on the first Friday of each month from 6 to 9 pm.The museum is closed on Sunday and on state and federal holidays.
Honolulu’s Bishop Museum is Hawaii’s largest museum dedicated to studying and preserving the history of Hawaii and the Pacific. Originally designed to house the extensive collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of King Kamehameha I, the museum is now the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific. One of Oahu’s most historic places, the museum holds millions of artifacts, documents and photos about Hawaii and other Polynesian cultures. The museum is open seven days a week (excluding some holidays) with regular hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Honolulu Museum of Art
The Honolulu Museum of Art’s evolving collection comprises more than 50,000 works that span from the Bronze Age to the present. From free custom tours to a detailed gallery guide, the Honolulu Museum of Art has all the tools to help you get the most out of your visit.
Lyon Arboretum is part of the University of Hawaiʻi and a public botanical garden. Nestled in the back of Mānoa Valley, this nearly 200-acre tropical rainforest is just five miles from the bustle of Waikiki. Lyon Arboretum has over seven miles of hiking trails and boasts more than 6,000 taxa of tropical and sub-tropical plants on our nearly 200 acres. Lyon Arboretum is open to the public Mondays – Fridays, 8:00 am – 4:00 pm and Saturdays, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. They are closed Sundays and for state and federal holidays.
‘Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu on the Island of Oahu is the only royal palace in the United States and is an enduring symbol of Hawaiian independence. It was the official residence and capitol of the last ruling monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawai’i – King Kalakaua and his sister Queen Lili’uokalani. After the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1893, the building was used as the capitol for the various Hawaiian governments.
Queen Emma Summer Palace
Hānaiakamalama (The Southern Cross), or Queen Emma Summer Palace, served as a summer retreat for Queen Emma of Hawaii from 1857 to 1885, as well as for her husband King Kamehameha IV, and their son, Prince Albert Edward. It is a now a historic landmark, museum, and tourist site preserved by the Daughters of Hawai‘i. Queen Emma Summer Palace was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The Palace is open seven days a week and offers guided tours for a fee.
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located in the Punchbowl Crater, is a beautiful place to visit if you want to honor and pay your respects to more than 25,000 veterans who fought throughout of the nation’s conflicts. This 112-acre cemetery, which was built in the basin of an extinct volcanic tuff cone. The creation of this natural “punchbowl” dates back almost 100,000 years and is the result of an infusion of molten hot lava erupting through cracks within the area’s old coral reefs.
Laniakea Beach (also known as Turtle Beach)
There are actually a few beaches along the North Shore of Hawaii where you can often find green sea turtles. We personally enjoy Laniakea Beach. It’s not too far from Haleiwa and is a reasonable drive, especially if there is a lot of traffic on Kamehameha Highway. If you have more time, you can drive further north to Turtle Beach, Waimea Bay, or Pupukea Beach. Please, do remember to keep your distance though and do not to touch the turtles.
Haleiwa is a beautiful little beach town. There are a number of shops and restaurants within walking distance where you can find fun and authentic souvenirs. You can also find a great variety of food trucks, home of the infamous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck . We don’t think any trip to Haleiwa is complete without a stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice.
The Banzai Pipeline is in Pupukea. It is known to offer some of the best waves for surfing in the world. Many of the world’s biggest surfing competitions are held here including the Billabong Pipe Masters and Volcom Pipe Pro, among others. The waves are largest in the winter, but the sights are beautiful year round.
Located on Wamiea Valley Road, across from Waimea Bay, this beautiful treasure is rich in Hawaiian history and cultural sites, nestled in a stunning botanical garden. Experience more than 5,000 botanicals along a paved path to the 45-foot waterfall. Along the way there are cultural practitioners and artisans sharing various native Hawaiian practices. Waimea Valley is a lush 1,875 acre privately owned property and a non-profit organization. Open daily 9am to 5pm from September to May and 9am to 5:30pm in the summer.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii’s #1 visitor attraction, has 6 island villages representing the unique island cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. Set on 42 acres along Oahu’s North Shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center has a lagoon that hosts daily canoe tours and an exciting cultural Canoe Pageant. Their award-winning Ali’i Luau takes guests on a journey to learn about Hawaii’s royalty while enjoying traditional Polynesian food and entertainment. You can also enjoy an immersive cinema presentation “Hawaiian Journey”, a tribute to the splendors of Hawaii. Visit the Hukilau Marketplace to shop for various Hawaiian and island-themed centered handiworks, clothing, jewelry, and treats. End your day by attending the “Ha: Breath of Life” show, featuring over 100 performers and the thrill of Samoan fireknife dancing. The Polynesian Cultural Center is open Monday through Saturday from 11:45a – 9:30p. Packages start at $64.95.
Originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii’s “Pineapple Experience” in 1989. Dole Plantation provides enjoyable activities for the entire family, including the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Plantation Garden Tour, and the Pineapple Garden Maze. Also popular are informational displays and presentations, as well as their plantation country store offering a wide variety of Dole Plantation gifts, local favorites, foods and refreshments including the world-famous DoleWhip®. And, before you leave you can purchase fresh pineapple to take home.
Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay offers a pristine marine ecosystem and was even voted the Best Beach in the United States for 2016. A marine education center requires first-time visitors to watch a 9 minute video before entering the park so they can learn about the marine life, preservation and safety rules for the park. All visitors are required by law to refrain from mistreating the marine animals and from touching or walking on the coral. Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday so that the fish and bay have 1 day of undisturbed rest. Hanauma Bay entrance opens at 6am and closes at 6pm daily.
Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve is home to 4,000 acres of natural beauty. You can enjoy a variety of adventures here including ATV tours, kayaking, horseback riding, trolley tours, and so much more. Visit Ka’a’awa Valley, known as Hollywood’s “Hawaii Backlot,” to see where over 50 of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster movies and TV shows were filmed.
The Byodo-In Temple is located at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The resting place for many of Hawaii’s departed, Valley of the Temples’ hilly landscape is scattered with hundreds of freshly placed tropical flowers to remember loved ones. The Byodo-In Temple is scale replica of a temple in Uji Japan and made entirely without nails. The Temple Grounds are open 8:30am – 5:00pm daily. Last entrance to Temple Grounds is 4:45pm.
Koko Crater Trail
Stretched across nearly 2 miles of Koko Crater in the Windward Coast region of Oahu, this hiking trail features more than 1,000 steps made from abandoned railroad ties. It is quite steep and a rather difficult climb for kids or beginners. At the trail’s summit, visitors will find panoramic vistas of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Diamond Head State Monument. Plant collections occupy sixty acres of the inner slopes and basin of this 200-acre crater.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
The Makapu‘u Point trail, within Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, offers outstanding views of O‘ahu’s southeastern coastline, including Koko Head and Koko Crater. From the trail’s destination at Makapu‘u Head, one is rewarded with magnificent views of the windward coast and offshore islets, as well as the historic red-roofed Makapu‘u Lighthouse built in 1909, which makes a stunning picture against the deep blue sea below (the lighthouse itself is off-limits). On a clear day, you may even see Moloka‘i and Lana‘i. The offshore islets are wildlife sanctuaries for Hawaiian seabirds, such as the ‘iwa, frigate bird, and tropicbird. This trail is an excellent place to view migrating humpback whales in season (November – May). Binoculars are suggested for viewing the whales and seabirds. An interpretive sign and viewing scope along the trail help you view and identify the whales seen from this location.
Sea Life Park
Sea Life Park is Hawaii’s #1 marine life and wild animal park, offering fun and educational animal experiences for the entire family. With a focus on education and conservation, our shows, exhibits and interactive programs offer thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime up-close encounters, like swimming with dolphins, sharks, and more! There are educational activities and field trips, great family dining options, many special events including the nightly Ka Moana Lū‘au, and of course, the best place to swim with dolphins in Oahu. Whether you’re seeking a hands-on experience, or you prefer to enjoy the excitement from a distance, Sea Life Park will show you where the heart meets the sea.
Lanikai, or “heavenly sea” in Hawaiian, Beach is known for clear turquoise water, a powdery white sand beach, and balmy breezes. It is a particularly good swimming beach. Lanikai Beach offers a picturesque setting, with palm trees lining the backshore and the nearby twin islands of Mokumanu and Mokulua offshore.
Kailua Beach allows visitors to rent a kayak, rent a guide, or rent equipment for windsurfing, kitesurfing, boogie boarding or snorkeling. The Kalapawai Market, a vintage beachfront grocery, stocks everything anyone needs for a picnic. This is a beach made for a day trip—and then another one. Kailua Bay’s protective reef allows for safe kayaking and the opportunity to paddle to Mokulua Islands, a bird sanctuary located on a pair of tiny islands with a small beach. You’ll paddle through calm waters with coral reefs and large sea turtles for company. There are generally no significantly hazardous ocean or beach conditions at Kailua Beach, except the occasional presence of Portuguese man-of-war.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you can learn about one of the most pivotal moments in US history: the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent entry of the United States into World War II. You can visit the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is open seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, except Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1. The visitor center is free and no tickets are required to see the museums and grounds.
Wet’n’Wild Hawaii is one of Oahu’s top 10 most visited family attractions and has been voted Best of Honolulu Magazine’s “Best Family Attraction.” Located in Kapolei, Oahu’s “Second City”, the park features more than 25 exhilarating attractions. Nestled on 29-acres in lush tropical landscaping and natural cliffs, you will find a different adventure in each corner ideal for families and thrill seekers alike.
Where are your favorite places to visit on Oahu? Did we miss any?
Looking for a little taste of the islands at home? Try this egg white vegetable frittata recipe from Aulani!