Home to the bustling metropolis of Waikiki, world-class resorts, golden beaches and endless outdoor adventures, Oahu is Hawaii’s most visited island – and for good reason. We’ve pulled together the best things to see, do and eat to help you hit the sand running on your island adventure.
1. Eat shave ice from Matsumoto Shave Ice
This summer classic hails from Hawaii, so it’s totally acceptable to have one after every meal, right? Matsumoto’s, located in the funky town of Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore. This family-owned shave ice parlour has over 35 flavors available. Opt for classic raspberry, treat yourself with a rainbow trio or add azuki beans and ice cream for a Japanese twist!
2. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Dive right in and swim amongst the fishies at this marine life conservation area, which boasts a thriving underwater ecosystem complete with tropical fish, colorful coral and the rare turtle if you’re lucky. A conservation area since 1967, the bay is protected with a mandatory education video for each visitor as well as limited number of swimmers per day. Book in advance!
If you happened to hit Hanauma Bay on a turtle-less day, Laniakea Beach on the North Shore is your next best bet to catch a glimpse of the majestic honu, as they’re known in Hawaii. The Honu Guardian volunteers are on hand throughout the day to protect the turtles and educate travellers – you’ll come away with some sweet photos AND a bunch of fun turtle facts. Did you know that green sea turtles are omnivores in their youth but turn switch to a #plantbased diet when they reach adulthood?
3. See Pearl Harbor
No visit to Oahu, Hawaii is complete with a stop at the somber USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Here you will learn about the events that lead to the United States involvement in World War II. This unique memorial is only accessible by boat and is built over the sunken hull of the battleship (without actually touching it). It marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 service members that were killed on December 7, 1941.
4. Go to a luau
There’s nothing more quintessentially Hawaiian than experiencing an authentic luau – and Oahu has plenty to choose from. Tuck into smoky kalua pig from the imu (underground oven), sip a Mai Tai as you watch the coolest hula performance you’ve ever seen, and learn about local culture through dance and song. Oh, and did we mention it’s a buffet?
5. Snack on shrimp from the food trucks
Without a doubt one of the most famous food trucks in the USA, Giovanni’s has been serving up garlic shrimp on the Kahuku roadside since the early 90s. With the population of shrimp shacks on the Kamehameha Highway growing each year, it’s the perfect stop to satisfy your mid-road trip cravings. Giovanni’s $14 shrimp scampi is the classic option, but Romy’s and Macky’s are equally loved by the locals (and usually have shorter lines).
6. Hike Diamond Head
Soak up the sun and work off the cocktails with a hike to Diamond Head, the pointy volcanic crater that overlooks Waikiki. It looks deceivingly high, but the walk takes less than an hour and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views across the city. Worth it for the ‘gram.
7. Let loose at Kualoa Ranch
If your idea of a holiday involves adrenaline and adventure, Kualoa’s the place to let your hair down. Fly through the treetops on the zipline tour, take a catamaran to a secret beach or ride an ATV across the ranch to visit movie sites made famous by Jurassic Park, Lost and 50 First Dates. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
8. Watch the pros at Banzai Pipeline
This reef break is known as the world’s ultimate surfing spot. World-class wave riders step up to test their skills and tame the ocean. Even watching is not for the faint-hearted! The Banzai Pipeline is brutally forceful, but being in the crowd as the local legends jostle to ace the wave is an experience you’ll never forget.
9. Take a surfing lesson at Waikiki Beach
So… Pipeline is obviously not a viable surfing option for the vast majority of humans. We recommend heading to Waikiki Beach for your first time on the board. Hire an instructor from the beach shacks, find a spot in the crowd of newbies and wait for the perfect wave. You’ll need some refreshments after all the hard work so go grab an ice-cold bevvy at Duke’s Waikiki, a beachfront restaurant dedicated to surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.
10. Enjoy the Friday night fireworks
As the locals say: happy Aloha Friday! Kick off your weekend with a bang and stick around Waikiki to watch the free Friday night fireworks. The Hilton Hawaiian Village holds the epic 10-minute show every week, but you’ll be able to see them from all along Waikiki Beach, up Mount Tantalus or out at sea on an evening cruise.
That’s our definitive guide of places to see, things to do and food to eat on the island paradise of Oahu. Want to learn more? Check out our Hawaii travel guide.