Being able to live on Oahu for four years was an adventure of a lifetime! I feel so lucky to have been able to experience the beauty of this wonderful island. My favorite part about Oahu is that there is so much to see and do, on one little island. You have the most breathtaking beaches, fun nightlife, lush greenery, mountains, waterfalls and the list goes on. I hope this list, that outlines some of the best spots to checkout when vacationing on Oahu, helps you plan a memorable trip, but most importantly I hope you have fun and enjoy the aloha spirit!
A cute relaxed surf town and the first stop along the North Shore. This is a great place to wander around local shops and grab something to eat. Highly recommend trying the famous Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. Locals tip - head to Surf N Sea to rent snorkel gear before heading further into the North Shore. You can also pick-up sandwiches to-go at a delicious sandwich shop, Stortos Deli.
Polynesian Cultural Center was my favorite Luau on the island. You definitely get a full experience here compared to other Luaus. You are able to walk around the grounds and learn about a variety of customs from all over the world. There are also plenty of fun activities for kids (spear throwing, lei making, fishing, etc.) Then enjoy a beautiful dinner and an outstanding show. If you let the staff know you are gluten free (or have other allergies) they are happy to show you what is available. I had the most delicious chili I have ever tasted. Chief's Luau is also a great alternate option for a Luau.
Once a year, in November and December, the Waialua sunflower fields are open to the public for tours. It is not much of a tour, but you must reserve a spot and check in at a specific time, and then you are free to roam on your own. This may not seem all that exciting but seeing rows and rows of pretty sunflowers, with the Hawaiian backdrop is such a beautiful sight. Plus it makes for some awesome insta-worthy photos.
Not only is this the best spot to snorkel in Oahu, it is also my favorite place I’ve ever gone snorkeling. The water is always extremely clear and you will see many different types of fish and marine life. It can be a little tricky/slippery getting off the rocks and into the water, but once you see how people are getting it it's not too bad. I suggest putting your fins on once you’re in the water.
This was my first time zip lining and to say I was afraid is an understatement. The staff at CLIMB Works Keana Farms went above and beyond. They made me feel so comfortable and allowed me to take a hundred years to rack up the courage to finally take off. We had such an amazing time and I highly recommend going there to experience the beauty of Oahu. After your adventure stop at the famous Giovanni's Shrimp Truck for delicious garlic shrimp and BBQ corn from Uncle Woody's corn stand.
Also known as Turtle Beach. This is a MUST stop when driving to the North Shore. It is not a beach for relaxing, but more to watch the turtles basking in the sun. Park across the street, on the side of the road, and jump out to take pictures and admire what beautiful creatures they are. There are usually ropes to keep everyone at a safe distance from the turtles, but always be respectful and don’t get too close.
Depending on what time of year you are visiting, check to see if there are any surf competitions going on. During the winter months Oahu gets some massive waves and you get to witness epic competitions. The Billabong Pipeline Masters at Banzai Pipeline is my favorite competition to watch.
This is a huge tourist spot, but a place that shouldn't be missed when on the Island, even if you only go for the Dole whip ice cream. You can thank me later! =) There are three activities at Dole. You can take an informative train ride that gives a lot of history about the pineapples in Hawaii, get lost in the worlds largest maze as you try to find all the secret stations as fast as you can or take a garden tour. The garden tour is definitely not worth paying for. If you’re wanting to do the maze, I suggest going early before it gets too hot as there is no shade. I would also stop here often just to buy the freshly made cinnamon roasted nuts. Yum!
LEEWARD - WEST SIDE
Not the prettiest of beaches, or much of a beach at all, but this is such a great place to snorkel. However, I highly suggest only experienced swimmers to snorkel here and don't recommend for children. It is a bit rough getting in and out of the water. What makes this location so unique is the warm water from a nearby power plant brings lots of sea life to this spot, so you will see some incredible fish and possibly sea turtles.
This is a great area to hangout on the west side of the island. Very family friendly with hotels, restaurants, shops, golfing, and lagoons. My favorite part of Ko Olina has to be the lagoons (man-made beach coves). There are four lagoons all connected by over a mile and a half of beautiful seaside pathways. Grab drinks from Longboards (great drinks but not the greatest food) for a perfect way to spend a relaxing day by the water. In this area they also have the amazing Aulani Disney Resort and my favorite restaurant on this side of the island, Monkeypod Kitchen. To read more on the resorts in this area, click here. OR If you want to read more about the resorts in this area check out the best places to stay on Oahu.
This is the best echo tour EVER. The west side specialty dolphin and snorkel tours are unbelievable. Highly suggest taking this once in a life time tour when on the island. You are able to swim with wild dolphins, view sea turtles and also have the chance to catch some whale sightings. The best part is they keep the tours small (either 6 or 10 passengers per boat), so you get a more personal experience.
WINDWARD - EAST SIDE
This is a smaller version of the Byodo-in Temple in Japan, a united nation world heritage site. As this is a non practicing buddhist temple, you should ring the sacred bell before entering, take off your shoes and light an incense. It is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, taking in the lush landscape and overall experience.
My favorite outdoor activity on the island. Taking off from Lanikai beach and paddling your way to the Mokulua islands is such a fun day activity. On the way over keep a lookout for sea turtles. You will be kayaking to the left island as the right island is a bird sanctuary. Also, be careful riding the waves getting onto the island. If you do not time it right you can easily flip your kayak (I can attest!). We always rented our kayaks from Windward Watersports. They have an amazing staff who are very friendly and help get the kayaks up on your car and ready to go.
A 4000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch. They offer a ton of different activities from horseback riding, atv tours, a big green bus movie tour for movie buffs and catamaran tours.
This is my favorite lookout on this side of the island. Park to take some beautiful photos before making your way to the beach. During season, you may even get lucky and spot a whale sighting.
If you want to have a fun afternoon in the sun, rent a boat and take it out to the sandbar in Kaneohe. The views you get on this side of the island are unbeatable. You can spend the day relaxing or crank up the music and bring along some cocktails. Book a trip with Kyle from Kaneohe Bay Private Charters for an unforgettable day on the water. If someone you know is in the military you can also rent from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Bay Marina. Just make sure to plan ahead of time as you will need to obtain a license.
SOUTH - WAIKIKI
Everyone always talks about the famous Waikiki when going to Oahu. I think it is a great place to experience, but this is not an area that needs a ton of time. However, this is THE place to shop, if that is of interest. At night there are plenty of great places to grab dinner and enjoy the street performers and artists along the main road. I recommend Dukes Barefoot Bar for a fun relaxed place to eat with a live band at night. Also while down in this area, don't forget to stop at Leonard's Bakery for some delicious piping hot malasadas (Portuguese donuts)! Just be prepared to wait in a VERY long line.
Also known as the booze cruise, as they serve wine, beer and Mai Tai's. I highly suggest taking a sunset cruise with Maita’i Catamaran in Waikiki. This was one of my most favorites memories. The views you get out on the water are breathtaking. Sit back and relax, drink and enjoy the best seat in the house on the water.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend taking a helicopter ride. The price is not inexpensive, but the views you get from these tours are unlike anything you will ever see. We went with Blue Hawaiian and had an amazing experience.
Even if you're not a history buff, this is a place you should at least wander around and witness for yourself. No need to say more =)
US Navy historical battleship, now turned into a museum. You can wander around yourself or if you'd like more information you can take a guided tour through the ship. I am not a huge history buff, but taking the self guided tour is pretty dang cool.
This is hands down the best view of Waikiki. I may be a little biased as this is where I got engaged, but it really is an incredible spot. The road getting up to this view is very windy, but always a fun adventure. I suggest getting here before sunset so you can take in the views during the daylight and then also after the sun goes down. There is a nice big grass area to have a picnic and enjoy the view.
Although this may be a top spot on many lists when coming to Oahu, it isn't one that I would necessarily recommend, due to being a huge tourist spot. It is a great snorkeling spot for families with small children, but experienced snorkelers will be very disappointed. Get there as early as possible to avoid crowds.
This small lookout spot is right past Hanauma bay, but before Sandy Beach. It is a neat spot to stop on your drive to the East side, see the blowhole and snap beautiful photos. There is also a small spot on the right of the lookout called Cockroach Cove that you can climb down to relax in this secluded beach area.
A cliff shoreline, that not many people know about when visiting Oahu. Great spot to watch a sunset, sunrise or enjoy a picnic and hangout. You can now put Spitting Caves into your phone maps but if you have trouble finding it head to Lumahai Street which is close to Hanauma Bay. Drive to the end of the street and look for the 119A sign marker. Walk in between the houses and down the steep steps to the beautiful opening.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (as I have not partaken in these activities):
I am not a golfer, but Morgan is. When she visited the island, she took advantage of the beautiful golf courses in the area. Her top picks are Ko Olina Golf Club (home to an LPGA Tour event), due to it's amazing ocean views and Turtle Bay Resort with 36 holes and more of a Hawaiian jungle feel.
I have heard so many raving reviews about North Shore Shark Adventures. If you’re brave enough to face sharks, I think Oahu would be one of the best places to experience this.
If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, check out Oahu Hawaii Tandem Paragliding Flights. I never got the courage to go while living on the island but always saw them flying over Makapu’u.