Discover Oahu Travel Guide

Waikiki Beach. Rainforests. “Jurassic Valley.” Waterfalls. Pearl Harbor. North Shore 30ft waves. OAHU has a mix of everything from bustling city life, gorgeous hiking trails, and so many things to do.

Home sweet home: Oahu

I have lived on Oahu for years – about 10 years in Waikiki. Yes, Waikiki. The hub of all the hustle and bustle on Oahu.

by Mariam Beard • Last Updated: July 27, 2023

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About Oahu

Hawaii is a top tourist spot and Oahu is among the most visited islands. It’s home to world-famous beaches, mountains, hiking trails, shopping centers, and more. However, with thousands of available itineraries and tourist attractions, it can be tricky to plan an unforgettable Oahu trip.

That’s why we created this guide to provide you with tips and tricks on how to make the most out of your Oahu vacation. This guide is also complemented with curated videos from our Yes To Hawaii YouTube channel, one of Hawaii’s top travel video channels, to give you a glimpse of what Oahu has to offer.

Want to binge-read all our OAHU articles?

How to Get to Oahu

HNL Airport

HNL is the largest airport in Hawaii and the busiest airport in the state. Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) is named after Hawaii’s longest-serving U.S. Senator, Daniel K. Inouye. It’s the only commercial airport on Oahu.

If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll most likely arrive at HNL. But even if you’re just hopping over to one of the other Hawaiian islands for your vacation, you might have a layover at HNL on your way there. One of the unique things about HNL is its open-air design. HNL is a hub for several major airlines. You’ll find flights from Delta, United, Hawaiian Airlines, and more.

  • From Waikiki: 20-30 minutes
  • From Ko Olina: 40-60 min
  • From North Shore: 45 minutes (Haleiwa), 1.5 hours (Kahuku)

If you’re looking to stay on Oahu but hop to Big Island, some companies offer an all-inclusive 1-day Flyover to visit the Big Island with a helicopter ride over the active volcano too!

Cruise Ship

Ahoy, matey! Oahu is also a stop for some major cruise lines. The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America is a huge 2100+ capacity cruise ship that connects Oahu, Maui, Big Island and Kauai. Their weeklong cruises go from Saturday to the following Saturday.

Super Ferry (discontinued 2009)

While there’s a lot of blog posts still that explain the Hawaii Superferry, it stopped service in 2009. It was a high-speed ferry service that connected some of the Hawaiian islands. Nowadays, flights are the best option.

Island vs. City vs. Neighborhood

Island: Oahu

Oahu is Hawaii’s third largest island, and offers a mix of natural beauty, Hawaiian culture, and modern amenities. The island is home to famous sites such as the North Shore’s surfing mecca and Pearl Harbor’s historic naval base. Oahu’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in Hawaii, offering opportunities for swimming, surfing, and diving.

I love it here!

It’s so nice that you can be in a city then drive 15-20 minutes and you’re hiking in a rainforest.

City: Honolulu

Honolulu is a diverse and cosmopolitan city, offering the energy of a metropolis alongside the laid-back vibe of a beach town. Along with being Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu is also home to historical landmarks like Iolani Palace and modern attractions like the International Marketplace. Like more cities, there are lots of dining options plus some nightlife.

Neighborhood: Waikiki

Waikiki is a neighborhood in Honolulu and is famous for its beautiful beaches and iconic skyline. The neighborhood boasts world-class shopping, dining, and entertainment options, as well as cultural landmarks and the legendary hotels on the beach strip. Waikiki is one of the most tourist-focused areas of Hawaii, which can also mean it’s crowded and traffic can be congested.

Curious about what WAIKIKi looks like? Check out our WAIKIKI NOW series where we take you on a narrated walking tour of Waikiki.

Things to Do on Oahu

Our first tip is to visit Oahu’s iconic Waikiki Beach, considered Hawaii’s most famous beach.

If you’re looking for instagrammable spots, explore the Diamond Head State Monument. It’s one of Oahu’s famous landmarks, and a popular destination for both tourists and locals. You can hike to the peak and take in the breathtaking ocean views, or explore the tunnels and bunkers that were used during World War II.

Diamond Head Crater trail takes you to the very top of the Diamond Head Crater. The trail is paved then turns rocky and steep towards the end. The hike is 0.8 miles one-way. Is it worth it? Yes. You get a panoramic view of the southern coast of Oahu. And you’re in a volcanic crater.
NOTE: Diamond Head Crater is the only hike on Oahu that requires paid reservations ($5.00 per person).

Another popular location if you’re a family traveling with kiddos is the Honolulu Zoo, home to over animals from all over the world. They have an primates, big cats, and birds, as well as an interactive children’s zoo. The Honolulu Zoo is located on the edge of Waikiki on Kapahulu Avenue.

Are you a history buff? Make sure to visit Pearl Harbor. Take a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, and Aviation Museum. The Visitors Center spans 17-acres. You can explore the museum, watch historic footage, and take the Navy Launch (ferry) to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.

If you’re looking to explore the island’s natural beauty, the Manoa Falls Hike is a 1.8 mile roundtrip hike that is well-maintained and ends at at 150ft waterfall. You go through a bamboo forest and it’s beautiful!

Other hikes:
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is a fully paved scenic hike that is around 2.5 miles roundtrip. It has incline the entire way with panoramic ocean views.
Koko Head Crater is the stairmaster. Stairs, stairs, and MORE stairs.
Aiea Loop Trail is a 4.8 mile loop (or so it says.. though it seemed longer!) that goes through lush forest and scenic ridge lines.
Makiki Valley Loop Trail is closer to Waikiki and has a few different trails that connect to the loop.
Top 5 Difficult Hikes on Oahu is a compilation of some longer hikes.
Hawaii Loa Ridge is a more challenging hike and is inside a residential neighborhood. A Hawaii State ID is required.

There are so many great hikes! It’s always good to bring more water than you think you might need (33 Things to Pack on a Day Hike in Hawaii).

If you’re traveling solo or prefer more narration during your hikes, there are also great hiking tours to take you around the island (5 Reasons You SHOULD Do a Hiking Tour). These work well if you’d like to learn more about the specific area or trail and history – plus typically will offer roundtrip transportation to/from Waikiki.

For an epic sunset view, hike the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, which offers panoramic views of Lanikai Beach and the neighboring islands. You can also take a stroll around the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. It’s free and offers miles of walking paths, picnic areas, and beautiful nature views.

Or are you looking to relax? There’s quite a few spas in Waikiki and some area oceanfront spas.

And one of my favorites – How to Make a FLOWER CROWN

Packing Tips

When packing for a trip to Hawaii, it’s important to think about the weather and activities you’re planning. Pack light layers that can be easily combined and worn on top of each other. Depending on where you’ll be visiting in Hawaii, temperatures can range from warm during the day to cool at night, so plan accordingly.

Also, consider bringing items such as sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and flip-flops for the beach. Make sure to check what activities you’ll be participating in and pack clothes that are right – such as outdoor gear or water shoes if you plan on doing some hiking or snorkeling.

Finally, don’t forget your camera! A trip to Hawaii is full of beautiful sights that you won’t want to forget, so capture the memories with a camera or your smartphone. Have fun and safe travels!

BEST Activities & Tours on Oahu

While I absolutely adore exploring new places on my own, I have to admit that a top-notch guided tour in Hawaii can be a game-changing experience. Not only do you get to learn more about the local culture and history, but you’re also doing your part in supporting the local economy. Win-win!

My Eye-Opening Experience

The moment I realized the true value of a quality tour was during my trip to Greece in 2016. My friend and I decided to splurge €10 more for a guided tour of the Colosseum, while our other friends went for the cheaper, self-guided option. And let me tell you, that extra cash was worth every penny.

We were assigned a lovely and knowledgeable local guide who knew the ins and outs of the Colosseum like the back of her hand. Thanks to her, we skipped all the lines (everyone knew her by first name), discovered hidden gems around the Colosseum, and got insider tips on the best places to eat and shop. But most importantly, she shared her passion for Greek culture with us, leaving us with a deep appreciation for what we saw.

Ever since that day, I’ve been a firm believer that a quality tour can truly enhance your travel experience. And what better place than Hawaii to embark on a memorable journey with an expert guide?

But, enough about that – let’s get back to OAHU.

Oahu | Relaxation, Adventure, and FOOD!

There are so many things you can do on Oahu! It’s a mix of relaxation, adventure and lots of food options. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to try so many Hawaii activities & tours – so I can provide genuine recommendations based on things I have actually done. And – so you can see for yourself in the articles and YouTube videos if the activity/tour is right for you.

Itinerary Ideas

Explore Oahu

If you’re staying in Waikiki, exploring the rest of Oahu is a must!

There are a few different sightseeing options:

  • Rental Car
  • Eco-Tour | Small-Group island tour that stops at a waterfall

Ocean Activities


Beach catamaran rides are a fun, easy way to see the Waikiki skyline from the water: snorkel sails, afternoon sails, or sunset sails are offered throughout the day. Some afternoon sails can also be open bar making it the best OPEN BAR in Waikiki! There are so many sunset sails on Oahu.

Beach catamarans are so fun! Many sunset sails are open-bar too! Beach catamarans, as the name states, are catamarans that literally come up on the beach itself – as in, there is no pier or dock. You will need to walk in the water to board the catamaran. If accessibility is a factor, Port Hilton is the only catamaran in Waikiki with a dock/pier. Port Hilton offers both a Hilton sunset sail and a Hilton Friday fireworks sail.

Waikiki Beach catamarans are the perfect adventure for any water lover. Not only do they provide a great way to explore the tropical beauty of Hawaii, but they also offer a unique experience. You can feel the wind in your hair, smell the salty ocean air and take in all the breathtaking sights from the comfort of an open-top boat. Whether you’re looking for an exciting activity to fill an afternoon or just want to take in the awe-inspiring views, Waikiki Beach catamarans are a great way to make your vacation unforgettable

Picture yourself setting out from the iconic Waikiki Beach as the sun begins to dip below the horizon, and taking in the sights of Diamond Head and Honolulu from the deck of a beautiful boat. It’s an unforgettable way to end your day on this gorgeous island. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a whale or two in the distance (whale season: December-February)! So grab your friends and don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to sail into the night with a stunning view of Waikiki..

Plus, it’s not just an unforgettable experience—it’s also a great way to relax after a long day of exploring the island. Take in the gentle sea breeze and let all your worries drift away as you watch the sun set. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling like a true sailor as you journey into the night with beautiful views of Waikiki in every direction.

SUNSET SAILS | Kewalo Basin harbor

If you’re looking to get out of the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, there are sunset sails out of Kewalo Basin Harbor. Waikiki is about a 15-minute drive.


I absolutely LOVE snorkeling. If you’re looking for an unforgettable snorkeling experience in Oahu, then you have to visit Turtle Canyon. Located off the coast of Waikiki, this spot is known for its incredible array of vibrant sea life and crystal-clear waters that are perfect for exploring. From colorful reef fish and coral gardens to green sea turtles, there’s a lot to see. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced snorkeler, you’ll find something interesting during your visit to Turtle Canyon. The friendly staff and knowledgeable guides make it easy for anyone to enjoy the beauty of this amazing underwater paradise

Visiting Turtle Canyon for snorkeling is a must when in Oahu. Turtle Canyon is located off the coast of Waikiki. The best part about snorkeling in Turtle Canyon is that it’s accessible to all ages and levels of experience, making it a great option for families looking to explore the underwater world together. Take your time and check out the marine life!

If you’re feeling extra adventurous, there are also diving tours available at Turtle Canyon. Divers can explore the depths of this underwater paradise and observe an entirely different kind of marine life. Whether you’re an experienced diver or just starting out, Turtle Canyon has something exciting to offer!

We have been to Turtle Canyon tons of times and I absolutely LOVE it!

Check out these articles for some boats
TURTLE CANYON | Great options in Waikiki
Holokai Catamaran | Located by the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, fun beach catamaran, love this boat!
Port Hilton | The only docked catamaran in Waikiki at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
Most affordable Waikiki catamaran | Beach catamaran by Duke Statue, no-frills beach catamaran

TURTLE CANYON | Great options just outside Waikiki
Small Group Captain Max (6-guests, 1.5 hours)
Living Ocean
Moana Catamaran

Another popular spot for snorkeling is the west side of Oahu (Ko Olina). The West Side also has great snorkeling where you can snorkel and see wild dolphin pods. It’s. a great way to see more of the island.

But if snorkeling isn’t for you, you can also check out the marine life in a submarine ride. Atlantis Submarine is located in Waikiki – right at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. You catch a short boat ride to the submarine drop zone, board the submarine, then go underwater 100ft (30 meters).


Dinner cruises are a great out-of-the-box way to have dinner and see a Polynesian Show. This one is one of my favorites and offers different menu choices: Buffet, 3-Course (steak/crab/chicken), 5-Course (steak/lobster), and Fine Dining. If you’d like something later in the evening, Prince Kuhio Dinner Cruises leaves later. Prince Kuhio Dinner Cruises also is a dinner cruise only (no entertainment on-board) and is a smaller boat.

Water sports are another great fun way to spend the day. On Oahu, there are so many choices – stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, parasailing, jet skiing. You can opt to choose some activities and stay close to Waikiki. The East Side (Hawaii Kai) is also a popular option for water sports where you can jet ski too!

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is the most visited historic site on Oahu. The most notable site is the USS Arizona Memorial, honoring the lives lost during the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces in 1941. In the same vicinity, you can also explore the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, which highlights submarine warfare during World War II. Another site, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, marks the location where the Japanese surrender was signed, effectively ending World War II. The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, with lots of vintage aircraft, provides insights into the evolution of aviation during the war. Each site carries its own stories and significance, making Pearl Harbor a compelling destination for history enthusiasts.

There are a few ways you can visit Pearl Harbor. If you’d like to see it all the Full Day at Pearl Harbor tours offer the most streamlined way to see it all.

While some think that Pearl Harbor is only the USS Arizona, there’s actually four (4) historic sites to visit:

  1. USS Arizona
  2. USS Missouri Battleship
  3. Aviation Museum
  4. USS Bowfin Submarine

Culture | Luau

“Luau” is the Hawaiian word for “feast” and includes dinner plus a show. Hawaiian Luaus are the best way to celebrate special occasions in the islands! Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, or just an excuse for friends and family to get together and have fun, there’s no better way to spend your time than at a luau.

You’ll find that the traditional food served at a Hawaiian luau is always delicious and plentiful, with dishes like poi, laulau, kalua pig, and haupia. You can also expect live entertainment in the form of hula dancers, as well as other activities that will have you laughing and having a good time. It’s no wonder why these festive gatherings are so popular among locals and visitors alike – everyone loves to get together and celebrate!

It’s also worth noting that there are many different types of Hawaiian luaus. Some are more traditional, while others may feature modern twists or local specialties. For example, in addition to classic Hawaiian dishes, you might be served poke bowls, pupus (appetizers) or even shave ice. No matter what type of luau you attend, one thing’s for sure – it’s guaranteed to be a fun time filled with delicious food and great entertainment. So if you’re planning on visiting the islands any time soon, make sure to add a Hawaiian luau to your list of things to check out.

Check out these Luau articles:
Chief’s Luau
Royal Hawaiian Luau
Queen’s Luau (Located in the International Marketplace)

Another great out-of-the-box option for a unique Hawaii cultural experience on the water is with Kamouli.


While Kualoa Ranch is known for their “Jurassic Valley” ATVs and Horseback, they are not the only ones in town! There’s a few options on the North Shore: Gunstock Ranch and North Shore Stables. There’s even DOORS-OFF helicopters that will do a helicopter landing at Kualoa Ranch! My personal favorite at Kualoa ranch is the “Jurassic Valley” e-bikes – it is a WAY QUIETER way (instead of the loud rawr of the ATVs) to explore part of the 4,000 acre nature preserve “Jurassic Valley.” Kualoa Ranch also has a fun “Jurassic Valley” zipline tour too!

If you’re heading up to the North Shore and want a zipline with ocean views, the North Shore zipline ClimbWorks at Keana Farms is a fun one. There’s also a shark cage dive you can do where you can see reef sharks.

So much of Oahu is best viewed by air! Helicopter rides are popular on Oahu and can originate from the Honolulu airport heliport as well as other heliports. You can do doors-on or doors-OFF helicopter rides. If you’re a real adrenaline seeker, there’s also a “Navy Seal Experience” where you get to jump out of a helicopter (yes….JUMP!) and then go scuba diving after. While helicopters are an option, you can also go on a private scenic airplane flight around Oahu too!


If you’re staying in Waikiki and looking for a luau dinner with a Vegas-style Elvis Presley show, Rock-a-Hula is a popular option.

In Honolulu, there’s also a Rage Room. It’s pretty wild – you get to break stuff and paint.

Yacht Charters

Island-hop Packages

While pricey, if you’d like a “done for you” option – there are tours for a 1-day Flyover to visit the Big Island. This one included roundtrip airfare, full-day Land Tour of the Hilo side of Big Island, and a 45-minute helicopter ride over the active volcano.

Where to Stay

Waikiki (South)

This beautiful beach is home to some of the most pristine white sand beaches in Hawaii, perfect for catching some waves and soaking up the sun. Plus, when you’re done catching waves and swimming in crystal-clear blue waters, there’s plenty to do here. From exploring historical sites to enjoying a delicious meal on the beach, Waikiki has something for everyone. And when you’re done with your day of adventure, there’s plenty of cozy accommodations right on the beachfront – perfect for taking in all the scenery! Whether you’re looking to relax and take in the sights or explore and find adventure, there’s no better place than Waikiki. So grab your sunblock and get ready for the ultimate beachfront vacation! 

Waikiki Block Festivals

Waikiki has LOTS of festivals throughout the year. These festivals typically take place on KALAKAUA AVE in the evening from 4pm-10pm. Road closures start as early as 1pm. These events can have food vendors, arts & crafts, live music and more!

Friday Fireworks

The Hilton Hawaiian Village also has a weekly Friday fireworks show at 7:45pm. It’s a quick 5-minute show.

How to See the Hilton FRIDAY Fireworks Show

We have made monthly Waikiki Now narrated walking tours videos.

Waikiki Hotels

Popular Waikiki Hotels:

Waikiki Hotel Walkthroughs

Curious about what a certain Waikiki hotel looks like? Check out these videos below:

Ko Olina (West)

North Shore

You can also spend a 1/2 day on the North Shore. From Waikiki to Haleiwa, it is about a 45-60 minute drive depending on traffic. On the way up, you’ll pass by the Dole Pineapple Plantation (try the Dole whip!) and the Green World Coffee Farms. There’s also other Coffee Farms, Chocolate Farms, and a Soap Factory (click here for a YouTube video).

Where to Eat

If you’re looking for an unforgettable dining experience on Oahu, there’s no better place to start than Honolulu. In the city centre, visitors can sample some of Hawaii’s most mouth-watering dishes. 

If you’re in the North Shore area, stop by Ted’s Bakery on Sunset Beach for their famous chocolate haupia pie. It’s been voted one of the best desserts in Hawaii, and it’s sure to make your taste buds dance with delight. For something a bit more savory, check out Haleiwa Joe’s for their excellent seafood dishes. Enjoy the views of the beautiful coastline while you eat! Whether on the beach or in the city centre, Oahu has plenty of delicious places to dine. Bon appétit! 

If you prefer to cook your own food while in Oahu, there are plenty of opportunities to buy fresh produce. There’s popular Farmers Markets around the island.

Packing Lists

Packing for Hawaii can be made more manageable with the right tips and tricks. Think lightweight, breathable fabrics, sunscreen, waterproof gadgets and plenty of swimwear.

6 Tips for Packing Light to Hawaii | TRAVEL TIPS
22 Things to Pack to Hawaii | Carry-on | TRAVEL TIPS
33 Things to Pack on a Day Hike in Hawaii | TRAVEL TIPS
19 BEST Travel Bags | TRAVEL TIPS
BEST carry-on personal item | TRAVEL TIPS
BEST checked luggage | TRAVEL TIPS

Which island?

Oahu, Hawaii, is a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list. There’s so much to do and see, from historic sites and museums to beaches and mountain trails. To make the most out of your trip, make sure to plan ahead and consider our tips. And if you want to see more, make sure to check out Yes To Hawaii’s video series of must-see locations on the island. Have a great trip!

OAHU Articles

Itinerary Ideas

  • Waikiki THEN, 2020 (click here for video)

MAUI Articles

Discover MAUI Travel Guide


Discover BIG ISLAND Travel Guide


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Aloha! I'm Mariam.

I'm an Oahu resident sharing my adventures here in Hawaii to help take the guesswork out of planning your trip to Hawaii.

I've worked full-time as a concierge for a decade and have planned thousands of itineraries for travelers like you!


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