As the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu is always alive with action. There are lots of fun things to do in Honolulu, including soaking up sun on the amazing beaches of Oahu island, taking a stroll through a scenic park, going on a hike, or learning about Hawaii’s unique history.
As a first-time traveler, your only concern should be experiencing the diversity of Oahu’s attractions, which include history, entertainment, sight-seeing, ethnic cuisine, and unique culture. The activities on this list are some of the best of Oahu – so don’t miss out on your trip!
Catch an authentic luau, go snorkeling, brush up on US history, and enjoy a discount on many of these top things to do with a Go Oahu® Card. The more you do, the more you save.
Experience an Authentic Luau
Hawaii is famous for its luaus, so no trip to the islands would be complete without attending one.
You haven’t experienced Oahu until you’ve been to a traditional Hawaiian luau. And there’s no better place to get a taste of a real luau than at Germaine’s Luau or The Polynesian Cultural Center’s Ali’i Luau and Dinner Show.
Dine on kalua pig cooked in an imu (earth oven) and customary haupia (coconut pudding). Star-gaze, listen to live music, and watch hula performances.
After being greeted with a traditional shell lei, Luau performance begins. Witness the ritual raising of a roasted pig from an underground oven and then feat on a multi-course buffet with American and authentic Hawaiian fare. Plus, each adult receives three drink coupons. Considered the most authentic luaus on the island of Oahu, these are not to be missed.
Consume the Cuisine
Oahu has a very unique, very dynamic menu of culinary exploits. One of the latest Hawaiian food movements, called Regional Cuisine, blends the islands’ traditional ethnic flavors with the freshest island fruits and locally-raised livestock.
One of the best ways to experience the wonders of Hawaii’s cuisine is to take a food tour. Several tours take vacationers from restaurant to restaurant for multi-course meals. Or try a “farm to table” tour to witness your food go through the process of becoming a delicious (or “ono”, in Hawaiian) meal.
Hike Diamond Head
It’s officially called Mt. Leahi, but better known as Diamond Head—whatever you want to call it, this mountain is one of the most famous volcanic crater in the world.
At the top of the 760-foot summit, you’ll behold breath-taking panoramic views of Waikiki and the rest of the South Shore. (You won’t want to leave your camera at home for this one!).
Diamond Head is only a short drive from Waikiki, but the hike up the mountain is considered moderately difficult for hikers not in tip top shape. Be assured, however, that the Diamond Head hike is well worth it!
Start out as early in the morning as possible, and bring water, sunscreen, and sneakers for this half-hour climb. Truly among the most beautiful and best of Oahu sights.
Test the Waters at Waikiki
Waikiki Beach is the most popular beach on Oahu. The two mile stretch of sand is a popular tourist destination due to its convenient location and beautiful scenery. It’s an ideal place to swim, snorkel, canoe, surf, or just soak up the sun on the sand.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Ala Moana Beach Park is a picturesque tourist attraction located on the coast of the island. It boasts a beautiful jogging trail, beach, and nearby shopping center.
Before the opening of the Mall of America, the Ala Moana Shopping Center was the largest mall in the States. Today, it is still the largest open-air shopping center in the world.
Drive to the North Shore
Although it’s known as the surfing capital of the world, Oahu’s North Shore is too often missed by tourists. Just an easy hour’s drive from Waikiki, the North Shore’s huge, winter waves (swelling up to thirty feet high!) attract the world’s best surfers and surf competitions.
Although this is no place for a novice surfer, you’ll love strolling in the thick sands while watching the pros catch waves. If you’re visiting in the summer, the swells will diminish, making the North Shore a prime swimming spot.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve & Hanauma Bay Snorkel
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is another beloved attraction in Honolulu. The snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is some of the best in the area. Explore the vibrant coral reef and come face-to-face with coral, fish, sea turtles, and more.
Insider tip: Like Diamond Head, the Preserve is best experienced in the morning, since parking is limited. Snorkeling equipment is available for small rental fee.
USS Arizona Memorial & Pearl Harbor
A trip to the USS Arizona Memorial is a must-see for history buffs. The USS Arizona Memorial is one of the many Pearl Harbor Historic Sites to honor the soldiers who lost their lives in the history-changing aerial attack that sprang the United States into World War II.
The USS Arizona is a floating memorial built over the sunken hull of the Battleship USS Arizona. Although it’s a somber experience, this opportunity to pay respects and learn about the historic attack is one you won’t regret.
70 years later, you can still see oil in the water from the submerged USS Arizona. In addition, you can purchase tickets to visit the USS Bowfin, a WWII-era submarine, the USS Missouri and an aviation museum.
Consider booking an all-day tour of Pearl Harbor, which begins with a video and includes a boat ride to the memorial site of the World War II attacks.
Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial attract over 1,500,000 visitors each year. Pearl Harbor is the largest natural harbor in Hawaii and the only naval base in the United States to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
Discover the Honolulu Zoo & Waikiki Aquarium
The 42-acre Honolulu Zoo houses 995 different animals from the tropics living in meticulously recreated habitats. You’ll be dazzled by the unique assortment of creatures, like the Komodo Dragon and the orang-utan.
The more popular animals call this zoo home too, including elephants, giraffes, and tigers. Nearby, the Waikiki Aquarium sits on the shoreline next to a living reef. The third oldest in the world, this aquarium is home to more than 3,000 marine specimens.
So you’ll get “face-to-fin” with an abundance of tropical fish, reef sharks, Hawaiian monk seals, and much more!
US Army Museum of Hawaii
History fans will also love the US Army Museum of Hawaii, where you can trace the military history of Hawaii from ancient times to present day.
The museum itself is an artifact; it was once a coastal artillery called Battery Randolph. Exhibits at the US Army Museum of Hawaii include artifacts, paintings, photographs, weapons and more. The museum also offers a thorough and educational walking tour.
The Spa at Halekulani
If you’re in need of a way to relax and rejuvenate, a trip to the Spa at the Halekulani Hotel may be just what you’re looking for. The spa offers traditional treatments, including facials, manicures and massages, though it is the first spa to incorporate the healing cultures of the Pacific islands.
It features therapy beds, steam showers, and tandem suites for couples.
Those unafraid to do a little walking should do the hour-long hike up to Manoa Falls. Put on your hiking shoes and journey through the peaceful rainforest, which was one of the filming locations for the television series LOST. Don’t forget your camera- there are get stunning photograph opportunities at the end of this hike.
KCC Farmers’ Market
Hawaii’s diverse agricultural scene comes to life every Saturday at the KCC Farmer’s Market. Shop the endless displays of fruits, vegetables, flowers, seafood, baked goods, Hawaiian shaved ice, and more. Located on the slopes of Diamond Head, this outdoor market offers some of Honolulu’s greatest local delicacies.
Take in Historic Honolulu
Downtown Honolulu is overflowing with rich island history. The historic district of Honolulu, which includes parts of Downtown and Chinatown, is an easy place to walk around and boasts several must-see landmarks.
You’ll want to visit Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States, which housed 19th century monarch King Kalakaua and his successor, Queen Liliuokalani. Just across the road, you’ll see the most famous King Kamehameha I Statue, a monument to Hawaii’s first king. And a short walk away, you’ll find the historic Kawaiahao Church and the State Capitol.
Oahu is usually the first stop for tourists new to the islands. There’s certainly no scarcity of things to do on the majestic island nicknamed “The Gathering Place.”
The island paradise of Honolulu has something to offer all visitors. Best of all, after a busy day of adventuring throughout the island, you can unwind in front of a breathtaking beach sunset.
Want to do more top attractions in Oahu? The more you do, the more you save with the Go Oahu® All-Inclusive Card.