As home to the world-famous city of Waikiki, the state’s capital city, and the majority of Hawaii’s population, 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.” 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 are the best of Oahu – so don’t miss out on your trip!
1. Experience a Waikiki Luau
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 on the South Shore in historic Waikiki. Head to the beach at sunset to 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 while lounging in the sand. For a more thrilling experience, find a luau that has performances like the chaotic Tahitian dance or the Samoan fire-knife dance. Waikiki boasts a whole heap of luau venues to choose from.
2. Consume the Cuisine (the real stuff)
Oahu has a very unique, very dynamic menu of culinary exploits. The latest Hawaiian food movement, 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Take a Pearl Harbor Tour and the visit the USS Arizona Memorial
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. 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.
6. Discover the Honolulu Zoo and 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!
7. Hike to the top of Diamond Head
It’s officially called Mt. Leahi, but better known as Diamond Head—whatever you want to call it, this mountain is 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 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.