There are many things to do to do in Oahu, Hawaii that extend far beyond shopping in Waikiki, though that is far and away the most popular tourist attraction on the island. With just a little research, travelers can easily find that the most exciting things to do in Oahu involve getting out of the busy city and exploring the rest of the island. You’ll want a home base, of course; a trip to Oahu may start at a luxury resort on Waikiki Beach (Ko Olina and the North Shore have famous resort hotels as well). With the continually rolling waves, 270 days of sunshine a year, and many exquisite dining options, the location is ideal for a family or couples getaway. For those people returning to Honolulu, consider planning a few activities away from Waikiki — explore other gems around Honolulu and different parts of the island. Your vacation will be the richer for it.
One of the common things to do in Oahu that is in view from lots of Waikiki hotels, is checking out Diamond Head. Start your exploration with your hiking shoes on at the base of Diamond Head, a relatively easy hike minutes from Waikiki. I started the hike fairly early in the morning, before it got too hot, and was one of 80 or so hiking at that time. Even though the hike was pretty crowded, I still felt very proud of myself for reaching the top. Once you’ve tackled the monster stairs, your legs will be burning so spend a few minutes or so to relish your accomplishments. Many visitors were sitting on the ledge, taking photographs or even videos of the view. I have to admit, I even uploaded a few photos to Facebook; bragging about my trip and the beautiful Waikiki photo was proof of the journey.
If you’re looking for a lesser known and dramatically different hike, Kaena Point on the Leeward Side is the way to go. Isolated, this spot offers views of the Waianae and black lava coast. This is also a place said to have a lot of ‘mana’, or spirit, from ancient Hawaiians souls looking to join their ancestors. Since this spot is less crowded, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks before you head off on the trail. The limited cell tower lines might delay your Twitter update, but you’ll still be able to boast about the scenery once you’re done! Of course, it’s feasible that you can find things to do in Oahu without reporting about them on Facebook or Twitter right away, whatever floats your boat.
Continue your tour of Oahu by driving towards the North Shore, where any stop along the coast allows visitors unspoiled and deserted waves to play in. If you plan your visit in the wintertime, check to see if there is a surf contest, as the winter often brings the biggest waves. While you’re on the North Shore you have to do at least a couple of the three things to do here: eat at one of the shrimp trucks near the beach, swim in Waimea Falls and shop in Halewia.
The shrimp trucks are legendary, producing delicious combinations of fried and grilled shrimp that are the perfect snack after a day at the beach. Waimea Falls is in Waimea Valley, a botanical garden that is perfect for a family picnic and hike to the falls. If you don’t favor the beach then this is the spot for you. I was lucky enough to visit the day after a big rain shower, and the falls were especially thick and the water was super cold. Finally, the shops in Halewia play homage to old school surfer life. Buy a few souvenirs and grab a Hawaiian shaved iced for the road trip home.
If you are planning a longer vacation to Oahu, consider camping for two nights of the trip. On the Windward Side you’ll discover long sandy beaches, easy walk in snorkeling, excellent fishing conditions, and home to several different botanical gardens. This is a little off the beaten path and a great spot to pop in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. There are many campsites around the area but they book up fast. Make sure to reserve your campsite at least a month prior to your visit.
Back in Honolulu and looking for a more culturally balanced tour, look no further than KoAloha Ukuleles. Offering tours twice a day, venture 10 minutes outside of Waikiki for a personal and educational ukulele tour. Not knowing much about ukuleles before this tour, I now have a newfound respect and appreciation for these instruments. The Okami family takes visitors through each step of the shaping, molding and customization of making a ukulele. After injecting short family stories throughout the tour, you’ll leave the shop feeling like you’ve met a new friend.
Another must do Honolulu activity and one that left me both at peace and unsteady, was my visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Catching a ride with the Hawaii Duck Tours, we spent half a day at the Arizona Memorial and surrounding Pearl Harbor sites. After watching a video to give visitors a historical reference for the memorial, I felt numb as I boarded the ferry to see the Arizona under water. Even though it was an errie feeling, I must say I felt very connected to my country after being there myself. It made the whole experience seem so much more real than any history book or movie could recite, which is one of the most important reasons I travel.
Finally, no trip to Oahu or Waikiki even is complete without a live musical performance. A House without a Key at Halekulani is the perfect spot to grab some cocktails and pupus, Hawaiian for appetizers, and relax with the sunset in front of you. The performers are set up with the ocean to their backs, allowing you to enjoy the performance and the view at the same time.
While the first sight of a tropical fish while snorkeling still catches my breath, as I’ve grown older, I have a lot of interests that require more than a bikini. I like feeling more locally connected to cities that I visit and on this trip to Oahu, I tried to satisfy and explore all my interests. Wow, did I underestimate this Hawaiian island. There are so many memorable things to do in Oahu.
Jade Broadus is one part of the blogging duo at Vagabond3.com and the social media manager for TravelMindset.com. She writes about road trips, quirky getaways and discovering the best taco in the world.