If you were to ask me to close my eyes and describe my happy place it would sound a little something like this: I’m laying under the sun, soft white sand covers my feet like a warm blanket as I dig them further and further in. The sound of the waves lapping against the shore lull me to sleep right after dazzling me with their crystal clear waters. In one hand I have a hollowed out pineapple filled with a creamy tropical smoothie, and in the other hand I grasp the bottom of a watermelon and strawberry shaved iced bowl with vanilla ice cream sitting like a little surprise gift at the bottom. Where is this magical place? You may wonder. You can find this paradise in Oahu, and in this article I will be taking you through the top things to do in Oahu so you can find this paradise for yourself.

As I described this scene, I would be thinking of Kailua Beach in Oahu. Coming here with my family, both as a kid and now as an adult has provided me with some of the most cherished memories of my life. Whether I was spending my day amongst the high energy crowds of Waikīkī in Oahu or opting for a more nature- oriented afternoon snorkeling and exploring the jungles at Waimea, every moment gave me the opportunity to experience this island as though it were my first time there.

Best Things To Do In Oahu

Go To The Beach

top oahu island beaches
One can never go wrong with the beautiful beaches on the North Shore of Oahu.

The most popular spot is Waikīkī Beach in Oahu. This is where most of the hotels, restaurants, shops and offices are located. If you’re someone who thrives off of meeting other people and being in the center of a bustling city center, then this is definitely the place for you. I would recommend going to an ABC store nearby (they are plentiful) and buying a floatie to take with you in the water. It’s both relaxing and entertaining to sip on a drink while people- watching and have a gorgeous view of Diamond Head directly next to you. 

In my personal opinion, the best Oahu beach is Kailua Beach on the eastern side. Of course though you can never go wrong with one of the beautiful beaches on the North Shore. Here, there are less tourists and more hidden beaches that are still comparable in beauty to those like Waikīkī. Some other favorites of mine include Lanikai Beach, and Waimea Bay. Those two are some of the best Oahu island beaches. If you’re a thrill seeker, then there is a good cliff jumping spot in Waimea! 


waikiki beach in oahu is best to learn surfing
Best spot for beginners to learn surfing is on Waikīkī

What better place to learn how to surf than on an island surrounded by some of the best breaks in the world? The types of spots on Oahu range from beginner to expert, so there is definitely something to peak everyone’s interests. Possibly the best spot for beginners to learn is on Waikīkī. Here, there are a ton of places to rent boards on the beach, or you can look a couple streets back. In the past I’ve rented from Big Wave Dave’s which was great as I was able to find a hardtop board (almost all of the rental spots directly on the beach will only have soft top boards available). Waikīkī is great for a first timer because the waves are smaller and longer, which make them easier to catch. Also there are a number of surf schools right on the beach where you can take group and private lessons. This is forsure the fastest and easiest way to ensure you catch a sick wave on your first time out! 

In the winter time, big wave surf competitions are held on the North Shore at Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. The waves here can get super gnarly, sometimes up to 30 ft+ so I find them to be most enjoyable from the safety of the beach. During the spring and summer months though, these swells subside and become more welcoming to those who don’t surf professionally. 


hikes in oahu is a must try activity
There are many hikes in Oahu with easy access that provides memorable views.

It should be illegal to go to Hawaii and not go on at least one hike. There is so much about this gorgeous state that you are only able to fully appreciate when you’re up close to its beautiful natural elements, and there are many hikes in Oahu to choose from. Easily the most popular hike on Oahu because of its easy access and memorable views is Diamond Head. The hike itself is not that long or strenuous, and from the top you are able to see all of Waikīkī beach and strip. To get to the top, you’ll walk alongside a crater formed about 300,000 years ago. For non-residents it is required to make entry and parking reservations before you arrive, which you can do so here. In my opinion, this trek is pretty essential to put on your list of things to do in Oahu. 

Manoa falls is a 150 ft waterfall that cascades down a rock face in the heart of the jungle about 20 minutes out of downtown Honolulu and some believe it’s the best hike on Oahu. The hike itself is 1.6 miles round trip and takes about 1-2 hours to complete. This hike is a staple for me on my visits to Oahu because it doesn’t take all day to complete, it has a pretty forgiving path and the beauty of the jungle is so calming to the soul. Keep in mind however that while there is a natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall, I would recommend visitors stay clear of swimming in it because the bacteria in it is known to get people sick. 


Hanauma Bay boasts some of the most exquisite snorkeling on the island – which is why it attracts so many tourists there every year. This divine ecosystem is home to tons of native fish and coral reef species. Visitors are required to make reservations prior to arrival. Once you get there, you’ll watch an introductory video that explains the importance of staying clear of touching the corals and not interacting with the wildlife. You will also be given the option to rent snorkel gear if you need any. Fair warning: Once you’re in the water, it can get a little crazy trying to maneuver around all of the other people gathered close to shore. If you and the rest of your party feel confident and comfortable with your swimming abilities, I would suggest swimming a little farther out so you are able to fully appreciate the wonders below without worrying about the people around you. 

Places To Eat In Oahu

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck 

If you want to add a unique local joint to your arsenal of things to do in Oahu, then this is a must – hit spot. Who would have thought that an old, beat up, graffitied truck in a parking lot would have the best shrimp on the island? It’s hard to believe, but that doesn’t make it any less true! Their menu is as simple as it is delicious which just speaks to the dedication they put into each plate. With the choice of shrimp scampi, lemon butter shrimp, hot and spicy shrimp, and a jumbo hot dog for those who prefer more turf than surf, you are guaranteed to fall in love with whatever you decide. 

Matsumoto Shave Ice 

It’s a requirement to get shave ice whenever you’re on one of the islands, and Matsumoto’s shop on the North Shore is the place to do it. While the line is guaranteed to be wrapped around the building, it’s for good reason and so worth the wait. They offer an array of flavors to choose from, such as blue vanilla, coconut cream and pickled mango, as well as numerous toppings like azuki beans, condensed milk and mochi. And of course, you have to get vanilla icecream with it as well. I went here with some friends on a rainy day one time and even then it was the perfect treat to spice up the trip. 

Leonard’s Malasadas 

If you’ve never heard of a malasada, don’t worry you’re not alone. I had never heard of them either before I visited Oahu. A malasada is a Portuguese pastry that’s essentially a donut that’s covered in sugar and cinnamon and can be filled with creams and jellies. Seriously, they’re incredible, and Leonard’s on Oahu is where you need to get them. There’s a few locations around the island, with the original location close to Honolulu. My dad and I always make sure to come here when we’re on the island and we are never disappointed that we do. We grab a dozen and it provides our breakfast and dessert for the trip (Okay, who am I kidding, they last us about a day because they’re so good!)

Duke’s Waikīkī

I can’t write a post about places to eat in Oahu without mentioning Duke’s. If you are looking for the ultimate beach shack vibe, this is one of the most frequented things to do in Oahu. Named after Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian native, olympic swimmer and water polo player, and the father of surfing as we know it today, their “barefoot bar” downstairs is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a burger and tiki drink inches from the sand. If you’re searching for a more upscale vibe, you can go upstairs where there is a formal dining room and they offer a more elevated menu. Whichever vibe you choose though, you have to get Kimo’s Original Hula Pie: macadamia nut ice cream on an oreo cookie crust, topped with hot fudge, toasted macadamia nuts and whipped cream.  

Why Choose Oahu For Your Next Vacation

honolulu in oahu
Incredibly unique and beautiful beaches of Oahu.

Depending on who you ask, Oahu can sometimes get a bad rap because some people think it’s too crowded with too many businesses and buildings. While I understand this point of view, I have to disagree with the overall analysis. Oahu is so incredibly unique because of the variety it offers. Island life can sometimes feel very sleepy, but you can never say that about Oahu. Its large city center ensures that you never feel too removed from the “mainland” but just a quick drive outside of Honolulu will bring you to some breathtaking views and peaceful natural spots. One thing is certain, you will never run out of things to do in Oahu. 


Can you walk around Oahu?

Walking is going to be a more feasible option in Honolulu, specifically in Waikīkī. Once you get out of this city center, it’s going to be much more difficult to access beaches and excursions without a car. However, it is not impossible and there are public transportation options as well as ride shares available throughout the island. Also, depending on the tours that you choose to do during your stay, a lot of companies will pick you and your party up from your hotel.

What is Honolulu, Oahu known for?

Honolulu in Oahu is the capital of Hawaii as well as a major business hub and home to the University of Hawaii, at Manoa. There are many hotels, restaurants and shops to entertain as well as many tour groups that will bring you and your group to different parts of the island for a full day of adventure just outside the city. The ATV tour of the Kualoa Valley Oahu is just one example of the types of adventures available. The state’s capital is also one of the safest cities in the country and it offers a beautiful blend of urbanization and natural elements that attract large amounts of visitors from around the world every year. All in all, there are a plethora of things to do in Oahu, specifically in Honolulu.

Which is better, Oahu or Maui?

This past summer, Maui experienced devastating wildfires that destroyed the entirety of the Lahaina strip, the main city center. Since then, the people of Maui have been trying to rebuild their community. Therefore, I would recommend that visitors go to Oahu instead of Maui while the island takes some much needed time to recover from this awful tragedy.


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