Oahu may be a tiny island in Hawaii, but you’ll find your days completely packed here (especially if you’re a nature-lover). If you’re looking for best things to do in Oahu, here are the tops things to see for yourself.
1. Hike the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail
Most guides will tell you to visit the very illegal Stairway to Heaven Hike. But I don’t want to ruin your vacation with a hefty fine or even jail time! The Wiliwilinui Trail is located in an affluent neighborhood 20 minutes from Waikiki. The trail may start easy, but it’s definitely a moderate hike once you reach halfway. As you climb the steep stairs that take you to the top of the ridge, you’ll realize it’s worth it when you see both the west and east coast of the island.
2. Spend a Night (or Two) at The Royal Hawaiian
One of the ritziest and most fantastic experiences on the island can be found at the famous Royal Hawaiian hotel. This 100 year-old property is in the heart of Waikiki and decorated from floor to ceiling in a pretty pink hues throughout the property. While the hotel might have been built over the burial ground of a Hawaiian king, don’t let the ghost stories keep you from the fabulous buffet, the gorgeous view from the Mailani Tower or a decadent experience at the Abhasa Spa.
3. Catch the Billabong Pipemasters Surf Competition or Surf on Your Own at the North Shore
The North Shore is considered to be one of the coolest and trendiest parts of the island. Naturally, it makes sense that the annual surf contest is held in this surfer’s paradise where the swells are huge and the number of kooks are low. Keep in mind that competition dates may change due to the weather. We were in Hawaii for the entire “planned” week of the competition, but it started on the last day of our trip due to the poor surf conditions.
4. Eat Tropical Cuisine at The Sunrise Shack
After you’ve started your morning in the North Shore with some great surfing and sunbathing, it’s time to grab a healthy treat at The Sunrise Shack. You can’t miss this tiny, yellow shack along the main road through the North Shore. The eatery provides healthy smoothies and super strong coffees, but don’t forget to treat yourself to their scrumptious papaya bowl!
5. Pay Tribute to Fallen, US Servicemen at the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor
On December 7th 1941, a day that will live an infamy, the Japanese army led a surprise attack on the United States of America and bombed Pearl Harbor during World War II. USS Arizona, a battleship built for and by the United States Navy, was hit along with 7 other battleships, 4 of which had sunk. 2,403 died that day and the USS Arizona was left underwater as a sunken tomb for the Americans that died. Today, we pay tribute to these fallen heroes by visiting their memorial and never forgetting what happened on that tragic day.
6. Play in the Sunflower Fields in the North Shore
On the way to the North Shore lies a private farm in Waialua that’s home to many fields including cotton, rice, soybean and wheat. Their most famous attraction is the field of sunflowers. In order to educate visitors about their property and farming, the owners have allowed tourists and locals to come take pictures amongst the sunflowers free of charge. Keep in mind, the sunflower season in this part of the island is extremely short. Very late October to early December is primetime for catching these tall beauties, but always call ahead to make sure they’re in season. (We were there for the end of the season, but the flowers had already died by then.)
7. Take in the Panoramic Ocean View at Pillbox Trail
Want to look like a hardcore hiker, but don’t want to actually commit? Try the pillbox trail on the eastside of Oahu. Not only will you see the crystal blue waters of Lanikai beach, but with proper framing, the picture gives the optical illusion that you’re a lot more bad ass than you really are. Just beware, when they say “easy hike,” it’s definitely not “Los Angeles easy.” Unlike me, you should wear hiking shoes and athletic attire so you don’t twist your ankle on the steep hill.
8. Taste the Best Pork You’ve Ever Had at Kono’s
Kono’s is a multiple award-winning, local restaurant specializing in slow-roasted pork dishes ranging from sliders to sandwiches to burritos (not to mention their delectable milkshakes). And like all of the reviews and awards suggest, their pulled pork sliders on a sweet Hawaiian roll was probably one of the best snacks I’ve ever eaten in my life. There are locations all over the island in Haleiwa, Kapahulu and Kailua so you have no excuse not to shove all of the delicious pork in your mouth.
9. Run Around in a Flower Crown at Lanikai Beach
If you feel like becoming a tropical, Hawaiian goddess, then I’ve got the perfect tip for you! Pamakane of Ocean Dreamer creates the most amazing flower crowns and leis, making you feel like a Polynesian princess. Lucky for you, she lives in Kailua which is only 10 minutes away from the crystal blue beach of Lanikai.
10. Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay State Park
Guarantee a close encounter with exotic wildlife at the most beautiful bay in Oahu. Hanauma Bay is a state park that has hundreds of fish, some turtles and even dolphins every once in awhile in its protected, little cove. While its not the most isolated spot, you’re guaranteed to see wildlife during your visit. It’s not too pricey, but you do need to pay for parking, entry and food.
11. Try Spam Sushi
When in Hawaii, do as the Hawaiians do! Not found at any fine dining establishment, spam is a huge staple to the local Hawaiian food culture. At least the modern food culture. But one of the strangest delicacies? Spam sushi! It merely contains rice, spam and seaweed, but if you love processed ham as much as the locals do, you’ll be in heaven!
12. Enjoy the View From Diamond Head
One of the island’s legendary view’s is the Honolulu city skyline with the famous Diamondhead mountain alongside its skyscrapers. But an equally astounding view? The one from the top of Diamondhead. This tourist-friendly trail is accessible for everyone and perfect if you want a slice of nature without having to venture too far from Waikiki.
13. Take in the View From a Helicopter Ride
One of the best view in Hawaii doesn’t come from a hike or the Ohana Suite of the Sheraton. Instead, take a helicopter ride and enjoy an aerial view of this colorful island! More affordable charters will have a certain route with a number of seats to sell. But if you have a bit of money to spend, try a private charter that allows you to personalize your flight plan.
14. Chill in the Kaena Point Tide Pools
For even more wildlife, you’ll find nothing more splendid than looking at real habitats in the Kaena tide pools. At the furthest point west of the island are the most solitary beaches in Oahu. It’s quite a trek, but definitely worth checking out crabs, fish and snails.
15. Eat the Best Poke on the Planet at Da Hawaiian Poke Company
You’ve probably had ahi poke, but you probably haven’t had the best poke on the planet! Quite a tall reputation and a surprising one coming from a take-away restaurant found in a strip mall. But this fresh fish mixed with tasty spices and sauces make it the best poke that has ever touched my lips.
16. Marvel Friday Night Fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
If you’re staying in the Waikiki area, chances are you’ll enjoy the firework spectacle. Every Friday, the hotel puts on a free, 10-minute firework show that is visible from the beach. The show usually begins at 7:45pm or 8pm and lasts about ten minutes. Prior to the fireworks, Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts a Rockin’ Hawaiian Rainbow Revue complete with music, torch lighting, hula dancing and a Mai Tai for $35.
17. Hike to Manoa Falls and Swim Under a Waterfall
Not quite the gushing falls as you would imagine, but this waterfall is perfect for novice hikers or people tight on a schedule. This trail is incredibly easy to hike and located about 20 minutes away from Waikiki. The trek should be a two-hour activity to hike, enjoy the scenery and even take a quick dip.
18. Eat Some Sinful Delights at Leonard’s Bakery
Right next to Kono’s is the Honolulu sweets staple known as Leonard’s Bakery. The bakery is famous for making delectable malasadas that are similar to American donut holes, only slightly fluffier. Malasadas are a Portugese delicacy that was made for Shrove Tuesday back in 1953. Now, the bakery continues to make them everyday along with some other delicious baked goods like donuts, cookies, and cakes. There are a quite a few different types of malasadas like custard or chocolate-filled, cinnamon sprinkled, plain and more. Go for the plain ones as I believe they taste the best!
19. Absorb Some Polynesian Culture at a Real Luau
It isn’t a trip to Hawaii without a proper Luau and there are plenty to choose from. Rumor has it that the best luaus on the island are at The Royal Hawaiian and the Polynesian Cultural Center. We attended The Royal Hawaiian’s and not only watched an impressive show, but the buffet was out of this world (and I’m not one for buffets).
20. Enjoy the Adult Infinity Pool at the Sheraton Waikiki
Take a break from sunbathing on the beach or snorkeling with sea turtles and treat yo’self to a lava flow in a cabana or water submerged pool chair. The Sheraton Waikiki has two pools: one for children with a water slide and an adult pool with cabanas, floaties and an infinity view. The pool is for guests only, but why not stay a night and enjoy one of the best hotel views on the island?