Oahu Travel Guide

Hawaii is known for its flowery breezes, its cerulean waters, and its native culture. But navigating the wealth of choices for adventure, relaxation, and entertainment in this popular destination can seem more like a chore than a vacation. Let this Oahu travel guide assist you in selecting the Oahu attractions tailored to your personal Hawaiian fantasy. Experience the best of Oahu—hula dance at a luau, snorkel with sea turtles, and then come home to your customized Oahu vacation rental. With our helpful tips, your dream vacation can be a reality.

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What to Do in Oahu

Oahu Surf VacationWhether your passion lies in outdoor exploration, cultural discoveries, or the art of pampering, this list of the best attractions Oahu has to offer is sure to spark ideas for your travel itinerary.

Catch a Wave—Or Just Watch

Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, and at one time, surfers were literally kings of the island. The sport originated with Hawaiian royalty, and at Waikiki the kings would often strut their stuff on the waves. Now, top-notch surfers can often be found hanging ten at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore, where the waves reach serious heights. Drive up this beautiful coastline and stop to check out the bodacious surfing skills on display.

If you’re up for a challenge, give surfing a try! Many places in Waikiki provide surfing lessons, so you can paddle out into the warm waters on a board and test your ability to catch a wave like a pro.

Pig Out at a Luau

A luau is a must-do and must-see Oahu attraction, especially if it’s your first visit to Hawaii. Expect to be surrounded by delectable Hawaiian fare, as a luau is first and foremost a feast. Kalua pig is the star of the meal—a fall-apart-tender pork cooked in a pit, and to go alongside, traditional taro paste or poi. The spread may also include lau lau, meat or fish wrapped in a taro or ti leaf and steamed, and lomi lomi, a diced salmon mixture.

During the luau, traditional and contemporary chants and songs will be performed, and hula dancers will shake their hips to tell island stories. Watch their graceful motions and let the music take your mind back to the days of royal drama on these beautiful shores. Some luaus even feature fire dancers for added spectacle.

Oahu Whale Watching

Swim with the Fish and the Mammals

Transport yourself to another world with just a face mask and snorkel. Feast your eyes on yellow tang, striped butterfly fish, rainbow wrasse, and maybe even a trumpet fish. Marvel at the darting creatures and the coral shapes beneath the surface as you leisurely kick your finned feet. For a real snorkeling treat, visit Hanauma Bay. This nature preserve is Oahu’s most popular snorkeling destination, and after you experience the variety of sea life teeming in this former crater, you’ll understand why.

Swimming with dolphins is every bit as awe inspiring in real life as it is on television. Options for interactive dolphin encounters are varied and include resorts and sea charters. If you’ve always wanted to hitch a ride on the dorsal fin of one of these intelligent and gorgeous mammals, here’s your chance!

If you’re more interested in catching a dolphinfish—also known as Mahi Mahi—than swimming with the dolphins, you’re in luck. Many companies are available for deep sea fishing charters, most provide the equipment, and some will feed you lunch. Kick back on the boat after a satisfying struggle with the largest fish you’ve ever caught. Be sure to smile for your photo with your fresh catch, and bring home bragging rights along with the memories.

Whale Watching

During winter humpback whales can be spotted from the coastline. With binoculars, or even with your naked eye, you can watch these majestic creatures surface, spout, and possibly breach. For a closer look, board a boat and gape in amazement as a forty foot humpback appears near your vessel. Experience the thrill of a close encounter and marvel at the grace of these marine wonders from mere feet away.

Explore the Land

Must see Oahu landscape is at your doorstep, including Kaena Point, a rocky black lava shoreline. Hawaiian legend says that ancient souls jumped from this shore into the spirit world, and that the area is sacred. You can visit this impressive example of fire and water colliding by accessing trailheads at Kaena Beach and Farrington Highway.

Trek up to Makapuu Point for gorgeous views of Waimanalo Bay. Check out trails on your own or connect with a guided tour to see the beauty hidden to foreigners and learn about the island’s unique ecology. There are biking trails to explore as well, or discover Oahu’s countryside by horseback.

Oahu golf

Schedule a Tee Time

Oahu boasts over forty golf courses, ranging from elite championship courses to city greens, so no matter what your level of skill with the clubs, you can find a place to perfect your swing. Walk the same path as the pros at Turtle Bay and Ko Olina, both of which host professional tournaments, or putt on the greens voted number one in Oahu at the Koolau Golf Club.

Hit the Beach

Fun is easy to capture with sand castle building or tossing a Frisbee with the kids and, as a bonus, most beach pastimes are free! Some beaches are also parks like Kauloa Regional Park and Ko Olina Lagoons, which means showers, restrooms, barbeque areas, and picnic tables are available for use. These beaches are ideal for family outings.

Southern Oahu beaches are often better for swimming, and if you’re looking to surf big waves, the North Shore is your best bet. The stretch of coastline that makes up the seven Waikiki beaches is worth a gander for the white sand, warm sea, and the best people watching in Hawaii. You can rent a snorkel, boogie board, or canoe if you want to be more active, or go the opposite route and rent an umbrella, buy yourself a drink, and park your body down for a day of leisure.

Experience Polynesian Culture

At the Polynesian Cultural Center, you can visit seven Polynesian island settings on over forty acres of gorgeously and authentically landscaped grounds. The Polynesian Cultural Center is Hawaii’s top paid-for visitor attraction, and travelers can spend an entire day exploring the different “villages.” Cultural demonstrations and hands on activities include spear throwing, fire walking, coconut husking, native dancing, and more. This is a great place for kids and adults of all ages to be mesmerized by ancient traditions brought to life.

If you’re still unsure of what to do, Oahu has an almost unending list of activities including sunset cruises, pineapple plantation mazes, windsurfing, scuba diving, and so many more. Let the island help you make a decision once you arrive. And if the balmy air and soothing sea convince you to simply unwind on the beach, well, the attractions Oahu is famous for will be waiting the next time you visit.

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What to See in Oahu

Oahu sightseeing

Diamond Head Monument

For panoramic views of Oahu’s South Shore and Waikiki, Diamond Head Monument can’t be beat. This must see Oahu landmark is just a short drive from Waikiki, and the trail includes tunnels and staircases, so it’s best attempted by sturdy travelers. The stunning view from the top is completely unblocked—a 360 degree vision of blue skies and shimmering aquamarine seas all around.

Cultural Performances

For tradition and entertainment, attend a show at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Both day and evening shows feature islanders performing songs and dances true to Polynesian heritage. Don’t miss this exciting peek at native culture.

Pearl Harbor

Learn about the historic attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor that changed the history of World War II. Pay your respects to the lives lost and take in the immensity of the tragedy and its repercussions at this national historic landmark.

A Royal Palace

Visit the only palace on American soil, Iolani Palace in Honolulu. See galleries and re-creations of the palace’s decadent rooms where royals performed their diplomatic duties, and learn the sad tale of the Hawaiian queen who was imprisoned in the elaborate building.

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Where to Shop and Eat in Oahu

Shopping in Waikiki and Honolulu is paradise—not surprising in a place called paradise. Oahu is Hawaii’s shopping capital, and it’s easy to find unique gifts at local surf shops or splurge at big name chains. From distinctive Hawaiian knick-knacks to high class art, shopping junkies will find a wide selection of merchandise.

The Ala Moana Shopping Center, a huge open air market, features hundreds of stores and even a spa. Aloha Tower marketplace is an outdoor bazaar on Honolulu’s waterfront, and provides live entertainment and quality restaurants as well as great shops. For interesting bargains, check out an Oahu swap meet at the Aloha Stadium.

Hawaiian cuisine ranges from casual beach front huts that serve succulent pork and steamed seafood, to five star restaurants with fusion menus. Some favorites are Zippy’s, a fast food joint where your fish comes with the traditional scoops of rice and macaroni salad, or Hoku’s, an upscale, ocean-view restaurant where Asian flavors meet racks of lamb, and the service is impeccable.

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When to Visit Oahu

There is no bad time to visit Hawaii. Most Oahu places to visit operate all year, so choose timing based on your preferences. Blessed with year-round warm weather, Hawaii is most crowded from December to early spring. Rates can be higher and beaches busier during these months. Early summer and early autumn, which are off season times, can mean cheaper rates and the best weather.

Winter is when the humpback whales migrate past Oahu, so if you plan to whale watch, it’s best to come December through March. Winter months mean bigger waves, too, so if surfers and big swells are on your agenda, that’s the best time to visit.

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What to Bring to Oahu

Sunblock. The locals will tell you that lobster-red skin is an obvious sign of a mainlander. Slather on the sunscreen before you get off the plane and frequently throughout your trip. Your skin will thank you.

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Local Services in Oahu

Sunblock. The locals will tell you that lobster-red skin is an obvious sign of a mainlander. Slather on the sunscreen before you get off the plane and frequently throughout your trip. Your skin will thank you.

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What to Know About Oahu

The end of April and beginning of May are extra popular times for Japanese tourists in Oahu due to their “Golden Week” of holidays. Book your Oahu vacation rental as far ahead as possible if you plan to visit during this time.

Obey local signs and warnings for surf conditions and possible hazards like washed up man-o-wars on the beach. Even in paradise, you’ll want to use common safety precautions to better enjoy your trip.

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Getting to Oahu

Honolulu International Airport is the gateway to Oahu. Most airline carriers offer flights to Honolulu and from there, there are many transportation options for traveling the island. Renting a car allows for the most flexibility, and offers some of the best coastal drives you’ve ever seen.

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Why Oahu Vacation Rentals?

The perception of Hawaii as a destination for only the rich partly comes from extravagant hotel costs. Get off the beaten hotel track, and try the increasingly popular alternative: an Oahu vacation rental. With an Oahu vacation rental, you can save money and get more space. Rentals exist near all the popular Oahu places to visit, and some come with special bonuses such as a private pool or golf privileges. Live like a local, walk to the beach, cook up your fresh caught tuna in your own gourmet kitchen, and behold a glorious sunset from your private Lanai. Why not Oahu vacation rentals?

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