While there are tourist sites, museums, art galleries, and more to see on Oahu, my favourite things to do on the island involve slowing down, taking advantage of the weather and generally chilling out.
Here are 10 awesome sights, attractions, and fun things to do on Oahu — and most of them are free!
1. Hit the beach
Waikiki Beach is where all the tourists flock, and with nearby amenities, and crystal clear water, it's easy to see why! There are lots of activities available like surfing lessons, snorkelling, and more.
For a quieter, more local feel, head to Ala Moana Beach in front of the Ala Moana shopping mall. This huge stretch of white sand is largely deserted during the week and packed with locals on the weekends. The water is calm and shallow, and there is ample free parking.
To check out some local surfers while you sun, the North Shore is where you want to be. Check out Sunset Beach or Waimea Bay — December is when the waves are the most impressive and surf competitions happen on the regular. Click here for more info on the best surfing beaches.
2. Shop Waikiki
Everything from Tiffany's to a beach shack selling locally made souvenirs can be found on the main strip in Honolulu and on the surrounding streets.
The cool thing is that you can wander into these stores straight from the beach — sandy feet and wet bathing suits are fine! The stores are also open pretty late, so after the sun goes down, this is a great spot to wander.
Here’s a great guide to shopping this area.
3. Catch a wave!
The smaller waves just off the beach in Waikiki make this the perfect spot to learn how to surf. The teachers are extremely patient, and there is nothing like the feeling of catching your first wave (or having your first epic wipe-out). Waikiki Beach Services is Oahu’s longest running surf school and where I took my first lessons from!
There are a few other local beaches that have some larger waves, but I wouldn’t stray too far from Honolulu unless you are an experienced surfer.
Watching professional surfers is also pretty amazing. The waves on the North Shore can get pretty crazy in the winter, and there are some incredible surf competitions to check out. Just find a spot on shore, and get ready to watch some epic wipeouts and some incredible rides!
Check out the Oahu Surfing Guide for info on surf schools and surfboard rentals all over the island.
4. Eat fresh shrimp
Shrimp food trucks are not just on Hawaii 5-0, they are a real thing, and are the go-to spot for locals looking for a fresh, cheap, incredible tasting meal.
Look for them on the side of the road and at Ala Moana beach on the weekends. Here’s a local guide to the 5 best trucks to eat at.
If you are looking for a restaurant instead, pay a visit to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. — made famous by Forest Gump. The food is AMAZING.
5. Go snorkelling
There is NO need to book a tour to see tropical fish, reefs, and even turtles! The water is crazy clear, and there is a bunch of wildlife just off shore.
The best time to see underwater creatures is early in the morning when they are closer to shore to feed in the low tide, and the water hasn't been stirred up by swimmers.
One of the best spots to experience an array of underwater creatures is at the famous Hanauma Bay. This bay has been a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park since 1967, as a result you have to pay an entry fee to use the bay and the park officials regulate how many people are allowed on the beach. Get there early! There are also snorkel rentals on-site. Click here for more information on visiting the bay.
6. Experience Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor forcing the US into WWII.
The American military still has active harbors nearby, so you will also see huge aircraft carriers and ships every once and awhile.
7. Enjoy live music
The bars, restaurants, hotels, and clubs in Waikiki and the surrounding areas have live bands almost every night playing everything from covers to original tunes.
There is nothing like sitting outside with a cold drink in hand, relaxed from a day spent in the sun, enjoying live music accompanied by the sound of waves hitting the shore.
8. Hike up a dormant volcano
Because the Hawaiian islands are volcanic islands, they have some huge volcanic hills covered in lush vegetation (dormant ones on Oahu), that make for fantastic hiking.
The view from the tops of these hills is stunning, and they are also a great workout. Most of the trails are not lit however, so make sure you are out well before the sun sets, or you might get lost!
The image above is of the Koko Head Steps and getting to the top of these 1,050 steps almost killed me!
Here are three sites with information on some of the best hikes on the island:
9. Drive The Pali Highway
Also known as Route 61 and the main highway connecting Honolulu to the windward side of the island, The Pali is tree lined and passes through a series of tunnels that open onto incredible views.
From downtown Honolulu, you’ll travel through the residential neighborhood of Nu'uanu, then through the two tunnels, before heading down to Kailua and Kaneohe.
Plan to stop at the Nu'uanau Pali Lookout (photo above), which is located before the tunnels if you're coming from the Honolulu side. There is a spacious parking lot at this lookout.
It is a stunning drive and a great way to take in some scenery on a cloudy or rainy day.
10. Try out paddle boarding
Imagine gliding just off shore, taking in the view, first thing in the morning on crystal clear, calm water.
Paddle boarding is a great workout and a fantastic way to get out on the water if surfing is not your cup of tea. Boards can be rented all over Waikiki.