Fun Things to Do in Oahu, Hawaii
Planning a trip to Oahu, Hawaii? Of course there is the beach and luaus, but there are a lot of other activities to keep you busy on your vacation to this Hawaiian tropical paradise. Here are some of the highlights of Honolulu and the rest of the island of Oahu. Although there is plenty to do in the city of Honolulu, I would recommend driving to other parts of the island as well. Regions of Oahu are very different and you'll be missing out if you only stay in the city.
Waikiki Beach is possibly the most famous stretch of beach in the world. In the summer, every inch of the beach is covered in towels. It’s a great place to surf, sunbathe, swim, and people-watch. The neighborhood is a very touristy area, which luxury condos, resort hotels, and lots of shopping. This is a lot of fun and quintessential Hawaii, but there's a lot more to see on the island.
Mission Houses Museum and Kawaiaha'o Church
The Mission Houses Museum interprets the mission period (1820-1863) of Hawaiian history. The houses were the homes and workplaces the first Christian missionaries. Here is where the first printing press for Hawaii was located and first local newspapers were printed. Tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday. Next door is Kawaiaha'o Church. Once the national church of the Hawaiian Kingdom, pews are still reserved for descendents of the royal family. Come for a service or just to look around.
Iolani Palace was the official residence for the Hawaiian monarchy. Built in 1882, it is the only palace in the United States. It even boasted electricity before the White House or parts of Buckingham palace. After the monarchy fell, Iolani Palace housed the state's congress. Today it is being restored to its days as the monarchy's home. Tours are offered daily. If you are looking for a slice of Hawaiian political history, this is the place to go.
There is a visitor center maintained by the National Parks Service where you can learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor and U.S. involvement in World War II. From here you can take a boat to the USS Arizona Memorial that is located in Pearl Harbor.
The Honolulu Zoo is the largest zoo within a 2,300 mile radius. It houses over 1,200 animals on a portion of the 300 acre Queen Kapi'olani Park. The zoo originated from a royal land grant by King Kalakaua to the people of Hawaii in 1876. It is open daily to the public.
The Waikiki Aquarium features exhibits of Hawaiian and tropical Pacific marine life and is located next to a living coral reef. It houses over 3,500 animals and 500 different species. This is a great place for kids and nature-lovers.
Honolulu has a number museums, many of which feature local artists and Hawaiian culture. If you want to museum-hop, here are some to consider:
- Honolulu Academy of Arts
- Bishop Museum
- Hawaii State Art Museum
- Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor
Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone just outside Honolulu. There are a number of hikes and it is a popular tourist destination for outdoorsy types. Especially popular is a 1.5- to 2-hour hike to the crater's rim. Once you reach the summit you'll have a stunning view of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean.
Hanauma Bay is a wildlife preserve located in a volcanic cone just east of Honolulu. Here you can sunbathe on the beach or snorkel among the many creatures of this living reef. There's a brief film that introduces you to the history and biology of the bay, and you can rent snorkeling gear if you forgot yours.
Dole Pineapple Plantation
Every tour guide to Oahu will include Dole Pineapple Plantation. Here you'll learn about the agricultural history of Hawaii. The Dole Pineapple Plantation is a functioning pineapple farm. It is located in the center of the island and is a great place to stop on a drive to the north shore. You can take a train tour of the fields, tour their gardens, wander through their pineapple maze, and enjoy a pineapple flavored ice cream called Dole Whip.
Haliewa is a small beach town located on Oahu's north shore. There's a small boat harbor from which you can take whale-watching and sunset cruises. There are also some really great surfing and diving spots nearby. Along Kamehameha highway you'll find fruit stands selling local produce and restaurants with fresh-caught seafood.
Waimea Valley is a nature preserve tucked into the north side of Oahu. Take a hike through the valley and enjoy the ecology of the island. Waimea Falls is a must-see. You can even go swimming in the waterfall if you'd like. For those not up for the hike, there's a shuttle to and from the falls.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Also on the north shore is Polynesian Cultural Center. Here is a great place to learn about Hawaiian culture and other cultures of the Pacific. There are exhibits, videos, tours, luaus, and performances. You could easily spend the whole day here.