Although it is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is home to almost two-thirds of the state’s population. With the capital city of Honolulu within its shores, the island has earned the nickname of the Gathering Place for its pockets of large populations. With so many residents and travelers to the beautiful island, there are a variety of fun things to do in Oahu, both in the capital city and throughout the countryside.
Whether you prefer to take in the unique landscape or to explore some of the activities available on the island, you are sure to find some of these things to do in Oahu to your interest.
1. Enjoy a Luau at Paradise Cove
Getting a taste of Hawaiian culture would not be complete without an authentic luau experience that will show you the way the ancient people lived, ate, and celebrated. Paradise Cove offers frequent luaus that provide many of the most iconic things to do in Oahu, including stringing a lei, throwing a spear, and weaving a traditional headband. You will also get to enjoy the typical luau feast of a lomi salmon, cold haupia, taro bread rolls, and kalua pork. Finally, the luau will conclude with traditional Hawaiian music and a hula dance.
Paradise Cove suggests that you arrive at the location around 4:00 p.m. for the before-dinner activities. You will enjoy live Hawaiian music, a pareo demonstration, and a shower of flowers before the feast begins around 7:00 p.m. Afterward, stay to enjoy the Hawaiian revue and farewell performance until around 8:45 p.m. Cost varies by entertainment package, starting at $92 for adults, $81 for youth, and $70 for children.
- Best for: Couples, families.
- Season: Open year-round, daily during good weather.
- Address: 92-1089 Aliinui Drive, Kapolei, HI 96707.
2. Tour Iolani Palace
Before Hawaii was part of the United States, it was ruled by a monarchy that used Iolani Palace as its official residence for King Kalakaua and his successor, Queen Liliuokalani. Today, you can stroll the only official royal palace halls in the United States as one of your things to do in Oahu. From the private chambers of the royal family to the king’s card room, there is plenty to enjoy about this piece of Hawaiian history. The palace grounds are also open for touring. Although reservations are encouraged, same-day reservations are not available. Walk-in visitors are always welcome to the palace.
The palace grounds are also open for touring. Although reservations are encouraged, same-day reservations are not available. Walk-in visitors are always welcome to the palace. Self-led audio tours are $16.75 for adults and $6 for children ages 5 to 12 years.
- Best for: Anyone, but children under 5 must be strapped into an infant carrier or a Palace-provided stroller.
- Season: Open year-round, daily from Monday to Saturday at 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Address: 364 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96813.
3. Learn to Surf with Gone Surfing Hawaii
Surfing used to be one of the things to do in Oahu available only to the wealthy or to the royal family, but today, it is a widely accepted pastime for nearly anyone who visits Hawaii. Check out the perfect waves and clean beaches serviced by Gone Surfing Hawaii, a fully licensed and insured surf school.
Whether you are a beginner or you have some experience, and whether you want to learn in a group or have private lessons, Gone Surfing Hawaii will teach you the techniques and the safety measures you need to know to enjoy the awesome Hawaiian waves. The company also donates 1 percent of its profits to local organizations that help keep the natural environment clean and safe. A 2-hour private lesson is $165 per person.
- Best for: Surfers of all ages and abilities.
- Season: Open year-round, with the best surfing in the spring (from March through May) or autumn (from September through November).
- Address: 330 Saratoga Road, Suite #89044, Honolulu, HI 96815.
4. Climb the Koko Head Stairs
You will find the Koko Head Stairs in Koko Head District Park on Oahu’s South Shore. What was once a railroad built to carry military supplies to bunkers at the top of the steep incline is now a set of 1,000 steps that leads you to impressive, 360-degree island views, including that of Hanauma Bay and of Port Lock Peninsula.
Be aware that most of these steps are longer and taller than the traditional stair size. You will also find a section that is a flat bridge with a 40-foot drop below you. Take your time, and watch your footing over this location. Wear comfortable shoes, and carry some water with you as you embark on this approximately 1.5-hour journey to the top.
- Best for: Anyone, although there is some physical exertion, and those with a fear of heights should beware.
- Season: Open year-round in good weather, but avoid the stairs in rain.
- Address: Koko Head District Park, 423 Kaumakani Street, Honolulu, HI 96825.
5. Explore the Polynesian Cultural Center
Sometimes referred to as the Disneyworld of Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-see on your list of things to do in Oahu. Since it first opened in 1962, the center has grown to include more than 39 different structures, including a 600-seat amphitheater, so you will want a couple of days to explore the area. Check out the Hukilau Marketplace for some delicious foods before you begin your trip, and be sure to take note of the life-size statue of Hamana Kalili of Laie.
Inside the cultural center, there are seven different villages representing the many Pacific regions of Hawaii. Each offers a unique experience, so you need to decide which ones to visit during your time. There is a canoe pageant each day at 2:30 p.m. at the main lagoon featuring festive costumes and dances. Tour the ukulele gallery, ride the laie tram, and take in the Broadway-like 90-minute production of the “Breath of Life” in the evening. There is also a luau each night. A full-day package of admission and the evening show is $84.95 for adults and $67.96 for children.
- Best for: Couples and families.
- Season: Open year-round, Monday through Saturday from 12:00 to 9:00 p.m. Closed Sundays.
- Address: 55-370 Kamehameha Highway, Laie, HI 96762.
6. Browse the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
Each Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, one of the things to do in Oahu is to head to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. Part flea market and part cultural experience, the event is held at the stadium, circling it multiple times with stalls and tents. You will find everything from Aloha shirts to surfboards to handmade jewelry at the swap meet. And it is the ideal place to go for everything Hawaiiana.
Be sure to pick up a few of the locally grown fruits, such as pineapples, mangoes, and papayas. There are also several booths selling Kakimochi, Japanese rice crackers, and crack seed, which is dried fruit. Crack seed is a local favorite, but it can be an acquired taste, so make your purchase carefully. Entry is $1 per person for those 12 years and older.
- Best for: Couples, families.
- Season: Open year-round, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
- Address: 99-500 Salt Lake Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96818.
7. Visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was an event that many people will never forget. Some of the things to do in Oahu include visiting the USS Arizona, one of the ships that sank that fateful day, and the USS Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered at the end of WWII. Most guided tours include transportation between the ships, a short documentary film, and plenty of time to explore the memorials.
Because Pearl Harbor is still an active military location, there are many rules about bags, purses, and other items that could conceal weapons. The facility does offer rental storage for your personal items that you need to have with you during your visit. Cost varies by tour package, so check online listings.
- Best for: Adults and families.
- Season: Open year-round, but boat travel between the vessels is restricted during bad weather.
- Address: 1 Arizona Memorial Place (Visitor Center), Honolulu, HI 96818.
With the beauty of the Hawaiian landscape, it is little wonder that the best things to do in Oahu often feature outdoor activities. These activities pay special attention to the vegetation and to the cultural history of the land. With many other events throughout the large island, there are more things to do in Oahu than you will likely have time to undertake. But be sure to check out a few of these great options and let us know your experiences.