For no bad reason, Oahu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. There is so much to see and do on this beautiful island that it can be hard to know where to start your visit. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to Oahu travel, with all the information you need to make the most of your time on the island. Whether you’re looking for beaches, hikes, restaurants or nightlife, we’ve got you covered! Aloha!

Step out of your front door and hike the Stairway to Heaven to watch the sunrise over the ocean. Getting the most from your Hawaii vacation rentals means celebrating what makes Oahu special, so check out these tips and enjoy a spectacular vacation.

Pick a Spot That Suits Your Style

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From mountain vistas to ocean views, Oahu offers a huge variety of locations for your incredible vacation rental. Picking a spot that suits your style means getting to know this Hawaiian island and checking out which areas make you feel most connected to the Aloha spirit. Take a look at areas like Waikiki, which has spectacular seafood restaurants, the Honolulu Zoo, and historic resorts, to determine if this busy tourist town offers all of the excitement that you’re looking for. Browse the shops on the leeward side and take a gander at historic Pearl Harbor, or explore the beautiful and quiet coasts in Waianae.

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Choose mountain views or beaches, or even a combination of the two when you select a vacation rental. Oahu offers views of the untouched Hawaiian jungles, towering volcanoes, and glittering white sand beaches. Check out vacation rental homes along the coast to step off of your porch and walk a few steps into the warm Pacific. Select mountain-view vacation rental homes with two, three, or even five bedrooms to accommodate your entire family, or to make a great location for a family reunion or wedding.

Celebrate each season

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Beachfront vacation homes are a favorite for travelers heading to Oahu, so remember to book early, or skip the busy summer season and enjoy late spring or early fall days on the water. Keep tabs on local events like the Hawaii International Film Festival to ensure that you’re not trying to grab a great vacation rental during a busy festival season. Generally, the early summer months and end too early in the year a busier. Look for off-season vacation rental bargains by booking with flexibility to catch those Oahu condos or vacation home rentals that have last-minute openings. 

Pro Traveler Tip: Try to book your trip in May and or sometime between September and November. These seasons tend to be a bit slower and offer better pricing on Oahu lodging.

Things to do

From beaches and luaus to historic monuments and thrilling adventures, the Hawaiian island of Oahu has a host of attractions and activities to offer. With so many things to choose from, here are the best places to visit in Oahu for an exciting and memorable trip.

Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial

One of the most memorable places to visit is Pearl Harbor. Tour the USS Bowfin, a submarine from WWII, and see artifacts from it in the museum. At Ford Island, tour the impressive anchored USS Missouri battleship, which is known as Mighty Mo.

Feel somber at the touching USS Arizona Memorial where 1,177 people tragically died. Stand on the viewing platform above the sunken ship as you pay your respects to their memories.

Pro Traveler Tip: If you’re a history buff, be sure to check out The Complete Pearl Harbor Experience tour. It’s a full, 8 hour day of all four memorials: the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri battleship, the USS Borwin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

North Shore

For thrills during your vacation, you can’t beat North Shore. Renowned for the legendary big waves that hit the beaches there, this is a must for surfers and surfing fans. Head for Sunset Beach or Waimea to watch exciting surf contests.

If surfing’s not for you, other fabulous places to visit in North Shore, Oahu, are its waterfalls found along pretty trails. Enjoy a pleasurable hike through Waimea Falls Park, passing through tropical gardens while watching demonstrations and Hawaiian performances along the botanical garden walk. After weaving through the tropical jungle, catch the awe of the cascading Waimea Falls and take a dip in the cool water.

Pro Traveler Tip: The Waimea Valley Trail is 3.1 kilometers of gorgeous scenery that is not to be missed, but we’d recommend leaving the kids at home due to the trails slight intensity.

Kualoa Ranch

Exciting things to do in Oahu await you at Kualoa Ranch. Set between two valleys and covering 4,000 acres, you won’t be short of activities to choose from. Try horseback riding along the trails, take a bike tour, go zip lining or enjoy an ATV adventure. Take a kayak out onto the waters and discover the Secret Island Beach.

As the filming location for over 80 movies, take a seat on the open-air trolley to tour the ranch grounds. Recognize iconic locations and see props from your favorite movies, such as dinosaur bones and gigantic footprints.

Pro Traveler Tip: There is an insane amount of things to do at Kualoa, so we recommend planning ahead. Get a full list of all tours offered here.

Oahu Submarine Ride

You can’t visit anywhere more unusual than the bottom of the ocean. The Atlantis Submarine Ride takes you 100 meters down, past the outer reefs of Waikiki, to see the incredible underwater seascape. Marvel at the crashed planes and sunken boats around you. Encounter marine life ranging from green sea turtles to reef sharks and dolphins to colorful fish.

Pro Traveler Tip: If you’re between activities for time or budget reasons, it is seriously worth putting this at the top of your list. The experience is absolutely breathtaking.

Learn How to Surf at White Plains Beach

Because surfing and Hawaii go hand in hand, it may be the first activity you want to try. For beginning surfers, Oahu’s White Plains Beach makes an ideal spot to hit the waves. The surf break here is slow and gentle, and the vibe is fun and friendly. Amenities include picnic tables, grills, and outdoor showers, and visitors can rent surfboards and take surfing lessons if desired. The beach is located on the southwest coast of Oahu.

Pro Traveler Tip: Plan to pay between $45 and $80 for a lesson. Asking the locals on the beach is the best way to find good prices. Also, if you’re new to surfing and want to have a shot at success, take your lesson on a day with little or no wind. 

Snorkel in Hanauma Bay

Just 10 miles east of Waikiki on Oahu’s southeast coast, Hanauma Bay is a popular place for snorkeling. Once a volcanic crater, the bay is now a protected nature preserve that plays home to more than 400 species of fish, including the reef triggerfish (humuhumunukunukuapua‘a), the state fish of Hawaii. On your visit to Hanauma Bay, enjoy amenities like equipment rentals, lifeguards, showers, changing rooms, restrooms and concessions.

Pro Traveler Tip: The entry fee to the park is only $25.00 and well worth the price of admission.

Hike to Manoa Falls

If you’re hoping to see one of Hawaii’s beautiful waterfalls, make the easy trek to Manoa Falls. After driving just six miles from Honolulu to the northeast, a hike of only 1.6 miles round-trip offers lush vegetation, beautiful views of the Manoa Valley and a waterfall that flows straight down a 100-foot rock face. If the surroundings look familiar, you may have seen some of the actual terrains in the TV series “Lost” or the “Jurassic Park” movie series.

Pro Traveler Tip: The Manoa Falls Trail isn’t so long, but will be more challenging after rain. If you’d like an easier go of it, be sure to hike when it’s drier.

Visit Historic Iolani Palace

For lovers of history, Iolani Palace makes an exciting stop. Located in downtown Honolulu, the palace was built in 1882 by King Kalakaua and features elegant architectural details, plush furnishings and ultramodern luxuries of the day like flushing toilets, hot running water, and in-house telephones. Because the king was a world traveler, you’ll see the memorabilia he collected along the way. The only official royal residence in the country and a National Historic Landmark, Iolani Palace is a favorite attraction for many travelers to Oahu.

Pro Traveler Tip: This palace is massive and should be gone through with a guide. Be sure to get signed up for a tour here.

Experience the Polynesian Cultural Center

To learn more about Polynesian peoples, travel slightly more than 30 miles north of Honolulu to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Find eight themed “villages” that offer a glimpse into the cultures of the Hawaiian, Rapa Nui, Samoan, Aotearoan, Fijian, Tahitian, and Tongan peoples. Fun activities include traditional dancing and games, spear throwing, and fire-making. You can also enjoy the lush, tropical landscape, a boat parade, theater shows, and an evening luau.

Pro Traveler Tip: Need a break from the culture? Be sure to check out the Football Hall of Fame for a comprehensive look at some of the greatest Polynesian players to ever play the game.

Tour the Dole Plantation

Families visiting Oahu always enjoy a trip to the Dole Plantation located 25 miles northwest of Waikiki. This popular site offers a variety of enjoyable activities, including the Plantation Garden Tour that lets you get a hands-on look at the diverse crops growing in eight miniature gardens.

For even more fun, take a 20-minute train ride throughout the property and have a go at the Pineapple Garden Maze, a large and challenging outdoor labyrinth. Don’t forget to stop by the country store for mementos, gifts, food, and refreshments.

Pro Traveler Tip: The Pineapple Garden Maze is a challenge. Be sure to bring some water with you before entering.

Laniakea Beach

There is no shortage of free beaches to visit in Hawaii. However, one of the top free things to do in Oahu is to visit Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach. This beach on the North Shore is one of the best places to see sea turtles in their natural habitat. You can snap photos and marvel at these beautiful creatures. Just remember that they are protected creatures and you shouldn’t touch them or interfere with their routines.

Pro Traveler Tip: While your chances of spotting a turtle any time of the year are pretty solid, the best season for turtle sittings is in the Summer. If turtles are a must-see for you, be sure to visit in one of the Summer months.

Punchbowl National Cemetery

The Punchbowl National Cemetery is at the heart of a volcano named Puowaina, which translates to “hill of sacrifice.” The volcano is extinct, and the crater was created between 75,000 and 100,000 years ago. What’s left is a beautiful hill with green grass, flowers and trees. Take in amazing views of Honolulu and the ocean. It’s the final resting place for many members of the armed forces and a one-of-a-kind place to visit for free in Oahu.

Pro Traveler Tip: This is another free activity in Oahu. For the budget-conscious, be sure to stop by and see this beautiful place.

Book Your Trip To Oahu Today!

With so many amazing things to do and see on this gorgeous island, it’s easy to see why Oahu is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. From beautiful nature to iconic pop culture, this island will not disappoint. Be sure to check out VacationRenter for the best prices for your next trip to Oahu, Hawaii!