About one million residents call Oahu home, and it’s not hard to figure out why they’ve chosen to live in this island paradise. This tropical region also beckons tourists from around the world looking to explore the gorgeous island and spend time on the beach. From beaches, attractions, and local restaurants — here’s everything you need to know to start planning your holiday getaway in the heart of Hawaii.
Top Oahu Beaches
Oahu has no shortage of surf and sand, but a handful of beaches have earned high marks for their features. Although Waikiki Beach is the most easily accessible beach from Honolulu, there are several other beaches that can give you the true Hawaii experience, just a drive away. Spend the day under the sun at one of these gorgeous coastal hideaways, and don’t be afraid to take a dip in the warm Pacific waters!
- Makua Beach & Keawa’ula Beach
Makua Beach & Keawa’ula Beach are neighboring beaches found on the northwest edge of Oahu. Both spots are phenomenal hidden gems in the Waianae area — known to be for locals only — so it’s very important to be respectful of your surroundings. This part of town is more remote and definitely less frequented by tourists. Aside from beach activities, you’ll find gorgeous hiking trails around the area too!
- Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is a fantastic secluded beach in east Oahu, offering vibrant blue views of the Pacific Ocean, along with the Mokulua Islands just a kayak ride away. The swimming is perfect here thanks to an offshore reef, but beware of the jellyfish that frequent the shoreline. Parking does get a little tough around the residential area, so if it doesn’t seem to be your lucky day, you can also check out Kalama Beach Park right around the corner!
Additionally, the breathtakingly gorgeous Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is also close by, and serves as a beautiful alternative for a cloudy day.
- Sunset Beach
In the North Shore region, you’ll find Sunset Beach, home to incredible sunsets and some of the biggest waves on the island. This beach is famous for its international surf competitions in the winter, and is in very close proximity to the Banzai Pipeline, where you’ll find some of the largest waves and longest tubes in the world. Many surfers aspire to conquer this Pipeline as it’s considered to be “Holy Grail” of waves.
- Hale’iwa Beach Park
Also located in the North Shore is Hale’iwa Beach Park. This area is known to be one of the best spots for surfing, with a large surf community standing by it for many decades. The small town of Hale’iwa itself is very laid-back, giving you a completely local experience. If you’ve never tried surfing before, this would be a wonderful place to start. Get surfing advice straight from the locals by booking a North Shore Surf Lesson. By the end of your trip, you’re ought to catch a wave!
- Waimea Bay Beach Park
If you haven’t noticed already, the North Shore is a gold mine for incredible Hawaiian beaches. Our final Oahu beach favorite brings us to Waimea Bay, nestled right in between Sunset Beach and Hale’iwa Beach Park. Because it’s located right in the middle of the two big surf spots, Waimea is a great location for spectators coming to see all the action. Picnic tables are available for families to set up a spread and hang out all afternoon, and adrenaline junkies can also go cliff jumping off Waimea Bay’s rocks.
Popular Oahu Attractions
Aside from the beaches, there are several other iconic destinations scattered throughout Oahu. You can visit the Waikiki Aquarium, see the animals in the Honolulu Zoo, or travel down the narrow Round Top Drive past scenic lookouts. Read on to learn about more great places to explore in Oahu.
- Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay, an ideal snorkeling and diving spot, is home to living coral, turtles, over 400 species of fish and other marine life. The former volcanic crater is a protected marine life conservation area dedicated to safeguarding marine life in the bay. If you’re interested in exploring the outdoors, Hanauma Bay Trail is an easy hike up a cement road to the Hanauma Bay rock, and nearby Koko Crater Railway Trail is a steep hike with panoramic ocean and Honolulu views.
- Pearl Harbor
Visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial to see the sunken hull of the USS Arizona and hear stories from actual survivors of the tragic event. Explore the decks of the Battleship Missouri and tour the USS Bowfin submarine to view the engine room, sleeping quarters and torpedo room. You can also pay your respects to the crewmen who lost their lives at the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
- Kualoa Ranch
Have lots of fun as you explore Kualoa Ranch. This playground park covers 4,000 acres, so explore your surroundings on horseback or with an ATV tour. See the sights from above as you zipline over the jungle. This popular ranch has been the setting for numerous hit movies and TV shows, so it offers plenty of picturesque photo-ops of your Oahu vacation.
- Polynesian Culture Center
Don’t underestimate the greatness of the Polynesian Culture Center! See a unique view of Hawaii’s beauty in a giant IMAX theater, then get a chance immerse yourself in island culture as you explore seven villages that represent different regions of the South Pacific including Fiji, Samoa, Marquesas, Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti and New Zealand. The center gives you the opportunity to paddle in an ancient-style canoe, learn more about farming methods, cuisine, transportation, communication, and religion — then you can top the day off with a grand Hawaiian luau!
- Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
On the southeast tip of the island you’ll find Makapuu Lighthouse. Hike along the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail for views of the coast and sapphire-blue waters. When vacationing between November and May, you may even be lucky enough to see whales breaching in the sea.
- Skydive at Dillingham Air Field
If you want something to satisfy your more adventurous side, head to Dillingham Air Field to see Oahu from the most mind blowing perspective. Imagine the views you’ll get of the island skydiving out of a plane! This attraction is only meant for the fearless, but it’s easily one of the most beautiful skydives you will come across in the entire country.
Taste the Flavors of Hawaii
The state of Hawaii boasts its own unique island flavors, which you definitely need to try when you visit. Check out these five places that are loved by both tourists and locals.
- Nico’s Fish Market – Less than 15 minutes away from HNL Airport, you can make a stop at Nico’s right when you arrive, or before you head back home. The fish market makes an incredibly fresh furikake pan seared ahi that’s to die for. If you love ahi tuna, this dish is a must!
- Ono Seafood – You can’t visit Oahu without trying the island’s fresh Hawaiian poke. Ono Seafood upholds a reputation for being the best poke in Honolulu. All you have to do is choose which flavor you want, and they serve it as is. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity, because we guarantee it’s unlike any poke on the mainland.
- Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – If you make your way up to Sunset Beach, be sure to stop at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck less than 10 miles away. Giovanni’s straightforward menu draws in hundreds of people everyday, and if we could suggest anything, you should try the classic lemon butter shrimp, with garlic rice if you’re feeling fancy.
- Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley – Not only does Hawaii incorporate practices from Polynesian culture, but it’s also highly influenced by Japanese culture. Just walking distance from Waikiki Beach, you can visit the Waikiki Yokocho Japanese Food Hall. You can browse through all the restaurants in the food hall to try authentic Japanese food.
Our top suggestion would be to try the tsukemen at Bario. If you’ve never heard of it before, tsukemen is a tasty dipping ramen that comes with similar garnishes and meats as ramen, except you dip the noodles in a thick broth rather than have it served all in one bowl.
- Hale’iwa Bowls – After enjoying a meal, or a warm day under the sun, treat yourself to a refreshing fruit bowl. Hale’iwa Bowls offers a diverse selection of bowls and smoothies to choose from. Acai bowls are very popular in Hawaii, so if you’re interested, you can try the Hapa Bowl which blends acai, bananas, strawberries and blueberries, then is topped with granola, bananas, coconut flakes, and Hawaiian honey.
Get ready for a Hawaiian vacation that won’t soon be forgotten. Oahu promises to thrill the whole family. Find a luxurious beachfront Oahu vacation rental to get the full island life experience now!