Things to do in Oahu

Top 15 Things To Do In Oahu

Oahu, also known as “The Gathering Place”, is the largest in the Hawaiian chain of islands.  Home to Honolulu, the State’s capital, Oahu measures forty-four by thirty miles.

Tourism flourishes on this volcanic island. Its diverse geography, intriguing history and culture, and exotic ambience makes Oahu the perfect place for all types of travelers.

With our list of 14 fun and exciting activities we’re sure you’ll find something that suits you during your stay on Oahu.

Maui being a another popular tourist destination, you can take a puddle jumper and be there in less than an hour.

Be sure to see our guide to Things To Do In Maui.

Things to do in Oahu at a Glance:

SnorkelingHikingZiplining
Scuba DivingKayakingATV Tours
ParasailingPaddle BoardingOutrigger Canoe Surfing
Horse Back RidingSurfingHelicopter Tours
Rock ClimbingSightseeingCanyoneering

Things To Do In Oahu

#1 Snorkeling

Snorkeling in Oahu

Hanauma Bay– One of the most popular areas for snorkeling, Hanauma Bay, is located on the east side of Oahu. Well-known for it’s sandy beach, tranquil, shallow water, and high population of fish, Hanauma Bay is a designated nature preserve.  The nearby volcanic crater formation helps protect the bay from wind.

Sharks Cove – Considered a top area for shore diving, Sharks Cove is located off of Oahu’s North Shore.  Unlike Hanauma, Sharks Cove is not adorned by beautiful beach. Instead, it’s a rocky walk out to the snorkeling area. Tide pools formed in the rocky shoreline are excellent for exploring.  Snorkelers should be aware that rough waters can develop during the windy season.

Kuilima Cove – Not far from Sharks Cove lies Kuilima Cove.  This area is highly recommended for snorkeling novices.  Kuilima beach is less popular which ensures a more private snorkeling and beach experience.

The geography of this area protects the cove from choppy conditions.  Enjoy the calm waters of Kuilima Cove where you can peer down into the fascinating sea life that surrounds Oahu. There are lots of excellent snorkeling tours, you can read reviews of the Oahu snorkeling tours here.

#2 Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding in Oahu

Get acquainted with the countryside on the back of a gentle giant. Oahu has a smattering of horseback riding operators across the island, so there’s sure to be an opportunity regardless of your home base.

Off Oahu’s famous North Shore, Happy Trails Hawaii offers trail rides from Haleiwa. During your adventure, which starts from from Kaena Point, peer down into the deep blue ocean and the Waimea Valley.  Trails take you through tropical forest and farmland of orchards and fields.

If sunsets and beaches are your thing, check out an oceanfront trail ride. Oahu Horseback Ride, also located off the North Shore in Mokuleia, claims to be the sole operator offering beach rides.

Take in spectacular sunset views while being led by an experienced guide. For something truly unique, challenge yourself their package deal-  a trail ride combined with polo lessons.

If you’re looking for horseback riding on the windward side of Oahu, consider Kualoa Ranch, a working cattle ranch that spans 4,000 acres and offers a myriad of different activities in addition to trail riding.

Most trail riding adventures are limited to ages 7 years and older.  At Kualoa Ranch, mini-horseback rides are available and geared toward the youngest ones in your group (ages 5-9).

#3 Helicopter Tours

Helicopter Tours in Oahu

See the island from a bird’s eye view.  Enjoy unobstructed views of the best Oahu has to offer.

Helicopter Tours launch from multiple sites around the island including Honolulu, Kahuku, and Kapolei. Tour operators offer full or partial island tours, so you can choose the schedule and price range that fits your needs.

Some sites you may see from above include the dormant Diamond Head crater, the cliffs and waterfalls of the Nuuanu Rainforest, the expansive Waianae Mountain Range, the pristine beaches of the North Shore, the Chinaman’s Hat landmark, pineapple plantations, and colorful coral reefs.

Tours are provided by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, Paradise Helicopters (out of Turtle Bay Resort), and Oahu Air Tours, to name only a few.
the youngest ones in your group (ages 5-9). You can read review of Oahu helicopter tours here.

#4 Parasailing

Parasailing in Oahu

Imagine yourself floating above the crystalline waters of Oahu.  You look below your dangling feet and can spot a variety of large marine life- a manta ray gliding beneath the surface or perhaps a sandshark meandering along the ocean floor.

Parasailing can be enjoyed as a solo rider or in tandem.  Either way, you (and maybe a lucky friend) will be secured into a riding harness which will ensure a safe flight.

You can choose to stay dry by launching from and landing on the towing boat, or you can get wet by touching down into the water.  It’s all up to you!

There are several parasailing outfitters on the island.  Most are located in or around Honolulu on the southern part of Oahu. Some of the well-known include: Hawaiian Parasail, Xtreme Parasail, and H2O Sports Hawaii.

#5 Kayaking

Kayaking in Oahu

Many locals consider Lanikai the best, most scenic location to kayak on the big island.

Why not launch your kayak from Lanikai and head over to the twin islands, Mokumanu and Mokulua, which lie within paddling distance? The short stint will take you across sparkling water.

A word of warning for those who choose Lanikai.  This trip isn’t recommended for those kayakers unfamiliar with ocean paddling, as it involves maneuvering through fairly strong currents.  At times high surf hits the the twin islands. Less experienced paddlers may just want tool around, venturing closer Lanikai beach.

Hanauma Bay is a safe bet for novices. A secluded. lagoon-like body of water, Hanauma Bay ensures protection from elements like wind and choppy waters. The calm conditions also allows for better visibility, so you can peer below your kayak where a myriad of colorful marine life dwells.

Another location that’s well-protected and offers stunning views of ocean cliffs is located on the eastern side of the island. Kaneohe Bay encompassses more that 17 acres, providing an expansive area for exploring. The Bay and its environs were created when an enormous volcano crashed into the ocean.

For rental equipment consider Kailua Beach Adventures in Kailua or Holokai Kayak and Snorkel Adventure in Kaneohe.
the youngest ones in your group (ages 5-9).

#6 Hiking

Hiking in Oahu

One of Hawaii’s most iconic backdrops is the Diamond Head crater. This spectacular formation is the result of a volcanic eruption that occurred approximately ½ million years ago. No reason to worry now. This volcano’s been dormant for a long time.

The crater’s summit is 760-feet from the volcano’s base. At 0.7 miles, the main hiking trail is moderately difficult, but should be doable for most who are in decent physical shape.

If you’re a sucker for waterfalls, try hiking to Waimano Falls.  An approximately three mile round trip, the hike takes about an hour. Your reward is reaching the turquoise blue pools that are formed by a series of impressive falls. Some hikers choose to cool off by jumping from cliffs into the cool, swimmable waters.

Kaena Point is perfect for a coastal hike. Explore the island’s rocky shoreline along a 4-5 mile trek.
the youngest ones in your group (ages 5-9).

#7 Surfing

Surfing in Oahu

With various schools offering lessons in the area, Waikiki Beach, which is located on the southern part of Oahu, is a great place to get your surfing feet wet. The waves here are smooth, offering long rides; and the protected bay is safe from dangerous undertow.

The North Shore, with its 7-mile stretch of beach, is a mecca for premier surfing competitions, including the Vans Triple Crown.  Famous sites include Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline.

During the winter months. weather conditions create a more challenging surf that’s best reserved for professional and experienced surfers, as waves can rise up to 30 feet.

During the summer months the intensity of the North Shore’s waves subsides, making for a more tranquil surfing experience. Two locations on the northshore more apt for beginners are Chun’s Reef Beach and Puaena Point.

Chun’s Reef Beach, with it’s fine white sand, is located just outside of Haleiwa Town.  Chun’s Reef is known for its gentle waves that break farther out from the shore.  Lifeguards are on duty for your safety.

A bit south of Chun’s Reef Beach, Puaena Point has similar surfing conditions, with its gently rolling swells that dissipate into the bay.
the youngest ones in your group (ages 5-9).

#8 Paddleboarding

Paddleboarding in Oahu

For a smooth paddleboarding experience, try the calm waters of Ala Moana Beach Park which is located adjacent to the popular Waikiki Beach. If you’d like to use the board to surf a little, paddle out beyond the reef. About 200 yards from the shore you’ll encounter some wave action.

With a little bit of planning and lining up your dates just right, you can enjoy a moonlight paddle boarding experience. Tours are offered out of Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku on the full moon.  Glide across the pristine, moon-lit Kawela Bay while experiencing the serenity of escaping the usual tourist crowds.

SUP rental companies abound throughout the island.  Some will sometimes deliver boards directly to you.  You might try the company Hawaii Beach Time for this option.

#9 Outrigger Canoe Surfing

Try your hand at the unique traditional sport of outrigger canoe surfing.  While this is more of a ride than a true sport, that fact doesn’t detract from the exhilaration of riding huge swells under the skill of experienced captains.

Some liken the experience to an oceanic roller coaster. This is a great group or family activity, as these canoes hold up to 6 riders.  For your safety, two certified captains accompany you on this wild ride, guiding you as you tackle the surf.

Each ride lasts from 20-40 minutes, depending on the weather and water conditions. Waikiki Beach is currently the only place you can experience the thrill of surfing a wave on an outrigger canoe.

#10 Ziplining

Ziplining in Oahu

Fly through the air with the greatest of ease, safely tethered to a trail of cables.  With a multitude of ziplining operators in several locations, you can enjoy looking out on amazing vistas of the ocean, valleys, and mountains of Oahu.  Since ziplining requires no experience, even non-athletic visitors can enjoy this exciting activity.

The site of the film Jurassic Park, Kualoa Ranch sits on the east side of Oahu.  Ziplining is just one of several activities offered at this veritable eco-amusement park. An active cattle ranch, it also encompasses a private nature reserve where you can zip over the expansive Ka’a’awa Valley and through treetop canopies.

Located in north east Oahu, Keana Farms also offers an array of adventures, including ziplining.  Situated near the coast, the farm’s 8 side-by-side zip lines offer spectacular views of the ocean, coast, and farmland below.

 #11 ATV Tours

ATV Tours in Oahu

Consider slipping in an ATV tour while on Oahu.  Traverse rugged terrain and explore remote areas otherwise unreachable by foot.

Get ready to get dirty on the Kualoa Ranch ATV tour which takes riders through local streams and down challenging inclines. Tours run rain or shine.

Situated on the windward side of Oahu and about one hour from Honolulu, the ranch offers tours that pass through the rugged beauty of a property that has served as the backdrop for many films and television shows.

Choose between two vehicle options- single- or multi-rider. The multi-rider ATV can accommodate up to 5 people.

#12 Rock Climbing/Bouldering

Rock Climbing in Oahu

Climbing is a sport that continues to grow in popularity in the United States; however, it is relatively new to the Hawaiian islands.  This is surprising, given the perfect topography the islands offer.

We know of one rock school in Oahu, Climb Aloha, that offers rock climbing adventures.  At the time of this article, Climb Aloha website was not offering rock climbing tours due to the temporary closure of rock climbing sites; however bouldering tours were still available.

With bouldering, an offshoot of the sport, equipment such as ropes and harnesses are left aside. Instead, the climber must rely on his balance, technique, strength, and his own smarts to scale – you guessed it, boulders.  Safety mats and climbing shoes are recommended, but otherwise you are on your own!

#13 Canyoneering

Canyoning in Oahu

While not for the weak of heart or the inexperienced, we thought canyoneering was worth mentioning due to the unique thrill it provides to those who are brave enough to try it. The topography of Oahu, and the Hawaiian islands in general, provides endless opportunities for canyoneers to challenge themselves.

Canyoneering, also known as “canyoning” involves the coordination of various physical activities with the objective of descending an elevated area. Coordinated techniques include downhill hiking, rappelling and sometimes, cliff jumping. Among canyoneers waterfalls are popular land formations to tackle, thus making Hawaii an ideal location.

Clearly this is not a sport for your average Joe. Reserved for true adrenaline junkies, canyoneering will test a person on many levels.  Not only does it require a good level of physical fitness but involves investing in expensive equipment.

#14 SCUBA Diving

Scuba Diving in Oahu

Oahu is a scuba diver’s nirvana. With its magical reefs, magnificent walls, unusual lava rock formations, and half a dozen historic shipwrecks, Oahu offers an unparalleled diving experience. Oahu has so many remarkable dive sites we had trouble narrowing them down to just a few.

With depths ranging between 10-50 feet, Hanauma Bay is a good starting point for beginners and less-experienced divers. This protected bay boasts a shallow reef where divers can swim among stunning Hawaiian corals and colorful reef fish.

Oahu’s most famous nature preserve, Hanauma Bay is located on the southeastern most tip of the island.

Kahuna Canyon is located 5 miles west of Haleiwa Harbor. At depths of 35-100 feet, this site is indicated for beginner to intermediate divers.  The so-called canyon formed as a result of a massive volcanic crater rising from the sea.

The west side of the canyon no longer exists while the eastern portion remains intact. Caves and coral formations abound, making this the perfect place for a wide array of marine life including parrotfish, unicorn surgeonfish, amberjacks, ulua, and Moray eels.

The Mahi shipwreck, a 185-foot former minesweeper that was sunk 1982, is a favorite dive site off western Oahu. At a depth of 85 feet, divers are likely to encounter eagle rays, sea turtles, and rarely seen fish like the frogfish.

For those looking to become certified, PADI scuba diving schools are scattered around the island.

#15 Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Oahu

The Makapuu Point Light, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, is a lighthouse situated on the southeastern most tip of Oahu. A moderate two mile hike on a paved trail will get you to this site.  There are no restrooms and or shade so make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Located in Oahu’s Kapolei, the Polynesian Cultural Center is home to a water park, live shows, canoe rides, and a multitude of exhibits including 7 reconstructed villages that represent distinct island cultures.

Wet’n’Wild Hawaii is the Center’s water park. Sprawling over 29 tropical acres, Wet’n’Wild Hawaii offers 25 water rides, including thrillers like Shaka which plunges guests down a 36 foot almost vertical drop and the Tornado, which catapults you through a swirling 45-foot funnel.

For the little ones there’s an interactive children’s water play area, and for those grownups preferring a tamer experience there are lower velocity water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool.

Hawaiian Journey is an immersive media experience that will take you to many areas accessible only by air.  “Visit” lush rainforests, majestic volcanoes, and magnificent waterfalls in this IMAX experience, all while learning about Hawaii’s rich culture and history.

Take in the show Hā: BREATH OF LIFE, featuring over 100 native performers, special effects, animation, and daring stunts.

The Hukilau Marketplace showcases Polynesian handicrafts, clothing, and jewelry.

History buffs will appreciate an unforgettable tour of Pearl Harbor, the tragic site of the surprise Japanese attack in 1941.  There are four main sites at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center that include the Battleship Missouri Memorial on Ford Island.

The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, and the USS Arizona Memorial. Watch a 23 minute documentary at the USS Arizona Memorial, and then take a short boat ride to visit the site which was built above the sunken USS Arizona.

Submerge yourself in Oahu’s waters without getting wet. A tour with Atlantis Submarines will allow you a glimpse at the island’s marine life, tropical reefs and sunken vessels, all while in the dry comfort of an air-conditioned submarine.

Whether you choose to venture out on your own or join in on a group activity, Oahu is certain to keep you entertained. Oahu is a true nature-lover’s playground. With adventures for all skill-levels and interests, the island packs a big punch for a relatively small place.

Originally we wanted to create a top 10 things to do in Oahu list but we would have left off some activities that you shouldn’t miss!

We hope this guide was helpful for finding things to do in Oahu to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend an activity I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and enjoy your trip!

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About El Tigre

Richard M. aka El Tigre is an avid adventure traveler with extensive trekking experience throughout Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In 1998 he weathered category 5 Hurricane Mitch on the northern coast of Honduras. He has mountain-biked, hiked and 4x4 toured extensively in Central America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico. In the summer of 2004 he lived among the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands in Panama. Today, he manages a real estate investments company based in San Jose, Costa Rica and organizes adventure travel excursions to Costa Rica. He is a motorcycle enthusiast and enjoys sport touring and dual-sport riding. Richard lives in Arizona.