Great Things to do in Oahu

For a traveler who is interested in a little more than simply laying on a secluded beach, Oahu is the perfect Hawaiian island to visit. Brimming with fantastic opportunities for entertainment, education and fun, this island is probably the most varied in terms of possibilities for adventure of any island in the Hawaiian chain. From world class snorkeling to helicopter tours, Oahu truly has something to delight and fascinate any traveler.

Most island adventures begin with a trip to the beach… When on the island of Oahu, there are more than a handful of amazing beaches that offer everything from surfing to quiet relaxation. One of the best beaches on the island in terms of picturesque beauty is LANIKAI BEACH. Located in a small residential area on Oahu’s Windward coast, this beach has both crystal waters and the finest white sands that your feet will ever touch! You will truly have the feeling of a local when you walk down one of the small, tree-canopied public access walkways to access this truly spectacular paradise. Lanikai is a popular place for snorkeling, due to a reef that protects the area from high surf, kayaking, and swimming.

Rated number two on the list of best beaches in America, KAILUA BEACH PARK is another wonderful place to spend a day in the sun. This beach is located fairly close to Lanikai beach, and has the same general conditions that make Lanikai spectacular. The things that set Kailua Beach Park apart are the many wonderful, shady picnic areas, the facilities (including restrooms and showers) and a slight change in the reef that offers slightly more in the way of waves. Kailua is a popular place for windsurfing (due to the soft tradewinds), snorkeling, kayaking, and beach relaxation.

WAIMEA BAY BEACH PARK is located on Hawaii’s famous North Shore. With the protection of jagged cliffs and large rock outcroppings, this small bay is both breathtaking and wonderfully comfortable for the beach-goer. During the summer months the waters of Waimea Bay are very calm, offering wonderful opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. In the winter months, this beach is packed with people who are searching for surf. In fact Waimea is considered to have the largest, most spectacular and most dangerous surf in the entire world. Waves can get up to thirty feet in height! Though swimming is not recommended during the winter months, this beach is still a wonderful place to visit if you want to catch a glimpse of some of the world’s best surfers!

Oahu is an island filled with amazing historical and cultural activities. Perhaps the most famous, and most somber, is the USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL. Located in the famed Pearl Harbor, beneath the waters of the Arizona Memorial is the final resting place for many of the 1,700 plus crewmembers who died on December 4, 1941. Hundreds of visitors a day come to see the memorial. All tours are guided, and while you wait your turn, you can walk through the many museum exhibits and visit the Remembrance Circle. Once you’re in the area, it’s only a short walk or drive to several other wonderful historical exhibits and museums, including the USS BOWFIN SUBMARINE MUSEUM AND PARK, THE BATTLESHIP MISSOURI, and the PACIFIC AVIATION MUSEUM.

No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to the POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER. Located in Laie, about an hour’s drive from Waikiki, this popular island “theme park” sprawls across 42 lush acres of land. There are countless opportunities for educational enrichment and fun at this park, including demonstrations by the people of Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Maori New Zealand, Fiji, and the Marquesas. At the PCC, you can walk through seven authentic villages, see the “Rainbows of Paradise” canoe show, experience Polynesian history in the IMAX Theater, and enjoy the taste of many authentic If you want to experience the best Luau on the island, the Polynesian Cultural Center offers one that is fit for “alli’i” or “royalty”, complete with authentic Hawaiian foods, dancing, and demonstrations.

If you’re interested in a little history, the QUEEN EMMA SUMMER PALACE is a beautiful glimpse in to the rich history of Hawaii. Located in the hills of Honolulu, this lavish estate was originally built in 1847 as the summer home for Queen Emma, the wife of King Kamehameha IV. The home has been restored and is completely furnished as it would have been at the time of residence. Operated by the “Daughters of Hawaii”, this fascinating home will give you a rare peak in to the life of passed Hawaiian monarchy.

For the adventurous nature lover, Oahu is certainly an island filled with wonderful activities to wet your pallet. With the vast array of inlets and reefs, snorkeling is an activity that comes hand in hand with any Hawaiian vacation. Perhaps the best place to snorkel on the entire island of Oahu is HANAUMA BAY. The bay was created more than 32,000 years ago as a result of an eruption of an underwater vent. The bay today is filled with a series of reefs that are essentially the remains of 40,000 year old lava flows. The Hanauma Bay Park offers adventure of people of all ages. In this single area, there are more species of fish for viewing than in any other place on the island.

Oahu isn’t just white sand and crystal water, the innermost portions of the island are some of the most lush and tropical as the famous rainforests! FOSTERS BOTANICAL GARDENS is a great place to learn a little about the “greener side” of this island. This garden traces back to the 1850’s where it was once a private garden of a Hawaiian queen. Today, the garden is 13.5 acres of lush tropical life, including endangered plants from across the world, gathered over the passed 150 years. Additionally, the famous LYON ORCHID GARDEN is located in Botanical Gardens and offers a collection of both old world and new world orchids. The guided tours feature the most wonderful narrations.

Though the Hawaiian islands are known the world over for their laid back and easy going nature, there are a few things on the island of Oahu that you can do to get your heart pumping! Perhaps the most thrilling of all underwater activities is the HAWAIIAN SHARK ENCOUNTER located out of Haleiwa Harbor. You will climb aboard a boat that will take you to an area on Oahu’s North Shore that is crawling with sharks. You will then be lowered in to the water in a specially designed steel and plexiglass cage (while wearing a snorkel) that will allow you to come within inches of sharks in their natural habitat! The cage is completely safe, and those who run the encounter are focused on the safety of the visitors as well as the safety of the sharks. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience!

The KUALOA RANCH AND ACTIVITY CLUB is the perfect place to start several memorable island adventures. Whether you choose horseback or ATV, on one of the Kualoa guided tours you will see some of the most spectacular island locales imaginable. This 4,000 acre ranch has set the stage for many television and movie adventures, including “Jurassic Park”, “Windtalkers”, and the new hit television series “Lost”. There is also a one hour bus tour available that will take you passed the most famous filming spots on the ranch…who knows, you might get lucky and actually see some filming taking place!

What better way to see the island of Oahu than by HELICOPTER. It is amazing how different the island can look from above, as you are fully immersed in the complex nature of the terrain and underwater reefs. From a helicopter, you will be able to catch a glimpse of some of the places that are otherwise inaccessible, including the famed home of “Pele”, the fire goddess. Most tours last two to three hours. You will never think of Oahu the same way after a spectacular helicopter tour.

If HIKING is your thing, Oahu has you covered! There are over twenty well recognized hiking trails, classified all the way from “easy” to “strenuous” peppered across the island. Hiking is actually the best way to see some of the more hidden areas of the island, including ancient waterfalls, bamboo groves and lush jungles. If you’re looking for an “easy” hike with a spectacular payoff, MANOA FALLS is certainly the place to go. The hike is only about 1 1/2 miles along a well worn path, and at the end you will find a 150 waterfall! If you want to try something a little more difficult, continue on passed the falls to the AIHUALAMA TRAIL that will take you through more dense forests and varying landscapes. This trail can be slippery due to the moisture in the air.

The island of Oahu is literally covered with hundreds of wonderful shopping opportunities. From sprawling malls to tiny towns, if you’re looking for that special souvenir or gift to take home, you are sure to find it! The ALA MOANO SHOPPING MALL is located in Honolulu, just across from Ala Moana Beach Park, and is considered to be one of the largest open air shopping malls in the entire world. With over 200 stores, ranging from boutique style to the larger favorites like Macy’s and Sears, this is truly a shoppers paradise.

Another great place to visit is the famous INTERNATIONAL MARKETPLACE in Waikiki. This marketplace is built around a 100 year old banyan tree, and is a veritable maze of kiosks. You can find everything from clothing to jewelry at this exciting and interesting shopping venue.

If you’re looking for a more “rugged” shopping adventure, travel toward the town of HALEIWA on the island’s North Shore. There you will find many famous shops and tiny galleries. Use this town as a jumping off point and travel up the North Shore, if you keep your eyes open you will see several roadside vendors that have some amazing treasures for sale.

A few other wonderful shopping opportunities worth mentioning are the ALOHA STADIUM SWAP MEET (an outdoor bazzar open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday), the ALOHA TOWER MARKETPLACE (a distinctively Hawaiian shopping haven on the waterfront in Honolulu), the KOKO MARINA SHOPPING CENTER (near Hanauma Bay, a quaint neighborhood shopping area with over 50 stores and restaurants) and the ROYAL HAWAIIAN SHOPPING CENTER (located in the heart of Waikiki, with over 150 shops).

So, whether you want to enjoy a quiet day on one of the most beautiful beaches in America, or perhaps being lowered in to shark infested waters is more your “thing”, Oahu has many activities that will suit your needs and delight your senses!