With a metropolitan city, dazzling natural wonders, and a myriad of historical sites, it is no wonder that Oahu is the most popular Hawaiian island. Whatever your interests, there are countless things to keep you busy on your visit to this buzzy isle. Here are some of the top-rated activities on Oahu, from fiery luaus to thrilling shark diving adventures.
1. Ka Moana Luau
Escape the hustle and bustle of Waikiki for an unforgettable evening at Ka Moana Luau— located at Sea Life Park, 30 minutes from downtown. From start to finish, Ka Moana Luau exemplifies Polynesian culture and the spirit of Aloha. The evening kicks off with cultural activities— like lei making and hula lessons— as guests get to know the luau performers firsthand. The fun is followed by epic performances from around the Pacific, including heart-stopping fire dances.
Of course, no luau would be complete without a feast fit for kings. Ka Moana guests can indulge in island delicacies like kalua pig (complete with an imu unveiling ceremony), lomi lomi salmon, poi, and other dishes that make up Hawaii’s local cuisine. Book in advance! This is one of Oahu’s top-rated luaus and sells out quickly.
2. Pearl Harbor Tour
Over 80 years have passed since the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor, but millions of people still visit the National Memorial annually to pay their respects and peer into America’s past. On this full-day tour, guests will receive a comprehensive, thought-provoking look at the 1941 events that changed the course of American history.
This excursion visits the harbor’s many memorials and museums, including the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin submarine, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum— located in airplane hangars still riddled with battle scars from the WWII attack. Guests will also have the opportunity to visit the sobering USS Arizona Memorial, which sits directly above the sunk USS Arizona Battleship— the final resting place for 1,177 US service members who gave their lives for their country.
3. Private Helicopter Tour
Whether you’re exploring on wheels or by foot, you can only see so much of Oahu from the ground. The island is dotted with precipitous mountain ranges and colorful offshore reefs that go unseen by countless visitors. However, the only way to truly explore “The Gathering Place” inside and out is to take to the skies— and the best way to do so is on a private helicopter tour of Oahu. This esteemed helicopter company offers a myriad of excursions, but the South Shore Experience is short, sweet, and stunning.
Departing from Honolulu Airport, the flight sails over Waikiki’s luminous cityscape before rounding Diamond Head and revealing majestic views of Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, and Makapuʻu Point. With a maximum of only three passengers, each guest is guaranteed a window seat. To infuse more adrenaline into the experience, guests can book their flight doors off.
4. Kailua Canoe Adventure
Centuries before the inception of Hawaiian Airlines and long before vehicles zoomed around Oahu’s busy highways, Hawaiians relied on outrigger canoes to get them where they needed to go. For an adventure steeped in Hawaiian history and culture, climb aboard a traditional waʻa (Hawaiian canoe) for a journey across Kailua Bay with Kailua Ocean Adventures.
With help from a crew of expert watermen, visitors will sail or paddle 30 minutes to the offshore islet of Moku Nui. Along the way, you’ll learn about Hawaiian values, navigation, and the significance of outrigger canoes in Hawaiian culture. Once safely ashore at Moku Nui, you are free to snorkel and explore the islet. Prepare for three hours of stunning views, native wildlife sightings, and enrapturing Hawaiian tales.
5. Jurassic Park Tour at Kualoa Ranch
Aside from Diamond Head, Kualoa Ranch may be one of Oahu’s most recognizable landscapes. The ranch’s sweeping valleys and razor-sharp ridgelines have been featured in countless TV shows and Blockbuster films, including, most famously, the Jurassic franchise.
Today, visitors from around the world come to the ranch to visit the most iconic Jurassic film sites. Kualoa’s 2.5-hour Jurassic Adventure Tour treks through valleys and jungles to bring guests face to face with the franchises’ most recognizable filming locations, like the Indominus Rex paddock and the famous field where the Gallimimus flocking scene was filmed. If this Jurassic Adventure Tour piques your interest, be sure to book as early as you can! It’s one of the most popular activities at Kualoa Ranch.
6. Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie is an Oahu must-visit. The 42-acre center is a cultural theme park, home to six “villages” representing the cultures of Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and Aotearoa. In each village, visitors can explore the arts and traditions of the different Pacific Island nations. Swing poi balls with Maori warriors in Aotearoa Village, learn the hula with Hawaiian dancers, and discover why Samoans are known as the “happy people.”
However, the fun doesn’t stop at the village presentations. The Polynesian Cultural Center is also home to an exciting luau, a local-style buffet dinner, and an award-winning Polynesian show: Ha, The Breath of Life. A variety of packages can be booked to custom-tailor your day (or night!) at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
7. Waikiki Surf Lesson
Waikiki is the heart of Hawaiian surfing. The rolling waves here were once reserved for Hawaiian royalty and later produced iconic Hawaiian surfers like Duke Kahanamoku and, more recently, two-time world longboard champion Kelia Moniz. But the waves here aren’t reserved for the pros. Thanks to Waikiki’s soft, rolling surf and (mostly) sandy bottom, it is one of the best places for beginners to learn to surf.
To guarantee you’re up and riding on your first session, take a lesson from a bonafide Waikiki beach boy with Star Beach Boys. The Waikiki beach boys were integral to Honolulu’s surfing history, and Star Beach Boys carries on the beach boy legacy. Since 1972, Star Beach Boys have successfully taught over a million people how to surf— there’s no reason you can’t learn too!
8. Haleiwa Shark Diving
Plunging into endlessly deep, shark-infested waters might sound like a nightmare. But shark diving off Oahu’s north shore is becoming increasingly popular, affording visitors a renewed outlook on the apex predator. Headed by Native Hawaiians, this tour motors three miles outside Haleiwa Harbor, where sharks are abundant. Along the way, you’ll learn about sharks’ important impact on ocean health and their significance in Hawaiian culture.
Once at the dive site, take the plunge and watch as sharks slowly appear out of the deep. Don’t worry; you will be safely separated from the sharks within a steel cage. Plus, most sharks encountered on this tour aren’t inherently aggressive toward humans. You’ll mostly see Galapagos and Sandbar sharks, but if you’re lucky, you might spot a Tiger shark— the king of Hawaiian seas.
9. Scuba Diving
Snorkeling tends to get more attention from Hawaii visitors than scuba diving. But if you want to take your underwater explorations deeper (literally), look no further than Banzai Divers. Serving as one of Oahu’s premier dive companies, Banzai Divers offers diving excursions tailored to beginners and experts.
Beginners can explore Oahu’s vibrant shallow reefs, no deeper than 40 feet, where corals, sea turtles, and tropical fish thrive. Meanwhile, experts will delight in exploring plane wrecks and shipwrecks 100 feet beneath the surface. From the north shore to the waters off Waikiki, Banzai Divers has the low-down on the best dive sites to fit your experience level.
10. Local Food Tour
With countless off-the-beaten-track mom-and-pop eateries, Oahu is the best island to explore Hawaii’s food scene. Get an authentic taste of the islands— and the many cultures that helped mold local cuisine— on this small-group food tour. With five to eight stops, this walking tour explores one of Honolulu’s most culturally diverse pockets.
Guests taste their way through countless cultures— from Filipino and Hawaiian to Chinese and Vietnamese— and explore the area’s vibrant markets, unique vendors, and fusion restaurants. This excursion also allows guests to experience Oahu’s architectural character and history. Not only will you leave stuffed, but you’ll have a better understanding of the cultures that shaped the islands into the multicultural melting pot they are today.