Home of the capital of Hawai’i, Honolulu, and the most populated district in the State, Waikiki, it’s no wonder why O’ahu is nicknamed “the Gathering Place.”
Easily the most visitor-friendly island of Hawai’i, O’ahu has plenty to do for travelers and residents alike.
Whether you want to explore the nightlife, hop on a boat or helicopter, try out some local craft beers, or just see the sights, O’ahu has a vast array of things to do for all kinds of people.
So with all these options, where do you start? Hopefully this list can answer that.
10. Visit the Kaneohe sandbar
One of Oahu’s best-kept secrets, the Kaneohe sandbar is a raised area of sand located in Kaneohe Bay.
At low tide, this creates an isolated beach right in the middle of the ocean.
Even at high tide, the water covering the sandbar is only waist-high, making it a great place to play beach volleyball, go snorkeling, or just hang out.
The caveat to this place (and perhaps the reason it’s not too well known) is that you’ll need a boat to get there—the sandbar is located about a mile off the coast.
If you don’t own a boat (or know a guy that does), don’t lose all hope of visiting the sandbar: boat rentals are available at the nearby harbor.
Just remember to bring lots of sunscreen since you’re in the middle of the ocean, after all, and won’t find any shade.
9. Take a sunset cruise on the Star of Honolulu
While I’d recommend a visitor to any island to go on a sunset cruise, O’ahu by far has the most options available to someone who wants to spend an evening on the ocean:
Board a vessel of any size, from a smaller powered catamaran to a premier cruise liner; enjoy a seven-course dinner, a casual dinner buffet, or just light appetizers on a cocktail sail; attend as a family, a couple, or just by yourself.
No matter what you’re looking for, there’s something for everyone.
The Star of Honolulu deserves special mention, being the cruise ship on O’ahu.
Able to fit up to 1,500 passengers on its four decks, the Star of Honolulu still has enough room for private lounges, live entertainment, and outdoor walkways from which to enjoy the sunset and ocean air.
This isn’t just anyone’s boat, however: while the lower decks are quite family-friendly, top deck diners are required to adhere to a formal dress code.
But as the most popular cruise in all of Hawaii, the Star of Honolulu is certainly worth the experience.
8. Watch the fireworks at Waikiki
Fireworks in Waikiki aren’t just a biannual tradition.
Every friday night from 7:45 to 8:00 p.m., the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki puts on a fireworks show on the beach that can be seen from anywhere on the Waikiki or Ala Moana coast.
If you want to watch, just head to Waikiki beach on any Friday night—bring a towel or lawn chair—and wait for the show to start.
Try to get there early, though, as near 7 p.m. the place gets crowded with a throng of would-be spectators.
If you want to take your fireworks-watching to the next level, combine it with a Friday sunset cruise to watch the show from off the coast of Waikiki.
7. Swim with the sharks
Oahu is the only place in Hawaii where you can go shark cage diving, due to tight state restrictions on human interactions with marine life.
But if you really want to take it to the next level, skip the cage and go freediving with the ocean’s apex predator instead.
You can actually do that, provided you’re doing so with a professional: cageless freediving tours are available on the North Shore that are both thrilling and educational.
Your professional guides will be marine biologists that dive with sharks all the time for research purposes, so you’ll be in good hands as long as you pay attention to your guides and follow their instructions.
Most commonly sighted on these dives are Galapagos sharks (which grow up to 10 ft long) and reef sharks (up to 6 ft), but the occasional tiger shark might show up if you’re lucky.
I’d highly recommend a shark swim to anyone with the courage to do it, since it’s not just thrilling, but also helps you learn a lot about sharks and their behavior in a natural environment.
6. Tour Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is one of the most famous attractions on Oahu, and for good reason.
The ranch’s fame comes mostly from being used as a setting for multiple films and television shows, including Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and Lost.
The past few titles should have tipped you off to what Kualoa Ranch actually looks like.
Nestled in Ka’a’awa Valley on the northeast coast, the ranch sits on 4,000 acres of private nature reserve.
Touring the ranch (which you can do via zipline, horseback, or ATV) feels like exploring ancient Hawaii before human development reached the islands.
Since it’s a working cattle ranch, you can also take a farm-to-table tour or just visit the different locations where various movies were shot.
Kualoa Ranch also has its own fishpond and private beach, making it a one-stop destination for anything outdoors that you’d want to do in Hawaii.
5. Ride a BOB underwater scooter
Underwater scooters have been around for quite a while, most commonly taking the form of a handheld turbine that pulls you along in the water.
The Breathing Observation Bubble (BOB) scooters, however, are a lot more like land scooters, except in the water.
You sit on a BOB like a regular scooter and use the handles to steer and propel yourself around underwater.
The great thing about it is that your head will be in a glass bubble fed by an air tank, so you won’t have to worry about holding your breath, wearing a mask, or handling any scuba equipment.
It’s a great way to explore the underwater environment, not to mention fun, easy, and accessible for everyone!
The BOB scooters depart from Maunalua Bay in Hawaii Kai, the site of the lesser-known Maunalua sandbar.
4. Attend a luau—any luau
This one goes on the list for the same reason as sunset cruises—yes, you can do this on any island, but the variety on Oahu is just that much greater.
Whether you’re in Waikiki, Ko Olina, or around the North Shore, you can find a luau near you.
Just check out our blog post on luaus (if you haven’t already) to find out more.
I wouldn’t ever pass up a chance to attend a dinner buffet serving Hawaiian food, and the entertainment at luaus is always stellar.
Unlike a lot of the outdoor activities on this list, luaus are also accessible to and enjoyable by pretty much anyone.
Oahu is also the home of the Polynesian Cultural Center, but that deserves its own spot further down the list.
3. Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat
The island of Mokoli’i, just off the coast of where Kualoa Ranch is located, is better known as Chinaman’s Hat due to its distinct conical shape.
Less than half a mile off shore, it’s easily accessible to anyone who can kayak, swim, or just walk over with floaters (reef shoes highly recommended).
Kayaking there is without a doubt the most fun, since the island makes a natural shore break, keeping the ocean waters between Mokoli’i and Oahu incredibly still and easy to paddle through.
If you haven’t gone ocean kayaking before, it’s a much different experience from river or whitewater kayaking.
The kayaks are wider and much easier to balance, and the ocean isn’t nearly as unpredictable, making it easier and more accessible for beginners.
When you get to Mokoli’i, there’s a short, slightly tricky trail that leads up to the peak of the island where you get an amazing panoramic view of Oahu’s east coast.
2. Go horseback riding on the beach
There are plenty of places you can ride a horse, and plenty of places where you can go to the beach.
Doing both at the same time, however, isn’t so common.
That’s why you should definitely take the opportunity to ride horseback on one of the North Shore’s beautiful beaches—especially if you’re visiting on a honeymoon, anniversary, or romantic getaway.
Ride at sunset and you can tick off multiple items on your vacation checklist: go to the beach, watch a sunset, and ride a horse all in one go!
1. Visit Polynesian Cultural Center
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that PCC is on this list, especially after I wrote an entire blog post about it.
Reading said blog post will give you an in-depth look at what PCC offers, but the “Cliff’s notes” version is that Polynesian Cultural Center is a theme park whose theme is—you guessed it—Polynesian culture.
The Center itself consists of different villages where practitioners, craftsmen, and entertainers from each culture hang out and teach visitors about their traditions.
Each village has its own show performed every few hours and every day there are multiple hula performances and luaus held.
Right outside the Center is the Hukilau Marketplace, a shopping mall filled with food, souvenirs, and other stores where you can buy pretty much anything.
I mentioned they had food, right? It’s a very important detail.
Everything at PCC and the marketplace is locally sourced and authentically Polynesian.
Most importantly, PCC is the best place on O’ahu for visitors to learn about different Polynesian cultures and how the island nations differ.
I’m not just talking about Hawaii, either: PCC has villages dedicated to Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji, and Aotearoa (New Zealand) as well.
PCC is located up in Laie in the northeast corner of the island, so it’s perhaps an hour’s drive from Waikiki.
But when you get there, you could stay for the entire day if you wanted and come back the next day to experience it all over again!
Have you checked everything off our Top 10 list? Have a question about one of the entries? Or maybe you want to suggest an eleventh contender? We want to hear it in the comments!