Pristine beaches, world-class surfing, perfect weather and happy aloha vibes are just a few of the many reasons that visitors flock to Hawaii every year. The diversity of things to do on Oahu make it easy to fill a vacation with a wide variety of cultural and outdoor activities. Here is a mix of what to prioritize when planning a trip to this beautiful island destination!
1) Scuba Diving
The crystal clear waters offer numerous wreck sites, reef dives, and sea life to explore! Diving around the island there are plenty of locations that nearly guarantee getting to swim with massive sea turtles and sharks! I dove at several locations with a few companies around the island, but my favorite was easily doing the Corsair dive with Reef Pirates. On the two-tank dive, we started at the Corsair, a WWII airplane that did an emergency-landing in the waters off the coast of the southeast side of the island and has a famous large eel resident. The second stop was to visit several lava tubes which offered beautiful swim-through locations and we spotted well over ten of the biggest turtles I have come across in my years of diving. The diving crew was great in letting us all provide inputs on the sites we were most interested in exploring and did a fantastic job of pointing out the large variety of marine life throughout the dives!
2) Hike the Three Peaks
One of the most iconic hikes on the island is the Three Peaks or known locally as the Olomana Trail. The trail got a bit spicy with sections that include steep rock faces and sheer drops on either side- so get
ready for a challenging hike! There are sections with ropes that are attached to assist along the route to help with the steeper inclines but a decent amount of the second and third peaks require scrambling. The total distance out and back is about 4.4 miles (7.1 km) and to complete all three of the peaks takes around 3-4 hours depending on how long you want to rest in between and enjoy the breaks at the top. Many hikers stop at the first peak though as it is the most open and the second and third peaks are the more dangerous part of the trail. The views from the peaks though and along the ridge-line are absolutely stunning and worth every sweaty step!
If you are limited on time, there are numerous other hiking trails around the island that are much less strenuous. Diamond Head Crater is one of the closest to Waikiki and offers a beautiful view over the city. All Trails is a fantastic free app to explore all of the trails and provides a lot of useful information about where to park, the intensity of the hike, the distance, and average time required.
3) Sunset Cruise
A perfect way to enjoy one of the famous Hawaiian sunsets is to take a cruise through Waikiki waters. Star of Honolulu offers an amazing dinner and show combination on their deluxe Three Star cruise which provides an incredible 5-course meal, live entertainment throughout the evening, and an exciting Hawaiian hula performance. In between courses, guests are able to explore the decks of the ship to take in the incredible 360 views of the beautiful sunset and the stunning backdrop of Waikiki as it sparkles to life each evening. This is a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion or to simply enjoy the opportunity to visit this slice of paradise!
4) Waterfall trekking
Massive cascading falls dot the island and make beautiful hiking destinations. Most of the popular waterfalls are well-established for visitors with parking areas (usually costing between $5-10 for parking) and have well-groomed trails. Several spots like Manoa Falls are a few minutes drive from Waikiki and the round-trip trek to the falls takes less than an hour. The All Trails app can be used for most of the waterfall treks as well.
5) Rock-A-Hula Luau
Experience the taste of Hawaii with a massive buffet dinner and enjoy an accompanying hula performance in the center of Waikiki. Upon arriving at Rock-A-Hula, VIP luau package guests are met by the sounds of a ukulele and see their first hula dance of the night before being given a beautiful orchid lei and a welcome Mai Tai. The evening starts with a buffet dinner that offers more food than you can possibly sample with a wide variety of local cuisine including a full roasted pig prepared by top local chefs. As you enjoy the meal and drinks, live performers provide entertainment throughout the dinner. Afterward you head inside the Royal Hawaiian Theater for an impressive 70 minute long show that brings rock and hula together throughout the ages. The talented performers do an amazing job of bringing each era to life with classic songs and next-level dancing skills from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson, impressive hula performances to skilled fire dancing. Stay and mingle with the cast after the show or grab another drink at the Music Lounge and enjoy the live jazz music!
6) North Shore
A trip to the island is not complete without visiting the beautiful beaches lining the north shore. The area is popular for hosting large surfing competitions in the legendary Banzai Pipeline where skilled surfers are always out practicing taking on the big waves. Food trucks dot the side of the road and offer some of the best eats on the island at a reasonable price. North Shore is another great location to catch one of the best sunsets. Don't miss the adorable Haleiwa town which a sleepy little surf town.
7) Cliff Jumping
At one of North Shore's beautiful beaches is a perfect vantage point for going cliff jumping! Waimea Beach has a large rock formation that jets out into the aqua blue waters and is a popular place to test your courage and take a leap. The Waimea Bay Rock has several jumping locations ranging from about 10-30 feet high, all over the soft sandy bottom below. Hawaii Magazine lists the jump as a rite of passage and it certainly seemed to be the case with locals and visitors alike scaling the rock to take the plunge.
Plan a day trip out to visit one of the consistently ranked top beaches in the world and explore the beautiful craggy coastline on the southeastern side of the island. Lanikai which is aptly named "heavenly
ocean" is popular spot with its soft white sands and natural protection from the wind. It offers a beautiful view of the famous Mokulua Islands, or "the Mokes" which appear on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and about every piece of merchandise you could want. It is a fantastic place to kayak out to or catch a stunning moon rising at the full moon!
9) Swim under Fireworks
Making a comeback after a long hiatus during the pandemic, every Friday night the Hilton Hawaiian Village sets off a brilliant fireworks show. The display only lasts 4-5 minutes but is enjoyed by the massive crowds of people that fill the beaches in Waikiki. It is easy to catch the show from most beaches along the nearby coastline, but my favorite place to experience the fireworks was swimming out in the bay directly below where they are set off. This is the first and only place I have had the chance to enjoy a fireworks show from the water and it quickly became my weekly tradition to swim out underneath them as the official start to the weekend! Get there early as the show starts promptly at 8pm and the beaches fill up early.
10) Sunset Yoga on the Beach
There is something particularly calming about practicing yoga outdoors with the breeze to keep you cool while you work up a sweat and breathe in the fresh air. The numerous parks around Waikiki offer plenty of space to bring a mat and practice on your own, or join a guided session on the far side of Waikiki near the zoo. Catching the sunset and listening to the waves quietly crash in the distance while stretching under the palm trees is a great way to unwind and relax.
While there are plenty of shopping options around Waikiki, be sure to check out one of the many farmer's markets to see local arts and crafts or sample tasty treats.
Makapu'u Point- There is an easy trail that leads out to the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse that offers scenic views of the coastline, Waimanalo Bay, and Koko Head as well as a glimpse of Maui in the distance on a clear day!
Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Gardens- the massive lush gardens offer numerous trails that make it easy to spend an entire afternoon strolling through!