FEATURE Hikers on Puu Ohia Trail in Honolulu on Oahu Image Heather Goodman Hawaii Tourism Authority
Hikers on Puu Ohia Trail in Honolulu on O’ahu. Image: Heather Goodman Hawaii Tourism Authority

Best things to see and do on O‘ahu

While it would be easy to spend your entire Hawai‘i holiday in Waikīkī, there are plenty of reasons to get out and explore the rest of the island

Chinatown

On the western side of the city’s financial district, Chinatown is a vibrant neighbourhood bursting with historic buildings housing cool cafes, shops, restaurants and bars, such as the Lei Stand and EP Bar. The arts district, which is located on the eastern edge, is home to institutions like Hawai‘i Theatre Center, which has been a significant part of the state’s cultural landscape for more than a century, with shows like The Beach Boys, Glenn Campbell and operas and symphonies. The area comes alive on the first Friday of every month with the First Friday street festival.

An aerial view of Pearl Harbor Image Tor Johnson Hawaii Tourism Authority
An aerial view of Pearl Harbor. Image: Tor Johnson Hawaii Tourism Authority

Pearl Harbor

One of the Hawaiian Islands’ most visited attractions is Pearl Harbor, around 30 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī. Visit the resting place of 1,177 sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the World War II Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The site encompasses the USS Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum and Pacific Aviation Museum. While general admission is free, there is a US$1 service charge collected by recreation.gov to reserve tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial program. Reservations are released daily at 3pm Hawai’i Standard Time in two windows: 24-hours and 8-weeks in advance. So, for example on January 1, tickets were released for January 2 and February 26. You can also book a guided tour to see the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials on Ford Island, which is an active military base.

Shopping at the Ala Moana Center and Waikele Premium Outlets

The world’s largest open-air shopping centre, the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu’s Ala Moana neighbourhood, is home to more than 350 shops and restaurants. It boasts one of the best collections of luxury brands in the world, including Bulgari, Chanel, Dior, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Tiffany & Co., as well as Victoria’s Secret, ZARA, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s stores. Around 35 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī, Waikele Premium Outlets is the only outlet complex on the island, offering brand name products at hugely-discounted prices.

An ATV tour at Kualoa Ranch where Jurassic Park was filmed Image Hawaii Tourism Authority Ben Ono
An ATV tour at Kualoa Ranch where Jurassic Park was filmed. Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority Ben Ono

See where Jurassic Park was filmed at Kualoa Ranch and Private Nature Reserve

Movie buffs can see where Sam Neill ran from dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Godzilla’s footprints, the bones from King Kong: Skull Island and filming locations from Lost and other TV shows on a tour of Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve. The 1600ha working cattle ranch at Kāne‘ohe offers ATV tours, food tours, cruises, horse riding and ziplining. Shuttle transportation is available from select Waikīkī hotels at an additional cost.

Gunstock Ranch

You can also go horse riding, join an off-road eco-tour or give back by planting a tree at Gunstock Ranch.

Swim with wild dolphins and sea turtles

Wild Side Specialty Tours offers the chance to swim with wild dolphins and sea turtles, as well as whale watching cruises, from Wai‘anae Boat Harbor, around an hour’s drive from Waikīkī.

Hiking on O‘ahu

There are also some wonderful hiking trails on O‘ahu, including the Pu‘u‘ohi‘a Trail, which traverses native forest, and the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail, on the island’s most eastern point. Be aware that the latter can get crowded and make sure you stay on marked trails.

Honolulu Botanical Gardens

The Honolulu Botanical Gardens encompasses five separate gardens across the island. While entry to Foster Botanical Garden in Downtown Honolulu costs US$5 for visitors, visiting the others is free. Lili‘uokalani Botanical Garden is a city park in Honolulu which was once a favoured picnic ground for the last reigning monarch of Hawai‘i, Queen Lili‘uokalani, while the 24ha Koko Crater Botanical Garden, on the eastern side of the island, is known for its cacti and African plants. The 162ha Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Gardens at Kāne‘ohe, around 30 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī, features endangered tropical plants, a large lake, picnic facilities and a network of walking trails, while the 11ha Wahiawā Botanical Garden is also a tropical wonderland, showcasing native plants.

Ride the train at Dole Plantation on Oahu
Ride the train at Dole Plantation on O’ahu

Dole Plantation

For all things pineapple, head to Dole Plantation in Wahiawā, where you can ride the Pineapple Express Train, do a tour and get lost in the maze before having lunch at the Plantation Grille (don’t miss the Dole Whip dairy-free soft serve!).

A happy child at WetnWild Hawaii
A happy child at WetnWild Hawaii

Wet’n’Wild Hawai‘i and Coral Crater Adventure Park at Kapolei

Families will also love Wet’n’Wild Hawai‘i at Kapolei and nearby Coral Crater Adventure Park, which offers ziplining, an aerial challenge course and ATV tours.

The Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center, around an hour’s drive from Waikīkī on the North Shore, showcases the people, culture, arts and crafts of Polynesia with island villages and an evening show. The North Shore is also home to the surf town of Hale‘iwa and the famous Banzai Pipeline at ‘Ehukai Beach where champion surfers compete in Hawai’i’s winter (November to April). If planning a visit, it’s best to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

The LineUp at Wai Kai

Opened in 2023, The LineUp at Wai Kai is O‘ahu’s biggest new attraction. Located within Hoakalei Resort at ‘Ewa Beach, around 40 minutes’ drive from Waikīkī, the waterfront recreation and lifestyle development includes Hawai‘i’s first surf park. Neighbouring Wai Kai Lagoon is ideal for water sports such as stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, guided outrigger canoeing and riding pedal boats. It also offers restaurants, cabanas, an evening show, and a boutique.

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