Best Places to Visit in Oahu Hawaii
After spending a few days in Maui and Kauai, we decided to complete our first trip to Hawaii by spending a couple of days in Oahu. The third largest Hawaiian island, Oahu isn’t called “The Gathering Place” for nothing. After enjoying the serenity and natural beauty of Kauai, Oahu was a different, but equally enjoyable experience where bustling city life and laidback beach resorts bring you the best of two worlds.
Oahu is the most populated of the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu, Oahu’s biggest city and Hawaii’s state capital, stretches from Pearl Harbor to Makapuu Point on the southeastern shores of the island. Using the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu as a base, we had two days to discover Oahu.
Oahu Vacation – Essentials
Here are our recommendations for best places to visit in Oahu:
Waikiki is most famous for its sparkling white sand beach. The native Hawaiian people call it “spouting waters”, but the waters of Waikiki is calm enough to make it ideal for learning to surf. In the heart of Waikiki’s shopping, dining, and entertainment district, you will also find the Waikiki Beach Walk filled with award-winning restaurants, boutiques, locally made products and nightlife spots. Covering nearly eight acres on Lewers Street, this is a great area to walk and people-watch. You can also learn about the history of Waikiki on the Waikiki Historic Trail where all the interesting facts from the past can be read on surfboard markers along the way.
Pearl Harbor Historical Sites
In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, December 1, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy”. That was the day when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Oahu. As a result, it remains the most popular attraction on the island to this day. There are many memorials, exhibits, and other historic sites to explore at Pearl Harbor. One of the most popular ones is the USS Arizona Memorial which sits above the great battleship in its waterbed. The site is dedicated to the 1,177 sailors and marines who lost their lives on the ship. The USS Arizona Memorial tour starts with the showing of a 23-minute documentary at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. This is followed by a boat ride to the memorial.
Tip: The USS Arizona Memorial tour is free for walk-in tourists. Tickets are issued on a first come, first served basis. This means queues can get very long, so try and be there early if you don’t want to book and pay for a ticket online in advance.
Two other ships dating to World War 11 are the USS Missouri Battleship and the USS Bowfin Submarine. You get the chance to walk inside them and see what life was like for the sailors and marines.
Tickets for all four Pearl Harbor attractions (USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor are available at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites ticketing counters in the courtyard of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
They are open daily from 7am to 4pm. Find the full list of prices here.
The only royal palace on U.S. soil, Iolani Palace was the official residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, his sister and successor, who reigned during the late 1800s. You can walk through the corridors, see the throne room, and find out where the queen was held under house arrest for 5 months. The palace is one of the best places to visit in Oahu! It is located in downtown Honolulu on the corner of King St. and Richard St.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday from 9am to 4pm.
Admission fees:mSelf-led audio tours are $6 for children between 5 and 12 and $14,75 for everyone older than 12.
The Waikiki Aquarium next to a living reef on the shoreline of Waikiki Beach has been looking after the local sealife for more than 100 years. Founded in 1904, it is the second oldest aquarium in the United States. It showcases more than 500 marine species and preserves more than 3,000 marine specimens. Check their website for information on special exhibits.
Opening times: Daily from 9am to 4:30pm except on special holidays.
Admission fees: Children from 4 to 12 pay $5 and everyone older than 12 pays $12.
The Honolulu Zoo covers 42 acres between the slopes of Diamond Head and Waikiki. It is home to almost 1,000 animals, including elephant, Komodo dragons, a tiger, orangutans, and various other reptiles, birds, and amphibians. The zoo also showcases a botanical garden.
If you can, book a twilight tour from 4:30pm to 6:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Opening times: Daily from 9am to 4:30pm.
Admission Fees: Children from 3 to 12 pay $11 and everyone older pay $19. (Twilight tours cost extra.)
Oahu Lookouts with Spectacular Views
Like the other Hawaiian Islands, Oahu has some stunning scenery best witnessed from a higher vantage point. One of the best places to visit in Oahu with spectacular views are:
A popular lookout on the windward side of the island is Nuuanu Pali in the State Park with the same name just north of Honolulu. The lookout provides spectacular views of the 985-foot cliffs of the Koolau Mountain Range. Just don’t let the wind blow you away! Nuuanu Pali State Park is open daily (if the winds aren’t too strong) from 9am to 4pm and admission is free.
If you drive to Oahu’s southeastern tip you won’t be disappointed in the Makapu’u Point lookout just off Kalanianaole Highway. One of the best places to visit in Oahu! Go on a short hike for great views of the coastline and the Koko Crater. You can also see the historic Makapu’u Lighthouse from a distance. From November to May, the chances are good of seeing whales.
Koko Head Stairs
Climbing more than 1,000 “stairs” for 360° views in Koko Head Park on Oahu’s south shore is definitely worth it! The Koko Head Stairs is actually an old railroad that was used to transport military supplies. Comfortable shoes are required for the climb to the lookout.
The main attraction at Hālona Point, the Hālona Blowhole, has also been named one of Hawaii’s natural wonders. Hālona Point overlooks the Pacific Ocean north of Hanauma Bay where a blowhole sends geysers of up to 30 feet into the air. The height of the eruption is greater in winter when strong currents and big waves send strong currents of water into the molten lava tubes which from the blowhole. Also in winter, you may see humpback whales spouting at the surface from Hālona Point. On most clear days, the islands of Moloka’i and Lāna‘i are visible in the distance.
Trip to the North Shore
If you would like to see a different side to Oahu than Waikiki, a day trip to the North Shore is worth considering. The northwestern coast is only 90 minutes away and filled with popular local spots. Some of the best places to visit in Oahu are Turtle Beach or Laniakea Beach where Hawaiian sea turtles love to bask in the sun. Take care to listen to the conservationist volunteers who prevent visitors from getting too close to the turtles.
Oahu’s North Shore is also the island’s surfers’ paradise. Sunset Beach, where the well-known Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf Academy is, is a great place to stop to watch surfers in action, especially in winter when the waves are extra big.
A good place to have lunch is in the historic town of Haleiwa with its little shops, street art, and galleries. The nearby Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site is Oahu’s largest religious site and also worth a stop.
Why we loved staying at The Royal Hawaiian
Who wouldn’t want to stay on Waikiki Beach? The historic oceanfront resort with its distinctive character and rosy hue features 528 rooms, including 33 suites of which 18 face the ocean. Our room featured koa seating, historic photographs and various items of indigenous art. We love the newly transformed Mailani Tower which was unveiled in 2015. The guest programs offer authentic experiences that highlight the indigenous culture and history of Hawaii. Of course, whether you stay at The Royal Hawaiian or not, drinking a cocktail at the world-famous Mai Tai Bar is a must. Sipping on a Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai while gazing your eyes over Diamond Head and the ocean is one of the most relaxing experiences to be had on Oahu.
Interesting facts about The Royal Hawaiian:
The hotel, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2017, ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawaii when it was built at a price tag of $4 million in 1927.
Long before modern tourism arrived in Hawaii, the site on which The Royal Hawaiian was built really was the playground of royalty. King Amehameha I loved to spend time here after he conquered Oahu. The Summer Palace of Queen Kaahumanu was where the hotel’s Coconut Grove garden is now. Today, the hotel is still aptly called the “Pink Palace of the Pacific”.
The Royal Hawaiian was exclusively leased to the U.S. Navy during World War II. During this time, it was a rest and recreation center for the Pacific Fleet. The hotel only opened its door to the public again in 1947.
The Best Time to Visit Oahu
The temperatures in Oahu are warm year-round with the dry season is from April to October and the rainy season from November to March. The latter is better for whale watching and surfing. Avoid traveling in late December and in the U.S. schools’ Spring break in March or April if you like quieter holidays.
Getting to Oahu
Most major U.S. domestic carriers and some international carriers fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu. As Hawaii’s major airport, it serves as entry point for most travellers to Hawaii.
Find out more about things to do and travel recommendations for the other Hawaiian islands in my posts Kauai, Hawaii | Dramatic Cliffs, Tropical Rainforests and Pristine Beaches and Driving the Road to Hana – How to Make the Most of a Day Trip.
Have you been to Oahu? Which are your best places to visit in Oahu Hawaii?
Any recommendations? Comment below!