As the third largest island of the Hawaiian islands, you’ll definitely want to plan your Oahu bucket list before you go!
With so many breathtaking sights and incredible experiences to be had, you will find it hard to pick the top experiences to include on your list! Oahu has so much more than just beaches and coconut trees! In fact, Oahu is a top USA bucket list destination, and with good reason!
If you want to get up close and personal with the island’s vibrant history, spend your days at Pearl Harbor or experiencing some of the authentic Polynesian cultural traditions found all over the island. If you prefer fine dining and finer art, you will find plenty of both, as well as a robust nightlife on the city streets of Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu.
Adventure seekers and athletics alike will delight at the number of thrill seeking experiences and spectacular hikes found all over the island as they are considered some of the best things to do in Oahu!
Regardless of where your heart lies, the Hawaiian islands have something for everyone and you’ll find plenty of things to include on your own personal Oahu bucket list.
As the most populous island of all the Hawaiian islands, this major tourist destination has near perfect weather year round and attracts almost five million visitors annually! After you get a taste for everything this island paradise has to offer, you will understand why!
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Oahu Bucket List: Things NOT to Miss
1. Catch an incredible sunset!
Sunsets in Oahu are just different. Head out to the coastline or one of the many beaches for the sweeping colors that take the sky. It is one of the most magical experiences.
2. Take a Personalized Tour of Honolulu
Oahu is the home of Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii and its largest city. No Oahu bucket list would be complete without a tour of this robust and vivacious city on the edge of the ocean in the southeast portion of the island.
Filled to the brim with dozens of sites of cultural and historical significance as well as numerous restaurants, bars, cafes, museums and art galleries, this city provides an amazing wealth of things to do and you’ll need to hit the ground running to experience it all.
A personalized tour is one of the best ways to see everything that appeals to your personal desires without getting lost or wasting time trying to navigate the streets and transportation found in this urban hotspot.
The best tour guides are experienced and knowledgeable locals who will get an in depth knowledge about all your likes and dislikes before tailoring a tour that suits your unique desires.
From food tours to museum crawls, historic sites or art experiences, your guide will be sure to find the best of the best as well as some of the hidden gems that most tourists would miss at first glance.
It would be impossible to experience everything the capital of Hawaii has to offer, but with some advanced planning and the helpful aid of a local tour guide, you will be sure to see all the highlights!
If you’d prefer to explore on your own without the help of a local guide, you can always take advantage of the hop on hop off Waikiki Trolley!
This quaint trolley zips through the streets of Honolulu as well as the sites just outside the city limits, giving easy access to some of the top spots to visit on your Oahu bucket list, including museums, hiking trails, beaches, and aquariums!
3. Hike the Stairway to Heaven
This is an illegal hike but still frequented each morning by those who don’t mind paying the fine and fear nothing. This hike is not for the faint of heart. You should be in pretty good shape as it is a treacherous hike, vertical in some places and a whole lot of stairs.
A top travel bucket list check for many, be safe out there.
4. Immerse yourself in History at the Polynesian Cultural Center
The rich cultural history of the Hawaiian islands is one of the biggest attractions for travelers and there is no better addition to your Oahu bucket list than a stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Considered the largest and most comprehensive experience of Polynesian culture, as well as the largest park of its kind in the world, this attraction is equal parts theme park and living history museum.
With examples of Polynesian culture from New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii and Fiji, this immersive experience will put you right in the middle of recreated villages from all areas that have been touched by the robust and unique Polynesian influence.
Experience each of six different island cultures through themed villages, each one boasting educational programs, theatrical performances, demonstrations and vibrant, historically accurate architecture, costumes and dances. Learn the Hawaiian hula, observe a Tahitian wedding or learn all about the rich relationship this culture has with the waters of the ocean.
For an even more exhilarating experience with the vibrant Polynesian culture of the island, stay for the authentic luau buffet dinner followed by an authentic luau performance.
From hula dances to heart-racing performances with knives and fire, this experience is sure to be a memorable addition to your Oahu bucket list during your exploration of this vibrant Hawaiian island!
5. Swim under a waterfall
If you are out in Waimea Falls Park, take the 30 minute hike to the waterfall and jump into the huge pool where the waterfall is.
6. Experience Hawaii’s Diversity and a Luau at the Sea Life Park
Sea Life Park in Oahu is one of the top items on any Oahu bucket list for the remarkable experiences offered to get up close and personal with the vibrant and unique marine wildlife that calls this island paradise home.
You’ll see massive sharks, graceful sea turtles and playful dolphins in rich and engaging exhibits while learning all about the conservation efforts undertaken by one of Hawaii’s top rated aquariums.
For an even more interactive experience, the Sea Life Park in Oahu is considered one of the top places in all of the Hawaiian islands to swim with dolphins while learning all about these remarkably intelligent marine mammals.
After spending the day learning all about Hawaii’s rich environmental diversity, enjoy Sea Life Park’s most popular attraction; the Ka Moana Luau.
Taking place nightly, this experience includes award winning, authentic Hawaiian cuisine prepared by skilled chefs followed by a thrilling after dinner performance that includes fire, dancing, singing and music bound to get the heart racing with excitement!
7. Learn all about Pearl Harbor
Located near Honolulu, Pearl Harbor is the infamous site of the attack by the Japanese on American soil during World War II. This historical event marked a huge turning point in the war and for the Hawaiian islands and getting a better understanding of this important moment in history is a vital addition to any Oahu bucket list.
Explore Pearl Harbor and learn the context behind that infamous day in history before immersing yourself even further in the sights in and around the harbor.
You’ll be able to explore the various museums, including the Submarine Museum and the Road to War Museum. The experience the memorials dedicated to the lives lost that day, including the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma.
Finish your in depth exploration of the attacks at Pearl Harbor with a comprehensive tour of the USS Bowfin Submarine and the USS Missouri battleship for a full understanding of the life and times of those who served our country during the dark times of World War II.
8. Hike to the Top of Diamond Head Crater
One of the most iconic scenes in Oahu is Diamond Head Crater and those who enjoy hiking and the outdoors will surely want to add this location to their Oahu bucket list!
The hike to the top of the crater takes you over 750 feet above sea level and takes roughly three hours to get to the top and back down, but once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking 360 degree views of the picturesque island paradise of Oahu as well as the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean stretching for miles in every direction.
9. Get a Mai Tai
Stop over at the Pink Palace AKA The Royal Hawaiian and visit their beach bar, Mai Tai Bar for the BEST Mai Tai in all of Oahu.
10. Take in the Sights on a Helicopter Tour of Oahu
One of the most popular items on any Oahu bucket list is a helicopter tour of the island. Nothing can demonstrate the stark beauty, volcanic terrain and lush jungle views quite like seeing them from above. As the third largest island in the Hawaiian island chain, there is a lot of ground to cover on Oahu and a helicopter tour is the best way to see all the remarkable and breathtaking sights of the island in a swift and exhilarating way!
Some tours concentrate on the southeastern portions of the island, providing bird’s eye views of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor as well as the spectacular Pali cliffs, lush jungles and Hanauma Bay and the iconic Diamond Head crater. The best part of this flight path is the breathtaking views of Mount Olomana, the tall peaks that remain of the ancient volcanic caldera that formed this island so long ago!
Other helicopter tours of the island take you over the more remote or inaccessible areas of the island, especially those areas along the northern shores. For unprecedented views of lush jungles, steep cliffs and vast ocean sandbars, these helicopter tours zip along the northern coastline and hover close to the breathtaking scenery and sites, most of which have no road access whatsoever.
The highlight of the northern shore helicopter tour is Sacred Falls, another must-see attraction on any Oahu bucket list. Surrounded by dense jungle forests, this waterfall cascades a distance of over 1,000 feet, one of the most stunning of all the waterfalls on Oahu.
11. Snorkel with Sea Turtles
Surrounded by the rich, warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is home to a vast variety of unique marine flora and fauna. Snorkeling is a top experience on any Oahu bucket list for this reason, providing opportunities to see the vibrantly colored corals as well as the beautiful creatures that call these waters home.
Sailing over the waters will give you the peace of motor less transportation so that you can truly appreciate the pristine, natural beauty of the waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands. When the ship drops anchor, jump in to snorkel amongst the vibrant tropical fish and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the graceful sea turtles found all around the waters of Oahu!
12. Eat at Giovanni’s Shrimp
Giovanni’s in the North Shore is an institution. One simply doesn’t visit Oahu and not get this plate of butter and garlic drenched shrimp. You would only be doing yourself a disservice if you opt not to go.
13. View the Corals from a Glass-Bottomed Boat
If you aren’t a strong swimmer or prefer not to snorkel, you can still catch a glimpse of the vibrant coral reefs surrounding the island of Oahu without ever getting wet! Glass-bottomed boats have become a popular tourist experience and make a perfect Oahu bucket list item for those who want to experience the breathtaking underwater sights without having to dive into the water themselves.
You’ll have a chance to see all the different kinds of tropical fish and corals as well as sea turtles, dolphins and other unique marine wildlife that can be found in the Hawaiian islands.
14. Observe Magnificent Whales and Dolphins
Dolphins can be found all around the islands year-round, playfully diving and leaping in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the calm waters are ideal for these beautiful creatures and they can often be seen swimming along with the boats as they zip through the waters.
If you are lucky enough, you might even have a chance to hop overboard to snorkel and swim alongside these graceful dolphins as they frolic in their native habitat!
Depending on the time of year you travel to Hawaii, you might be able to tick yet another amazing experience off your Oahu bucket list; see whales in their natural wintering grounds! Every year, hundreds of these massive giants make the lengthy journey from the waters around Alaska to make Hawaii their home from around December through May.
They spend months in the warm waters feeding, playing and raising their young before returning northward for the summer. During the period of their winter migration, you are almost guaranteed to see whales while out on the water!
15. Eat shave ice!
Shave ice is such a staple desert that you can find just about anywhere. The ice is freshly shaven and you can opt to also get a scoop of ice cream. Then comes the fun – the toppings! So many sauce variety’s and various fruits and toppings to choose from. You can’t go wrong.
16. Dive with Sharks
For a heartracing adventure in the waters of Hawaii, many thrill-seekers add diving with sharks to their Oahu bucket list! Off the northern shore of the island of Oahu, sharks can be found swimming in large groups as they feed in the warm waters of the Pacific.
Jump into a dive cage and get an up close and personal experience with these primal creatures and watch as they swim and circle closer for a truly heart-pounding and memorable experience. Plus, you’ll also have a chance to see other marine wildlife, including sea turtles, dolphins and whales while treading water in the middle of the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean!
17. Learn to Surf like a Pro
Considered by many to be one of the best places to surf in the world, learning how to surf is one of the top Oahu bucket list items for adventure seekers and athletic travelers visiting the Hawaiian islands.
Small group sizes and professional surf instructors ensure that you have all the skills and knowledge necessary in order to enjoy your time on the water. After working one on one with your instructor on land, you’ll paddle out onto the waters of the ocean and before long, you’ll be catching your first wave like the pros!
18. Visit the Dole Pineapple Planation
There are quite a bit of activities to be experienced while visiting the pineapple plantation but probably the number one Oahu bucket list item here is eating Dole Whip! This pineapply goodness ice cream is insane and it is only sold in a few places in the entire world! You can get a sundae, float, cone – whatever you want. JUTS GET IT!
19. Spend a day at Waikiki Beach
Easily one of the best beaches in Hawaii and a top beach in the world, this is one thing you should not miss. Waikiki Beach is two miles long and hotels are in many spots along the sand.
20. Eat fresh malasadas from Leonard’s
Until you have eaten this piping hot dough made fresh to order and filled and rolled with your items of choice, you are missing out.
The best way to order is custard filled and rolled in cinnamon and sugar!
Pro tip: there is always a long line and the parking lot is always full. Go super early in the morning and get in when no one else is up.
21. Sunset dinner cruise
After adventuring around the island and diving into the waters all day, one of the best Oahu bucket list experiences to have is a cruise to see the brilliant lights of the city of Honolulu twinkling against the night sky.
Enjoy a delicious buffet dinner crafted by master chefs as you cruise in style past the city skyline. For the ultimate experience, step out on the desk to view the amazing fireworks display that takes place every Friday evening. The bright, colorful fireworks reflecting off the shimmering waters of the Pacific Ocean is a sight to behold and a moment that will make memories to last a lifetime!
22. Hike Manoa Falls
Arguably one of the most popular hikes in Oahu. Super close to Waikiki and there is a waterfall!
Fun fact: Jurassic Park scenes were filmed here.
23. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a popular snorkeling spot in Oahu and not a far drive from Waikiki. The fee to get in is about $7.50 and worth every cent. You can see so much coral and marine life.
24. Stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel
This iconic pink hotel is also known as the “Pink Palace.” It is the most noticeable hotel on the entire island and happens to be on the most perfect stretch of Waikiki Beach. If your best friend bucket list includes mai tai’s, beaches, perfect swims,. pink pancakes, and views of both the sunrise and sunset, this is your hotel.
25. Get an VW camper van and camp the island
For an iconic camping bucket list experience in Oahu, rent and old school VW van and hit the road. This will allow you to move freely around the island and to see more of it.
26. Rent a unique Airbnb
While there are a lot of fantastic hotels and resorts on the island, take your Oahu bucket list up a notch and rent a beachfront Airbnb or stay in a local neighborhood. The nice thing about going this route is that you are in more control. You can cook, do laundry and get into the specific areas you want to stay.
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