It would be a shame to go all the way to Oahu and only spend time on Waikiki Beach. Yes, the Hawaiian island’s most popular stretch of sand is worthy of an extended visit — with its calm waves, perfect sunset perches, and adjacent avenues lined with boutiques and restaurants — but there’s so much more to explore on Oahu. Our advice: Save at least a day or two for discovering the rest of the island. (With a rental car, it’s easy to get around on your own.) Whether you want more beaches, a dose of local culture, or an amazing meal, here are a few ideas for the best things to do in Oahu.
1. Drive to the North Shore
Oahu’s north shore is a surfer’s paradise, but even if you’re not ready to hang ten, a drive along the coast is still a great way to spend the day. Start the one-hour drive north from Waikiki early and head to Haleiwa Town for banana pancakes at Cafe Haleiwa. Then, cruise along the Kamehameha Highway and find a beach to call your own for the afternoon, from the remote Papailoa Beach (also known as Police Beach, a filming location for the TV show Lost) to the popular Ehukai Beach Park, home of the famous Banzai Pipeline surf break. Another essential North Shore pit stop is one of the shrimp trucks in Kahuku. The wait may be long at Romy’s, but the reward — a heaping plate of fresh-caught wild shrimp, drenched in garlic and butter — is well worth it.
2. Visit Pearl Harbor
Located about 45 minutes west of Waikiki Beach, this active military base remains one of the most visited World War II memorial sites in the U.S. It’s free to visit all five historic monuments at the site, but if you want to see the U.S.S. Arizona memorial (which sits right above the sunken Arizona battleship), reserve tickets for the boat shuttle online in advance — or risk waiting in line for a couple hours.
3. Explore Downtown Honolulu
It’s not all palm trees and beach bars on Oahu. Hawaii’s capital city offers a worthy night away from the beach, with acclaimed restaurants and bars that rival those on the mainland. In the Chinatown neighborhood, head to The Pig & The Lady or Senia, then walk over to Bar Leather Apron for a nightcap — the swanky spot hidden inside a nondescript office building is known as one of the best cocktail bars in the country.
4. Tour the Dole Plantation
The family-friendly Dole Plantation in Wahiawa provides a crash course on all things pineapple. Hop on the vintage Pineapple Express train for a ride through the grounds as you learn about James Dole — who moved to Oahu in 1889 and launched his pineapple empire — before making your way through the world’s largest garden maze. Cap off the trip with a scoop of highly coveted Dole Whip ice cream — pineapple-flavored, of course.
5. Hike to Manoa Falls
5. Hike to Manoa Falls
A hike up Diamond Head is a Waikiki must-do, but for something a bit more lush that’s not too far away, drive 20 minutes east to Manoa Falls. This round-trip, 1.6-mile trek cuts through tropical rainforest and bamboo forest before reaching the 150-foot waterfall. It’s a little bit of all Oahu’s ecosystems in one trip, and offers plenty great photo ops.
6. Visit Kailua and the Halona Lookout
The 40-minute drive north to Kailua is worth it alone for a cup of guava shaved ice from Island Snow — their beloved recipe includes a scoop of ice cream below the flavored ice. Afterward, take the long way back to Waikiki by driving along Oahu’s east coast on the Kalanianaʻole Highway; that way, you can stop at the Halona Blowhole Lookout, where, on a clear day, you can see Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Below the lookout is Halona Cove, a picture-perfect beach made famous in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity.
7. Drink a Mai Tai at La Mariana Sailing Club
Waikiki has its fair share of classic beach bars (hello, House Without a Key and Duke’s Waikiki, but for a real dose of Hawaiiana kitsch, catch a ride 20 minutes west to La Mariana Sailing Club. Overlooking the Keehi Lagoon, this is Hawaii’s original tiki bar — established in 1957 — and it has the vintage tiki sculptures, shell lamps, and rattan chairs to prove it. This may seem like a no-brainer, but ordering the Mai Tai is a must.