If you’re searching for the coolest things to do in Oahu to round out your Oahu bucket list, you’ve come to the right wahine. I’ve been to Hawaii a fair numbers of times already and, with the exception of a few days in Maui, I’ve spent all the rest of my time on the island of Oahu.
There are plenty of people out there who’d call me crazy. Yes, there are many other islands to explore. Yes, Oahu can be “touristy.” And yes, maybe the other islands are more beautiful. I get it. But don’t be so quick to write off the state’s main island. #hatersgonnahate
Oahu is so much more than resort-packed Waikiki Beach. There are actually so many awesome things to do here that you may never want to leave. So if you’ve got some time on Oahu coming up and you’re looking for the best ways to spend your days in paradise, start here with this super rewarding Oahu bucket list.
Best tools for your Oahu bucket list
In case you’re just beginning your Hawaii trip planning, here are the tools you’ll need for your Oahu bucket list. (These are the travel resources I always use myself.)
How to save money on your Oahu bucket list
I can’t stress this enough: if you’re looking to save money on your trip to Oahu, consider picking up an Oahu GoCity pass. This all-inclusive sightseeing pass includes a TON of the most popular items on the Oahu bucket list and all for one low flat fee.
You can choose from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7-day passes and you’ll save up to 50% on the cost of these awesome activities and attractions. Plus, they will literally refund you the difference if you don’t save money! (I personally love these kinds of all-inclusive passes and get them wherever I can.)
You can view the entire list of activities and attractions here, but I’ll also mention whether each item on the Oahu bucket list is included with the pass.
Check out the Oahu GoCity pass for yourself here.
Where to stay on Oahu
There are several different parts of the island you can stay in, and you can find awesome hotels and resorts in all of them. I always use Booking.com, but definitely check Hotels.com and Expedia for comparable deals.
To make things easy for you, here are some popular options:
- Wayfinder Waikiki – One reviewer calls it “a funky little gem outside of the chaos of the main tourist area of Waikiki” and I think that’s perfect.
- Prince Waikiki – Gorgeous property on the marina, great views, tons of on-site dining.
- Turtle Bay Resort – Famous, gorgeous, top-notch accommodations on private land and shoreline.
- Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore – Friendly hotel in a quieter location that’s convenient to places like the Polynesian Cultural Center and Kualoa Ranch. (Both on this Oahu bucket list.)
Rental properties are another great way to go if you’re going to be spending significant time on the island or looking to share space with family and friends.
This is also the best way to go if you want to stay in parts of the island where there aren’t any hotels. (Which is most of the island actually!) Check out the many great options on VRBO to find a property that best fits your needs.
How to get around on Oahu
By far the easiest way to check off all the items on your Oahu bucket list is to rent your own car. Picking up rental cars at the Honolulu airport is notoriously a pain in the ass, but it really is worth it overall. And really, it’s the only way to efficiently get around the island. *sigh* The price you have to pay for paradise.
I always use RentalCars.com because I’ve found they have the best deals and the most rental companies available. (Some rental car sites don’t show you all the brands for some reason.)
Pro tip: Rent yourself either a convertible or a Jeep Wrangler. A convertible is just the best way to *island vibes* yourself around Oahu. And a Jeep is going to be necessary (or at least preferred) for some of the more rugged areas of the island.
Things to do on Oahu
In addition to the 45+ items on this Oahu bucket list, there are many more fun activities to do here. Take a look at all the Oahu options on Viator and Get Your Guide to see if there’s something else you might enjoy. (There really is so much to do here!)
And if you want more of a truly local experience, check out these great options from ToursByLocals, another favorite tour operator of my readers. All of these links take you right to the Oahu pages.
Have motion sickness?
I used to suffer from brutal motion sickness that controlled just about every aspect of my life. Until I cured myself. (No joke!) My Hawaii trip in 2013 and my desire to check off so many ocean-centered items on my Oahu bucket list was actually my breaking point.
If you also suffer from motion sickness, you’ll probably benefit from reading my post on the motion sickness cure that changed my life. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Give it a read and see if it’s for you.
Now, let’s get to the Oahu bucket list!
1. Get lei’d at the airport
Any movie or TV show you’ve ever seen where someone arrives to the airport in Hawaii shows that person being greeted by someone putting a lei around their neck. Spoiler alert: this is not real life! (But… it can be!)
Being welcomed to Hawaii with a flower lei is a tradition that goes back to the early 1900s. However, as the number of tourists increased into the literal millions, that tradition became more exclusive and strategic.
If you’re meeting friends or family in Hawaii for the first time, there’s a good chance they’ll pony up and greet you at the airport with a lei. There are several lei vendors outside the airport where they can purchase real flower lei for their visitors.
Otherwise, you can totally arrange your own personal lei greeting at the Honolulu airport! If getting lei’d at the airport has always been on your Oahu bucket list, don’t wait for your friends or family to move there, make it happen!
2. Visit Waikiki & Waikiki Beach
Hilarious, right? Me throwing Waikiki Beach out there right off the bat. It’s true that Waikiki is, like, far from the highlight of any Oahu bucket list, but it’s still something you should check out while you’re here. It’s the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Colosseum of Rome; it’s Nick Tahou’s, home of the Garbage Plate, if you ever find yourself in Rochester, NY.
Waikiki is Hawaii’s main resort, shopping, dining, and nightlife area. It’s loaded with skyscrapers and traffic and bodies so sunburned it’ll make you cringe. But it’s also loaded with scenes from your favorite movies and TV shows, glitz and glamour, good food, and million dollar views. So there’s that.
Stay in Waikiki if you want to be at the center of it all, or just spend a day here seeing all there is to see. While you’re in Waikiki, don’t miss:
Three Waikiki activities are included with the Oahu GoCity pass: a cruise with snorkeling, surfboard rental, and sunset beach yoga.
3. Duke’s Restaurant
Duke’s Waikiki never disappoints with great food and service, spectacular views, and fun atmosphere. (Fabulous breakfast!)
4. The statue of Duke Kahanamoku
Getting a picture with the statue of Duke (Hawaiian legend and father of modern surfing) at the entrance to Waikiki Beach is a must for any Oahu bucket list.
5. Waikiki Beach
The most famous beach in Hawaii with priceless views of Diamond Head, sunsets, and wannabe surf legends. You can even take your own surfing lesson here at this iconic beach!
6. International Marketplace
Open-air shopping and entertainment area in the center of Waikiki. Great for picking up souvenirs for friends and family that you’ll probably end up keeping for yourself. No judgment, bruh.
7. Take a catamaran cruise
Sunset catamaran cruises out of Waikiki are one of the things that was most recommended to me for my latest visit to Oahu (August 2023). The one I just linked to has almost 700 reviews and 5 stars! (Two different Waikiki catamaran cruises are included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
8. Explore Pearl Harbor
Every single Oahu bucket list should include a visit to Pearl Harbor, one of the most significant locations in U.S. history.
There are tons of sites to visit here, whether you’re a World War II buff (like myself) or not. If you want to just see the basics, you can; and if you want to spend two full days here (like myself), you can do that too.
Depending on how far you want to go into Pearl Harbor/WWII history will determine how many of the Pearl Harbor sites you should add to your Oahu bucket list. Either way, here are the top sites you should consider:
9. Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center
To get the most rudimentary idea of what happened at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, make this your first stop. The PH Visitor’s Center is free to visit and you’ll be able to explore the museum and watch a film that describes the events. *Bring tissues, just saying.
Be sure to check out my full guide to visiting Pearl Harbor. It has all the important stuff you NEED to know before you go and it’s full of helpful tips.
10. USS Arizona memorial
When people think of visiting “Pearl Harbor,” this is what they’re thinking of. Pearl Harbor is so much more than the Arizona memorial, but it has undoubtedly become the symbol of Japan’s attack on the United States. A visit to the Arizona is gut-wrenching but absolutely vital for your visit to Hawaii.
Visiting the Arizona is free and doesn’t take too much time. The site is run by the National Park Service and includes a roundtrip boat ride to the memorial and a little bit of time there. Visit the PH Visitor’s Center first if you want to learn about why this memorial is so significant. (A USS Arizona narrated audio tour is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
11. Battleship Missouri
The USS Missouri was a WWII battleship that served as the location of the surrender ceremony that ended the war. Great guided tours of the ship are included and you can see some really unique history here (like where a kamikaze plane hit the side, for example). (Admission is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
Also check out: Here’s How Much All Pearl Harbor Tickets Cost + How You Can Save
12. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
If you’re an aviation geek (like myself), you’ll love the PH Aviation Museum. Really cool collection and stories of WWII aircraft (but also other stuff too). You can also tour the historic hangar and see bullet holes from the December 7th attack all over the place. (Admission is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
13. Top of the Tower tour
The PH Aviation Museum just added a brand new feature: the Top of the Tower tour which takes you to the top of the air control tower. The views are incredible but the explanation of the Pearl Harbor attack from that vantage point is game-changing. This was one of the coolest things I did in 2023.
14. Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
This is such a cool place to learn about submarine warfare. There’s a museum, tons of watercraft, a large memorial, and you can tour the entire USS Bowfin submarine. (Admission is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
15. Go snorkeling
Hawaii may be beautiful on top, but it’s just as stunning below the surface too. Be sure to squeeze some snorkeling into your Oahu bucket list. Two of the most popular spots for snorkeling are:
- Hanauma Bay down on the southeasternmost tip of the island
- Shark’s Cove in historic Haleiwa on the North Shore
But since these are some of the most popular areas, keep in mind that that means it’s probably going to be crowded. And I don’t know about you, but I hate getting slapped in the face with other people’s flippers. Turtle flippers? That’s another story.
The good thing about the Hawaiian islands is that you can literally drop a snorkel into just about any part of the ocean and you’ll see some awesome stuff. Visit these popular spots on your own or just bring your snorkel gear down to whatever beach you end up on.
If you want something a little more “expert” level, you can also book spots on some great snorkeling tours to make sure you hit up the best areas to see everything you want to see. (Like gnarly sea turtles, dude!)
There are four snorkeling options included in the Oahu GoCity pass, including Hanauma Bay.
16. Snorkel with wild dolphins
One of my most epic adventures to date was the day I spent with Wild Side Specialty Tours. This small-group snorkeling excursion is led by eco-conscience marine biologists and we were able to swim with wild dolphins, sea turtles, tons of fish, and even a pod of pilot whales. It was the most amazing day. (I did their Best of the West tour.)
Also check out my post on what it’s like snorkeling in Belize in the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef.
17. Spot a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a
…or at least learn how to say it! The Humuhumunukunukuapua’a is the state fish of Hawaii (and is much more easily referred to as a Reef Triggerfish). I learned this fun word on my first trip to Oahu back in 2007, and was so excited to finally see one while snorkeling here in 2013.
So while you’re out bobbing around the island of Oahu, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for one of these super colorful fish.
18. Hike Diamond Head Crater
You’ve seen Diamond Head probably a thousand times in photos of Waikiki/Honolulu, but did you know you can hike to the top? The hike is relatively easy and will reward you with killer views of Waikiki.
The entire hike is on either a paved or dirt path which makes it fairly easy. But, it can be pretty steep and it’s fully exposed, so it’s very hot. Bring lots of water, wear a sun hat and protective clothing, and take it slow.
Diamond Head State Monument is run by the Division of State Parks. It costs $5 to enter, parking is $10, and you’ll need to reserve a time slot. Set aside about 2 hours on your Oahu bucket list to hike up and down the crater.
A Diamond Head shuttle and hike is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
19. Attend a luau
Obviously one of the top items on any decent Oahu bucket list is to attend a luau. But which one? There are plenty to choose from, and they’re all unique in their own ways.
Some are touristy garbage, while others are more authentic and overall enjoyable. Some are huge, and others are more intimate. I’ve personally been to two of Oahu’s luaus and they were incredibly different from one another—the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center (twice actually) and most recently the luau at Experience Nutridge.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The one at the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the most popular, and biggest, luaus on Oahu. This is actually an all-day experience that’s well worth it.
The pros: You’ll get to explore the entire cultural village to learn about many different Polynesian cultures, you’ll have a fantastic luau dinner, and you’ll get to see an incredible show.
The cons: This luau is alcohol-free (boooo) and it definitely feels more like an entertainment venture than anything else. You’ll be one of about 700 people at your luau.
That being said, I’ve enjoyed both of my luau experiences here. The PCC is anything but intimate, but the time spent in the Polynesian villages is super fun, the food is great, and the show is incredible. I highly recommend a visit here.
On my latest trip to Oahu in August 2023, I went in the opposite direction and booked a spot at the Experience Nutridge luau.
The pros: This luau is much more intimate at only about 75 people max and you really do feel welcome and appreciated here. (I attended this luau solo on my birthday and, between the amazing staff and the other awesome luau-goers, I never felt like I was here alone.)
The venue is incredible (on top of a mountain in Honolulu on a beautiful estate), the staff is so friendly and fun and talented, and there’s booze (they even give you a free welcome drink).
The cons: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the food, but that’s not really why I booked anyway.
Both of these luaus are unforgettable and worthwhile experiences but vastly different from each other. I’m sitting here trying to decide which one I would recommend if you had to choose, and I honestly can’t pick. Let’s just say, you won’t be disappoint with either of them!
Other luaus for your Oahu bucket list
Beyond these two, there are several more luaus on Oahu. I can’t give you any firsthand advice on these, but some other popular options include:
- Paradise Cove luau, close to the Ko’Olina resort area
- Chief’s Luau in Kapolei
- Toa Luau at Waimea Valley
- Germaine’s luau, also in Kapolei
- Ka Moana luau is included in the Oahu GoCity pass
- And the Ka Wa’a luau at Disney Aulani Resort (geared towards children and families, obviously)
20. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
OK, even if you decide to attend a different luau from this one, you should still consider a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center. You can still visit the PCC without attending the luau.
You can visit the six historically-accurate cultural villages (across 42 acres) to learn about different Polynesian cultures. You’ll get to experience all the cultural presentations and activities. You’ll learn how to hula in Hawaii, race a canoe and throw spears in Tonga, learn about warriors in Fiji, and watch a guy climb a 40-foot palm tree in his bare feet in Samoa. (And so much more!)
You can also attend the incredible nighttime show full of beautiful dancing and fire shows. And you can shop in the marketplace. All without having to attend the luau.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
21. Explore Jurassic Park
It took me three visits to Hawaii to finally check this off my Oahu bucket list and it was so worth the wait. Kualoa Ranch is where they’ve filmed (and continue to film) tons of well-known movies and TV Shows. And they offer a ton of different tours so you can visit your favorite filming locations.
For me, that meant spending the day at both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. I booked this Jurassic Adventure Tour that takes you to tons of filming locations from both franchises. You get to learn all kinds of behind-the-scenes info about the movies and even walk around in some of the sets. If you’re any bit of a dino-geek like me, you’ll love this tour!
This is also where they filmed things like Lost, Hawaii Five-0, Jumanji (the newer ones), 50 First Dates, and a bunch of action films I’ve never seen. And you get to see locations and props from all of them.
22. Stroll the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Flea Market
One of the oldest activities on your Oahu bucket list is going to be the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. This massive collection of vendors has been happening every week since 1979.
You can find everything here—souvenirs, home décor, clothing and jewelry, local artists, food trucks and vendors, and just about anything else you can think of.
The Aloha Stadium swap meet takes place every Wednesday and Saturday from 8am – 3pm, and every Sunday from 6:30am – 3pm. It’s located all around the perimeter of Aloha Stadium. It’s free to enter but costs $2 (cash) to park. Once inside, some of the vendors will accept credit card but definitely be prepared with cash.
And even though they’ll soon be tearing down Aloha Stadium to build the new Aloha Stadium Entertainment District, the weekly swap meet isn’t going anywhere.
23. Visit the Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is “Hawaii’s complete pineapple experience” and it really has something for everyone. You can ride a cheesy pineapple train around the property to learn about growing pineapples, get lost in the “world’s largest maze” in the pineapple garden, and eat so many delicious pineapple things.
Honestly, you’ve never had pineapple this good in your life. I’ve been here twice, and the last time I literally just left with a pineapple as a souvenir. It didn’t survive the day.
The Dole Plantation is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
24. Walk the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail is one of the easier “hikes” on this Oahu bucket list. It still climbs a little in elevation, but the entire path is paved road which makes it considerably easier (and more accessible) than most.
The trail winds along the coastline where, in the winter months, you can see just loads of humpback whales. At the end of the trail is the Makapu’u Lighthouse and an observation platform overlooking the ocean.
Parking at the trailhead is free and you can park along the road if the lot is full. Pro tip: Do this hike at sunrise like I did. Pure magic.
The Makapu’u Lighthouse hike (with transportation) is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
25. Explore historic Haleiwa and the North Shore
Exploring the historic surf town of Haleiwa on the North Shore is such a fun way to spend a day of your Oahu bucket list. Leave Honolulu behind and feel like you’re really in a small surf-obsessed village on a remote island.
This super laid-back town is full of cool shops, chill restaurants, art galleries, and beautiful beaches. Parking your car and simply walking the streets with no agenda is the way to go here. But if you do want some kind of plan, you should also…
A day trip to the North Shore is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
26. Get lunch from a North Shore shrimp truck
Shrimp trucks are super popular on the North Shore and the garlic butter shrimp is where it’s at. Besides being delicious, this is such a fast, easy, and surprisingly affordable way to grab lunch here.
On the recommendation of my friend Moani (whose Hawaii-focused food and travel blog you should definitely follow while you’re here), I went with Jenny’s Shrimp Truck and, yall. YALL. It was so freaking good. I mean, shrimply heavenly.
Other popular North Shore shrimp trucks include:
- Giovanni’s – the original NS shrimp truck that started the trend
- Big Wave
- Fumi’s Kahuku
27. Eat shave ice
OK so yes maybe this Oahu bucket list is just all about eating, so sue me. But after you eat your garlic shrimp you’re going to need dessert. And yes, ice counts as dessert.
Hawaiian shave ice is simple, but perfect. It’s literally just thinly shaved ice covered in flavorful syrups and other toppings like ice cream and fruit. The best part is that it can be whatever you want it to be.
There are shave ice stands all over Oahu, but some are more well-known than others. (Pro tip: If they spell it “shaved ice,” stay away.) Be sure to stop by:
- Matsumoto’s on the North Shore – the most famous of them all. Be prepared to wait in a very long line.
- Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha in Honolulu – I went here after seeing this place on the show Somebody Feed Phil. I’m not really a fan of the show, but I am a fan of being able to add adzuki beans to my ice. (Something I ate a lot of during my summer in Taiwan and that you almost never see here in the U.S.) All in all, this place is fantastic.
28. Pick up some mac nuts
The North Shore Macadamia Nut Company is a small family-run operation that’s actually the only working macadamia nut farm on Oahu. Stop by their shop where you can pick up any and all kinds of macadamia nuts, products, and gifts.
29. Take a surfing lesson
Hawaii and surfing go together like, well, garlic butter and shrimp. And even if you’ve never so much as laid eyes on a surfboard before (ahem, guilty), I highly recommend adding a surfing lesson to your Oahu bucket list.
Really, I had never so much as touched a surfboard before when I decided to add this private surfing lesson to my itinerary. And I’ll be honest—I was super nervous before my lesson. I’m a good swimmer, pretty fit, maybe a little too adventurous for my own good, but still nervous. My expectations were also super low. I expected to have a fun time trying to surf, but never in a million years did I think I would actually ride a wave.
And yall. YALL. I RODE SO MANY WAVES. Seriously, it was incredible. This was undoubtedly the highlight of my August 2023 Oahu trip. Yes, I face-planted plenty of times. I walked away with cuts, contusions, a fat lip, and what I’m pretty sure were a couple of bruised ribs… but it was SO FUN! (Seriously though, get your tetanus shot first, lol.)
Waikiki Beach or North Shore?
You can take lessons on Waikiki Beach (considered to be the birthplace of surfing) or the North Shore (definitely the world headquarters of surfing). I opted for the iconic North Shore and loved every minute of it. The waves were the perfect size, the beach was beautiful, and there were curious sea turtles swimming all around us!
Long story short, it was the perfect ocean adventure for my Oahu bucket list. I highly recommend trying this out for yourself if you’re not afraid of the ocean and a few bruises. These lessons include all the equipment you’ll need, expert instructors, and no experience is required. (Some even have the option of adding a photographer.) Check out these options:
- Small-group surfing lesson (2 hours, many times available) on either Waikiki or the North Shore
- Private group lesson for just your party (how fun would that be!) on Waikiki or the North Shore
- This one-on-one private lesson I took on the North Shore. (It cost barely more than the group lesson.) They offer private lessons on Waikiki as well.
A private group surfing lesson and Waikiki surfboard rental are both included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
30. Swim in the waterfall at Waimea Valley
Since you’re already on the North Shore in your bathing suit, next up on the Oahu bucket list is a visit to Waimea Valley. This hidden piece of Oahu includes a beautiful walk through the botanical gardens which ends at Waimea Falls, a cool waterfall that you can swim in (and under).
The Waimea Valley botanical gardens are included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
31. Eat at the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant
Yes! Somehow here in the country’s most expensive state you’ll find the world’s least expensive Michelin-starred restaurant: Tim Ho Wan. “Dim sum perfection” they call themselves, and you can be the judge here at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Honolulu.
Michelin star dining has gotten pretty much out of control at this point (in terms of both cost and ridiculous factor), but if you want to say you’ve done it, this is the best deal. Tim Ho Wan is open every day from 10am – 9pm.
32. Do the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
If you prefer to stay on land, here’s another great hike for your Oahu bucket list. The Lanikai Pillbox hike is fairly easy on the difficulty scale. (It can get slippery though, especially when it’s really dry.) It takes you up the ridge where you’ll pass a couple of WWII pillboxes.
The trail is lined with beautiful flowers and plants and you’ll be able to get some amazing views over the ocean and surrounding areas. Since it’s over on the east side of the island, this is another popular sunrise hike.
Pro tip: There’s no parking at the trailhead as it’s in a neighborhood, but you can park for free at nearby Kailua Beach Park and walk the 15-20 minutes to the trailhead.
33. Hit up the poke bar at Foodland
One of the best things I learned on my most recent visit to Oahu was that Foodland (the local grocery chain) has one hell of a kickass poke bar. The couple I met while waiting for my rental car told me, “It’s like a deli, but instead of sliced meat it’s twenty different kinds of poke.” They’re weren’t lying.
I made this my lunch on more than one occasion and I only wish I could try them all. If you want some delicious poke, tons of different options, and all for a super reasonable price, head to the nearest Foodland.
Pro tip: Get a Foodland member card to save lots of money on your poke. Or if you’re staying with a friend, just use their phone number. I’m sure they won’t mind. 🙂
34. Visit a museum
If you find you need a break from the sun (it happens), consider adding one (or all) of these museums to your Oahu bucket list:
The Bishop Museum – Hawaii’s “premier natural and cultural history museum.” You can learn all about Hawaiian history and culture, but also about the surrounding land and sea. (Included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
Iolani Palace – This iconic building was the former residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii. (King Kamehameha lived here.) You might also know it as Five-0 headquarters, just saying. And you can take a tour of it! (Included in the Oahu GoCity pass.)
U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii – If you want to learn about Pearl Harbor but in a much less-crowded location, hit up the Army Museum instead of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center. Seriously, I found the exhibits here much easier to follow than those at PH. Plus, there’s air conditioning, and WWII tanks, and it’s free to visit, and they validate parking. Convinced yet?
35. Eat SPAM and eggs for breakfast
Speaking of WWII, I bring you: the wonder that is SPAM. SPAM became popular in Hawaii during the war and remains an iconic piece of Hawaiian culture. To honor that history and to experience something pretty unique to this destination, order yourself some SPAM and eggs for breakfast at your local diner or café.
I actually like SPAM, but the runny egg yolk is definitely needed to tone down its saltiness. On my most recent trip, I had SPAM and over-easy eggs with hash browns at Cinnamon’s Restaurant in Kailua. Highly recommend!
Breakfast not your jam? Then try musubi, also known as SPAM sushi. Big fan here.
36. Catch a sunrise on the beach
I don’t know why sunsets get all the glory; in Hawaii, the sunrises are just as epic! While in Hawaii working on my Oahu bucket list, the friends I was staying with suggested I catch the sunrise at the local beach.
So I did… and then I caught the sunrise on the beach every day of my trip. I even kept myself on Boston time the whole time I was here so I wouldn’t miss one.
I simply can’t tell you how serene it is watching the sun come up while sitting on the beach, nearly alone, with the cool breeze and the swaying palms. I’m going to lull myself to sleep just writing about it.
Show up a little before sunrise, find a spot in the sand, and just watch the day begin. Chances are there’s already surfers in the water, a handful of joggers and their cute pups, an outrigger team charging into the waves, a rooster or two waking up the rest of the neighborhood, and other visitors like you out there.
37. Hike the Koko Head Railway
Admittedly, this is one of the crazier things on the Oahu bucket list, but one of the most unique and worthwhile! If you’re in decent physical health and with a little bit of a crazy streak, that is.
The Koko Head Railway was built during WWII to transport materials up and down the crater to the military defense installations at the top. When the war ended, the railway and bunkers were simply abandoned.
Today, you can hike to the top of Koko Head Crater via what’s known as the “Koko Head Stairs.” These “stairs” are actually the railroad ties from the former railway. At the top, you get amazing 360° views and some desperately-needed air.
There are 1,050 railroad ties (spaced about 3 feet apart, mind you), and the entire hike up and back down takes about 2 hours. But the important thing to know here is that the path is pretty much vertical. Your legs won’t know what hit them. This hike is actually pretty brutal, but awesome.
If you’re looking to add a little bit (lol) of exercise to your Oahu bucket list, this is the #1 activity for you.
Read my full Koko Head Crater hike survival guide here! It’s got everything you could possibly want to know about this crazy hike.
38. Go whale watching
And even if you left your hiking legs back home, hopefully you at least brought your sea legs to your Oahu bucket list. If you’ll be visiting Hawaii between the months of December and April, be sure to book a whale watching excursion while you’re here.
Living in Boston, I go whale watching pretty regularly and it’s always a beautiful experience. Seeing some of the world’s largest creatures up close in the wild is simply jaw-dropping.
Off the coast of Oahu, the most common whales you can see are humpback whales, but you can also see right whales, beluga whales, and even sperm whales. During my last Hawaii snorkeling trip, I actually found myself on the edge of a massive pod of pilot whales (in August).
If you’re interested in adding whale watching to your Oahu bucket list, check out these popular excursion options:
- Waikiki Beach Eco-Friendly Whale Watching Cruise – Spot migrating humpbacks from a double-deck luxury catamaran along the beautiful Waikiki coastline. (That means you also get fantastic views of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head!)
- Eco-Friendly West Coast Whale Watching Cruise – Sail along the stunning Ko’Olina coastline, snacks and free hotel pickup included.
- Early Bird Whale Watching Cruise from Waikiki – No-frills, two-hour whale watching trip out of Waikiki.
- Whale Watching & Late Breakfast Cruise in Honolulu – Have your breakfast on board while you sail to where the humpbacks hang out.
- See more whale watching options here on Viator and here on Get Your Guide.
39. Visit a local craft brewery
Visiting local craft breweries is something I try to do on every trip, so this Oahu bucket list is no exception. And what better place to sit back and enjoy some good beer in the sunshine? I mean really.
Oahu is full of great craft breweries, so depending on where you are, you’re sure to find something delicious. Here are some places to start:
- Kona Brewing Co. in Honolulu – Hawaii’s most famous craft brewery has a taproom here in Oahu. In fact, it’s near the base of the Koko Head stairs. (I.e., the best way to end that grueling hike.)
- Lanikai Brewing in Kailua for great local beers and a fabulous brick oven pizza truck on Fridays.
- Honolulu Beer Works whose coconut hefeweizen is my new favorite beer!
- Maui Brewing Co. in Waikiki for a taste of Maui here on Oahu.
- Hana Koa Brewing in Honolulu for the IPA lovers
- Inu Island Ales in Kaneohe for something fruity and unique
A beer bike tour around kaka’ako (Honolulu’s vibrant arts and warehouse district) is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
40. Go kayaking
Kayaking is one of my favorite ways to get out on the water and Oahu offers so many cool kayaking experiences. You can likely rent a kayak from whatever hotel/resort/beach you’re staying at and simply paddle around the (albeit gorgeous) ocean.
Or you can opt for something different and paddle over to some of the island’s coolest kayaking spots. Like…
A 3-hour Kayak or standup paddleboard rental is included in the Oahu GoCity pass.
Keep in mind that most excursions offer either guided or self-guided options. Guided is great to learn about the ocean and wildlife. Self-guided is great when you just want to explore on your own. Many also offer stand-up paddleboard options as well.
41. Visit Punchbowl Cemetery
Honolulu, Hawaii is the site of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (commonly known as the Punchbowl Cemetery due to its location inside the Punchbowl Crater).
This huge and beautiful cemetery that overlooks Honolulu opened in 1949 and contains the graves of those who died serving in the United States military. This includes a number of Pearl Harbor victims and WWII veterans, as well as many other notable figures.
Besides the famous burials, there’s a great memorial atop the hill with huge mosaics that detail the events of WWII’s Pacific Theater.
42. Explore Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
You’ll know why the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are on the Oahu bucket list as soon as you drive in. This beautiful site is located in a lush valley, surrounded by the sky-high Ko’olau mountains. The park is free to visit.
There are nature trails lined with all kinds of interesting tropical trees and flowers, a large lake, lots of wildlife (ahem, mongooses), and tons of green space. But really, just driving from one end of the gardens to the other is the real treat. (Just don’t stop on the road – like the bajillions of signs say but so many jerks completely ignore.)
43. Take an Oahu food tour
I’m a huge fan of Hawaiian food, are you? If so, you should definitely consider adding a local food tour to your Oahu bucket list. Food tours are the perfect way to sample tons of local foods, learn about the culture, and, well, get fed.
Check out some of these popular Oahu food tours for your next trip:
- Hawaii Food Tour – Off the Beaten Path – This 3-hour, small group walking tour “provides insights into Hawaii’s multicultural history and culinary heritage while taking you to some excellent eateries that lie off the tourist trail.” 5 stars. I’m sold.
- Da Local’s Food Tour – Another 5-star, 3-hour tour that includes all the best stuff like poke, garlic shrimp, and shave ice.
- Oahu Food Tour by Bike – If you’re looking to burn the calories while you consume them, this super popular tour is for you.
44. Go on a submarine scooter adventure
I had no idea what this was either when I asked my Instagram followers what their favorite thing to do in Oahu was. SO MANY people replied that I should go on a submarine scooter adventure. And looking at how many 5-star reviews this activity has, apparently they were right!
You’ll have to look at the pictures in that link above to understand, but it really is like riding a scooter at the bottom of the ocean. You get to be up close with all the fish and sea turtles, but in a totally gnarly way! Seriously, everyone told me it was so much fun.
45. Spend some chill time on the beach
And because this is still Hawaii and the beaches here are some of the dreamiest in the world, you should definitely feel free to add some relaxation to your Oahu bucket list too. (But still bring your snorkel gear!)
I’m very much a doer when I travel, but I did carve out some chill beach time after one of my sunrise hikes. And it was absolutely a highlight. The waters here are crystal clear and full of colorful fish and sea turtles galore! The water is warm, the scenery is amazing, and many of the local beaches are beautifully uncrowded.
Visit Waikiki Beach because it’s famous, but definitely spend some time on a lesser-known local beach too for a true Hawaiian experience.
I hope I’ve helped plump up your Oahu bucket list and/or introduced you to some new things to do here. Definitely come back and let me know which were your favorites. And if you’d like this bucket list in printable, checklist form, you can get it below for free! Aloha!
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