Oahu is the third-largest island of Hawaii, and it is the most populated, with just under a million citizens. Once an isolated paradise, Oahu is now a top vacation destination. Visitors come from around the globe to enjoy the immaculate beaches, world-class surfing and year-round warm weather. Home to the state capital of Honolulu, Oahu is also the cultural capital of Hawaii. Here are some of Oahu’s most important cultural and historical attractions that you won’t want to miss during your visit.
One of Oahu’s safer, family—friendly beaches, Hanauma Bay offers all kinds of outdoor entertainment options, such as volleyball courts, swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling. In addition to underwater marvels, Hanauma Bay also has some beautiful hiking trails and stunning lookout points. With a safe, sandy beach and one of the most spectacular coral reefs on Oahu, Hanauma Bay is a top attraction to visit during your Oahu vacation.
The most famous volcanic crater in the world is also the iconic symbol of Hawaiian topography. The craggy remains of a prehistoric volcanic eruption loom tall over the island of Oahu. You can hike the Diamond Head Summit Trail, which will take you to the summit, where you will be rewarded with incredibly beautiful views of the island from a high—altitude lookout point.
Pearl Harbor was originally a shallow embayment called Wai Momi, or pearl water. In modern—day history, Pearl Harbor is famous for the sad date in history when Japanese imperial forces bombed several military targets in the harbor, killing nearly two thousand military personnel and civilians. Pearl Harbor is the site of historic and cultural points of interest, such as the USS Missouri Memorial, the USS Arizona Memorial, and Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.
Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve has been in the Dr. Gerritt P. Judd family for eight generations and seeks to preserve the sacred lands and history of Kualoa. This 4,000-acre Nature Reserve and working cattle ranch is just 24 miles from Waikiki on the eastern coast of Oahu and offers several tour options through paradise.
The natural beauty of Oahu provides the perfect backdrop for a movie set, so it’s no wonder that its white—sanded beaches and ultra—romantic sunsets are top location sites for moviemakers. See the set locations of famous movies such as Blue Hawaii, the Karate Kid II andJurassic Park.
The premier place for a deluxe luau experience, the Polynesian Cultural Center is the one stop location to sample tradition Hawaiian cuisine, and to enjoy a musical and dance performance. Located in Honolulu, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a great, interactive place to learn all about Polynesian culture and history.
If you’re up for an adventure on the high seas, Makani offers a maritime experience highlighting the best sightseeing opportunities on Oahu’s beautiful coast. See dolphins, flying fish, and even humpback whales if you take a boat trip during whale season. Makani also offers private charters, snorkeling and scuba diving excursions
Bishop Museum is located in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Bishop Museum offers a number of Planetarium exhibits, as well as exhibits of Hawaii’s extensive flora and fauna. From the newly—discovered feathered dinosaurs of China to the bright—eyed geckos of Hawaiian Hall, you’ll have a great time learning about the wonders of the world in this unique learning center. The Museum is closed every Tuesday, and on Christmas.
Located on the windward side of Oahu in the Ko’olaupoko District twelve miles northeast from Honolulu. The beach is located in the residential area of Kailua, which offers a small yet flourishing business district full of shops, boutiques and restaurants. Often hailed as Hawaii’s best beach, Kailua Beach is one of the best places for windsurfing and kitesurfing on Oahu.
This seven—mile stretch of incredible coastline offers some of the best surf action in the world— for spectators and surfers! Famous beaches located in North Shore include Waimea Bay, Pipeline and Sunset Beach. Famous for its sparkling, white—sands and crystal—blue shoreline, North Shore is a must—see attraction that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
One of the memorials at Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona Memorial pays tribute to the 1,102 sailors killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks by Japanese imperial forces on December 7th, 1941. More than one million people come from around the world to see the sunken remains of the battleship, accessible only by boat. Stop by the memorial visitor center to see one of the remaining bells from the USS Arizona.
Located at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the USS Missouri Memorial that shows visitors what it was like to be aboard a US military vessel during World War II. USS Missouri is famous because she was the sight of the Japanese signing of the treaty that officially ended the war. In addition to World War II, the decorated military vessel served in the Korean War and the Gulf War.
Tour the quarters of the Pearl Harbor Avenger, enjoy an audio tour, and explore their extensive collection of military artifacts and objects from WWII in the adjacent museum
The infamous shoreline that lines the neighborhood of Waikiki is one of the most places to sunbathe, swim, bodysurf and people watch. It’s easy to see why this beautiful beach was once a paradise playground reserved only for royalty. Waikiki Beach hosts many surfing events throughout the year, and surf shops, boutiques, restaurants and hotels line the beach. Not a quiet, reclusive beach, but a fun place to go if you like an upbeat, social island atmosphere.
The only royal palace in the United States, Iolani Palace was one of the first United States government buildings to have running water, electricity and a telephone. Once a royal residence and a longtime government building, Iolani Palace was converted into a museum in 1978, and it contains many rare artifacts and relics from the Hawaiian royal family.
Learn about Hawaii’s most beautiful and exotic marine life in one of the world’s most comprehensive and attractive marine parks. Kids of all ages will love the Sea Lion and Sea Turtle feeding, and you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see the Iwa bird, which is only found in Hawaii. From dolphins to sea anemones, everyone in the family will enjoy this incredible aquatic experience in a tropical environment.
Explore Oahu’s pristine shores on the Makani Catamaran. You can choose between a number of charter cruises or even create a custom excursion for a private party. It’s likely that you will see dolphins, sea turtles or even a humpback whale if you’re traveling during whale watching season. Whether you want to spend just a few hours at sea or an entire day, you can count on a memorable maritime experience with Makani Catamaran.
Learn the true meaning of the Aloha Spirit at Germaines Luau. The meaning of Luau in Hawaiian is party, and you can expect a sumptuous feast, live hula performances and an unforgettable sunset right on the beach. When you hear the resonant sound of the conch shell, you’ll know that the luau has begun.
A fun and educational experience for the entire family, the Dole Plantation will teach you about the pineapple’s history in Hawaii, and how it became popular on the mainland as a result of James Drummond Dole’s clever pineapple marketing campaign in the 1950’s. Highlights of the Dole Plantation include the Pineapple Express train ride and the World’s Largest Maze.
Founded by Anna Rice Cook, HoMA seeks to preserve Hawaiian and Oceanic culture, and create transformative experiences through art for their patrons. See the largest Asian and Pan Pacific Collection in the United States.
Located at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains, the Byodo-In Temple is a beautiful memorial to the first Japanese immigrants to arrive in Hawaii. The temple is a to scale replica of a nearly 1000 year old temple in Uji, Japan of the same name.
Lyon Arboretum is a public botanical garden that is part of the University of Hawai’I and located in the Manoa Valley. Found just a few miles from Waikiki, Lyon Arboretum is the perfect place to hike and see the tropical plants of Hawaii spread out of almost 200 acres of landscaped grounds.
Waimea Valley is where visitors to Oahu can get the most authentic and intimate Polynesian experience on the island. Visitors can learn about the beliefs of ancient Hawaiians, see protected cultural sites, and enjoy some of the most beautiful surroundings in the world.
If you’ve ever wanted to tour a royal palace, visit the Queen Emma Summer Palace on the island of Oahu. The secluded home in the mountains was constructed in 1847 and served as a retreat for Queen Emma, King Kamehameha IV and their son. Today the home is a museum and listed on the National Historic Registry.
See a comprehensive history of the aircraft that served in WWII and the men who piloted them along with a poignant history of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Explore five zones of fun with several slides, a water cannon, lily pads to walk on, and more. Choose from any one of four different slides to ride down in a tube. The Tornado water ride is worth the cost to try at least once.
Makapu’u Point Trail is among the most striking natural excursions visitors can embark upon while exploring Oahu. You’ll get phenomenal views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline, from Koko Head even to Moloka’i and Lana’i on a clear day.
An excellent introduction to all that the natural world in Oahu has to offer. There is a magnificent, 150-foot waterfall at the terminus of the trail, known as Manoa Falls. Film buffs will also love this tour, as will visiting families. You’ll see sites where blockbuster movies such as Jurassic Park and Hunger Games: Catching Fire were filmed.
The Waikiki Trolley operates three different lines that cross the Honolulu area from Chinatown to the Kahala Mall. You can purchase multi-line passes (the most popular) to see the widest selection of sites, or just an individual line to see your desired set of attractions. Stops include the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, the Halona Blow Hole, and Sea Life Park.