Though it isn’t the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, tropical Oahu is the most populated and receives the most visitors. Navigating its urban culture, waterfall-backed valleys, and long stretches of white sand takes some planning—here are some tips for your first Oahu visit.
Check out Waikiki—then go beyond
Most visitors’ introduction to Oahu is through the famed, hotel-lined and Diamond Head-capped stretch of Waikiki Beach. The beach is a must-see starting point with plenty to do in the area—shopping, dining, surfing, swimming, and more. Once you’ve gotten your fill, take in all the rest of Oahu has to offer by venturing to points further afield. Full-day circle island tours circumnavigate the island and are an excellent way to take in highlights such as Honolulu’s Chinatown, Kaneohe Bay, the surfing mecca of the North Shore, the Hanauma Bay snorkeling hot spot, the Dole Plantation, hidden waterfalls, and scenic overlooks along the Koolau Mountain Range.
See cultural sites, museums, monuments, and more
As a first-time visitor, you’ll want to check off the island’s most famous attractions. Head out on a guided Pearl Harbor tour to learn about Hawaii’s World War II involvement, and check out sites like the authoritative Bishop Museum and theme park-esque Polynesian Cultural Center with its authentic North Shore luau to see pan-Polynesian showcases of natural history, art, and culture. In Honolulu proper, landmarks like Iolani Palace (the only official royal palace on US soil) and the Mission House Museum (site of the island’s earliest missionary settlers) delve into Oahu-centric history and Hawaiian culture. Once you’ve hit the top spots, follow your interests with an abundance of tour options to choose from—you can hike, bike, Segway, and fly around some of the island’s most notable sites during fun experiences such as food tours, art tours, and photography tours.
Get outside and into the water
Aside from the attractions, Oahu is ultimately known as a beach destination. Sun-worshippers will be thrilled to note that the island has enough white sandy stretches to spend each day of a two-week vacation in a different place. To explore new spots and find your favorite, take a dedicated beach tour. And to get out on the water, choose from snorkeling, fishing, whale-watching, and sailing tours, or try your hand at surfing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding with a lesson on the beach.