Oahu Visitor Guide (2023 Edition)

by Ray Roman | Last updated on February 5, 2024

Welcome to Oahu, often referred to as “The Gathering Place” the island is ready to make you feel right at home with stunning beaches, incredible sand, gorgeous tropical forests, and a touch of historical importance.

Our Oahu visitor guide will help you make the most of this beautiful island.

Oahu visitor guide
The Island of Oahu

Even though Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island, there is plenty of space for you to feel like you’re getting away, and if you thrive on social opportunities, there are plenty of those as well!

With so much to see and do, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Let us help you with this informative guide to Oahu.

How to get to Oahu

Most of Hawaii’s incoming flights from major airlines land at the Honolulu International Airport, which is located on the island of Oahu, so getting to this island is as easy as booking a flight!

When should you plan your trip?

There are a few things to consider when planning your trip to Oahu. Do you want to visit off-season, away from the peak tourist times?

Then you should not visit from mid-December to late March, so we suggest early April, September, and early October. If you want to avoid hurricane season? Then you will want to avoid traveling to Oahu between June and November.

The Regions of Oahu

Oahu can be divided into 5 different regions:

  • North Coast – Big Wave Capital Of Hawaii
  • Central Oahu – Pearl Harbor
  • Windward Coast – Kualoa
  • Honolulu – State Capital, Largest City
  • Leeward Coast – Kaena Point, KoKo Head

Where to Visit

North Shore

The northern coast of Oahu has a reputation for being the world’s big-wave capital, making it a popular destination for surfers. The coastline is over seven miles long and welcomes some of the world’s most competitive surfers from November to February (this is when the waves are the biggest).

If you are a beginner surfer, we recommend visiting during summer when the water tends to be calmer. Along the coastline, you’ll find quaint surf towns like Haleiwa Town. Ehukai Beach, Waimea Bay, and Sunset Beach are some of the more popular beaches in this area.

Central Oahu

Central Oahu is the home of Pearl Harbor, which, as many of us know, is where the Japanese surprised American forces on December 7, 1941, with an assault that would thrust the United States into World War II as a combatant.

In Central Oahu, you can visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. There are other things to do in this area, such as visiting the expansive pineapple fields of Leilehua Plateau, the Aloha Stadium, which is used by the University of Hawaii, or the Dole Plantation.

Windward Coast

If you’re looking for an area to relax and take things slow, the Windward Coast is exactly where you want to go! This area of Oahu is home to the most incredible natural beauty to be seen in any of the Hawaiian Islands.

A great way to explore this area is by car, venture North out of Kailua to see a Japanese Buddhist Temple, or go clockwise from Kailua to explore the coast and end your coastal scenic tour in Waikiki. Also worth checking out are the Makapuu Point Lighthouse and Nuuanu Pali lookout.

Honolulu

The capital of Hawaii, Honolulu, is also the biggest city on the islands. The city has much to offer visitors, from delicious restaurants to fun shopping and historical sites. Honolulu is located along the southeastern shore of Oahu and is also where you will find Waikiki Beach. You should also check out the ancestral home of the Kalakaua Dynasty, known as the ‘Iolani Palace, while in Honolulu.

Leeward Coast

The Leeward Coast is the most family-friendly area of Oahu. Here you’ll find the Wet and Wild Hawaii water park, a Disney resort (and several other luxury beach resorts), and the Paradise Cove Luau. This area is often dry and sunny. Despite the waterpark and resorts, you’ll find this coastal area is less developed than others around the island. One of the most popular spots on the Leeward Coast to visit is Kaena Point, where you will find incredible ocean views.

What to do while at Oahu

Visit the Beaches of Oahu

Let’s be honest; the beaches are why most people visit Hawaii. Oahu has over 125 beaches on the island; you could visit a different beach each day and still not see them all for a few weeks. With so many choices, we’re happy to help you find the perfect beach for sunbathing, surfing, or snorkeling.

Waikiki Beach – Honolulu

The famous Waikiki Beach stretches seven miles along the southern coastline of Oahu. The beach is family-friendly and just the spot for those looking to sunbathe, splash around in the ocean, or even surf.

Halona Beach Cove – Honolulu

You’ve probably seen this beach before in a movie or two. The picturesque nature of the area makes it one of constant appeal to the film industry. But movie creators aren’t the only ones who love this beach; you may even spot a sea turtle or two!

Kailua Beach – Windward Coast

There’s no wonder why this beach was voted America’s number one beach in 2019. This is another family-friendly beach because the crystal clear and stunning waters tend to be calm, and the sand is soft and welcoming. It is a great beach for swimming and water sports.

Lanikai Beach – Windward Coast

Lanikai Beach is the destination for beachgoers who are looking to relax. The water here is welcoming and calm, making it a great place for swimming. You’ll even notice two small islands near this beach commonly referred to as “The Mokes.”

Banzai Beach – North Coast

This beach is the top destination for Oahu visitors looking for the perfect place to surf. Banzai Beach has such good waves for surfing that it is often referred to as a “pipeline” by surfers and not its actual name of Ehukai Beach.

Waimea Bay – North Coast

This beautiful beach has everything the average beachgoer is looking for. It boasts white sand and clear water. Something to remember is that this bay occasionally has large waves. If you’re a thrill-seeker, there’s even a cliff jump here!

Sunset Beach – North Coast

Sunset Beach is one of the better-known beaches on Oahu. Come here for surfing and swimming but stay for the most vibrant sunsets you’ll ever witness.

Ko Olina Lagoons – Leeward Coast

Ko Olina Lagoons will be a great place to take your family. Swimming here is easy and relaxing because the rocks prevent large waves from entering the lagoon.

Hiking on Oahu

Did you know that Oahu was formed three to four million years ago from volcanic eruptions? An area of such advanced age and violent creation is sure to have incredible places to see for adventurous hikers or easy-going beginners. Check out some of the favorites below.

Honolulu

Diamond Head Summit Trail – Diamond Head is an uncomplicated 1.8 miles and provides incredible views of the city of Honolulu. This trail is one of the island’s most popular attractions, so it sees almost 3,000 visitors a year. Did we mention it is also family-friendly?

  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Rating: Easy
  • Total Ascent: 452 ft

KoKo Head Trail – This trail is not for the beginner hiker. It has a steep elevation that should only be tackled by the experienced.

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Total Ascent: 885 ft

Manoa Falls – Grab your family and take a two-mile hike to a 150ft waterfall. You’ll be hiking through a forest, and the trail gets wet, so be sure you’re wearing footwear with great traction.

  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Rating: Easy
  • Total Ascent: 633 ft

Windward Coast

Lanikai Pillbox Hike – Officially known as Kaiwa Ridge, this hike offers incredible views of Kailuna and Lanaikai.

  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Total Ascent: 648 ft

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail – This hike is perfect for families; it offers incredible views of Oahu, and during the winter, you could even see a whale or two!

  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Rating: Easy
  • Total Ascent: 505 ft

North Shore

North Shore Pillbox – Commonly referred to as Ehukai Pillbox, this 2.3-mile hike is a little work, but it is a dog-friendly trail serving up amazing views of the North Shore of Oahu making an effort more than worth the payoff.

  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Total Ascent: 734 ft

Leeward Coast

Ka’ena Point Trail – Located in the Ka’ena Point State Park, this hike will showcase the island and its animals.

  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Total Ascent: 442 ft

We are sure if you’ve googled “hiking in Oahu,” you’ve seen pictures of the Haiku Stairs or the Stairway to Heaven. Unfortunately, those stairs are no longer legal to hike. We know the pictures are amazing, and the temptation is great, but DO NOT try to hike those stairs.

Go Surfing

Hawaii is widely known for its surfing, so you should learn how to surf while you’re here! There are several places to rent a board, and Waikiki welcomes all beginner surfers as it is the perfect place to “get your feet wet.”

For board rental, we suggest:

Surfboard Rental LLC

Moku Hawaii

Quality Surfboard Hawaii

Attend a Luau

Luau means “feast,” so come ready to enjoy local delicacies such as poi and Kahlua pork. Luaus have been happening in Hawaii since 1819 and hold great importance for the Hawaiian culture. Every luau is different, and they all vary with how closely they follow tradition, but we know you’ll have a blast at whichever luau you choose to attend. Many of the resorts on the island offer their own luau’s, but some of the most popular in Oahu are:

Paradise Cove

Germaine’s

Polynesian Cultural Center

Visit Pearl Harbor 

We mentioned Pearl Harbor already, but it bears repeating. While Pearl Harbor is an active naval base, you can visit 5 historical sites to learn more about its history. You should begin at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center and then visit the other sites, including the Battleship Missouri, the Memorial Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Vacations are normally light-hearted and fun, but we think visiting Pearly Harbor is important even though the history is tragic.

Check Out Waimea Valley 

Waimea Valley is a stunning sight to see; it includes botanical gardens and hiking trails. The Waimea Valley Trail is family-friendly. This beginner-friendly, almost two-mile hike leads to a gorgeous waterfall found after hiking through the botanical gardens. Once you’ve reached the 45 ft waterfall, consider jumping in the pool at the bottom!

  • Ticket cost:
    • Adults – $20  
    • Children (4-12) – $12 

Say Goodbye To Your Comfort Zone!

Oahu has adventures for those who seek thrills! Why not check out surfing, zip-lining, or skydiving for the ultimate adrenaline rush? If you are really looking for a story to bring home with tales of your bravery, try cage diving with sharks!

Okay, maybe those suggestions are too adventurous for some; if you want something less scary, try snorkeling, scuba diving, or a whale-watching tour.  

Places to Stay 

Honolulu 

Budget: Hampton Inn and Suites Oahu 

Mid-Range: The Royal Hawaiian (famous pink hotel) 

Luxury: Ritz Carlton Hawaiian 

Windward Coast   

Budget: Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel Waikīkī Beach 

Mid-Range: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort 

Luxury: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai 

North Shore 

Budget: Courtyard By Marriott Oahu North Shore 

Mid-Range: Ke lik Beach Bungalows 

Luxury: Turtle Bay Resort  

Leeward Coast 

Budget: Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort Oahu at Ko Olina 

Mid-Range: Aulani, Disney Resort 

Luxury: Four Seasons Resort Oahu  

Oahu Visitor Guide Summary

Oahu is an incredible place to visit; you’ll leave with memories that will last a lifetime. We hope our guide helps you find the areas of greatest interest while visiting the island. Don’t forget your hiking boots and sunscreen! We’ll see you at the beach!

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