What to do in Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu has so many different aspects to it, from it’s lush mountain landscapes to beautiful beaches to the buzzing big city of Honolulu. You could spend an entire week on Oahu alone and never run out of things to do. But if you just have a few days like we did, here are some activity highlights that we recommend. (We spent three days in Oahu.)

Visit Kualoa Ranch: Kualoa Ranch is a privately owned nature reserve that has been the backdrop to several of your favorite movies and TV shows, including Jurassic Park (and World), 50 First Dates, Hawaii Five-O, Jumani, Lost, and more. Its three valleys and unique ridged mountain range provides breathtaking scenery. Referred to as Jurassic Valley, you’ll feel like a T-Rex might be lurking around every corner. There are several ways to experience Kualoa, and you could probably spend a day here. You can explore the ranch on horseback or by ATV, bus, or jungle jeep. The ranch also leads kayak and beach tours, as it’s located along the water. We opted for the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour, since we are big fans of Jurassic Park. We rode a vintage bus through the jungle, along cliffs, and through the valleys to several of the popular filming locations. You’ll get to see the famous log from the original Jurassic Park (where the characters hide from a dinosaur stampede) and take a picture with it. We also got to visit a WWII bunker where several movie props are stored.
Tip: Book in advance, since the tours sell out.

Running from the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, aka Kualoa Ranch

Drive the North Shore: Take a trip along Kamehameha Highway to see the famous North Shore in its entirety. This stretch of coast is known for its big waves (in the winter) and surfing opportunities. You’ll find surf shops, galleries, and quaint and locally owned boutiques in the town of Haleiwa, as well as some of the best food on the island from shacks and trucks offering typical Hawaiian cuisine and shave ice. There are plenty of beaches and snorkeling spots in the area during the summer months when the water is calm.

Waimea Bay along Kamehameha Highway in the North Shore

Visit the Dole Plantation: If you’ve ever wanted to see how a pineapple grows, then the Dole Plantation is the place for you. This is the home base of Dole Pineapples, but it’s more of a tourist attraction than anything else. We felt a little tricked into purchasing the tickets to ride the Pineapple Express (a train that goes through the pineapple fields) because we were told it’s the only way to see the pineapples growing. You really just see the fields from afar (and in fact you see them driving to the plantation!) and don’t get an up-close look. A better option is to stroll through the pineapple garden, where you can see some individual pineapple plants. Or just skip all the attractions entirely and just go for the Dole Whip (pineapple soft serve) because that’s really what makes the whole trip worth it.

Pineapple fields at the Dole Plantation

Visit Pearl Harbor: The bombing of Pearl Harbor is one of the most significant moments in WWII history, and visiting Pearl Harbor is a must-do while in Oahu. It is free to stroll around Pearl Harbor and get tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial (although it is currently closed for repairs), however it’s much trickier to get tickets than simply walking up on the day of. Keep in mind that the free ticket is only for the USS Arizona Memorial, and not the other memorials onsite (which cost extra). Check out our guide here on how to get tickets to Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Hit the beach: Oahu has beautiful beaches–plenty more than just Waikiki. You can drive around the island and find quiet spots frequented by locals, as well as popular tourist beaches along the North Shore. Read our full guide to visiting Oahu’s beaches here (including some secret lagoons).

Waikiki Beach

Spend time at the airport: This might sound crazy, but build in a little extra time before your flight home to relax at the airport. The Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) has four open-air gardens that rival the beauty of any botanical garden. Spend time walking through the Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian Gardens, which pay homage to the different cultures that have had an influence on Hawaii. You’ll see pagodas, ponds, bridges, and plants and trees of all types. The cultural gardens are found in Terminal 2 and the E Gates, and a fourth garden, the C. B. Lansing Garden, is found in Terminal 1. The gardens are literally a breath of fresh air and you’ll feel revived after spending time waiting outside instead of in an uncomfortable airport chair.

The Chinese cultural garden at HNL airport

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