Top 10 Things to Do on Oahu
Known as the “gathering place,” the island of Oahu is the third largest island of the Hawaiian chain. It certainly lives up to its nickname since majority of Hawaii’s population resides here and the island is visited by travelers from around the world. Hawaii is also a melting pot of diverse ethnicities evident in the island's culinary traditions, entertainment, art and even languages. Enjoying fun in the sun on Oahu can mean admiring Mother Nature, hanging 10 in the Pacific Ocean or hiking old train tracks on top of a mountain. In no specific order, here are 10 things that travelers should do while on Oahu.
1. Kapiolani Community College's Farmers Market
On Oahu, Kapiolani Community College is known for its culinary school but it is also home to a weekly farmers market. Thanks to Hawaii’s warm weather, farmers around the island easily grow fresh crops for businesses, residents and even visitors. With dozens of vendors selling their wares each week, the KCC Famers' Market is a place to smell fresh flowers from Big Island's Green Point Nursery, buy freshly-picked red rambutan fruit (cousin of the lychee) and taste foods such as Otsuji Farm’s sweet potato and banana fritters covered in maple syrup. Enjoy your stroll around the market with beautiful Diamond Head or Mount Leah in the background.
What’s cool: You can buy locally made food products such as jams, coffees, and more to take home with you as souvenirs.
2. Go to a Luau
The Hawaiian culture is a big part of Oahu’s identity and the luau at Paradise Cove takes people back in time by creating an authentic experience that shows how the Hawaiian people ate, lived and celebrated. Participate in activities such as stringing a lei, weaving a headband and throwing a spear while learning about Hawaiian history. In Hawaiian, "luau" means to feast and you’ll be able to eat food such as lomi salmon (cold tomato and salmon salad), taro bread rolls, cold haupia (coconut jello dessert), and juicy kalua pork. After eating, sit back and relax as entertainers showcase Hawaiian music and hula's progression throughout the decades.
What’s cool: There is a real imu, or Hawaiian underground oven, on the premises. The staff demonstrates how they use the imu to prepare meals.
3. Eat the Street
Hawaii being a melting pot of cultures means there is a melting pot of cuisines on the island. Food trucks play a big part in Hawaiian culture and while some children grow up chasing the ice cream truck after school, Hawaii children chase after the “manapua man” or neighborhood food truck for a chance to grab something small to eat that range from snacks to plate lunches. Eat the Street is a monthly themed event that happens in the hipster neighborhood of Kakaako on the last Friday of every month. Over 40 food trucks show up serving portions made for sharing -- which means you'll have room in your tummy to try more food. From waffle dogs with cheese, li-hing lemonade, malasada burgers and more, let your tastes run wild and enjoy the assorted flavors of Hawaii.
What’s cool: There is a live DJ and interactive activities such as a life-size jenga for the whole family.
4. Iolani Palace
During the late 1890’s, Hawaii was ruled by a monarchy and Iolani Palace was the official residence of their Majesties, King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani. Walk through the corridors of the only royal palace on United States soil and imagine royal balls with dancing and music in the throne room, feasts in the state dining room. Visitors will see the private chambers of the royal family, as well as a room where the king used to play cards.
What’s cool: See the Imprisonment Room where Queen Liliuokalani was held under house arrest for 5 months and the quilt that she sewed during that time.
5. Watch the Sunrise and the Sunset
The warm sea kisses the soft sand surrounding the island's coasts, and while it’s always great to take a dip in the ocean and bask in the sun, the beauty of the beaches also lies beyond the horizon. When the sun rises to greet the Windward side of the island, the best place to watch it ascend is toward the end of Kailua Beach. From there you will be able to have a panoramic view with the Moku Iki island in the foreground. To see the sunset, view it on the west or south shores of the island. Kahanamoku Beach lies right before Waikiki Beach and is a great place to bid the sun farewell. Take pictures near the boat docks or walk on the rock barrier near the beach’s showers.
What’s cool: If want to see the sunrise on the island's Windward side but would like an aerial view of the event, you could hike Lanikai Pillboxes.
6. Learn to Surf
Surfing was once a sport reserved only for Hawaiian royalty but eventually the boys of Waikiki Beach and Olympic gold-medal swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku were among the many who helped spread the joy of surfing. Hawaii’s pristine beaches and excellent wave breaks make it a great place to surf. Gone Surfing Hawaii is a fully-licensed and insured surf school with a team of qualified instructors. Everyone has a different way of learning and Gone Surfing offers private group classes. Whether you are learning to hang-loose on a surfboard for the first time or want to learn new tricks to be a better surfer, Hawaii’s waters and Gone Surfing Hawaii will be able to teach techniques that will have you standing up in no time. If you’re lucky, dolphins, turtles, whales and maybe a monkseal will greet you at sea.
What’s cool: Gone Surfing Hawaii believes in giving back to the community and donates 1% of its gross profit to organizations that help the environment.
7. Go to the North Shore
Get away from the bustling streets of Honolulu and seek solitude in a more peaceful environment – the North Shore. The great thing about Oahu is that it takes only a 25-minute drive to reach the countryside of secluded beaches and mom-and-pops shops. When you are on the North Shore, you can’t miss sampling the area’s best cuisine -- garlic shrimp. The best-known shrimp trucks are Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, one of the island's original shrimp trucks, and Romy’s Kahuku Prawns, which allows diners to see shrimp and prawn farm pools right near the dinning tables. To satisfy your sweet tooth, pay a visit to Mastumoto’s Shave Ice for ice-cold flavored goodness or visit Ted’s Bakery and have a slice of their famous chocolate and haupia (coconut) pie. You also can’t leave without facing your fear of heights and jumping off the famous Waimea Bay Beach rock.
What’s cool: Take a picture next to the famous surfing Haliewa sign on the Kamehameha Highway. There are 2 signs, 1 going in each direction so you won’t miss it.
8. Shop at Aloha Stadium's Swap Meet
When it comes to buying souvenirs and snacks for friends and family members, many visitors don't want to create a big dent in their wallet. With over 400 merchants, Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet has a wide selection of gifts to buy. Consider purchasing a nice beach towel, a kukui nut lei, or a dashboard hula girl as a souvenir. Li-hing mui (sweet plum) powder gives an added kick to cold fruits and also makes a good gift. You could also buy Hawaiian-print shirts and even electronic gadgets. You’ll find something for everyone here, you may even find something for yourself.
What’s cool: Drink ice-cold coconut water straight from the coconut while shopping from booth to booth.
9. Koko Head Stairs
Who needs the gym when you have a natural stairmaster with an awesome view that takes you up more than 1,000 steps? Located on Oahu’s South Shore, Koko Head Stairs is located within Koko Head Park. The trail was originally a railroad that was built decades ago to help bring military supplies to bunkers up top. If you are driving towards Haunama Bay, you will be able to see the skinny Koko Head trail ascend into the moutains. Bring comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, water, sunscreen and a hat. The suggested times to go are around sunrise and sunset in order to avoid the peak of Hawaii's daytime heat. The 360-degree view of the mountains and sea will leave you feeling accomplished, empowered and lucky you are in Hawaii.
What's cool: From Waimanalo to the edge of Diamond Head, you are able to see a 360-degree view of Oahu's East side.
10. Drive Around the Island
In Hawaiian we like to go and “holo holo,” which in translation means to go out for a leisure ride. Leisure rides often lead to adventure, so why not seek one on Oahu? Drive around the island which takes about 2 hours. Head into the countryside and circle your way back to city while making a few stops along the way to take pictures. Don’t feel comfortable driving around the island on your own? Book a “bucket-list” tour with Godspeed Adventures and create a custom tour around the island. You'll have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could include swimming with sharks, sailing off into the sunset or zip lining through Oahu’s forests.
What's cool: As you are driving around the island, try and stop by the Pali Lookout for the scenic view; Byodo-In Temple for the peaceful and Zen atmosphere; and Dole Plantation for their Pineapple Whip and Pineapple Garden Maze.