The bustling, beachy Waikiki neighbourhood in Honolulu (photo: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

The Biggest Oahu Attractions

By AMA Staff

The most populous of Hawaii’s eight islands—and home to the state capital, Honolulu—Oahu draws visitors seeking more than just an umbrella-shaded spot on the beach. Those beaches are excellent, but the island also boasts polished, high-end shopping, endless nightlife options, and museums, monuments and all manner of outdoor attractions to engage you with Hawaii’s distinctive culture and environment. Make the most of an Oahu adventure by checking out the sites below, and learn even more about all the Hawaiian islands (including best bets for flights and accommodations) by contacting AMA Travel.

Honolulu’s famed, beachfront neighbourhood is action-packed by day, what with attractions like the Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo and, of course, seemingly endless opportunities for swimming, surfing and boogie boarding. It’s also wondrous at night. As the sun sets, the district becomes illuminated by the dancing light of tiki torches, and almost everything, from beach bars and restaurants to upscale boutiques, is open late. (Have you ever felt the urge to buy a designer handbag at 2 a.m.?) Most evenings you can also catch hula shows on Waikiki beach, and many hotels offer special luaus.

Southeast of Honolulu, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a wide-open crater overlooked by a scenic cliff. Its beach has been cited as the best in America and the water, teeming with hundreds of fish species and even sea turtles, is perfect for snorkeling. The bay’s relatively close proximity to Waikiki means it’s easy to find bundle packages for snorkel tours out of Honolulu.

For a quieter underwater-exploration experience, head to Oahu’s north shore. Check out the more sheltered and less-than-waist-deep waters of Shark’s Cove, catch the sunset at, well, Sunset Beach, or enjoy a moonlit stroll through the valleys.

Oahu Attractions Pineapples
Pineapples are grown in abundance throughout Hawaii (photo: Dana Edmunds/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

You can walk around this Disneyland for pineapple lovers for free, or take a paid tour, which comes complete with visit to the pineapple maze and a spin on the pineapple express train. (Or, see the plantation as one of many stops on a full-day sightseeing tour.) You’ll learn about the different varieties of pineapple and unique trivia about the Dole plantation itself, such as how the company bred the perfect pineapple for export. Once you’ve fed your brain with pineapple facts, feed your belly some of the plantation’s pineapple soft-serve ice cream with fresh pineapple pieces on top.

Excited about Oahu? Find out even more about the island’s biggest city, Honolulu

Oahu is home to the best place to learn about Hawaiian culture—not to mention other Pacific islands, migrations and customs. Did you know, for example, that men were originally the only ones who danced the hula? You’ll learn that and much more at the Polynesian Cultural Centre. The 17-hectare property boasts seven distinctive “villages,” where interpreters tell the stories of seven South Pacific islands, including Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa and, of course, Hawaii. Visitors can also take part in hands-on activities like fire making, Samoan cooking and paddling a traditional outrigger canoe. The authentic luau feast and nightly Polynesian theatrical performance are consistently popular, so be sure to book well in advance.

This state monument and designated U.S. National Natural Landmark is a volcanic cone that was formed on Oahu’s southeastern coast about 300,000 years ago. Many visitors schedule some time for the approximately two-hour round-trip hike to Diamond Head’s summit—to take in picturesque views of Waikiki. If you can, wake up early in the morning to avoid the tourist rush (and the heat of the midday sun). And make sure you’re wearing good shoes: Parts of the trail run over uneven rock and there are some steep steps at the end.

Oahu Attractions Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor is a harrowing monument to U.S. history (photo: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

The site of an event that changed the course of history is of equal importance to the many tourists visiting Hawaii from both North America and Japan. The bombing of this naval facility in 1941 caused the U.S. to enter World War II; it was also where the war ended for the U.S. four years later, with the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Today, group tours of Pearl Harbor allow you to climb aboard the Missouri and walk overtop of the wreckage of the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the Japanese attack.

Consider extending your Hawaiian vacation with some time on the laid-back island of Maui

It’s easier than you think to be part of Hawaiian “shaka brah” culture. Waikiki Beach offers good surfing for beginners, with three easy breaks, board rentals and lessons always available. Even if you’d rather not do it yourself, boarders hit the water by the hundreds when the surf’s up, which means ample viewing opportunities. You can also walk to the end of the pier on Waikiki and watch local teens boogie boarding with unparalleled deftness, like fearless Tarzans of the sea. You can’t understand surf culture until you see Hawaiians being Hawaiians, jumping in when the wave hits the pier and getting carried out with the tide. (For more advanced surfers, Oahu’s north shore is well regarded. In winter, Waimea Bay can see swells of six metres or more.)

However much of Oahu you want to experience, AMA Travel can help with flights, hotel bookings, car rentals, activity bookings and much more. Contact AMA Travel online, visit your local AMA Centre or call 1-844-771-1522.