Want to know about the best activities to do and sites to see on Oahu? This is the ultimate Hawaii bucket list that every first time Hawaii traveler needs to follow in order to avoid missing out on anything.
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Planning a trip to Hawaii is extremely exciting and if you are anything like me, you are doing all the research to make sure you don’t miss out on anything worth doing or seeing during your trip. As someone who has traveled to Hawaii three times myself, I am giving you the the ultimate Hawaii bucket list that will ensure you to have an unforgettable experience.
You are going to learn about all of the best Oahu beaches, Oahu hiking, Oahu restaurants, Oahu site seeing, and more!
After learning about all of these activities to do on your Hawaii vacation, you are going to be even more excited about traveling to the island of Oahu.
This post was all about the ultimate Hawaii bucket list that will ensure every first time Hawaii traveler to not miss out on anything.
1. Waimānalo Beach
Address: Waimanalo Beach, HI
This is my family’s favorite beach on the island of Oahu. It is a more local beach that most tourists do not know about, which is why you will find not many people there.
Waimānalo Beach is a long white sand beach that is surrounded by stunning views of the mountains. This “hidden gem” is a more quiet beach that is great for relaxing, swimming, and sunbathing.
2. Sunset Beach
Address: Sunset Beach Park, Pupukea, HI 96712
Sunset beach is a great way to end the day. During the summer months, Sunset beach is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, or simply relaxing during sunset. However, during the winter months this beach is known for having large waves and attracting many surfers.
Plus, it is a great location to capture some STUNNING photos during sunset hours (no wonder it’s called Sunset Beach).
Related Post: 10 Most Instagrammable Places In Oahu You Need To Visit
3. Makapu’u Beach Park
Makapu’u Beach Park is one of Oahu’s best beaches that many people don’t usually get around to visiting because it is on the southeast side of the island. This gorgeous beach is great for body boarding; you will find many people body boarding on one side of the beach (where the larger waves are crashing).
On the other side of the beach, you will find more people who are simply swimming as opposed to body boarding. This side of the beach, is more calm (the waves can still be large) and has better swimming conditions.
If you take a trip to the east side of the island, I recommend you stop at Makapu’u Beach Park to enjoy one of Oahu’s most beautiful beaches.
4. Kailua Beach Park
Address: Kailua Beach, Kailua, HI 96734
Kailua Beach is very popular destination that many tourists travel to each year. This two mile long, white sand beach park is great for swimming, sunbathing, cooking out, beach volleyball, and picnicking.
It is also the launch site for Kailua Beach Adventures – Kayaking, which is a highly recommended activity to do.
5. Halona Beach Cove
Address: Halona Beach Cove, HI 96825
Halona Beach Cove is one of the most beautiful small coves located on Oahu that is somewhat unknown to many tourists. The movies “From Here To Eternity” and “The Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides” were filmed at this location.
You will most likely see people swimming at this cove, however it can be very dangerous with the strong currents and sharp rocks. When we visited this cove, the water was fairly calm, so we did swim (with extreme caution), but once again there are no lifeguards and rough waters can make it dangerous.
6. Sharks Cove
Address: Sharks Cove, Pupukea, HI 96712
Sharks Cove is located not far from Sunset Beach and is a very popular location for snorkeling. It is also a great spot for laying out on the beach or simply wading in the water.
WARNING: The rocks are VERY sharp, so if you plan on snorkeling or going in the water you need to have water shoes on.
7. Waikiki Beach
Address: Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, HI 96815
Waikiki beach is as “touristy” as it gets. This beach is located in Honolulu and is surrounded by many hotels and skyscrapers, especially as the city grows. Waikiki beach is beautiful, but it is just very crowded. If you are staying in one of the hotels on Waikiki beach, then you will enjoy the easy access to the beach, the rentable umbrellas & chairs, and the food & drinks available for purchase on the beach.
If you are more into exploring the more local spots of the island and sticking to the less “touristy” beaches, then I would not recommend Waikiki beach.
However, if you are visiting the island for the first time and want to give surfing a try, then Waikiki beach is one of the best locations for beginner surfers. You can even sign up for surf lessons. If you have surfed before, but you are not super confident in your surfing abilities, then this is a great place to start!
1. Lulumahu Falls
If you are looking for an advanced hike to a BEAUTIFUL waterfall, then you have to hike to Lulumahu Falls. This is no easy hike and you will have to cross multiple streams that require you to step on stones in order to cross. However, it is manageable and the waterfall at the end is a breathtaking site to see.
All hikes in Hawaii have their own challenges, so please be careful when hiking and only follow the marked trails.
*Lock your car and do not leave any valuable belongings in your vehicle, car break-ins are very common in parking lots of hiking trails*
2. Judd Trail
Judd trail is one of the most peaceful trails you will ever walk on. I’m not kidding when I say it literally feels like the trees are watching you (in the best way possible of course HAHA!).
Pose with the large trees, hug them, and sit on the HUGE rocks. This is a great hiking trail for all skill levels and is a great way to explore the inland side of Oahu.
3. Diamond Head Hike
Address: Diamond Head, Honolulu, HI 96815
Diamond Head is by far one of the most visited tourist attractions on the island of Oahu. Diamond Head is a volcanic cone that was formed from an eruption that took place 300,000 years ago.
This hike takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete and is a fairly easy hiking path. Once you reach the edge of the crater, you will find beautiful views of the ocean and downtown Honolulu. This hike is definitely a must for all first time visitors.
*Make sure to get there early, it gets busy quick*
4. Lanikai Pill Box Hike
We never got around to doing the Pillbox Hike, however I have heard many people speak about how amazing this hike is and the views are stunning. This is definitely on my itinerary for my next visit to Oahu.
It is a fairly short hike, however there is no shade on this hike, so it is recommended that you go in the morning in order to avoid the heat.
5. Makapu’u Tidepools
Makapu’u Tidepools is another hike that we never got around to doing, however it was recommended to us by a local and is definitely a hike I will be doing in the future.
It is an intermediate level hike and is 2 miles long. The first 20 minutes of the hike is easy because you are walking on a paved trail. However, once you begin the hike down to the tidepools, the hike becomes more challenging and you have to be careful of loose rocks.
As you can see, the tidepools in the lava rock is such a unique site and potentially a great swimming opportunity (if the water is calm enough to get in).
1. Sunset Cruise
Book Your Reservation: Hawaiian Ocean Charters
I 100% recommend everyone to book a sunset cruise with Hawaiian Ocean Charters. This private charter allows you to take up to six guests and is 2.5 hours long (time can be extended at an extra cost).
This charter departs from Kewalo Basin Harbor located in Honolulu, where you will cruise up the coastline towards Diamond Head. Along the way, the boat will stop for any wildlife seen. You will be able to swim, snorkel, and simply relax on the boat.
Hawaiian Ocean Charters provides a fun floating water mat to relax on for anyone who wants to take a dip in the water (as you can see we really enjoyed that). As the sun begins to set, you will cruise back to the harbor and enjoy a gorgeous view of the Hawaiian sunset.
2. Self-Guided Kayaking Tour
Book Your Reservation: Kailua Beach Adventures
If you are looking for an adventurous water activity that is easy and will lead you to a small island that is off the shore of Oahu, then you need to do this self-guided kayak tour. At Kailua Beach Adventures you can rent kayaks that you will use to get to Popoia Island.
Popoia Island is a tiny island that is a marine bird sanctuary, so you cannot walk/explore the entire island, but you can walk around the edges of the island (it is marked). (If you look closely in the first photo, you will see where the kayaks are parked once you reach the island)
Popoia Island has a beautiful view of the Mokulua islands. There are so many stunning photo opportunities on this small island, from small little coves to sea cliffs.
But, do remember this is a bird sanctuary, so respect all of the wildlife on the island.
We only kayaked to Popoia Island, but there are other tours available that allow you to go to the Mokulua Islands. You may be interested in kayaking to the Mokulua Islands, if you are looking for a longer kayaking trip and you have more experience with kayaking. Lastly, Kailua Beach Adventures does provide guided tours if you are not comfortable with the self-guided tours.
Best Sites To See:
1. Byodo-In Temple
This beautiful temple is a smaller scale replica of the Byodo-in Temple located in Uji, Japan. The Byodo-In Temple was built at the Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park on June 7, 1968. This replica was built in order to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants that came to Hawaii.
It is a non-practicing Buddhist temple that is open to all faiths to worship, meditate, or just admire.
The Byodo-in Temple is a very popular tourist attraction on the island of Oahu. The beauty of the architecture of the Byodo-in Temple, mixed with the stunning mountains standing behind the temple is quite a breathtaking site to see.
2. Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden
If you have ever browsed through Pinterest photos of Hawaii and have come across jungle like photographs, then chances are they were taken in this Botanical Garden on Oahu.
Walking through this Botanical Garden makes you feel like you are walking through Jurassic Park (no joke). While Jurassic Park was not filmed in this exact location (filmed on Kualoa Ranch), it sure does feel like a velociraptor could pop out at any moment.
Oahu is well known for its beautiful beaches and blue water, but it is important to explore the other parts of this breathtaking island (such as the jungle side) that has so much to offer.
If you are into photography, this is an amazing location for taking photos. When driving into the Botanical Gardens, you will see many signs saying to not stop in the middle of the road to take photos. However, don’t be confused, once inside the Botanical Gardens feel free to take photos as you will see many others doing the same.
3. Sideways Palm Tree
Nearby Address: 54-10 Kukuna Rd, Hauula, HI 96717 (Hauula Community Association)
Now I do not have an exact address for you for this location because it is simply one of those cool photo opportunities that you just have to pull off the side of the road for. However, you can find these palm trees directly across from the Hauula Community Association.
Simply follow the provided address below and you will end up across the street from the sideways palm trees. You will be able to pull off the road to park.
When I visited this location, there were a few other people waiting to get photos as well. So just as a FYI, you may or may not have to wait in a small line to get a photo depending on the time you are there.
Please be careful if you plan to climb up the palm in order to have a photo similar to mine. You do not want to slip because the palm tree is quite a few feet above the ground, not to mention the rocks that you would land on.
4. Beach Swing
Address: Kamehameha Hwy, Hauula, HI 96717
My dream has always been to swing on those adorable rope swings hanging from the tree branches over the water in Hawaii. If you have also dreamt of this, then you need to add this stop to your itinerary.
When heading to North Shore, you will see multiple swings on the side of the road by the water. However, these beach swings were the best in my opinion because they hung over the water, but were still super easy to access. There are two swings at this location.
5. Spitting Cave
Address: 7 Lumahai St, Honolulu, HI 96825
What makes the spitting cave such an amazing location is that, it is somewhat hidden. It is located in a neighborhood, where you have to walk down a rocky path off the side of a house to get to it.
It is a sea cliff shoreline, where large waves crash into a cave, causing the water to come rushing out. This rushing water creates the appearance that the cave is “spitting”.
The vastness of the ocean, the edge of the sea cliffs, and the high heights make this site one of a kind. DO NOT GO NEAR THE EDGE OF THE SEA CLIFFS, IT IS VERY DANGEROUS! It may appear that as if we are sitting on the edge of the sea cliff, but it is actually a small ledge that hangs over more rocks.
6. China Walls
China walls is a must-see site. The formation of lava rock ledges and cliffs above the ocean is a very popular spot for *experienced* surfers and jumpers. When the surf is calm enough, it is common to see small crowds at China Walls that come to cliff jump.
China Walls can be a very dangerous location due to the rough waters crashing into the lava rocks and the slippery algae.
As you can see, when I visited China rocks the surf was very rough, so water was coming over the rock ledges (DO NOT STAND NEAR THE EDGE, IF THIS IS THE CASE). No one was swimming at the time I visited, besides the one local surfer who was clearly experienced!
DISCLAIMER: I am not advising you to participate in any cliff jumping, surfing, swimming, or any other risky activities at these locations. I am simply providing you with information on some of the most popular spots that many people visit on Oahu. As always, use your common sense and put safety above everything.
Best Food Spots:
1. Sunrise Shack
Original Location: 59-158 KAMEHAMEHA HWY, HALEIWA, HI 96712
Shark’s Cove Location: 59-712 KAMEHAMEHA HWY, HALEIWA, HI 96712 (The one I visited)
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort: 2335 KALAKAUA AVE, HONOLULU, HI 96815
There is a Sunrise Shack located across the street from Shark’s Cove. Grab yourself a refreshing smoothie bowl, smoothie, iced coffee, wellness shot, or even a small bite to eat such as avocado toast.
This adorable bright yellow shack radiates positive energy and welcomes everyone who wants to stop by to grab a quick pick me up.
2. Frost City
Menu: Frost City
Everyone needs to go to Frost City, located in Honolulu. Their shaved ice is HEAVENLY (not to be dramatic). This is a great spot to go after dinner or even during the hot summer day. We loved Frost City so much that we went multiple times during our last visit to Oahu, which is rare for us because we always love to try “a new place” each time.
I recommend getting their chocolate shaved ice! The best part is that they pile up the shaved ice like a mountain on a plate, like how many times do you get shaved ice served to you on a plate?!
3. Ono Seafood Poke Bowl
If you are a fan of seafood and poke bowls, this is one of the best places on the island of Oahu for that type of cuisine. Personally, I am not a fan of seafood, however a local recommended this restaurant to us. It is basically a little hole in the wall, but it is very popular!
We actually ended up eating next door at a Thai food restaurant, which was nothing too spectacular. I would only recommend the Thai food restaurant if you are looking for a very authentic experience. It is a family owned and operated restaurant.
Thai Food Restaurant Location: 501 Kealahou Street # A62 #, A62, Honolulu, HI 96825
While we did not eat at Ono Seafood, we did get gelato from there after our lunch at the Thai food restaurant. The gelato from Ono Seafood was extremely good and it was a great way to cool off from the hot summer day.
4. Hukilau Market Place – Pounders Restaurant
Now I do have to say, this market place is very “touristy”, so don’t expect an authentic Hawaiian market.
With that said, it is still the perfect place to stop for some lunch. I recommend eating at the restaurant “Pounders” (the roasted half-chicken with huli-huli glaze is really good). View Menu Here
Inside the Hukilau Market Place, you will find tons of little stands that sell everything from crepes, refresher drinks, clothing, ice cream, and more! You have to get a drink from So’Da Bomb. It is so so so good! Plus, it is a startup that is run by BYU-Hawaii students!