Hawaii: Oahu, The top 12 essential experiences you shouldn’t miss!

Who never pictured them selves sunbathing at a beach paradise in Hawaii, surf the big waves, discover beautiful nature and a different culture? For so long, I did!

A year ago, I had the opportunity to make my dream come true and fly to Hawaii. I decided to go to Oahu for my first Hawaiian experience. I landed in Honolulu and spent my whole trip exploring all the wonders this beautiful island has to offer? From the North Shore to the South Shore, from the Windward coast to the Leeward coast, I wanted to explore it all!

I am writing this article today to share with you my unforgettable experience in Hawaii and give you all the tips about the highlights, the places you should visit and food you should try during your trip. Here is a list of 12 essential experiences you should not miss while in Oahu, Hawaii.

1. Dolce Far niente at a Beach Paradise

 2. Surf the Big Waves

3. Swim with Turtles 

4. Take a Hike to a National Park

5. Indulge in the Tasty Local Gastronomy

6. Visit the Historical Pearl Harbor 

7. Watch a Hula Show

8. Visit the Largest Pineapple Plantation of the World!

9. Jump from a Cliff in Wameia Bay, North Shore

10. Discover the Wonders of The Sea

11. Take a Break and Admire a Stunning Sunset!

12. Take a Ride and Get Lost in The Island 

1 Dolce Far niente at a Beach Paradise


There is nothing better than to start your vacation with a sweet relaxing time at white sand beach. The sound of the waves like lullaby to your ears making you forget about everything and the shadow of the coconut trees protecting you from sunburn. In Oahu, there are plenty of beaches far from the tourist crowds and groups of surfers.

One of my best travel memories in Hawaii was a day of dolce far niente at Lanikai beach, one of the best beaches in the world. It is the Windward coast, in the east part of the island and offers clear, blue water and white sand. You can even see little island some miles away from the beach. I really love Lanikai beach because it has very little tourists and is usually empty. It does give you a break from the hustle of Waikiki Beach.

My suggestions:

  • North Shore: Haleiwa Beach, Wameia Bay, Sunset Beach,
  • Widward Coast (East):  Lanikai Beach , Wakapuu Beach, Waimanalo Beach, Kailua Beach, Kualoa Regional Park.
  • South Shore (South): Waikiki Beach, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, Ala Moana Beach Park/Magic Island
  • Leeward Coast (West): Makua Beach, Yokohama Bay, Electric Beach

Oahu Essential Experiences

2 Surf the Big Waves


Hawaii is birthplace to modern Surf, and for locals, surf is there national sport. Following the path of Duke and surf on the mythical waves of Waikiki in Honolulu or the tremendous waves in the North Shore is the dream of every surfer around the world.

Everything is surf centered in Hawaii. Café doors are in shape of a surfboard and you find Duke statues everywhere around the island of Oahu. “Hang Loose” is THE philosophy of the locals that you will probably be adopting too while you stay there.

If you don’t yet how to surf he is your golden opportunity to learn with some of the most talented and very passionate surfers around the world. They will know how to hook you to this amazing sport and transmit their knowledge to you in the most passionate way.

My suggestions:

  • Surf in the North shore : Haleiwa Beach , Laniakea Beach , Ehukai Beach Park, Sunset Beach
  • Surf in Waikiki Beach( Full of tourists but it is indubitably the most iconic beach for surf in the whole world)
  • Be aware of reef
  • Observe the very impressive surfers at the Banzai Pipe Line (Ehukai Beach Park, North Shore, Oahu)

Oahu Essential Experiences

3 Swim with Turtles


After spending two days in Hawaii enjoying the sweetness of doing nothing at the beach I decided to take a little cultural trip. I went to Kukaniloko to see the sacred volcanic rocks. On my way back to Waikiki, I stopped at a random empty beach on the South Shore to refresh my self. I was poring some water over my face when I noticed a little creature moving some feet away from me.

This moment was absolutely magical. A turtle was getting closer and closer to me. It would go up at the surface of the water, then go deep down the water, going back and forth on my direction. It was an amazing show, I felt as if this animal understood how astonished I was and was trying to seduce me, amaze me.

Since that very special moment, I decided to spend at least an hour a day surrounded by turtles during my stay in Oahu. They appear very easily pretty much at every beach, even at the most crowded ones such as Waikiki. But please, keep in mind not to disturb them, chase them or even touch them.

My suggestions: 

  • Laniakea Beach North of the island
  • Hanauma Bay South of the island
  • Makua Beach West of the island
  • Electric Beach West of the island
  • Wameia Bay North of the island
  • Waikiki Beach South of the island
  • Cockroach Cove South of the island

Oahu Essential Experiences

4 Take a Hike to a National Park


Hawaii is full of Nature reserves and Natural Parks where wildlife flora and fauna are very rich, diverse and protected. One of my top favorite activities to do in Oahu is taking hikes and observing the beauty of Mother Nature. I particularly liked the Diamond Head Hike, a crater dominating all the capital of Honolulu and offering a spectacular view over paradise beaches with turquoise water.

My suggestions:

  • Diamond Head (Le’ahi), Easy Hike.
  • Manoa Falls Trail, Easy Hike.
  • Koko Crater Trail, Moderate Hike.
  • Kalauao, Moderate Hike.

Oahu Essential Experiences

5 Indulge in the Tasty Local Gastronomy


The Hawaiian Gastronomy is very rich and diverse. You can taste the influences of all the countries that have colonized Hawaii in the past in the food you eat. From the Hawaiian version of the Japanese Sushi, to the Chinese Chow Mein and the American Burgers, Hawaiian gastronomy will surprise you with its diversity.

Thereby, on the base of all these influences was born a very flavorful and delicious local cuisine. Hawaiian dishes usually mix sweet and savory tastes using tropical fruits and vegetables such as passion fruit, macadamia nuts, purple potato…etc. Also, it is very common for locals to eat raw fish. I really appreciated tasting this very rich and tasty cuisine that I did not know about before my trip. One down side to the Hawaiian cuisine: it is usually very expensive.

My suggestions:

  • Poke ahi (at Duke Restaurant in Waikiki)
  • Mahi-Mahi Hawaiian style
  • Laulau from food trucks
  • Plantains at local restaurants 
  • Mashed Taro at a local restaurant
  • Purple Sweet Potato at a local restaurant
  • Shaved Ice (at the super famous Matsumoto shaved ice )
  • Hawaiian Cookies in a shape of a pineapple (Honolulu Cookie Company)

Oahu Essential Experiences

6 Visit the Historical Pearl Harbor


Pearl Harbor is located in a Bay where, some decades ago Hawaiians used to fish clams and oysters. This probably explains the name “Pearl” Harbor. This historical and symbolic site of World War II is still an active military base nowadays.

I was deeply touched by the commemorative monuments and some relics including the Arizona Warship and the historical USS Missouri Battleship. In addition to the heavy history behind these relics, the fact that I saw US soldiers in their uniforms walking around took my young imagination to the time World War II and I felt for some seconds being there, before the bombing. I definitely recommend visiting Pearl Harbor!

My suggestions:

  • Take at least half a day to enjoy fully your visit
  • Visit the officers quarters. 
  • Take the tour “Heart of USS Missouri”. It is a 90minutes tour that coast 52$ for les adults, 25 for children and takes you inside of the Battleship.

For more information about Pearl Harbor, click here.

Oahu Essential Experiences

7 Watch a Hula Show

The first experience I had when I just arrived to Hawaii was a Hula Show at Waikiki Beach. I landed in Honolulu some hours ago and decided to go for a walk at the famous avenue of Kalakaua along Waikiki Beach. It was 7pm, sun was going down and I heard some very attracting beats of Polynesian Music. I followed it and found a beautiful Hula show performing by the beach, during sunset. And guess what, the show was free!

I had a great time listening to the traditional music and watching the dance show with very impressive acrobatic moves. To get to see this show you will have to go near Duke’s Statue in Kalakaua Avenue on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday at sunset time.

My suggestions:

  • Free Hula Show at Waikiki Beach, every Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, sunset time.
  • Horizons Show performed at the Polynesian Cultural Center every night

Oahu Essential Experiences

8 Visit the Largest Pineapple Plantation of the World!


Did you know that Hawaii archipelago was the producer of more than 50% of the pineapples consumed in the whole world? Some island are only Pineapple plantations, nothing more. During my trip to Hawaii, I decided to visit the Largest Pineapple Plantation in the world and I have no regrets.

My experience was super fun, I learned a lot about the different processes of planting and producing pineapples. I enjoyed getting lost in the world’s biggest Labyrinth. I strongly recommend adding a Pineapple Plantation to your list of must dos in Hawaii.

My suggestions:

  • The Dole Plantation holding a Guinness du record in 2008 of the biggest pineapple plantation in the world.
  • Do not miss the Labyrinth. The ticket coast 8dollars and is really worth the price.
  • Try the pineapples freshly collected. 
  • Take a ride in the “Aloha Express”
  • Try the Pineapple ice cream that will refresh you after a hot walk in the fields.

Oahu Essential Experiences

9 Jump from a Cliff in Wameia Bay, North Shore


A little adventure is always welcome while traveling, right? When I was in Hawaii, I asked locals about what is best to do in the island of Oahu. They have been of a great help and suggested a lot of fun things to do. One of them was jumping from a cliff in Wameia Bay; very popular thing to do among Hawaiian Teenagers.

I am acrophobic and get panic attacks when I am in high altitudes. Nevertheless, I always pushed my self to get over my fear and challenged my self to do things that scare me to death. When my Hawaiian friends told me about the Cliff Jump I got very excited. But once I was on the top of the cliff, it was another story. I panicked, wanted to step back and hated my self for being there.

After 15minutes of hesitation I faced the fact of having only two options: jumping or jumping. In fact, there would be no other way to go down from the cliff since I did rock-climbing to get there and it was impossible to go down the rocks. Then, I jumped! It was the most fulfilling experience I have had for a long time. I felt free and relived during the few seconds of the jump. This experience took me one step forward on my battle against my biggest fear, fear of height. The sensation of freedom I felt was so strong, so satisfying that I decided to jump a second time. Try it, you will love it!

My suggestions:

  • Take a bottle of water and some snacks
  • Bring sunscreen and any type of sun protection you have
  • Jump like a narrow keep your legs together straight to avoid bruises 

Oahu Essential Experiences

10 Discover the Wonders of The Sea


Either you decide to discover them by scuba diving, snorkeling or free diving, just do it! The seabed is absolutely astonishing! There is Coral Reef pretty much everywhere you will dive. One of my very favorite places for snorkeling in Oahu is Hanauma Bay. It is home to the biggest Coral Reef of the island, turtles and to plenty of colorful species of fish more impressive one another.

It is easy to find Snorkeling kits rental. Nevertheless, I strongly suggest to by your own from any seven eleven? You can also go scuba diving and for the most courageous of you cage diving with sharks. If you are a PADI or SSI certification holder, plenty of scuba diving centers are willing to offer you their services and certified instructors to assist you during this wonderful adventure.

My suggestions:

  • Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Kuilima Cove, Sharks Cove, Sans soucis Beach, Electric Beach, Makua Beach.
  • Cage Diving with Sharks
  •  Scuba Diving at Wreck of the Mahi, Kahuna Canyon, Kapiolani Park Beach.

Oahu Essential Experiences

11 Take a Break and Admire a Stunning Sunset!


Take time to breathe and admire the beauty of a sunset is always a good idea. In Hawaii, sunsets offer a stupefying show of lights and colors. The sky transforms in a colorful canvas perfectly mixing tones of blue, red and yellow leaving us, humans speechless to this naturally drawing masterpiece of art.

During my trip to Oahu, I made my self the promise to observe the sunset everyday. Therefore, I decided no matter where I was, no matter what I was doing, I would stop it all by 18:30 and go to the nearest beach to watch the magnificence of the sunset. It turned into my little ritual of the day, my very own moment where I get lost in my imagination and thoughts and forget about the rest of the world.

My recommendations:

  • Haleiwa Beach for me, the best sunset in Oahu.
  • Kakaako Park it is beach front
  • Waikiki Beach subtle mix between skyscrapers and beautiful beach.
  • Vista Points along North Shore

Oahu Essential Experiences

12 Take a Ride and Get Lost in The Island


The best way to discover the big Island of Oahu is to drive around. During my trip to Hawaii, I decided to rent a car for some days and get access to off beaten paths. I wanted to move freely without caring about time passing by. Honolulu is very well connected to the rest of the island. It is not the case for the other cities in Oahu. Public transportation can be a hustle and moving around from a part of the island to another will turn into a whole adventure.

I refused to be stuck in the South shore and Waikiki Beach. I was eager to discover it all, from North to South, from East to West. Renting a car was the best decision I made during my trip. It allowed me to discover much more than I was expecting. It also allowed taking things slow and move following my own desire, and not a bus schedule.

Driving along the North Shore was an amazing experience I will never forget. I would definitely advice to rent a car for at least a day or two during you trip to Oahu to discover some hidden Jam and get out from the super touristy area.
Oahu Essential Experiences

I hope you liked discovering more about Hawaii. Please feel free to share your own experience with me in a comment and give any suggestion that could complete this list.

If you liked this article, share it on you favorite social Media. It would help me a lot and I would be very grateful for it!

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