What are the best Oahu must see sights? We also asked ourselves this question before our Hawaii trip and did a lot of research on the best things to do in Oahu, the most beautiful beaches and of course the famous Waikiki Beach. There is really a lot to discover on Oahu. We tell you now which Oahu sights you must see, where you stay best and what kind of rental car you need for Oahu.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
Things to know about Oahu
Oahu is only the third largest island of Hawaii, but the one with the most inhabitants. Almost 70% of the total population lives on Oahu and more than 80% of them in the capital Honolulu. Most vacationers land on Oahu and most of them are drawn to the Waikiki district of the capital Honolulu. Here are hundreds of hotels, restaurants and stores on a few square kilometers.
In our opinion, Oahu is the most developed and the most touristy of the 4 main islands of Hawaii. And not only because here are the most tourists on the road, but also because everything is designed for the visitors (mainly from mainland USA and Japan).
Honolulu is a full-grown big city with highways, traffic jams and a huge tourist offer. The small district of Waikiki is the hotspot of the entire island and almost all visitors spend the night here. Here you can really find everything you need for a vacation.
Besides the bubbly capital, Oahu of course offers spectacular nature and a landscape that has been seen in so many Hollywood movies. The green overgrown hills, the fog that often hangs low over the landscape and the rugged coastlines can be discovered when you leave the tourist center of Waikiki. But is Oahu the right Hawaiian island for you?
Oahu is the main island of the Hawaiian archipelago and is therefore visited by almost every traveler at the beginning of their trip.
All Hawaiian islands offer relatively similar attractions such as great beaches, spectacular nature and exciting leisure activities. What makes Oahu special for us is the compactness of tourist offers especially in the epicenter Waikiki.
You feel like you are in an all-inclusive resort where everything is within walking distance. Great restaurants, souvenir stores, luxury boutiques, excursion options and of course the world famous Waikiki Beach where countless hotels pile up.
For us, however, the hustle and bustle in Waikiki was much too much and therefore Oahu is not our favorite island in Hawaii. But if you don’t mind that and want to take advantage of an almost endless tourist offer on a scenically incredibly beautiful island, you should include Oahu on your Hawaii trip.
Driving on Oahu
Driving a car on Oahu, especially in the main city of Honolulu, can be stressful and exhausting. There is a lot of traffic and on the highways there is sometimes a traffic jam or two. You won’t find that on the other Hawaiian islands.
But if you leave the capital and go to the north of the island (North Shore) driving is much more relaxed.
Do I need a Rental Car on Oahu?
Oahu has a very well developed public transportation network. There are buses that reach most regions of the island. Detailed information about the different bus routes can be found here: TheBus.org
Nevertheless, we would recommend you to rent a car*, because this way you are much more flexible and you can get to places where the bus stops only a few times a day.
What kind of rental car do I need for Oahu?
For the most activities on Oahu a normal rental car is sufficient. It is not necessary to rent a 4×4 or off-road vehicle to get from A to B on Oahu. By the way, a special highlight is to drive around the island in a convertible and often convertibles are not much more expensive than normal middle class cars.
How long should I stay on Oahu?
If you only have little time and want to visit several Hawaiian islands, 3-5 days should be enough to visit the most important and beautiful sights of Oahu. Very many tourists stay completely on the main island of Hawaii and therefore it is absolutely no problem to spend 2 weeks or more here. There are enough activities and sights here.
Staying Overnight on Oahu
One thing first: Staying overnight in Hawaii is really expensive! No matter how early you book and how low your expectations are, you will probably pay more for your hotel stays than anywhere else in the world. At least that’s how we felt and we’ve stayed in many countries.
But what doesn’t fit to the high price is the low comfort and low standard that prevails almost everywhere. If you can expect luxury in some countries for 200€ per night, you get almost only the minimum standard in Hawaii.
For accommodation you should plan at least 150€ per night for a double room. Upwards the prices are completely open. Try to book as early as possible to benefit from a larger offer.
There are a lot of hotels on Oahu and you need them, because Oahu is by far the most visited Hawaiian island. Most hotels you will find in the capital Honolulu directly near the world famous Waikiki Beach. Especially if you are looking for cheap hotels (nothing is really cheap in Hawaii), you are most likely to find them in Waikiki.
If you want to stay in a completely different (and also quieter) corner of Oahu then you should look for an accommodation in the North Shore in the very north of Oahu. There is much less going on and it is much more relaxed. Accordingly, there are fewer hotels, so you should start looking early enough.
We have put together two hotel recommendations for you: One in lively Waikiki and one on the relaxed Northshore.
Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach
In this central accommodation* in Waikiki Beach, you'll stay in beautiful double rooms right in the lively center.Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach | Check Availability*
Kalani Hawaii Private Lodging on the Northshore
At this lodging* in Pupukea, you’ll sleep near beautiful beaches and the great town of Haleiwa.Kalani Hawaii Private Lodging | Check the Lowest Rates*
The Best Time to Travel on Oahu
The best time to travel to Oahu – as well as almost every other Hawaiian island – are the summer months from April to October. During this time, statistically it rains the least and temperatures are a few degrees higher. So, unfortunately, are the prices, because summer is, of course, the peak travel season. We visited Oahu in the rainy season in February / March in Hawaii and unfortunately had some bad luck with the weather.
There was more rain and the temperatures were not as high as expected. But of course you can also be lucky in this time and have less tourists, cheaper prices and still great summer weather. Because Hawaii is generally a year-round destination that can also be traveled in the European winter.
Excursions Oahu: The Best Activities
Oahu offers a lot of activities. Many are free, but some are worth paying for. We have collected the most beautiful tours and activities on Oahu for you here:
|Oahu Helicopter Tour with Doors On or Off||from 368 €||Book Now*|
|Guided Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona, and City Tour||from 61 €||Book Now*|
|Glass Bottom Boat Tour in Waikiki||from 37 €||Book Now*|
|Shark Cage Dive on the North Shore||from 68€||Book Now*|
Top 7 Best Sights To See On Oahu
Oahu, of course, has a variety of special sights to offer. These include jungles, paradisiacal beaches and great hikes. We would like to present you the most beautiful Oahu sights that you should not miss.
Oahu Sights Map
In this Oahu map you will find our highlights of the island marked so you can get a better idea of where each place is located. We hope this will help you plan your Oahu trip!
Waikiki Honolulu Region
Waikiki is really maximum touristy and that in the positive as well as in the negative sense. Waikiki is the tourist hotspot on Oahu and most of the hotels on the island are located here. In Waikiki there is really everything you can wish for as a tourist.
World famous here is Waikiki Beach, which is lined with numerous huge hotels. It is truly not the most beautiful beach in Hawaii, but certainly the most famous. No matter where you are in Waikiki, the long curved Waikiki Beach is usually just a stone’s throw away. If you like this and like to have everything within walking distance, Waikiki is the place for you.
The North Shore is the complete opposite of lively Waikiki. This highlight of Oahu is located in the very north of the island and has a completely different atmosphere than the capital. The North Shore is famous for its beaches, wild coastlines and for the surfers who are almost omnipresent here.
Some of the highest waves in Hawaii are found here, and they are conquered by the pros at annual surfing competitions. For beginners, the beaches and the huge waves are not so well suited, so you should rather look for another place for your beginner course.
We liked the atmosphere and the untouched nature in the north of Oahu a lot. Especially recommended on the North Shore is the Laniakea Beach, where you can also discover turtles with a little luck. Nearby is the small town of Walaiha where you can find authentic restaurants, interesting stores and much more. A stopover here is worthwhile.
Diamond Head – Best Hikes Oahu
Diamond Head is a 232 meter high crater very close to Waikiki and one of the most beautiful Ohau sights. There is a nearly 2 km long hiking trail leading up to the top of the crater, which is not very strenuous. From up there you have a great view to Waikiki Beach.
Tickets for Diamond Head have to be bought online in advance. There are 2 types of tickets: Tickets to visit on foot and tickets to park directly at the crater rim. Since the parking spaces at the crater rim are limited, the tickets including the parking ticket are sold out very quickly.
Tickets for the entrance on foot are usually available on the same day, but you should also buy them online in advance.
Tickets cost $5 per person and $10 per car and can be purchased on this website.
Tip:If you only got a ticket for the entrance on foot, then you have to park outside. For this you can try to get one of the few parking spaces directly in front of the tunnel that leads into the crater. You can find these paid parking spaces here on Google Maps.
Alternatively you can park a bit further down in the residential area (Google Maps). There are some possibilities to park your car for free. By the way, it doesn’t make much sense to take a cab or Uber, because they are not allowed to drive directly to the visitor parking lot, but have to let you out before the tunnel.
One of the most popular Oahu attractions is Kualoa Ranch and even if you haven’t been there yet, you know the ranch’s scenery from numerous movies. The spectacular green covered mountains on both sides of the ranch are well known from many movies like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Journey to the Mysterious Island, etc. Unfortunately, you can’t just visit this landscape or discover it on a hike.
The ranch has been privately owned for centuries and can only be entered as part of a tour. You can book different activities like horseback riding, ziplining or a ride on a four-wheel drive vehicle along the most famous filming locations on the ranch.
Tickets are available online at: Kualoa Ranch | Eco Tours
The naval base Pearl Harbour came to sad fame on December 7, 1941 when almost the entire US fleet was sunk by the Japanese Navy. In the largest sunk ship, the USS Arizona, 1102 soldiers died. Nowadays, the site has been turned into an open-air museum and you can visit the sunk ship and many other war memorials.
Pearl Harbor is a very special experience not only for history buffs and is therefore one of the most popular sights on Oahu.
Tickets for Pearl Harbour
The main memorial USS Arizona is free to visit, but only 1300 visitors are admitted daily. You should therefore book the free ($1 reservation fee) ticket well in advance online here.
If you want the complete Pearl Harbour experience, you need the so-called Pearl Harbour Pass, which currently costs just under $90 and is available online. With this pass you can visit the following monuments:
- Visitor Center Narrated Multimedia Tour
- Battleship Missouri Memorial
- Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
- Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
- Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center
Please note that access to the USS Arizona is not included in the Pearl Harbor Pass. Therefore, you have to book the ticket additionally via recreation.org.
Hanauma Bay – Best Beaches Oahu
Hanauma Bay State Park is the snorkeling paradise on Oahu and definitely one of the most beautiful beaches on Hawaii. Unfortunately, the corals of the underwater world of Hanauma Bay have been damaged by the hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. You can no longer expect colorful corals like in the Caribbean.
Nevertheless you can see many colorful fish and the beach itself is really beautiful. In the background the green overgrown hills typical for Hawaii rise up and on the beach numerous huge palm trees provide some shade. All this leads to the fact that the beach is very well visited and you can not just go there, but must buy tickets in advance.
Tickets for Hanauma Bay
You have to buy tickets for Hanauma Bay online, but you can buy them maximum 48 hours in advance on the official website. Since the tickets are in high demand, you should get to your computer in time to avoid going empty-handed.
Tickets are available online for $25 per person on the park’s official website. On-site parking costs 3$ per car and has to be paid in cash. If you can’t get tickets online anymore you still have the possibility to go to the entrance early in the morning to get a ticket for the day.
Hanauma Bay State Park can be entered from 06:45 in the morning until 13:30 and must be left no later than 16:00. Hanauma Bay is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays.
Very close to Hanauma Bay is another Oahu highlight, Koko Crater. You can even see the top of the 294 meter high crater from nearby Hanauma Beach. The special thing about climbing this peak is that you walk over the sleepers of old railroad tracks to the top. There are supposed to be over 1000 steps (although I haven’t counted myself) until you reach the top and have an incredibly beautiful panoramic view over all of Oahu.
By the way, the story behind these railroad tracks begins in World War II. The U.S. built a bunker on top of the crater and built a short rail line to get supplies and materials to the top. In 1966, the site was abandoned, turned over to the city of Honolulu, and largely left to its own devices ever since.
As a result, the trail to the top is only somewhat maintained, not very secured, and therefore not entirely safe. Nevertheless, the view from the top is truly indescribable.
The hike is really very strenuous due to the steep incline, so you should definitely start walking in the morning, because later in the day it is simply too warm for the climb.
By the way, you can park at the foot of Koko Crater for free. You can find the large parking lot here on Google Maps.
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- Pipiwai Trail Hike Maui 2023 | Is it worth it?
- The 6 most beautiful hikes on Kauai
We hope you enjoyed our report on the most beautiful Oahu must see sights as well as our travel tips. If you have any questions, please leave us a comment.