When someone says paradise, what do you dream of? Soft sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and delicious food & drink served outside in the sunshine. That sounds an awful lot like the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii!
Home to the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu, historic monuments like Pearl Harbor and the Punchbowl, and plenty of world-classes beaches, Oahu is a popular vacation destination for travelers all over the world. Learn to ride waves at Waikiki Beach or Haleiwa, experience traditional Hawaiian culture at a luau, hike the island’s many trails and reserves seeking out the perfect view, or just kick back and relax under the Hawaiian palm trees.
Need a hand figuring out your itinerary? Get started with our complete Oahu travel guide, including where to go, what to see, and how to get there!
Looking to explore other destinations in the USA? Check out our Hawaii Travel Guide and United States Travel Guide for more destination ideas & tips!
Where to go in Oahu
The capital of the state of Hawaii, bustling Honolulu is Oahu’s most popular place to visit. As it’s home to the main airport on the island, chances are that Honolulu will kick-start your Oahu vacation. And with a little something to suit any kind of traveler, it’s a fantastic place to start.
If you’re into military history, Pearl Harbor should be high up on your Oahu itinerary. Pearl Harbor is the site of the 1941 attack that killed over 2,400 people, including over a thousand sailors and marines on the USS Arizona.
Now a memorial and a museum, it’s one of the most important sites in recent US military history. Visit to learn more about the site itself, the lasting impact of the attack, and to see the now sunken USS Arizona from above.
Honolulu is synonymous with its beach scene. With Waikiki Beach being one of the best beaches on Oahu and in Hawaii, it’s no wonder that so many visitors book stays along this two-mile stretch of pristine, golden sand.
Surfing on your bucket list? Waikiki is one of the most popular places in the world to learn to ride the waves. If you’re a bit more advanced, paddle out and see where you rate in the line-up: Hawaiian surfing is an art form!
The nightlife scene in Honolulu is famous as well. There are a plethora of bars, restaurants, and clubs to choose from. As the capital city and home to all the major hotel chains, Honolulu, particularly around Waikiki, is also one of the top choices for where to stay in Oahu.
Looking for something a little different to do in the evenings? Honolulu has its own night market on the third Saturday of every month. Browse local crafts, artisanal gifts, and food vendors, and generally soak up the fun atmosphere. There’s often live music and bars also at the market, making it a big, fun Hawaiian party!
Ready to plan your trip to Honolulu? Get started with these travel resources from our Honolulu Travel Guide…
- Best Things to Do in Honolulu
- One Day in Honolulu: Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Honolulu
- Best Beaches in Honolulu
- Best Time to Visit Honolulu
- Best Things to Do in Waikiki
Whereas Honolulu is more flashy and touristy, Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore is the laid-back island vibe many people are searching for. Dominated by spectacular surf culture, this beautiful beach town goes with the flow and allows you to reset and relax.
Exactly how good is the surf here? Haleiwa Beach is commonly referred to as a part of Hawaii’s Seven-Mile Miracle, a strip of coastline with waves so reliably amazing that it’s almost unbelievable. If you want to see the best-of-the-best rip it up here, one of the best things to do on Oahu is to wait until the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is on at the start of January.
Away from the stellar waves, Haleiwa also has a historic and cultural side to it, with plenty of plantation-style buildings and old churches, including the 19th-century Queen Liliuokalani Church. You can still visit the church, with its striking architecture, and learn all about the religious history of the land and the traditions that still exist throughout Haleiwa today.
After you’ve explored, head back into town for some amazing street food. As the fertile volcanic soil of the North Shore brought agricultural jobs for workers from all around the world, there’s an amazing range of cuisines on offer in Haleiwa. From traditional Hawaiian to Japanese to Portuguese and beyond, it’s a tasty town.
Looking for a calmer trip to Hawaii? The crystal clear waters of Kailua and its residential feel make it a popular spot for visitors looking to recharge their batteries. With some of the most beautiful beaches and reefs on the island, Kailua is a natural wonderland that’s not to be missed.
Unlike many other gorgeous beaches on Oahu, Kailua isn’t really a surf beach. With reliable onshore winds, Kailua Beach Park is a dream spot for windsurfing and open-water kayaking.
Cruise atop the azure blue waters, taking in the stunning coastal scenery and wildlife as you travel. Especially looking out to the water, you’ll be able to see a plethora of beautiful coastal birds. The neighboring Mokulua Islands are a haven for birds, so you either make a trip out there or see the gorgeous birds as they fly back across.
If you’re looking for something a little slower in pace, grab your swimmers and paddle over to Lanikai Beach. Known for its outstanding sands, calm and clear waters, and bountiful reef, it’s a popular spot to snorkel. See the vibrant colors that lie under the waves, discover new species, and generally have fun in the sun!
Away from the wonderful beaches, you can get your fill of military history and fresh air by hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, otherwise known as the Ka’iwa Ridge Trail. One of the best hikes on Oahu, this panoramic trail leads you up to old military bunkers that were used in times gone by. Take a minute to learn more about Hawaiian history while you catch your breath.
Known as the second city of Oahu, Kapolei is the ideal place to stay if you’re traveling with family. Home to waterparks, golf courses, and even a new Disney resort, Kapolei is a bustling city with plenty of tourist attractions to keep the kiddos entertained and build those Hawaiian memories.
Located just nine miles away from the island’s main airport in Honolulu, Kapolei is ideally placed to make the most of your vacation time. No long transfers across the island here! You can rock straight up to your hotel and the fun can begin.
Like many of the best places to visit in Oahu, Kapolei has its fair share of stunning beaches, including Ko Olina Beach Park. Located in between the family-friendly resorts, this is a popular white-sand beach where you can kick back and relax.
Looking to up the thrill levels? Pack a day bag and slide on over to Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii. Featuring 25 rides and attractions, it’s the perfect place to spend the day having fun in the sun. With plenty of food vendors, shops, and picnic areas, it’s easy to stay here all day long before heading back to your hotel or resort. Float around the lazy river, race your friends, or sit back and take plenty of photos so you have memories for years to come.
Want to get in a round of golf or two? There are quite a few world-class courses in Kapolei to discover, all with outstanding coastal views. Book a tee time at Kapolei Golf Club before having lunch and a couple of drinks at their beautiful clubhouse restaurant. Laugh about any terrible shots you’ve had, reflect on that perfect putt, and think about what you can do differently on your next round. A perfect day in the Hawaiian sunshine!
Other destinations in Oahu
- Kawela Bay
When to visit Oahu
There’s not really a bad time to visit Oahu, but the peak seasons revolve around the school holidays. Summer and Christmas-time are both super busy and often more expensive.
If you’re looking to avoid crowds, the best time to visit Oahu is from April to early June or between September and November. These shoulder seasons are ideal if you have the flexibility as the weather is still amazing, but you’ll have your pick of areas and accommodation.
Looking for peak surfing conditions? The main spots on the North Shore come alive in the winter months from December to February. The line-ups are often busy with pros warming up for big competitions. If you want to see the best or test your skills during the biggest swells, winter is when you should visit Oahu.
Depending on where you go on Oahu, you can find gorgeous ways and weather pretty much all year round. Finding the best time to go depends on what you want to do and your budget. If you’re tied to the summer holidays but want to avoid crowds, head to Kailua, where tourists are fewer.
How to get to Oahu
Oahu is served by Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), located three miles northwest of central Honolulu. Several major airlines fly into HNL from domestic and international gateways, including:
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines