Heading to the Heart of Hawaii? Just enjoying the beauty of your surroundings is enough reason to visit … but here are 12 more ideas to make the most of your Oahu experience! Get ready for some serious adventure!
Photo Credit: Tor Johnson
1. Pretend you’re in a movie in Kaʻaʻawa Valley.
It’s true that Kualoa Ranch raises cattle, but people aren’t here to see the cows. You come for adventure activities like ATV and horseback riding through the Kaʻaʻawa Valley. You might recognize the area from some little movie called Jurassic Park (oh, and Lost, 50 First Dates, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla … there’s a reason behind the Kaʻaʻawa’s “Hollywood’s backlot” moniker).
Spread across 4,000 acres, Kualoa Private Nature Reserve is made up of three huge valleys that run from steep mountains to rolling hills to tropical beaches. Hakipuʻu Valley’s slopes are the most remote, and they’re ideal for guided hiking and 6WD tours through the jungle.
Sacred land to the ancient Hawaiian, and managed and preserved by a sixth-generation kama’aina family, the funds raised from visitors’ trips to the reserve go right back into stewardship of the land. Kualoa is less than an hour from Waikiki, on the east coast of Oahu.
2. Head to the biggest street food event on the island.
7,000 people sampling the best street food on Oahu — that’s what you’ll find at Street Grindz’ monthly Eat the Street event. Taking place on the last Friday of every month, this food truck mecca features 40 vendors serving up Instagram-worthy dishes like waffle dogs, gelato, and loaded burgers. Snap a photo of your dessert from the Girls Who Bake Next Door food truck and watch your follower numbers soar.
If your trip to Hawaii doesn’t coincide with Eat the Street, Street Grindz also hosts the Honolulu Night Market on the third Saturday of every month — it’s a super cool shopping event in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse complete with skate ramp, live music, bars, art, a kids’ zone, and a ton of street food vendors.
And almost every day along the Kewalo Harbor waterfront you’ll find rotating food trucks and live music at Makers & Tasters, Street Grindz’ permanent food park and marketplace. The market is open for lunch and dinner. Tip: Look out for the vendor serving up coconut mochi crunch shrimp.
3. Check out the only royal palace in the United States.
Hawaii’s King Kalakaua was a visionary: Not only was he one of the world’s first monarchs to circumnavigate the globe, but back in 1882 he built one of the most modern residences in the world. Iolani Palace had electric lights while the White House was still running on gas lamps, and there were intra-house telephones, flush toilets, and hot running water; the modern conveniences we take for granted were big deals back in the Victorian age.
You can see the opulent Honolulu palace on a self-guided tour, or get a deeper sense of Hawaii’s history with a docent guiding you through the residence. A highlight is seeing all the memorabilia Kalakaua acquired on his global travels.
4. Visit the Hawaiian version of the Smithsonian.
Founded by a Hawaiian princess and often lauded as the best Polynesian anthropological museum in the world, there’s so much to see at the Bishop Museum — think shark-toothed war clubs, ornate dance masks, and a royal feathered cloak created entirely from the yellow feathers of 80,000 (now extinct) mamo birds.
There’s also a planetarium where you can learn about modern astronomy and ancient Polynesian methods of seafaring using wave patterns and the position of the stars to travel thousands of miles across open ocean in outrigger canoes. There’s also the Science Adventure Center where kids (and adults!) get to walk through an erupting volcano. The museum’s open every day.
5. Set your days and nights around Honolulu’s live music scene.
In the ‘80s, the legendary jazz and blues club Blue Note got its start in Greenwich Village, and today you can get a little taste of that New York vibe under the Oahu sun. Enjoy a Sunday brunch while you’re listening to the Blue Note Gospel Choir, and once you’ve finished your pineapple pancakes with dark rum syrup, go hang out on the beach for a few hours, then head to Duke’s Canoe Club beachside bar for live music at sunset.
Head to Waikiki Beach Walk and grab some new clothes for the night, then take your pick: You could head back to Blue Note — they’ve got two live performances going on every evening — or get cultured at Kani Ka Pila Grille at Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. This is an ideal place to taste local dishes like ahi poke — marinated raw ahi tuna — and the Hawaiian music by local performers is unreal.
6. Zipline over Oahu’s North Shore.
Cruising along Oahu’s longest ziplines — ranging from 500 feet to nearly half a mile long, and starting at 410 feet high — at Keana Farms, you’ll rappel between platforms, navigate sky bridges, zoom through the air at high speed … and do it all in the name of helping the planet. By not disturbing the tropical plants being grown in the farm below, you’re preserving the land. Right? Papaya, taro, eggplant, basil, cherry tomatoes — they’re all grown here.
7. Hang out with Waikiki’s surf and yoga kids.
Photo Credit: Tor Johnson
You have to learn to surf (or at least try) while you’re in Hawaii. Waikiki Beach Activities surf school will take you from being a ‘kook’ to riding the waves safely.
And there’s no need to be stuck inside a sweaty studio practicing yoga when you’re on Oahu. Take your practice outside at Kapiolani Park, because there’s nothing quite like practicing your first downward dog of the day while looking up at Mount Leahi. Outrigger offers yoga at Waikiki Beach Walk on Wednesdays from 4-4:45 p.m.
8. Eat all the fancy fusion food you can.
With more than a third of Hawaii’s population descending from Asia, Oahu is one multicultural place. And that means incredible fusion food. At the Ocean House in Waikiki you’ll get the freshest island seafood — think dishes like steamed kahuku moi with garlic scampi black bean sauce, and crab-stuffed mahi mahi. And you’ll be dining al fresco, by the ocean. At Roy’s Hawaii, run by celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi, you can order amazing sashimi and spicy blue crab cakes.
9. Get involved in Lei Day.
May Day on Oahu means Lei Day. To celebrate, Outrigger will be hosting a lei-making ceremony as well as a hula ceremony and an appearance from the 2016 May Day Lei Queen and her court.
10. Discover the Polynesian Cultural Center.
At the Polynesian Cultural Center, you get to visit eight Polynesian-themed villages complete with thematically clothed staff and architecture, giving visitors the chance to sample traditional Hawaiian, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Samoan, Aotearoan (New Zealand), Fijian, Tahitian, and Tongan lifestyles.
There are theater shows, a massive boat parade, and a nightly luau (traditional Hawaiian party/feast). Other activities include spear throwing, poi twirling, fire making, and you can even learn the right way to crack open a coconut (a truly useful skill for island visitors).
11. Learn the history of Pearl Harbor.
Anyone interested in naval and military history will have a lot to see during a visit to Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. Site of the historic Japanese bombing that provoked America to join the Allies in World War II, Pearl Harbor has been a main naval base for the U.S. Navy from 1899 until present day.
The harbor itself is home to several impressive military ships. These include the USS Missouri, a battleship that saw intermittent service from WWII until the Gulf War, and on whose decks the Japanese ended the Second World War by signing the instrument of surrender in 1945. Today, the Missouri is a museum ship that visitors can tour, as well as a popular setting for Hollywood action films such as Under Siege and Battleship.
A short boat ride away, straddling the submerged wreckage of the USS Arizona, is the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which draws over 1.8 million visitors a year. From this monument, the smokestack of the famous ship can still be seen emerging from the water.
12. Learn to play the best ukuleles on the island.
If you’ve ever hung out on YouTube playing Israel ‘Iz’ Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on a loop (and if you haven’t, you should), you should probably go to the ukulele institution that is Kamaka Hawaii Inc. It’s turning 100 this year. The original owner, Samuel Kaiali’ili’i Kamaka, invented the round-bodied, mellower-sounding “pineapple” style ukulele. And they’re pretty famous. Adam Sandler actually played a custom-built Kamaka in the film 50 First Dates, and it’s said that George Harrison would buy as many as he could find in stores and give them to friends as gifts.
If you’re unsure about whether a high-quality ukulele is for you, Kamaka also offers 30-minute factory tours most weekday mornings.
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.