15 Top Things to Do on Oahu | Hawaii Famous Landmarks

Last Updated on July 3, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

Kamehameha Statue in Downtown, Kamehameha Statue in Honolulu, Hawaii landmarks
Top Things to Do on Oahu |  Hawaii Famous Landmarks


Being from Hawaii, I know first-hand that Hawaii trip planning can feel overwhelming. So I teamed up with Expedia.com to make it easier for you. You need to plan your Hawaii vacation strategically. There’s things to do on Oahu, from amazing beaches, hopping nightlife, hiking trails, Hawaii festivals and delicious Pacific Island-Asian food.

This post contains affiliate links. I never leave home without travel insurance. Here’s an trip insurance finder tool  to find insurance that matches your budget. I use World Nomads as it covers adventures. I get the plan that covers travel theft

15 Top Things to Do on Oahu

Nothing annoys me more than doing a top things to do in Hawaii search online and finding articles that list things to do in the Hawaiian Islands. They clump a generalized range of attractions from the Big Island of Hawaii, Oahu, even Kauai and Maui. It’s clera these lists are created by writers who either have never been to the Hawaiian Islands or have inaccurately assessed them as one island.

There’s a lot of top Hawaii attractions on the island of Oahu to fill a trip Hawaii itinerary, so I’m narrowing it down to famous landmarks, which will give you an overview into the Oahu’s history, landscape and culture. Check out these amazing photos of Oahu at Expedia.com.

1.  Diamond Head Crater Hike

If you want the best lookout of Honolulu, hike Diamond Head crater. Once as a strategic military point, today Diamond Head is an extinct volcano crater open for tourists. The attraction of Diamond Head its hike to a drop dead panoramic view of Oahu’s coastline from Waikiki to downtown Honolulu.  The hike takes approximately 45 minutes to the summit, depending on your condition.  The hike is mild with a steep staircase inclined closer to the top. Read my Hawaii hiking tips

Diamond Head , Hours: Daily 6am- 6pm, gates close at 4:30pm,  Admission: $1 , Parking: $5

Tip: Start early morning as it will be hot by noon. Wear your sunscreen and a hat. There are no shaded resting spots.

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2. Waikiki

Waikiki is tourist central and where all the action happens from Waikiki hotels, shopping, beaches, nightlife and tons of sun worshipping activities.  Grab your unicorn floating because there is a few beaches to choose from:

  • Kaimana Beach
  • Sunset Beach
  • Waikiki Beach
  • Fort DeRussy Beach

Laze in the sun, watch beach volleyball, take a surf lesson and maybe even have a run-in with a swimming turtle. Pay an homage to the Duke Kahanamoku statue, have tea under large Banyan trees at Waikiki’s landmark  Moana Surfrider Hotel and end the day, with a mahi mahi fish plate at Duke’s Restaurant and Bar. Check out my list of top reef-friendly sunscreen for Hawaii

Check my list of Waikiki’s Best Beaches  for a full list & 13 Beach tip Dos & Don’ts

3.  Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

If you want to see schools of fish and an occasional turtle, Hawaii’s best snorkel spot is Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.  Hanauma Bay is an ocean-life preserve, a friendly cove with life guards and is my top spot to snorkel with family or alone. Before entering you’re required to watch a video laying rules to a safe and environmentally smart stay.  It’s the next best thing to snorkeling in a giant aquarium.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve  Hours: 6am -7pm, daily (except Tuesdays), Admission: $7.50, Check the website for snorkel tour packages and transportation. Website: www.hanaumabaystatepark.com

Tip: Do not step on the coral reef or feed the fish. Wear eco-friendly sunscreenir?source=bk&t=grrrltraveler 20&bm id=default&l=ktl&linkId=5e40d2ee152719e44d48f1e7e224de6f& cb=1503397913671 to protect the ocean. Check out our Hawaii guide on Ultimate Reef-Safe Sunscreen Guide. If you have time, you can do the scenic Hanauma Bay hike

See Top 12 Best Beaches on Oahu, Hawaii
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Things to do on Oahu: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

4. Pali Lookout

Pali Lookout is a historical site of Hawaii with an impressive view of the Ko’olau mountain range and the windward side of the island.  The legend is that King Kamehameha threw enemy warriors off the cliffs in a great battle that unified the Hawaiian Islands.

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Things to do in Hawaii: Pali lookout

5. Bishop Museum

The Bishop Museum is a history and science museum with Hawaiiana artifacts and the largest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts in the world. It also houses archives from Hawaii’s history as well as documents from the royal family. You can get there by Waikiki trolley or bus.  Check the website for special tours of its collections.

Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St, Honolulu   Hours: 9am – 5pm. Website: www.bishopmuseum.org


Check out What’s in my packinglist for Hawaii

6.  Pearl Harbor & the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

A top Hawaii attraction and historical landmark of World War II is Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. You’ll see a 23 minute documentary and then take a boat ride out memorial site. The memorial built over the sunken U.S.S. Arizona; oil leaks bubble up from its underwater grave. Interments are still held for U.S.S. Arizona survivors.   Note: No bags/purses allowed (only wallets and cameras). There’s lockers you can rent to store your valuables.

Pearl Harbor / U.S.S. Arizona, 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu.  Hours: 7am- 5pm daily. Admission: Free but 1,300 tickets are given daily on a first come first serve basis. Audio tours available. Reservations are recommended.

arizona memorial at night
Hawaii Famous Landmarks: Pearl Harbor & the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at night


7. Battleship Missouri Memorial

A stone’s throw from the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is the Battleship Missouri Memorial. Located on Ford Island, the historical Battleship Missouri Memorial is last battleship  (BB-63) commissioned by the Navy. It is also the historical landmark, where the peace treaty was signed to end World War II.  You can take a tour to learn more the ship’s history, walk the ship’s deck and explore the cabins and galleys to see how the men lived.  It’s a fascinating tour!  Visit the official website.

8. Historical Chinatown and Downtown Honolulu

On the edge of downtown Honolulu is Chinatown, a historical area occupied by the Chinese-American community. The area makes for great walking streets, where you’ll discover historical buildings, a fish and livestock warehouse, lei makers, Chinese bakeries, boutique shops and restaurants. It also houses a young artsy urban scene of galleries, bars, salons, tattoo parlors.

Hawaii Theater– Built in 1922, this renovated theater houses both, commercial and local productions.

Maunakea Marketplace – an open-aired marketplace with shops and produce vendors, pavillion and a food court of inexpensive but delicious ethnic food shops. Visit my favorite boba tea and smoothie vendor in the pavillion outside the food court. Entrances on Maunakea Street and Hotel Street.

First Friday each month, is First Friday Art Walk, an evening of entertainment and art culture in the galleries and salons in the area.

Tip: After 6p metered parking is free. Municipal Parking lots after 6p are a flat rate.

downtown honolulu chinatown
downtown honolulu chinatown

9.  Iolani Palace

Did you know Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. to have a monarchy?  A top Hawaii famous landmark is Iolani Palace. The historical palace is preserved as the residence of the Kingdom of Hawaii’s royal family. It is also the ultimate prison grounds where the last monarch, Queen Lili’oukalani was held imprisoned when the monarchy was overthrown by business men and sugar plantation owners. Two years later Hawaii was annexed as part of the U.S. territory.

Note: The issue of sovereignty is still a sensitive issue with some native Hawaiians .  Nearby Hawaii famous landmarks: King Kamehameha statue (across the street) and State Capitol building.

Iolani Palace 364 South King Street, Hours: 9am – 4pm, Mon-Sat. Website: https://www.iolanipalace.com

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Things to do on Oahu Hawaii: iolani palace


10. King Kamehameha statue in downtown Honolulu

The King Kamehameha statue in downtown Honolulu is a beloved landmark of the heroic warrior and unifier of the Hawaiian Islands. It is also a famous film location for the television series, Hawaii Five O.

Kamehameha Statue in Downtown, Kamehameha Statue in Honolulu, Hawaii landmarks
Kamehameha Statue in Downtown

11. Hawaii’s Plantation Village

The Hawaii Plantation Village is a living museum park, sharing the cultural roots of Hawaii’s immigrant heritage.  Heritage houses simulate the immigrant lifestyles of the plantation days. Its one-room museum is small and old, but the facts it shares is informative.  Take the guided tour for a better experience; otherwise, you’re just looking at a bunch of houses. Some docents can sometimes be a little long-winded; but there is a lot of history here. If you have somewhere to be, let them know.  During Obon-season, you might find a bon dance festival and during Halloween, the village is turned into a haunted theme park . According to night security guards, the village is said to be haunted).

Hawaii’s Plantation Village, 94-695 Waipahu St, Waipahu, Hours: 10am-2pm, Mon-Fri. Admission: Adult $13.00 Website: www.hawaiiplantationvillage.org

12. Nuuanu Pali Lookout

The Nuuanu Pali Lookout stands amidst the impressive Ko’olau Mountain Range and is the famous 1795 battleground, where King Kamehameha unified the Hawaiian Islands. It is a place of deep spiritual connection and there are ghost stories told about this place. But overall, it offers an epic and swwping view of the Windward side.

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Nuuanu Pali lookout

13. Polynesian Cultural Center

Out in Laie on the North Shore of Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a living museum park centered around Polynesian culture. It’s like a Polynesian Disneyland with interactive activities, live performance shows such as coconut tree climbing and a canoe pageant parade and even nightly luaus. Prices range from general admission to luau packages.

Polynesian Cultural Center   55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie. Hours: noon-6pm, closed Mondays. Website: www.polynesia.com

14. Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art houses Pacific art collections from Japan to Hawaii. They house the largest independent art film house at Doris Duke Theatre (see events), art openings and they offer youth to adult art classes from studio arts, ceramics, metal and printmaking.  When I was a little girl, I took art workshops at the academy. Visit Official Website. Located across the Neil Blaisdell Arena.

15. Byodo-In Temple

Byodo-In Temple is located at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, tucked at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains. It is a smaller replica of the 1000 year old temple in Uji, Japan but is peaceful, picturesque and houses a koi fish pond. Stroll through the temple scented with incense, ring the giant bell and buy fish food to feed the resident koi. Visit Website for more inforamtion.

Getting Around Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu is a medium-small island. You can circumnavigate it in a day. However, to squeeze all its highlights in, you’ll need at least three days or longer. Oahu also has incredibly scenic hikes of various levels (read my Hawaii hiking tips), from easy hikes like Spitting Caves and Lanikai Pillbox hike to day long hikes like Kaena Point.

There are always all-inclusive vacation package deals online or you can organize day tours, hop a Waikiki trolley (they make stops at some main attractions) or take TheBus. But if you want to explore more and have flexibility, it’s best to rent a car from a place like Discount Hawaii Car Rental.

Read How to Get Around in Hawaii

4 Top Reef-Friendly Sunscreens (Hawaii made)

Where to stay in Hawaii, Oahu

Hilton Hawaiian Village. Luxury. Large resort with spacious luxury rooms and gorgeous high-rise views, a private lagoon and free Friday fireworks. The man-made lagoon is an easy and safe experience for children and is next to the beach.

Disney Aulani Hotel. Family. Ko’Olina Resort Area on the East Oahu. It’s a bit of a drive from Honolulu, but the area has lovely and tranquil family-friendly beaches. The resort hotel has a plethora of activities from wet slides and tubing to snorkeling and more.

Ihilani Four Seasons Resorts Luxury resort, favorite Hawaii film location

Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel. Budget. Great location, walk to Waikiki Surf beach. Dorm rooms are as low as $35/night. You cannot beat that deal for a central spot in Waikiki. Read more about Waikiki’s 12 Top Beaches to Explore

Moana Surfrider, Landmark hotel with beach front view. A feeling of old Hawaii history, Duke Kahanamoku days. Afternoon tea on the terrace. My favorite hotel.

Travel Resources for your Hawaii trip

Booking.com – Hotel bookings. No cancellation fees
NordVPN – Online security and the ability to watch Netflix. Use “grrrltraveler” for 70% off 3-year plan + 1 month free
Get your Guide – book tours in Hawaii
Discount Hawaii Car Rental.- book inexpensive car rental in Hawaii
Check out my Reef Safe Sunscreen guide to see which sunscreen is banned in Hawaii.

What are your top 10 things to do on Oahu? Which Hawaii Famous Landmarks are on your bucket list?

Top 10 Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii Famous Landmarks
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Top 10 Landmarks Hawaii

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