Top 10 Best Things to Do in Oahu

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Hey there! Are you planning your next vacation to Hawaii? Chances are you’re visiting Honolulu, which is on the Island of Oahu. Amanda and I have visited Oahu a dozen times, and it’s one of our favorite Hawaiian islands because of the food, beaches, activities, and the locals.

In this blog, we have shared our personal list of the Top 10 Best Things to Do in Oahu. We understand that it might be difficult to choose from only ten things, but we hope this will give you plenty of options for your visit. Our list is not ranked, so feel free to choose any activity that catches your interest. We have included all the things that we personally enjoy and recommend. Let’s begin!

#1 – Kayaking to Kaneohe Sandbar

The Kaneohe Sandbar is a popular attraction located in Kaneohe Bay, on the eastern coast of Oahu. It is a natural sandbar that emerges from the ocean during low tide and forms a small island with shallow, crystal-clear water that is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and even walking around. The sandbar is surrounded by a coral reef and is home to a variety of marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles and bright pink conspicuous sea cucumbers.

To get to the Kaneohe Sandbar, you can take a boat or a kayak from the nearby He’eia Kea Small Boat Harbor. Several tour companies offer group trips to the sandbar, which usually include transportation, snorkeling gear, water games, and a picnic lunch. Alternatively, if you have your boat or kayak, you can also access the sandbar on your own, but it’s important to check the tide schedule and be aware of the potential hazards of navigating the coral reef.

We made an advance reservation for a tandem kayak and snorkel gear with Kama’aina Kayak and Snorkel Eco-Ventures through their website. Conveniently, the gear is kept inside Heʻeia State Park. Upon arrival at the parking lot, we proceeded toward the building and checked in with the staff. The staff then led us down to the beach, where they provided us with our life jackets, kayak, and other necessary accessories.

It took us around 25-30 minutes to kayak to the sandbar, and it was truly breathtaking! Although there were a few people already there, it felt like we had the sandbar all to ourselves. After anchoring our kayak in about 1 foot of water, we spent some time there before moving towards the coral reefs recommended by the staff. We were happy we rented snorkel gear since both reefs were full of beautiful colorful fish.

Pro Tip: We strongly suggest renting a dry bag to protect your phone and keys from getting wet. You can purchase food from Foodland and bring it with you to the sandbar. Remember to take back all the things you brought with you.

Kama’aina Kayak and Snorkel Eco-Ventures

46-465 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744

808-781-4773

https://www.kamaainakidskayaking.org

Kaneohe Sandbar
Credit: Getty Images

#2 – Grab a Bite at Adela’s Country Eatery

One of our top picks for local “home-cooked” food in Oahu is Adela’s Country Eatery. We discovered it in 2021 and had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Adela, as well as her staff Richard and his wife Millie. Our go-to dish is lechon (Filipino pork belly) served with garlic malunggay (moringa) noodles. We also had the braised short ribs with ulu noodles which were incredibly tender and tasty. Adela’s is known for using locally sourced ingredients in their fresh noodles.

Adela’s is one of our favorite places in Kaneohe because of their tasty food and friendly staff – especially Uncle Richard, Auntie Millie, and Auntie Adela. We highly recommend visiting them when you’re in the area. By supporting this local restaurant, you are also supporting the local Hawaiian farmers and reducing the island’s dependence on food imports!

Pro Tip #1: To save time at Adela’s, it’s best to call in your order since everything is made-to-order. We’ve personally waited for over an hour at the restaurant.

Pro Tip #2: Try their famous ube cheesecake… you’re welcome. 🙂

Adela's Country Eatery
Adela’s Country Eatery 2023

#3 – Learn to SUP (Standup Paddle Board) on the North Shore

The North Shore of Oahu is home to some of the most incredible beaches in the world, and one of our favorite things to do here is standup paddle boarding (SUP). The area’s crystal clear waters are perfect for paddling, and there are a variety of SUP companies along the coastline that offer lessons and tours.

We arranged a standup paddleboard lesson with Rainbow Watersports and met our guide, Kate, at Haleiwa Beach Park. It was easy to locate them with their distinctive rainbow truck. Kate began by teaching us the basics of standup paddleboarding on the beach since we were beginners. We then took the board into the ocean and paddled down the Anahulu River. Kate provided us with information about Hawaiian history and culture along the way. We also had the opportunity to observe the beloved Honu (Hawaiian sea turtles) and several fish. Although we were very new to SUP, Kate encouraged us to keep going while still making us feel comfortable and safe on the water. Overall, it was a great way to spend a morning in this little surfer beach town.

Pro Tip: Bring a dry bag to protect your phone, or ask the SUP guide if they’re able to hold it for you in their dry bag.

SUP on the North Shore

#4 – Cool Down with Shave Ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice

If you’re looking to cool down after a long day of SUP or sunbathing, you have to try the classic Hawaiian treat: shave ice! Yes – that’s shave ice, not shaved ice. 🙂

One such iconic establishment is Matsumoto Shave Ice located in the surfer town of Haleiwa. Opening in 1951, it offers over 30 syrup flavors, including classic and unique Hawaiian options. The finely shaved ice melts in your mouth, while the real fruit syrups and optional toppings like ice cream and condensed milk add a burst of flavor. Matsumoto’s friendly atmosphere and merchandise selection make it a popular destination. It has become a cultural institution, attracting visitors worldwide with its irresistible shave ice and warm hospitality. We couldn’t resist getting some merchandise from their store.

If you cannot decide which flavors to try, you can go with one of the store’s recommended combinations such as the “Rainbow” or the “Tropical”. If you want to try something a little different, add some different textures to your shave ice like sweet Azuki beans or mochi balls. Be creative and make your own shave ice! Also, add a scoop of ice cream and condensed milk. You won’t regret it! If you want a little of everything, try the Ichiban Special.

Pro Tip: This place gets very popular and the lines can get long during peak hours. It’s so worth the wait. The little courtyard area has some seating for your to enjoy your shave ice and just relax.

Matsumoto Shave Ice
Matsumoto Shave Ice 2023

#5 – Catch a Waterfall at Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley has one of the most beautiful and easy walks in Oahu, and it’s perfect for a relaxing stroll. The 3.5-mile hike is mostly on flat, paved ground and offers stunning views of the botanical gardens, which boasts 52 different themed gardens, and its historical sites. You will be surrounded by lush tropical foliage and native birds. It’s recommended to take the time to appreciate the surroundings during a visit to Waimea Falls as it can be a valuable cultural experience.

The highlight of the valley and gardens is Waimea Falls, which cascades down 45 feet into a natural pool. From the lookout point, you can see stunning views of Waimea Valley and its lush vegetation. Be sure to bring your camera when visiting Waimea Falls, as it’s definitely a sight you don’t want to miss! You can also rent floating devices near the falls.

Pro Tip: To avoid the crowd, it is recommended to go early. Exercise caution when approaching the rocky area with the stream, as it can be slippery. Twisted ankles are a common injury in this area. If you’re planning on swimming, pack a bag of clothes to change into and a towel.

Waimea Falls
Credit: Getty Images

#6 – Eat Garlic Butter Shrimp at Big Wave Shrimp Truck

Big Wave Shrimp Truck is one of our favorite shrimp trucks on Oahu! We always get the garlic butter shrimp and lemon pepper shrimp plates, as it comes with a heaping scoop of rice, side salad, a slice of pineapple to cleanse your palette, and of course, a generous portion of succulent garlic shrimp. The garlic butter sauce is li-ter-ally heaven on a plate; you can even let it soak into the rice (ugh, now we’re hungry…). We feel like this particular shrimp truck is super underrated compared to others in the area – please give Big Wave Shrimp a try if the other trucks have too long of a wait!

Big Wave Shrimp Truck
Left: Garlic Butter Shrimp. Right: Lemon Pepper Shrimp.

#7 – Beach Day with Honus at Laniakea Beach

When you’re in Hawaii, you should never miss out on a beach experience, especially if there is a chance you could spot some sea turtles. We went to Laniakea Beach, along the North Shore, and were immediately greeted by a few friendly Honu (Hawaiian sea turtles) sunbathing on the shoreline. Besides seeing lots of turtles, you can also drive east to Shark’s Cove for a beginner’s area to snorkel.

Pro Tip: The beautiful Honu is a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act and under Hawaii state law so it is illegal to come within 10 feet. Let’s all do our part and only enjoy the company of these creatures from a safe distance.

Laniakea Beach
Laniakea Beach 2021

#8 – Hydrate with Fresh Coconut Water at Kualoa Coconut Man

Another one of our favorite stops is Kualoa Coconut Man. This unassuming coconut stand on the side of the road is the perfect spot to take a break, hydrate, and get some fresh coconut water. If you’re driving too fast down Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe you may miss it! There really is nothing better than drinking straight from a coconut.

Kualoa Coconut Man – 2021

#9 – Take a Stroll at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is one of the most popular places in Oahu. The trails are a great way to explore the garden and take in its beauty. There’s also a lake, a Japanese garden, and plenty of plants and animals to observe. You’ll feel like you’re in another world here!

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

45-680 Luluku Rd, Kaneohe, HI 96744

808-233-7323

http://www.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/


#10 – Stargazing at Mokulē’ia Beach Park

Mokulē’ia Beach Park is one of the best places on Oahu to go stargazing. It’s known for its pristine beach and secluded location on the North Shore. The stars look incredibly vivid at night, so make sure you bring a blanket and some snacks!

Mokulē’ia Beach Park

8568 Farrington Hwy, Waialua, HI 96791

Stargazing at Mokulē'ia Beach Park
Credit: Getty Images

We hope this guide helps you plan your next trip to Oahu. From learning how to standup paddle board on the North Shore to stargazing at Mokulē’ia Beach Park, there’s something here for everyone! Enjoy your stay, and aloha!

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