Updated July 25, 2020.
Hawaii is an epic, beautiful, friendly, majestic place. Many people dream of going but never make it happen. Others go all out and make it a once in a lifetime trip! We took our first trip to Hawaii together for our first wedding anniversary back in 2015, and we chose O’ahu so we could visit Pearl Harbor and relax on one of the most famous beaches in the world—Waikiki!
We loved it so much we decided to spend every anniversary on an island. We will celebrate our sixth anniversary on our sixth Hawaiian island this year (Lana’i, here we come!), and to help us celebrate, I’m writing up the ultimate bucket list for each island, starting with Incredible O’ahu! Here’s everything you just have to do on Hawaii’s “Gathering Place.”
1. Visit Pearl Harbor
If you do nothing else on O’ahu, go to Pearl Harbor. Its historical significance cannot be overstated, and the memorials are far more memorable seeing them in person rather than hearing or reading about them. The whole experience is FREE and open to the public, but be aware that the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial can be delayed or cancelled at any time. Plan to spend a few hours here just in case (there is plenty else to see and do here, so that time will be well-spent!), and perhaps plan to be flexible enough with your plans to come back another day during your trip as well.
Get more: Hawaii for History Lovers
2. Learn to Surf on Waikiki
Surfing started in the Hawaiian islands, and Waikiki is perhaps the most iconic place to learn how to surf! There are several companies that teach newbies how to surf every day of the week, so sign up on your trip and give it a go!
Keep adventuring: Hawaii’s Best Adventures
3. Hike Diamond Head
If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show set in Hawaii, you will recognize the iconic Diamond Head Crater! Looming over Waikiki and visible from possibly all high points on the island, you can’t miss it! The hike to the summit is definitely an easy hike and completely worth your while as long as you have a reasonable fitness level. The views from the top are stunning!
Related: Hiking Hawaii: O’ahu
4. Eat Hula Pie at Duke’s
Duke’s Beachfront Restaurant is a Waikiki staple, just like the Duke himself! Go for lunch or dinner, but get reservations a month or so in advance if you want a sunset view for dinner. But no matter when you go or what else you get, save room for their signature Hula Pie—or do what we’ve done a time or two and go in just for that! It’s a chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream piled high, fudge sauce, whipped cream, and topped with more macadamias!
Still hungry? What to Eat on O’ahu
5. Visit I’olani Palace
Your visit to the islands really ought to be accompanied by a little research and a trip to some of the historic Hawaiian sites to learn about their past. Hawaii is the only state that was formerly a sovereign nation, and the only state that is home to a former royal palace. And you can visit it! Don’t believe me? Wait till you see the throne room:
Keep reading: 10 Reasons to Visit O’ahu
6. Visit (or Stay!) at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Speaking of history, this little gem is a big part of Hawaii’s tourism history! Because it’s one of the first hotels on the island, it also has prime real estate right on top of Waikiki Beach! There’s a FREE history tour for guests and non-guests on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:00am, so don’t miss it!
Snorkeling is one of those things you just need to do in the islands. There are innumerable snorkel tour companies, and my dad and younger brother went with Ocean Joy Cruises. My dad did a lot of SCUBA diving after college and through his 20s and 30s, but it had been a while since he’d been out in the open ocean, and my brother had never snorkeled before! It was a fantastic experience all around, and one you need to have while on O’ahu!
More here: What to Pack for O’ahu
8. Hike the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail
This is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever taken, from the trailhead all the way to the top. The fantastic part of a “ridge trail” is that you can get views from both sides of the trail, and 360-degree views from the top. This one was challenging, but so worth the time and effort. Just look at that view!
Get all the details: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
9. Visit Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a one-of-a-kind place to do tons of one-of-a-kind things! Take a movie sites tour (zillions of movies have been filmed here), take an ATV adventure, go horseback riding, take a kayak tour, go zip lining, and more all with the backdrop of O’ahu’s gorgeous green mountains!
10. Take in the Views at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
This is the site of the Battle of Nu’uanu, when King Kamehameha I conquered O’ahu and united the islands. The opposing warriors from O’ahu chose to jump from the cliff instead of being captured. It’s an ominous site when the fog rolls in.
More here: Surviving the Flight to Hawaii
11. Tour Queen Emma’s Summer Palace
Epic fail: I got no photos of this palace! But you will find photos on their website, linked above. This was a very worthwhile tour for the history buff in me. I became absolutely fascinated with Hawaii’s royal history, and this house tour helped me understand more about the royal family and Hawaiian culture. It’s a must-do on O’ahu!
12. Eat Shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Speaking of must-dos, a local said we just had to get shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore. It’s a real winner! Come hungry because you’ll leave full. This is some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had (and the largest!), truck or no truck.
More here: Where to Each on Each Hawaiian Island
13. Hike Koko Head Crater
Okay, so there are a lot of hikes on this list. That’s because O’ahu has loads of incredible hikes! Koko Head is a popular one, so plan to start early, and be ready to do some climbing, too. You’ll be taking the train tracks on foot to get to the top, and there are over 1,000 of them!
Keep reading: What to Do on Your Last Day in Hawaii
14. Visit the Bishop Museum
Okay, who wants to go to a museum and spend the day inside on the island paradise? Well, maybe you if you’re into all the history I’ve been mentioning! The Bishop Museum is Hawaii’s museum and it’s full of art, artifacts, and exhibits all about Hawaiian culture. A perfect activity for a rainy day!
Need more Hawaiian tips, packing lists, things to do, food recommendations, and more? Take a look at my Pacific Islands Page!
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