Oahu is the most popular Hawaiian island to visit, especially for first-time Hawaii travelers. There’s a little bit of everything here from an excellent and busy downtown to secluded hikes and pristine beaches.
Oahu can be split into 5 regions, each with their own personality, culture, and history. Use the menu below to navigate your way through this article.
The North Shore of Oahu is famous for its beautiful beaches, snorkeling, surf, turtles, and shrimp trucks. Everyone who visits Oahu spends at last a full day in the North Shore, but you can very easily spend a lazy week here exploring all of the different beaches.
Read the guide: 20+ Things To Do In Oahu’s North Shore: The Best Of North Shore
A few of my favorite North Shore activities are:
- Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove
- Walking through Haleiwa Town
- Eat Matsumoto’s shave ice
- Spend the day at famous Waimea Bay
- Eating at the shrimp trucks in Kahuku
- Hiking to Kaena Point from Mokuleia
- Waimea Valley Falls
- Puu O Mahuka Heiau
Drive north on the H3 and you’ll be taken through the Koolau mountains into Windward Oahu. The beaches on this side of the island are famous for their powdery, white sand that you see in magazines.
If you like shopping local, you’ll find several boutique shops and small eateries on this side of the island to explore, too.
Don’t miss out on these Windward Oahu highlights:
- Kayak to the “Mokes”
- Lanikai beach
- Valley of the Temples
- Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
- Cinnamon’s for breakfast
- Kualoa Ranch
- Chinaman’s Hat (Mokolii Island)
- Lanikai Pillbox hike
- Polynesian Cultural Center
Most tourists are familiar with Oahu’s South Shore because that’s where you’ll find Waikiki. There’s a ton of things to do here and it’s impossible to feel bored when there’s a beautiful stretch of sand and ocean views right outside your hotel.
Here’s why Oahu’s South Shore is the tourist hub of Oahu:
- Climb Diamond Head
- Panoramic view from Tantalus
- Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
- Ala Moana Center
- Hike Manoa Falls Trail
- Iolani Palace
- KCC Farmers’ Market
- Surfing lessons
- Hanauma Bay
- Foster Botanical Garden
- Honolulu Museum of Art
- Shopping on Kalakaua Avenue
- Hawaii Army Museum
- International Market Place
Much of Central Oahu is dedicated to residential homes, so you won’t find that many attractions here, but there are still plenty of gems. The most famous is Pearl Harbor where the USS Arizona Memorial resides.
Unique places to see in Central Oahu:
- Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
- Dole Plantation
- Kukaniloko Birth Stones
- Shop at Waikele Premium Outlets
- Mari’s Garden
- Pearlridge Shopping Center
- Wahiawa Botanical Garden
- Oahu Urban Garden Center
Leeward Coast (Waianae Coast)
The Waianae Coast is littered with beautiful views, pretty beaches, fun hikes, and a local, rural vibe. You won’t find many tourists here, and the local residents take advantage of it by spending their free time fishing, spearfishing, surfing, and barbecuing at their local beach parks.
If you end up staying at one of the nearby Ko Olina resorts, the Leeward side of the island will be great to get some good beach and hiking time in without the touristy crowd.
The Waianae Coast has a lot to offer. Some highlights include:
- Hiking to Kaena Point
- Snorkeling at Electric Beach (Kahe Point)
- Maili Pink Pillbox hike
- Pokai Bay
- Makaha Beach Park
- Ko Olina Lagoons
- Kaahaaina Cafe
- Spinners Cafe
I hope these descriptions and highlights for each of the five regions in Oahu help you plan your trip to this beautiful island. I’ll be constantly adding more to this list as I explore Oahu so check back in every so often. If you have any questions, leave a comment so I can get back to you!
Aloha with love,