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Planning a family vacation to Waikiki or Oahu and wondering what activities to add to your trip? We have you covered! We have gathered the best things to do in Waikiki and Oahu for your Hawaii Vacation!
For a long time now, the island of Oahu has been considered one of the best Hawaiian islands to visit, and for obvious reasons.
With tourist cities like Waikiki and Honolulu, along with the island’s stunning scenic features, the island provides not only amazing tropical and lush forest views but also countless thrilling activities as well as things to do.
If you’re thinking about taking a vacation to the island of Oahu, I’ve got several destinations that you won’t want to miss! These are amazing things to do in Waikiki and Oahu for a fun-filled Hawaiian vacation.
Don’t forget to grab your Hawaii packing list and get to planning!
Oahu: Cultural and Historical Overview
In an effort to promote responsible travel to Hawaii, we strive to bring awareness to the cultural and historical significance of the locations we cover. We appreciate your support in this effort.
Oahu is the third-largest and most populated Hawaiian island, making it a major cultural and historical hub in the Pacific region. It is home to some of the most significant sites in Hawaii such as Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Iolani Palace, and Hanauma Bay.
The island has played an important role in the formation and development of Hawaiian culture over centuries.
From ancient temples to modern resorts, Oahu offers a unique blend of traditional Hawaiian culture with contemporary amenities.
History of Waikiki
Waikiki Beach is located on the south shore of Oahu and is one of the world’s most famous beaches. It has been a popular destination for tourists for decades due to its white sand beaches, crystal clear water, luxurious hotels, and vibrant nightlife.
Before it was a tourist attraction, Waikiki was a central part of Oahu culture and civilization.
Old Waikiki, much of it swampland, included the neighboring valleys of Manoa and Palolo. Translated, Waikiki means “spouting water,” a reference to the rivers and springs that richly flowed into the area.Waikiki.com
Waikiki was the governmental center of Oahu in the 1450s. Seeing this date is a great reminder of the rich history of the islands.
In 1754 Waikiki was home to one of the most historical battles on Oahu. Kamehameha I stormed Waikiki with a fleet of canoes, coming over from the Big Island.
In the mid-1800s Waikiki became a playground for Hawaiian royalty.
In the late 1800s, the US began utilizing the island and the Waikiki area for its military and naval forces. With the installment of Pearl Harbor, tourism began to grow.
The first luxury-trade hotel, the Moana Surfrider, was opened in 1901 to accommodate wealthy European guests. Also at this time, the duck ponds and swamp lands begin to be drained.
Eventually, Waikiki was changed from swampland to a man-made and maintained resort area.
Today, Waikiki remains one of Oahu’s top attractions due to its combination of modern amenities with traditional Hawaiian culture.
Waikiki Cultural Significance
In addition to being a major tourist destination on Oahu, Waikiki also holds historical significance as an important part of Hawaiian history.
In pre-colonial times Waikiki was home to numerous religious shrines and temples that were believed to be connected directly to divine power sources known as “mana”.
Many Hawaiians still visit these ancient sites today to pay respects or seek spiritual guidance from their ancestors who once lived here.
For centuries Oahu and Waikiki have been intertwined culturally and historically as two integral parts of Hawaii’s past and present identity.
While many visitors come here each year for vacation purposes or simply for leisure activities like beachgoing or sightseeing, it is important to note that much more lies beneath these beautiful spaces than meets the eye – namely thousands of years worth of history that heavily influence how we understand our relationship with this special place today.
Add These Activities to Your Waikiki Vacation on Oahu
When visiting the island of Oahu, if you plan on exploring the island you’ll want to make the city of Waikiki your home base. Not only does Waikiki offer plenty of things to do in activities, resorts, and tourist attractions, but it also is a great central location for exploring the entire island.
While you could easily spend a three or four-day visit just exploring Waikiki, we know for many families and visitors, this may be a once in a life-time trip to Oahu.
That is why we have included not only things to do in Waikiki but also activities around Oahu. There are plenty of other places around the island that you’ll want to explore, so we hope this list of things to do helps you in your planning.
Be sure to add these activities to your Waikiki vacation itinerary before visiting Oahu.
Things To Do In Waikiki on Oahu
These are the activities that you can do in Waikiki. All of these are accessible within a short walk from your Waikiki Resort. No vehicle needed.
1. Waikiki Beach
If you’re already daydreaming about soaking up some sun while sipping on an ice-cold drink at some point during your vacation (which I know you are), then Waikiki Beach is the destination to do it.
With sparkling turquoise-blue waters, beautiful sand, and gently swaying palm trees, it’s a beach paradise setting right out of a postcard.
Several of the popular activities there include people-watching, swimming, surfing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. Once you’re done for the day, be sure to head on over to Kalakaua Ave, where you’ll discover shops, restaurants, bars, arcades, and plenty of other entertainment.
2. Hike Diamond Head
Are you daring for an adventure that promises incredible panoramic views of Honolulu and the Pacific? Diamond Head is actually an extinct volcano and is considered one of the best hikes on the island as well as one of the top things to do when visiting.
Because of this, it can be a bit crowded with people depending on when you’re there. While it’s a short hike that’s considered easy, the trail gains 560 feet rather quickly, so it can be a bit steep and difficult at times but it’s definitely worth it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s hardly any shade throughout the trail so most hikers tend to hike Diamond Head in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the hot Hawaiian sun. This is a great way to spend your time in Hawaii!
3. Waikiki Aquarium
The Waikiki Aquarium is located near the beach and offers a look into the stunning underwater life in Hawaii. It’s home to more than 500 species of fish, coral, and other animals from both local Hawaiian waters as well as around the world.
Visitors can also take part in educational programs that discuss the conservation of Hawaiian reef ecosystems.
This aquarium is a great place for families to visit and learn about their aquatic environment.
4. Magic Island Lagoon
Magic Island Lagoon is the perfect place to spend a day of relaxation and exploration. This man-made lagoon is located at the tip of Waikiki Beach and offers stunning views of Diamond Head, as well as a variety of activities for both adults and children.
On any given day you can find paddle boarders, kayakers, swimmers, or just people basking in the sun. It’s also an excellent spot for fishing with plenty of different types of fish waiting to be caught.
–BOOK YOUR WAIKIKI AND OAHU ADVENTURES THROUGH VIATOR–
5. Queens Waikiki Luau: Things to Do In waikiki
You can’t visit Hawaii without seeing a luau at some point. The Queens Waikiki Luau is one of the best and biggest luaus on Waikiki, featuring stunning ocean-side views, traditional Hawaiian dances, and music, as well as an incredible buffet with dishes from all over the Pacific.
It’s a perfect night for both adults and children to experience Hawaiian island culture.
The Queens Waikiki Luau starts with craft-making lessons so you can make your own lei, followed by Kalua pork (cooked in an underground oven), fresh Poke bowls, and even a 10-foot ice cream sundae bar.
Definitely bring your camera along because there will be plenty of moments that you’ll want to capture!
6. Dine at House Without a Key on Waikiki
If you are a foodie looking for things to do in Waikiki, you won’t want to miss dining at House Without a Key.
The restaurant is located at the historic Halekulani Hotel and is a must-have according to my friend Leslie from Trips with Tykes.
“Our family’s favorite activity was enjoying sunset cocktails and pupus at House Without a Key, the open air restaurant at the iconic and historic Halekulani Hotel. The restaurant has nightly music with former Miss Hawaii hula dancers and is a magnificent place for people to watch and soak in the Waikiki scene. Kids of all ages are welcome, but this is one meal we thought was a better fit for older kids (ours were 13 and 8 at the time of our visit).”Leslie from Trips with Tykes
Leslie has visited the island of Oahu numerous times, with a Waikiki visit being her most recent trip (at the time of publishing). Be sure to check out her guide for flying to Hawaii on Southwest Airlines.
7. Things To Do In Waikiki: Visit the Honolulu Zoo
Located near Queens Beach on Waikiki, the Honolulu Zoo is a unique, beautifully landscaped 42.5-acred, municipally-owned and operated zoological and botanical garden located within Kapi`olani Park
The zoo is a “Tropical Zoological Garden” and includes three unique tropical ecological zones: the African Savanna, Asian and American Tropical Forests, and Pacific Islands.
The zoo is home to over 900 animals, including Komodo Dragons, orangutans, elephants, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a variety of African animals.
8. Things To Do on Waikiki: Duke Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon
Kahanamoku Beach is located on the westernmost tip of Waikiki, and is bordered by the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort. Even though the resort borders the beach, all Oahu beaches are available to the public, and this includes access to the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, also called the Hilton Lagoon.
The beach is named after the legendary surfer, and “Ambassador of Aloha”, Duke Kahanamoku. Even though the beach is named after him, the statue in his honor is located much farther east on Waikiki, past the Espacio the Jewel of Waikiki Resort.
The beach is an ideal location for those wanting to enjoy paddle boarding, snorkeling, and enjoying the warm Hawaii waters.
Each Friday, at 7:45 pm, the beach has a fireworks show put on by the Hilton Hawaiian Village which is a guest favorite of things to do in Waikiki.
9. Parasail along Waikiki
This one-hour guided tour is a chance to sail above the sparkling blue waters of Waikiki. Parasailing is a great Waikiki activity for those who are looking for adventure, but do not want to leave Waikiki.
Guests who book this guided tour will be able to choose an 800 or 1200-foot line, for an 8 or 10-minute parasailing experience.
Of course, if you book all of the spots on the boat, limited to 12 people, you may be able to have longer sailing time.
10. Things To Do In Waikiki: Stroll Kalakaua Avenue
Kalakaua Avenue is the strip of Waikiki. This avenue includes shops, dining, street musicians, and more.
It is extremely popular in the evenings, but crowds are lower in the late morning to early afternoon.
While this may not make the list of Things To Do In Waikiki on other sites, it’s 4.8-star rating on review sites earned it a spot on our list. One reviewer called it “One of the world’s great avenues.”
Things To Do On Oahu During Your Waikiki Vacation
If you are open to adventuring a bit off Waikiki, there is so much more to do on Oahu. From hikes, to museums, cultural experiences and beyond.
Here are our top picks of things to do on Oahu during your Waikiki Vacation
Side note: One reason my family chose Waikiki for our Oahu vacation in 2021 was that it was a great central location for many of the activities we wanted to experience. Additionally, most tourist locations offer transportation from Waikiki, and most Grand Circle Island Tours will pick up in Waikiki as well.
11. Manoa Falls Trail
Although you may have never visited Oahu before, your eyes have undoubtedly seen the Manoa Falls Trail without even realizing it. The lush green scenery has made it a premier film shooting location for movies like Jurassic Park and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
It’s a gorgeous 2-mile hiking trail that takes visitors through lush rainforest, beautiful streams, and even a bamboo forest. It’s also known for having some of the most majestic waterfalls on the island – Manoa Falls is 150 feet tall and you can even swim in it.
Another attraction that’s located nearby is the Rainbow Valley, a location that’s especially known for its rainbows.
12. Visit Iolani Palace
Take your Waikiki vacation to the next level by visiting Iolani Palace, which was once home to Hawaii’s last ruling monarchs.
Inside this historic building, you’ll find many artifacts that tell stories about Hawaiian history as well as traditional furnishings including elaborate chandeliers, thrones, and wall hangings.
The palace offers daily guided tours that discuss both the grounds as well as Hawaiian culture at length with visitors.
13. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
This stunning nature preserve is located on the eastern side of Oahu and is considered one of the best places for snorkeling in Hawaii.
You’ll be able to swim among thousands of colorful fish and other reef creatures, including sea turtles, manta rays, and even sharks (don’t worry – they’re harmless!). It’s also a great place to take pictures and soak up some sun while admiring the breathtaking views.
Hanauma Bay utilizes a reservation system for visitors because it is one of the most popular Oahu Snorkeling locations. Reservations open two days in advance at 7:00 am Hawaii Time.
Read More: Snorkeling Oahu: 11+ Best Locations, Plus Tips
14. North Shore Surfing
When visiting Waikiki and Oahu, it would be remiss not to mention surfing!
With year-round sunny weather and incredible waves, the island is perfect for anyone wanting to learn how to surf or just have some fun catching a few waves.
The most popular spot is the North Shore of Oahu, which is known for its big waves and has been labeled a surfing mecca. If you’re looking to take some lessons, there are plenty of surf schools along the beach that offer packages for beginners to advanced riders.
Don’t forget your beach towel!
Read More: Hawaii Packing List (with FREE printable)
15. The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
This cemetery is located in Punchbowl Crater and serves as a tribute to all those who have served our country in battle.
There are over 34,000 veterans whose names are inscribed on plaques throughout the grounds and visitors can also pay their respects at memorials dedicated to World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and other related conflicts. The cemetery offers guided tours that discuss specific battles or topics related to U.S Military history.
16. Foster Botanical Gardens
Foster Botanical Gardens is said to be a place of peace and tranquility. But even if you think your family is nothing of the sort, it’s still a place you’ll want to visit.
With over 14,000 species of plants, trees, and flowers spread out over five acres of land, it’s a sight to behold.
You don’t even have to be a plant enthusiast to appreciate the beauty of this garden. It’s a great place for anyone who wants to escape the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and take in some breathtaking scenery.
The gardens also offer guided tours that discuss the different plants found on site as well as interesting Hawaiian history.
17. Hike To Ka’ena Point
For those who want to get out into nature during their visit to Waikiki, there’s no better way than taking on Ka’ena point trail.
The hike starts from the beach in Mokuleia and takes about 3 hours roundtrip.
It’s an easy-to-moderate hike that offers breathtaking views of the ocean, cliffs, and sand dunes along the way. At the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with a visit to Ka’ena point where you can spot whales during winter months and sea turtles year-round.
18. Kayaking Tours & Experiences
Kayaking in Oahu is an unforgettable experience. With beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, the possibilities for adventure are endless! Whether you’re looking to explore the stunning coastline, try your hand at surfing, or paddle out to an isolated island, there’s a kayak excursion for every traveler.
From novice paddlers to experienced sea adventurers, guided tours offer something for everyone.
Beginners can get comfortable with the basics of kayaking in calm waters on a protected beach. Experienced kayakers can explore more challenging spots around the island, taking on rolling waves and strong coastal currents.
The best part? You don’t need any prior experience to join in on the fun! Professional tour guides will provide all necessary gear and instruction along the way – so all that’s left is to pick your perfect Hawaiian adventure.
This is an incredible adventure that combines paddling through ancient waters while learning about old Polynesian traditions such as sailing, canoe racing, and even fishing techniques.
Explore options: Price an Oahu Kayaking Adventure
19. Visit Pearl Harbor
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best about December 7th, 1941, describing it as “a date which will live in infamy.” Today, Pearl Harbor is a sobering historic landmark that receives roughly 1.8 million visitors every year, reminding us of the courage and ultimate sacrifice that these American men and women paid.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial consists of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the USS Oklahoma, USS Arizona, and USS Utah, three mooring quays, and six officer bungalows.
As you can see, you’ll definitely want to make an entire day trip out of it and there’s also plenty of places to eat nearby.
There’s no entry fee at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and all four attractions are free, including parking, but you will need to reserve your free tickets in advance.
You can get your tickets by going to recreation.gov. Limited walk-up appointments may be available at the Visitor Center the day of, but you will need to arrive early.
20. Take a Day Trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center
I can assure you that visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center will be one of the highlights of your vacation that your family will never forget. There are all sorts of hands-on activities, arts and crafts, authentic Polynesian dishes to try, and fascinating entertainment to enjoy.
You and your kids especially won’t want to miss “HA: Breath of life”, their nighttime action-packed performance that lights the night up with fire and over 100 Polynesian performers.
One of my many tips for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center is to make sure to know the different admission options well in advance as many will sell out weeks beforehand. It’s also important to note that the Polynesian Cultural Center has transportation from Waikiki.
Make sure you check out these tips for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center.
21. Take an Oahu Circle Island Tour
One of the best ways to see the top attractions on the island paradise of Oahu is by taking the Oahu Circle Island Tour. Your tour guide will teach you about some of the historical, cultural, and scenic locations during your relaxing shuttle trip. The tour starts off at Waikiki Beach and takes about 6 to 8 hours to complete, so plan on making a day out of it.
You’ll travel to some of the most popular Oahu destinations including Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and Chinaman’s Hat.
There are also several different customized tour packages to choose from depending on what you’re interested in seeing and doing but be sure that you purchase your tickets well in advance because they go fast.
22. Chinatown Cultural Plaza in Honolulu
Back in the 1800’s, there was a huge increase in Chinese immigrants on the island of Oahu. Most of them came and found work on the sugar plantations. Today, Chinatown is thriving and has some of the best restaurants, bars, galleries and shops that Oahu has to offer.
There are also plenty of art galleries, like Gallery on Garden Lane or Image Kobo Gallery, where you can find unique artwork from various local artists.
Lastly, there’s an array of delicious food waiting for you at both street-side stands and traditional dine-in restaurants. You’ll want to make sure you save a few hours for this one as it can take quite a while to explore all that Chinatown offers.
23. Hana Koa Brewing Company
One of the best places to visit in Waikiki at night time is the Hana Koa Brewing Company. You may even have had their beers before because you can find them all across the country.
This popular brewery also doubles as a restaurant and bar, serving up some of the best craft beers on Oahu.
If you’re looking for something a bit more unique than beer, they make all sorts of different types of cocktails such as the “Kona Kula” (made with dark rum, lime juice, and pomegranate). They have an array of delicious appetizers too including macadamia-crusted pork chops, coconut shrimp tempura, and classic sliders.
After dinner, be sure to hang around for the live music performances that happen every Friday and Saturday night!
24. Leonard’s Bakery
Whatever you do, don’t leave Hawaii without trying a malasada. Leonard’s Bakery has been around since the 1950s and is credited with making the pastry famous. It’s a chewy, sweet, hole-less donut-like pastry, rolled in sugar and sometimes filled with custard or haupia cream.
Leonard’s Bakery is open 7 days a week and although you can’t dine in, the bakery does have limited outside seating so you can enjoy your malasadas right away.
My personal favorite is the original flavor but they also have several interesting flavors like Dobash (chocolate), Maui strawberry guava, Pineapple, and Macadamia nut.
And if you are looking for an Instagram-worthy photo, Leonard’s Bakery is famous for its pink boxes.
25. Visit The Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is located in the heart of Oahu. Originally a fruit stand, the Dole Plantation has become a major attraction, and claims to be the “Hawaii’s Complete Pineapple Experience.”
The plantation is open daily from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm, but may be closed for holidays.
While the plantation is free to visit, activities at the Dole Plantation may have an extra charge.
If you are a Disney fan, be sure to get a Dole Whip like those at Disneyland.
26. Visit Kualoa Ranch on Oahu
One of my family’s favorite things we did on our Waikiki, Oahu vacation is a day trip to Kualoa Ranch.
Kualoa Ranch is a working cattle ranch and private nature preserve. It is also home to scenes from some of your favorite movies.
Established in 1850, Kualoa’s company vision is to be a role model as stewards of the amazing 4000 acres named Kualoa, Hakipu’u and Ka’a’awa.
Our goal is to protect and enhance the natural beauty of these lands while developing sustainable recreational, agricultural and aquacultural enterprises that are compatible with the environment~Kualoa Ranch website
Kualoa Ranch offers a myriad of experiences from ATV tours, to ziplining adventures, and agricultural tours. Our family did the 2-Hour ATV Raptor Tour and had a blast! We were able to see some of our favorite movies sites, views of the ocean, and learn about Hawaiian culture, all in a way that kept our kids excited.
-BOOK YOUR KUALOA RANCH ADVENTURE-
27. Drive The Oahu Coastline
On the first day of our Waikiki Vacation in 2021, we took a day to just drive the Oahu Coastline from our Waikiki resort, up the eastern side of the island, stopping just about 3 miles south of Kualoa Ranch.
We stopped anywhere that caught our eye, including the Halona Blowhole Lookout, multiple beaches, and scenic lookout locations.
Other Places to Visit or Checkout in Waikiki and Oahu
- International Market Place
- Honolulu Museum of Art
- Royal Hawaiian Center and Royal Hawaiian Hotel
- Ala Moana Center
- Downtown Honolulu
- Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art
- Royal Hawaiian Beach
- Various shopping center(s)
- Pearl Harbor Tour (learn about the Pearl Harbor Attack)
- Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort
- Diamond Head State Monument
No matter what brings you to Waikiki and Oahu, there are plenty of things to keep you busy and entertained during your stay. Whether it’s exploring Diamond Head or getting up close with sea creatures at the aquarium, there’s something for everyone!
What do you and your family plan on doing when you visit? I’d love to hear from you! What’s a fun fact about the best spot you’d like to see on Oahu, Hawaii?