10 Unique Oahu Experiences

There is much to see when you explore the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Read on for 10 unique Oahu experiences that you must not miss.

On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the third largest of the islands, there are plenty of opportunities for beach time, but there’s so much more you can do while exploring the island. You might contact HawaiiTours.com to help you plan your amazing Hawaiian vacation. Here are 10 uniquely Oahu experiences you can check out on your next visit to Hawaii.

Explore the Waikiki Historic Trail in Oahu

Most people forget that Waikiki has a long and colorful history, filled with a fascinating culture. One way to explore that is to walk the Waikiki Historic Trail. The trail includes 21 historical sites located throughout Waikiki. It is easy to find most of them – look for the surfboard-shaped markers. The markers are on 18 of the 21 sites, each containing historical facts and photos. Hawaiian historian George Kanahele created the idea of the markers and the trail to help tell his native state’s history. Artist Bob Holden carved each marker in redwood and cast them in bronze.

If you want to do all 21 sites at one time, it will take three to four hours to find all 21 sites and explore them. If you’re short on time, I recommend two of my favorite sites: Marker 3, the former location of Queen Liliuokalani’s home, and Marker 7, for the Uluniu Estate of King David Kalākaua.

Meditate in the Byodo-In Temple in Kahaluu

The Byodo-In Temple, built in 1968 inside the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kahaluu, honors Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. The non-practicing Buddhist temple, which is now a Hawaii State Landmark, is open to all faiths as a place to enjoy Hawaii’s natural beauty, meditate, or worship.

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The lush grounds include a reflecting pool, waterfalls, and a koi pond. Be sure to locate Amida, a 9-foot-tall golden Buddha carved into wood and overlaid with gold leaf. Stop by the beautiful Japanese teahouse. While it no longer serves tea, it is a gift shop with lovely Asian items and artwork crafted by local artisans. The temple is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, and general admission is $5.

Check out the Lei Shops on Maunakea Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown

The fragrant lei symbolizes Hawaii. When I arrived at the airport, my guide met me with a beautiful lei of local tropical flowers. I took it off in my hotel room and could smell those magnificent sweet flowers during my entire stay. These beautiful flower rings are everywhere on the island, but the best are made in Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Making a lei in Oahu

Frangipani or Plumeria are fragrant flowers used to make Hawaiian leis. Photo by Videowok_art via iStock by Getty Images

If you stroll down Maunakea Street, you can stop in and watch the locals hand-make leis from plumeria, tuberose, pikake, and ginger. One of the best spots to watch how the locals craft the fragrant offerings — and pick up one for yourself — is at Cindy’s Lei Shop. Cindy Lau was born in China and married a Chinese-American lei maker. Today, three generations work in the shop they established in 1961.

Visit Pearl Harbor in Oahu

Today, we think of Hawaii as an island paradise, but that wasn’t the case on a December day in 1942. If you head to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, you’ll get a sobering reminder of what happened during World War II.

Oahu Hawaii

You will want to book a visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial during your visit to Oahu. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

You can pay your respects to those who lost their lives on board the USS Arizona, now managed by the National Park Service. While a variety of companies offer package tours — they will even pick you up from your Waikiki hotel — the park service gives out 1,300 free tickets daily to walk-in visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open at 7 am and do sell out some days. If you prefer to book tickets ahead of time, the Park Service lets you reserve your tickets online for a minimal $1.00 fee per ticket.

The 75-minute basic tour includes a 23-minute film, a shuttle boat to the USS Arizona operated by the US Navy, and time to walk around the memorial and take photos. An audio tour is available for an additional charge. You can also purchase the Passport to Pearl Harbor, which gets you the narrated tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, admission to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, admission to the Battleship Missouri, and entrance to the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

Tour the Honolulu Fish Auction

The Hawaii Seafood Council operates the only fresh tuna auction in the U.S. It starts Monday through Saturday mornings at 5:30 am. While this Honolulu experience is not generally open to the public, you can book a tour of the Honolulu Fish Auction on most Saturday mornings from 6 to 7:30 am.

If you book the tour, you’ll have a chance to go dockside. You can also watch the fishing vessels while learning about Hawaii’s fishing industry. Once you’re finished at the docks, you’ll head to the auction floor for a first-hand look at the variety of fish. The tour includes information about the quality and sustainability of Hawaii’s fishing industry. The tours, available through the Hawaii Seafood Council, require at least 24 hours of advance registration and are $35 per adult. You’ll need closed-toe shoes. You can get wet, and remember to wear a jacket because the building stays at 48° F.

Explore the Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo is an unexpected little gem located right on Waikiki Beach. There are about 900 animals spread out over 42 acres. The zoo hours for admission are from 10 am to 3 pm daily, and the admission pricing differs. You’ll find many of the usual zoo animals lions, rhinos, lemurs, monkeys, bears, tigers, and more. However, the treasures also include an aviary filled with birds worldwide. The lush gardens are impressive, highlighting plants native to Hawaii or important to Polynesian cultures.

Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo is located in Queen Kapiolani Park. Photo by mizoula via iStock by Getty Images

Drive to Mānoa Valley in Oahu

The Mānoa Valley is just minutes from Waikiki, but the drive there takes you through rainforests and past historic villages. You can explore the Mānoa Falls area once you arrive. As you leave Waikiki, take University Avenue through the University of Hawaii campus and E. Mānoa Road. There is a fee for parking at Paradise Park, and the hike to the falls is less than a mile.

Manoa Waterfalls

Manoa Valley offers great hiking to the Manoa waterfalls. Photo via iStock by Getty Images

You will end at a viewing area at the base of the falls. From there, experienced hikers can take additional trails. Just up the street from Paradise Park is Lyon Arboretum. The 193.5-acre rainforest has over 5,000 tropical and sub-tropical plants and seven miles of hiking trails. The arboretum is open via a reservation that you can make online. Admission is free, but a $10 donation per person is suggested.

Treat Yourself to a Food Truck Meal

Food trucks are everywhere in Hawaii, but the local Oahu favorite is garlic shrimp. While you can find garlic shrimp at almost any food truck around the island, the most popular is Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, which opened in 1993. It is usually parked on the 2nd floor of Hmart in Honolulu but also has other locations. The classic combination of fresh shrimp, garlic, and melted butter will have your mouth watering. You will stand in the inevitable line, but the dish is worth the wait!

Garlic Shrimp

A plate lunch of Hawaiian Kahuku shrimp from a food truck in Oahu is definitely a wow moment. Photo by joshuaraineyphotography via iStock by Getty Images

Check Out a Local Farmer’s Market

Farmers’ Markets abound across Oahu. If you stop into one, you can pick up plenty of fresh pineapples, but you can also find cooked foods, herbs, sea salts, nuts, coffee, and more. Although small, one of the most popular markets is the Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) Farmers’ Market. There are other Farmers’ Market sites on the island, including The Mililani (Sundays, 8 – 11 am), Honolulu (Wednesdays, 4 – 7 pm), and Kailua (Thursdays, 4 – 7 pm).

You can pick up better local products to take home than you will find in the traditional tourist markets, and you can also find prepared foods for your breakfast or lunch.

farmers market

Tropical fruit at one of many farmer’s markets on Oahu. Photo by viafilms via iStock by Getty Images

Explore Waimea Valley and Oahu’s North Shore

Oahu’s North Shore, about an hour by car from Waikiki, is the spot for surfers. Locals claim they can find the perfect wave on the North Shore. There are more than seven miles of beaches, ideal in summer weather for those who want to swim, snorkel, or go shelling. The surf picks up in winter, with waves often reaching 30 feet, so beginners should stay onshore and watch the pros from around the world to catch the waves.

Picturesque Waimea Valley is near Waimea Bay. The valley is home to a beautiful botanical garden and Waimea Falls. The botanical garden covers 1,875 acres of sacred lands. You can stroll through the lush gardens, explore historical sites, and take the paved path to the waterfalls. The round-trip hike is 1.5 miles or, if you prefer, you can catch the golf-cart shuttle for an additional charge. Admission fees and hours vary with the season.

Waimea Falls

Waimea Falls is in Waimea Park on Oahu. Photo by Hiromi Nagatsuka via iStock by Getty Images

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When You Visit these Oahu Experiences

Due to the pandemic, hours and procedures for visiting Oahu attractions may have changed, so be sure and check the websites, Hawaii Tourism Covid page, and the State of Hawaii Safe Travels page. Whether you are planning a trip to Oahu, Kauai, or another Hawaiian island, let Wander with Wonder be your guide.

There is much to see when you explore the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Read on for 10 unique Oahu experiences that you must not miss.


10 Unique Oahu Experiences

Written by Susan Lanier-Graham

Founder and publisher Susan Lanier-Graham has traveled the world for the past twenty years, filling a passport or two along the way. She has wandered through the jungles of Thailand, explored the mysteries of the Great Pyramids, and shared the night with a leopard in Zambia. She sailed in the Mediterranean, sipped her way through Burgundy canals and Champagne caves. She followed Rembrandt’s footsteps through Amsterdam. Susan found her center on the red rocks of Sedona and soaked up an exquisite sunset over the Indian Ocean in Bali. Susan is always looking for wow moments around the world or across the street to share with adventure lovers everywhere. She has authored more than 75 books and hundreds of magazine articles. Susan is an award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). She is a Certified California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). Susan is also the managing editor of North Peoria Lifestyle, a print lifestyle publication in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Susan's work regularly appears in print and online in a variety of publications. These include various AAA publications, Postcards for Travel Leaders, Alamo.com, Hotels.com, Fairmont.com, Sofitel.com, Paradise Valley City Lifestyle, Scottsdale City Lifestyle, So Scottsdale, Green Living AZ, Modern Luxury, Marriott.com, WHERE Arizona, WHERE Traveler Phoenix + Scottsdale, and more.

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