Oahu’s Best Attractions

Oahu, The Gathering Place, is sometimes only seen for Waikiki, but there are some amazing sights outside of the Waikiki / Honolulu area. Some of my favorite spots on the island are outside of the city! Here are my top must-see picks!

Diamond Head

Leahi (brow of the tuna) in Hawaiian…

One doesn’t visit Oahu without a trip up Diamond Head. The whole trip up and back is about 2 hours. The total mileage is 1.6 miles, and it’s well worth it. You are hard-pressed to find a better view of Waikiki than Diamond Head. Part of the Ko’olau Range, Diamond Head erupted some 2.6 million years ago, leaving behind a crater 350 acres wide. The military purchased Diamond Head at the turn of the 20th century making it the first military base on the island. While no longer, in use some of these installations remain. Diamond Head is an easy Uber or cab ride from Waikiki if you don’t have a car. The park is open from 6 AM – 4:30 PM. I highly recommend getting there early. It gets pretty hot after 11 AM, which is not fun on an uphill hike.

Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout

NuʻuanuPali Lookout is located off the H-1 and Pali Highway. This drive just happens to be my favorite on Oahu, and with sweeping vistas all around you. The sight is best known for King Kamehameha’s Historic Battle in 1795. There is a moderate hike (2.6 miles) to Likeke Falls, a beautiful waterfall. It’s a bit strenuous so bring water and, don’t wear flip flops!

Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona Memorial, and Battleship Missouri Memorial – https://www.nps.gov/valr/planyourvisit/index.htm

For Reservations (up to 60 days in advance) – https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/233338

December 7th, 1941- a date which will live in infamy. One of the most dramatic events in our country’s history and entered the US into WW2. A trip to Oahu is not complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor is a sobering experience. You can book a tour from Waikiki, or if you have a car, it’s a 30-minute drive away. They have multiple ticketing options. I would recommend at least a half a day at the center. There are several sites including a walkthrough USS Bowfin submarine and museum.

Byodo-In Temple – https://byodo-in.com/

Located at the bottom of the Ko’olau Mountains range in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. Byodo-In is like stepping back in time. This impressive temple is a replica of a 950-year-old temple in Japan. Byodo-In is a non-practicing Buddhist temple that welcomes people of all faiths. Not only is the temple incredibly beautiful, but the grounds surrounding it are also equally impressive. In 2019, it was voted one of the most beautiful Buddist temples in the world. The temple is located in Kaneohe, off the Kahekili Highway. It’s easy to get to from Waikiki if you take the H-1, but I highly recommend going the long way around and doing your own circle the island tour.

Koko Head Trail – https://www.alltrails.com/trail/hawaii/oahu/koko-head-crater-trail?u=i

One of the best hikes in Oahu is Koko Head. The total hike is about 2 miles round trip from your car. This isn’t a super hard hike, but it’s not easy either. It’s totally worth it once you reach the top. The view is incredible. Make sure you bring water, a hat, and some sunscreen. There is no escaping the elements here. Koko Head is located near Hawaii Kai, which is a great spot to grab lunch after.

Kualoa Ranch

Kualoa is heaven on Earth! My favorite spot on Oahu. I LOVE this place. Not only is it visually stunning, but there is also a multitude of things to do. ATV Raptor tours, zip line, horseback riding, and movie tours. Ka’a’awa Valley, known as Hollywood’s “Hawaii Backlot”, is one of the most filmed spots in Hawaii. If you are a fan of Lost, Jurassic Park, or Hawaii 5-O, then one of their movie set tours is a must. Some tours get booked up 2-3 weeks in advance so reservations are a must. There is also a really cute shop on site that you can purchase souvenirs from your time at the ranch.

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens is one of the most beautiful spots on Oahu. It’s also one of the most Instagrammed. Located on the Windward side in Kāneʻohe, it’s just a short drive from Kailua. I like to visit after I spend some time at Lani Kai Beach. It’s super easy to get to from Waikiki by hopping on the H1 to H3. With no traffic, it’s about a 30-minute ride. This 400 acres oasis of tropical perfection is a perfect spot for a picnic or even camping overnight.


Haleiwa is my favorite little town in Hawaii. At the tip of the North Shore, Haleiwa is known for it’s laid back lifestyle, surfing, boutique shopping, and some amazing food trucks. One of my favorite things to do in Oahu is spending the day driving up the Windward side on the Kamehameha Hwy and ending the day here in Haleiwa. My first stop is always at Haleiwa Bowl (more on that in my food blog). You can also hit up the world-famous Matsumoto Shave Ice, a staple of the North Shore for over 60 years. Be prepared to wait – there is always a massive line. Some of my favorite shops are North Shore Surf Shop for all things surf; Growing Keiki for the little ones, and Number808 for unique gifts and vintage Hawaiian goodies. If you need a pick me up for the journey back to Waikiki, might I recommend Coffee Gallery. They have an amazing frozen Mocha. You could spend all day wandering around and shopping here. Haleiwa is truly a must-visit on your trip to Oahu.

You could spend two weeks on Oahu and not see it all. There is a ton to see and do. Next up, are my best beaches in Oahu. So stay tuned and Mahalo!

Hi, I'm Tracy Kirssin Hanes

For over two decades, I’ve helped my clients explore and experience the world by seeking out the best it has to offer and sharing it with them by creating bespoke dream vacations. As a travel consultant, my work is so much more than booking hotel rooms, securing a rental car, and juggling a lot of logistics. (Though, of course, I take care of all that stuff too.) It’s about lining up those one-of-a-kind experiences that make you fall in love with a new place. All you have to do is pack your bags.

Nice to meet you!