16 Must-See Oahu Hawaii Tourist Attractions

by dan on July 3, 2012

Say the word “Paradise,” and it’s likely the first thing that comes to a person’s mind will be the Hawaiian Islands. And on those islands, perhaps the most popular place for a vacationer to go is Oahu. Oahu houses many of the state’s most iconic landmarks, top tourist destinations, and most sought-after vacation activities. So regardless of whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler here are 16 Must-See Oahu Hawaii Tourist Attractions to get you started on the journey.

1. Iolani Palace

If you’re a history buff, the Iolani Palace should claim a place on your vacation itinerary. The building has survived 130 years and counting in downtown Honolulu, and is on the National Register of Historic Places as the former home of the Polynesian monarchy, prior to the Hawaiian Islands annexation into the United States. The Palace is available to visit, and can be booked for group events. If you’re just a tourist passing through, you’ll have to drop by from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. PST, Monday through Saturday, for guided tours, which run $20 per person or self-led/audio tours, which run $12 per person. Iolani is open on the occasional Sunday.

2. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

For more than 120 years, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu has housed the entire history of the Hawaiian Islands. Featuring 24.7 million cultural artifacts from the islands’ long history as well as 22.3 million natural plant and animal life specimens, you won’t miss a thing visiting this location, including species of plant and animal life that are now extinct. The Bishop Museum stays open Wednesday through Monday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. PST each week. They are closed on Tuesdays and Christmas Day. To enjoy the experience, you’ll need $17.95 per adult and $14.95 for seniors or children, ages 4-12. Kids 3 and under get in free, and some military discounts are available.

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3. Hawaii Theatre Center

The Hawaii Theatre Center is another Honolulu-based Oahu tourist attraction that you won’t want to miss. In business for more than 90 years, the HTC was a launch pad for silent films, plays, vaudeville acts and local entertainment, and remains a great location for concerts and other forms of group entertainment. Rates and hours are subject to the event schedule, though if you want to do a basic tour, that will only run you $10 per person, and start at just before 11am most days. A trip to the official site will reveal upcoming events clear to April 2013 with constant updates, so check back regularly. One thing about the HTC: children three and under are generally not admitted, so this experience should really be saved for adults and couples.

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4. Nuuanu Pali Lookout

The Nuuanu Pali Lookout may be located only five miles from downtown Honolulu, but the gorgeous vistas and the 1,000-foot perch that looks down on Kaneohe, Kailua, Honolulu, and various other parts of the islands will make you feel as though you’re as far removed from society as you can possibly be-in a good way. Catch views of the University of Hawaii, the Honolulu Botanical Gardens, and revisit the site of the Battle of Nuuanu in 1795, when King Kamehameha I wrested control of Oahu’s factions in to one government. Best of all, there are no hours you have to keep and no admission to the reserve, unless you’re driving, and that’ll run just $3.

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5. Aloha Tower

The Aloha Tower, heart of Honolulu since 1926, is the welcoming grounds for container vessels and cruise ships, and so much more. With dozens of shops and restaurants, from Hooters to a specialty magnet store, as well as a full ongoing calendar of events, you could literally spend your entire vacation inside its walls and be just fine. Of particular interest to those wanting to experience the beauty of Oahu, the tenth-floor observation deck is a must-visit. Open every day from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. PST, admission is free, and the views stretch as far as the eye can see.

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6. Pearl Harbor Tours

Dec. 7, 1941, transformed Pearl Harbor from a standard military post in Oahu to a place of sorrow, and eventually, a rallying cry for the triumph of Allied Powers during World War II. A multitude of ships were attacked that day, but it was the U.S.S. Arizona that sustained the greatest casualties at 1,177. The Arizona is still visible from the surface of the water, and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is built over its final resting place as a testament to the men buried below. A throat-tightening experience if there ever was one, it is the centerpiece of the Pearl Harbor Tours experience. The complete Pearl Harbor Tour runs $119.99 and lasts from 6 a.m.-5 p.m. PST every day, excluding Christmas.

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7. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

If you came to Hawaii for snorkeling, then it’s likely you’ll stumble across the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, because the location has a sterling reputation for it. Situated in the flooded-out remnants of a volcanic crater, the preserve is just a 30-minute drive from Waikiki and home to deep blue waters and a kaleidoscope of undersea life. Admission to the Preserve is $7.50 per person with a $1 charge for parking. If you are a Hawaii resident or a child under the age of 13, you get in free, but regardless, it’s a small price to pay for one of the best sights on all the Hawaiian Islands.

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8. Skydive Hawaii

Skydive Hawaii is Oahu’s premier location for scheduling a 12,000- to 20,000-foot jump. You want to see Hawaii like few have ever seen it before? Then book a tandem for $225 (or get the Internet special for $150). Group rates are also available, and if you’re over 200 pounds, it’ll cost you an additional $2 per pound over the 200-pound mark. Hotel shuttles are available at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., and 1 p.m., every day.

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9. Chinatown Art Walk

Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown offer the unique flavor of local artists with more than a dozen galleries to choose from. One standout event is that of the First Friday celebration held on the-you guessed it-first Friday of each month. During that time, you can visit all the local galleries, which host open houses featuring light refreshments and free entertainment. So popular is this celebration that it has given rise to Second Saturdays and Third Thursdays. Admission is free, and the party goes long into the night.

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10. Moose McGillycuddy’s

Moose McGillycuddy’s stands out among all the many pubs and restaurants in Oahu. Not only does it have a 7-day per week Happy Hour (from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. PST, no less) and some of the finest pub food in the islands, but it is also noted for its Sunday night bikini contests, during which participants can win cash prizes, while in the meantime, guys win no matter what. If you want a taste of the action, just tune in to the Moose McGillycuddy live web cam every Sunday night and see what you’re missing out on. Moose McGillycuddy’s stays open until at least 3:30 a.m., every night, moving the party along with live music even into the wee hours.

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11. Le’ahi Diamond Head State Monument

Every day, from 6 a.m.-6 p.m., you can hike or drive through perhaps the most famous site in all of Hawaii, the Le’ahi Diamond Head State Monument, a 475-acre land crater, created more than 300,000 years ago from a single explosion. Whether hiking, sightseeing, or nature-walking, the $1 walk-in, $5 drive-in, fees are easy to manage, and the immaculately kept premises make it an ideal place to spend a day picnicking and enjoying time with your family or that special someone.

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12. Dole Plantation

Since 1989, the Dole Plantation has been known across the world to tourists and locals as “Hawaii’s Pineapple Experience.” And while that’s true, the facility has a lot more than that to boast about. From the Plantation Garden Tour to the Pineapple Garden Maze and the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the kids will love this experience, and so will you. The Visitors Center is open from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., daily, and admission is free, though you’ll have to ante up for the activities. The Express runs $8 for adults, $6 for children; the Maze is $6 for adults, $4 for children; and the Garden Tour is $5 for adults and $4.25 for children.

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13. Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) will transport you to another time, another experience, that tourists have not seen since the days of the Polynesian monarchy, long before the Islands joined the United States. The cultural morays, the tribal celebrations, the delectable dining experience-the PCC has it all. The Super Ambassador Package runs $228.95 for adults and $178.95 for children, but it gets you everything from specialized seating to backstage passes. The great thing about this particular Oahu attraction is that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy at least some of the experience. There are seven additional packages, all at cheaper rates, and you’re also allowed to create your own package. The day experience lasts from noon to 6 p.m., and goes 7 days per week, while the evening experience runs from 7:45 p.m.-9:15 p.m.

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14. Wet’n’Wild Hawaii

If the snorkeling, surfing, and wonder of natural beachfront, gets tired, then you can venture off to Oahu’s Wet’n’Wild Hawaii location, which has more than a dozen rides and attractions-in other words, a full day of fun-in-the-sun, water slides, lazy rivers, and miniature golf. “Fun for the whole family” is putting it lightly. Prices are $44.99 for adults and $34.99 for 3-year olds to people 42 inches tall. Children 2 and under get in free. The Gold Pass runs $54.99 and gets you in free for the entire year with early entry, free parking, and additional discounts inside the park.

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15. Banzai Pipeline

Exercise extreme caution when visiting the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach, off the north shore of Oahu. This surfing hotspot has been the scene of several deaths in recent years, including acclaimed surfers Malik Joyeux, Moto Watanabe, and Joaquin Velilla. Why should I want to visit this location at all, you may be asking? Because it’s here you will witness waves anywhere from nine to twelve feet high, and it’s the place to develop a deeper appreciation for surfing as a sport. No hours or admission fee to speak of, but you should definitely take precautions.

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16. Queen Emma’s Summer Palace

Queen Emma was the pride of King Kamehameha IV, and it was here at Queen Emma’s Summer Palace that she broke away for summertime retreats from the monarchy. Today, it is a historic location near and dear to the hearts of those with an appreciation of Polynesian culture. Admission is $6 for adults, $1 for children, and $4 for Hawaiian residents. If you plan on taking a tour, get there before 3:30 p.m. Hours are from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

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Oahu is THE Island to visit for singles, couples and families alike. With dozens of different historical and tourist spots and literally hundreds of unique activity experiences to keep you fully scheduled, it’s no wonder that Oahu entertains over four million visitors annually! Did we miss one that should have made the list? Or have you had a GREAT experience at one of the above you’d like to share? If so, use the comments below to let us know your thoughts.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Rose July 3, 2012 at 5:11 am

I absolutely cannot wait to go back to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. It’s known mostly for snorkeling, but don’t forget about the birds! I go early in the morning because birds are active then, but also because it’s so popular that the parking lot can fill up by 9am during the busy season. You won’t be able to get in until someone else leaves, so it’s best to avoid a long wait by getting an early start.

Mike Wilson July 3, 2012 at 5:39 am

Love Oahu! I’m taking my kids there for the firs time later this year and can’t wait to show them some of these great site. Awesome list, thanks!

Donnie July 3, 2012 at 7:43 am

Great list! I will definitely keep these great spots in mind when we go. Especially # 13. Hopefully next year we will be in a better position to take a vacation…

kullervo July 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm

And don’t miss:

1. Foster Botanical Garden. This is my first stop on Oahu (I live on Kauai). Magical, and right in the middle of Honolulu.

2. North Shore Shrimp Trucks. I favor Giovanni’s. Get the garlic shrimp! Epic.

3. Leonard’s Bakery. For the malasadas (deep fried dough balls). They come plain or filled with custards. Broke da mout’!

4. Haleiwa. Great little town on the north shore. In fact, the entire north shore makes a great contrast to Honolulu. And easy day driving around the island exploring. But if the surf’s up, stay out of the water. Ask the lifeguards about conditions.

I would avoid skydiving and helicopter rides. You can see it from the plane, and $$$.

Also, come over to Kauai! We even have a brewery opening next week, and we’re plenny friendly.

Aloha!

Careless Navigator July 17, 2012 at 12:19 am

Don’t forget La Mariana…

Josie July 20, 2012 at 4:03 am

You must have really cahgut us at a weak moment,lol!! Actually I knew it would be an amazing experience& was so delighted that you&Mary had this opportunity to be together I also was so happy that you actually got to be able to experience PearlHarbor on its actual anniversary and walk around and meet survivors, that alone was worth the ticket price! GodBless America!! and allthe wonderful men&women in the armed services.

Margaret July 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I am coming to Oahu in March and want to know were to take Hula lessons. Saw some people doing this last Feb. and looks like fun.
Great list above and I will be taking in some tours for sure.

Daniel July 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Hi Margaret,
Saw your posting, here are a few links for traditional Hula lessons on Oahu:
http://www.kaimi.org/oahu.htm
http://kealiiokamalu.com/
http://akaladancestudio.com/
Good luck!

restaurants in honolulu hawaii December 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Very good write-up. I absolutely love this site. Continue the good work!

Stranger Bob April 30, 2014 at 4:15 am

Man, this list it amazing! It helped me out A LOT when I couldn’t find anything good at Oahu. (Also good for reports.) Thanks HawaiiActive!

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