Tourism accounts for approximately 21 percent of the Hawaiian economy, and nowhere are there more tourists than Waikiki. Located on Oahu’s southern shore, more than 40 percent of tourists to the state of Hawaii stay in Waikiki, despite there being incredible views, picturesque beaches, and cascading waterfalls throughout the islands, including on Oahu.
Whether you live in Honolulu and feel the need to explore, or are planning a vacation to Waikiki and want recommendations that reach beyond the luxury resort scene, we’ve got the perfect day trip for any adventure-filled Saturday. From historic sites and stunning beaches to striking waterfalls and charming towns, these 11 day trips across the island of Oahu are sure to fuel your wanderlust.
1. Oahu’s Famous North Shore
While Oahu’s north shore is known for its massive waves and professional surf competitions during the winter months, this beautiful stretch of coastline has so much more to offer. The main settlement in this area is Haleiwa, which has consistently been voted one of Hawaii’s favorite small towns for years. From the best acai bowls and shave ice in Haleiwa to snorkel spots, secluded beaches, phenomenal hiking, and historic places, you could spend a year exploring the north shore without visiting the same place twice.
2. The Leeward Coast: Exploring the West Side
The beautiful windward coast is known for incredible hiking and lush jungle, Honolulu is the center for business and culture, and the north shore is a haven for surfers, but the west coast is often overlooked for other, more accessible parts of the island. It’s a true shame, because this slice of coastline is home to some simply stunning beaches, incredible hiking opportunities, and countless hidden gems to uncover. We suggest checking out Makaha Beach, Kaena Point State Park, Kahumana Organic Farm & Cafe, Yokohama Bay, and Kaneana Cave.
3. Beaches of the Windward Coast
From Waimanalo and Bellows to Lanikai, and Kailua beaches, Oahu’s windward coast - specifically the 10-mile stretch from the Marine Corps Base Kaneohe to Makapu’u Beach Park – is home to the most brilliant blue waters, sure to make your next beach day unforgettable. Don’t forget to stop at the Makai Research Pier to take that quintessential Hawaiian photograph.
4. Kapolei, Oahu’s Second City #1
Oahu’s second city, Kapolei, is located on the leeward side of the island - and is home to some incredible shopping, Wet’n’Wild, and the picturesque resort area of Ko’Olina. You won’t regret a stop at Aulani, a Disney resort - with character breakfasts and pool parties, movie nights, and a variety of kid’s entertainment, your children are sure to be in absolute bliss – and so will you, with an adults-only pool bar.
5. Get cultured at the Polynesian Cultural Center #1
Located on the northern shore of Oahu is the Polynesian Cultural Center, a Polynesian-themed attraction and living museum known for eight simulated tropical villages and phenomenal luau. Fun fact: the center is owned by neighboring Brigham Young University, and seventy percent of the staff are students at the school.
6. Hang out in Manoa Valley
Just minutes away from the bustling state capital of Honolulu – but still within the city limits – is the lush Manoa Valley. This residential area is home to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, receives almost daily rain, and was the site of the first sugarcane and coffee plantations in the Hawaiian Islands. And hidden deep within Manoa Valley are two amazing activities that can be paired together to create the perfect day in paradise: a hike through the lush Hawaiian jungle to Manoa Falls, and a visit to the magnificent Mu Ryang Sa Buddhist Temple.
7. Become a Paniolo at Kualoa Ranch
From horseback riding and ATV tours to boat excursions and ziplining, Kualoa Ranch has an activity perfect for everyone. Oh, and did we mention the stunning natural beauty and countless movies filmed there? Those films include 50 First Dates, Jurassic Park, Soul Surfer, Along Came Polly, The Hunger Games, Godzilla, and George of the Jungle, as well as several television shows.
8. Wahiawa, an Underrated City
While we love our beautiful beaches as much as the next person, sometimes you want to escape the hoards of tourists, as well as the hustle and bustle of Hawaii’s capital city. That’s when you retreat inland for the day, and treat yourself to mouthwatering food, stellar coffee, and some fascinating attractions in the often overlooked Wahiawa: the literal heart of Oahu. We suggest stopping at Surfers Coffee Bar, the Wahiawa Botanical Garden, the famous Dole Plantation, and the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones.
9. Natural Wonders of the Southeastern Shore
From incredible lava formations and charming coves to challenging hikes and beautiful beaches, Oahu’s southeastern shore is a treasure trove of incredible spots you won’t find anywhere else in the world. In just a ten mile stretch of Kalanianaole Highway from the beautiful Spitting Caves to the popular Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, you will find countless spots to explore, including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, the Lanai Lookout, and Halona Cove + Blowhole.
10. Drive the famous Pali Highway
Meandering from Honolulu to Oahu’s windward coast, the Pali Highway is a picturesque drive through the jungle. Along the road, you’ll find some incredible sights, including amazing hiking trails, bamboo forests, and the stunning Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside. It’ll cost you $3 to stop here if you’re not a Hawaii resident, but the lookout provides stunning, panoramic views of the windward coast - and a stellar photo opp.
11. Immerse yourself in World War II history at Pearl Harbor
The December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the United State’s entry into World War II. You may not have known that Hawaii was put under martial law until the end of the war. Today, Pearl Harbor houses a variety of historical sites, and is home to more than 160 commands. If you only see one thing while visiting Pearl Harbor, it has to be the famous USS Arizona Memorial, but we also recommend checking out the Pacific Aviation Museum, the USS Battleship Missouri, and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park.