Is Oahu Worth Visiting? 7 Reasons To See This Hawaiian Island

Is Oahu worth visiting
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Is Oahu worth visiting? You bet it is! This lovely Hawaiian island is the third-largest in the chain. It’s known to the locals as The Gathering Place for its diverse population of roughly one million people. That accounts for two-thirds of the entire Aloha State and is focused on the buzzing capital of Honolulu, which lies on the south shore. There, you can dive into a cultural mixture of history, nightlife, shopping, and Polynesian gastronomy, all set to a backdrop of the volcanic Diamond Head crater.

But Oahu has much more to offer than just the big city. Known as the Heart of Hawaii, the island sprawls across five very distinct regions: The North Shore, the Windward Coast, Honolulu, the Leeward Coast and Central Oahu. Each has something different up its sleeve…

XXL wave hunters will head straight for the North Shore and the legendary swells of Waimea Bay. Those looking for a more laid back experience can hit the Windward Coast in the east, where secluded B&Bs are tucked into the coastal palm forests. If history is your thing, Pearl Harbor in Central Oahu is definitely worth a visit. There are options aplenty and we’ve only really scratched the surface. So, to dive a little deeper, here are seven answers to that question: Is Oahu worth visiting?

The scenery

Oahu scenery
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Oahu is a pretty darn stunning place. From the famous white-sand beaches of Waikiki to the lush green landscapes of the national parks further inland, the island rarely fails to impress on the looks front. It’s got a whole host of different sorts of natural features, including see-through lagoons teeming with fish and soaring mountains covered by challenging trekking paths.

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A great way to see some of the sublime scenery here is to hit one of said trails. There are oodles to pick from, but we love the walk to the hidden Laie Falls. They gush 15 feet over a sheer-cut bluff in the heart of the Oahu rainforests, dropping straight into a turquoise pool that’s perfect for that mid-hike cool down. Alternatively, why not see Oahu from the air? Many tour companies offer helicopter rides which will fly you over the island’s craggy cliffs and mountain ranges. It’s even possible to whiz above the Waikiki skyline for glimpses of the shimmering beaches of the city from high above.

There are no active volcanoes in Oahu today, but you can certainly see the results of their eruptions from thousands of years ago. One prime example is in the rugged Diamond Head crater. It looms above Honolulu like a sleeping giant, offering an easy escape from the hubbub of the town. There are walking paths up and down its spine, revealing tussock hills and meadows of blooming schiedea flowers. Beautiful.

Is Oahu worth visiting for the scenery alone? We think so. It’s a jaw-dropping place that’s unlike anywhere else in North America.

It’s a perfect honeymoon or wedding destination

Romantic Oahu
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With miles of white sandy beaches, crystal-blue waters, and a backdrop of tropical rainforest, the Hawaiian islands are a perfect destination for a wedding or a post-wedding getaway. The island of Oahu, with is world famous Waikiki Beach, and the bustling capital city of Honolulu, is a particularly popular choice amongst couples.

You will find that the local hotels cater exceptionally well to those looking to tie the knot or have a loved-up escape. You can choose to take your vows on an exotic beachfront with swaying palms behind, or in the grounds of a luxury hotel with a traditional Hawaiian flower lei and ukulele entertainers all around.

Oahu also caters fantastically for honeymooners. Jet over to spend a romantic trip in one of the many five-star resorts here and you can rest assured the R&R will flow. Many offer infinity pools just a stone’s throw back from the Pacific Ocean, gourmet eateries, and even pampering spas. And when you can pull yourself away from the opulence of your surf-side villa, you can make wonderful memories on whale-watching excursions or by watching the sunset between the coconut trees.

The beaches

Oahu beaches
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Is Oahu worth visiting for the beaches? Let’s just say this is a bona fide paradise island. It’s replete with more unspoilt stretches of white sand, tropical palm trees, and clear blue water than you can shake a pineapple-shaped cocktail glass at. Yep, the coastline of this member of the Aloha chain is nothing short of breathtaking. What’s more, because the island stretches through several very different areas, you also get lots of variation, from volcanic tide pools to classic runs of golden sand.

One of the most famous beaches is, of course, Waikiki. With over four million visitors each year, it actually encompasses several separate beaches, which stretch for just over two miles from end to end. The northwesternmost of the bunch is called Kahanamoku Beach after Oahu’s own Duke Kahanamoku, arguably the most famous surf pioneer on the planet – there’s a mellow longboard break there. The southernmost is known as Kuhio Beach, and is perfect for families and those in search of chillout sessions in calm waters.

But there are oodles more beaches worthy of mention in Oahu. Check out:

  • Lanikai Beach – Often hailed as the single most beautiful beach in all of Hawaii, Lanikai Beach is a Windward Coast gem, complete with sugary sand and turquoise ocean waters.
  • Hanauma Bay – A beach set in the caldera of an ancient volcano, Hanauma Bay is dashed through with amazing reefs and is unquestionably one of the top snorkelling spots in the USA.
  • Yokohama Bay – You’ll find more wind protection on this Leeward Coast beach, which has a soft, sandy bottom and some decent body surfing waves.
  • Waimea Bay – Don’t come here expecting to swim in the winter (the waves get XXL then). Summer ushers in calmer seas and the beach is simply gorgeous, with bluffs backing it behind and pockets of reef in the water.

The adventure possibilities

Oahu hike
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Let’s get this straight – Oahu is a veritable adventure mecca. From long treks to water sports, waterfall hopping to intrepid scenic drives, there’s loads to keep even the most hungry explorers busy in this member of the Aloha State chain. Yep, when it’s time to ditch the Tiki cocktail bars and sandy bays of Waikiki, you can rest assured there won’t be a dull moment in the Oahu outback.

Why not start by hopping in a kayak and paddling over the see-through waters of Kailua Bay? There are day tours that will let you do that, helping you cross the straits to the reefs of Popoia Island where you can snorkel with green sea turtles. The more daring folk among us might consider a shark dive. You’ll be taken out past the coastal shelf of the North Shore to meet Galapagos and sandbar sharks in the cooler Pacific currents.

Back on the shoreline and there’s surfing – obviously, this is Hawaii remember! The pros can go for the Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay up north; beginners should stick to the more mellow reefs of Queens and Canoes. Alternatively, quieter days on the swell can be had with SUP adventures or boat charters.

Then there’s the inland of the island. That’s a treasure trove of hikes and natural parks. Some of our favorite walking routes include the route to Manoa Falls (a 1.7 mile back and forth that takes you to 150-foot-high cataracts) and the legendary Koko Stairs (a famous trek that’s pretty hard going, consisting of more than 1,000 stairs cut into an old volcano crater).

Whale watching!

Oahu boat
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Whales love the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii. Accordingly, every year between the months of December and May, you can head out to spot majestic humpback whales swimming just off the coast of Oahu. The whales travel down from the cold waters of the Arctic to give birth to their calves in the region. You might even get to spy out the little ones if you’re lucky, although there are now strict regulations on how close whale-watching boats can go, just to ensure you don’t disturb the new families.

But you also don’t even have to board a boat to do some whale watching on this isle. The viewing point at the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse offers plenty of chances to see the same creatures from the dry land of the shore. You can combine your spotting with a hike to the lighthouse (which is pretty darn awesome in itself). It’s also possible to spot whales from the coast-side viewing points along the Diamond Head just above Honolulu, which means you shouldn’t have to venture too far from the big city to see these big mammals if you don’t have time.

The incredible national parks and nature reserves

Oahu mountains
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Oahu is dashed and dotted with oodles of fantastic nature reserves that are sure to tempt any eco-minded traveler. They cover all sorts of environments, from ancient volcano tops to lush rainforests. Some are easy to reach; others not so easy.

Diamond Head State Monument is a dormant volcano crater that overlooks the city of Honolulu. It is one of the most popular state parks on the island. It gets its name from the British soldiers who visited in the 19th century. They mistook the sparkling calcite crystals on the neighboring beach for diamonds. You can hike to the crater via a gorgeous scenic trail where you can also take in amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. Entry fee to the crater is $1.

Waimea Falls Park is also worthy of a mention. It’s said to be one of the best places to hike in the Aloha State. One route there takes you through beautiful botanical gardens, where you can lose yourself amid the breadfruit trees, the Angel’s Trumpets blooms, and the scented hibiscus plants. After around a mile’s walking, you will arrive at a grand waterfall – simply breathtaking.  

Finally, why not visit the Kualoa Nature Reserve? That’s home to the iconic filming set of Jurassic Park. Set over 4,000 acres on Kualoa ranch, the experience is a must for any fans of the dino epic. You’ll revisit and relive the movie as you encounter scenery lifted straight from the silver screen.

The rich culture of the Hawaiian people

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Is Oahu worth visiting to delve into the unique culture of the Hawaiian people? Perhaps more than any other island in this chain. The reason? This bustling isle is a veritable melting pot of peoples and creeds, history and tradition. There’s everything from ancient Polynesian rituals to raw WWII relics to get stuck into.

The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie is a fantastic place to begin. In fact, it’s the most popular paid attraction in the entire Aloha State! Within, you’ll find recreations of age-old Polynesian villages that offer a glimpse into life right across the South Pacific region. That means you’ll learn about much more than just Hawaii, but also about the Maori peoples of New Zealand and the original inhabitants of isles like Tonga and Fiji to boot.

Also don’t miss the Honolulu Museum of Art. The building itself is pretty famous, known for its old-world architecture. Inside is a fantastic array of Japanese and East Asian work. Oh, and there are a number of historic Hawaiian palaces that date from the age when the island was a separate monarchy. The most important is the Iolani Palace, which was the last home of the islander kings and queens, and was even once the state capitol.

So, is Oahu worth visiting?

You bet it is! This isle is a stunning example of Hawaii’s wild natural make up. There are glorious beaches with golden sand right next to soaring mountains crafted thousands of years ago by the eruptions of great volcanos. Adventure travelers will love the waterfall-carved national parks, while honeymooners can kick back on the beaches of Waikiki with a cocktail in hand. This is also a wonderful place to sample Polynesian culture and see some amazing humpback whales during the calving season.

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.