Journey Era is a popular adventure travel blog by Jackson, an Australian adventure traveler. After graduating with a degree in Journalism, he’s been traveling the world for the past 8 years, documenting his adventures in both his blog and on social media.
As we’re all dreaming of some sunny getaways right now in the northern hemisphere, we asked Journey Era to share his not-to-be-missed bucket list experiences for a trip to Oahu.
From surfing the waves to exploring breathtaking nature, or even trying the best food trucks and cocktail cruises, this top 19 bucket list for things to do on Oahu has something for everyone. Whether traveling on your own, with family, or with friends, Oahu has everything you need to make the most of your time in sunny Hawaii.
Compiled over a 2-year period from living on the island, this Hawaiian bucket list includes some added personal tips from Journey Era to boot.
- Mokoliʻi Island hike
- Oahu scenic helicopter flight
- See views of Honolulu on a Diamond Head Crater hike
- Swim with sharks
- Sunset cocktail cruise from Waikiki
- Ocean submarine tour in Waikiki
- Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
- Dolphin and whale watching tours in Waianae
- Visit Manoa Falls
- Try garlic shrimp on the North Shore
- Adventure hike on the Ka’au Crater Trail with waterfalls
- Spend time at the Chinatown Sunday markets
- Enjoy a delicious poke bowl
- Enjoy Dole Whip at the Dole Pineapple Plantation
- Surf at the world-famous Waikiki Beach
- Visit (or even leap off) Spitting Cave
- Swim with Hawaiian sea turtles
- Grab dinner at the food trucks on North Shore
- Scuba dive to see the Sea Tiger Wreck
Mokoliʻi Island hike
Mokoliʻi island — commonly known as “Chinaman’s Hat” — is a tiny island near Kualoa Ranch. Accessible by kayak or a short swim, once you arrive on the island a mini-hike to the top will grant you unforgettable views of the shore and the Kualoa Mountains. Grab a kayak tour that picks you up from Waikiki and takes you on a kayak adventure in Kaneohe, then onto the island itself.
Oahu scenic helicopter flight
A helicopter tour over this amazing island will be the number 1 memory you take home with you from your vacation. Try an island tour just after sunrise — you’ll fly over waterfalls, craters, Waikiki, and some of the world’s best beaches. You’ll have a few options for different helicopter flights and they all offer something a little different. A full-circle daytime island flight is great, but a nighttime fireworks flight is also a memorable nocturnal alternative.
See views of Honolulu on a Diamond Head Crater hike
Try the most popular hike route on Oahu, and probably the most popular thing to do on Oahu aside from visit the famous Waikiki Beach. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the old war bunkers at the top, from which you will have unbelievable views over Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean.
The whole hike is scenic, but it isn’t until you reach the top that you really get stunning views in all directions. This is truly one of the most epic viewpoints anywhere in the world and a must-do activity on Oahu.
The entrance fee is just $2, but if you prefer, join a guided tour with a twist to show you the way on this top-rated tour.
Swim with sharks
Have you ever thought about swimming with sharks? This activity takes people out and lets them swim with sharks from the safety of a cage. It might seem extreme, but Sandbar sharks circle around you as you observe them respectfully in their natural habitat. This is something your friends back home won’t believe and is an incredible experience.
Sunset cocktail cruise from Waikiki
There isn’t a better way to enjoy a sunset than aboard a yacht with a cocktail in-hand. Enjoy a slice of paradise with your camera at the ready — aloha! Try a catamaran sunset cruise that takes you south toward Hawaii’s iconic Diamond Head.
Ocean submarine tour in Waikiki
Climb aboard a submarine to explore the underwater passages of the famous Waikiki Beach for a bit of nature and history combined. Through its portal windows, see Hawaiian fish, coral, turtles, sunken ships, even airplanes, and more! It’s truly an amazing experience to see all of the marine life that has made its home in sunken planes and warships.
Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is the most popular spot for tourists to see a turtle or explore the underwater world of the Pacific Ocean. At about a 30-minute drive from Waikiki, the coral here is amazing and, as it is a protected bay, it’s perfect for a half-day snorkel adventure. Guaranteed you’ll find hundreds of amazing fish and marine species, and you can even spot a turtle if you’re lucky.
One of the most popular ways to enjoy Hanauma Bay is to join a guided snorkeling tour. Your expert guide will provide you with all your snorkeling gear, arrange for you to skip the ticket lines at Hanauma Bay, and help you search for turtles and unique creatures underwater. After the snorkel, you can stay on to enjoy the rest of the day at Hanauma Bay — a relaxing way to spend the day.
Dolphin and whale watching tours in Waianae
Look for dolphins and whales on a snorkel excursion at 2 of the best snorkel sites in Oahu. See spinner dolphins and look for whales breaching from the comfort of a state-of-the-art cruise vessel. Pick a tour that shows you the most beautiful creatures of the ocean while cruising along the coast of Oahu, such as in Waianae. If there’s a snorkeling option, even better.
Visit Manoa Falls
After the Diamond Head hike, Manoa Falls is the 2nd most popular hike on Oahu. Only minutes from the busy streets of Waikiki, this jungle trail leads you to a large waterfall. Jurassic Park and Lost filmed scenes in this lush green area.
The best way to experience Manoa Falls is with an experienced tour guide who can explain all of the local flora and fauna, most of which are unique to Oahu. You can book yourself onto a guided tour that includes pick-up and drop-off from your Waikiki hotel.
Try garlic shrimp on the North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu is famous for surf, beaches, and the chill vibes. But you can’t visit the North shore without trying some famous garlic shrimp. There are plenty of food trucks lining the coast all claiming to be the best and the original. I tried quite a few of them during my time on Oahu and of the more well-known trucks, I enjoyed Romy’s. While you are up there, check out one of the best beaches on the North Shore.
Adventure hike on the Ka’au Crater Trail with waterfalls
For a favored waterfall hike on Oahu, pick a Ka’au Crater hike. It will lead you up 3 waterfalls before you navigate a fine ridge on the edge of the crater to reach expansive panoramic views.
The hike takes a few hours if you’re quick, or 5-6 hours for more leisurely hikers. It’s relatively safe, but only recommended for people in good shape as there are moments where you need to use ropes to pull yourself up steep segments.
Spend time at the Chinatown Sunday markets
For the foodies and the shoppers, the markets in Chinatown are an interesting collection of grocers and Asian goods. This is a morning gem of discovery and exploration that is a little off-the-beaten-path for most tourists.
Enjoy a delicious poke bowl
Try a Hawaiian poke bowl — tasty bowls consisting of raw fish and rice. They’re a favorite food on Oahu. You can also get a bowl with ahi, octopus, squid, or other types of seafood with a spicy sauce or seasoning. Bowls typically range from $6-15, depending on where you buy them from.
Enjoy Dole Whip at the Dole Pineapple Plantation
The Dole Plantation is a great spot to stop at on the way to the North Shore for a tasty pineapple treat. The pineapple plantation offers tours and has a huge hedge maze.
The soft-serve pineapple whip is like no other ice cream you’ve had before — but be prepared for masses of tourists. Combine this visit with an epic tour that takes you all around the island to all of the iconic spots, including the Dole Plantation.
Surf at the world-famous Waikiki Beach
There are tons of things to do in Waikiki, but surfing has to be at the top of your list. For a few dollars, you can rent yourself a surfboard and join the masses trying their hand at surfing at the famous Waikiki Beach. If you do head out to ride some waves keep your eyes open for stray boards trying to take your head off.
Visit (or even leap off) Spitting Cave
One of my favorite things to do on Oahu was to head to Spitting Cave on the east coast cliffs and watch the divers jumping off. This is one of the top things to do in Oahu for adrenaline junkies, and also a great place to watch the sunset in the summer or spot whales in the winter. If you’re feeling brave, try it for yourself! Water rushes in with waves, filling the cave before being spat out with great force.
Swim with Hawaiian sea turtles
Swimming with sea turtles is for sure one of the top 10 things to do in Oahu. Sea turtles can be found on most of Oahu’s beaches — you’ll find it hard to miss them during your stay. Electric Beach and Waimea Bay are the prime locations.
Just remember to keep your distance — never touch them and be sure to respect these beautiful creatures. Read up on the best spots and an overall guide to swimming with sea turtles on Oahu.
Grab dinner at the food trucks on North Shore
A culinary favorite is to head to the food trucks on Oahu’s North Shore. Grab a plate of garlic prawns or a Mexican feast and watch the sunset over Shark’s Cove. After a long, tiring day of enjoying all the surfing and beautiful beaches on Oahu, this is a great way to revitalize yourself as you tuck into some awesome local food.
Scuba dive to see the Sea Tiger Wreck
See a real-life sunken ship on a diving adventure. 100 feet below the ocean’s surface lies the Sea Tiger, a former Chinese trading vessel originally named “Yun Fong Seong No. 303”. Cleaned up and sunk in 1999, it now provides an exciting location for adventurous divers to explore Hawaii’s seabed.