11 Hidden Gems in Oahu for Your Dream Hawaii Vacation

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hidden gems in Oahu
Image Credit: Shutterstock

We have put together a list of the best things to do in Oahu and included the best hidden gems on the island. Oahu is the most visited Hawaiian island due to it housing the capital of Hawaii, the famous Waikiki beach, and the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. It is a paradise island with waterfalls, great hiking, and a beautiful coastline welcoming tranquil waters with beautiful sunsets. 

The island has so much to offer that it is hard to experience it all on one trip. To make the most of your vacation to Oahu, Hawaii, here is our ultimate list of things to do in Oahu ranging from hidden gems to activities that allow you to experience Oahu’s cultural and natural beauty. 

1. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center 

A must thing to do on Oahu is visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. Take a bus tour from Waikiki or drive to the island's northeast side to learn and experience different Polynesian islands.

This immersive and informational theme park is between six island villages: Tahiti, Tonga, Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Samoa. Each village will have interactive demonstrations, games, food, crafts, and history to learn in a fun and memorable way. Watch a Samoan climb a 40ft coconut tree barefoot, learn about Maori tattoos, or paddle a Tongan outrigger canoe.

In the evening, book a luau to experience all the Polynesian foods. End the night with the exciting Ha Breath of Life Show watching dancers in flamboyant outfits and with fire knives tell a Polynesian symbolic love story of Mana and Lani.

Recommended by Tabitha of Travel Compositions 

2. Take a Kualoa Ranch Tour 

Kualoa ranch in Oahu a hidden gem in Oahu
Image Credit: Marcie Cheung

One of the best things to do on Oahu is taking a Kualoa Ranch tour. This is the filming location of many movies and TV shows like Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and Lost, and it is worth exploring. To visit Kualoa Ranch, you will need to book one of their many tours. It is private property, so visitors cannot drive or walk alone. A few of their popular tours include riding a UTV through the valleys, doing a Hawaii movie tour, and exploring the jungle. They also offer ziplining, horseback riding, and e-bike rides throughout the property. Furthermore, for those interested in agritourism, they have a program where one can learn about Hawaiian farming and help give back to the community.

Recommended by Marcie of Hawaii Travel Spot

3. Stay in a Treehouse

One unique thing to do in Oahu is to stay in one of these incredible Hawaiian treehouses

In addition to enjoying the beautiful beaches and surf spots nearby, you can surround yourself with wildlife and fruit trees while experiencing sunset from the deck, overlooking the treetops.

Treehouses in Oahu are usually long-term rentals (30 days minimum), but they often include lots of extras such as surfboards, snorkels, boogie boards, kiteboarding, paddle boards, yoga decks, and bicycles, so you can connect with nature and get a feel for Oahu's slice of paradise, by staying there.

Recommended by Roshni of Top Treehouses  

4. Go Diving in Shark's Cove

For people that enjoy diving, exploring Shark's Cove is a must. Shark's Cove was voted one of the Top 12 Shore Dives in the World by Scuba Diving Magazine and is tied with Mnemba Atoll in Tanzania for my favorite dive site. It is one of the best secret things to do in Oahu and will get you away from the touristy crowds. 

Visibility in Shark's Cove is excellent in the summer months. There are epic views of the caves, caverns, and lava tubes that make for great underwater exploring.

Be on the lookout for the amazing marine life that calls this Cove home – octopus, eels, shoals of surgeonfish, and a favorite, Hawaiian green sea turtles, known in Oahu as honu, to name a few. The wildlife makes it one of the most beautiful spots in Hawaii.

If you are very lucky, you might even see one of the local monk seal population. What you will not find in the Cove are sharks. The name comes from the shark-like shape of the outer reef.

Be sure to get there early because you are going to want as much time in the water as possible.

Recommended by Deb Hendricks of Introvert with Itchy Feet

5. Kayak to Mokuluas

Modulus Islands in Hawaii
Image Credit: Rachel Grenis

Known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Laiki Beach in Hawaii also happens to be home to the off-shore Mokuluas Islands. These popular islands can be seen from most lookouts around Kailua and Lanikai. Before you go, know that you can only go to Moku Nui; Moko Iki is a protected sanctuary, and people are not allowed around it.

Seeing these islands up close is one of the most unique things to do in Oahu since they are only accessible by paddleboard or kayak. The ride is only about .75 miles, but depending on the current, this can be a long, strenuous adventure. 

If you are up for the challenge, head out by yourself on a calm day. If you are a bit nervous, there are tour guides that will take you out and show you around. Despite the journey, the secluded island is worth it! Upon arrival, strap on your snorkel gear and explore some of the colorful wildlife or take a dip in the tide pool. 

Whether you are looking for an adventure or a relaxing day away from the busy beaches, the Mokuluas is a must-do in Oahu. 

Recommended by Rachel of Caribbean Uncovered

6. Hike the Koko Crater Tramway Trail

The best thing an adventure seeker can do on the island of Oahu is hike Koko Crater Tramway Trail. Located on the southeast side of the island, this hike is 30 minutes from Waikiki.

Koko Crater Tramway Trail is the best hike on Oahu for its unique qualities. The trail runs up the side of the crater on an old tramway track. In the past, operators used it to get supplies up to the military base that was at the top. You'll hike along the rail ties to get to the top. It is affectionately called Nature's Stairmaster for a good reason.

The trail is only 1.6 miles, out and back, but do not let that fool you, as the incline is intense. So be sure to add your most comfortable hiking shoes to your Hawaii packing list. With less than a mile to get to the top of the crater, you will endure 885 feet of elevation gain to get there. All that work is worth it for the reward at the top.

The views from the top of Koko Crater are stunning, and you can see things from miles away, no matter the time of day. Nevertheless, this is one of the best sunrise hikes on Oahu because watching the sunrise from the top of this crater is an experience you will never forget. 

Recommended by Tori Mitchell of Tori Pines Travels

7. Hike the Ehukai Pillbox Hike 

Ehukai Pillbox Hike in Oahu Hawaii
Image Credit: Jessica Schmit

The Ehukai Pillbox Hike, located along the North Shore in Haleiwa, offers a little bit of everything- some of Oahu's history being used as a strategic military asset by the United States, lush forest, and stunning views over the Pacific Ocean.

Along this moderate 2.1-mile out-and-back hike, you will climb along knobby tree roots up to the ridge of a small hill. Here, you'll make your way to two “pillboxes,” concrete bunkers that were used as military lookouts or that held operational equipment during World War II. While they were abandoned by the military long ago, the bunkers are now covered with colorful graffiti and artwork. 

Sit on top of one of the bunkers and take in the incredible views of Ehukai Beach and its famed Bonzai Pipeline, which offers some of the world's best surfers up to 20-foot waves to ride at certain times of the year.

Recommended by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler

8. Hike the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail 

Wiliwilunui ridge trail, Oahu, Hawaii
Image Credit: Jessica Schmit

If you are looking for a moderate trail that provides out-of-this-world views, look no further than the Wiliwilinui Ridge trail, which climbs along the spine of the Koʻolau Mountain range and offers jaw-dropping views of the green cliffsides below your feet and beyond, the Pacific Ocean.

Oahu is known for these ridge hikes, which are often quite narrow, crumbly, and dangerous, given their sheer drop-offs. While all ridge hikes may come with some risk (especially during rainy weather or while the trail is wet), Wiliwilinui is one of the safest options on the island, thanks to its wide and well-maintained trail.

To reach the trail, you'll need to vie for one of the daily allotted permits from a security guard at the Waialae Iki 5 community, a swanky gated community in the hills of Honolulu, where the trailhead is located. Once you've secured your permit, you can park at the trailhead and start your ascent. 

Throughout the next 2.3 miles, you'll climb 1,617 feet, many of these along muddy stairs carved into the side of the mountain. Eventually, you'll reach the ridgeline and be able to see layer upon layer of the incredibly lush green mountain ridges unfold beneath your feet.

Recommended by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler

9. Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Dole plantation: things to do in Oahu
Image Credit: Catherine of Postcard Narrative

Add variety to your Oahu vacation by immersing yourself in its rich agriculture. Visits to the Dole Pineapple Plantation feature a 20-minute narrated train tour through eight gardens at the plantation before returning for a sample of freshly picked fruit. Not only will you learn about the growth, harvest, and distribution of pineapples, but you'll see and learn about many other plants that thrive in Hawaii's volcanic soil. The train tour is $13 for adults.

The plantation grounds are also famous for their pineapple garden maze, once named the largest in the world. Set a record for the fastest time through, and your name will make the leaderboard! 

Don't leave without browsing the shop for unique pineapple treats and gifts. You'll find everything from fresh pineapple, to pineapple pancake mix, to a delicious pineapple salsa.

The Dole Pineapple Plantation is open from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM every day except Christmas. Other than beaches, it has one of the earliest opening times on the island, making it a great attraction to visit when you awake obnoxiously early due to jet lag and are antsy to see the island. 

Whether you're honeymooning in Hawaii or bringing the kids, the Dole Plantation is a fantastic place to taste Hawaii's history and this staple industry for the island.

Recommended by Catherine of Postcard Narrative 

10. Hike to the Diamond Head Crater

things to do in Oahu: hike Diamond Head
Image Credit: Sydney from A World In Reach

Oahu is one of Hawaii's most popular tourist destinations, and for a good reason. There are plenty of things to do on this beautiful island, and one of the best is hiking up to Diamond Head Crater.

Diamond Head Crater is a dormant volcano in Honolulu that offers some of the best views on Oahu. The hike up to the summit is about 1.5 miles long and takes around an hour to complete, but it's well worth it once you reach the top. Once you're at the top, you'll see stunning views of Waikiki Beach, the Pacific Ocean, and the downtown Honolulu skyline.

Parking can be a bit tricky at Diamond Head, so it's best to arrive early. In the early morning hours, there are fewer hikers on the trail (although it is pretty busy at all times of day, thanks to being one of Oahu's best hikes). Once you're at the crater, follow the signs to the summit trailhead and begin your hike. Remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen – there are fountains to fill up your water bottle before you start the hike.

After finishing the hike, treat yourself to a refreshing Dole Whip at the truck parked near the parking lot!

Recommended by Sydney of A World in Reach

11. Explore the Mermaid Caves at Nanakuli Beach Park  

Mermaid caves in Oahu Hawaii
Image Credit: Shutterstock

The mermaid caves are one of Oahu's best hidden gems because if you do not know what to look for, you will miss it, and the beach is off the beaten path. They are located in Nanakuli Beach Park on the west side of the island.

To experience the mermaid caves, you must visit them at low tide. If it is high tide, the mermaid caves will disappear. Once you have located the caves, you can climb or swim inside. Once inside, you will see why it is called mermaid cave. It looks and feels like something that a mermaid would hang out in. 

Since the Mermaid Caves are a hidden gem of Oahu, there is free parking and it is rarely full. Visitors looking to explore the Mermaid Caves can park in Nanakuli Beach Park parking or in Zablan Beach parking which is closest to the Mermaid Caves.

Recommended by The Impulse Traveler

Things to Do in Oahu

Oahu is a phenomenal place to visit. Sunshine, beaches, and Mai Tais – the perfect vacation trifecta. Once a cocktail and a sun-drenched nap on the beach are done, you will be looking for things to do on Oahu. Refer to our list of hidden gems in Oahu when planning your next trip to Hawaii. 

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This post originally appeared on The Impulse Traveler

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