Planning on Visiting Oahu for the First Time and Not Sure if it is Worth it?
You’re in the right place as we were born and raised in Oahu!
If you are looking to experience paradise for the first time, then you may wonder if visiting Oahu is worth it.
Oahu is home to Honolulu, the main capital of Hawaii, and it stands out from the other Hawaii destinations. Oahu has a unique blend of urban city life and incredible natural beauty, making it an amazing destination to visit.
As a couple who currently lives in Oahu, we’ll be your personal guide on the best places to visit and things to do in Oahu in 2023, so you can decide if you would like to join us in paradise.
Find out for yourself if you are planning on visiting Oahu for the first time.
Is Visiting Oahu Worth It?
Yes! Especially for first-time visitors as there is something special to experience around the entire island of Oahu!
If you are unsure of what you’re looking for in Hawaii, Oahu is the perfect island to visit. Although Oahu is the urban oasis of Hawaii, you still have an opportunity to explore its natural beauty. This island offers something for every type of traveler!
Oahu definitely has the most things to do out of all the islands. Oahu’s diversity ensures that visitors can enjoy a blend of relaxation, culture, and adventure.
Whether it’s a trendy new restaurant in Honolulu or hiking on the Windward side, Oahu is the perfect place to do it all.
What Is Oahu Known For?
Oahu is known for being filled with cities and regions that each offer a distinct flavor of Hawaiian life. The diverse landscape of Oahu allows travelers to have many different types of experiences compared to the other Hawaiian Islands.
The North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu is an iconic destination on Oahu, providing a rustic beach-town vibe and laid-back charm.
The popular town of Haleiwa, which has heaps of food trucks and boutique shops, gives that authentic Hawaii experience. You have the opportunity to experience Oahu at a slowed-down pace.
Oahu’s North Shore coastline is also known for its legendary surf breaks. During the winter months, it transforms into a surfer’s paradise which draws in surfers from all over the world. As the waves retreat for the summer, the shorelines become a tranquil haven for swimming, snorkeling, and unwinding on the shore.
Honolulu & Waikiki
Oahu is also best known for its modern urban life. The islands’ bustling energy in Honolulu and Waikiki cannot be found in any other Hawaii destination.
You can experience the captivating fusion and cultural diversity in the heart of Oahu. This is the place to be for trendy restaurants and bars, substantial shopping centers, and vibrant nightlife.
Culturally Historic Sites
Finally, Oahu is known for being enriched with historical sites and cultural museums to learn about Hawaii.
Sites like the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, and the Polynesian Cultural Center provide a journey through the island’s rich heritage.
8 Unique Things To Do On Oahu
Oahu is the perfect island for both urban city life and natural beauty. This makes for an ideal location for first-time visitors to Hawaii.
Take a look at 8 unique activities for you to experience if you’re visiting Oahu for the first time.
Looking to experience a once-in-a-lifetime sunset? Waikiki is one of the best places on Oahu to take in the sunset with vibrant hues reflecting off the water.
You might also see sea turtles, dolphins, or even humpback whales off the coast of Waikiki!
The Moana’s Sunset Cruise is a very authentic cruise with no gimmicks involved. Just a simple time on the waters where the sunset is the star of the show.
Additionally, there’s extremely accommodating staff onboard and you can purchase cocktails for only $6!
Going to a luau is a great way to take part in Hawaii’s traditions while on Oahu. Although, it’s important that you choose luau’s that are authentically Hawaiian.
We highly recommend the Luau at Paradise Cove, as it is the perfect all-inclusive luau from pick-up to drop-off.
This luau also has one of the best backdrops as you are right along the shores of Ko Olina. As you settle in, enjoy the view of the ocean and taste the diverse flavors of Hawaiian food.
Lastly, mesmerizing hula dancers and fire dancers will showcase thier skills. Here you can learn about the stories that have been passed down by the generations through their performances.
The Luau at Paradise Cove is an amazing and immersive experience for participating in traditional arts, crafts, and games. Take part in Paradise Cove’s celebration of history, community, and the spirit of aloha!
3. Visit The USS Memorial At Pearl Harbor
It is important to note that Oahu is not just about paradise. Pearl Harbor is a deeply moving journey that transports you back to a pivotal moment in time.
This experience on Oahu pays tribute to live lives lost during the attack that plunged the US into World War II.
Note: We don’t recommend booking a third-party tour to visit Pearl Harbor. Most third-party tours only provide transportation services to the site.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is completely free to visit. But you can pay an $11 fee per person for a self-guided narrated tour as you view the museum’s exhibits and artifacts.
The iconic USS Arizona Memorial is actually separate from the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. This costs only $1 for the ferry ride over and a brief movie for the memorial.
Be sure to book your tickets in advance as ferry spots are not guaranteed if you go standby.
Check this item off your bucket list if you’re a first-time traveler!
The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is known to frequent the shores and coastlines of Oahu. Catching a glimpse of one is always an amazing experience.
Turtle Canyon is a well-known nature preserve off the coast of Waikiki. It’s also a major hot spot for turtles!
The Hawaiian Sea Turtle is not the only marine life at Turtle Canyon. The warm waters are filled with a diverse population of tropical fish as well. If you’re lucky you may even see a spinner dolphin in the water!
As Turtle Canyon is only accessible by boat, and we recommend the Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion. This all-inclusive tour includes a 2-hour snorkel excursion guided by great staff, and they provide all the gear you need.
Exploring the North Shore is one of the top things to do that makes Oahu worth visiting. The drive around North Shore is filled with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and the best hidden gems on Oahu.
The popular spots on the North Shore include the historic surfing town of Haleiwa, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, and Sunset Beach.
It can be hard to choose what spots to check out since there are so many to explore. But if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of planning, check out the North Shore Circle Island Adventure Tour!
This all-day tour offers small group sizes of 24-28 people or fewer, and will conveniently pick you up from your hotel!
Waikiki Beach is the iconic place where the famous Duke Kahanamoku’s legacy was made on Oahu. This beach is the ideal classroom for surfing as it is known for its smooth rolling waves.
Taking surf lessons in Waikiki provides an exhilarating experience perfect for beginners! You will learn from professionally certified instructors who will teach you the fundamentals of balance, paddling, and catching waves.
No experience is needed, and you will have all the surf gear included during this tour. We often went out to Waikiki when we first started surfing, and we can agree that the waves are very beginner-friendly!
Get the rush of excitement and achievement when you catch your first wave and ride it to the shore!
The Mokes is another picturesque location found off the Windward coast at Lanikai Beach. These twin islands are surrounded by calm waters, providing perfect conditions for kayaking!
As of 1982, the Mokes became a part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary. While the islands are filled with protected native seabirds, there are also hidden coves and crystal-clear shorelines to explore on the islands.
This half-day kayaking tour is a great option to set out into the crystal-clear waters of Oahu. The use of snorkeling gear and kayaks is included with this tour for a worry-free adventure!
They have options for a guided or self-guided tour, and many different locations to kayak around Kailua Bay. This is perfect to suit to your preference.
Want to see Oahu from a different perspective? Then head out to the mountains of the North Shore.
Begin your exhilarating journey with a short 2-mile ATV ride up to the top of the mountains. Once you get to the top, you’ll find 8 amazing side-by-side ziplines waiting for you.
This North Shore Zipline is run by highly trained guides who are bi-annually inspected by ziplining experts to ensure your safety.
The rush of wind and panoramic views create a thrilling experience on the North Shore.
Best Areas To Stay On Oahu
If you are visiting Oahu for the first time, you may be wondering which part of Oahu you should stay at. Luckily for you, Oahu is one of the most unique and diverse islands to stay in Hawaii. This makes it the perfect island for first-time visitors.
Let’s take a look at some of the best areas to stay in Oahu!
Located on Oahu’s southern coast, Waikiki is known for its perfect blend of tropical paradise and urban city life. Wake up to the soothing sound of waves and step onto the world-famous beaches right outside your door.
The Waikiki strip is known for being a walkable district filled with the spirit of aloha at every turn. The neighborhood offers a mix of oceanfront dining, boutique hotels, and endless shopping.
Additionally, Waikiki is the place to be when the sun goes down. It’s really the only location on Oahu for exciting nightlife.
Waikiki is the most convenient location for travelers to book their stay since there is an endless amount of hotels to choose from all along the strip.
🏨Where To Stay In Waikiki, Oahu: The Halekulani is a boutique hotel in Waikiki that offers the ultimate luxury experience.
Kahala is the upscale district on Oahu. It’s also only a 15-minute drive away from Waikiki. This area is known for its pristine beaches and serene ambiance along the southern coast of Oahu.
Experience a luxurious and private experience if you want to stay away from the bustle of Waikiki. The Kahala provides a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere for you to enjoy.
Moreover, there are numerous activities at your fingertips for relaxation, indulgence, and exploration. This prestigious neighborhood is filled with unique activities, fine dining, and a stunning beachfront setting.
🏨Where To Stay In Kahala, Oahu: Kahala Hotel & Resort
Ko Olina is an upscale resort community, with over 642 acres of resort area! Located on the western shores of Oahu, this side of the island isn’t as explored. But it’s one of the most beautiful!
Don’t miss out on the amazing amenities and recreational facilities provided at Ko Olina. Whether that be snorkeling at the lagoons or enjoying the top luau at paradise Cove, this community has it all!
Ko’Olina is also the perfect spot for golf lovers since the Ko’Olina Golf Course is one of the highest-rated golf courses in all of Oahu. This resort community is simply too good to miss.
🏨Where To Stay In Ko Olina, Oahu: Four Seasons Resort
The North Shore of Oahu is best known for its laid-back atmosphere and rural scenery. Along the coast are pockets of hidden beaches, local boutiques, art galleries, and food trucks serving up delectable treats.
Furthermore, the surf on the North Shore is incredible to witness in person. But beyond its surf culture, North Shore has some amazing hiking trails leading to panoramic views unlike any other.
One of the main accommodations on the North Shore is the Turtle Bay Resort. They invite relaxation and adventure through their championship golf courses, horseback riding, and much more.
The North Shore is the perfect place to escape from bustling city life!
🏨Where To Stay In North Shore, Oahu: Turtle Bay Resort
Best Restaurants On Oahu
Oahu is hands down the best island to visit for the first time if you are a natural-born foodie. Now more than ever, hidden gem restaurants and trendy hot spot restaurants are emerging across the entire island of Oahu.
Oahu’s foodie community is very active and shows locals and visitors the best restaurants on Oahu. With so many restaurants to try on the islands, there are some iconic spots that you cannot miss out on!
🍧Waiola Shave Ice
Shave Ice is an iconic and refreshing treat that beats the heat! Opening all the way back in 1940, the Waiola Shave Ice stand in Honolulu has stood the test of time. It is a true favorite by locals.
Experience the finest shaved ice on the island that melts in your mouth. It also pairs well with their assortment of delicious tropical flavors and toppings.
Waiola Shave Ice is a simple yet unforgettable experience that captures the essence of Hawaii’s culture.
🐟 53 By The Sea
53 by the Sea stands as a premier dining destination in Oahu. They offer breathtaking oceanfront views and unique Pacific Rim cuisine filled with fresh seafood options.
Each dish is a masterpiece with a harmonious blend of Hawaiian traditions and international influences. 53 by the Sea is a sophisticated dining experience that’s perfect for a special occasion like visiting Oahu for the first time.
🍞 Liliha Bakery
Liliha Bakery is a beloved local gem. Moreover, it’s been a cherished part of the Oahu community since its establishment. They are renowned for their delectable pastries and warm atmosphere.
Liliha Bakery also captures the essence of local comfort food with a Hawaiian twist. Famous for its melt-in-your-mouth butter rolls, coco puffs, and an array of scrumptious goods!
Liliha Bakery evokes a sense of nostalgia that you must experience if you’re visiting Oahu for the first time.
Oahu Vs. Maui: Which Is Better?
If you are visiting Hawaii for the first time, choosing between Oahu and Maui can be a difficult choice. In our opinion, it is all up to personal preference since they both offer their own unique charm and experiences.
Oahu is bustling with city life, presenting a nice blend of urban excitement and natural beauty. The island’s historical sites, vibrant activities, and diverse cultures create a great dynamic atmosphere.
On the other hand, Maui possesses a much more laid-back ambiance. They have stunning landscapes like the famous Road to Hana, Haleakala National Park, and Makena Beach (nicknamed “Big Beach).
Oahu appeals to travelers desiring a blend of city life and coastal relaxation. But Maui lures nature enthusiasts with its serene atmosphere and breathtaking landscapes. Ultimately, the decision hinges on whether you crave an urban oasis or a more relaxing escape into nature.
NOTE: Due to the recent wildfires in August 2023, the western side of Maui (Lahaina and Kaanapali) is closed.
Oahu Travel Blog: Discover Oahu
Visiting Oahu For The First Time FAQs
If you are planning on visiting Oahu for the first time, you may be wondering about common travel topics. This could include costs, planning, and weather. In the sections below we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Oahu.
Is Visiting Oahu Expensive?
In general, visiting any of the Hawaiian Islands will be an expensive trip and Oahu is no exception. However, out of all the islands to visit, Oahu is by far the most budget-friendly island.
Since Oahu has the most variety of activities and accommodations, you can fit Oahu into your budget.
Here is an average breakdown of typical travel costs for a 7-day trip to Oahu:
|4-Star Hotel Room (For 2 People)||$2,500|
|Car Rental (Mid-Size Sedan)||$450|
|Regular Meal At A Restaurant (Per Person)||$30|
|Airfare – Round Trip From The US (Per Person)||$300-$600|
The table above is meant to provide a rough cost for a typical trip to Oahu based on our knowledge and is by no means exact. However, just from a quick glance, you can see that the expenses can add up fairly quickly.
How To Save Money When Visiting Oahu?
So if you are looking for ways to save some money on your first time trip to Oahu, here are some of our recommendations:
- Stay at a vacation rental or value hotel:
- Oahu has a lot more budget-friendly accommodations compared to the other Hawaiian Islands.
- Cook your own meals instead of going out to restaurants:
- Although they are rare to find, some hotel accommodations have fully equipped kitchenettes to help you save some money during your trip.
- Rely on public transportation, or at least cut back on your car rental duration:
- You do not need to rent a car if you are exploring downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. Additionally, you can save on parking costs as there are only a handful of hotels that offer free parking.
- However, you should rent a car if you are planning on exploring outside of Honolulu and Waikiki.
Here are also some transportation alternatives to renting a car to help you save on your trip to Oahu:
- Oahu’s bus system (TheBUS) is a great option for getting around if you don’t mind the extra commute time.
- Uber and Lyft are reliable for getting around Honolulu and Waikiki at a reasonable price.
- Oahu has a convenient bike share program (biki) with stations scattered throughout Honolulu and Waikiki.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Oahu?
The best time to visit would be during the off-season months from April-May and September-November. Around these times, there are fewer visitors and the airfares and accommodations are generally more affordable.
Additionally, weather in the cooler months on Oahu is December-May where the temperatures will range from 65°F-80°F (18°C-27°C). The warmer months on Oahu are June-Novermber where the temperatures will range from 70°F-85°F (21°C-29°C).
How Many Days Do I Need When Visiting Oahu For The First Time?
5-7 days is a good amount of time to see everything on Oahu. But this also depends on your pace of travel.
Oahu has so much to do in terms of cultural history and activities, but you also want to leave some time to relax and recharge.
We’ve had our extended family visit us in Oahu for the first time from the mainland US and they had plenty of time to explore the entire island in the 7 days they were here.
Why Should I NOT Visit Oahu?
Oahu is the urban oasis of Hawaii. So if you’re more of a nature enthusiast looking to avoid city life completely, then you may want to check out the other Hawaii destinations.
While Oahu does have its share of scenic and rural spots, the outer islands are specifically known for being more laid-back. They also have so many breathtaking landscapes to explore.
Closing Thoughts: Visiting Oahu For The First Time
Visiting Oahu for the first time is an experience that promises a dynamic blend of culture, natural beauty, and vibrant urban life. Oahu also offers diverse attractions that can cater to a wide range of interests. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an outdoor adventurer, a culture seeker, or simply looking for relaxation.
The island’s warm aloha spirit allows you to immerse in its unique blend of tradition and modernity. This island is definitely worth visiting in 2023!