What to do on Oahu: The Top 9 Tours and Excursions on the Island
May 15, 2022 / By Nick Wheatley
The island of Oahu, known to the locals as “the Gathering Place,” is Hawaii’s third-largest island. Even though it’s not the largest of Hawaii’s islands, about two-thirds of the state’s population lives here – mainly in the capital city of Honolulu. We lived on Oahu for 2 years and were fortunate enough to experience much of what this beautiful and diverse island has to offer (read our secret insider tips for visiting Oahu here).
The island is comprised of two separate volcanoes, called “shield” volcanoes, which are the Wai’anae and Ko’olau ranges, with a broad valley between the two. Diamond Head crater, rising above world-famous Waikiki Beach, is arguably the most iconic landmark on the island, and Oahu’s North Shore is one of the premier surfing locations on the planet.
There is so much to experience, you can easily get overwhelmed deciding what to do on Oahu. From shark diving to scenic helicopter flights to learning about the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, you’ll be spoiled for choice on this diverse Hawaiian island.
We loved exploring the beaches and hiking trails of the island on our own, but if you’re short on time it’s a great idea to book an excursion on Oahu. To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together our list of the 9 best tours of Oahu – enjoy!
The Best Tours on Oahu, Hawaii
If you want to see all of the island’s highlights in a single day then this is the Oahu tour for you! You’ll begin your full-day tour bright and early on the eastern shores of Oahu, then circle the famous Diamond Head crater, and pass through Kahala, “the Beverly Hills of Hawaii.”
The first stop of the day is Hanauma Bay, Oahu’s best-known snorkeling spot. The crystal clear waters of this marine sanctuary hold a collection of vibrant sea life and coral that will take your breath away.
Your next stop on this extensive tour of Oahu includes Halona Blowhole and the Byodo-in Temple, a beautiful and serene Buddhist temple located on Oahu’s east coast. You’ll also have the opportunity to view the Ko’olau Mountains from the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout – the site where King Kamehameha I fought to unite the islands of Hawaii.
From there, you’re off to Oahu’s North Shore to experience world-famous surf breaks and a visit to Waimea Valley. You’ll complete your Oahu tour with a visit to Oahu’s botanical gardens and a stop at the Dole plantation where you’ll find endless rows of pineapples and expansive fields of sugarcane.
If you prefer a more intimate tour experience then this small-group tour is perfect for you as each group is limited to just 7 people.
You will head out early in the morning to begin your tour of Oahu. Bring your walking shoes and sunscreen, because you are going exploring! As you head out of Honolulu, you will pass by the Kahanamoku Statue in Waikiki and learn about the discovery and history of Oahu as well as some interesting Hawaiian myths and legends.
On your round-the-island journey, you’ll pass by Diamond Head, Koko Head, and Hanauma Bay. You’ll stop at Makapu’u viewing platform where you might be lucky enough to spot a whale. Next, visit Halona Blowhole and Sandy Beach, which is considered one of the best body surfing beaches on the island.
Next on the tour, you’ll stroll through a macadamia nut farm and then stop at the Laie Hawaii Temple. Then, you’ll visit the famous North Shore surfing beaches of Banzai Pipeline, Sunset, and Waimea, where your guide will tell you the tragic tale of Hawaiian big wave surfer Eddie Aikau.
If you want a truly unforgettable experience on your Oahu holiday, then you simply must book onto a helicopter tour around the island. Surely occupying a top spot on every couple’s bucket list, a flight over Oahu is as romantic as it is exhilarating.
We recommend the full 60-minute helicopter tour although shorter flights are available if you’re on a tight budget. With an hour of flight time you will be able to circle the entire island of Oahu – taking in all of the best sights.
You’ll take off from the Honolulu airport before flying over the city and past the iconic Diamond Head Crater. As you continue up Oahu’s windward coast, you’ll have expansive views of the Ko’olau Mountains and Kaneohe Bay.
Turning leeward you’ll fly over Oahu’s famous North Shore – keep an eye out for surfers at Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay far below your helicopter. And then as you begin your trip back you’ll pass over the endless rows of pineapples at the Dole Plantation before making one final loop over Pearl Harbor.
If your looking for a real once in a lifetime tour on Oahu then a helicopter flight is definitely our top recommendation!
Climb aboard a luxury 34-foot, modern cruise vessel, the “Nai’a I“, and experience Hawaiian sea life viewing at its best as you cruise through the Pacific Ocean.
You’ll get up close and personal with spinner dolphins and get the chance to view many other types of vibrant marine life in the waters of Western Oahu. In fact, you’re guaranteed to see Dolphins on your cruise or you’ll get your money back!
December through May is prime whale-watching season, so if you book a tour during these months, you may also enjoy the bonus of viewing humpback whales in addition to the dolphins.
During the cruise, you’ll stop at 2 locations where you can don your snorkel gear and dive in for an epic under-water experience snorkeling among some magnificent coral reefs off the western coast of Oahu. These friendly dolphins frequent the snorkeling sites and, with a little luck, you’ll get the opportunity to swim among them during your snorkel excursion!
Your dolphin watching and snorkeling cruise includes:
- Guaranteed dolphin sightings (or your money back!)
- Whale watching (in season)
- Snorkeling at 2 different sites
- Waikiki pick-up and drop-off
- Snorkel gear
Dare to enter the shark cage for the experience of a lifetime! A scenic boat ride will take you to the deep blue waters of the Pacific to reach the dive spot where you will enter the shark cage anchored off of Oahu’s North Shore.
While submerged for about 20 minutes, you’ll get to see sharks swim right up to the cage! There is no real danger as you’ll likely just be viewing Sandbar Sharks which are harmless to humans. But that’s little comfort when you see a 15-foot shark swim just a few feet in front of your face. Your heart will definitely be racing when you see the first shark come into view. Of all the things we did while we lived on Oahu, this shark diving tour was by far our favorite!
Depending on the season, you may also get a glimpse of Hawaiian green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, or even humpback whales. You’ll definitely want to bring your underwater camera for this epic Oahu tour!
Your North Shore shark dive includes:
- Hotel pick-up and drop-off
- Boat cruise to the dive location spot
- 20-minutes in the shark cage
- Snorkel equipment
Get a truly unique souvenir of your trip to Oahu by taking expert photos with a professional photographer on this fun Oahu tour! You will discover some of Oahu’s best Instagram spots and most photogenic locations.
You’ll visit iconic Oahu locations like the Halona Blowhole and Makapu’u Point Lookout, situated on Oahu’s southeastern tip. Along the way, you’ll enjoy short walks to beautiful locations capturing the stunning colors of Hawaii and taking home photographs to astound your friends and family. Plus you’ll stop for lunch at the scrumptious Ono Steak & Shrimp Shack.
You don’t need an expensive camera to join this tour. Just bring whatever camera you have or even your cell phone to capture the stunning beauty of additional locations such as Waimanalo Beach and Bay, Tantalus Lookout, Pali Lookout, Sandy’s Beach, Lana’I Lookout and Hanauma Bay. Just make sure your batteries are charged, and your memory cards have plenty of storage for this incredible tour!
Your professional photography tour will include the following:
- Waikiki pick-up and drop-off
- A professional photography guide
This comprehensive 6-hour Oahu excursion starts with a pick-up at your hotel in Waikiki and transportation to Pearl Harbor.
At the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center you will relive a bit of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese made their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. You can watch actual film footage of that fateful day in 1941.
Then you will embark on a narrated boat tour around the USS Arizona Memorial. As you cruise around this scenic harbor, your guide will tell you the history of how the US became involved in World War II.
Finally you will visit Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific, Iolani Palace, Kawaiahao Church, and the Statue of King Kamehameha.
Your Pearl Harbor/USS Arizona Tour includes the following:
- Transportation from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor
- Boat ride and narrated tour of the USS Arizona
- Historic driving tour of Honolulu including Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific, Iolani Palace, Kawaiahao Church, and the Statue of King Kamehameha
What better way to enjoy your Hawaiian vacation, while also getting some heart-pumping exercise for the day than to ascend the world-famous Diamond Head crater?
This 3-hour tour includes a hike up Oahu’s most iconic mountain, culminating with a 360-degree view of Waikiki Beach at the summit. The hike itself is about 45 minutes and along the way, your trained nature guide will tell you about Hawaii’s rich history, the formation of this volcanic structure and the various plant and bird species that make Diamond Head
Your Diamond Head hike begins with an introductory talk by a nature expert, with insight into how Diamond Head Crater is used today. There are countless opportunities to stop, take pictures, and catch your breath, both literally and figuratively!
And at the end, you will be presented with an “I Climbed Diamond Head” certificate of achievement, stating that you have successfully made it to the summit of Oahu’s most famous volcanic crater.
Your morning hike up Diamond Head crater will include the following:
- Waikiki pick-up and drop-off
- Entrance fee to Diamond Head State Park
- A professional nature guide
- You’ll even be supplied with a backpack if you need one!