What to do in Oahu

Luau place called Paradise Cove at sun set in Oahu Hawaii

The Hawaiian Island of Oahu is such a phenomenal vacation destination with endless possibilities. In fact, there is so much to do in Oahu that you can easily find yourself overwhelmed while planning your paradise getaway. Therefore, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite “must-dos” that I feel will greatly enhance your experience amid this gorgeous island.

What to do in Oahu?

ATV through Jurassic Park

Okay, it’s not really called Jurassic Park. However, it is where scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed.  The real name is Kualoa Ranch and they offer a multitude of tours via ATV, horseback, bus and more throughout Ka’a’awa Valley.  We opted for the ATV tour because we wanted a fast-paced and exciting way to explore all the beauty in this wondrous place.

During our tour, it felt like I hopped inside the tv screen and became a part of the Jurassic Park world – it was absolutely mind-blowing.  THIS is what I had dreamt of when I had dreamt of Hawaii: the luscious greenery, the mountains surrounding you from every side, the sparkling ocean in the backdrop… it was everything!  I remember having the biggest smile on my face throughout this entire ride (which I believe was 2 hours long).

Even more,  you’re able to get off your ATV in unbelievably scenic areas to take photos and to soak in all the encompassing natural beauty.  We even found some fresh passionfruit along our trail and tried a bite (I wasn’t a fan of the texture but it was still a neat experience to pick a ripe passionfruit where it naturally grows).   You MUST experience this place when in Oahu!

Photos taken by Doug Michaels

What to do in Oahu?

Go Cage-Diving with Sharks

THIS!  This was the most legendary experience I had in Oahu!  We went on our dive with Hawaii Adventure Diving.  The tour began with boarding a rather small (for the open ocean) boat that took us three miles out to sea, hitting HUGE waves and sending us flying in the air along the way.  

Once at the shark den, the captain pulled our boat up to a floating cage surrounded by buoys and told us to jump in!  This is the scariest part of the experience because, when climbing into the cage, there is a gap between the boat and the cage where it is possible (not probable) to fall into the open waters where there are already several sharks circling upon arrival.  Needless to say, we did not fall in (probably because I was more cautious than I’d ever been in my entire life).

 Once in the cage and under the water (in 700 ft. deep waters), all you see is endless blue. It’s insanely surreal and otherworldly! 

And then:

♫ duunnn dunn… duuuunnnn duun….duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn ♫…

BAM! The sharks appear out of the mystical abyss.  At first there were two, then three, then before we knew it there were between eight to twelve sharks circling our cage exuding great curiosity.  The majority of them were Galapagos sharks and between the length of 6 to 10 feet.  

Not only did we get to watch these rad creatures swarm our cage for about an hour, we also had the most magical and hauntingly beautiful experience when we heard humpback whales singing from a distance (while under the water).  We didn’t see them (on this day) BUT holy crap! Just hearing their songs while in their habitat was one of the most profound moments in my life.  I STILL get goosebumps when thinking back on it.  

Even though the water was pretty darn cold and the non-stop rocking of the cage was making me a tad uncomfortable, I could’ve stayed out there all day.  I can’t get enough of wildlife and the connection I feel when in their presence. The main reason I love to move all over the globe: in search of such encounters.  Please, don’t be afraid to try this adventure when you visit Oahu because I promise you – it is SO worth it!  After all, most things you’re afraid of doing are worth it in the end.

Photos taken by Doug Michaels with @GoPro

What to do in Oahu?

Hike in Waimea Valley and Swim in Waimea Falls

If you want to experience the local flora and fauna of Hawaii, this is the place to go!  Not only is it stunning to see, but it’s FUN and CHEAP.  Entrance is only $16 (which is a steal in Hawaii).  

Once there, you can hike throughout the valley and roam the garden that contains one of the best collections of Polynesian and rare Hawaiian plants. Such plants found in the Waimea garden include: hibiscus, bauhinia, araceae, heliconia, bamboo, begonia, ferns and tropical fruit.  

At the valley’s high end rests Waimea Waterfall and a small swimming hole that gives you the chance to cool off after your humid hike through the jungle.   The ONLY downside to this swimming hole and waterfall is that it is life-guarded and thus, guests are forced to wear a life jacket (no matter your swimming abilities and age, etc). You’re not allowed to jump off the rocks into the water either (bummer!).  With that being said, it is still a wonderful spot to swim around and enjoy playing in the Hawaiian nature.  

On top of all that, visit Waimea Valley on a Thursday and you can shop around the weekly Hale’iwa Farmers’ Market at Pikake Pavilion.  We totally lucked out and happened to visit on a Thursday and were soooooo glad we did because this market is the bees knees!  There are so many fresh and delicious food and drink samples to try and incredible artisan crafts to purchase.  We fell in love with coconut macadamia nut butter and bought a giant jar (that we had to finish before leaving Hawaii …and we did, of course! ;-P).

Photos taken by Doug Michaels with @GoPro

What to do in Oahu?

Attend a Luau at Paradise Cove

When in Hawaii, you obviously HAVE to attend a Luau or… why even go to Hawaii?  The luau we attended at Paradise Cove was a complete and utter BLAST!  I had the time of my life that evening / night (the permanent smile on my face said it all).  

Immediately upon arrival, we were greeted with shell leis and a Mai Tai.  Then, we walked around the sweeping beach and found some traditional Polynesian games to play – the games resembled bowling and throwing a javelin at a target (I can’t remember their exact names but they were so fun and I was so awful at them haha!).  

After playing the games, and after grabbing a few more tropical alcoholic drinks, I did some arts and crafts at one of the booths and made a braided flower bracelet (from real plants).  It was super pretty and such a cute idea!

All the while, there were live bands playing on the beach beside the ocean that I would go and dance to in between all the other activities.  Once the sun set (which happened to be BREATH-TAKING that night), Polynesian fire dancers put on a show and the feast began!  Paradise Cove guests walk up to the buffet with an array of Polynesian cuisine: a full pig roast, poi, lomi lomi salmon, sweet potato, fresh pineapple, taro rolls, broccoli surimi salad, stir-fried vegetables and SO.MUCH.MORE!  It was, by far, the most delicious meal I had in all of Oahu.  

Once stuffed to the brim from an immaculate dinner, we watched the hula dancers perform along with many other bands and talents.  After their performances, whoever wanted to learn hula was invited up on the stage – of course, I went up!  I then learned to Hula dance in front of the crowd with the other volunteers and was granted an “official hula dancer certificate” at the end.  

Everything I mentioned above is included in one price and is worth every penny!  I learned so much and gained a rich taste of Polynesian Culture among such beauty, love and laughter.

Photos taken by Doug Michaels

What to do in Oahu?

Take Surf Lessons or Stand-up Paddle Board at Oahu’s North Shore

Oahu’s North Shore is famed for it’s sizable waves. It is a legendary surf mecca where professional and famous surfers from all around the globe come to ride her waves.  With that being said, what better place to learn to surf?  

We woke up early morning (at sunrise) and started our surfing journey with a walk to a nearby cove where the waves were considerably smaller.  Like all surf lessons, we began with learning how to stand on our board on the cove’s beach before hitting the water.  

That morning was one of those times where everything felt right in the world. After surfing and SUP-ing around the cove and over the waves for a few hours, I remember paddling out (past all the other people) and just laying on my board letting the waves take me.  I vividly remember the feelings of tranquility and joy that I felt in that precise moment.  

I travel often, but it’s not often I feel such perfection – such peace with my life and all that is connected to it.  I know people say “there’s no such thing as perfect“..but this morning was, no doubt, PERFECT.  The sunrise was impeccable; The water was pristine; The coral beneath was beautiful; The sea turtles were fascinating and playful; The air was warm but not too hot and I was just ONE with the sea and cove.  Not sure if it’s this place or if it’s just my particular experience, but either way I HAVE to highly recommend doing this after my flawless experience.  

However, I must add: surfing is more work than fun when starting out and I enjoyed myself much more when I was SUP-ing (it came way more naturally to me AND was still fun to ride over the waves with).  

Regardless, North Shore Surf Lessons offers both – they’re the best!

Photos taken by Doug Michaels (and me) with @GoPro

What to do in Oahu?

Take a walk, spot wildlife and drink fresh coconut milk from a roadside fruit stand

This one is pretty much free to do and it’s a wonderful way to explore!  The coconut costs approximately $4 and is amazingly tasty and refreshing.   Other than that, the rest is free.

Personally, we took an evening stroll along the trails near Turtle Bay Resort (where we stayed) and encountered so much more than we had anticipated.  Upon hopping from rock to rock along the shore, I legitimately was one skip away from landing directly on a giant, napping MONK SEAL!  WHAT?!  How does this even happen?  I am so lucky for two different reasons:

1) I did NOT actually step on her.

2) We happened to get this close to such an endangered and enchanting species.

 I immediately backed off a bit as she raised her head and woke from her nap. She proceeded to look out to the surf as Doug and I proceeded to watch her in total awe.   We then noticed that she was watching her two pups playing in the waves (ahhhh, could this moment get any better??).

 After watching these beautiful creatures for a good while, we continued on our walk where we saw a giant Banyan tree (which was featured in the TV show “Lost”), several blow holes and even found a fruit stand nearby where we bought our $4 coconuts and drank their milk from a straw.  At this fruit stand (near Turtle Bay Resort), the owners had a baby boar as a pet and I got to hold him and love on him. He was the CUTEST little guy EVER! (Yes, I’m aware they’re probably going to eat him when he grows up but I don’t like to believe that story).  

After ALL of this excitement, we found a private spot at the end of a little peninsula to watch the sun set together.   This all made for an amazing time and it was so effortless: just get out and explore, with your eyes and heart open to whatever comes your way!

Photos taken by Doug Michaels with @GoPro

What to do in Oahu?

Tour the Western Coast via Catamaran (and jump off said catamaran)

Board a private catamaran charter (or do a group one – but, that’s not guaranteed the same freedom) at Ko Olina Marina along Oahu’s west coast.  Set sail at sunrise to see the scenery in her prime and to have the best chances of spotting dolphins and whales (we saw both and it was my first time seeing humpback whales in real life … before my trip to Iceland).  

After touring the mountainous coastline and seeing all the wildlife, our catamaran anchored down in a nearby cove allowing us to jump into the waters to snorkel, swim and even kayak all around.  They also provided us with a complimentary lunch and beverages.

My favorite part of the whole catamaran excursion was jumping off the top deck into the ocean. It’s not very high but it’s damn FUN!  

Undoubtedly, I LOVED just spending the whole morning into the afternoon on this boat: making new friends with the locals and getting a tan, creating memories to last a lifetime!  

Furthermore, I definitely recommend touring the west coast due to the weather: it rains much less here and is home to many off-the-beaten-path beaches.  It’s the perfect way to see the GORGEOUS, MOUNTAINOUS COASTLINE of Oahu.  The only other way to get these incredible views is by air.

Photos taken by Doug Michaels with @GoPro

What to do in Oahu?

Hike the “Stairway to Heaven”

This epically scenic hike was on our to-do list when initially planning our adventure in Oahu. However, once we arrived, we read and learned that it is apparently illegal to hike these steps due to liability issues and land access problems (it’s pretty unsafe).  

With that being said, I did see many people complete this hike and take photos and videos of their experience doing so. Therefore, is it truly illegal?  I’m seriously confused and, unfortunately, do not have the definitive answer.  

Either way, I urge all you daring, risk-takers to take this hike as well!  I’m sure it’s worth the slap on the wrist you’ll receive IF you get caught.   Just be careful, that is all!  😉

What to do in Oahu?

Honorable mentions:

Visit Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial Tour.

Jump off Laie Point (in the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)

Hike to Nuuanu Pali Lookout.

Take a look at our unforgettable Oahu adventure in this video shot 100% on GoPro.

We seriously had non-stop FUN exploring this beautiful island! Hope you do as well 🙂

Enjoy this post? Feel free to pin it!

As always,

Thank you so much for reading + watching and happy travels!

Mindy

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