Things to do in Honolulu

Unique Things to Do in Oahu, Hawaii

Discover a secret side of Oahu at these fantastic hidden gems.

Famous for its extraordinary landscapes and stunning beaches, Oahu is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Hawaii. Beyond the top local attractions, including Diamond Head and the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the island is a world of hidden gems and exciting secrets.

When you're ready to get off the beaten path, there are plenty of unique things to do in Honolulu or other cities around this island's capital.

North Shore

The North Shore is a haven for outdoor adventurers. It's renowned for its exceptional surfing and wilderness access. This area is less developed than the island's southern side, allowing uninterrupted views of beautiful beaches.

1. Skydive Hawaii

We can't think of a more exhilarating way to experience Oahu than a trip with Skydive Hawaii. Get a bird's-eye view of the island as you free-fall high above the cliffs and valleys. Don't worry if you're new to skydiving. The company exclusively offers tandem jumps with experienced instructors, so you can relax and enjoy the view.

The flight to the drop zone is as memorable as the dive itself. As you ascend, the ocean and the islands stretch to the horizon. Make your reservations online in advance to get the best deal.

Photographer: Kamil Pietrzak

2. Shark's Cove Snorkeling

Ask a local about the best snorkelling on Oahu, and chances are they'll point you to Shark's Cove. A row of rock ledges form a calm, protected tide pool here. Without disruption from the wind and currents, the visibility is unmatched. It's easy to spend an entire day snorkelling and splashing around.

If you're a confident swimmer, head to the open cove. This is where you'll find sea turtles and the most colorful sea life. Bear in mind, that both areas are safest in the summer, but winter winds can create dangerous conditions. Also, it’s important to be mindful and respectful of the marine life in their natural habitat.

3. Waimea Valley

The Waimea Valley is one of Oahu's most important historical, cultural, and wilderness areas. Ancient Polynesians ran it as an ahupua‘a—a wedge-shaped section of the island with a chief and a system to ensure the community's access to resources. Today, the Hi'ipaka LLC nonprofit owns the valley and keeps it open for visitors.

During your visit, you'll hike up the trail to Waimea Falls, stopping at cultural and historic displays. You'll see a worship site built in the 1400s, visit traditional Hawaiian thatched homes, and walk around traditional agricultural terraces. Wear a swimsuit under your clothes to prepare if the waterfall is open for swimming.

4. Haleiwa Shark Cage Diving

This one's just for thrill-seekers. You'll climb into a cage suspended under the ocean's surface and watch as enormous sharks swim just inches from the bars. The top of the cage is open, so you can easily come up for air. It's an opportunity to see these terrifying predators up close without the danger of unprotected swimming.

The best way to witness these majestic creatures is through Haleiwa Shark Tours. The company is owned and operated by native Hawaiians, who understand and respect the shark's cultural, spiritual, and ecological importance.

It's a great opportunity to experience one of the most unusual things to do in Oahu while honoring the island's heritage.

Southeast Oahu

The southeastern point of Oahu is compact but home to a wealth of activities. Tucked between the busy Honolulu area and the windward coast, it perfectly blends dramatic scenery and visitor-friendly amenities.

5. Koko Crater Trail

Lace up your gym shoes and fill your water bottles for a hike along the Koko Crater Trail. This arduous journey will get your heart beating right out of the gate. More than 1,000 stairs lead from the trailhead to the rim of the crater, covering a distance of about 0.75 mi. one way.

It's not easy, and many visitors opt for the easier hikes nearby. Survive the climb, however, and you'll get a glorious view of the volcanic crater (and a hard-won sense of superiority). There's a reason it's at the top of many locals' bucket lists.

The original Koko Head stairs were actually old wooden railway ties from a World War II-era tramway line. The city replaced the crumbling ties in 2019 with newer, sturdier versions, but the metal rails remain.

Photographer: Photographyprince

6. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

More than 30,000 years ago, lava flowing from the Koko Head volcano created the graceful curves of Hanauma Bay. The pristine, palm-lined beach is now popular for snorkelling and swimming.

In the winter months, you can often spot migrating humpback whales from the trails above the ocean. Not all tourists get to visit Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, as entries are limited to protect the natural ecosystem.

Reserve your spot online two days in advance through the city's Parks and Recreation online system. That ensures you have a time slot to watch the required educational video before entering the park. Restrooms, showers, and food are available on-site.

7. Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail

Get away from the crowds and into nature on the Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail. This is a fantastic, accessible hiking option since the trail is wide and fully paved. But it can be strenuous, so make sure you're prepared with appropriate footwear, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

If you need to catch your breath, stop at the viewpoints and read some of the educational signs. Our performers love to hike this route during the whale migration. Nothing makes a hike more exciting than spotting a leaping humpback in the ocean below.

The summit, which is about one mi. from the parking lot, offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the ocean, the rocky coastal cliffs, and the historic Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse.

Photographer: Cyrill


Busy and energetic Honolulu is the center of tourist life on Oahu. You'll find a huge selection of restaurants, museums, shopping centers, and tour companies among the tall buildings. For the full cultural experience, check out the hula shows in Honolulu.

8. Glass Bottom Boat Tour

A Hawaii Glass Bottom Boat tour is one of the most unique ways to glimpse the marine wonderland off the coast of Honolulu. As advertised, the bottom of the boat is clear, providing a stunning view straight down into the sea. You won't be able to tear your eyes away from reefs, vibrantly colored fish, and the occasional shipwreck.

Glass-bottom boat rides are best in daylight when the sun illuminates the ocean. It's a good idea to book ahead, especially during holidays.

9. Shaved Ice

Shaved ice, or "shave ice," as locals call it, is a beloved Oahu tradition. This sweet treat features shaved ice coated with sweet syrup, fruit purée, and sweetened condensed milk. It originates from the Japanese kakigōri dessert, which came to the islands with Japanese immigrants.

All over the island, adults, and kids gather to chat and enjoy the cool, refreshing confection after dinner and on hot afternoons. In Honolulu, some of the top-rated shave-ice spots include Island Vintage Shave Ice, Lahaina Shave Ice, and Waiola Shave Ice. But why discriminate? Try multiple stands and pick your personal favorite.

10. Visiting the Elvis Statue

Since 2000, the TV Land network has erected statues of famous American performers in various cities. One is located in Honolulu: Elvis, Aloha From Hawaii. Most visitors pass right by this charming monument tucked under some trees next to the Blaisdell Arena.

It commemorates Presley's Aloha From Hawaii concert, the first single-performer concert to be broadcast internationally over satellite TV. If you're a fan of The King, a photo with the statue is one of the most unusual things to do in Honolulu.

Elvis is posed with a guitar and microphone, seemingly in the middle of a song. Make sure to check out his fabulous bell-bottom pants, which are emblazoned with tiny stars.


With its excellent surfing and a two-mile stretch of white sand, Waikiki Beach is world-famous. Floating in the ocean with a view of the city skyline and Diamond Head, it's easy to understand the hype.

This is the ultimate urban beach. Most local hotels are within a short walk, so you never need to worry about parking or traffic. Beyond the beach, there's a wealth of equally convenient hidden-gem activities.

11. Royal Hawaiian Center

A few blocks from the beach, the Royal Hawaiian Center offers multiple levels of shopping and dining. We love to find a seat outside on the second floor.

The Royal Hawaiian Center is more than a shopping center. The Royal Grove stage hosts a lineup of events throughout the week. Take a break to listen to local music, watch a hula performance, or attend a workshop. If you're feeling sluggish after a week of relaxing, check out the on-site fitness classes.

12. Waikiki Historic Trail

Visitors to Waikiki often stick to the beach, but there's so much more to discover. One of our favorites is the Waikiki Historic Trail. Various surfboard-shaped informational signs line the route, providing unique insights about the area's rich past.

The trail starts at Kuhio Beach and travels for two mi. through the Waikiki Area. It's flat and easy to follow, so you can visit with kids and people of all abilities.

Windward Coast

The windward coast of Oahu is home to some of the island's most staggering landscapes. Pristine beaches stretch along the ocean, and jagged, jungle-covered peaks rise high overhead. In some areas, it almost feels like you've walked into Jurassic Park. Look closely to find a few of our favorite Oahu hidden gems.

13. Byodo-In Temple

People driving on Route 83 often miss one of the unique things to do on Oahu—visiting the Byodo-In Temple. Built in 1968, it honors the island's legacy of Japanese immigration. The sloped roof and grand columns seem to rise from the lush forest in a harmonious blend of architecture and nature.

Although the temple is Buddhist, it's not active. Visitors are welcome to worship or explore. Outside the walls, look for the wild peacocks that wander the grounds.

Photographer: hasanerekat

14. Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach is among the most beautiful beaches near Honolulu—and considering the competition, that's saying something. The brilliant white sand and angled palm trees make the perfect background for your vacation photos. Despite its beauty, this beach isn't usually crowded. Parking can be a challenge, which keeps many people away.

We think the walk to the sand is worth the trip. Just remember there's not much shade or amenities, so it's a good idea to pack snacks and an umbrella.

15. Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden

Drive slowly as you approach the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden. The surroundings are so spectacularly lush you'll want to look in every direction at once.

Palm trees and foliage in every imaginable shade of green grow close to the road, giving the impression you're entering a tropical dream world. This might be the most awe-inspiring of all of Oahu's unusual things to do. The garden, with its colorful flowers and manicured lawns, is equally beautiful.

Follow the paths to see tree-covered mountains rising from the forest, reflected in the garden's lake. Many visitors stop here but can continue into the jungle for a peaceful stroll.

Photographer: Darren Lawrence

16. Polynesian Football Hall of Fame

The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, founded by Super Bowl Champions Ma’a Tanuvasa and Jesse Sapolu, is a tribute to the Hawaiian Islands' impact on the NFL. Visitors can explore the galleries and exhibits to learn about famous local coaches and players. It's a must-see for football fans and tourists searching for unusual things to do in Oahu.

You don't have to go far off the beaten path to find the Hall of Fame. It's located in the Polynesian Cultural Center. Allow plenty of time to explore the center's other attractions, including the island villages and the evening luau.

Central Oahu

Looking for a change of pace? If you can drag yourself away from the beach, the central region of Oahu has a fascinating history and gorgeous outdoor activities.

17. Dole Plantation

Discover Oahu's plantation history and learn how pineapples are grown at the fascinating Dole Plantation. This is the perfect activity for visiting with kids, but it's also great for adults.

We love the Pineapple Express train tour, which includes a ride on the plantation's railway and an introduction to the local history. Take the self-guided tour of the eight gardens for a more active visit. The handy Dole Plantation app provides insight into each one.

Once you’ve finished the tour, why not test your directional skills in their massive Pineapple Garden Maze? Conclude your visit by dining at the Plantation Grille, where you can enjoy lunch and a selection of delicious pineapple ice cream desserts. We recommend trying the pineapple float.

18. Wahiawā Botanical Garden

Nearly 100 years ago, Hawaii sugar planters established an arboretum to test out different plants. You can see the results of their experiments at the Wahiawā Botanical Garden.

In addition to a wealth of unique palm trees and tropical flowers, the garden features unusual specimens, such as the Stinking Toe Fruit. Our favorite is the rainbow eucalyptus, which looks like a painter smeared the bark in different colours.

Embracing the Spirit of Aloha Through Unforgettable Experiences

Discovering the secret side of Oahu is a treasure hunt that pays off in memorable adventures that many visitors miss. After a day of exploration, join us to cool off and set your imagination free.

At each performance, our acrobats take you on a surreal journey filled with out-of-this-world acrobatics and storytelling that dares you to dream. Bring a new level of joy and wonder to your Hawaii vacation at our shows in Honolulu.

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