Oahu is Hawaii's most populated and most visited island. Far too many visitors spend their vacation in Waikiki and never explore the rest of the island. There is so much to do on Oahu, that it's hard to make a choice. Here are our picks for some of the top paid attractions and tours on Oahu.
The Atlantis Submarine Tour allows you to glimpse the undersea world right off the coast of Waikiki. It is definitely a worthwhile experience. A really nice part is that it is very convenient, especially if you're within walking distance of the Hilton Pier. It does not require a full day or even a half-day like many other activities. If you schedule you tour early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you have most of the day left to do other things or just relax on the beach at Waikiki.
Those of us who visit Hawaii have one common problem - where to eat. At home we all know the nice restaurants for that special dinner, the local places for good Chinese or Italian food, and even the hole-in-the-walls which we like to think only we know about. When we come to Hawaii we are clueless. Matthew Gray understood this problem very well. As an accomplished chef and food critic for the Honolulu Advertiser, Gray has eaten in almost every restaurant on Oahu. Hawaii Food Tours was born to help people find some of the great places to eat in the Honolulu area. Together with his partner Keira Nagai, Matthew will take you on one of the most fun adventures you've had on any vacation.
I've never had a lot of luck with "cultural" tours in Hawaii. Specifically some I've taken have been chock full of information, but not much fun. Others have been fun but not very informative. Many take themselves much too seriously and in the process lose the interest of their guests very quickly. Neither is the case with Hina Adventures, a small community-based cultural eco-tourism company on Oahu. I had the pleasure of experiencing two of their tours - their Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour and their Star-gazing, Star Legends & Secrets of the Polynesian Navigators tour. I found my two tours with Hina Adventures to be the most satisfying cultural eco-tours I have experienced in Hawaii.
Writing about Hawaii has allowed me to do things that I never would have otherwise done. One thing I hadn't done and was a tad leery about doing was taking a glider ride. Something about being in a plane thousands of feet in the air with no engine worried me. My fears were totally unjustified as I had the time of my life flying with Honolulu Soaring, dba The Original Glider Rides from Dillingham Airfield on O'ahu's North Shore. My strongest memory of my flight, in addition to the great views, is the quiet. Without engine noise all you hear is the wind rushing over and under the glider. It's an experience not to be missed.
Located in Kapi'olani Park on the east end of Waikiki, the Honolulu Zoo is the largest zoo within a radius of 2,300 miles and unique in that it is the only zoo in the United States originating from a King's grant of royal lands to the people. It is too often overlooked by visitors. Located nearby at the shoreline, the Waikiki Aquarium is the third oldest public aquarium in the United States. Exhibits, programs, and research focus on the aquatic life of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific.
Let me say this right away. The 5-hour Kos Hummer Movie/Lost Adventure Tour was the most fun I've ever had in over 13 years writing about the island of Oahu. I admit I'm a huge fan of ABC's hit series Lost and I might not even have signed up for the tour if it didn't include many Lost filming locations. Having taken the tour, however, I'm delighted that I did and it became clear very quickly that you don't need to be a Lost fan to enjoy it, although it certainly helps! The guides are easily the most enthusiastic tour guides I've ever seen in Hawaii. Despite running tours a couple of times a day, they never show any sign of boredom.
The Kualoa Ranch and neighboring Ka'a'awa Valley are situated in one of Oahu's most historic areas on Windward Oahu. The Ka'a'awa Valley is also one of Oahu's most beautiful valleys - still largely untouched by modern development. Exploration of the ranch and Ka'a'awa Valley can only be done by special permit or on one of the tours offered by Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa Ranch offers horseback rides, ATV rides, bus tours and jungle exploration tours of the valley. All tours begin at the Kualoa Visitor Center. If you prefer to snorkel, swim, paddle a Hawaiian canoe, or play volleyball on a private beach "Secret Island" is available also.
Not only is the Paradise Cove Luau the best luau on Oahu, but one of the best I've attended anywhere in Hawaii. It especially impressed me that they are able to accomplish what other Oahu luaus have failed to do, that is host a huge crowd of hundreds of people and do so in a way that you don't feel overwhelmed. The food at Paradise Cove is neither the best nor the worst that I have had at a luau. It is somewhere right in the middle. Considering the large number of guests being fed, they do a good job. The kalua pig was moist and quite good. Paradise Cove's after dinner show is excellent. The show hosts are entertaining, funny and personable. The dancing is professional and well choreographed.
One of my favorite things to do in Hawaii is take a helicopter tour. Until the spring of 2007, I had never flown over Oahu and I was eager to see the North Shore and Windward Coast from the air. While most of the flights originate from the Honolulu International Airport, Paradise Helicopters flies out of the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's North Shore thus allowing more time to see the sites of the North Shore and Windward Coast. Their "Oahu X-TREME" features no doors thus providing the best picture taking opportunity. The helicopter also features window seats for all passengers.
In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is free, there are three paid attractions at Pearl Harbor that are well worthwhile. The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park at Pearl Harbor offers visitors the chance to tour the World War II submarine USS Bowfin and view and submarine-related artifacts on (the) grounds and in the Museum. The USS Missouri or Mighty Mo, as she is often called, is anchored at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor within a ship's length of the USS Arizona Memorial, and offers frequent tours. The Pacific Aviation Museum - Pearl Harbor (PAM) is located on nearby Ford Island. The PAM tells the story of military aviation in the Pacific during World War II.
Visitors to the Hawaiian Island of O'ahu have the unique opportunity to learn about the culture and people of Polynesia, not from books, films or television, but from the actual people who were born and live in the area's major island groups. Founded in 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center or PCC is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of Polynesia and sharing the culture, arts, and crafts of the major island groups to the rest of the world. The Center has been Hawaii's top paid visitor attraction since 1977, according to annual state government surveys.
Few of Oahu's visitors venture to the Leeward Coast. The area is somewhat remote, about an hour's drive from Waikiki even in good traffic. There are two big reasons to make it a part of your visit. First, the Leeward Coast is one of the most beautiful areas of Hawaii. From the far northern end at Yokohama Beach to the Makua and Makaha Valleys, the coast is striking in its sheer natural beauty. The second major reason for driving over to the Leeward Coast is Wild Side Specialty Tours. By choosing Wild Side, you'll have the opportunity to get an ocean view of the majestic coastline and see many of the numerous species of marine life that make the waters between Oahu and Kauai their home under the guidance of expert marine biologists.