Skip to content

14 Local Things To Do In Oahu (Beyond Waikiki Beach)

By Marcie Cheung. This guide to local things to do in Oahu includes affiliate links to trusted partners!

One of my favorite places to travel in the United States is Hawaii. In fact, I’ve visited more than 35 times since I was a kid and we keep going back year after year.

As soon as I hear that someone has just come back from an Oahu vacation, I always ask where they stayed and what they did on their trip. So many of them don’t really leave Waikiki — a touristy Honolulu neighborhood on the south shore of Oahu known for its high-rises and surf beach — and it’s heartbreaking.

They are missing out on some of the best Oahu experiences!

So, I thought I’d highlight some of the little known Oahu attractions and activities that first-timers might not know about. There are so many unique and unusual things to do in Oahu if you go beyond the typical things to do in Waikiki and and Honolulu (though you can find a non touristy things to do in Honolulu if you look hard enough).

These ideas are aimed to help visitors get a more authentic Hawaii experience by showcasing some unique local things to do in Oahu to get people away from their resort and out exploring this amazing Hawaiian island!

Moreover, these unique Oahu experiences can be enjoyed by groups as well as those traveling solo to Hawaii. These local things to do in Honolulu and a few off the beaten path Oahu locations will take you on a trip you’ll never forget, no matter who you’re traveling with!

⏳Short on time? Here are some quick tips for visiting Oahu:

✈️ Airport Transfer: Book your transfer here

🚘 Car Rental: Discover Cars (save up to 70%!)

💸 Save Money: The Go City: Oahu All-Inclusive Pass gets you access to 40+ local attractions and tours for one low price

🏨 Accommodation: This accommodation map shows a mix of hotels and vacation rentals with prices. It’s currently set to the North Shore, but you can easily change it to your preferred neighborhood.

🎉 Experiences: You can see a list of guided Oahu tours here. A few top picks include:
Ultimate Circle Island Adventure with Waimea Waterfall
Turtle Canyon Catamaran Snorkel Cruise (Honolulu)
Pearl Harbor: USS Arizona Memorial & USS Missouri Battleship Tour (Waikiki)

Safety: While Oahu is safe, it’s still smart to pack travel safety essentials. One top pick is the She’s Birdie Personal Safety Alarm, which is TSA-approved and can help scare away potential attackers. Other recommendations include Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments and Speakeasy Travel Supply Hidden Pocket Scarves.

🏥 Travel Insurance: SafetyWing

📞 Staying Connected: Airalo eSIM

14 Local Things To Do In Oahu (Beyond Waikiki Beach)

1. Explore The Arts Scene In Kaka’ako

Located between Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Center is Kaka’ako. This is an up-and-coming neighborhood that has a killer local brewery scene, hipster coffee shops and trendy boutiques.

But, the big reason to head here is for their incredible street art.

Local Things To Do In Oahu
An artist painting a mural in Kaka’ako. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / AJ Feducia

Each February, there’s a big event called Pow! Wow! Hawaii where more than 100 international and local artists head to Kaka’ako to paint murals all over the neighborhood. And then they stay up the rest of the year for the public to admire.

While there are lots and lots of murals all over the neighborhood, you’ll want to head to Lana Lane. This is a functioning artist collective featuring artists like Simone Legno, co-founder and artist of Tokidoki.

This is where you want to go to find cool Oahu Instagram walls or just stroll around while sipping coffee.

No local’s guide to Oahu would be complete without mentioning this creative and unforgettable experience as it’s one of the most unique things to do in Honolulu.

2. Learn How To Make A Haku Lei

One of my favorite things to explore in Hawaii is its incredible culture.

While you can learn how to string a lei at most Oahu resorts, a more local experience is to learn how to make your own haku lei.

favorite things in oahu
Lei making. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman / @hbgoodie

Haku leis — those gorgeous Hawaiian flower crowns — are all over Instagram these days. They give any outfit the “wow” factor. But, they are tricky to make.

That’s why I suggest booking an Airbnb Experience with a local who can teach you exactly how to make a haku lei or lei po’o.

While you are working, you can “talk story” and learn a bit more about Hawaiian culture and the history of lei making.

Insider tip:

Keep your haku lei in the fridge or a cooler to extend it’s life!

3. Swim At Kapena Falls

Oahu has a ton of incredible waterfall hikes, which is what makes it one of the best islands to visit in Hawaii. The most popular ones are Manoa Falls and Waimea Falls.

But, if you want to avoid the masses or are looking for non tourist things to do in Oahu, head for Kapena Falls. It’s about a half-mile hike, but it’s all in the shade. At the end of the hike, you’ll see a little waterfall with a pool that is perfect for swimming.

What makes it a unique thing to do on Oahu is that it’s also a great opportunity to see ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs. These are pictures — kind of like Egyptian Hieroglyphs — that tell a story or mark historic events.

At Kapena Falls, the petroglyphs are about the myth of Kaupe, who was half man and half dog. According to legend, he lives in the area.

Because of this, it’s also a sacred area. So, remember to be respectful.

4. Check Out A Farm Tour

For decades, Hawaii has imported about 90% of its food. Not only is that expensive, but it’s also a bit scary when you realize Hawaii has natural disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes.

That’s why Oahu’s local food movement has really taken off in the past few years.

While you can taste locally grown food at Hawaii grocery stores or farmer’s’ markets, you can also get the full experience at a Hawaii farm.

learn about oahu on a farm tour
Oahu farm. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / John Hook

Kahumana Organic Farm and Cafe is located in Waianae and they offer 45-60 minute public guided tours of their property. Their food is so delicious that they sell their produce to Roy’s and Monkeypod Kitchen.

Bonus:

They are a nonprofit that is dedicated to aiding, supporting, and improving the lives of locals in need.

Another option is Full Circle Farm in Waimanalo, which offers cooking demonstrations and farm-to-table dining.

5. Get Authentic Shave Ice

If you want to experience Oahu like a local, you have to eat like a local! The most popular Hawaii treat is shave ice and you can find shave ice spots all over Oahu.

However, many of them — like Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa — have long, long lines full of tourists from opening until close.

shave ice on oahu island in hawaii
Assortment of shave ice. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

If you want to go where locals go, head to Shimazu Store in Honolulu. Here, you’ll find more than 70 different shave ice flavors from tropical fruit like lilikoi and mango to unique flavors like red velvet cake and latte. 

Over on the north shore, Aoki’s Shave Ice is another good option for avoiding a long wait. Plus, they even offer shave ice shakes!

6. Learn About WWII (Without Going To Pearl Harbor)

Pearl Harbor is one of the top Oahu attractions. It’s also one of the most crowded. But, that doesn’t mean it’s the only place to learn about Pearl Harbor and World War II.

The Tropic Lightning Museum is located in the Schofield Barracks and holds a staggering collection of memorabilia from the 25th Infantry Division, which was not only in Hawaii during WWII but also Korea and Vietnam.

You can explore the barracks to get an idea of the conditions the soldiers lived in after Pearl Harbor, check out the Wheeler Airfield Gallery, and more.

Another WWII site worth visiting is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located in Honolulu, where you can wander down “memorial path” to pay your respects.

7. Get Grocery Store Poke

While poke has taken the Mainland by storm the past few years, it all started in Hawaii.

It’s basically chopped up raw fish — usually Ahi tuna, salmon, or octopus — that is marinated and topped with seasoning.

hawaiian poke
Fresh ahi poke. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

While there are tons of cute, Insta-worthy poke places on Oahu — like Hula Grill and Heavenly — that’s not really where the locals go.

In fact, you might be surprised to find that some of the best poke on Oahu is actually found at grocery stores!

Foodland is one of the top places locals go for poke that will knock your socks off. You can pick up a tub at the deli and then eat it with rice, with chips, or all by itself.

Costco is another great place to get fresh poke. They have a variety of options and you can’t beat the price!

8. See Authentic Hula (And Skip The Luau)

While there are some very good non-touristy luaus on Oahu — Toa Luau is a personal favorite — most Oahu luaus are all about the watery mai tais and Dad jokes.

Hula is so much more than what you see in most luaus.

oahu and honolulu beyond waikiki
Hula group waiting to perform. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds

Instead, opt to see a performance by a local halau (hula school) like Halau Hula No’eau.

They are committed to promoting the art of hula. For these dancers, hula is a spiritual experience and a way of life. They perform all over Oahu for special events.

Another option is the Kuhio Beach Hula Show.

Rotating local halau come to perform several nights a week at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound. This free show starts with a torch lighting ceremony and is perfect for doing Hawaii on a budget.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of local culture, here are some useful Hawaiian words and phrases to learn before your trip. Learning a few of these phrases is a beautiful way to understand, respect, and celebrate Hawaii’s people, places, and history.

9. Try Coco Puffs At Liliha Bakery

While Hawaii has some pretty outstanding baked goods, like the malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery, Oahu locals drool over the Coco Puffs at Liliha Bakery.

Liliha Bakery is a full-fledged coffee shop/diner with three locations around Oahu. But, it’s their Coco Puffs that really put them on the map.

These cold Hawaiian cream puff pastries are filled with chocolate pudding and topped with a buttery macadamia nut Chantilly frosting.

While you are there, you can also try out their new green tea cream puff.

10. Eat An Authentic Hawaiian Plate Lunch

Don’t go to Hawaii without tasting real Hawaiian food.

And by Hawaiian food, I mean the amazing melting pot of flavors inspired by Japan, China, Korea, and all over the world.

tour and hike oahu beyond waikiki beach
Hawaiian food plate lunch of kalua pork and lau lau. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Hawaiian-style plate lunch usually consists of a meat entree, two scoops of rice, and one scoop of macaroni salad.

This is where you can try kalua pork, kalbi ribs, mochiko chicken, lau lau, katsu curry, beef stew, and so many other flavorful options.

Some of the best places to find plate lunch are at Oahu local spots like the Rainbow Drive-In and Yama’s Fish Market. Or grab one from the Hawaii chain restaurant L&L Hawaiian BBQ.

And don’t forget to grab a Spam musubi, which is sort of like a Spam sushi roll, for an after-lunch snack! It’s one of the best non touristy things to do in Oahu because it’s something that the locals really love to do!

11. Do The Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Ditch the tourists that head straight for a morning hike at Diamond Head, which is always at the top of “what to do in Oahu” lists and therefore always crowded. Instead, drive up to Lanikai Pillbox near Lanikai Beach for one of the best sunrise hikes on Oahu. 

The Lanikai Pillbox trail got its name because of all the WWII pillboxes along the trail. These were mass-produced during the war but now they are used as pit stops.

At Lanikai, there are two pillboxes. The first one is the easiest to get to and the second one requires a bit more climbing.

This Oahu hiking trail is also one of the best ways to see “The Mokes” which are the two islands of the coast of Kailua. And you’ll get views of the turquoise blue water.

This easy hike doesn’t take much time and it’s a great photo op. Plus, you can head straight to Lanikai Beach after for a refreshing swim.

12. Shop At Hawaiian Boutiques

It’s always fun to discover local brands when shopping in Hawaii.

Ala Moana Center is close to Waikiki and it’s the largest outdoor shopping mall in the world. They have a great mix of local and international brands.

shopping on oahu is one of my favorite things
Small Haleiwa boutique on the North Shore. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

But, some of the best shops on Oahu are off the beaten path.

Jana Lam is an awesome local designer who creates stylish and colorful accessories.

They do pop-up events all over the island and some of their items are available online. She also has some fabulous hand-drawn coloring sheets with her unique designs.

Oh, and forget the tacky Magnum P-I Aloha shirts that you’ll find at ABC Stores and souvenir stands.

Instead, head to Manuheali’i in Honolulu or Kailua. This is where local musicians and TV personalities go to find contemporary Aloha wear. They have clothing for men, women, and children in lots of different prints.

And if you are looking for cute swimwear, make sure to pick up a Kaikini bikini!

Not only do they have some gorgeous pre-made bikinis, but you can also order a custom bikini. These are so cute and comfortable that you can even wear the bikini tops as bralettes.

13. Taste Poi Mochi

One of the most traditional Hawaiian foods is poi. It’s a brownish-purple paste made from steamed taro root that has been mashed and fermented.

Usually, people eat it alongside fish or meat and it’s a pretty delicious combination, if you know what you’re doing.

However, it can also be used in Hawaiian treats. One of the best Hawaiian desserts is poi mochi.

The mochi is deep-fried in little balls and it’s usually served on a stick. It’s chewy and not overly sweet, but you won’t be able to stop eating it.

Swinging by Uncle Lani’s Poi Mochi or Kamehameha Bakery to grab some poi mochi is definitely one of the local things to do in Oahu that you won’t regret.

14. See A Sunset At Ko Olina

While Hawaii may be known for its stunning sunrises, the sunsets aren’t too shabby either.

Head to Ko Olina on the West side of Oahu for an awesome sunset view.

enjoy hanauma bay, oahu sunsets, and the farmer's market
Couple enjoying a sunset in Hawaii. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

This is where you’ll find four little lagoons that are great spots to enjoy an Oahu sunset.

I suggest picking up some plate lunches to take with you to the beach and then grabbing some shave ice on the way back for one of the best experiences in Oahu.

Oahu is so much more than tourist traps and crowded beaches. Get out of Waikiki and get a true taste of island life for an incredible Hawaii vacation!

Top Oahu Tours

No trip to Oahu would be complete without booking at least one guided tour, which is a great way to immerse yourself in the destination. Check out these fun tours in Oahu:

➡️ Click here for a full list of Oahu tours!

Hotels in Oahu

Looking for Upstate New York accommodation?

➡️ Click here for a list of Oahu hotels!

Prefer self-contained stays? 

➡️ Click here to check out unique local rentals or check out the map below! It’s currently set to the North Shore neighborhood, but you can easily change it to your preferred base:

Hawaii Travel Insurance

When visiting Hawaii — or anywhere else in the world — make sure to get travel insurance.

In my opinion, the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country.

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

Click my referral link here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

Unique Things To Do in Oahu FAQs

Q) What do locals do in Oahu?

You won’t find the locals in Oahu during many of the touristy activities, like swimming at Waikiki Beach or touring Pearl Harbor. To do as the locals do in Oahu, you’ll want to grab some poke at the grocery store or a Hawaiian lunch plate, and catch sunset at the Lanikai Pillbox Hike.

Q) Is Oahu super touristy?

Oahu receives over 4.5 million tourists annually. However, most tend to stay within their resorts and do few local activities. If you want to escape the crowds, trade Diamond Head Hike for Lanikai Pillbox Hike and the more popular waterfalls for Kapena Waterfall.

Q) What are the best local things to do in Oahu?

Trying out the local cuisine is a must, with poke bowls from the grocery store, traditional Hawaiian lunch plates, and coco puffs. The hike to Kapena Waterfall is also lovely and learning about authentic hula is a must!

Enjoyed this post on local Oahu experiences? Pin it for later!

About Marcie Cheung

Marcie is the founder of the travel blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids. She is passionate about inspiring other people to explore Hawaii solo or with friends and family.

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

I'm a conscious solo traveler on a mission to take you beyond the guidebook to inspire you to live your best life through travel. Come join me!

Blogging Courses

Want to live your best life through travel?

Subscribe for FREE access to my library of fun blogging worksheets and learn how to get paid to travel more!

.

7 Comments

  1. Katherine on at 7:32 pm

    I love a good local farm tour (I wonder if that’s a side affect from growing up on a farm). Anyway, there are heaps of things on this list that I want to tick off one day. For now we’ve only visited Maui, but I wouldn’t mind visiting the big island as well!

  2. Nichole on at 8:08 pm

    My sister is moving here, so I shared this with her! I cannot wait to visit Oahu!

    • Brenda on at 3:40 pm

      Do you have a similar article on Maui? We are visiting there.

  3. Taylor on at 9:17 pm

    Oahu looks amazing! I am hoping to get to Hawaii sometime this fall. It’s been on my bucket list for a while. Also, all of the food looks amazing! 🙂

  4. Mahea Hanawahine on at 1:21 pm

    When visiting Hawaii please be respectful of our land (aina) and wild life animals. Don’t litter and especially do not touch the animals you may see resting on the beaches. If visiting the Big Island, do not take anything from the land. Like lava rocks or the black sand from the beaches. It is very sacred to our goddess Pele who to this day is still very much active.. Just wanted to share some helpful tips to first time visitors. Mahalo

  5. M.H. Bolson on at 1:54 pm

    If you feel you must share these travel tips, please also include information about traffic and parking restrictions, and caution visitors about the impacts on both humans and animals and the environment. Due to ongoing roadwork, there is NO PARKING allowed on the streets in Lanikai M-F through December. The hundreds of tourists and locals walking, running and biking on the one-way roads every day contributes to traffic jams that have quadrupled travel time in and out of this little residential community. Please encourage respect and courtesy for private and public property and each other! Mahalo nui!

  6. Carl Uhlman on at 12:34 pm

    WW2 museum and breweum are permanently closed, and relocated to Colorado.

Leave a Comment