My top 5 things to do in Oahu, Hawaii
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Editor’s note: The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau helped arrange some of the activities mentioned. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by anyone outside The Points Guy.
Hawaii is back open for business and Americans have figured out, despite onerous testing requirements, how to go. In fact, when I was there back in March, it was mobbed.
Once Hawaii allows visits without testing for vaccinated travelers, it’s likely to get even busier. As I’ve reported, the state is already flooded with visitors and you should plan ahead. Here are a few of my favorite things to do on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Be sure to make reservations way in advance as things sell out early.
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Helicopter tour of Oahu, Hawaii
Price: Rides start as low as $325; renting the whole chopper for the “Oʻahu Circle Island Experience” is just over $2,400.
One of the highlights of my trip was a glorious helicopter tour of Oahu courtesy of Paradise Helicopters. It’s the only chopper tour you can do that goes around the whole island of Oahu. I lucked out and got beautiful, clear weather on the day I went. It had been raining for weeks in Hawaii, so I definitely scored on that front.
Related: Fair warning, Hawaii is packed again
Conditions were even good enough for us to land on top of a mountain overlooking the Kualoa Private Nature Reserve with views of Kualoa, Hakipu’u and Ka’a’awa.
Your journey starts with a bit of a drive as you need to head to the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei.
You’ll takeoff from a not-too-busy airport mostly used by the military and charters. We had an incredible pilot who actually flew President Clinton on Marine One back in the 1990s. The helicopter takes you over Pearl Harbor and the World War II Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri.
Next up? You’ll fly over Honolulu’s busy harbor, over the city’s high-rises and then down Waikiki Beach on the way to a fly-by of Diamond Head.
The chopper also flies over Koko Head Crater and Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach and Makapu‘u Lighthouse.
You’ll fly by Kane‘ohe Bay, over Mo koli‘i, and get a look at the Ka‘a‘awa Valley where they filmed “Jurassic Park” (more on that below).
Kaliuwa‘a or Sacred Falls is only accessible by air, and you should be able to get a nice shot of it.
Related: Hawaii making it easier to visit
It was a fantastic tour that I highly recommend. Despite the high price tag, I’d say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Walking the streets of Waikiki
I got to stay a few nights in Honolulu on my trip to Hawaii, and the Waikiki Beach area is fun and full of life. There are a ton of great places to eat and shop and it’s really a good place to just walk around and people watch.
Related: A review of the Hilton Waikiki
Waikiki is back to pre-pandemic crowding, and it’s tough to find dinner reservations, so plan ahead. Despite how busy it is, the areas around Waikiki Beach are fun to explore, and if your idea of fun is shopping, there’s literally everything you could ever want in Honolulu.
Related: The Outrigger experience on Oahu
North Shore Eco Tours
Price: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (877) 521-4453 for pricing.
North Shore Eco Tours is a Hawaiian-owned tour company on the North Shore far from the crowds of Waikiki Beach. We had a great guide named Keola. All tours meet in front of the Aloha General Store at the North Shore Marketplace, which is about a 30-minute ride from Honolulu.
You get picked up in either an ATV or a bizarre-but-cool four-wheeled side-by-side type of machine called a Pinzgauer. Here’s how North Shore Eco Tours describes it:
“These are true all-terrain vehicles that turn any tour into a full flung “Hawaiian Safari”! Pinzgauers are ideal for touring because they are open-air, high stanced, military-grade vehicles that are quite simply, unstoppable. Experience nature and conquer it in a Pinz!”
They pick you up in the “pinz,” and take you through a private conservation area that’s off-limits to the public.
We got to the top of a hill and then spent a few hours hiking. It was quite an adventure. A series of rainstorms had caused flooding to wash away some of the trails, so we ended up forging our own paths to a swimming hole eventually. Keola was a great guide pointing out natural wonders and even speaking some Hawaiian.
Price: Free, fees for audio and VR tours, $1 nonrefundable program reservation fee for ferry.
No visit to Oahu is complete without a trip to the USS Arizona Memorial. The area was the scene of a catastrophic surprise attack by the Japanese that led to the U.S. entering World War II. In all, 21 ships were damaged or sunk. Two remain at the bottom of the harbor as a memorial to the more than 2,400 people who died. They include the Arizona and the USS Utah.
At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you can learn all about the history and pay tribute to the fallen.
Be aware, it’s a bit of a drive from Honolulu and the ferry boat that takes you from the museum to the actual wreck of the Arizona sells out, so plan ahead. You’ll need to go to recreation.gov, pay a one-dollar reservation fee (nonrefundable), and sign up for a day and time of day for the boat ride.
I was blown away by the emotional pull of the wreck and the memorial. You can still, to this day, see oil spotting that is emerging from the wrecks.
There is a pretty cool “Passport to Pearl Harbor” virtual reality tour you can do while at the historic site that includes a virtual underwater tour of the wreck of the USS Arizona. Audio tours are also available.
Kualoa Private Nature Reserve
Price: Jurassic Adventure Tour starts at $129.95, but there are cheaper options.
Many of the activities I did were totally sold out, including the popular Kualoa Ranch and its Jurassic Valley and other adventure tours on Oahu. Be sure to make advanced reservations if you are planning a trip to Hawaii… no matter which Island you plan to visit.
We did the Jurassic Adventure Tour and it was a blast seeing various movie sets in this gorgeous, green valley. My favorite thing, though, was getting to ride the side-by-sides… what a blast. They call them UTVs or “Ultra Terrain Vehicles.”
Visitors see various movie sites spread out over 1,000 acres. Among the movies shot in this gorgeous valley? “Jurassic Park” (of course), “Lost,” “Hawaii-Five-0” and “50 First Dates.”
Related: 10 reasons to visit Timbers Kauai
They also offer visitors a chance to see where they host the Hakipuʽu Educational Center, which offers local young people a chance to participate in farming, fish-harvesting and other rural work programs.
That’s my Oahu top five attractions. Of course, this is just scratching the surface of all there is to do and see on Oahu. Do yourself a favor, and don’t just stay in Honolulu. There’s plenty to do and explore across the island.
Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy
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