What Is Oahu Known For? 13 Things You Didn’t Know

If you’re looking for an island escape with rich culture and fascinating history, look no further than Oahu.

As the most popular island in the Hawaiian archipelago and with Honolulu as the state’s capital, Oahu is home to more than a few landmarks, hidden gems, and famous attractions.

There’s so much more than just stunning beaches and palm trees; from historic WWII landmarks to volcanic landscapes and everything in between, there’s never a shortage of things to do on Oahu.

To help you plan your trip and make the most of your time on this amazing island, check out this list of 13 things Oahu is famous for and why it’s one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

What is Oahu Known For?

The most famous landmarks Oahu is known for is Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head State Monument, and Pearl Harbor.

If your time is limited on the island, these spots are a must-visit!


1. Waikiki Beach

Of course, we have to start with the most famous stretch of sand on the island, Waikiki Beach!

World-renowned for its gentle waves and beautiful sand, visitors from all over the world come here to sunbathe, swim or just enjoy a day by the water.

Dotted with high-rise hotels and resorts, it’s the perfect place to people-watch and enjoy incredible views.

If you’re looking for a bite to eat or a place to drink, there are plenty of restaurants and bars lining the beach.

And if you want to shop, you can find everything from high-end fashion stores to local souvenir shops.

Don’t miss out on a chance to catch some waves – Waikiki is also one of the best places on the island for surfing!

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head
Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head

2. Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was one of the most significant events in American history.

The surprise attack by the Japanese navy led to the United States’ involvement in World War II, and ultimately led to the defeat of the Axis Powers.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the attack, and the United States’ Pacific Fleet was devastated.

The impact of Pearl Harbor is still felt today, and the memory of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten.

No trip to Oahu would be complete without visiting Pearl Harbor; it’s a great way to remember the victims of the December 7th attack and learn about a wealth of information on Pearl Harbor’s role in WWII.

3. Diamond Head

Instantly recognizable in photos, Oahu’s most famous landmark is Diamond Head, the volcanic crater that dominates the southern shoreline.

This crater was formed over 300,000 years ago and is one of Oahu’s must-see attractions; there are a few different ways to take in the views.

You can hike to the summit for panoramic views of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, or take a guided tour of the crater itself.

Either way, make sure to bring your camera – the views from Diamond Head are truly stunning!

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4. Oahu’s North Shore

Oahu’s North Shore is a must-visit for any nature lover. This part of the island is famous for its dramatic coastline, lush rainforests, and beautiful beaches.

And of course, no trip to the North Shore would be complete without catching some waves at one of the world-famous surf breaks!

There are lots of surf shops along this part of town and it’s easy to snag a professional for some lessons.

If that’s not your thing, you can watch pro surfers and enjoy the ocean views instead.

The North Shore is also home to the iconic Turtle Bay Resort, which offers golfing, horseback riding, and other activities.

Polynesian Cultural Center Luau Hawaii USA
Photo by Polynesian Cultural Center

5. Authentic Luaus

If you’re looking for the quintessential Hawaiian experience, a luau is a must. These festive gatherings are traditionally held to celebrate special occasions, and they feature a feast of traditional Hawaiian dishes.

Of course, no luau would be complete without a performance of the hula, Hawaii’s iconic dance!

While luaus are now popular tourist attractions, they remain an important part of Hawaiian culture.

If you’re lucky enough to attend one, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience. Just be sure to leave room for dessert!

6. Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a secluded bay surrounded by cliffs and is home to an abundance of marine life, including vibrant tropical fish and coral reefs.

A snorkeler’s paradise, the bay is accessible by a short walk from the parking lot.

Be sure to arrive early to avoid the crowds, and don’t forget your sunscreen – there’s not much shade at Hanauma Bay!

7. Kualoa Ranch

If you’re looking for a piece of paradise on earth, look no further than Kualoa Ranch.

This stunning ranch is famous for its lush green pastures, dramatic mountain views, and clear blue skies.

It’s no wonder that Kualoa has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows, including Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-0. See all the famous filming locations with this movie tour!

And if you’re looking for a little adventure, join an ATV tour through the Ka’a’awa Valley.

Kualoa Ranch entrance sign hawaii
Kualoa Ranch entrance sign hawaii

8. Iolani Palace

Built in 1882, Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaii’s last two monarchs, King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani.

The only royal palace in the United States, this historic landmark is open to the public for tours and cultural programs.

It also serves as a venue for special events such as banquets or receptions hosted by visiting heads-of-state or dignitaries who visit Oahu.

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9. Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center is located on the north shore of Oahu, and it’s a great place to spend a day if you’re looking for something educational and fun.

The center is made up of six different villages, each representing a different Pacific Island nation.

Here you can see traditional dance performances, participate in interactive exhibits, and even learn how to hula!

In addition to the villages, the Polynesian Cultural Center also has an auditorium where you can see live shows. The center’s signature show is called “Hā Breath of Life,” and it tells a heart-melting story through dance and music.

10. Byodo-In Temple

This stunning temple is located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park and is modeled after a 900-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan.

Considered one of the most beautiful temples in Hawaii, it features a beautiful pond with koi fish, and the grounds are meticulously landscaped with Japanese gardens.

Inside the temple, there is a large statue of Amida Buddha, where you can offer prayers and meditate.

Byodo-In is open to the public for self-guided tours, and visitors can also ring the temple bell and take part in traditional Buddhist ceremonies.

Byodo-In Temple
Photo by Byodo-In Temple

11. Shark Diving

Oahu is well-known for its stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters. But there’s another reason why this Hawaiian island is so popular: shark diving.

Yes, that’s right, Oahu is home to some of the best shark diving in the world. There’s nothing like a close encounter with a Great White to get the heart racing – just kidding!

While these predators of the sea can be seen in the waters around Hawaii during the cooler months, Oahu is also home to less aggressive species of sharks, making it the safest place to dive compared to the other Hawaiian islands.

In addition, the island’s crystal clear waters offer visibility that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

So if you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping dive, Oahu is the perfect destination for you.

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12. Lanikai Pillbox Hike

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu. The reason? It’s short (only about 1.7 miles round trip) and the views are incredible.

You’ll hike to two abandoned World War II bunkers with sweeping views of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands.

The hike starts on Kaelepulu Dr near Mid-Pacific Country Club. From here, you’ll follow a short but steep path up to the first bunker. The second bunker is just a short distance away, and then it’s all downhill from there.

While the hike is short, it is somewhat challenging. There are a few steep sections, and the trail can be slippery when wet. But the views are more than worth it!

Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water.

13. Swimming with Turtles

Hawaii is known for the abundance of sea life and Oahu is one of the best places to swim with turtles.

There are five species of turtles that can be found here: the green sea turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the olive ridley turtle, the loggerhead turtle, and the leatherback turtle.

These gentle giants are a joy to watch as they glide through the water and it’s a magical experience that can only be had in a few select places in the world.

Keep in mind that turtles are protected by law and it is illegal to touch them in any way. So, enjoy them from a distance and don’t forget to take plenty of pictures!