It’s hardly a visit to Oahu, Hawaii if you haven’t wandered the cosmopolitan streets of Waikiki, admired the outline of Diamond Head in the distance, or contemplated our nation’s history at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. And while all of these must-see Oahu attractions are popular for good reason, there’s also something to be said about the less-touristed sites on the island. From quieter white sand beaches far from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki to trails that meander along the scenic coastline, there is so much more to Oahu than what can be seen in the downtown Honolulu and Waikiki areas. Venture beyond the city’s limits to see some of the top 5 Oahu off-the-beaten-path attractions, where you’ll quickly fall in love with the more authentic side of Hawaii!
On the opposite side of the island than Waikiki and Honolulu, Oahu’s North Shore offers a completely different vibe. Here, Oahu’s surf culture is apparent in small surf towns and beaches that are known the world over for their perfect surfing waves. Especially during the winter months when the swell here is world-class, surfers flock from all over to participate in big wave surfing competitions. Whether you’re watching the action from the shoreline in the winter or enjoying a swim during the calmer summer months, North Shore beaches such as Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach are well worth a visit. The nearby town of Haleiwa offers surf shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants in a charming, laid-back setting.
Situated between the surf town of Haleiwa and the surf beaches of Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay, Laniakea Beach is often overlooked on the way from one site to another. This beautiful stretch of coastline is one of the best spots on Oahu to observe giant green sea turtles (honu) basking in the sand, earning it the nickname Turtle Beach. While Hawaii law mandates that you keep a distance between yourself and sea turtles, even observing them from a few meters away reveals the size and beauty of these treasured sea creatures. Laniakea Beach is one of the best things to do in Oahu and the ideal location for capturing those sea turtle photos!
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
Oahu is an island of contrasts, with both big-city skyscrapers and remote, rugged trails. If you’ve brought along your hiking shoes, one of the most beautiful trails to embark on is the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, tucked along with the island’s easternmost point. At only 2 miles roundtrip, this trail delivers big in views while at the same time not requiring an entire day to conquer. Soak in views of the coastline, Koko Head, Koko Crater, and the Makapu’u Lighthouse as you make your way down the trail, part of which hugs the edge of a seaside cliff. With little shade along the route, be sure to bring a hat, plenty of water, and a camera to capture stunning views of the historic lighthouse and vast rugged coastline.
Ko Olina Lagoons
Along the island’s southwestern coastline lies a string of four picture-perfect beaches all strung together by a paved oceanfront path. The Ko Olina Lagoons offer a luxurious beach experience with upscale shops and restaurants located nearby. Lagoon 4 offers ample parking, while Lagoons 1-3 are most frequently used by guests at the highly desirable Ko Olina vacation rentals. With rock barriers that protect these beaches from larger ocean waves, the Ko Olina Lagoons are ideal for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and snorkeling. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the paved paths or simply soak up the ambiance of these picture-perfect crescent white sand beaches!
Oahu’s population and popularity as a beach destination mean that you’ll be sharing the beach with other beachgoers more often than not. But if you do desire a chance at securing an entire beach to yourself, Yokohama Bay is your best bet. Also known as Keawa’ula Beach, this stunning stretch of shoreline requires some effort to reach but is well worth the trek. Situated at the far northern end of Farrington Highway on the island’s west coast, you’ll find Yokohama Bay just before the road dead-ends into Ka’ena Point State Park, which marks the furthest you can drive along this rugged shoreline. The beach itself is a wide swath of golden sand with a dramatic mountain backdrop, and there’s no development to mar the scene as far as the eye can see. There are no amenities here, and its untouched nature is what gives it appeal. Bring along everything you’ll need for a day of fun and the sun, and be sure to stay for sunset, which is particularly magnificent from this west-facing beach.