If you’re escaping to the tropics this winter, make the most of a trip to Hawaii’s capital with this can’t-miss activities roundup. Check out some off-the-beaten-path happenings, but don’t miss the features that make Oahu one of the most exceptional winter tourist destinations in the country.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Swim with the fish at Hanauma Bay, a nature preserve about 25 minutes east of Honolulu. Under strict protection, the conservation area is committed to safeguarding its pristine marine ecosystem, requiring first-time visitors to watch a nine-minute video before entering the park. Know before you go: the bay is closed on Tuesdays, and though reservations aren’t required, we suggest you get there early!
Sea Turtles at Laniakea Beach
Try your luck at spotting an endangered Hawaiian Honu, or a green sea turtle. They’re known to swim in the water by this beach and even haul up onto the beach to sunbathe in the afternoons. When the turtles do make land, volunteers rope off the turtles to protect them. Just watch out for traffic and parking issues on weekends.
Shangri La Museum
Built as the American home of heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke and inspired by her travels through Morocco and the Middle East, the Shangri La is currently a museum for Islamic arts and cultures. Tour the stunning estate, complete with mosaics, fountains, and an ocean view, every Wednesday through Saturday originating at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Hike to a Waterfall
Stop to smell the roses (or other jungle plants like Guava) as you make your way through the dense greenery where some of the Jurassic Park scenes were shot on your way to Manoa Falls. Or, if you want the chance to swim beneath a waterfall, check out Waimea Valley, which even has life guards, life vests, and changing rooms.
Hula Show at Kuhio Beach
See a free hula show every Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday night at Waikiki’s Kuhio Beach, featuring authentic Hawaiian music and a torch lighting ceremony. Bring a blanket and some snacks and spread out on the lawn for the hour-long show, beginning at 6 p.m. (6:30 p.m. in the winter months). For more information, call 808-843-8002.
Swim with Dolphins
In one of the most unforgettable experiences on Oahu, take a boat trip to see and even swim with wild dolphins, not to mention other marine life like tropical fish and sea turtles. Most tours include snorkel gear and lunch—we recommend Dolphin Excursions or Ko Olina Ocean Adventures.
Waimea Bay Beach Park
Located on the North Shore of Oahu, Waimea offers fun for all seasons. In the winter, when the big waves roll in, watch professional surfers ride the 30-foot swells. When the beach is calm in the summer, jump off of “Da Big Rock” into the crystal-clear turquoise water. On your way up to the North Shore, don’t forget to stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice for a sweet treat.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Sometimes called the Disney World of Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center encompasses six different Pacific Island villages set on 42 acres on Oahu’s North Shore. Enjoy some of their countless experiences like canoe rides, ukulele lessons, and a spectacular evening dinner show.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
Don’t miss the stunning views this trail affords with its two miles of hiking along the easternmost edge of Oahu. Parking is free and right off the highway. If you’re feeling adventurous, scramble down to the tidepools about two-thirds of the way through the trail. And if you’re there between December and May, you can often see whales in the water below.
Booze Cruise at Waikiki Beach
Set sail on one of the many catamarans along Waikiki Beach that offer sunset booze cruises. Check out the Na Hoku Catamaran, offering 90-minute cruises along the coast with an open bar that keeps the beer and mai tais flowing. Try their Friday Night Fireworks tour for the best view of the Hilton’s fireworks display every Friday.