Top 5 Day Trips in Oahu to Enjoy on a Hawaii Vacation

Romance & Beaches

Woman Photographing Honolulu and Waikiki Beach from Diamond Head State Monument, Oahu, Hawaii, USA

In the midst of the cold, dark days of January, few things are more appealing than a Hawaii vacation. There’s a special pleasure to sitting on a warm beach with the refreshing tropical air breezing past you while friends back home rough it out through snowstorms and frozen commutes. In fact, it’s so enjoyable that it might be tempting to spend all your time on Hawaii’s famous beaches – and we won’t blame you if that’s how you end up spending your winter getaway – but there’s a lot to discover on a trip to Hawaii if you’re curious to do more than laze on the sand and soak up the sunshine.

To encourage you to take advantage of Hawaii, we’ve put together a list of day trips that’ll share Hawaii’s history with you and let you explore its incredible climate.

The following are the top five day trips for a Hawaii vacation:

Explore the History of Pearl Harbor

No event looms larger over the history of Hawaii than Pearl Harbor, located on the island of Oahu. On December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes launched a surprise attack on the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. The attack devastated the American navy, killed many Americans, and brought the United States into World War II. During the attack, the Japanese sunk four of the Americans’ eight battleships, one of which, the U.S.S. Arizona, still sits at the bottom of the harbour to this day.

On this full-day tour, you’ll explore the history of Pearl Harbor as you visit the Arizona Memorial and the U.S.S. Missouri, as well as other sites linked to America’s military history. Begin with a visit to the Arizona Memorial, which sits on the waters of Pearl Harbor overtop the site where the U.S.S. Arizona sunk during the battle. The memorial pays respect to the 1,177 officers that died aboard, and reflects on the battle that shaped so much of American history in the 20th century. After visiting the Arizona Memorial, you’ll head to the U.S.S. Missouri, which was the last American battleship commissioned during World War II and the site of the Japanese surrender that ended the war.

After exploring Pearl Harbor, you’ll head into Honolulu’s historic downtown to visit the seat of the Hawaiian State Government and see Iolani Palace, which is the only royal palace on American soil. You’ll also continue on to Punchbowl Cemetery, which is located in the caldera of an extinct volcano and houses the graves of almost 25,000 American soldiers from the Spanish-American War through the Vietnam War.

A trip to Honolulu is not complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor. It’s a sombre visit, as the history of Pearl Harbor is not a happy history, but it’s necessary to visit so as to understand world-changing events that took place on this small island in the South Pacific.

Aerial view of USS Arizona and USS Missouri Memorials at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Aerial view of USS Arizona and USS Missouri memorials at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor

A Traditional Luau with a Chief

There are few things more Hawaiian than a traditional luau. You don’t want to head on a Hawaii vacation and miss the opportunity to savour a feast and celebrate like a Polynesian. With this evening event at Sea Life Park Hawaii’s gorgeous Makapu’u Meadows, you’ll join the ever-charming Chief Sielu for a luau alongside his ohana (family). Chief Sielu is known as one of the funniest and most talented performers in the South Pacific. An evening spent in his company is an evening to be relished.

Beyond the incredible food that you’ll enjoy at this luau – traditional Hawaiian delicacies like roast pig and poke – you’ll also be able to sample cocktails like a Mai Tai and witness Chief Sielu’s demonstration of fire-knife dancing. You’ll also be party to his hilarious brand of Polynesian comedy. All in all, this evening alongside Chief Sielu and his ohana will make you feel like family. It’s a taste of Hawaii’s world-famous welcoming spirit.

Mai Tai cocktail on a table set for a Luau, Hawaii, USA
Mai Tai cocktail and a typical table setting for a luau

A Whirlwind Tour of Natural Landmarks

If you’re wanting to explore Oahu’s gorgeous landscape, on your Hawaii vacation, but don’t want to commit to a full-day tour, this half-day mini circle of the island is a great option. This tour takes you to many of Oahu’s most picturesque spots and tries to showcase the island’s natural beauty in as short a time as possible.

As you circle the island in a luxury motor coach, you’ll stop off at famous natural landmarks, like Diamond Head, the volcanic caldera that resembles the dorsal fin of a tuna when viewed from a distance. You’ll also head to Hanauma Bay, a popular spot on the island’s southeast corner that’s a marine conservation spot for green sea turtles and other endangered animals, and Pali Lookout, where you can enjoy incredible views of the island and surrounding waters. As you return to the city, you’ll pass through the Kahala residential area, where you’ll see some of the most gorgeous homes on the island.

You may not want to drag yourself away from the beach, but this tour makes sure that you see the island’s highlights without staying away for too long.

Snorkeling paradise Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Snorkeling paradise of Hanauma Bay

Grand Circle Tour of Oahu

If you’re willing to spend an entire day exploring Oahu’s sights, embark on this Grand Circle Tour of the island. This tour expands on the half-day variety, fitting in more of the natural landmarks that make Oahu so stunning. In addition to heading to Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, and Pali Lookout, and driving through Kahala, you’ll visit the famous Dole Plantation Garden, where you can see the wide variety of tropical plants and exotic fruits that people enjoy the world over. The plantation is also home to one of the world’s largest mazes, where you can spend some time searching for the centre and hoping you don’t get lost.

As you head to the most famous sites on the island, you’ll also stop for lunch in the middle of the day to recharge and see some of the best surfing spots along the island’s north shore, including Sunset Beach, Waimea Beach, and Pipeline Beach. If you’re thinking of surfing on a different day of your Hawaii vacation, this leg of the tour should give you some ideas of the best spots to head to. Afterwards, you’ll return to Honolulu.

Large Surfer Waves at Pipeline Beach on Honolulu's North Shore, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Large surfer waves at Pipeline Beach on Honolulu’s north shore

Polynesian Cultural Extravaganza

The beaches of Oahu are great and the tropical weather is a huge plus, but the culture of this island chain deserves a lot of attention and shouldn’t be overlooked when you’re on a Hawaii vacation. A trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center will make sure you experience some of the island’s long history of culture.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is set over 42 acres of Oahu’s North Shore, with a lagoon in the centre that you can explore on a canoe tour. The centre has a variety of traditional villages that showcase the distinct Polynesian cultures of the South Pacific, including the residents of Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, the Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Easter Island, and, of course, Hawaii. You can spend your day at the cultural centre, heading to these villages to learn about Polynesian traditions and watch demonstrations of arts and performances. You can also cool off at the only IMAX theatre in Hawaii to watch Coral Reef Adventure, which educates on the importance and conservation of coral reefs.

At the end of your day at the cultural centre, you’ll indulge in an Ali’I Luau feast and watch a performance of “Ha-Breath of Life,” which features over 100 performers and demonstrates traditional Polynesian performance styles, like Samoan fire-knife dancing.

Polynesian Cultural Center, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Polynesian Cultural Center, Honolulu

These day trips offer variety on a Hawaii vacation. They let you explore Hawaii’s cultural and military history, as well as the gorgeous natural environment of the islands.