Away from the hectic center of Honolulu, Waikiki is the poster child of Hawaiian destinations and never fails to disappoint its visitors, who have traveled across the Pacific to reach the island of Oahu’s sunny shores.
The neighborhood has been around for centuries and has grown into a well-developed holiday-maker’s paradise, with high-rise hotels offering untold luxuries right by the turquoise water’s edge.
Beautiful as it may be, Waikiki can sometimes feel a little too all-inclusive and although it’s a staple destination when visiting Oahu, venturing further afield will reveal a wealth of hidden gems.
From paradise waterfalls to unforgettable sunset spots, Hawaii’s largest island is bursting with once-in-a-lifetime day trips, all easily reachable by car from Waikiki.
Here are some of our favorites to get you started.
1. Diamond Head Crater
One of the most instantly recognizable landmarks visible from Waikiki, Diamond Head is part of a dormant volcano and a favorite hiking destination for locals and visitors alike.
The area is, in fact, a US State Monument given its long history as a lookout point over the Pacific.
The hike is short, moderately steep and incredibly rewarding.
From the summit, you’ll be granted unparalleled panoramic views of the mountain ranges to the east and of course, unforgettable ocean vistas.
It’s worth making the trek – which is only about 45 minutes long – in the early evening to try and catch the sunset.
If you feel like exploring the summit, there’s also an impressive lighthouse and Fire Control Station you can visit.
Recommended tour: Diamond Head Crater Adventure Hike
2. Turtle Eco Adventure
With so many incredible marine experiences on offer in Oahu – let alone the whole of Hawaii – it can be hard to choose just one.
The Turtle Eco Adventure takes place in some of the most beautiful reefs near Waikiki and is one of the best ways to learn about and get close to the Pacific’s gentle giants.
You’ll have the chance to explore gorgeous slices of coast like Sandy Beach and Chinaman’s Hat whilst being accompanied by professional guides and experts who will teach you about the famed Hawaiian Sea Turtles.
Related tour: Waikiki: Turtle, Snorkel, and Sailing Adventure
3. Pearl Harbour
Learn about the events that unfolded at Pearl Harbour that changed the course of history on a guided or self-guided tour of the area.
With so much that was memorialized, you can easily spend the entire day wandering around the various museums and paying your respects at memorials, like the beautiful USS Arizona Memorial Monument or the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
You can also explore the inside of real vessels like the USS Missouri battleship.
The most popular museums are, without a doubt, the Road to War Museum and the Attack Museum, both providing fascinating insights into the events of the war.
Suggested tour: Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Small Group Tour
4. Helicopter Tour
Few experiences are more thrilling or breathtaking than an airborne tour around the popular landmarks of Oahu.
With so many on offer, you can choose almost any part of the island to explore from the air, each giving a wildly different perspective to the last.
If you want to spot places you’ve been on the ground, then a flight over Waikiki or the nearby North Shore will be easily recognizable.
However, you can take longer flights that will whisk you away to places like the Ko’Olau Mountains, where you’ll be rewarded with soaring ranges far from developed areas.
Book online: 20-Minute Doors On or Doors Off Helicopter Tour
5. North Shore
If you’re looking for beaches and bays that offer a respite from the sometimes overly touristy atmosphere of Waikiki, then driving along the North Shore is a must.
The road less traveled offers a wealth of small towns, gorgeous beaches, and local communities that are a world away from the developed centers like Honolulu.
Turtle Bay is a local favorite, with plenty of surf, restaurants, and that postcard white sand.
Haleiwa is a beloved bohemian surf town if you’re after something a little more laidback, while Sunset Beach Park is high on the list of spellbinding sunset spots.
Recommended tour: Half-Day Tour of Oahu’s Famous North Shore and Circle Island
6. Ko Olina Coast
Hawaii’s waters are unparalleled when it comes to world-class snorkeling and there are many places near Waikiki where you can explore the fascinating underwater worlds.
However, one of the best places to visit is the Ko Olina Coast, where you can embark on dolphin snorkeling tours.
Hawaiian spinner dolphins are partial to these waters and in an hour or so, you can make the journey from Waikiki to the western side of the island.
Here, you’ll have the chance to swim with the playful dolphins on a day trip you’re not likely to forget.
Suggested tour: Eco-Friendly Ko Olina Coast Snorkel Sail with Dolphins
7. Waimea Valley
To get a true sense of the unbridled wonders of nature you can find in Oahu, a trip to Waimea Valley is a must.
The verdant green canyons and valleys are unimaginably lush and far removed from any urban influence.
Here, you can hike to your heart’s content, through jungles teeming with wildlife or along canyon ridges that offer breathtaking views.
A favorite destination is Waimea Waterfall, where you can snap jealousy-inducing pictures and take a dip in the pools there.
Available tour: Waimea Waterfall & Circle Island Adventure Tour
8. Iolani Palace
Famously known as the only palace ever to be built in the United States, Iolani Palace is a fascinating insight into the old Hawaiian monarchy, as well as being a stunningly beautiful site to explore.
The stately building flanked by palm trees was the home of the last reigning monarch of Hawaii – Queen Liliʻuokalani – as well as a long line of others preceding her.
While you’re here, you can also discover the wonders of the Bishop Museum, which is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating Hawaiian and Pacific objects.
In fact, it holds the largest amount of these artifacts in the entire world.
9. Pali Notches
As their name might suggest, the Pali Notches form a series of narrow paths cut into an actual mountainside centuries ago as strategic defense points that stood for generations.
Now, they are better known as a nail-biting hiking route because of the steep ascents and sections without rope or support.
While you need to have your wits about you, they’re perfectly manageable and the reward comes when you reach the top.
The views are without a doubt the best in Hawaii, with endless 360 panoramas of Honolulu, the ocean and the vast mountain ranges.
10. Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a family-owned natural reserve and cattle ranch that is less than two hours away from Waikiki and offers over 4000 acres of unimaginably beautiful jungle, plains, and majestic valleys.
Whilst hiking here is plentiful and rewarding, Kualoa is far too large to explore in the space of one day, though there are ways to maximize your time here.
The hands-down favorite is to rent an all-terrain-vehicle and speed your way around the grounds, fording rivers, spraying up dirt and exploring the beautiful reserve at your own pace.
11. Jurassic Valley Zipline
Nestled in the Ka’a’awa Valley, which is part of the enormous Kualoa Ranch, you won’t find any all-terrain-vehicles – but something a little more airborne.
The Jurassic Valley Zipline is a favorite amongst thrill seekers who want to soak up the views of the valley where Jurassic Park was filmed while getting their adrenaline pumping.
12. Haleiwa Shark Snorkelling
The waters near Haleiwa, on the North Shore of Oahu, have long been prime waters to go shark snorkeling.
Although it’s not everyone’s idea of a fun experience, if you’re accompanied by experts, it’s perfectly safe and truly unforgettable.
The most reputable company to go with is One Ocean Diving, who are dedicated to the study, preservation, and perception of sharks.
Sail out with them to a natural shark gathering site where you can spend a day swimming with the magnificent creatures and learning about their important role in the ecosystem.
13. Polynesian Cultural Center
Not far inland from Waikiki, you’ll find the fascinatingly detailed Polynesian Cultural Center, which is a collection of six villages, each representing a different aspect of Polynesian heritage and culture.
Here, you’ll have the chance to go on tours to farms, watch craftsmen and women hone their trade, and, of course, enjoy beautiful luau’s and eat beloved traditional Hawaiian food.
Equally appropriate for history buffs and nature lovers, a day trip to Laie – where the PCC is found – is truly an eye-opening experience.
14. Hanauma Bay
On the southeast coast of Oahu, you’ll find the fiercely protected and unimaginably beautiful Hanauma Bay.
While there are amazing places to snorkel with sharks, dolphins, and turtles around the island, the reefs in Hanauma Bay are probably the most ecologically diverse thanks to the laws here prohibiting fishing and protecting marine life.
While it is a divisive destination because of how busy it gets and the contrast with all the surrounding natural beauty, there’s no denying that Honolulu has its fair share of entertaining destinations.
With delicious cuisine from all over the planet and world-renowned luaus taking place weekly in grand hotels and idyllic seafronts, Honolulu is a great place to try new things.
For some retail therapy, head over to the enormous Ala Moana shopping center, where you can shop alfresco with huge open roof sections, palm trees all around and birdsong in the air.