From white-sand beaches and fine dining to backcountry hikes and surf shacks, these 16 landmarks in Oahu, Hawaii, will give visitors a well-rounded feel for what the island has to offer.
And don't worry if you can't see them all in one trip. Island life can be slow, so do as the Hawaiians do and take it easy when in Hawaii.
Besides, what's so bad about needing to plan a trip back?
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Using the map of Oahu, you can explore all the landmarks.
The iconic Aloha Tower was built in 1926 as a welcome beacon for travelers arriving by boat to Honolulu. In fact, at the time, that meant all travelers, since the first commercial flight wasn't until 1935.
Much has changed since then, and while the Aloha Tower still welcomes the passengers of cruise ships, it has found new life as a marketplace. Visitors can visit unique shops, restaurants, music, and nightlife, all with Pacific views.
For some good views, head to the observation deck on the 10th floor for birds-eye views of the harbor and Honolulu's city skyline.
The Halona Blowhole was created thousands of years ago when there were still active volcanos in Oahu. As lava flows reached the ocean, the exposed outer surface cooled and hardened rapidly while the lava still inside continued to pour out, leaving them hollow.
One of these lava tubes happened to be created near Halona Beach Cove, which sees some of the most violent surf and strongest currents in Hawaii. When the water is at its most turbulent, it creates one of the best sights on Oahu as water surges through the lava tube and blasts a 30-foot geyser into the sky.
In the late 19th century, Iolani Palace was the home of both King Kalakaua and his successor (and sister) Queen Liliuokalani. Given the origin of the United States and its rebellion against the English Crown, it's even more notable that this is the only official royal residence in the country.
The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893, but this National Historic Landmark allows visitors to learn about Hawaiian politics, culture, and high society. The palace has been carefully restored to its former glory, and visitors are welcomed to guided tours of this famous Hawaii landmark.
No trip to Oahu would be complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. On a day that lives in infamy, the docked United States naval fleet suffered a surprise attack that brought the nation into the Second World War.
Almost half of the approximately 2400 Americans who died in the attack were aboard the USS Arizona when it was bombed, and entombed in the sunken ship are about 900 bodies that couldn't be recovered. The memorial is built on a platform over the wrecked battleship for visitors to somberly reflect on their sacrifices.
On the north end of Oahu, Waimea Valley attracts over a thousand visitors per day. Still, between its beaches, botanical gardens, and waterfalls, it's not hard to find some space for yourself. It may not be as remote as Kauai, but it can still feel like you have a piece of tropical paradise to yourself.
Swimming beneath the 45-foot Waimea Falls is the prime attraction, but don't forget about Waimea Beach. It's got restrooms, a lifeguard, and great snorkeling opportunities. In the winter, enjoy watching professional surfers hit the waves as monster 40-foot waves barrel down the coast.
The Nu'uanu Pali Lookout is just a few miles away from downtown Honolulu, making it one of the most popular sites to see in Oahu. But it's not just accessibility that draws people in. This lookout gives stunning views of the Koolau Cliffs and mountain range, soaring 3,000 feet out of the jungle below.
The lookout is also the gateway to Oahu's Windward Coast on the eastern side of the island. It's a quick trip through the Pali Tunnels to either the laidback town of Kailua or its beach.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is an unforgettable experience and one of Oahu's top activities to do on the North Shore. On its 42 acres, it has six villages to visit, each representing an island culture: Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and New Zealand.
The space also includes a large lagoon, which is explorable by daily guided canoe trips. Visitors can end their day with dinner at a Luau. Surrounded by the smell of fresh flowers, you can enjoy authentic, slow-cooked Hawaiian food while watching traditional dancing and a fire-breathing performance.
Situated adjacent to the capital city, this famous Honolulu landmark was created about 300,000 years ago when a volcanic explosion blasted out the wide crater formation that is seen today.
There is a hiking trail to the highest point that starts at the crater floor and ascends 560 feet in just 0.8 miles, making this a strenuous climb (though not as strenuous as many in Maui).
Those who make the trek to the summit will be rewarded with an incredible panorama that includes the crater, the coast, and Honolulu's cityscape.
Snorkelers will especially want to pay this landmark a visit, as the crystal-clear waters in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve host over 400 species of fish and a high population of green sea turtles.
The preserve is about a 30-minute drive from Honolulu, and you may want to travel light since the beach is a steep, 10-minute walk from the parking area.
Since 2002, the Marine Education Center has been open and working to educate visitors about how they can help care for the fragile coastal ecosystem after the 1980s and 1990s saw much of the coral reef getting trampled.
The Honolulu Memorial is found in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. It is dedicated to soldiers who were deemed either missing in action or lost at sea in the Pacific in World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
The memorial was built into the crater of an extinct volcano near the center of Honolulu. Tens of thousands of names are etched into stone in the eight "Courts of the Missing" that line the stairs approaching the central monument, making this among the most solemn of the Oahu sights to visit.
The world-famous Waikiki Beach is found on the South Shore of Honolulu, with nearby Diamond Head looming over the bustling coastal haunt. The relatively calm waters along this beach are great for beginner surfers, and there is an impressive array of cuisine and shopping to be found along Kalakaua Avenue.
The resort town also offers visitors a day off from the beach, with the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium as other top Waikiki landmarks to visit for a break from the sun, or to provide some family-oriented fun.
The Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail, or Kaiwi Scenic Shoreline as it's also called, is the second most popular hike in Oahu after Diamond Head. The trail ascends about 500 feet along a paved path from the parking lot to the summit and is considered a more moderate climb than Diamond Head.
The trail doesn't actually lead to the off-limits lighthouse but rather takes you past it. After about 30 minutes of switchbacks, you'll reach the top and be rewarded with sweeping views of the Windward Coast and - if you're lucky - some humpback whales between May and November.
While not a UN World Heritage Site like its inspiration, the Hawaiian setting and the meticulous detail of the reconstruction make the temple stunning in its own right.
As a non-practicing Buddhist temple, this Windward Coast landmark welcomes people of all religious or non-religious backgrounds to come and appreciate its architectural beauty.
This North Shore historic surf town has just about everything you could look for in Oahu attractions. It may not be as cosmopolitan as Honolulu, but that's probably not what brought you to Hawaii in the first place.
Haleiwa is packed with boutique shops, food trucks, art galleries, and cafes, giving it a bohemian island feel. It's also got excellent access to North Shore camping areas along the beach and enough hiking, biking, kayaking, and surfing nearby to satisfy even the most ardent outdoors lovers.
Kaena Point State Park is on the westernmost tip of Oahu and is one of the most remote areas on the island. There are sandy beaches here for relaxing, but swimming is only recommended in the summer when the waters are calm.
The park is better known for its hiking, with a 2.7-mile trail through tide pools along the coast and a path to the Kaneana Cave, which is home to the mythical shapeshifting shark-man of a local legend. It formed about 150,000 years ago when it was still underwater.
Makaha Beach Park, on the western side of the island, is a destination for casual beachgoers and serious surfers alike. In the middle of the beach, the reef opens up and allows for easy swimming and snorkeling during the summer months.
Surfers gravitate towards the north end of the beach, where the waves break on the reef, but beginners may want to steer clear until they get a better feel for the sport. Getting tossed onto the sharp coral is bad news for the surfer and reef alike.
These 16 landmarks in Oahu, Hawaii, are sure to fill you with awe at the richness of the island's culture, history, and natural beauty.
Oahu has so much to offer that you'll find much more as you set out on your path, but these standouts should guide your way.
This article was edited by Loredana Elena.
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