The most populous of the Hawaiian Islands, O‘ahu is nicknamed “The Gathering Place”—and for good reason. Beyond its world-famous beaches, the island’s peaks are interlaced with dozens of trails where hikers can get views ranging from dormant volcanoes to city skylines. Closer to sea level, O‘ahu’s culturally diverse neighborhoods showcase an inventive culinary, cocktail, and craft beer scene.
From mauka to makai—mountain to ocean—here are the seven best things to do on O‘ahu.
1. Visit a crack seed store
Named for the cracked pit of a popular preserved sour plum known as li hing mui, these mom-and-pop shops carry a variety of their namesake salty-sweet-sour treats along with pickled mangoes, dried fruit, sour gummies, and cuttlefish jerkies. Step into a crack seed store and you’ll see shelves lined with large glass jars of preserved bites and aisles crammed with souvenirs and knickknacks.
At Crack Seed Store in Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood, you can get 12 different kinds of preserved sour plum and even try a li hing mui icee. Head over to Rainbow Crack Seed in Kāneʻohe for shaved ice, halo halo topped with ube ice cream, and old-school crack seed. A favorite in Chinatown is C-Mui Center; its affable owner is especially proud of her dried lemon slices and pickled mangoes.
2. Peruse art and sample craft beer in Kaka‘ako
Once home to fishing villages, fish ponds, and salt flats, the Kaka‘ako neighborhood was transformed into an industrial zone in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, many of its mammoth warehouses and buildings are punched up with vibrant murals and street art by renowned street artists, including Tristan Eaton, Kevin Lyons, and Audrey Kawasaki. Some of the murals can be found at Salt, a mixed-use space with restaurants, boutiques, and cafés. Throughout the year, Salt hosts craft fairs, yoga sessions, stargazing events, and family friendly festivals.
Hawai‘i’s craft brewery scene grew out of Kaka‘ako, and in the evenings, the area is abuzz with locals and tourists talking story over a flight of beer. Newcomer Hana Koa Brewing Company is a spacious two-story converted warehouse specializing in ales, lagers, and IPAs with island-inspired notes of mango, pineapple, banana, papaya, and passionfruit. And crowd-favorite Aloha Beer Co. has a menu of delicious pizzas to accompany refreshing brews like a light, crisp Aloha Blonde and a floral, red hibiscus–infused ale. Those who prefer hand-crafted cocktails should check out Hi Brau, a speakeasy lounge hidden above the taproom, open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. to midnight.
3. Step into the historic charm of Honolulu’s Chinatown
Within the red-brick walls of Maunakea Marketplace, you’ll find stalls with tables piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh whole fish on ice beds, and an international food court selling Korean, Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes. A no-frills fixture in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery is the place for mooncakes, Lunar New Year candies, hefty pork hash, and some of the best manapua (barbecue pork buns) in town.
In recent years, a slew of new eateries have opened their doors in Chinatown. Hot spots include the 2023-opened Obake Honolulu, which has an evening cocktail and handroll bar as well as a daytime matcha bar, and the Lei Stand, a speakeasy serving small plates and inventive craft cocktails
4. Ride horses and explore paniolo culture in the North Shore
In 1803, King Kamehameha I was gifted a horse by an American trader named Richard Cleveland, igniting Hawaiians’ long-standing affection for these animals. Women in the royal family wore elegant dresses to ride horses, while Hawaiian cowboys known as paniolo relied on horses to herd cattle.
A handful of stables and ranches offer horseback riding along trails that wrap around the scenic North Shore coastline, including North Shore Stables, Gunstock Ranch, and the Stables at Turtle Bay Resort. To honor the region’s paniolo culture, Turtle Bay introduced a weekly Hawaiian cowboy-themed lūʻau, where guests get to pet ponies, watch a paniolo music and storytelling show, and feast—menu items include whole roasted kalua pig and huli huli chicken.
5. Learn about Hawaiian Royalty at ‘Iolani Palace
The majestic Hawaiian Renaissance-style ‘Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and it holds the distinction of being the only royal residence in the United States. Learn about the rich history of the Hawaiian monarchy, including Kalākaua, the last king of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, and his sister Liliʻuokalani, the beloved last queen of Hawai‘i, who both lived in the palace. Visitors can choose among different tours, including a royal fashion tour and a white-glove tour where guests view private collections not available to the general public. On most Fridays, from noon to 1 p.m., you can watch the Royal Hawaiian Band perform on the palace grounds.
6. Go on a hike
Most of O‘ahu’s hiking trails—ranging from easy, paved loops to more vertically challenging treks—are on the east side of the island. Plan a sunrise hike along the two-mile Makapu‘u Point trail, where you’ll be rewarded with views of Koko Crater, the 1909 red-and-white Makapu‘u Lighthouse, and on a clear day, the islands of Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i. From November to May, you might even see humpback whales breaching in the distance.
For breathtaking views of the Hanauma Bay, ascend to the top of the Koko Head Crater by climbing 1,048 steps up the challenging 1.6-mile Koko Crater Trail, which follows a path made of abandoned World War II railroad ties. As an alternative, hike the moderately challenging Diamond Head Summit Trail for panoramas of the Honolulu skyline. This trail winds around the historic volcanic tuff cone, passing by WWII bunkers, through a 225-foot tunnel (reservations required).
7. Give back to the land at Kualoa Ranch
Established in the 19th century on what was considered one of O‘ahu’s most sacred places, Kualoa Ranch used to be a residence for kings and training ground for royalty. Today, the natural space is dedicated to developing sustainable activities that keep its 4,000 acres undeveloped.
Connect to the land and learn about sustainability and watersheds through tours like the ranch’s Mālama Experience. With the Hakipu‘u and Ka‘a‘awa valleys as the backdrop, guests can learn about the importance of the kola (taro) plant and help preserve the ‘ahupua‘a streams, which flow from the valleys to the ocean, feeding the lo‘i (taro patch) along the way.