best island to visit in hawaii for first time

Dreaming of Paradise? Discover the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Time Visitors

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Updated: September 1, 2023

The best Hawaiian island to visit for the first time is Oʻahu.

All the Hawaiian islands are special: sun-soaked beaches caressed by fragrant tropical breezes, lush rainforests, and stunning volcanic peaks. But each one has something unique to explore.

If have only a few weeks to travel and want to get the fullest experience of Hawaii on your first trip, we recommend a trip to Oʻahu: the best island to visit in Hawaii for first-timers.

Which Hawaiian Islands Can You Visit?

The 4 most popular islands to visit are:

  • Oʻahu (The Gathering Place)
  • Maui (The Valley Isle)
  • Hawaii (The Big Island)
  • Kauai (The Garden Isle)

These four major islands are the best islands for tourists with plenty of beach-front hotels, luxurious resorts, and accommodations. for any budget. No matter which of these islands you visit, you will find tours and activities to make any vacation memorable.

Better suited for the traveler who wants to get off the beaten path, Lānai (the Pineapple Isle) and Molokai (the Friendly Isle) are also two islands to consider.

Lānai has two of the most luxurious resorts, while Molokai has a laid-back small-town atmosphere.

Of course, if you have the time, we recommend island hopping. Direct flights between islands that take less than an hour make even a day trip to a neighboring island easy to do.

Read our Full Planning Guide to learn more about each island and its key features. In this article, we will focus on Oʻahu and why Hawaii is a great place to visit for the first time.

10 Reasons to Visit the Hawaiian Islands for the First Time

Whether you are going alone, with your family, a friend, or even your sweetheart, you can’t go wrong with a Hawaii vacation, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. The Weather

Hawaii has ideal weather year-round.

If you are looking to play a round of golf, hike through stunning landscapes, or just spend hours lounging on a sandy beach, you will be doing it in comfort.

From May to October, the average temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter months—November to April—the average temperature is 78 degrees.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the Best Weather

All islands have great weather, but Hawaii’s Big Island has the least amount of rain, with the Kohala Coast as our top pick for the perfect sunbathing weather.

2. Beautiful Beaches

Hawaii has some of the best beaches in the world.

Black sand beaches and miles of white sandy beaches that are the hallmark of the Hawaiian islands. There are so many beaches that you can even decide what kind of beach to visit.

Do you want to hang out and watch world-class surfing on Oʻahuʻs North Shore, or take advantage of the boat tours, activities, and bustle of the famous Waikiki Beach?

Or perhaps you want to marvel at the beauty of Honokalani, a black sand beach in Mauiʻs Waianapanapa State Park or find a secluded beach to contemplate your life.

Some of the most popular beaches in Hawaii include Waikiki Beach on Oahu, Hapuna Beach on the Big Island, and Kaanapali Beach on Maui.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the Best Beach

It depends on what you are looking for, but our best beach pick is Waikiki on O’ahu.

Waikiki Beach is iconic, has loads of activities to choose from, and the calm waters make swimming or learning a new sport easy.

3. Clear Waters

Not only is the scenery above water in Hawaii stunning, but what lies underneath the ocean is equally as breathtaking.

The nutrient-rich waters of Hawaii are filtered by volcanic rock resulting in some of the clearest waters in the world—ideal for crystal-clear views of the colorful tropic fish that inhabit the reefs.

Each year thousands of snorkeling enthusiasts flock to Hanauma Bay on Oʻahu; the Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui; Honaunau Bay and Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island; and Poipu Beach on the south shore of Kauai.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the Clearest Water

There are so many close competitors when it comes to a great place to explore the beauty and bounty of Hawaii’s underwater landscape. Our top pick is Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on O’ahu’s southeast coast.

It is located just 12 miles from Honolulu. The bay is easy to access with public transportation or a hotel shuttle.

Hanauma Bay is home to 400 species of marine life, including Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) who nurse their young there.

Wear reef-safe sunscreen (it’s the law) when you snorkel and protect this important and sacred landscape.

4. Active Volcanoes

For most people, seeing an active volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Big Island is home to four volcanoes: Mauna Loa, Kīlauea, Kohala, and Hualalai.

Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and you will likely see Kīlauea in action (it has been erupting continuously since 1983).

From the Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center, you can marvel at Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world.

On Maui, after watching a stunning sunrise from the summit, hike through the crater of Haleakalā (it hasnʻt erupted since the 1700s).

On Kauai, Waiʻaleʻale, now extinct, has left behind stunning landscapes, matched in grandeur by the Nā Pali Coastʻs volcanic plateau.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for Volcanoes

The Hawaii island best known for its volcanoes is the Big Island, the largest island in the chain. If you’re looking for a volcanic adventure and active volcanoes, the Big Island is the place to go.

With 4 volcanoes, the Big Island is the magma-nificent choice for volcano enthusiasts!

5. Lush Rainforests

Each island has a dry and wet side because the tradewinds pick up moisture and dump it on the windward sides of islands in the form of rain. That is also why many of the resorts are located on the dry sides.

Rain increases by the island the more northeastern you go.

Kauai, the wettest and most northeastern island, is called the Garden Isle thanks to natureʻs irrigation. Frequent rains and rich volcanic soil make for lush, green landscapes that feel like the depths of Eden.

Waterfall hikes are just one of the many popular activities on Kauai.

On Kauaiʻs west coast, Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), Kōkeʻe State Park, and Polihale State Park are all examples of the magical landscapes that create a hiker’s dream.

Kauai may have some spectacular rainforests but the other Hawaiian islands wonʻt disappoint.

The road to Hana on Maui’s remote eastern coast, and the Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island’s west coast are both draped in verdant beauty.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for Rainforests

Older and wetter, Kauai wins the best Hawaii Island rainforest award.

Visit Kauai and Kōkeʻe State Park and the adjacent to Waimea Canyon for the ultimate rainforest experience. Marvel at the verdant native flora and a multitude of birds, including the rare rare Amakihi, I’iwi, Apapane, and ʻElepaio.

6. Diverse Wildlife

Hawaiiʻs rainforests are not only resplendent with towering Ohia trees and cascading waterfalls fanned by willowy ferns; they are also alive with the sound of birdsong.

There are over 50 species of birds that can only be found on the islands of Hawaii.

The honeycreeper is a favorite of bird watchers. And the nene—a type of goose—is the official state bird.

Many tourists are interested in observing marine life during their visit to Hawaii, and indeed, there is an abundance of sea life to be found.

The chance to swim near sea turtles, spinner dolphins, and manta rays brings thousands of explorers to Hawaii’s reefs each year.

Along the stunning Na Pali Coast, which spans 17 miles of the north shore of Kauai, monk seals can be seen sunbathing on remote sandy beaches. Critically endangered, the monk seal is the second-rarest seal species on earth.

Hawaii is also known for whale watching.

Thousands of tourists visit in the winter months (November – May) hoping to see migrating humpback whales. The magnificent animals migrate from Alaska to the warmer waters in Hawaii to mate, give birth, and raise their young.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for Wildlife

The winner of this category is Oʻahu.

The Sea Life Park on Oʻahu is the best place to learn about Hawaiiʻs wildlife, with expert staff and sea life encounters. Not only will you see marine life up close, you leave with a deeper understanding of the ocean.

7. World-Class Resorts and Hotels

With its amazing beaches, natural beauty, and active volcanoes, Hawaii’s islands are a virtual paradise, drawing millions of visitors to her shores each year.

Tourism is a major driver of the economy, and the many luxury resorts and hotels on the islands are all vying to create memorable experiences for their guests.

All the islands offer a range of budget-friendly accommodations to 5-star experiences.

Some guests might spend their entire Hawaii vacation at their luxury resort, pampered by bespoke spa experiences, world-class golf courses, fine dining, and beach-front views of the Pacific Ocean.

For others who plan to spend most of their time venturing out—surfing, ziplining, or exploring the miles and miles of amazing hiking trails—a room with a view matters less.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the Best Accommodations

O’ahu has the largest range of accommodations to choose from compared to other Hawaiian islands.

Whether you are looking for beach resorts to a budget-friendly hotel, O’ahu has the most options to accommodate any budget.

8. Onolicious Food

Hawaii’s natural beauty is not the only thing travelers rave about.

The bounty of local produce and the fusion of flavors brings thousands of hungry connoisseurs to the Hawaiian islands each year.

Whether you are anticipating a 5-star dining experience at a famous restaurant like Azure or you can wait to taste the succulent kalua pig at an evening luau, Hawaiian food is some of the best in the world.

Fresh fish, such as mahi-mah, or the poke tuna that melts in your mouth are staples of Hawaii cuisine. And who doesnʻt think of the sweet taste of a mango, papaya, or coconut when they imagine a sweet Hawaiian island snack?

The influence of Polynesian, Asian, and American cuisine has made Hawaiian food a uniquely flavorful experience.

Each year, the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival showcases island flavors and culinary talent.

A melting pot of flavors, there are many recipes unique to Hawaii. Dishes like the famous loco moco from the Big Island or the SPAM musubi found in convenience stores are ubiquitous and delicious (ono).

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the Foodies

O’ahu wins the prize for the best island to visit in Hawaii for foodies.

Honolulu is a culinary mecca, with everything from diners to world-class restaurants serving tasty local dishes. As an international city, you will find global influences that have resulted in unique dishes you might not find anywhere else.

Head to the North Shore, and you can experience some of the best food trucks in the world. The shrimp is a local favorite.

You will also find a farm-to-table movement in Hawaii that has elevated local cuisine to a new level.

Spend a Sunday morning exploring Honoluluʻs Kaka’ako Farmerʻs Market to see the islandʻs bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a candle-lit table, dining experiences on O’ahu are a delightful fusion of flavors that celebrate both the island’s rich culinary heritage and its commitment to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients.

9. Unique History and Culture

The practice of farm-to-table, with an emphasis on caring for the land, is deeply rooted in Hawaiian tradition

About a thousand years ago, Polynesian navigators arrived on the islands in outrigger canoes, laden with taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, and other plants and seeds.

They also brought with them a distinctly Polynesian way of life and social structure.

The aliʻi (chiefs) divided the land. To ensure harmony, kanaka (people) were taught to respect and care for land (Aloha ʻāina) in their agricultural practices and respect for each other (ohana) through social precepts—values that endure in modern Hawaiian society.

The material remains in Hawaiiʻs museums tell a story of a thriving society.

Ancient temples (heiau), terraced agricultural landscapes, and the dilapidated remains of households you see as you travel the islands, remind us of the rich and storied past of the Hawaiian people.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for Hawaiian History and Culture

Home to the Bishop Museum, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and the University of Hawaii, O’ahu is the best Hawaiian island to visit and learn about Hawaiian history.

You can even visit the Battle of Nuʻuanu, the site on the South coast of Oʻahu where the final battle in the Hawaiian civil war was fought that resulted in the formation of Hawaiiʻs kingdom.

10. The Aloha Spirit

Even though Hawaiiʻs past includes battles and power struggles, the concept of aloha is the most enduring characteristic of Hawaiiʻs Polynesian history.

Everywhere you go in Hawaii, you will hear phrases like e komo mai, which means welcome in the Hawaiian language.

One example of welcome that many tourists encounter when they visit Hawaii is the gift of a lei—a necklace of fragrant island flowers.

The traditional gesture of the lei has roots in the past when chiefs visited one another. It is a way of showing that the giver cares about the receiver and wants to welcome them into their life.

It is this traditional practice of hospitality and genuine love that brings back visitors to Hawaii year after year.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii to Experience the Aloha Spirit

Every Hawaiian island is the best island to experience the aloha spirit.

Wherever you go, you will be welcomed with kindness and hospitality.

Aloha is the Hawaiian heartbeat of our way of life.

Why is Oʻahu the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the First Time?

Hawaii is a beautiful state with six main islands to explore. Each island has beautiful beaches and natural beauty, but if you’re a first-time visitor, Oʻahu is the best island to visit.

The Hawaiian island that is home to the state capital (Honolulu) has something for everyone. From stunning beaches and historical landmarks to vibrant nightlife and delicious food, Oʻahu is the best island to visit in Hawaii for the first time.

4 Reasons Oʻahu is the Best Hawaii Island to Visit for First Timers

  1. Affordability: Oʻahu has some of the best hotels and resorts but also includes more budget-friendly options than the other islands (especially near Honolulu).
  2. Easy to Get Around: Public transportation serves the entire island. No place is too far away since Oʻahu is 44 miles long and 30 miles across. With a Holo card, it is easy to get around by bus or the newest feature: the metro system called the Skyline.
  3. Hawaiian Culture: Oʻahu is home to the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Bishop Museum. With so many luaus, cultural attractions, and educational activities, Oʻahu is the best island to visit and learn about Hawaiiʻs past and present.
  4. Attractions and Activities: Compared to other islands, Oʻahu has the most attractions and outdoor activities. From historical landmarks like the Pearl Harbor National Memorial to boat tours and surfing, there is no lack of things to do on the island.

Later in this article, we will review landmarks, activities, and attractions you can enjoy when you visit Oʻahu.

First, let’s take a look at why the island is so popular—and has been the best island to visit for over a century.

The Most Visited Hawaii Island

Each year, millions of people from all over the world visit the Hawaiian islands.

Oʻahu is consistently the most visited island in Hawaii, with most travelers heading to the islandʻs capital city, Honolulu, and the world-famous Waikiki Beach.

The diversity of landscapes and attractions makes Oʻahu so popular.

From bustling Honolulu, full of shopping and nightlife, to the laid-back surf town of Haleʻiwa on Oʻahuʻs North Shore, this popular island has something for everyone.

Oʻahu: The Heart of Hawaii’s Kingdom

The third largest in the Hawaiian Island chain, Oʻahu is also the most populated island.

Honolulu is the state capital and the seat of the government.

The island is nicknamed the gathering place and for centuries, Oʻahu has been the heart of Hawaii.

O’ahu’s Emergence as a Seat of Government

Ruled by ancient aliʻi (chiefly priests), the chiefdom of Oʻahu was coveted.

In 1783, Kahekili II, King of Maui conquered the island and ruled from Maui. It was a short reign because, by 1795, Kamehameha the Great unified Hawaii’s chiefdoms under one rule and established the Hawaiian Kingdom.

His descendant, Kamehameha III, moved the seat of government to Oʻahu by 1845.

Foreign Occupation: A Short History of Hawaii

As Kamehameha was consolidating power, outside forces were beginning to emerge that would have disastrous consequences for the Kingdom and the Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiians)

Captain Cook may be the most famous foreign visitor to Hawaii, arriving in 1778. In his wake, deadly diseases nearly wiped out the Hawaiian people — by some estimates, over 80 percent of the population was lost to disease.

However, disease was not the only force that would pressure on the Kingdom and the once-thriving communities.

Missionaries, and then foreigners hungry for land, soon followed Cook.

By 1893, American businessmen staged a coup d’état and overthrew the weakened monarchy, intending to claim Hawaii as the United States.

Hawaii was annexed—without the consent of Hawaii’s people—in 1898.

Hawaiian Renaissance

In the period that followed, Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions were actively oppressed until a movement started to build in the 1970s.

Hawaiians began reclaiming native culture and traditions—including ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language)—a movement that continues today. The kamaʻāina (people of the land) are actively embracing ancient knowledge, practices, and traditions of their ancestors.

Even with the resurgence of Hawaiian culture in the past couple of decades, the wounds of the past were not forgotten.

In 1993, the U.S. government apologized and officially recognized that the Hawaiian people never relinquished their lands.

Iolani Palace

The Kingdom of Hawaii no longer exists, but the palace does. It is located in Honolulu.

The seat of Hawaiiʻs royalty, Iolani Palace, was once the home of five of Hawaiiʻs monarchs. Now, it is an important historical landmark that is open to the public.

Palace exhibits include artifacts from Hawaiiʻs past that help you understand more about Hawaiian culture and Hawaiiʻs historical connections to other cultures, such as Japan.

But most importantly, by visiting the palace you bear witness to one of the most difficult periods for the Hawaiian people.

On your visit, you can see the bedroom where Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaiiʻs last monarch, was imprisoned by the oligarchs for eight months.

The palace continues to hold an important place in the hearts and memories of the kamaʻāina.

Aloha: The Heartbeat of the Hawaiian Islands

Given the destructive history of foreign involvement in the islands, it might be surprising that the Hawaiian approach to visitors is one of complete hospitality.

Embracing Hawaiiʻs past means embracing aloha—the central tenant of Hawaiian culture, which means love, compassion, mercy, peace, kindness, and even gratitude.

Hospitality and the concept of aloha—living in peace and harmony with yourself and those around you is as natural to the Kānaka Maoli as breathing. The “ha” in aloha means breath.

Everywhere you go in Hawaii, you will be met with aloha—O’ahu is no different.

Visiting Hawaii with Aloha

We invite you to come see our little corner of paradise. As a traveler to the island, you can also embrace aloha by learning more about our history and culture, and by respecting the natural environment during your visit.

Learning something about our history and culture is an important way to not only show respect to local Hawaiians but also a way to enhance your overall travel experience.

Learn a few Hawaiian phrases before you come and really make an impression.

As we say in Hawaiian: He aloha ka ‘ike (love is knowledge). Learning about a new place is a way to show love for it.

Oʻahu: The Best Hawaiian Island by Region

Today, Oʻahu continues to be the seat of government with the island’s capital city located in bustling Honolulu.

For most first-time travelers, Honolulu is a great home base to begin your explorations of the island.

An amazing beach, a bustling metropolis, and the ease of getting around—not to mention budget-friendly accommodations—make Honolulu a favorite location for those who visit Hawaii for the first time.

Getting Around: Oʻahuʻs Regions

Oʻahu’s main regions are:

  • Honolulu
  • Windward Coast
  • Central Oʻahu
  • The North Shore
  • Leeward Coast

In this section, we will look at each region and highlight attractions and activities that you can visit in Hawaii.

This is only a small sample of the many things you can do when you visit our Hawaiian island.

Honolulu

While most state capitals are defined by their bureaucratic buildings and business attire, Honolulu is defined by its nostalgia and history.

But that is not to say that the city is stuck in the past.

This modern, bustling metropolis has some of the best shopping to be found on any of the islands and a vibrant nightlife that will delight any night owl.

Honolulu Nightlife

Bars, clubs, and restaurants stay open late into the night.

Start your evening at the Royal Hawaiianʻs Mai Tai Bar for a signature cocktail before hitting the dance floor at one of Honoluluʻs many nightclubs.

If you are looking for a comedy show or something off-Broadway, Honolulu is the place you want to be.

Be sure and check out the Oʻahu events calendar for exciting things to do while you visit.

Waikiki Beach

Not far from the state capitol is Waikiki Beach, the home of legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku.

Today, thousands of visitors to Hawaii learn to ride their very first wave from the many surf instructors whose schools line Waikiki Beach. The gentle waves and calm waters make it an ideal location for water activities.

You can often book equipment and lessons through your hotel, online, or along the waterfront.

Fun things to do include:

  • Surfing lessons
  • Paddleboarding
  • Sunbathing
  • Glass-bottom boat tours
  • Snorkeling
  • Kayaking
  • Parasailing
  • Outrigger canoe tour or a sunset cruise
  • Whale watching (winter months)

Honolulu Accommodations

A hotspot for Hollywood royalty, hotels like the Royal Hawaiian bring back the days when Shirley Temple and Charlie Chaplin escaped Tinsel Town but didnʻt want to leave behind luxury and glamor.

There is no shortage of places to stay in Honolulu. From some of the best luxury resorts to affordable hotels, finding a place to stay is easier in Honolulu that anywhere else in Hawaii.

Bishop Museum

Another stop for those who want to delve into the deep and rich history of Hawaii is the Bishop Museum.

Located in Honolulu, the museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of the islands and its Polynesian origins.

The museum is an important hub of Polynesian scholarship and archaeology. In addition to exhibits, the museum hosts a robust program of workshops and events.

Check the schedule on their website before you visit Honolulu so you wonʻt miss an opportunity.

Art Galleries

Hawaii is a wellspring of creativity. Perhaps it is the ancient Polynesian love for arts, dance, and music that inspires creativity.

Honolulu has long been a hub for the art scene in Hawaii.

Stop by a local gallery or spend the afternoon at the Honolulu Museum of Art and learn more about the art and culture of the Hawaiian islands.

Diamond Head State Park Monument

With stunning views of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean, the Diamond Head Crater has long been a popular tourist destination.

The summit is slightly less than a mile hike. It is steep and includes switchbacks and stairs. If you are able, the effort is worth the view.

You will need to make a reservation to enter the park.

Oʻahuʻs Windward Coast Region

If you want a break from the city hustle and bustle, a short drive away is the windward coast.

Lush valley landscapes, beautiful beaches, and sweeping ocean views, the windward coast is worth the excursion.

Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse

Go past Hanauma Bay and stop off at Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse for a short hike—about 2 miles—to take in the views that overlook Sea Life Park and Makapu’u Beach Park.

Makapu’u sandy beach is a popular hangout for bodyboarders and surfers.

The windward coast is a great spot for whale watching. During the winter months, from the lighthouse lookout, you might see whales swim by in the Molokaʻi Channel.

Seal Life Park

If encountering wildlife is on your list, especially if you have kids, Sea Life Park should be on your itinerary.

Learn about Hawaii’s reefs and marine life, like the endangered monk seals. With advance booking on their website, you can even get in the water and up close to encounter a dolphin.

Valley of the Temples

Another popular tourist destination is the Valley of the Temples, which highlights Japanʻs cultural legacy on the island.

Visit the Byodo-In Temple, built to commemorate the island’s first Japanese immigrants.

Waimea Valley

The windward coast is generally cooler and wetter than other parts of O’ahu, which means increased greenery.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Waimea Valley.

Visit the stunning Waimea waterfall in the back of the valley and see ancient house (hale) sites, heiaus (temples), and shrines on the way.

In addition to the cultural sites, Waimea Valley’s botanical garden includes 52 different themed gardens. The botanical staff hosts a daily tour that is included in the price of admission.

Central Oʻahu

A fertile valley in the heart of O’ahu, the Central region is the area tucked between the Waiʻanae Mountains and Koʻolau range.

The region was once the heart of Oʻahu’s agriculture. However, today the most popular landmark is Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor

Each year thousands of people visit Pearl Harbor to honor the soldiers who lost their life during the World War I attack that brought American into the war. Many soldiers are still entombed in the harbor.

The memorial is a short drive from Honolulu and easily accessible by public transportation.

Make a reservation online to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Learn more about the attack and America’s role in the war through the onsite exhibit and theater.

Dole Plantation

About 30 minutes from Honolulu is the Dole Plantation, where you can learn more about the history of Hawaii and the pineapple.

By the 1930s, Hawaii was the top producer of pineapple in the world. Along with the sugar industry, plantation work brought immigrants from as far away as Portugal, Japan, China, and the Philippines to the island to work the fields.

By the 1980s pineapple production moved overseas but the lasting impact has made the spiky fruit synonymous with Hawaii.

If you are visiting Dole Plantation with your family, children love to take a 20-minute train raid on the Pineapple Express and sample Dole Whip, a delicious pineapple soft-serve treat.

The North Shore

Keep driving and you will hit Oahu’s North Shore, home to one of the most famous beaches in all the islands.

There are 7 miles of great beaches along the North Shore, making it ideal for all kinds of water sports.

However, there is no shortage of terrestrial activities to choose from.

In addition to hiking and ziplining, exploring the charming local shops and eateries is also a favorite North Shore pastime.

If you choose to make the North Shore home base, there are several resorts and hotels on the North Shore to choose from.

Waimea Bay

Surfers from around the world flock to Waimea Bay on Oʻahuʻs windy North Shore during the winter months for the chance to test their skills on the 30-foot waves of the Banzai Pipeline. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to watch a surfing competition.

Waimea Bay waters are calmer in the summer, transitioning into a favorite spot for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Polynesian Cultural Center

A visit to Oʻahuʻs North Shore would not be complete without spending an afternoon learning about culture and history at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The Center is a living museum where visitors can go on a journey through six different Polynesian villages. Interactive activities and live shows tell the history of history of Polynesian migration and culture.

Historic Towns

The North Shore is also home to several charming towns.

Stop in at Haleʻiwa Town, a historic surfing town, and have lunch at one of the many food trucks. Take your lunch down to Haleʻiwa Beach Park and have a picnic.

After you have satisfied your hunger with grilled shrimp and shaved ice, take a stroll through town and check out the boutiques and art galleries.

Kahuku, another coastal town on the North Shore, also has an assortment of food trucks and galleries. Stop by the Full Fathom Five to see what local artists are making.

Leeward Coast

For visitors looking for beaches off the beaten path, head to the leeward coast—about 30 miles from Honolulu.

The valley nestled at the foot of the Waiʻanae mountain range is less developed with small towns and a laid-back atmosphere. However, the area includes several nice resorts and attractions.

The hallmark of the leeward coast is miles of white sandy beaches that feel secluded.

Kaʻena Point

If you donʻt mind a long hike then head out to Kaʻena Point for some spectacular views on the western tip of Oʻahu. Ancient tradition says this is an entry point into the spirit world.

Mākaha Beach

The best surfing on the west coast can be found on Mākaha Beach.

The large white sandy beach is also a great place to walk or relax and feel like you have gotten away from the crowds.

For even more seclusion, head to the North end of the Mākaha Valley and spend the day at Makua Beach.

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Time Visitors is Oʻahu

If you are visiting Hawaii for the first time, Oʻahu is the Hawaiian Island that we recommend.

The sheer volume of cultural attractions, great beaches, and ease of getting around make Oʻahu our pick for the best island to visit in Hawaii for the first time.