What to Do in Oahu: 10 Tourist Mistakes to Avoid

September 20, 2018

Before deciding what to do in Oahu, review these common tourist mistakes. It could be the difference between a joyous getaway and a dreary vacation.

Vacationing in Oahu is an unforgettable experience. In fact, I visited Oahu not too long ago. I was so excited about my trip to Oahu that I obsessively counted down the days. However, instead of counting down the days, I should have spent my days figuring out what to do in Oahu. Or more importantly, what mistakes to avoid.

sunset over beach in maui


1. Never Leaving the Resort

While I’m proud to say I’m not guilty of this mistake, I've met multiple vacationers who were.

All-inclusive resorts are wonderful, but they can’t come close to all that Oahu has to offer. When deciding what to do in Oahu, look beyond your hotel. If you never leave the resort, you’ll won't experience the incredible opportunities on the island.

I bet your resort doesn’t provide:

  • Exceptional hiking trails
  • Mesmerizing waterfalls
  • Quaint, peaceful beaches (No, not Waikiki Beach)
  • Local food
  • Conversations with locals

Spending your entire vacation at a resort is a costly and quite frankly, boring, mistake to make in Oahu.

close up of man with hands on steering wheel inside of the car

2. Not Getting a Rental Car and Exploring the Island

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - there’s far more to do in Oahu than lounging around Waikiki Beach. Although we only rented a car for a day (there are plenty of transportation options in Oahu), it was a perfect way to escape the Waikiki Beach area and explore the whole island.

Had we not rented a car and drove to the North Shore, I would have never seen Turtle Bay, devoured the outstanding local food, or seen ¾ of the island!

Although you don’t need to rent a car for your entire trip, reserve at least one day to take a car through the island.

3. Forgetting to Bring Cash

If possible, bring cash on your Hawaiian vacation. Since there are no major banks on the island, you will be forced to use an ATM. While it’s not the end of the world, the high ATM transaction fees can add up quickly.

Also, several shops and restaurants on the island are locally owned, mom and pop stores. More often than not, these stores only accept cash.

4. Having a Packed Schedule

Once your plane lands at Honolulu Airport, you’re officially on island time. Slow down, relax, and take in as many memories as possible. Packing too many activities into each day will only result in stress, becoming overtired, and hazy memories of being shuffled all over the island

When figuring out what to do in Oahu, plan one activity for each day. Whether that means spending the day at the beach or seeing the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, you’ll have a goal and can plan your itinerary around that.

Sea Turtle up Close Swimming Underwater


5. Not Respecting Local Wildlife and Animals

When vacationing in Hawaii, you will see local wildlife and animals. As you will be told, show them respect and give them ample space.

There is nothing worse than watching a crowd of tourists rush over to a turtle swimming to shore. The poor turtle just wants to enjoy the sun and now it’s bombarded with camera flashes, little kids attempting to touch it, and an overwhelming amount of peace signs and hang loose hand gestures.

When wondering what to do in Oahu, you’ll likely choose an outdoor activity with the possibility of seeing a wild animal. No matter the situation, respect the local wildlife. Doing so not only ensures your safety, but the safety of the animal as well.

6. Stepping On Coral

When figuring out what to do in Oahu, try out a popular island activity such as snorkeling or scuba diving. As your instructor or guide will tell you, do not step on the coral. Not only can it lead to serious scrapes and cuts on your feet, it’s dangerous to the underwater ecosystem.

Several aquatic species rely on coral for shelter, food, and protection. By stepping on it, you are damaging a critical component to aquatic life. Be aware of coral while enjoying Hawaii’s crystal clear water.

7. Taking Lava Rocks and Sand Home With You

It may seem enticing to take a souvenir home from Hawaii. However, taking a souvenir such as lava rocks, sand and other natural elements off of the island is believed to bring bad luck. The last thing you want is to bring bad luck upon yourself.

Instead, browse through locally owned shops filled with art and products made by native Hawaiians. Not only will this support the local Oahu economy, you’ll have a piece of Hawaii to bring home with you — that won’t cause bad luck.


8. Not Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you can’t come up with any ideas on what to do in Oahu, you need to step out of your comfort zone! Oahu is filled with exhilarating excursions, cultural lessons, relaxing beaches, and so much more. By not taking the time out of your vacation to do or learn something new, you’ve wasted a great opportunity

During my Oahu vacation, I had the opportunity to learn more about the Polynesian culture, go snorkeling with tropical fish, get up close to a sea lion, and try a new type of cuisine. Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone, I would have flown hours upon hours just to sit on the beach.

When figuring out what do in Oahu, start with something completely new. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

9. Forgetting the Essentials

Although it may sound trivial, do not forget to bring the essentials with you. My husband and I forgot to bring beach towels on our trip. As a result, we had to find an ABC Store (which you’ll learn is not hard to do) and purchase towels.

While on your Oahu vacation, you’ll need the following essential items typically not provided by a hotel or resort:

  • Bathing Suit
  • Gym Shoes
  • Beach Towel
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses/Hat
  • Cash

My advice would be to use the Ultimate Hawaii Packing List before you jet off to the island. This list is so thorough, you won't miss a single thing when packing for your trip.

10. Not Bringing or Wearing Sunscreen

We just talked about the essentials, didn’t we? My husband and I brought sunscreen to Oahu. Plenty of it, in fact. But after a life-changing snorkeling experience at Hanauma Bay, I decided to take a nap on the beach. What could go wrong?

Forgetting to reapply sunscreen. That’s what could go horribly wrong.

While I woke up before getting too badly burned, I looked like a lobster for several days and the flight home was not comfortable. As I looked around the airport before my flight, I learned out that I was not the only tourist who had made this mistake!

No matter what activity or adventure you choose to experience in Oahu, bring and apply sunscreen. However, be sure to bring reef-safe sunscreen! Certain types of sunscreen can damage the tropical reefs and you wouldn't want to contribute to that, now would you?

Hanauma Bay Coastline - Oahu, Hawaii, USA


Still Wondering What to Do in Oahu?

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  1. Where do you recommend staying in Hawaii? One place or do you recommend Oahu, and just seeing the other islands. We hear Disney has a resort now called Aulani? Would that be a good place to start and will they allow you and help you plan excursions?

    • Greetings Michelle. It depends upon how much time you have available. 1-2 days on any particular island is not enough time to soak up even the highlights on each. We’d recommend at least three full days for any island stop if you are indeed hopping from one to the other. Aulani is a fantastic resort, but like everything Disney, the resort is intended to keep you on property. It is located in an isolated area of the island, but they do have plenty of on-property activities and a private beach. And, yes, they have services that can arrange any same-day activity on the island of Oahu.

  2. I was stationed at Pearl in the Navy from 1978 till 1980. I would love to go back to Oahu and remenice. What changes should i expect?

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