What to Do in Oahu: 10 Tourist Mistakes to Avoid

February 3, 2022

Before you travel to Oahu to hang ten, make sure you know these ten tourist mistakes to avoid.

Make no mistake! Vacationing in Oahu is an unforgettable experience. The sparkling teal water, luscious green hills, and vibrantly flavorful cuisine will delight your tourist senses. While lounging on the beach once you get there is effortless, planning the ins and outs of your trip takes some time and thought.

There are many things to consider when planning to ensure your trip will be smooth sailing once you arrive in Oahu. If you've never visited Hawaii before, here's everything to steer clear of during your time in paradise on earth!

Staying at the Resort the Whole Time

All-inclusive resorts appear to have it all, and they're great if you're looking to have a stereotypical Hawaiian vacation (especially if you're staying in Waikiki, which is riddled with tourist traps). However, staying within the resort borders the whole time is like staying on the surface of the ocean when there's a whole world of wildlife wonder ready for you to dive into just below.

Don't miss out on the local Hawaiian culture or the wildly natural landscapes waiting just outside the resort. Here are a few of the things you'll experience beyond the resort:

  • Exceptional hiking trails
  • Mesmerizing waterfalls
  • Peaceful beaches (other than the tourist-packed Waikiki Beach)
  • Authentic food
  • Conversations with locals

Pro Tip: We recommend scouting out some shave ice for a true taste of the culture of the local scene. Get a taste of this Hawaiian favorite at Matsumoto's Shave Ice, the longest-running shave ice shop on the North Shore of Oahu!

Related Post: Oahu on a Budget: How to Save BIG With a Go City Pass

Close up of a person holding a rainbow shave ice on Oahu, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Matsumoto Shave Ice Official via Facebook

Not Renting a Car to Explore the Island

Now that you're convinced you need to journey outside of your Oahu resort, how will you get around the island? It's a first step, but going on foot will only get you so far. 

To truly escape the touristy resort area, a rental car is one of the best modes of transportation. However, there are many other ways to get from one place to the next, including trolleys, bus systems, and shuttles!

Pro Tip: We recommend forgoing taxis to save time and money on your trip of all the transportation options available on this Hawaiian island. 

Forgetting to Bring Cash

You pick out everything you want to buy, head to the cashier, and begin checking out -- only to realize the store only accepts cash, and all you have is a credit card. Oops! Most of us have been there, and it's no fun to put everything back on the shelf.

Avoid this bind by carrying some cash with you! Unfortunately, there are no major banks on the island, so you'll have no choice but to use an ATM and suffer the high transaction fees that come with it if you forget your green paper.

Pro Tip: Locally-owned mom-and-pop shops and restaurants throughout the island are a charming way to experience Oahu like a local. Keep in mind that they may only accept cash!

Related Post: 31 Unforgettable Romantic Things to Do in Hawaii for Couples

Scheduling Every Minute of Your Trip

You may keep a tight schedule stateside, but when you're in Hawaii, life is scheduled around island time. What does that mean? Take a deep breath and slow down. It's time to live in the present and soak up the memories.

We get it -- you want to experience as much as possible while you're there. However, packing too many activities into each day results in stress, exhaustion, and hazy memories of rushing from one place to the next.

A great way to beat the busyness is to plan one big activity each day. Shape your itinerary around that activity, then fill in the rest of the time with serendipity.

Whether your one activity is snorkeling with turtles or exploring Pearl Harbor, you'll have a goal that leaves plenty of room for all the spontaneous sightseeing and taste testing in between.

View of where the ocean meets the sand at Sunset Beach with an orange sunset in the distance in Oahu, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Victoria Johnson via Facebook

Disrespecting Local Wildlife

While you may only be visiting for a short time, Oahu wildlife calls the island home. As a guest in the home of local turtles, dolphins, and birds, treat their space with respect and give them some distance. 

If you catch sight of one of these amazing creatures, thank them for the opportunity to add these sightings to your bucket list by leaving the animals alone. Letting nature do its thing without a bombardment of tourists and camera flashes ensures it will continue to flourish for years to come.

Fun Fact: While there are no national parks on Oahu, there are two in the state of Hawaii -- one on the island of Maui and one on the island of Hawai'i. Both are home to different wildlife species like sea turtles and birds.

Close up of a sea turtle swimming over the reef in blue green water near Oahu, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Sea Turtle Foundation via Facebook

Touching Coral

Hawaii is the perfect place to dive into the deep blue sea and explore the underwater world by snorkeling or scuba diving. Colorful coral in all different shapes against a backdrop of blue is a sight so beautiful you'll be tempted to reach out and touch it.

Hold on there! Keep your hands to yourself. Coral often appears light and squishy but can actually be quite sharp, leading to cuts and scrapes.

In addition, many confuse coral as a plant, but it's an animal! The components of coral are tiny sea creatures. Touching coral can disrupt the entire underwater ecosystem. So do yourself (and the aquatic life) a favor and enjoy this ocean beauty from afar.

Woman snorkeling through a group of orange fish in Maui, Hawaii, USATaking Lava Rocks and Sand Home With You

Don't leave Oahu without a souvenir, but be mindful when choosing what that souvenir will be. Taking lava rocks, sand, or other natural elements off the island seems like an enticing way to get a souvenir on the cheap. However, as we've discussed earlier, nature is best left alone.

Fun Fact: Legend has it that taking rocks or sand from Hawaii brings bad luck. This is known as "Pele's Curse" if you decide to ask a local about it.

As a much better alternative, browse through locally-owned shops filled with art and products made by native Hawaiians. Not only will this support the local Oahu economy, but you'll have a piece of Hawaii to bring home with you sans lousy luck.

Photo Alert: If you find a cool rock, take a picture of it and post it on the 'gram to capture the beauty without disrupting the landscape.

Staying In Your Comfort Zone

It may be tempting to take it easy by lazing on the beach all day, but if you want to tap into Oahu, you're going to need to get outside of your comfort zone. So don't waste the opportunities you have for exhilarating excursions and cultural lessons!

Try exotic cuisine, get up-close-and-personal with nature, or learn about Polynesian culture. Sitting on the beach in a straw hat is nice for a while, but take advantage of all the excitement Hawaii has to offer, too! 

Pro Tip: Island hopping may be one of the best ways to see all there is to see in Hawaii! Familiarize yourself with the lay of the land first if you're thinking of doing so. If you're starting in Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Hawai'i (the Big Island) are to the right side of the island. Kauai and Niihau are to the left.

Related Post: 8 Totally Free Things to Do in Oahu

Forgetting the Essentials

There are a few essentials you'll need to pack before jetting off to Hawaii! Here are some things you'll need that aren't typically provided by hotels and resorts: 

  • Swimsuits
  • Shoes (sandals and tennis shoes)
  • Clothes
  • Beach towels
  • Reef-safe sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Toiletries

Check out our Hawaii packing list for a thorough list of everything you're going to need on your trip!

woman stuffing black suitcase full of clothes while sittingForgetting Sunscreen

We listed it with the other essentials, but we thought we'd bring it to your attention one more time to make sure you're aware: you're going to need sunscreen. A tropical paradise like Oahu is marked by hot days sizzling with ample sun rays.

Bring plenty of sunscreen and re-apply throughout the day to avoid getting burnt. Don't ruin your time in Oahu with this ouch!

Pro Tip: Make sure your sunscreen of choice is reef-safe to avoid harming coral reefs.

Related Post: Getting Around Oahu When You Don't Know What You're Doing

Still Wondering What to Do in Oahu?

Now that we've covered what not to do during your time in Oahu, what should you do? For ideas galore and exclusive savings, plan your vacation with Hawaii Tripster! A trip to the most tropical location in the United States awaits.

Have Any Additional Oahu Tourist Mistakes to Avoid?

Let us know in the comments below!

  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?

  3. Question for you. I’m going to Oahu in june for my first trip to the islands. Do you need to know how to swim to snorkel or go into the shark cage to see sharks. Thank you

    • Hi Jeff! There is no swimming involved during the shark cage experience. However, you do need to be comfortable underwater, wearing a mask and breathing through a mouthpiece.

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