15 Tours + Classes That Show You the Real Oahu
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There’s a side to Oahu that most tourists never get to see. These off-the-beaten path experiences take you to the most beautiful spots and show you island life from a totally unique perspective. Taste tropical fruit right off the vine, stand on a beach in the middle of the ocean, snorkel in places you can only get to by boat, and learn how local food gets from the ocean or land to your table.
These are the 15 hidden gem tours and classes that show you the real Oahu…
A beach in the middle of the ocean
This is one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii and somehow it’s still under the radar. At low tide, it’s almost like being on a beach in the middle of the ocean and it's one of the best places to swim and snorkel in Oahu. A barrier reef protects the area from large waves, attracting tropical fish, sea turtles, and rays.
You need to boat or kayak to get there. This tour takes you by boat and provides snacks and drinks aboard and then snorkels, paddleboards, and floaties when you get there.
Tips: Check the tides before you go. At low tide, it’s like walking around on an island. At high tide, it’s like swimming in a 3-5 ft deep pool. Most of the time, it’s about ankle to knee deep. All are fun, but good to know what to expect.
Did you know? It’s the largest saltwater sandbar in the world
Check out all our insider tips in our Kaneohe Sandbar Guide.
Walking tour of Lokoea Farm’s Orchards
See what it’s like to run an 8 acre tropical fruit farm. Take a walking tour of Lokoea Farm’s 3 orchards and harvest some in season fruits. Learn about the farm’s history and what it takes to grow mangoes, bananas, avocados, breadfruit, star cherries, cocoa, coffee and more.
Learn how to use a corn husker to open coconuts, how they dry vanilla, and use a special nutcracker to open up macadamia nuts. You can also feed their chickens and collect colorful eggs. The tour ends with a picnic where you taste a variety of farm-fresh tropical fruits, coconuts, and macadamia nuts (both raw and roasted). This is a great way to support a local family business too.
Tips: You’ll be walking around in direct sun, so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses, a hat, and water.
Check out all our insider tips in our Explore a Tropical Fruit Farm Guide.
Eat like a local
Here’s your chance to try authentic Hawaiian food and learn the history of how it’s made — all curated by Lanai Tabura, local Emmy Award-winning host of “Cooking Hawaiian Style." You’ll visit Tabura’s favorite authentic food spots —like grocery stores, a taro factory, an old-school bakery, a noodle factory, and a shaved ice shop. Sample complimentary dishes like poke, Spam musubi, malasadas, and manapua, and learn everything you want to know about Hawaiian food.
Did you know? Lanai Tabura has also been on Travel Channel’s No Reservations where he co-hosted with and cooked for Anthony Bourdain.
Perks: They keep the groups small with no more than 4 guests on each tour.
Where: In and beyond Honolulu. They can pick you up from your Waikiki hotel or Honolulu Pier.
Hidden gems in Chinatown
One of the best reasons to visit Oahu is for the food. Honolulu’s Chinatown is overlooked by most tourists but it’s home to some of the most incredible restaurants on the island (like Senia, Bar Maze, and The Pig & The Lady) along with hole-in-the-wall spots (like Maguro Brothers). First off, let’s be real clear. Chinatown is kind of gritty. But the food finds are unbeatable, so having a guide show you around is the way to go.
If you’re an adventurous eater who wants to get away from the tourist food traps (...ahem Cheesecake Factory and Tommy Bahamas), then this tour is for you. They’ll take you to 8 different stops where you’ll sample authentic asian foods (like manapua, pork adobo, Chinese dumplings, and poke) as well as fresh tropical fruits and roast meats. You’ll learn about how Hawaii’s multi-cultural history has influenced the food scene.
Perks: They’ll pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or Airbnb.
Learn to cook Hawaiian food
Take a hands-on Hawaiian style cooking class in the home of Chef Linda. Some of the dishes you might make are fresh poke, loco moco, butter mochi, deluxe musubi, lau lau, kalua pork… the list goes on and on… And at the end, you’ll sit down to enjoy the meal you prepared along with a glass of wine, beer, or drink of choice.
Chef Linda does a great job of telling you the history of the food as you cook it. These cooking classes can be geared towards anyone — from total beginner to professional chefs. And the food is excellent! This experience is loved by both visitors and locals.
Heads up: You’ll have to drive, Uber, or Lyft to get there from Waikiki.
Where: Diamond Head area
Kayak to a secluded island and swim with turtles
Not everyone visiting Oahu will get a chance to step foot on the Mokulua Islands (aka The Mokes). Why? Because you have to kayak, paddleboard, or canoe to get to them. They’re just offshore from Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach and they can’t be missed from the Lanikai Pillbox.
The guides on this tour are knowledgeable, but still very laid back. After a 30 minute kayak ride to the islands, they’ll take you on a tour of the island (which is a bird sanctuary) and lead you to Queen’s Bath where you can jump in and float in the saltwater pool. Then you’ll get a chance to snorkel in a coral reef that’s a turtle feeding ground.
Tips: Book an early morning tour to beat the heat.
Did you know? The Queen’s Bath was once used by Hawaiian Royalty for its healing properties. It's a natural saltwater pool that's full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin.
Check out all our insider tips in our Kayak to the Mokes Guide.
Eat tropical fruit on a family run farm
Hop on a tractor pulled wagon to tour this family owned farm and learn what it takes to get fresh food to the local supermarket shelves. Taste in season farm fruits (like passion fruit, apple bananas, dragon fruit, and papaya) and chocolate made with cacao that was grown there.
And if you’re still hungry, stop by their cafe for a true farm to cafe lunch. The cool thing about this cafe is that they use up all the funny looking produce that’s perfectly good but would get rejected by the grocery store. It’s their way of reducing waste while supplying ingredients for their really yummy menu.
Tips: If you’re coming from Waikiki / Honolulu, the drive up the coast is beautiful.
Where: North Shore
Beer tastings in Honolulu’s arts district
Kaka’ako is the coolest neighborhood in Honolulu. It’s an up and coming spot that used to be nothing but warehouses, but is now home to inventive restaurants and bars. It’s known for the huge colorful street art murals around every corner.
On this walking tour, a beer connoisseur introduces you to the history and culture of food and brewing on the Hawaiian islands. You start off with a flight of beers at Waikiki Brewing Company, then off to Aloha Beer Company for another flight. There will be snacks along the way and as you walk from one spot to the next, they’ll point out various artists' murals. At the end of the tour, you’ll be in Kaka’ako where there are great places to eat and drink if you want to keep the fun going.
Check out all our insider info in our Kaka’ako Street Art Guide.
Taste farm fresh cacao and chocolate
This is where you’ll learn firsthand about Hawaii’s emerging cacao and chocolate industry. Taste farm fresh cacao fruit when it’s in season, sit down with a Chocolate Sommelier to try their collection of chocolates, learn about their manufacturing process, and enjoy a chocolate tea service.
At Manoa Chocolate, they buy their cacao directly from farmers and craft all their chocolate in house from bean-to-bar, giving them complete control over every step of the process. Learn about every step and taste the final product for yourself.
Tip: If you don’t want to do a tour, you can still do a walk in tasting.
Be a beekeeper
You’ll find amazing honey in Hawaii thanks to all the nectar and pollen. On this tour, get up close and personal with the honey making process. Start off with a fun and brief introduction about the bees and how honey is made. Then throw on a beekeeper suit and see the beehives in action. They’ll do their best to point out the queen bee, show a bee birth, and let you hold a frame of raw honeycomb. At the end you’ll sample raw and infused honey varieties.
Tip: Wear socks and closed-toe shoes. Try not to wear perfume or cologne.
Where: Near Waialua
Bike from Waikiki to Manoa Falls
Manoa Falls makes you feel like you’re walking through a scene of Jurassic Park (and you’d be right because they filmed parts of the movie here). The rainforest hike winds through tropical plants, a bamboo forest, giant ferns, and huge palms leading to a huge waterfall — one of the most accessible in Oahu. The 150-foot waterfall at the end is beautiful, but the path to get to it is jaw dropping.
Getting from Waikiki to Manoa falls by bike is a unique way to see the island and to take in the different neighborhoods and vistas that you'd normally fly past. And it’s an electric bike so it’s not as strenuous as a regular ole bike. On your way back, you coast through the University of Hawaii at Manoa Campus. You also have the option to stop at Off the Hook Poke. (Don’t skip this! It’s one of the best poke spots on the island.)
Tips: Manoa is a rainforest area, so expect lots of moisture and bring a jacket or sweatshirt.
Check out all our insider tips in our Manoa Falls Guide.
The only fish auction between Maine and Japan
This is where some of the best restaurants in Oahu pick out their fresh fish every morning. (Maguro Brothers and Nico’s Pier 38 stock up on ahi every day.) It’s been around since 1952. Starting at 1am, fishing boats tie up and start unloading their catch just a few feet away. The auctioneer rings a brass bell at 5:30am and the bidding begins for the hundreds of fish on display.
This tour shows you where the seafood comes from and how it gets from the dock to restaurants on the islands and the mainland. They explain what auction buyers are looking for and how the tuna is graded. They also explain the history of the auction.
Tips: Dress warm and wear close toed shoes. It’s a refrigerated warehouse.
Did you know? This is the only fish auction between Tokyo and Maine. It’s the only fresh tuna auction of its kind in the United States.
Learn to surf
Surfing is such a quintessential part of Hawaiian culture. If it’s your first time, book with a group that’s known for getting beginners up on their boards and preferably for a one on one lesson. Here are two that are great for newbies:
One on one lessons in Waikiki: It’s hard to visit Waikiki and not be a little envious of the hoards of people surfing all day long. It’s an iconic place to learn to surf any time of year. One on one lessons are ideal if it’s your first time, but this lesson can be tailored to beginners or advanced surfers.
North Shore Beginner Lessons: All the teachers are professional surfers and certified lifeguards. They say that almost every student stands on the board during their first lesson. This is great for beginners because they keep the teacher ratio low.
Oahu’s iconic landmarks from the sky
See the best of Oahu from a totally different vantage point — the sky. This helicopter tour is extra special because it’s combined with a breathtaking Waikiki sunset.
Fly from Waikiki to the North Shore and back, taking in breathtaking views of Oahu’s most iconic places (like Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Makapu’u Lighthouse, Lanikai Beach, Chinaman’s Hat, Ka’a’awa Valley, Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay, the Dole Plantation, and Pearl Harbor). Your pilot will talk you through everything you’re seeing as you fly overhead. This is a once in a lifetime way to see Oahu.
Tips: You get to choose between a “doors off” and “doors on” flight. Most people agree that doors off is the most incredible. But when you book doors off, that’s not a guarantee that you’re sitting right next to the door. Reach out to them to request that spot specifically.
Where: Kicks off in Waikiki
Check out all our insider tips in our Waikiki Sunset Helicopter Tour Guide.
Hands-on eco tour
Kualoa Ranch offers so many different activities and tours. You can visit the places where they filmed Jurassic Park, get around on bikes, boats, UTVs, ziplines, or horseback. But one of the lesser known tours shows you a side of Oahu that most tourists will miss. Malama means “take care” in Hawaiian and this eco tour teaches the importance of taking care of the resources that feed the entire natural environment that we benefit from.
The experience is a hands-on one that can include thatching a traditional Hawaiian hale (house), help with cleaning, planting, and harvesting kalo, and learning how to care for the upland 'ahupua'a streams that feed the lo'i down through the valleys and into the ocean. Learn about kalo (taro) and how Hawaiian people use it for sustenance but also its cultural tie to Kualoa and Hawaiian identity.
Tips: Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. When they say “hands on” they really mean “hands on.”
Where: Windward Coast