Top Things to Do on Oahu: Historical Attractions

More than just beautiful beaches and warm surf, Oahu is grounded in rich history with sacred landmarks available for visitors to explore. 

Start your stay with a room in Waikiki's oldest hotel, the Moana Surfrider, once a vacation retreat to famous guests such as the Prince of Wales, Amelia Earhart, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. Then, venture into downtown Honolulu and visit Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on United States soil. Home to the royal Hawaiian family for a short 11 years, visitors can tour the grounds where the government forced Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, to abdicate her throne. Nearby, stop at Kawaiahao Church, Oahu's first Christian church, where services are still conducted in Hawaiian. 

A few miles away, take in panoramic views at the Nuuanu Pali Wayside, the site of the bloody battle where King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu, eventually uniting the Hawaiian Islands. Then stop by the Royal Mausoleum, where many Hawaiian dynasties are laid to rest. 

To pay your respects at the island's largest heiau, or Hawaiian temple, head to the North Shore. On your way back to Honolulu, stop at Hawaii's Plantation Village for a glimpse into the makings of the island's modern history. On the leeward side, salute fallen crewmen at the USS Arizona Memorial, where the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor incited the U.S. entry into World War II. Museum buffs can explore restored Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts at Bishop Museum or take a guided two-and-a-half hour tour of tobacco heiress Doris Duke's Shangri La.

The island is filled with amazing historic sites. These 10 iconic wonders centuries or decades past tell Oahu's turbulent yet story, while keeping the island's history alive. 

Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki

Known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” this oceanfront hotel on Waikiki Beach is a historical landmark. First opened in 1901, the white Beaux-arts building is considered an architectural treasure, and the hotel remains as one the area’s finest hotels.

Kawaiahao Church

Known as the “Westminster Abbey of Hawaii,” this is the first Christian church in Hawaii, commissioned by Kaahumanu, wife of Kamehameha I in the early 1800s. Hawaiian royalty worshipped here for many years, and services in Hawaiian are still offered.

Iolani Palace

The magisterial palace is the former home of the Hawaiian monarchy and the only official royal residence in the United States. Self-guided audio tours: adults - $14.75, youth ages 5-12 - $6. Reservations recommended for docent-led tours: adults - $21.75, youth - $6 Basement gallery exhibits: adults - $5, youth - $3.

Nuuanu Pali State Wayside

Perched nearly 1,000 feet high in the Koolau Mountain Range, this lookout from the pali (cliffs) offers astonishing views of the valleys, coastline and blue waters of Oahu’s windward side. A haunting twist frames this popular attraction: a gruesome battle that determined the fate of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii's Plantation Village

Step back in time when sugar was king in the Islands at this outdoor museum showcasing the experience of Hawaii’s migrant plantation workers.

Puu o Mahuka Heiau

This is the largest heiau (ancient Hawaiian temple) on Oahu. It overlooks Waimea Bay on the island’s northern side. It is believed to have been constructed in the 1600’s and used as a sacrificial temple.

Bishop Museum

In Honolulu’s Kalihi district, this over 125-year-old museum is the world’s most significant repository of Pacific and Polynesian artifacts - an imposing stone structure with more than twenty-five million artifacts in its collection.

USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor)

The largest visitor destination in Hawaii, the USS Arizona Memorial is the final resting place for 1,117 of the ships’ crew who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. A diminishing number of World War II veterans gather yearly at the memorial, a reminder of the day when the U.S. entered World War II. Open daily from 7 a.m.

Royal Mausoleum

This three-acre burial site is the resting place for Hawaiian royalty including King Kamehameha II through the V, King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. Guided tours are also available when booked in advance.

Shangri La

Doris Duke’s artistic vision is finally available for public viewing. She called her Black Point residence Shangri-La and it lives up to its name in every way. The artwork that is showcased here is categorized as Islamic, and was purchased by Duke during her trips to the Middle East.