Oahu is a perfect destination for kayaking and paddle boarding. The warm tropical waters ensure you a comfortable paddle.
In many locations around the island, there are calm stretches of water perfect for paddling. There are also small islands off the coast teaming with fascinating local wildlife that are only accessible by kayak.
We selected the top-rated kayaking tours in Oahu and reviewed them below. Whether you’re an experienced paddler, a complete beginner, or you want to combine paddling with hiking, there is a kayak tour in Hawaii that’s perfect for you.
Best Kayaking Tours In Oahu
|Kailua: 2-Hour Guided Kayak Excursion with Lunch||Hawaii: Waterfall Hike, Kayaking, and Paddleboard Adventure||Kailua: Twin Islands Guided Kayak Tour|
|Meeting Point:||Free transportation from selected hotels||Honolulu Hotels pickup||Free transportation from selected hotels|
|Starting Times:||9:15 AM, 12:00 PM||7:00 AM||9:00 AM|
|Duration:||2.5 hours||8 hours||5 hours|
|Includes:||Small group instruction (max 10 students), view nesting sea birds, see turtles, all kayaking gear, snorkeling gear, other beach gear, and lunch||Hike to Waimea Waterfall, kayaking or paddleboarding on Haleiwa River, s ample some locally grown coffee or tasty chocolate, and explore Oahu’s north shore||Small group instruction (max 10 students), see turtles, all kayaking gear, snorkeling gear, other beach gear, and lunch|
Quick Answer: The 3 Best Rated Kayaking Tours In Oahu For 2023
- Kailua: 2-Hour Guided Kayak Excursion with Lunch
- Hawaii: Waterfall Hike, Kayaking, and Paddleboard Adventure
- Kailua: Twin Islands Guided Kayak Tour
Oahu Kayak Tour Reviews
- Meeting Point: Free transportation from selected hotels
- Starting Times: 9:15 AM, 12:00 PM
- Duration: 2.5 hours
- Includes: Small group instruction (max 10 students), view nesting sea birds, see turtles, all kayaking gear, snorkeling gear, other beach gear, and lunch
This is the best kayaking tour in Oahu for visitors who want to see and learn as much as possible in a short space of time.
As one member of a small group, you will explore the pristine waters of Kailua Bay and visit beautiful Popoi’a Island. The island is a State Seabird Sanctuary where you can see wedge-tailed shearwater seabirds. You can observe these seabirds and other tropical species nesting in sink holes and watch green sea turtles swimming in the bay.
This excursion in Kailua includes a short eco-hike when you will explore the tidal pools along the shore. You will be encouraged to become a more sustainable traveler and given a practical demonstration of plastic collection from the ocean.
Within a short time, your qualified guide will show you some of the most exciting and interesting natural features of Oahu. This will include snorkeling through the crystal-clear waters and kayaking in search of the turtles.
After eating the lunch provided, you can admire the dormant volcanoes of the Ko’olau Mountain Range. This range is the remains of a single massive volcano that formed slowly over a long period of time between 2.5 and 1.7 million years ago. Your knowledgeable guide will use the surrounding landscape to teach you about Hawaii’s fascinating geological history.
As well as snorkeling and kayaking, you also have the option to try boogie boarding or go cycling along the beach. This is a flexible Kailua kayak excursion that enables you to try out a variety of fun activities. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can lay on the beach mats or sit on the beach chairs provided and soak up the sun.
A visit to Hawaii simply isn’t complete until you’ve seen the green turtles and swum in Kailua Bay. This short kayak tour in Hawaii will leave you with memories that last a lifetime.
100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience
- Meeting Point: Honolulu Hotels pickup
- Starting Times: 7:00 AM
- Duration: 8 hours
- Includes: Hike to Waimea Waterfall, kayaking or paddleboarding on Haleiwa River, sample some locally grown coffee or tasty chocolate, and explore Oahu’s north shore
This is the best Hawaii kayak tour if you want to spend time exploring the more rural and scenic areas of Oahu away from Honolulu’s city sprawl. On this northern shore excursion, you’ll discover more about the islands’ forests and economics as well as having fun on the water.
During this Oahu kayaking excursion, you will spend a whole day exploring the beautiful northern shoreline of the island. This includes a scenic guided hike through lush tropical forest to visit Waimea Falls Park and view the breathtaking waterfall.
You will spend time on Haleiwa River, where you can enjoy kayaking or paddleboarding. Alternatively, you can swim in the cool fresh water.
Another feature of this Hawaiian kayaking tour is a visit to a coffee farm where you can sample locally grown coffee. This gives you an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the local economy and agriculture.
Oahu’s northern shore was once a popular summer vacation destination for Hawaiian royalty. When you see the stunning mountainous landscape, sprawling jungle, and pristine white beaches, you’ll understand why.
This is a relaxed tour where there’s no rush and you’ll have time to soak up the sun or learn about the local history and culture. Make sure you take lots of photographs to remind you of your epic, day-long adventure in one of the most famous beauty spots in Hawaii.
100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience
Other Experiences You May Enjoy:
- Meeting Point: Free transportation from selected hotels
- Starting Times: 9:00 AM
- Duration: 5 hours
- Includes: Small group instruction (max 10 students), see turtles, all kayaking gear, snorkeling gear, other beach gear, and lunch
This is the best kayaking tour in Oahu for visitors interested in nature and who want to help the environment. You will kayak to the twin islands of Moku Nui and Moku Iki (the Mokulua Islands), which are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary.
On the islands, your expert guide will direct you to the location of hidden tidal pools where you can observe marine life up close. You will also observe nesting tropical birds and other interesting creatures within the sanctuary.
A certified diver and lifeguard will guide you on a snorkeling tour of a living coral reef where you will observe colorful tropical marine life. On this dive, you will visit a green turtle feeding ground where you have a good chance of swimming with turtles. There is also a possibility you may encounter tiger sharks, which are a beautiful but threatened species.
An experienced instructor will educate you about sustainable tourism. This will include a practical demonstration of collecting marine plastics to help preserve the local wildlife. To reinforce this element of the tour, the lunch provided will include no single-use plastics. Hopefully, this eco-friendly tour will enable you and other participants to become more sustainable travelers.
100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience
Oahu Travel Guide
Although Hawaii has been a US State since 1959, it still feels like another country. Oahu is the most popular of the Hawaiian islands, hosting many of its iconic attractions.
Where else in the US can you visit not just one but two genuine royal palaces?
Whether you’re most fascinated by volcanic features like Diamond Head, the abundance of marine life in the surrounding ocean, or local traditions like lei greetings and luaus, you’ll find something amazing to see and do in Oahu.
Airports & Entry
For most visitors, the only practical means to get to Oahu is by air. There are no ferries from the continental US to Hawaii.
However, you can opt to join a cruise to Hawaii from Vancouver, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.
Hawaii’s main airport is Honolulu International Airport in Oahu, which is also known as Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Most visitors to Hawaii arrive here, and the airport handles over 21 million passengers a year. By air, you can reach Oahu from almost anywhere in the world.
If you compare the price of flights on a ticket site like Skyscanner, you’ll find one-way flights from LA for as little as $232, from NYC for $367, and from London for $484.
As one of the 30 busiest airports in the US, Honolulu offers all the facilities you’d expect inside a large airport.
International flights land at Terminal 2, which is the main terminal sometimes referred to as the Overseas Terminal.
You’ll find most of the food outlets, stores, and other services in Terminal 2. All 3 terminals of the airport are linked by the Wiki-Wiki shuttle bus service.
You can reach central Honolulu or Waikiki from the airport by shuttle bus, public bus, taxi, or hire car. Some hotels offer a free shuttle bus service.
Shuttles are the easiest economical option, costing around $16 one way. The public buses are cheaper, but they’re slow and don’t allow luggage. Taxis usually charge between $40 and $45.
Cruises from the continental US depart from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Canadian cruises depart from Vancouver.
The shortest duration of such a tour is 11 days from Vancouver, but that would involve 5 days at sea and 5 in port.
A 14-day cruise from LA consists of 9 days at sea and 4 in port. If you want to reach Oahu by cruise liner, you’ll sacrifice half your vacation to just getting there.
But the biggest disadvantage of taking a cruise over flying is that a cruise will typically only spend one day in each port.
You won’t have enough time to adequately explore Oahu or any other Hawaiian island.
Traveling in the time of Covid
Like many other destinations worldwide, tours and visitor attractions in Oahu have adopted special procedures.
Wearing a mask in mandatory in many locations. You will be expected to supply your own mask and wear it when you enter public buildings.
Keep your distance from other visitors who are not in your family group or bubble. You will be expected to keep your distance inside minibuses and other vehicles and when seated in restaurants.
At the time of writing, the State of Hawaii welcomes visitors but requires pre-travel testing for Covid-19. You can obtain the most up-to-date information directly from the State of Hawaii Portal.
Kayaking & Watersports in Hawaii
Outrigger canoes are an important part of the local culture in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands are among the last habitable places on Earth to be colonized by humankind.
It is believed the Polynesian colonists first came to the islands aboard outrigger boats during the 13th century CE. Once settled, they used outrigger canoes both for fishing and for commuting between the various islands of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
The rivers and coastal waters of Oahu are perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding. In many places, coral reefs create calm areas where it is safe to kayak.
There are many fascinating islands a mile or so off the coast of Oahu that make perfect kayaking excursion destinations. Plus, the warm tropical water and fine weather make kayaking in Hawaii a pleasurable experience.
In some of the protected natural parks, kayaking is the only way to access areas of natural beauty and locations where you can observe some of Hawaii’s amazing wildlife. Kayaking is an eco-friendly way to explore Oahu’s pristine waters. It doesn’t hurt the wildlife or pollute the ocean.
Eco-Tourism and Sustainability in Oahu
The Hawaiian Archipelago offers many areas of outstanding natural beauty and protected wildlife areas you can explore. In order to maintain this wonderful place for future generations, many of the local tour companies operate eco-friendly tours.
When considering the tours we review on the World Travel Guides website, note that there are often eco-friendly options that empower you to become a more sustainable traveler. This is especially true around the islands of Hawaii. Take care of our world and it will take care of our children.
General Planning Tips
Oahu is arguably the most interesting of the Hawaiian Islands to visit, boasting many of the top attractions in the state. Here are 5 tips to help you plan your visit.
Tip #1: If you love whales, go in winter
Every winter, humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the waters around Hawaii to mate and calve.
If you want to see whales breaching the surface, come to Oahu between December and April and take a whale watching tour.
Between 10 and 12 thousand whales gather in the nearby ocean. You can often see them from the beaches, and they are known to circle small boats that approach their pods.
If you’re not interested in whales, the best time to visit Oahu is between September and November.
There are fewer crowds in the shoulder season, and accommodation prices can be cheaper. The fall isn’t as hot as summer but not as busy as winter.
Tip #2: Explore beyond Honolulu and Waikiki Beach
Many visitors to Oahu don’t travel far from their hotel in Honolulu, but many of the island’s more interesting attractions are further afield.
During your stay, make sure you explore some of the more unusual and remote attractions Oahu has to offer. A great way to see the “hidden” Oahu is to do a ATV tour and see sights that very few tourists get to see.
Tip #3: Book Oahu accommodation and tours in advance, especially during winter
Oahu is a popular destination, so accommodation and tours are sometimes fully booked well months ahead.
To ensure you get the room you want and tickets for the tours you’re interested in, book in advance.
Tip #4: Pack smart clothes and raincoats
Because Oahu has a tropical climate, you’ll spend a lot of time in shorts and T-shirts. However, occasional heavy rainstorms do occur, especially during the summer months.
For that reason, you might want to pack a light raincoat.
And, if you plan to attend any special events in the evenings, such as a traditional luau, or you want to visit a plush cocktail lounge for a romantic evening, then ensure you pack some more formal clothes for such occasions.
Tip #5: Buy traditional local craft souvenirs
You’ll see “authentic Hawaiian crafts” in gift shops around the island, but many of the carvings and traditional clothes are actually “made in China”.
However, there are several arts and crafts stores around the island that specialize in locally produced goods.
For example, check out Na Mea Hawaii, 1200 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu.
Na Mea Hawaii is a store where you can buy books written by and about Hawaiian people, original art, crafts, and cultural products.
Restaurants & Eating Out
Oahu is an island where the indigenous Polynesian inhabitants boast an uninterrupted cultural history. This means it’s a great place to sample authentic Polynesian food.
But the vast numbers of immigrants who have settled here from Asia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico add to the rich cultural mix.
Oahu is also a great place to eat traditional Korean, Japanese, and Mexican dishes.
Because it’s an island, you’ll find lots of seafood dishes in Oahu. Poke is a popular traditional delicacy. Poke is similar to sashimi but the fish is presented in chunks instead of slices.
Monchong is marinated and grilled, deep-water fish. And opakapaka is baked, grilled, or steamed crimson snapper.
If you want to sample traditional poke, check out the Highway Inn in Waipahu. This renowned, award-winning restaurant has served authentic Hawaiian food since 1947.
The Highway Inn also has branches in Kaka’ako and inside the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
A popular Polynesian cooking technique is using an earth oven called an imu. Any dishes cooked this way are described as luau.
Luau parties are actually named after this kind of food because it is often served at Hawaiian parties.
A popular luau dish is laulau, which features fish, chicken, or pork wrapped in taro leaves.
These wraps are slow-cooked for hours until the meat grows tender. The resulting delicacy has a smoky taste.
For hand-wrapped laulau, again head over to the Highway Inn in Waipahu. While there, also check out the smoked meat loco moco with mushrooms over brown rice. Delicious!
In Oahu, taro is the staple food source. This versatile root crop is often found crushed down into poi, a steamed or baked paste.
Poi is thick and tastes a little sour because of the fermentation that occurs during preparation.
For the best hand-pounded poi, check out the Waiahole Poi Factory on the Kamehameha Highway north of Kahaluu.
Here you can not only eat delicious poi in their restaurant, but you can also attend Hawaiian traditional food demonstrations and tastings. You can also enjoy laulau here.
Honolulu Kitchen in Waipahu, despite its name, is a great place to taste traditional Asian dishes, such as Sichuan pork eggplant, furikake garlic chicken, and kung pao chicken.
Manapua (cha shao bao) are popular all over the island, and Honolulu Kitchen serves a broad variety from spicy, deep-fried Korean style to traditional steamed manapua.
If you enjoy Korean dishes, Sara’s Café (Jun Café) on Beretania Street in Honolulu is popular with the locals. It has a reputation for good-quality, affordable Korean meals.
But if it’s authentic sushi you desire, check out Sushi Sasabune on South King Street in Honolulu. It’s highly rated on both TripAdvisor and Google.
Kulolo is a traditional pudding made from steamed taro, sugar, and coconut milk. You won’t be surprised to hear that you can taste it at the Highway Inn.
Breadfruit is often eaten as a dessert, served steamed, baked, deep-fried, or boiled.
You’ll also love Haupia, a delicious pudding made from coconuts. You can sample haupia, fresh apple bananas, pineapples, and kulolo at Haili’s Hawaiian Food in Honolulu.
Nightlife & Entertainment
Nightlife on Oahu is focused around Honolulu and Waikiki. Typically, the night doesn’t get started until sunset.
With so many tourists here ready to have a good time, Hawaii’s capital is blessed with lots of great bars.
Check out Buho Cantina, a swanky rooftop bar and Mexican restaurant in the Waikiki Shopping Plaza that features panoramic views of Waikiki.
It’s a great place to watch the sunset and start the night. Or if you’re looking for something more upscale, head over to the Halekulani Hotel.
Inside, you’ll find Lewers Lounge, where you can sip cocktails in a plush environment while listening to live jazz.
This is one of those places where they won’t let you in wearing flip-flops and T-shirts.
If you’re looking for a lively nightclub where you can dance to live music and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, you’ll love The Republic.
This popular club is centrally located opposite the famous Ala Moana Shopping Center. They feature regular concerts and special events.
Nearby is the more upmarket The District. You must be 23 to get inside. They feature a broad dance floor, a VIP section, 3 bars, and live DJs.
Alternatively, check out Addiction Nightclub inside the Modern Honolulu Hotel. Addiction features a stunning light show, with 40,000 lights to light up your dance moves.
Luau and hula hoops
While you’re in Hawaii, it would be a shame not to experience some of the traditional evening entertainments.
You can enjoy a FREE traditional torch lighting, Hawaiian hula show, and blowing of the conch shell at around sunset on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Go to the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound near the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Hotel.
The show starts at 6 pm November through January, 6:30 pm February through October, and lasts for an hour.
If you want a fun-packed evening of laulau food, drinks, traditional songs, and epic stories, go to a traditional luau.
At a luau, you can experience a lei greeting and eat traditional cuisine cooked in an imu while watching indigenous performers perform traditional acts.
At the best luaus, you’ll see locals dressed in authentic Hawaiian clothing and performing Ha: Breath of Life, one of the most famous traditional epic sagas.
There might even be brave fire-knife dancers and fire walkers. Just don’t stand too close.
Looking to try something different from checking out the beaches? Try parasailing, or see Oahu from the treetops with a ziplining adventure! If your looking to see the backcountry of Oahu, try a horse back riding tour.
If you’re staying around Waikiki, many great attractions, bars, entertainment venues, and restaurants are within easy walking distance.
However, if you’re staying elsewhere on the island, or want to explore the island, you probably ought to hire a car.
The major urban area around Honolulu and Waikiki features pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. You’ll also want to explore the beaches in this area on foot.
When walking any great distance, remember to take a light raincoat. Rain showers are always a possibility, especially during summer.
Cycling is a great, eco-friendly way to cover longer distances. It’s faster than walking but still provides you with the freedom to stop wherever you want and explore.
Bicycles and mopeds are easy to hire around the island.
However, if you’re headed anywhere hilly, or you want to visit other towns, you must make sure everyone in your group is fit enough to go the distance.
Many of the larger resorts and hotels provide shuttles to help you reach the beach and major attractions around the island. These are often complimentary.
However, some hotels charge for their shuttle services, and often those services are limited. Before you set off for the day, ensure you know what your hotel shuttle is going to cost and the timetable.
The public bus service in Oahu is literally called The Bus.
There are mixed opinions about The Bus, with some travelers finding the service great for getting around the island, but others complaining about crowding and slow services.
The Bus does provide 93 routes around the island with an astounding 4,200 stops. You can go anywhere on The Bus!
You pay cash on the bus or purchase a bus pass. You can buy a 1-day pass on the bus for $5.50.
When traveling, keep an eye out for your destination. To stop The Bus, you must pull the cord in advance.
For information about ticket prices, concessions, maps, and schedules, visit The Bus website.
Waikiki also has a trolleybus service with stops along Waikiki Beach. Trolleybuses are great fun for short journeys in the immediate area but useless for really exploring the whole island.
If you want the freedom to travel anywhere whenever you want, you can always hire a car. It’s a lot more expensive than purchasing a 1-day bus pass, but you will get places quicker.
You can easily hire a car at the airport, though some rental companies require drivers to be over 25.
However, note that parking in Honolulu and Waikiki is difficult.
Traffic all around the island gets congested during the busy winter months. And speed limits are lower than in the continental US and strictly enforced.
Because of the problems with parking, congestion, and navigation, you’ll find it easiest to explore the island on a tour where the tour operator provides the transport.
You won’t have the same flexibility as when you rent a car, but you’ll get where you need to go with less hassle.
Taxis and Uber
Taxis in Oahu can be expensive, and they’re difficult to find outside of the main urban area. Hailing taxis isn’t common practice in Hawaii.
However, Uber and Lyft can often offer more affordable solutions to your travel problems.
Most accommodations for tourists in Oahu are found in Waikiki. But you can also find a range of accommodations in Leeward Waianae, along North Shore, and Windward East.
Premier hotel brands, such as Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Sheraton, are found around Waikiki.
Business-class hotels are clustered around the downtown and airport areas of Honolulu.
Prince Waikiki is the top-rated hotel in Honolulu on TripAdvisor and is also highly rated on Booking.com and Google.
Prince Waikiki is a modern and stylish luxury hotel with an infinity pool, wall-to-ceiling windows, and a popular rooftop bar.
If you’re working to a tight budget, you can also find cheaper hotels in this area.
The Inn On The Park in Waikiki offers low rates and free parking, which is useful if you intend to rent a car.
And the Ambassador Hotel is also affordable, though it does have relatively low ratings on both Google and TripAdvisor.
The Makana Valley area contains a luxury resort, championship golf course, and a few vacation rentals.
The Hawaiian Princess Resort is highly rated and offers great surfing conditions in a much quieter setting than Waikiki.
This area mainly offers B&Bs and vacation homes, though there is a major resort at Turtle Bay.
The Turtle Bay Resort is situated in a stunning location on a peninsula overlooking the bay. If you love snorkeling and turtles, it’s a great place to stay.
This is a residential area, and the accommodations in this area are mainly vacation homes.
The weather in Oahu doesn’t fluctuate much over the year. There are really only two seasons: winter and summer. Most of the rain falls during the summer.
And there is only around an hour’s difference in sunrise and sunset times between midsummer and midwinter.
Generally, the leeward (west) side of the island is drier than the windward (east) side. This is why the eastern coast is greener than the west.
The hurricane season is from June to November, though bad hurricanes are rare.
The coldest winter month is February, with an average daily high of 780F and a low of 630F. By May, temperatures have risen to an average high of 810F and low of 670F.
August is the hottest month of the summer, with an average high of 850F and a low of 710F. By November, the average high drops to 810F and the low to 680F.
Oahu boasts many iconic attractions that make it the most visited of the Hawaiian Islands.
Honolulu boasts 2 authentic royal palaces!
The more sumptuous of the 2 is the Iolani Palace. It was built in 1882 for King Kalakaua and became the official residence of the Hawaiian Royal Family.
In recent years, the palace has been lovingly restored. Docent-led tours of the grand halls and opulent rooms are available.
Queen Emma Summer Palace (Hanaiakamalama) was built as a summer retreat in 1857.
This house is a museum filled with displays of the personal possessions of Queen Emma, her husband King Kamehameha, and their son Prince Albert Edward.
You can enjoy a self-guided or docent-guided tour of this royal residence.
While you’re in Oahu, it’s only polite to pay your respects to the servicemen who lost their lives to defend your freedom here during WWII. The Arizona Memorial draws 1.8 million visitors each year.
The USS Missouri (WWII battleship) and USS Bowfin (WWII submarine) are permanently anchored in the harbor.
You can explore these nautical relics and learn about sailors’ lives during the war. You can also visit the Pacific Aviation Museum.
You can’t not notice Diamond Head while you’re strolling along Waikiki Beach. The Diamond Head Trail is a great way to explore the volcanic cone that dominates the Honolulu skyline.
Although there are some steep sections, and it looks daunting, the hike to the summit is easier than it looks. It only takes between 40 to 60 minutes for the average hiker.
From the top, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean.
This waterfall at the back of the Waimea Valley is relatively easy to reach. The 15-feet waterfall is surrounded by botanical gardens, and you’re allowed to swim in its plunge pool.
The Waimea Falls trail is only ¾ miles long. Your whole family can follow the paved path that passes important archaeological sites to reach the waterfall.
And if your walk leaves you hungry, you can find the Na Mea Ono Snack Bar at the visitors center.
Your whole family will love the Waikiki Aquarium. Inside you’ll find 3,500 species of marine life native to Hawaii, including crabs, jellyfish, sea horses, octopus, squid, sharks, and seals.
You’ll find the aquarium across from Kapiolani Park near San Souci Beach. It’s a great place to see all of Hawaii’s marine life in one place.
Polynesian Cultural Center
This is a great attraction for anyone fascinated by Hawaiian culture.
The center demonstrates traditional music, dances, food, and other traditions. But it’s not only limited to Hawaiian culture.
The center features 7 separate villages each representing a different region of the South Pacific. You can learn about all Polynesian cultures at the Polynesian Cultural Center.