Top Oahu Attractions for the Time-Crunched Traveler 

By Whitney Butler

Great airfare deals to Hawaii are hard to pass up, so many West Coast travelers find themselves out on the islands for business or short weekend adventures.

When time is of the essence and you want to get the most out of your short Hawaii trip, picking attractions that feature culture, entertainment and outdoor fun are quintessential to your island experience.

Check out these exciting Oahu attractions when you’re crunched for time.

Explore the Island Nations of Polynesia

For many travelers, Hawaii might be the only Polynesian island they ever get to, leaving Tonga, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Fiji, Samoa and Aotearoa to the imagination. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

At the Polynesian Cultural Center on the northern shore of Oahu, visitors can experience all of these cultures through authentic presentations of art, customs, food and traditional housing. Visitors will enjoy more than 42 acres of Polynesian beauty at the cultural center, mingle with natives from each territory and learn more about their way of life. Learn to make a fire in Samoa, enjoy traditional Tahitian dancing or test your rhythm on stage with a Tonga drum.

Visit the USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is a must-see in Oahu. The visit only takes a few hours, but is exceptionally well run and features a tremendous amount of American history. Spanning the midsection of the sunken ship, the 184-foot-long memorial structure preserves stories of the war, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Japanese American internment camps.

Plan an early visit to avoid large crowds and a more ambient experience while paying tribute to war heroes and those lost during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Take in the Local Culture

With so many evening entertainment options around the island, choosing can be daunting, especially when time is short. Fortunately, two of Oahu’s best and most popular cultural experiences are available at the same place, helping visitors use limited vacation time more efficiently.

The Polynesian Cultural Center’s Ali’i Luau immerses visitors in the rich cultural heritage of the islands with a Royal Court procession, lively Hawaiian entertainment, presentation of the imu—an underground oven lined with banana leaves and hot rocks—and delicious traditional food.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is also known for putting on the best Polynesian entertainment in Hawaii, known as “Hā: Breath of Life”. This acclaimed evening performance includes more than 100 Polynesian natives in a state-of-the-art theatre experience featuring traditional music, dancing and customs across several Polynesian cultures.

Luaus and the “Hā: Breath of Life” performance are extremely popular among travelers, so it’s a good idea to buy tickets or make reservations well in advance. In fact, The Polynesian Cultural Center offers 10% off ticket prices if you book either of these packages 10 days in advance!

DIY Tourism

Another great way to experience island culture in a pinch is through hands-on activities designed to entertain as well as inform visitors about Hawaiian history and culture.

Polynesian settlers introduced outrigger canoeing to the region almost two thousand years ago. Due to the island’s rough terrain, the canoe became the perfect means of water transportation. Today, outrigger canoeing is a popular recreational water sport—you can enjoy guided lessons, tours and more while paddling in an outrigger canoe on your next visit.

For enthusiastic and curious foodies, a visit to Oahu can be a one-of-a-kind lesson in cooking and local cuisine. Kalua pork is a delicious and world-famous dish slow cooked in the imu, ensuring that the meat is tender, smoky and falls right off the bone. If you’re in a hurry, you may not have half a day to spend preparing and slow-cooking the pig, but you can learn about the intricacies of this labor of love during a traditional Luau and take the ancient technique back home for your next gathering.

Hike Diamond Head

Wake up early and put on your hiking boots. A great alternative to the hotel gym, the trip to the top of Diamond Head showcases incredible natural views of Waikiki.

There are a few different routes to take up the mountain, but all of them are well marked and easy to follow. Bring plenty of water and wear light clothing. The total hike is less than two miles and takes about an hour and a half to three hours to complete. There are several lookouts along the way, so if you don’t feel like hiking to the top there are plenty of scenic places to snap a Hawaiian selfie.

This article is brought to you by the Polynesian Cultural Center—all of Polynesia in one place. Click here to register for tours, luaus and special packages. Book tickets 10 days in advance and receive 10 percent off!