The island of Oahu is the most populated and most visited island of Hawaii, receiving about half of all of Hawaii’s visitors. Many more visitors pass through, as Oahu is home to Hawaii’s biggest airport.
The island is also home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, which has important historic sites such as the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the iconic beachfront district of Waikiki.
Outside of Honolulu, explore the island’s beautiful nature such as the spectacular Laie Falls or lush Waimea Valley. Learn more about how the locals live at the Polynesian Cultural Center or by staying in small towns along the Windward Coast.
Oahu seems like a paradise, but the reality of living and visiting a place can’t be captured in a few photos or fast facts. You don’t know what might be hidden beneath, such as a high crime rate.
But don’t worry — our travel experts have done the hard work for you. We’ll give you all the information you need to travel to Oahu safely. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about the island, including crime.
Is Oahu Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Oahu is a very safe place to visit. It has a low crime rate, including the city of Honolulu. While property crimes happen on the island fairly often, violent crime is rare.
Many people worry about visiting Oahu because it contains Hawaii’s largest city, Honolulu. However, Honolulu is one of the safest big cities in the United States.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Honolulu has a below average crime rate of 246.9 incidents per 100,000 people.
Not only is the overall crime rate in Oahu lower than the national average, but the violent crime rate is also lower than the national average. That means that most people living on or visiting Oahu are safe from violent crime incidents.
Criminal incidents do occur in Oahu, such as:
- Purse snatching
- Theft of unattended items
- Vehicle break-ins
- Drug-related crimes
- Assault (usually verbal)
The property crime incidence rate in Oahu is slightly higher than the national average. In fact, in the entire state of Hawaii, the rate of property crimes is higher than the national average.
That’s because many tourists pass through Oahu, creating ideal targets for crime. While you should be careful of property crimes, they are rarely violent and just affect your bank balance (and dignity).
There are certain areas of the island where you will need to exercise more caution than others. As long as you do your research, you should easily be able to stay safe on the island.
Besides crime, you should pay some attention to natural disasters and the natural environment when visiting Oahu. The nature on tropical islands is beautiful but can also be dangerous and even deadly.
Oahu rarely suffers volcanic eruptions. However, volcanic eruptions on the nearby Big Island sometimes affect Oahu in the form of vog, or volcanic smog.
Vog intensifies in the fall and winter due to trade wind patterns and can cause problems for people with respiratory issues. You can check the vog forecast on the official Hawaii Interagency Vog Dashboard.
Volcanoes may grab the headlines, but the most common natural disasters to strike are actually hurricanes and other tropical storms. Floods are the most frequent disaster on the island and are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change.
If there is heavy rain in the forecast, move to higher ground and cancel any outdoor activities such as hiking to avoid getting caught in flash floods.
Crime in Oahu
Crime is often a concern for people when going to a new place. You are more vulnerable when you are traveling — you don’t know what precautions to take or what to expect.
In Oahu, crime is not a major factor in endangering visitors. However, the high rates of property crime might affect you during your visit, especially since tourists are often targeted for property crimes.
The Hawaii government issues a crime report (dating back to 2020) for Honolulu County, which includes the entire city of Honolulu and the rest of the island of Oahu.
The report offers detailed breakdowns of reported crimes according to category. According to the report, property crimes make up the vast majority of crimes committed in Oahu, at 91.2%.
The most common property crime is larceny-theft, but that’s partially because larceny-theft is a very broad category of crime. Burglaries are also common, making up 22.1% of all property crimes committed on the island.
The most common form of theft is theft from motor vehicles which makes up 11.4% of all property crimes committed in Oahu. It is followed by theft from buildings, which makes up 2.4% of all property crimes.
Violent crimes make up just 8.8% of total crimes committed. The most common form of violent crime is aggravated assault, which makes up 54.4% of total violent crimes committed in Oahu.
Rape makes up a surprisingly high percentage of violent crime committed on the island, about 23%, but that is in part due to a change in rape definitions a few years ago that allows more victims to come forward.
2022 saw a bit of a crime wave hit Oahu, with increasing violent crimes concerning locals.
The violent crime rate increased by 5.6%, and high-profile incidents such as a weapon attack right on Waikiki Beach grabbed headlines. Murders alone rose by a whopping 28.6%.
There are a few factors that can explain this rise in crime. Police pointed to societal factors, such as higher rates of drug abuse and the lingering psychological effects of COVID-19 isolation.
The end of COVID-19 lockdowns also created conditions again for violent crimes, such as bars reopening and more people getting arrested for bar fights.
However, even with the rise in violent crime, Oahu still had a much lower rate of violent crime than the rest of the United States. Plus, the good news is that the violent crime rate has stabilized in early 2023.
Petty street crime such as pickpocketing and purse snatching can happen in Oahu. Tourists are often targeted in areas such as Waikiki, which have lots of crowds and can provide cover for criminals.
Purse snatching incidents along popular tourist areas are becoming more and more common.
Thieves can attack you while they’re on foot or in slow-moving vehicles. Make sure that your bag is secured — opt for a cross-body bag instead of a shoulder strap bag as that is harder to snatch.
Walk away from the edge of the sidewalk if possible and carry your bag on the side of your body that is away from the road. Most thefts occur when people are acting careless.
Don’t leave items unattended, even in places that feel safe such as a hotel lobby or restaurant. Don’t use your bag to save your seat in a café — it’s better to lose your seat than to lose your wallet.
You definitely don’t want to leave your stuff unattended on the beach. Beaches are popular targets for petty thieves, especially beaches popular with tourists such as Waikiki Beach. Thieves often rifle through people’s bags while they are swimming and take valuables.
When you go swimming, either leave valuables in your accommodation, designate someone in your group to sit with your stuff, or bring a waterproof bag.
More violent theft incidents in Oahu are rare, but they do happen. Be careful when you are walking around at night as that is when pickpocketing incidents as well as muggings and robberies increase.
Stick to well-lit, well-trafficked areas and avoid dark, deserted places such as parks, unless there is a specific event also drawing a lot of people to the park.
Theft From Vehicles
Theft from vehicles is the most common property crime in all of Hawaii, not just Oahu. Unfortunately, if you want to see more of Oahu than just Honolulu, you should probably rent a car as the public transportation on the island is not the best.
Rental cars are often targeted by thieves for theft. Even if you get a discreet rental, chances are that thieves will know how to recognize the signs. Know that you are vulnerable to this crime.
The best way to prevent theft from vehicles is to make sure that there is nothing in your car worth stealing. Always take valuables with you, even if you are going for a hike or think you will just be leaving the car for a short while.
You never know when a thief might strike. You also never know what might be attractive to a thief for stealing, so don’t leave any possessions in the car if possible.
If you have to keep luggage or packages in the car, maybe while you move accommodations, don’t leave them in places that are visible. Lock them in your trunk and put small items in the glove compartment.
Where you park is also an important factor. Certain trailheads and beach parking lots in Oahu are hot spots for car theft, so ask a local for advice on where to park.
Some hotel parking lots have been targeted by thieves, so ask your hotel about their safety precautions.
Avoiding Bad Areas
There are a few parts of the island that have higher crime rates than others. If you avoid those neighborhoods, you decrease your chances of experiencing a crime.
In Honolulu, certain neighborhoods that are safe during the day, such as Downtown and Chinatown, are sketchy after dark. The area around Kalihi around Kuhio Park Terrace, or KPT, also has a fairly high crime rate, but few visitors venture there.
On the rest of the island, West Oahu has a bit of a reputation. The towns here are very poor and have problems such as high rates of drug abuse and homelessness that also drive up the crime rate.
Things to Consider
Here are some additional safety tips for visiting Oahu:
- Road laws are strict. Penalties for drinking and driving and not wearing your seatbelt are severe. Plus, you can get a fine for using your phone or other device while crossing the street. Be sure to follow the law, whether you are a pedestrian or a driver!
- Be careful when swimming in the ocean! The ocean waves are powerful and could harm you. Don’t do reckless things such as turning your back to the ocean or swimming out beyond your capacity. Wear water shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks and coral. Be careful of stinging marine animals such as jellyfish and Portuguese man-o-war.
- Take precautions when hiking. Make sure that someone knows where you are at all times. Bring bug spray. Shake out your shoes and bedding if you are camping to avoid centipede and scorpion stings.
- Be respectful of nature. Don’t litter or take items from nature home. Use reef-safe sunscreen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions you might want answered when visiting Oahu:
Is Oahu safe for solo female travelers?
Yes, Oahu is safe for solo female travelers. There is a low rate of crimes against women. However, women may want to take extra precautions after dark, the same way you would elsewhere in the world.
Is Oahu a safe place to live?
Yes, Oahu is a very safe place to live. Many people move here each year to get a taste of island life. As long as you make sure to live in a neighborhood or town with a low crime rate, Oahu is a safe place to live.
Is Waikiki Safe?
The neighborhood of Waikiki is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Oahu. It is very safe as it has a high police presence. However, petty crimes can happen, and criminals often target tourists there, so make sure to keep an eye on your things.
Is it safe to swim at Waikiki Beach?
It is safe to swim at Waikiki Beach. It has one of the heaviest lifeguard presences in all of Hawaii. However, the ocean is still powerful around Waikiki, so make sure that you take precautions.
Is Honolulu expensive?
Oahu is beautiful, but it will cost you. If you want to be near all the famous sights in Honolulu, it will cost a lot of money as the city is fairly expensive.
To save money during your trip, you can stay in one of Oahu’s smaller towns, which still have high costs of living but are more affordable than Honolulu.
So, Should You Book a Trip to Oahu?
Oahu is a very safe tourist destination. The rate of property crime is somewhat concerning, but you can prevent most incidents with some basic precautions.
So, with so much to see and do, and a safe atmosphere overall, what are you waiting for — book your trip to Oahu today and experience for yourself all that this tropical paradise has to offer. Happy travels!