Over my 18-year career in the United States Marine Corps, I have fallen in love with Okinawa with the opportunity to be stationed here twice.
While a drive from the north and south side of the island may only take a few hours, there are so many things to do, and I believe that once you experience it, you will be smitten.
It is one of the safest places you can visit where you would typically see toddlers walking to school by themselves and if you leave your wallet on the table, locals will leave it there until you return.
One of the best things about being in Okinawa is the value of your dollar, and it will go a long way, allowing you to experience everything that Okinawa has to offer without draining your bank account.
There are fun and exciting experiences for everyone including restaurants, bars, festivals, historical sites, hiking, waterfalls, beaches, water sports, and tourist attractions.
Let’s explore the top 7 things to do in Okinawa together.
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Table of Contents
#1. Food and Bars
If you are looking to explore the tastes of the Japanese or Okinawan cultures, you will have countless options to choose from.
You can enjoy affordable food and cocktails at almost any restaurant or bar without draining your bank account.
For example, a night out with a family of four with food and drinks would typically cost about 5,000-6,000 yen, which is equal to about 40-45 dollars.
I could talk all day about the various restaurants and bars, but I highlighted my personal recommendations.
If you are looking for an Okinawan staple, you can enjoy curry at CoCo Ichibanya, where you can get a variety of Japanese-style curry and naan bread.
It is one of those tastes that will have you asking for more, and after people leave to go back to the United States, they will crave it for the rest of their lives.
I would also suggest going to a yakiniku restaurant.
Some restaurants are a la carte, but places like Yakiniku BBQ Goen are all-you-can-eat, where you can enjoy endless plates of steak, chicken, pork, or seafood.
Also, I would not leave Okinawa without trying its delicious ramen, soba, and gyoza, which are available at many locations.
I have two favorites: Volcano Ramen, which specializes in spicy ramen with a wide range of heat levels, and Ichiran Ramen, which is a quiet experience where you get an individual stall and are served through a window and never see the chef.
If you enjoy sushi, I suggest going to Yoshihachi Sushi Bar.
They have a world-class sushi chef and are one of the few places where you can get Fugu (Pufferfish) since, if it is prepared improperly, it can be poisonous.
If you want to be adventurous, try it out, but make sure you get there early, since the place gets packed.
If you are interested in a lively nightlife, you can enjoy affordable drinks in American Village, Gate 2 Street, or Kokusai Street, where there are countless restaurants and bars.
Izakayas are Okinawan bar restaurants where you can experience local dishes and cheap drinks.
They are often lively, and I highly suggest trying one out.
For those who want a quiet atmosphere with high-end drinks at a great price, I suggest going to a small bar such as Bar The Authentic.
Service at these bars is top-notch, and they use fresh ingredients for an unforgettable experience.
Okinawan culture is full of celebration, respect, and a sense of community.
It boasts a rich and diverse history, with influences from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and America.
The island is renowned for its vibrant festivals, historical sites, and is the birthplace of Karate.
Okinawa was initially ruled by the Ryukyu Kingdom and was later invaded and annexed by the Japanese Royal Government in 1879, when it became a prefecture.
After World War II, it was occupied by the United States until it was turned back over to Japan with the 1971 Okinawa Reversion Agreement.
Today, It is still the largest concentration of U.S. military forces in the Pacific.
Festivals play a significant role in Okinawan culture.
The people of Okinawa observe many holidays and celebrate many festivals throughout the year.
Eisa dancing is a traditional art that combines drumming, dancing, and singing and is a significant part of most celebrations.
Two noteworthy festivals are Zento Eisa Matsuri, which is the largest festival in Okinawa that is held for three days in August, and the 10,000 Eisa Dancers Parade, held on the first Sunday in August.
The Naha Tug-of-War is the world-famous festival where two teams face off with a 200-meter-long rope that weighs 43 tons.
Participants come from all around to take part in this exciting and symbolic competition.
As of 2023, participants must pre-register to take part in it.
I took part in it a few years ago, and it was pretty impressive.
Other notable festivals are the Dragon Boat Festival, Cherry Blossom Festival, Ryukyu Lantern Festival, and the International Movie Festival.
You can spend days exploring the many castle ruins throughout Okinawa and enjoy this island’s rich heritage.
Shuri castle served as the palace for the Ryukyu Kingdom and was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II and was later rebuilt.
It is a world heritage site and is a must-see location in Okinawa where you can experience its rich culture.
It burnt down again in 2019 and is being reconstructed with an expected restoration date of 2026.
However, you can still experience 80% of the castle and its grounds.
You can experience the Shurijo Castle Festival in late October, where Eisa dancing is performed and a parade with people dressed as nobles.
There are also countless other historical sites that you can visit.
Birthplace of Karate
Okinawa is the birthplace of Karate, a martial art that has since gained global recognition and popularity.
While you are here, you can attend classes by masters of the craft.
It might not be a surprise to you, but Karate Kid II is set in Okinawa, however, it was filmed in Hawaii.
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Okinawa is a tropical island with many hiking spots, gorgeous views, and breathtaking scenery.
Regardless of your fitness level, there is a hiking trail for you, from beginner trails to more challenging routes.
I suggest the Mount Ishikawa Loop for beginners, which has an elevation under 1,000 feet and is only a 2.4-mile loop.
If you do not mind some stairs, my favorite is the Forest of Residence Park Trail.
It is not that challenging, you get some excellent views, and there is a park where you can have a picnic.
If you are looking for a longer trail, you can hike the Jawbone Ridge Trail, with about a 2,000-foot elevation and a 6.8-mile loop.
It is filled with some excellent scenery and is the perfect spot to see the sunset.
One word of advice, bring a stick because Okinawa has palm-sized banana spiders that love to make their webs across the trail.
My wife walked right into one that landed right on her cheek.
Luckily, she did not get bitten since they are slightly venomous, but are not life-threatening.
Think bee sting level of pain.
If you are into exploring the wilderness, there are plenty of beautiful waterfalls that you can experience.
Many of the waterfalls are easy to get to with a short hike, and all of them are excellent photo opportunities.
Tataki Falls is an excellent option for its short 2.4km, lush vegetation, and it is dog friendly.
Another excellent option is Hiji Falls, where you can enjoy some wildlife, a walk on a suspension bridge, and an impressive 26m tall waterfall.
The trail is well-maintained and takes about 40 minutes each way.
Going to the beach is one of my favorite things to do in Okinawa, with its crystal-clear water and comfortable temperatures.
It is important to note that some areas around the island have strong currents, and most beaches do not have lifeguards.
However, there are plenty of paid beaches that have them and include other amenities such as a shower and netting in the water to protect swimmers from wildlife such as jellyfish.
Other hazards include stonefish, sea urchins, sharp coral, and cone snails.
I highly suggest wearing felt bottom boots and always checking the sea conditions before getting into the water.
There are countless beaches to experience, but here are some of my favorites.
Zanpa Beach and Okuma are excellent swimming spots, while others are perfect for snorkeling and diving.
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#6. In the Water
Okinawa has an excellent water scene with vibrant color tropical fish and even sea turtles.
One of the best spots to snorkel is the Blue Caves, where light filters through and causes the cave to have a blue hue.
If you want to swim with sea turtles, you can take a day trip from the Naha Port to the Kerama Islands.
Another option is to rent/buy a life vest and snorkel gear and swim at one of the many beautiful beaches where you are bound to find tropical fish.
You can enjoy scuba diving at a very affordable price in Okinawa.
Two of the best spots are Cape Maeda and Cape Zanpa, but there are many other excellent sites as well.
With plenty of introductory dives available, you can experience diving for a low-price tag.
If you enjoyed it, Okinawa is one of the best places to get Padi certified.
You can get open water certified for under $400, which is way better than other locations.
#7. Local Attractions
There are plenty of local attractions to keep you entertained during your stay in Okinawa.
The Churaumi Aquarium is the largest in Japan and is an excellent experience if you enjoy sea life.
With over 200 species of insects, fish, and animals, the Okinawa Zoo is an affordable outing for the family.
While at the Zoo, my wife was able to hug an elephant, and I was able to feed them carrots.
It was an excellent experience, but it is worth noting that the Zoo is not that large, and some animals had smaller enclosures.
Neo Park is another Zoo where you can see a Red Panda, see plenty of other animals, and feed many birds. A lot of them.
I really enjoyed Okinawa World, with its caves, Eisa Dancing, brewery, and snake and mongoose show.
The zookeeper gave an exciting demonstration with a cobra to show how the cobra can not see behind them, and then he got the free cobra under control.
Okinawan Bull Fighting (Ushiorase) is a unique experience where two bulls shove each other around, much like sumo, until one of them gives up.
There are three all-island tournaments a year in May, August, and November.
When I went, it was mostly PG.
However, one bull got pretty injured from being gored by the other bull’s horns.
He survived, but there was some blood.
The place gets packed, so I highly suggest going early.
Okinawa, Japan, is a fantastic place to visit or live, with a remarkable array of experiences that anyone can enjoy.
You can experience tasty local dishes like soba, gyoza, and purple yam desserts or drink regional alcohol such as Awamori or the local brewery Orion.
There are also many cultural experiences that are deeply rooted in its indigenous traditions, such as traditional music and dances like Eisa dancing.
One of the many traditions that Okinawa has is its many festivals, from the traditional Dragon Boat Race to the modern international film festival.
For those who seek the beauty of nature, Okinawa is perfect for them with its many hiking trails, wildlife, crystal clear water, and white sandy beaches.
It also has many tourist attractions to keep you entertained.
Overall, Okinawa has an excellent blend of experiences that is perfect for the entire family.
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