One of the main characteristics that many people note when they first arrive in Wanaka is the extensive lake-front access. The local council have remained vigilant over the years in preserving public access to the lake and they have heavily restricted development here, keeping almost all the shore front specified as reserve land.

The lake front has long pebble beaches with walking and biking trails entwined, large established trees and parks, boat ramps and small car parks, BBQ areas and many idealistic picnic spots. Public toilets are carefully situated throughout the town and lake front, located by the main reserves and walking trails.

The town centre has a large selection of restaurants and cafes, a reasonable selection of bars and shops, and many different types of accommodation to choose from. There are a number of vineyards and wineries in the area too.

Other major attractions in the town include Puzzling World and the Paradiso Cinema. Just out of town next to the Wanaka Airport is the National Transport and Toy Museum.

A number of day walks and hikes are easily accessible from the town, including the Clutha River Outlet Track, Mount Iron and Roys Peak. A short drive provides even more access to hiking trails, including Isthmus Peak, Rocky Mountain and the Mount Aspiring National Park.

The biennial Warbirds over Wanaka airshow, has become a major attraction for national and international guests. Other biennial events include the NZ Winter Games, bringing many professional winter sports athletes to the area; the Rippon Music Festival, for those who enjoy New Zealand music; and the Festival of Colour, showcasing many forms of New Zealand art.

Annual events in Wanaka include the Challenge Wanaka Triathlon, attracting fitness enthusiasts and professionals from around the World, and the Rhythm and Alps music festival running over New Years.