Whenever I visit a place I try and avoid the tourist-saturated places as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, the tourists are probably there for a reason, and Waikiki is no exception. Waikiki offers beautiful scenery, great nightlife, shopping, and lots of things to do. But if you visit Oahu and don’t leave Waikiki, you haven’t really seen Hawaii. So I thought I’d put together this little guide of my favorite things to do away from Oahu’s tourist district. If you click on the pictures they will take you to other blog posts of mine about those particular places.
1. Jump off Maunawili Falls.
Maunawili is probably the trail I’ve spent the most time on. It is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness so it’s where I take most of my guests. This hike might not have dramatic views like a lot of the other ones in Hawaii, but it leads to a perfect little watering hold and waterfall you can jump off. To get there you traverse up a creek through thick jungle. It’s a lovely hike.
How to get There: Park near Kelewina St & Lola Pl. This is a residential area so make sure you are respectful of the residents and obey parking signs.
Where to Eat: The nearest town is Kailua, and a great place to eat there is Maui Tacos. The counter-service restaurant offers Mexican food with a Hawaiian touch. Hiking gives you the perfect excuse to pig out, but the restaurant offers healthy options as well.
2. Stroll through the Urban Art District.
When people think of Hawaii they tend to picture miles and miles of empty beaches and crystal clear water. While that is definitely a part of Hawaii, we also have another side. Honolulu is a large city with traffic, skyscrapers, and yes, urban art (or graffiti as some would like to call it). Recently, a local group known as 808 Urban formed to help the youth of low-income communities through artwork. Businesses donate money to the organization and, in turn, have a mural painted (or spray painted) on their wall by local artists. Many of these businesses are concentrated in Kakaako, which has resulted in a beautiful collection of unique artwork that is starting to be known as the urban art district.
How to get There: You can find parking around Pohukaina and Cooke Street.
Where to Eat: Downbeat Diner. In nearby downtown Honolulu, Downbeat Diner “retro diner serving burgers, shakes & breakfast with veggie-friendly options & an adjacent full bar.” There is often live music as well.
3. Ring the Bell in the Valley of the Temples.
Valley on the Temples is nestled right at the foot of the Ko’olau mountains. It is quiet, green, and peaceful, and all around the property, there are little temples or mausoleums or whatever for a bunch of different religions. As you drive deeper into the valley, you’ll encounter the best part- the Byodo-In temple. It is the replica of a United Nations World Heritage Site in Uji, Japan. There is a giant statue of Buddha and a bell you can ring for good luck.
How to get There: 47-200 Kahekili Highway, Kaneohe, HI
Where to Eat: Zias Caffee in Kaneohe is delicious. It’s a “cozy, casual Italian bistro with the standard pizza & pasta dishes, plus a weekend breakfast menu.”
4. Drink a Beer on the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar.
In the middle of Kaneohe Bay on the Windward side of Oahu you’ll find a sandbar that is completely exposed during low tide. It’s a popular place to boat to for barbecues, float sessions, snorkeling, fishing, and enjoying the beautiful scenery.
How to get There: Know someone with a boat. If you have access to the Marine Corps Base and a boating license, you can rent one from there. I’ve also heard of people kayaking there from Kaneohe if that’s your thing.
Where to Eat: Picnicking on the Sandbar can be really fun, but make sure to leave the place exactly as you found it. No trash!! If not, Genki Sushi in Kaneohe is always an excellent option.
5. Watch the Sunrise over Lanikai.
Lanikai has frequently been rated one of the best beaches in the world, and it no doubt is one of the best places to watch the sun rise.
How to Get There: You’ll most likely have to find parking somewhere in the residential area around Mokulua Dr.
Where to Eat: Boot’s & Kimo’s is a popular restaurant in Kailua and a delicious spot for banana pancakes and macadamia nut sauce.
6. Learn about Nature in Waimea Valley.
Waimea Valley is a historical nature park on North Shore. There are 35 different collections of plants from around the world, including over 5,000 different taxa. It is completely paved, so it is accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go on a traditional hike. At the end of the path is Waimea Falls, with a watering hole where you can swim. There is even a lifeguard on duty.
How to get There: 59-864 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa
Where to Eat: Kono’s Restaurant is a North Shore favorite. It serves awesome breakfast burritos, pulled pork, and smoothies.
7. Learn about Native Hawaiian History at Puu O Mahuka Heiau.
Puu O Mahuka Heiau is a state historical site on North Shore. When native Hawaiians discovered a place they felt had a strong spiritual power and connection to the other world, they built a heiau (like a temple) there. This place was considered particular powerful to the native Hawaiians becasue it overlooked Waimea Bay, where some of the biggest waves in Hawaii (and the world) can be found. The rocks formed the base of the heiau; other structures were built with wood and materials that could did not survive time. This particular heiau was the largest on Oahu, and was probably first built in the 1600’s.
How to get There: The site can be reached from Pupukea Homestead Road (Highway 835), which starts at Kamehameha Highway (Highway 83) across from Pupukea fire station. You will see a sign where the turnoff is. The road can be rough so take it slow.
Where to Eat: Shark’s Cove Grill is an amazing food truck right down the hill. It serves healthy fish, skewers, and the most delicious peanut-butter-banana smoothies in the world.
8. Scuba or Free Dive at Electric Beach.
Electric Beach is one of the best spots to dive on the island because of the thermal pollution from the nearby power plant. There is a beautiful reef with lots of sea life. I’ve never been disappointed.
How to get There: 92-301 Farrington Highway, Kapolei, HI
Where to Eat: You can’t go to Hawaii without eating at Zipppy’s at some point. It’s a local fast Hawaiian-style food favorite.
9. Paddle under the full moon at Surf n’ Sea Haleiwa.
I don’t know how often they run it these days, but every few full moons or so, Surf n’ Sea in Haleiwa hosts a full moon paddle. People come out (or rent) SUPs and kayaks and paddle up Anahulu River, and Pua’ena Pt. They have appetizers, music, glow sticks, and it’s a pretty incredible experience. Call (808) 637-9887 to find out when the next one is.
How to get There: 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa
Where to Eat: There!
10. Climb The Stairway to Heaven.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t suggest this one because it’s technically off limits at the moment. But if you’re willing to take a little risk, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best experiences of your life. Haiku Stairs, aka Stairway to Heaven, is literally a staircase that goes all the way up a mountain (3,992 stairs to be exact.) The views at the top are unreal if you catch it on a day with little clouds.
How to get There: Everybody has their own little way to access it. I don’t feel comfortable sharing mine here!
Where to Eat: I have a tradition of stuffing my face at KOA Pancake House. It has the most delicious banana pancakes.
I can probably add a lot more to this list, but I thought I’d stop at 10. Have you visited any of these places? Is there any place you’d add to your top 10?