He’eia State Park
46-465 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744
Phone: 808 235 6509
There aren’t many places in Hawaii where the surf is non-existent but at He’eia State Park, it’s the lack of swell that makes it so special. The calm waters are thriving with sea life and offer perfect conditions for snorkeling and kayaking, especially for beginners. If you’re the hands on type, you can even learn how to build your own canoe. Spare an afternoon with the local craftsmen as they show off their koa wood outrigger skills and pass on knowledge about canoe culture. If ocean activities aren’t your thing, take a stroll through the 18.5-acre park that’s flourishing with edible vegetation including coconut and breadfruit trees. A large hall is available to rent for weddings and special events. Open from 7am to 7pm, everyday of the week, the park is located on Kaneohe Bay. For more information, visit www.heeiastatepark.org.
Honolulu Museum of Art
900 S Beretania St, Honolulu, HI 96814
Phone: 808 532 8700
Formerly known as the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Honolulu Museum of Art was officially established in 1927. It boasts more than 50,000 works of art over a span of 5000 years and offers a range of traditional Asian and Northern European art, including classics such as van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol. There are tastes to suit everyone, from revolving exhibitions such as the Buddhist Hall to the African American Film Festival to modern Japanese pornographic Manga. But it’s the visual art, films, videos and workshops that reflects Hawaii’s diverse cultural legacy that are really worth seeing.
Although it’s a relatively small gallery, it can take a few hours to explore, so bring your own lunch or enjoy one of the two cafes. Open Tuesday to Sunday, entry is $10 for adults, free for under 17 and members. Parking can be a hassle, so be prepared to park a few blocks away. For more information visit www.honolulumuseum.org.
151 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816
Phone: 808 971 7171
The Honolulu Zoo is quite small but with 42 acres you will be surprised at how many animals call it home. It’s ideal for families with little ones so you don’t have to worry about covering a large walking distance. Although it’s a clean, reasonably kept facility, there are some features that need to be updated.
The zoo is organized into three tropical ecological zones – Tropical Rainforests, Pacific Islands and African Savannah. There are more than 64 reptiles, 38 mammals and 160 birds to see including pink flamingos, giraffes, elephants and komodo dragons. Open every day from 9am to 4:30pm, general admission is $14 for 13 years and over and $6 for children between the ages of 3-12. Membership and discounts available. For more information visit www.honoluluzoo.org.
45-680 Luluku Rd, Kaneohe, HI 96744
Phone: 808 233 7323
Open every day except for Christmas and New Years, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens is set across 400 acres on the windward side of Oahu. Unlike other gardens on the island which have canyons, waterfalls and semi deserts, Ho’omaluhia focuses on tropical plants and is divided into geographical regions including Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, India & Sri Lanka, Melanesia, Hawaii, Polynesia, and Africa. Start at the Visitor Center and choose from a variety of trails that can be long or short, easy or strenuous and allow you to explore all the regions or just a few.
The gardens are popular for walking trails, however you can camp here from Friday through to Monday. There is also a catch and release fishing program on Saturday and Sundays from 10am – 2pm. Bring some bread for the tilapia and midas cichlid, which will also attract ducks in the lake! Fun experience for the kids. Keep your eye out for native birds but be careful of the wild pigs. Admission and guide map is free. There are restrooms and picnic tables throughout. No pets allowed and lots of parking available.
364 South King St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: 808 522 0822
When people think of Hawaii, images of sun, surf and bikinis come to mind. It’s not often we hear about its Kings and Queens but it’s a crucial part of Hawaii’s identity. Iolani Palace is the residence of Hawaii’s monarchy in the 19th century and is thought to be America’s only monarchial structure. It captures a mixture of royalty, politics, Polynesian heritage and offers a peek into the private home of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.
Open Monday to Saturday, it is recommended that you make reservations before turning up. Take an audio tour or have a private tour to make it worthwhile. The interesting tour of the well-maintained palace will reveal secrets of US history that is not known by many. Learn about how the US invaded the Kingdom of Hawaii and claimed it as its own! For more information, visit www.iolanipalace.org.
Japanese Cultural Center Historical Gallery
2454 S Beretania St #101, Honolulu, HI 96826
Phone: 808 945 7633
If it’s not obvious by now, you might notice on your next tour that most of them offer Japanese translations either in written form or audio. This is because Japan is one of the founding ethnicities that make up the diversity of Hawaiian culture. To celebrate it’s crucial role, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii was established in 1987 to preserve its legacy.
If you are of Japanese descent, you will appreciate learning about the pioneers who forged the path for future generations. The historical exhibition, Okage Sama De: I am what I am because of you tells the story of the first Japanese immigrants who arrived in 1868. Even if you don’t have Japanese heritage, you will appreciate the interactive guided and cultural tours that are a fun and educational experience for everyone, regardless of age. Admission starts at $3, for more information visit www.jcch.com.
Ka’ena Point State Park
Waialua, HI 96791
Phone: 808 587 0300
Ka’ena Point State Park is on the western tip of Oahu and the word ‘Ka’ena’ means heat. The name possibly derives from the lava shoreline where it’s said that ancient natives would jump off to enter the spirit world. The point can only be reached by hiking from either Mokuleia on the north, or from Waianae Coast on the southeast. Walk along wide beaches and sandy coves before the unpaved road branches off into non-vehicle terrain.
The hike is about 3 miles long and quite hot but well worth the walk. It can take a few hours so bring water, snacks, sunscreen and stamina! Don’t forget your camera either so you can capture breathtaking scenic views as well as whales, monk seals, nesting albatross and shearwaters. Note there is barely any shade and although the dirt path is comfortable, wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
Kailua Beach Park
526 Kawailoa Rd, Kailua, HI 96734
Phone: 808 233 7300
As with most beaches in Hawaii, parking is limited at Kailua Beach and the beach is always bustling with both tourists and locals. Situated half an hour out of Honolulu, what distinguishes Kailua Beach from the others is its proximity to the small islands of Flat Island and Mokulua Islands. Not only does this provide gorgeous views, it is perfect for water adventures such as windsurfing, body boarding, sailing and kayaking.
The beach is a kilometer long and runs alongside boutique shops and food outlets at Kailua Town. Why not try the famous shaved ice that Hawaii is renowned for and relax on one of the picnic tables overlooking the beach? With plenty of shade and plenty of sand, there is little doubt as to why Kailua Beach is consistently rated as one of the best in the USA.
Alahele St, Waianae, HI 96792
Phone: 808 695 8174
The Kaneaki Heiau is closed indefinitely at the moment due to vandalism. It is an authentically restored temple on the west coast of Oahu. Built in the 15th century, the temple is situated on the Waianae coast near Makaha in honor of ‘Lono’, the God of harvest, agriculture and fertility. Later it was dedicated to ‘Ku’, the God of war and used as a luakini to sacrifice humans. Since the 17th century, there have been five renovations where traditional materials such as pili gras and ohia logs have been used. Other sites were added to reconstruct the era, including a taboo house, drum house and prayer tower. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that the site will open to the public again.
3902 Paki Ave.?,
Phone: 808 545 4344
Not a must see, but Kapi’olani Park is a nice place to spend the day when you can’t be bothered to expend too much energy on a tourist activity. Kapi’olani Park is the oldest and largest public park in Hawaii and sits at the foot of Diamond Head Crater and the end of Kalakua Avenue. There is always something naturally happening in the 300-acre park from food booths, music festivals to art fairs. When the Honolulu Marathon is on, it’s the location of the finish line.
It’s also close to the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Shell amphitheater, natatorium and aquarium. Why not check out these attractions and then chill out at the park after? There is fitness equipment, picnic tables, bathrooms, lovely ocean views and interesting trees to sit under so you can do as little or as much as you like.
957 Punchbowl St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: 808 522 1333
Kawaiaha’o Church is located in downtown Honolulu and is known as Hawaii’s Westminister Abbey. Arrive a little early to the 9am Sunday Mass and you will be greeted with live Christian music with a twist of aloha charm. All members of the public are welcome and most of the service uses the Hawaiian language. Be prepared to sing along and please make an offering. The church is listed as a historic site.
Before missionaries arrived, the land was a spring water oasis for the chiefess Ha’o. Run your hands across the stone church – it’s actually made from coral! There are also other sites to admire surrounding the sanctuary including the sacred spring fountain, cemetery and native greenery. For more information, visit www.kawaiahao.org.
Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area
Aiea Heights Dr, Aiea, HI 96701
Phone: 808 483 2511
The Kea?iwa Heiau State Recreation Area is about 12 miles from Waikiki and has campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads. The 384-acre park is home to the 49m stone temple Keaiwa Heiau. It was built in the 17th century and herb doctors practiced healing through prayer and using herbs from the garden. Don’t be shy to leave an offering – many visitors still do in the hope of receiving medicinal healing.
Go for a hike along the Aiea Loop Trail, which is 4.8 miles long and dotted with Norfolk pines and Eucalyptus trees, to discover views of Pearl Harbor and the town Aiea. Be prepared to endure a minimum 2-hour journey! Set up camp at one of the ten campsites from Friday to Wednesday at $18 per night for up to six people. $3 will be charged for additional people. Picnic tables, shaded pavilions, restrooms and BBQ grill are available. There is also a caregiver on site at the front gate. Camp setup is after 2pm and check out is at noon.
King Kamehameha Statue
The King Kamehameha Statue isn’t necessarily a must-see, but if you happen to be on the corner of King and Miliani Street or visiting Iolani Palace, then it’s worth a photo. If you’ve watched Hawaii 5-0, then you’ll probably be impressed with the landmark! Most tours will stop by to feature this as part of their timetable. The 5.5 meter bronzed warrior king stands with his arms outstretched and is a symbol of strength. He was Hawaii’s first king and unified the Hawaiian Islands despite the pressure from western interests. If you’re here in summer, his usual well-preserved self will be draped in flower leis on June 11th in celebration of Kamehameha Day.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden
7491 Kokonani St, Honolulu, HI 96825
Phone: 808 522 7060
The 60-acre Koko Crater Botanical Garden is part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. Grab a self-guided map at the entrance and prepare for a peaceful 1 to 2 hour walk discovering 200 species of dry land species of trees and desert dwelling plants. The two-mile loop trail is geographically arranged to feature collections from Hawaii, Africa, Madagascar and the Americas.
You’ll see lots of plants such as cacti, aloes, baobabs and the Hawaiian wiliwili trees but hardly any people. Perfect for seniors or tree lovers who want a bit of peace and quiet. The open trail is quite hot, so bring water, sunscreen and appropriate clothing. Open daily except for Christmas and New Years. Admission is free, but there are no facilities available.
49-560 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744
If you’re going to visit Kualoa Ranch, make sure you start the day early to experience everything it has to offer. Historically the 4000 acres of land was sacred to the ancient Hawaiians and today it’s preserved by a sixth generation family enterprise that covers three valleys, which offer a range of tourist activities including zip line, ATV rides, hiking, horseback riding, movie tours, jungle expedition, ocean voyage and more!
Situated 22 miles from Honolulu, Kualoa Ranch is a beef cattle ranch that’s diverse terrain includes rainforest, open valleys, white sand beaches, cliff faces, tropical gardens and ponds. If you’re a movie lover, have fun picking out the locations for productions such as Jurassic Park, Lost, Godzilla, Pear Harbor, 50 First Dates and Mighty Joe Young! Activities start at $25 per person. Full amenities, cafes, restaurant and gift shop on site. Bring home Kualoa’s locally raised, grass fed beef for the loved ones to sample! For more information, visit www.kualoa.com.
85-003 Pokai Bay St, Waianae, HI 96792
Although the site is sacred, there is nothing significant about it that’s worth going out of your way to see. Kuilioloa Heiau translates to ‘the long dog form of Ku’ and sits on the peninsula of Kaneilio Point. Lined with coconut trees, it is the only heiau in Hawaii that’s surrounded on three sides of the ocean with views of the Waianae Coast.
Mythology states that mystical half creatures and Gods would come here to manifest in a physical form. It was also used for sacrifices, healing and later as a place of worship for Christians and even a concrete bunker prior to WWII. It’s now under the care of Wai'anae Coast Culture and Arts Program. It’s a nice place to visit if you happen to be passing by.
Kukaniloko Birth Site
Wahiawa, HI 96786
Built before the 13th century, the Kukaniloko Birth Site is located in the middle of a five-acre sugarcane field. The sacred site, also known as the Kukaniloko Birthstones State Monument, was a place where high chiefs’ wives gave birth. Ancient Hawaiians believed that the gods recognized every child born here. The birthing stones are also thought to have mapped stars and seasonal changes.
Although it’s the first ancient site to be preserved and recognized in Oahu, you are more than likely to have the place to yourself, which is convenient as parking is limited. You only need about twenty minutes to enjoy the site, as it’s mostly wide skies and red dirt. Well maintained despite no officials. Kukaniloko is just off the intersection of Highway 80 and Whitmore Avenue and open every day.
Makaha Beach Park
Waianae, HI 96792
Situated on the west side of Oahu, the sunnier part of the island, the water is always pleasant at Makaha Beach Park. Ideal to visit anytime of the year and is suitable for body boarding, surfing, swimming and snorkeling. There are nice views of the ocean and the Waianae Mountain range, so bring lunch to enjoy in one of the picnic areas. It is a fairly busy beach, as typical with most Hawaiian beaches, especially when the annual Buffalo’s Longboard Contest is on.
Although it may appear calm on the surface, take note that undercurrents can be strong. Lifeguards do patrol the beach but it’s important to take personal precautions, especially with young children. When the surf is up, it’s hard to get parking. The surf is on the northern end and is recommended for experienced surfers, as the waves are quite intense on the reef break. Easy access to bathrooms and although there is public transport, you are better off driving here as it’s a fair distance from Waikiki.
Makapu’u Beach Park
With a backdrop of black lava rock mountains and bright blue water, Makapu’u Beach is a hidden treasure that’s a one hour drive away from Waikiki on Oahu’s southeast. The cove like bay has a rocky shoreline with pockets of golden sand that looks out to Rabbit Island and Black Rock.
Although the water is stunning to look at, it’s not recommended for leisurely swimming. Visitors mostly tend to enjoy other sites in Makapu’u rather than venture into the water because of the powerful rip currents and shore breaks that are more suited for surfers. Considering the region is the landfall for the west coast’s traffic, it is best to take the whole day off to explore the area. Other sites include the Makapu’u lighthouse and Makapu’u Point Lookout.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Lookout
The Makapu’u Lighthouse was established in 1909 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. It boasts the largest lens of any lighthouse in the United States. Although the 14m lighthouse is off limits to the public, you can get a close up view of it as well as the remains of the keepers’ quarters on the 3.2km (2 mile) trail. It’s second most popular hike in Oahu after the Diamond Head Hike.
Start early from the south parking lot on Kalanianaole Highway and have some water and sunscreen handy. Take note that the parking lot is a high theft area. There are no restroom facilities and no undercover areas. The trail is easy to moderate and you will not only enjoy views of Makapu’u Beach, Koko Head and the outer islands, but also discover tide pools, a hidden blowhole and old military pillboxes along the way.
Phone: 808 973 9782
The Maunawili Trail is an easy trail with lots to see including waterfalls, natural pools and the Ko’olaus Mountains. Feel free to take a dip in one of the pools along the way! The leisurely walk and scenic appeal of the trail means you will be sharing your hike with a lot of people, so be prepared for high foot traffic. The hike is suitable for any age group and it’s common to see a hiker with a baby strapped on her back.
However there are a lot of stairs and the walk can be muddy and although the kids love it, just wear the right gear and bring water and spare clothes with you so you’re comfortable. The downside is that there are no bathroom facilities and with one way being 1.75 miles long, it may be difficult for those who desperately need to use one. From Waikiki, take the H1 west bound before exiting off Pali exit. After Kamehameha Highway, follow the signs to Maunawili Falls.
Mokoli’i Island (Chinaman's Hat)
A visit to Mokoli’i Island is fit for only the fit – be prepared to access the island either through kayak, boat or surfboard. Enter by the lifeguard tower. If you’re going to wade from Kualoa Point to the island, check out the low and high tides first. The water can reach up to your shoulders and there is a point where you will have to swim for about 10 minutes.
Mokoli’i is also known as Chinaman’s Hat, however it translates to ‘little lizard’ in Hawaiian. Legend says that a goddess killed a lizard and that it’s tail, Mokoli’i Island, remains in the sea. The hike up the 12.5-acre islet is well worth the stunning panorama views. Although the trail is short, you will have to work your way through rock faces and steep hills. If you’ve watched the TV series Lost, then maybe you will recognize some of the scenery. Accessible every day from dawn to dusk.
Mission Houses Museum
553 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: 808 447 3910
Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am – 4pm, the Mission Houses Museum preserves two of Hawaii’s oldest documented houses built by Protestant missionaries in the 19th century and boasts the largest collection of Hawaiian language books in the world.
It’s located near Iolani Palace, so why not organize a day to see both sites for the ultimate cultural experience? You can explore the Museum’s grounds for free but if you want to see the exhibits and restored buildings, take part in an inexpensive, hour-long tour. Souvenirs are available from the gift shop that offers local art, jewelry and cards.
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