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How to Get Off the Beaten Path on Oahu

Take the road less traveled on Oahu with these top under-the-radar spots.

Surfers going surfing in Hawaii
Hi, I'm Kathleen!

Kathleen Wong is a Honolulu-based writer and editor who has been published by the New York Times, Vice, the Cut, Insider, and more. When she's not writing, she can be found surfing or with her rescue dog. Read her work at kathleen-wong.com.

Oahu is known for iconic spots such as Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and the big wave breaks of the North Shore. While these are always worth a visit, it’s also rewarding to find hidden gems that most tourists miss, and venture off the beaten path. Here are some ideas on how to spend your time on Oahu, away from the crowds.

Stop by the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

A bright day in Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden on Oahu in Hawaii.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is home to some striking scenery.Foto: Shane Myers Photography / Shutterstock

For fishing and flowers.

Located on the windward side of Oahu is the 400-acre (162-hectare) Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens. Plantings from the world's major tropical regions fill the garden, aptly named “a peaceful refuge.” It’s a quiet spot to enjoy hiking, biking, or a picnic among flowers and on weekends, you can take advantage of catch-and-release fishing.

Explore a spookier side to the island

The city skyline of Honolulu on Oahu in Hawaii.
Honolulu has some (spooky) tales to tell after dark.Foto: Impassioned Images / Shutterstock

For the daredevils.

Oahu offers many enjoyable activities to do in the daytime, such as hiking and going to the beach, but what about exploring the island at night? If you’re looking for an after-dark activity that’ll show you a different side to the island, opt for a haunted history walking tour in Honolulu. During which, you’ll visit some off-the-beaten-path spooky sites—including Iolani Palace and the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives—while you hear ghostly stories and encounters.

Get arty at Shangri La

The Shangri La mansion and its pool on Oahu in Hawaii.
An opulent mansion on the island of Oahu.Foto: Phillip B. Espinasse / Shutterstock

For a slice of opulence.

Explore one of the largest collections of Islamic and South Asian art in the United States at Shangri La, the former Oahu home of American tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Visit the opulent oceanfront estate on a guided tour and view some of the more than 2,500 objects collected by Duke over a period of nearly 60 years.

Stroll through the Maunakea Marketplace

The exterior of Maunakea Marketplace on Oahu.
The famous Maunakea Marketplace.Foto: ja-images / Shutterstock

For those midday hunger pangs.

Visit Maunakea Marketplace with a grumbling stomach. This bustling open-air market has affordable food and snacks galore. But just because the marketplace is located in Chinatown doesn’t mean you can only choose from Chinese food—look out for everything from Thai and Filipino to Vietnamese and Latin-Asian fusion eateries and more. Just make sure to bring cash.

Related: An Insider’s Guide to Honolulu’s Chinatown

Relax at the Byodo In-Temple

Byodo In-Temple on a misty day on Oahu.
This is a Hawaiian replica of Kyoto's original temple.Foto: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock

For a peaceful afternoon.

Tucked away in the Valley of the Temples, at the foot of the Ko’olau mountains, the Byodo-In Temple is a smaller scale replica of a temple of the same name in Kyoto, Japan. Built to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, the temple is surrounded by landscaped grounds that feature various structures, a koi pond, and a large wooden Buddha.

Learn about Kahuku’s cowboys

Male and female cowboys ride horses on Oahu.
Hawaiian cowboys on Oahu.Foto: Alberto Loyo / Shutterstock

For hidden history fans.

Ever heard of the Hawaiian cowboy? Paniolos have led a unique lifestyle in the islands since the 1800s when King Kamehameha II sent some Hawaiians to California to learn how to wrangle cattle. These days, ranches along the countryside of the North Shore offer visitors a peek inside their heritage. Book a tour and explore the natural beauty of the North Shore by horseback, to live—briefly—how the paniolos do.

Escape the crowds at the Foster Botanical Garden

A Buddha statue in Foster Botanical Garden on Oahu.
Statues dot the entirety of Foster Botanical Garden.Foto: Leigh Anne Meeks / Shutterstock

For an outdoorsy escape.

Immerse yourself in lush, tropical foliage at Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu’s oldest botanical garden. Traverse the 14-acre (5.7-hectare) space, including the outdoor butterfly garden and the palm garden. Make sure to stop by the 23 historic trees, too, which are protected thanks to their cultural or historical significance.

Fun fact: Those trees are known, rather grandly, as Exceptional Trees.

Sip some Oahuan craft beer

Friends enjoy beer by the water in Oahu.
Oahu is a surprisingly good place to try a craft beer (or two).Foto: Mike Kane / Viator

For connoisseurs of local brews.

Oahu’s craft beer scene is exploding, thanks to creative brewmasters who draw inspiration from the island’s unique flavors. Expect delicious beer infused with local ingredients such as passionfruit, coconut, pineapple, and more. And if no one in your party feels like being the designated driver, you can always book a tour that includes transportation to and from your hotel.

Pay a visit to Waimanalo

A woman enjoys the beach at Waimanalo in Hawaii on Oahu.
Get truly off the beaten path in peaceful Waimanalo.Foto: Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock

For a taste of rural life.

Head to the small town of Waimanalo, on the eastern side of Oahu, for a real escape from the Oahu crowds. Tucked between the Ko’olau mountain range, the area is full of small farms, ranches, and nurseries. Catch a rodeo, play a round of golf, or watch a game of polo while you’re there. Or, just enjoy a quiet, white-sand beach and snorkeling among Hawaiian green sea turtles.

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