95 Best Sights in Oahu, Hawaii

Ala Moana Regional Park

Ala Moana Fodor's choice
Overlooking Ala Moana Beach Park; Ala Moana, Honolulu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA
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A protective reef makes Ala Moana essentially a ½-mile-wide saltwater swimming pool. Very smooth sand and no waves create a haven for families and stand-up paddleboarders. After Waikiki, this is the most popular beach among visitors, and the free parking area can fill up quickly on sunny weekends. On the Waikiki side is a peninsula called Magic Island, with shady trees and paved sidewalks ideal for jogging. Ala Moana Regional Park also has playing fields, tennis courts, and a couple of small ponds for sailing toy boats. The beach is for everyone, but only in the daytime; after dark, it's a high-crime area, with many unhoused people. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

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Bellows Field Beach Park

Fodor's choice

Bellows is the same beach as Waimanalo, but it's under the auspices of the military, making it more friendly for visitors—though that also limits public access on weekends. The park area is excellent for camping, and ironwood trees provide plenty of shade. There are no food concessions, but McDonald's and other takeout options are right outside the entrance gate; there's also a weekend farmers' market. The beach is best before 2 pm. After 2, trade winds bring clouds that get hung up on steep mountains nearby, causing overcast skies. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming; walking.

Bishop Museum

Kalihi Fodor's choice
Bishop Museum, Kalihi, Honolulu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA
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Founded in 1889 by Charles R. Bishop as a memorial to his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the museum began as a repository for the royal possessions of this last direct descendant of King Kamehameha the Great. Today, it's the state's designated history and culture museum. Its five exhibit halls contain almost 25 million items that tell the history of the Hawaiian Islands and their Pacific neighbors.

Gain understanding of the entire region in the Pacific Hall, and learn about the culture of the Islands through state-of-the-art and often-interactive displays in the Hawaiian Hall. Spectacular artifacts—lustrous feather capes, bone fishhooks, the skeleton of a giant sperm whale, photography and crafts displays, and a well-preserved grass house—are displayed inside a three-story, 19th-century, Victorian-style gallery. The building alone, with its huge turrets and immense stone walls, is worth seeing.

In the 16,500-square-foot science adventure wing, it's hard to miss the three-story simulated volcano where regular "lava melts" take place to the delight of younger (and young at heart) visitors. Also check out the planetarium, daily tours, lauhala-weaving and science demonstrations, special exhibits, the Shop Pacifica, and the Bishop Museum Café, which serves ono (delicious) Hawaiian food by local restaurant Highway Inn.

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Recommended Fodor's Video

Byodo-In Temple

Fodor's choice
Byodo-In Temple, Kaneohe, Winward Oahu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock

Tucked away in the back of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is a replica of the 11th-century temple at Uji in Japan. A 2-ton, carved-wood statue of the Buddha presides inside the main building. Next to the temple are a meditation pavilion and gardens set dramatically against the sheer, green cliffs of the Koolau Mountains. You can ring the 5-foot, 3-ton brass bell for good luck; feed some of the hundreds of koi, ducks, and swans that inhabit the garden's 2-acre pond (buy fish food at the gift shop); and relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Call ahead to schedule a guided tour.

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Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head Fodor's choice
Diamond Head State Monument and Park, Diamond Head, Honolulu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA.
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Panoramas from this 760-foot extinct volcanic peak, once used as a military fortification, extend from Waikiki and Honolulu in one direction and out to Koko Head in the other, with surfers and windsurfers scattered like confetti on the cresting waves below. The 360-degree perspective is a great orientation for first-time visitors. On a clear day, look east past Koko Head to glimpse the outlines of the islands of Maui and Molokai.

To enter the park from Waikiki, take Kalakaua Avenue east, turn left at Monsarrat Avenue, head a mile up the hill, and look for a sign on the right. Drive through the tunnel to the inside of the crater. The ¾-mile trail to the top begins at the parking lot. Be aware that the hike up to the crater has numerous stairs to climb; if you aren't in the habit of getting occasional exercise, this might not be for you. At the top, you'll find a somewhat awkward scramble through a tunnel and bunker out into the open air, but the view is worth it.

As you walk, note the color of the vegetation: if the mountain is brown, Honolulu has been without significant rain for a while, but if the trees and undergrowth glow green, you'll know it's the wet season (winter) without looking at a calendar. Winter is when rare Hawaiian marsh plants revive on the floor of the crater. Wear a hat and take bottled water with you to stay hydrated under the tropical sun as there are no water stations (or any shade) along the hike. Keep an eye on your watch if you're here at day's end: the gates close promptly at 6 pm. To beat the heat and the crowds, rise early and make the hike before 8 am.

Fort DeRussy Beach Park

Waikiki Fodor's choice

A wide, soft, ultra-white shore with gently lapping waves makes this fine beach a family favorite for running-jumping-frolicking fun. Other bonuses include the shaded, grassy grilling area, the sand volleyball courts, and the many aquatic rental options. The beach fronts the Hale Koa Hotel as well as Fort DeRussy. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming; walking.

Haleiwa Alii Beach Park

Fodor's choice

The winter waves are impressive here, but in summer, the ocean is like a lake, ideal for family swimming. The beach itself is big and tends to be full of locals. Its broad lawn off the highway is often the site of volleyball and Frisbee games, family barbecues, and art festivals and carnivals. This beach is also the opening break for the Triple Crown of Surfing. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming.

Halona Blowhole

Fodor's choice

Below a scenic turnout along the Koko Head shoreline, this oft-photographed lava tube sucks the ocean in and spits it out. Don't get too close, as conditions can get dangerous. Look to your right to see the tiny beach below that was used to film the wave-washed love scene in From Here to Eternity.

In winter, this is a good spot to watch whales at play. Offshore, the island of Molokai calls like a distant siren, and, every once in a while, Lanai is visible in blue silhouette. Take your valuables with you, and lock your car, because this popular scenic location is a hot spot for petty thieves.

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Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Fodor's choice
Hanauma Bay, Southeast Oahu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA
TanArt / Shutterstock

Picture this as the world's biggest open-air aquarium. You come to see fish, and fish you'll see. Due to their exposure to thousands of visitors every week, these fish are more like family pets than the skittish marine life you might expect. An old volcanic crater has created a haven from the waves where the coral has thrived. Note that there's a fee for nonresidents to enter the preserve; make reservations and prepay online ahead of time. You must also watch a nine-minute video about the nature preserve in its educational center before being allowed down to the bay. Snorkel equipment and lockers are available for rent, and you can walk the short distance from the parking lot or take a tram.  It's best to visit early in the morning (around 7), as it's difficult to park later in the day. Need transportation? Take TheBus each way from anywhere on the island. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.

7455 Kalanianaole Hwy., Hawaii Kai, HI, 96825, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Nonresidents $25 (excluding tram from parking lot); parking $3 (cash only); snorkel rental $20, Closed Mon. and Tues., Reservations must be made in advance

Honolulu Museum of Art

Downtown Fodor's choice

Originally built around the collection of a Honolulu matron who donated much of her estate to the museum, the Honolulu Academy of Arts is housed in a maze of courtyards, cloistered walkways, and quiet, low-ceiling spaces. There's an impressive permanent collection that includes the third-largest assembly of Hiroshige's ukiyo-e Japanese prints in the country (donated by author James Michener); Italian Renaissance paintings; and American and European art by Monet, van Gogh, and Whistler, among many others. The newer Luce Pavilion complex, nicely incorporated into the more traditional architecture of the museum, has a traveling-exhibit gallery, a Hawaiian gallery, an excellent café, and a gift shop. The Doris Duke Theatre screens art films. This is also the jumping-off point for tours of Doris Duke's striking estate, which is now the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design. If you wish to visit, you should reserve tickets well in advance.

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Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

Fodor's choice

The name, which means "a peaceful refuge," describes the serenity and feeling of endless space you find in this verdant garden framed by the stunning Koolau Range. Its 400 acres contain specimens from such tropical areas as the Americas, Africa, Melanesia, the Philippines, and Hawaii. Not just for the botanist, Hoomaluhia also has a 32-acre lake, easy walking trails, and open lawns ideal for picnicking and camping by permit. Families can also take advantage of the park's catch-and-release tilapia fishing program; free bamboo fishing poles are sometimes available for borrowing at the visitor center. If you see unusually dressed-up visitors, they are likely selfie seekers doing it for the 'gram. Hoomaluhia is very photogenic; just make sure you're not blocking the roadways in search of the perfect shot.

Iolani Palace

Downtown Fodor's choice
Iolani Palace, Honolulu and Oahu, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Bryan Busovicki / Shutterstock

America's only official royal residence, on the site of an earlier palace, was completed in 1882. It contains the thrones of King Kalakaua and his successor (and sister) Queen Liliuokalani. Bucking the stereotype of simple island life, the palace had electric lights even before the White House. Downstairs galleries showcase the royal jewelry, as well as a kitchen and offices that have been restored to the glory of the monarchy. The palace gift shop and ticket office are now in what was formerly the Iolani Barracks, built to house the Royal Guard. The palace has self-guided audio tours and guided tours. Guided tours are only available in the mornings, and it's best to make reservations a few days in advance.

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Kailua Beach Park

Fodor's choice
Kailua Beach Park, Honolulu and Oahu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Joakim Lloyd Raboff / Shutterstock

A cobalt-blue sea and a wide continuous arc of powdery sand make this one of the island's best beaches, as illustrated by the crowds of local families who spend their weekend days here. The water is calm, a line of palms and ironwoods provides shade on the sand, and a huge park has picnic pavilions where you can escape the heat. This is also the "it" spot for windsurfing or kiteboarding, and you can rent kayaks nearby at Kailua Beach Adventures ( 130 Kailua Rd.) for day trips to the Mokulua Islands. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming; walking; windsurfing.

Ko Hana Distillers

Fodor's choice

Polynesians brought sugarcane to Hawaii more than 1,000 years ago, long before plantations were established on the Islands in the 1800s. Ko Hana grows 34 varieties of heirloom sugarcane and harvests it all by hand, then presses and distills the juice to make small-batch pure-cane rums. Stop by the tasting room at the farm in rural Kunia near Wahiawa, in the heart of the central valley for tastings. Standouts include Koho, a barrel-aged rum, and Kokoleka, made with pure cacao and raw honey. Sign up in advance for tours, which happen daily every hour until 4 pm and include a side-by-side tasting of white and barrel-aged rums. For a more in-depth experience, reserve a spot on a farm tour (Thursday morning at 10) and sample canes as well as rums.

Ko Olina Beach

Fodor's choice

This is the best spot on the island if you have small kids. The resort area commissioned a series of four man-made lagoons, but, as it has to provide public beach access, you are the winner. Huge rock walls protect the lagoons, making them perfect spots for the kids to get their first taste of the ocean without getting bowled over. The large expanses of seashore grass and hala trees that surround the semicircle beaches are made-to-order for nap time. A 1½-mile jogging track connects the lagoons. Due to its appeal for keiki (children), Ko Olina is popular, and the parking lot fills up quickly when school is out and on weekends, so try to get here before 10 am. The biggest parking lot is at the farthest lagoon from the entrance. There are actually three resorts here: Aulani (the Disney resort), Four Seasons Resort Oahu, and the Marriot's Ko Olina Beach Club (which has a time-share section as well). Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking.

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Kualoa Ranch

Fodor's choice

Encompassing 4,000 acres, about 45 minutes by car from Waikiki, this working ranch offers a wide range of activities—from ATV and horseback tours to zip-lining or expeditions into the valley on an electric bike. The mountains that serve as the backdrop here may seem familiar: the ranch has served as the set for movies such as Jurassic Park and Windtalkers, as well as TV shows like Magnum P.I. and Lost (and you can take a film sites tour). From the grounds, you'll have a wonderful view of the ocean and Mokolii (Chinaman's Hat). You can drop by the visitor center anytime, but it's best to book activities and tours two or three days in advance.

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Kualoa Regional Park

Fodor's choice

Grassy expanses border a long, narrow stretch of sand with spectacular views of Kaneohe Bay and the Koolau Mountains, making Kualoa one of the island's most beautiful picnic, camping, and beach areas. Dominating the view is an islet called Mokolii, better known as Chinaman's Hat, which rises 206 feet above the water. You can swim in the shallow areas of this rarely crowded beach year-round. The one drawback is that it's usually windy here, but the wide-open spaces are ideal for kite flying. Amenities: lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming.

Lanikai Beach

Fodor's choice
Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Winward Oahu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA
tomas del amo/Shutterstock

Think of the beaches you see in commercials: peaceful jade-green waters, powder-soft white sand, families and dogs frolicking, and offshore islands in the distance. It's an ideal spot for camping out with a book. Though the beach hides behind multimillion-dollar houses, by state law there is public access every 400 yards. Street parking is available but very difficult to find (and prohibited on holiday weekends). Consider parking at Kailua Beach Park and walking along the paved pathway into Lanikai. Just don't block the boat ramp stalls. There are no shower or bathroom facilities here—but you'll find both at Kailua Beach Park. Look for walled or fenced pathways every 400 yards, leading to the beach. Be sure not to park in the marked bike/jogging lane.Amenities: none. Best for: sunrise; swimming; walking.

Makapuu Point

Fodor's choice

This spot has breathtaking views of the ocean, mountains, and the windward Islands. The point of land jutting out in the distance is Mokapu Peninsula, site of a U.S. Marine base. The spired mountain peak is Mt. Olomana. On the long pier is part of the Makai Undersea Test Range, a research facility that's closed to the public. Offshore is Manana Island (Rabbit Island), a picturesque cay said to resemble a swimming bunny with its ears pulled back. Ironically enough, Manana Island was once overrun with rabbits, thanks to a rancher who let a few hares run wild on the land. They were eradicated in 1994 by biologists who grew concerned that the rabbits were destroying the island's native plants.

Nestled in the cliff face is the Makapuu Lighthouse, which became operational in 1909 and has the largest lighthouse lens in America. The lighthouse is closed to the public, but near the Makapuu Point turnout you can find the start of a paved mile-long road (it's closed to vehicular traffic). Hike up to the top of the 647-foot bluff for a closer view of the lighthouse and, in winter, to do some whale-watching.

Nuuanu Pali State Wayside

Fodor's choice

This panoramic perch looks out to expansive views of Windward Oahu—from Kaneohe Bay to a small island off the coast called Mokolii ("little lizard," also known as Chinaman's Hat). It was in this region that King Kamehameha I drove defending forces over the edges of the 1,200-foot-high cliffs, thus winning the decisive battle for control of the island.

Temperatures at the summit are several degrees cooler than in warm Waikiki, so bring a jacket along. Hang on tight to any loose possessions, and consider wearing pants; it gets extremely windy at the lookout, which is part of the fun. After arriving in the pay-to-park lot, remove valuables from your car and lock it; break-ins have occurred here (this wayside is in the most trafficked state park in Hawaii).

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Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Fodor's choice

Pearl Harbor is still a working military base as well as Oahu’s most visited attraction, consisting of five distinct destinations. Managed by the National Park Service, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and USS Arizona Memorial make up the national memorial, where exhibits tell the story not only of the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but also of the wartime internment of Japanese Americans, World War II battles in the Aleutian Islands, and the occupation of Japan after the war. The history continues at three, privately operated sights: the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum (whose centerpiece is the USS Bowfin), the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

A valid, government-issued, photo ID is required to enter the base. You can walk to the visitor center or the submarine museum from the parking lot, but access to the USS Arizona requires a ferry ride (and ticket reservations via  www.recreation.gov), and access to other sites, including the USS Missouri and the aviation museum, requires a shuttle bus trip.

With the exception of the visitor center, no bags of any kind—not even small purses—are allowed at any of the sights, though cameras, cell phones, and wallets can be hand-carried. A bag check is available. Children under four can visit the submarine museum but, for safety reasons, are not allowed on the USS Bowfin itself.

1 Arizona Memorial Pl., Pearl Harbor, HI, USA
Sight Details
Visitor center and USS Arizona Memorial free (aside from $1 ticket reservation fee); fees for other sites
Rate Includes: Reservations required to access USS Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

Fodor's choice
Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, Honolulu and Oahu, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
(c) Matejh | Dreamstime.com

The gateway to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the starting point for visitors to this historic site has interpretive exhibits in two separate galleries (Road to War and Attack) that feature photographs and personal memorabilia from World War II veterans. There are also other exhibits, a bookstore, and a Remembrance Circle, where you can learn about the people who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. Survivors are sometimes on hand to give their personal accounts and answer questions. The visitor center is also where you start your tour of the USS Arizona Memorial if you have reserved the requisite timed-entry ticket ( www.recreation.gov; $1 reservation fee).

Pupukea Beach Park

Fodor's choice

Surrounded by shade trees, Pupukea Beach Park is pounded by surf in the winter months but offers great diving and snorkeling in summer (March through October). Its cavernous lava tubes and tunnels are great for both novice and experienced snorkelers and divers, though it's imperative that you wear reef shoes at all times since there are a lot of sharp rocks. Sharp rocks also mean that this beach isn't the best for little ones. Some dive-tour companies offer round-trip transportation from Waikiki. Equipment rentals and dining options are nearby. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: diving; snorkeling; swimming.

Sandy Beach Park

Fodor's choice
Sandy Beach, Honolulu and Oahu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
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Very popular with locals, this broad, sloping beach is covered with sunbathers who come to soak up the rays and watch "The Show"—a shore break that's like no other in the Islands. Monster ocean swells rolling into the beach combined with the sudden rise in the ocean floor causes waves to jack up and crash magnificently. Expert surfers and bodyboarders young and old brave the dangers to enjoy some of the biggest barrels around.  Use extreme caution when swimming here. The stretch is nicknamed Break-Neck Beach for a reason: many neck and back injuries are sustained here each year. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: walking.

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Fodor's choice

In 1936, heiress Doris Duke bought 5 acres at Black Point, down the coast from Waikiki, and began to build and furnish the first home that would be all her own. She called it Shangri La. For more than 50 years, the home was a work in progress as Duke traveled the world, buying art and furnishings, picking up ideas for her Mughal Garden, for the Playhouse in the style of a 17th-century Irani pavilion, and for the water terraces and tropical gardens. When she died in 1993, Duke left instructions that her home was to become a public center for the study of Islamic art.

Outside of minor conservation-oriented changes and more extensive 2017 renovations to the courtyard and pool, the house and gardens have remained much as Duke left them. To walk through them is to experience the personal style of someone who saw everything as raw material for her art. With her trusted houseman, Jin de Silva, she helped build the elaborate Turkish Room, trimming tiles and painting panels to retrofit the existing space (including raising the ceiling and lowering the floor) and building a fountain of her own design.

Among many aspects of the home inspired by the Muslim tradition is the entry: an anonymous gate, a blank white wall, and a wooden door that bids you, "Enter herein in peace and security" in Arabic script. Inside, tiles glow, fountains tinkle, and shafts of light illuminate artwork through arches and high windows. In 2014, after years of renovation, Duke's bedroom (the Mughal Suite) opened to the public. This was her private world, entered only by trusted friends. The house is open only via the guided tours that depart from downtown's Honolulu Museum of Art, take about 2½ hours including transit time, and require reservations. Book your spot as early as possible, and note that children under eight are not permitted.

Sunset Beach Park

Fodor's choice

The beach is broad, the sand is soft, the summer waves are gentle—making for good snorkeling—and the winter surf is crashing. Many love searching this shore for the puka shells that adorn the necklaces you see everywhere. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; sunset; surfing.

USS Arizona Memorial

Fodor's choice

Lined up tight in a row of seven battleships off Ford Island, the USS Arizona took a direct hit on December 7, 1941, exploded, and rests still on the shallow bottom where she settled. You must reserve tickets ( www.recreation.gov) ahead of time to ensure access to the memorial; same-day, first-come, first-served tickets are no longer offered. As spaces are limited and tend to fill up, reserve as far ahead as possible; you can do so up to two months in advance. When your tour starts, you watch a short documentary film, then board the ferry to the memorial.

The swooping, stark-white structure, which straddles the wreck of the USS Arizona, was designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis to represent both the depths of the low-spirited, early days of the war and the uplift of victory. A somber, contemplative mood descends upon visitors during the ferry ride; this is a place where 1,777 people died. Gaze at the names of the dead carved into the wall of white marble. Look at oil on the water's surface, still slowly escaping from the sunken ship. Scatter flowers (but no lei—the string is bad for the fish). Salute the flag. Remember Pearl Harbor.

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Waimea Bay Beach Park

Fodor's choice
Waimea Bay, North Shore Oahu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Shane Myers Photography / Shutterstock

Made popular in that old Beach Boys song "Surfin' U.S.A.," this is a slice of big-wave (25 to 30 feet) heaven in winter. Summer is the time to swim and snorkel in the calm waters. The shore break is great for novice bodysurfers. Due to the beach's popularity, its postage-stamp parking lot is often full, but it's also possible to park along the side of the road and walk in. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; surfing; swimming.

Waimea Valley

Fodor's choice
Waimea Valley Park, North Shore Oahu, Honolulu and Oahu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
(c) Kraskoff | Dreamstime.com

Waimea may get lots of press for the giant winter waves in the bay, but the valley itself is a newsmaker and an ecological treasure in its own right, with a local nonprofit working to conserve and restore its natural habitat. Follow the Kamananui Stream up the valley through the 1,875 acres of gardens. The botanical collections here have more than 5,000 species of tropical flora, including a superb gathering of native Hawaiian and international plants. It's the best place on the island to see native species, such as the endangered Hawaiian moorhen.

You can also see the restored Hale o Lono heiau (shrine) along with other ancient archaeological sites; evidence suggests that the area was an important spiritual center. Daily activities include botanical walking tours and cultural tours. At the back of the valley, Waihi Falls plunges 45 feet into a swimming pond. Bring your board shorts—a swim is the perfect way to end your hike, although the pond can get crowded. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent, too; it can get buggy.

White Plains Beach

Fodor's choice
White Plains beach, West (Leeward) Oahu, Honolulu and Oahu, Hawaii
S6300128 by b b

Concealed from the public eye for many years as part of the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, this beach is reminiscent of Waikiki but without the condos and the crowds. It is a long, sloping stretch with numerous surf breaks, but it is also mild enough at the shore for older children to play freely. It has views of Pearl Harbor and, over that, Diamond Head. Although the sand lives up to its name, the real impact of this beach comes from its history as part of a military property for the better part of a century. Expansive parking, great restroom facilities, and numerous tree-covered barbecue areas make it a great day-trip spot. As a bonus, a Hawaiian monk seal takes up residence here several months out of the year (seals are rare in the Islands). Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming.