The 800-acre Kawainui Marsh, regarded as sacred lands, is the largest area of wetlands in all of Hawaii. In Hawaiian, the name means “the big water”, in reference to the fact that the area was once an enormous body of fresh water. Kawainui Marsh lies behind a man-made levee and is almost completely covered in lush plants. The floating and meadowland plants are part of a natural ecosystem that supports an important population of endangered water birds as well as a variety of other birds and fish. Downstream and connected to the marsh is a smaller wetland, Hamakua Marsh, which also serves as a sanctuary for many of Hawaii’s rarest birds.
Nuʻuanu Pali State Wayside, Nuuanu Pali Dr, Honolulu, HI, United States
The lookout at Nuuanu Pali State Park offers perhaps the most stunning view found in all of Oahu. The panoramic vista, like a scene painted perfectly on a master’s canvas, features a breathtaking view of the Koolau Mountains and lush valley below. Historically, the site is of extreme significance, as it was the setting for the 1795 Battle of Nuuanu, led by Kamehameha I.
From a vantage point of more than 1,000 feet above the coastline, this one-of-a-kind lookout has unmatched views of Kailua, Kanehoe, Mokolii island, Coconut Island, and many other notable landmarks on the Windward coast.With its high elevation and location between high mountains on either side, the viewing platform is not only scenic, but extremely windy.
At times, the gusts are strong enough to hold you in place when leaning into the trade winds. Be sure to take off your hat, or it, too, will become part of the expansive, green landscape below.
This gorgeous bay, with its five small islands, has served as the backdrop or setting for numerous TV shows and movies, including Pearl Harbor and Gilligan’s Island. A large, beautiful coral reef sets the scene underwater, and a sand bar in the middle of the bay is a popular hangout for locals and tourists. Snorkelers and marine biologists are also attracted to the area because it’s is a breeding ground for thousands of non-threatening Hammerhead sharks. Townside in Honolulu!
Just a short drive from the peaceful beach town of Kailua is Hawaii’s bustling capital city, Honolulu. This sprawling urban area is the southernmost major U.S. city and is the most populous state capital relative to its state population. As you might expect, Honolulu offers an abundance of attractions, restaurants, shops, activities, historic sites, museums, and entertainment venues. The opportunities for exploration are virtually endless, with so much to see and do you won’t know where to begin.
Built in 1926 as a lighthouse to welcome the arrival of ships, The Aloha Tower stands today as a symbol of Hawaii’s hospitality and history. Located in Honolulu Harbor, the 184-foot, 10-story tower was once the tallest building in Hawaii. Although many of the city’s modern office buildings currently surpass the structure in terms of height, none can dwarf the iconic status or historic significance of this state landmark.
The Aloha Tower still functions as a port for cruise ships, and the building’s 10th floor observation deck is open to the public from 9:30 am to sunset, where gorgeous harbor views can be enjoyed free of charge. Nearby, the Aloha Tower Marketplace, with its abundance of shops, fine eateries, and entertainment offerings, is a great place to spend a few hours while soaking up the ambiance of this Hawaiian treasure. Approximately 13 miles southwest of Kailua.
The instantly recognizable, immense volcanic crater known as Diamond Head was formed 150,000 years ago, and remains today at the edge of Waikiki on the Pacific Coast. Hawaiians historically called the crater Lē’ahi (meaning tuna’s brow), because the cone’s shape is reminiscent of a tuna’s fin. The current name orginated in the 1800s, when British sailors mistakenly thought calcite crystals found in the volcanic rock were actually diamonds.
This State Monument is 3,520 feet in diameter and stands 760 feet at its highest point. The interior of the crater once housed Fort Ruger, a major military defense fort, parts of which were used in the filming of the popular TV series Lost. Today, a National Guard facility operates inside the crater, and only remnants of the old fort remain.
Tourists and locals can’t help but marvel at the size and majesty of this natural wonder. Diamond Head is a commanding force in the landscape of a modern world.
Unique in that it was established using royal funds during the reign of King David Kalakaua, the Honolulu Zoo is today located in the city’s Queen Kapi’olani Park and is visited by more than 600,000 people a year. Even President Barack Obama toured the 42-acre grounds during a recent family trip. The impressive zoo showcases more than 1,200 animals in custom habitats surrounded by beautiful Hawaiian foliage.
The zoo is open 9 am to 4:30 pm daily. Admission is $13 for adults and teens; $6 for children ages 3-12; and free for tots under 3 years of age. Generous military discounts are offered with proper ID.
Queen Emma Summer Palace, named Hānaiakamalama (The Foster Child of the Moon) in Hawaiian, is a historic landmark that was once the vacation home for Queen Emma of Hawaii, her husband King Kamehameha IV, and their son, Prince Albert Edward. The home served as the royal family’s retreat from 1857 to 1885, and now stands as a living tribute and museum on 2 acres of gorgeously landscaped grounds.
The palace itself showcases the possessions of the Queen, King, and Prince as well as other Hawaiian royalty. Inside the museum are clothing, jewelry, and numerous furnishings and accessories, including the Prince’s cradle, the King and Queen’s beds, the family dining table, Queen Emma’s piano, and a stocked china cabinet and Christening vessel gifted by Queen Victoria. Portraits of the royal family, as well as other notable historical figures, are also on display.
The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily, except on major holidays, and costs $6 for adults and $1 for kids under 17 years old.
Hawaii’s largest museum, located in the historic Kalihi district of Honolulu, displays the world’s most comprehensive collection of Polynesian cultural and scientific artifacts. The Bishop Museum, also called the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Culutral History, was built in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop as a tribute to his late wife, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of the Kamehameha Dynasty. What began as a family collection of artifacts now includes such wonders as a complete skeleton of a sperm whale, a 13.5-million-specimen entomological collection, one of the most complete libraries of Hawaiian history, and pristine examples of royal regalia. Also within the campus are the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, and The Watumall Planetarium.
With so much to see, do, and learn, a stop at the Bishop Museum is an all-day adventure that will immerse you in the true history and cultural of the Hawaiian heritage.
Pearl Harbor is the largest natural harbor in Hawaii, located just west of Honolulu. The harbor is the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, with a large portion of the harbor and surrounding area home to a U.S. Navy base. Due to the tragic events of December 7, 1941, the naval base itself is listed as a National Historical Landmark.
Called Pu’uloa by Hawaiians, and named after the pearl oysters which were once harvested there, Pearl Harbor is now forever remembered for the surprise aerial attack launched by Japan more than 70 years ago. Thousands lost their lives in the historic bombing which cataplulted the United States into World War II.
Today, the events of the devastating attack, and those who gave their lives in the battle, are honored and reverred with five Pearl Harbor Historic Sites.
At the USS Arizona Memorial, visitors take a shuttle boat to a floating memorial built directly over the sunken battleship.
Kūkaniloko Birthstones State Monument, located in Central Oahu, is one of the most sacred sites on the island. Rows of ancient rocks once surrounded a central birthing stone where ancient Hawaiian women were brought to deliver their future chiefs. The rocks, which were believed to help ease the pain of childbirth, were part of a complex birthing ritual performed on the site.
Many of the stones are carved with ancient petroglyphs, and although portions of the ritualistic site have been destroyed through the ages, what remains is a marvel of historic posterity set in peaceful, tranquil surroundings.
Approximately 33 miles northwest of Kailua.
This outdoor museum in historic Waipahu is a mock village where 30 original and replica homes and community buildings depict the diversity of Hawaii’s heritage through the story of Hawaii’s immigrant plantation workers. Many antiques and artifacts are displayed throughout the village, along with period artwork and original architecture. Several building in the village were investigated for paranormal activity on the popular TV show Ghost Hunters, and is now known for its Halloween attraction, “Haunted Plantation.”
Standard hours are Monday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm and Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm. Guided tours are offered on the hour between 10 am and 2 pm. Admission is $13 for adults, $10 for seniors; $7 for military; $5 for kids 4 to 11 years old, and free for toddlers under 3 years of age.
Approximately 25 miles west of Kailua.
Covering more than 2 acres, Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau is the largest heiau on O’ahu and is desginated as a National Historic Landmark. With a name meaning Hill of Escape, the temple is suitated high on a hilltop above Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley. Three walled platforms comprise the site, with the upper enclosure originally built in the 1600s and the lower two most likely added in the 1700s.
It is believed that during the time of war, the heiau was used as a sacrifical temple. Signal fires were probably used to communicate with other heiaus. Today, the site is preserved within the protective grounds of a state park, and can be studied and enjoyed by visitors on a daily basis. The site is open during daylight hours and admittance is free of charge.
Approximately 45 miles north of Kailua.
The 400-acre Ho`omaluhia Botanical Garden is the largest of its kind on the island, and is filled with lush, tropical plants grouped in a regionally-based fashion. Winding trails meander through the grounds, which include a large, 32-acre lake, a botanical library, camping facilities, and a visitors center.
With a name meaning peaceful refuge, Hoomaluhia is a serene, tranquil slice of Hawaiian beauty, and is open daily free of charge.
Located in Kane’ohe, approximately 17 miles west of Kailua.
Hawaii’s only major water park, Wet N’ Wild Hawaii, is a sprawling family theme park with more than 25 water slides, rides, and attractions.
Great for cooling off on a hot day, activities include a lazy river, interactive children’s area, wave pool, thrilling water slides, and a miniature golf course. General admission is $44.99. Kids under 42-in tall pay $34.99, and seniors over age 65 are charged $23.99. Youngsters under age 2 are free, and a military discount is offered.
Approximately 30 miles west of Kailua.
A bit of Japanese Zen can be found amid the lush greenery at the foot of Hawaii’s Ko’olau mountains. Not only are the grounds of this memorial park impressive, with its pristine manicured lawns and serene, koi-stocked ponds, but the replica of Japan’s 11th century Byodo-in Buddhist temple is almost unreal in its grandeur and beauty.
There are thousands of Hawaiian residents, of various religions and cultures, buried at the Valley of the Temples.
In addition to the massive 9-foot meditation Buddha, there are numerous Catholic statues and a 3-ton brass bell, said to bring luck to those who ring it. You’re also likely to see wild peacocks roaming the grounds.
The park is open daily from 8:30 to 4:30 pm, with admission rates of $2 for adults and $1 for children under 12 and seniors over 65.
Approximately 10 miles northwest of Kailua.
The Polynesian Cultural Center depicts the cultures and customs of seven Polynesian regions with a variety of shows, feasts, activities, interactive demonstrations, crafts, games, and the like, all focused on presenting a true Polynesian experience. The evening show is filled with excitement as flaming knives are thrown, dancers twirl, and drummers pound out a native beat. Also offered are a traditional luau, a circle island tour, and canoeing activities and tours. This tourist attraction is great for families looking for a day of entertainment. Prices vary depending on which experiences you choose. General admissions begins at $49.95 for adults and $39.95 for children ages 5-12. Kids under 5 are free. Other excursions, shows, and dining all incur separate fees. The park is open Monday through Saturday, and is closed Sundays and major holidays. The first attractions open at 11:45 am, and the popular nighttime show ends at 9 pm.
Approximately 25 miles north of Kailua.
Like a snapshot of pure Hawaii, Kailua Beach Park is a picturesque beach with gorgeous blue waters, soft white sands, and towering palm trees swaying rhythmically in the gentle breeze. A favorite spot for locals, tourists, and water sports enthusiasts, the half-mile beach is great for swimming, wind-surfing, body boarding, kayaking, and parasailing.
The beach is especially famous for its ideal wind-surfing conditions, attracting worldwide attention from experts and novices of the sport. Kayaking is another popular activity at Kailua Beach. Several small islands nearby provide great opportunities for exploration and are the perfect destinations for exploring via kayak. The closest of those islands, Flat Island, is home to green sea turtles and other unusual wildlife, and is also a beautiful snorkeling area. With typically mild waves, swimming conditions are favorable at Kailua Beach Park.
Consistently voted one of America’s top beaches for its clear, turquoise waters, stunning views, silky soft sand, and comforting trade-wind breezes, Lanikai Beach is a paradise for swimmers and sunbathers. This pristine piece of coastline is only about a half mile long, but what the beach lacks in size, it makes up for in grandiose beauty.
With a picturesque landscape that is unmatched throughout the world, many photographers bring their models here for photo shoots. In addition, the beach has been the setting for countless photo ops and is often depicted on calendars, travel guides, and postcards. The beauty also continues offshore, with a stunning underwater reef garden that is a popular locale for snorkeling and scuba diving.
When swimming, be mindful of the Man-of-War jellyfish that sometimes make their way into the area, especially about 8-10 days after a full moon.
Although closed for military-only use during the week, this popular beach spot is open to the general public on the weekends. Like many of the beaches on the Windward side of the island, Bellows Beach offers spectacular views, clear waters, and smooth, soft sand. Shallow waters and a gentle surf make it an ideal spot for swimmers, body-boarders, and beginning surfers. For a different kind of fun, outside of the water, there is also a paintball activity run by retired military personnel.
Those picnicking or looking for a retreat from the sun will enjoy the shade provided by rows of Ironwood trees. Lifeguards are typically on duty, and a variety of conveniences such as beach shops, showers, restrooms, picnic areas, and campgrounds make Bellows a well-rounded facility. Members of the military can rent beachside cabins, but these fill up early and must be secured well in advance. Tent camping is allowed for the general public, and equipment can be rented on-site.
With beaches galore on the island, it may seem daunting deciding which ones to visit. This one’s a no-brainer. After all, it’s been the filming location for Baywatch Hawaii and Magnum P.I., and was the place where James Michener drew inspiration for his novel Hawaii.
Waimanalo Beach Park is a dreamy, five-mile long stretch of silken white sand, which gently slopes into calm, turquoise waters. It’s not only the longest beach on Oahu, but one of the most scenic and picturesque. On the beach is everything you’d expect from a tropical ocean paradise. Underwater is more of the same, with a majestic display of colorful coral, shells, and sea creatures. Due to its shallow sandbar, small waves, and an easy, gradual sand slope, the park is an ideal spot for swimming and beginning surfing. It’s also a mecca for fishing, body boarding, and snorkeling.
8801 Kalanianaole Hwy, Honolulu, HI, United States
Known as the most dangerous beach in Hawaii, Sandy Beach features a strong shore break, powerful rip tides, and rough, pounding waves. Even when the waters seem calm, it is best not to enter the water for casual swimming. Accidents are a frequent occurrence here, with the nickname “beach of broken necks” more than just an expression. Experienced body boarders and surfers flock to the area since the surf breaks close to shore and the waves are perfect for the sport.
Even if you don’t plan to partake in any water activities, Sandy Beach is a great spot for watching those who do, and it’s a fabulous location for photographs of large, active waves.
Free parking, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers are on site.
Although Kalama Beach may be less popular than its next-door-neighbor, Kailua Beach, it shares many of the same stellar attributes, including silken white sand, towering palm trees, calm blue waters, and an awe-inspiring view of the Molulua Islands. This smaller, less crowded beach is, by comparison to the more populous Kailua Beach, a peaceful and secluded retreat, ideal for relaxing and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean.
Although there are no lifeguards on duty, the waters are typically calm, making it great for swimming or beginner body boarding. Before getting in the water, check for postings about man-of-war jellyfish sightings, as these stinging creatures have been known to wash up into the area.
Beyond the beach is the park with its large grassy area, perfect for picnicking, playing catch, spiking a volleyball, or tossing around a Frisbee. There are restroom facilities, showers, a private parking lot, and nearby shops for renting equipment.
With a rocky bottom near the shore, this small beach is not the best for casual swimming, but there are a few sandy pools where kids often play. Near the pier are some good spots for snorkeling and scuba diving. Two small islands are located offshore, both of which are seabird sanctuaries. There are no public facilities on this stretch of beach, but there is a bit of history, as it is the place where the youngest lava flow on Oahu is thought to have occurred.
Off the beaten path, accessed only by way of a challenging, unmarked trail, are the Makapuu tide pools. The tide pools are not only beautiful to look at, but are perfect for swimming in or even snorkeling in if the tide is low. On days when the sea is rough, or when the tide is high, the hike to the tide pools is not recommended. Since many sections on the route are not clearly marked, and follow along a dangerous, rocky shoreline, inexperienced hikers are advised against the trip. Even the most confident trekkers need to use caution, bring plenty of water and sunscreen, wear sturdy hiking shoes, and go only when the sea is calm. To find the tide pools, you’ll begin on the easily-navigated paved road to the Makapuu lighthouse. Once you reach the lookout point, where Humpback whales can often be spied, follow the rocky path down the mountain.
Lanikai Bath and Body is located next to the Kailua visitors’ center, so it’s a great first stop when planning your day of shopping. Here you will find more than 100 varieties of Hawaiian-made bath and beauty products, including lotions, oils, soaps, candles, and more. The line features 17 distinctive scents, which perfectly capture the essence of Hawaii’s aromatic, tropical flowers. All of the goods are made from natural ingredients and are produced responsibly and with care, without harming animals or the environment. It’s also been said that the Winter White House, where President Obama and his family stay when in Kailua, is stocked with Lanikai products.
Little Sprouts is a children’s boutique which features organic, eco-friendly clothing and products for babies and kids up to age 6. The unique line includes toys, shoes, accessories, and garments made from high-quality materials that are not only durable and environmentally responsible, but have their own fashionable Hawaiian flair.
41-1025 Kalanianaole Hwy, Waimanalo, HI, United States
Naturally Hawaiian Gallery, owned by Hawaiian nature artist Patrick Ching, is a great place to find one-of-a-kind art and gifts. If you’re lucky, you may find the owner on site, willing to sign his original creations. There are also a variety of classes offered here, including painting, yoga, and hula.
Windward Jewelers offers individually handmade Hawaiian jewelry, each characterized with a trademark 14K-gold ALOHA insignia. These specialty pieces are not only beautiful, but are designed to capture the essence of the Hawaiian spirit, giving them a distinct local charm.
Windward Mall is a more traditional shopping mall, where more than 110 shops, restaurants, attractions, and a movie theater complex are all grouped in one convenient location. Here you’ll find top chain retailers as well as more specialized Hawaiian-based merchants. The mall is located on Kamehameha Rd. in Kaneohe, about 7 miles west of Kailua
Bay View Golf Park is a par-60 course designed by Robin Nelson. It is known as one of the best courses for working on your short game, and features one of the most challenging, and most narrow, back-to-back par-4 combinations on the back nine. Stunning views of Kaneohe Bay will take your breath away, even if your swing is less than stellar.
Koolau Golf Club is a challenging par-72 public course, nestled around a lush, dense rain forest. The course is one of the toughest in the nation, with a final hole that is by and large the most difficult par-4 in all of Hawaii. Gorgeous views of Kaneohe Bay and the surrounding rain forest, combined with the unique challenges of the course design, make this the perfect setting for a golf outing that will not soon be forgotten.
Olomana Golf Club is a par-72 public course with two distinctly separate nines. The front nine is on mostly level fairways with challenging water obstacles on each hole, while the back nine traverses rolling hills and is flanked by sand traps. Stunning mountain panoramas serve as the backdrop to this uniquely Hawaiian course.
Royal Hawaiian Golf Club (formerly Luana Hills Country Club) is a semi-private, par-72 course with four sets of tees to accommodate every skill level. Designed as a country club course by Perry and Pete Dye, the front nine holes are set on the lower slopes of Mount Olomana, while the back nine plays out with extreme changes in elevation as it meanders through a lush, tropical paradise.
Pali Golf Course is a municipal, par-72 track set below the Pali lookout. The hillside course, designed by Willard G. Wilkinson, features a natural stream as an obstacle and has picturesque views of the Koolau mountains, Kaneohe Bay, and the towns of Kailua and Kaneohe. The area is prone to frequent weather changes such as high winds and rain, so be prepared as you take on this challenging course.