Are there any “secrets” left in Hawaiʻi? Social media and the Internet leave little to be desired these days, allowing visitors to explore almost every inch of the islands before they even step on the plane. Places that were once restricted to those with local knowledge are now crawling with visitors.
To stay a step ahead in this new world, we have to look at things in a different way. Instead of searching for a spot that’s “secret” in the sense of never being visited, we need to look for a place that’s underappreciated or overlooked in comparison to others. That is, a place that has more to offer than what its current reputation suggests.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Kaena Point
- Yokohama Beach
- West Side Whale and Dolphin watching
- Waimanalo Beach
- Kahuku Point
- Northeast Beaches and Hikes
- Various Cultural Sites
With that goal in mind, here are some of our favorite “secret” places on Oʻahu:
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: There are many factors that keep casual hikers and the crowds away from Kaʻena Point. As far as hikes go, there are sexier options on Oʻahu (ones that lead to waterfalls, rainforests, etc.). There’s no shade or elevation change, and, depending on which trail you take, there can be a mix of rocks and sand. It’s also located in a remote part of the island, adjacent to the famous beaches of the North Shore, which attract more attention.
Why you should visit: Kaʻena Point is a fabulous natural area, with beautiful coastal walks that lead to a bird sanctuary at the island’s most northwest point. There, you’ll find fantastic views of the Waiʻanae Mountain Range, as well as an up close and personal look at the Hawaiian Albatross, a ground-nesting seabird (November-July). Kaʻena Point was recently designated as a National Heritage Area.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: Kaʻena Point can be approached from either the west or north coasts. Hike one of the trails out to the point, check out the birds and the views, perhaps even find a quiet spot to sit along the coastline and enjoy a picnic lunch/snack. You can find more information on visiting Kaʻena Point, along with highlights and directions, here.
Yokohama Beach (Keawaʻula)
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: Yokohama Beach is located where the west side highway dead-ends at the island’s northwest corner, making it a far and inconvenient drive for those staying in Waikīkī. There is also a lot of competition for beaches on Oʻahu, so many great ones remain overlooked and underappreciated!
Why you should visit: Yokohama Beach is remote, undeveloped, and beautiful, providing gorgeous views of the Waiʻanae Range. It has options for snorkeling and hiking. The journey to reach it introduces you to Oʻahu’s west coast, which is visited by tourists much less frequently than the southern and eastern shores.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: Drive the west coast highway all the way to the end until you reach Yokohama Beach. This is a great platform for visiting Kaʻena Point, in which case you can hike the trail from the north end of the beach along the coast. Upon return, you can break out some beverages and beach chairs.
West Side Whale and Dolphin Watching
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: Most visitors stay in Waikīkī, where there are plenty of convenient options for boat tours. There aren’t nearly as many accommodation options on the west side, making tours that run out of Waiʻanae much less popular.
West Oʻahu Dolphin Snorkel and Sail
West Oʻahu Wildlife Watch and Snorkel in a sailing catamaran. See marine wildlife and enjoy impressive coastal views
Duration: 3 hours
By: Hawaii Nautical
Free cancellation: up to 24 hours before tour
Why you should visit: The west side of Oʻahu is a sight to be seen, with myriad beaches and a beautiful mountain backdrop (Waiʻanae Range). With less boat traffic than Waikīkī, sails are more serene, with a good chance of seeing wildlife.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: Jump on a dolphin watching tour out of Waiʻanae, which will double as a whale-watching tour from November through March. Hawaiʻi Nautical and Dolphin Excursions Hawaiʻi both are good options.
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: Waimānalo is an extremely local area, with no big accommodations for visitors. And, frankly, there’s just a lot of competition when it comes to beaches in Hawaiʻi.
Why you should visit: Waimānalo is a very relaxing, very long white sand beach – one of the longest on Oʻahu. It’s great for walking, with lots of trees for hammocks and shade. The surf is usually active and fun, great for bodysurfing (always check with the lifeguard about current conditions). Typically uncrowded, Waimānalo is a underrated place to spend the day.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: Head to Waimānalo for a day trip and hit the beach. There are many access points to Waimānalo Beach. The main entrances in the center of town and just north at Sherwood Beach have public restrooms and showers.
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: Most people who travel to Oʻahu will have never heard of Kahuku Point, although some may discover it in passing as they drive the North Shore, or if they are staying at Turtle Bay Resort. Its location and lack of marketing have allowed it to remain pleasantly overlooked.
Why you should visit: Kahuku Point is an undeveloped coastline that’s home to an abundance of wildlife, including Hawaiian Albatross, Hawaiian monk seals, and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Its sandy dune paths and peninsula shape make it a nice place to walk and take in coastal views, with nearby forests and adjacent beaches to explore.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: Park at Turtle Bay Resort and walk the hiking trails through the forest to reach Kahuku Point. Once there, you can explore the myriad paths around the peninsula, or keep going east to reach Hanaka‘Ilio Beach, which is long, continuous, and very walkable.
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: Kailua and Kailua Beach remain the darlings of the east side, with few going north beyond its city limits (with the exception of people taking tours at Kualoa Ranch). For folks staying in Waikīkī, they usually take a different, more efficient route to get to the North Shore (via the H2). The northeast part of the island is still mostly residential.
Why you should visit: There are a lot of great hikes in northeast Oʻahu, as well as myriad small, charming local beach parks to visit and enjoy.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: Hike the Lāʻie Falls Trail, Hauʻula Loop Trail, or the Maʻakua Ridge Trail. After, stop by one of the many beach parks, such as Hukilau, Kokololio, or Kahana, for a dip.
Various Cultural Sites
Why it’s underappreciated or overlooked: Many people who visit Hawaiʻi, including a majority of first timers, typically don’t see beyond the beautiful beaches, mountains, and activities. We can hardly blame them!
Why you should visit: Hawaiʻi’s history and culture is beautifully complex and interesting, and there are many sites around Oʻahu that are fulfilling to visit because they enhance your understanding of Hawaiʻi as a Polynesian kingdom.
Where to go and what to do, specifically: The ʻIolani Palace represents Hawaiʻi’s past monarchy (it’s the only royal palace on U.S. soil), the Bishop Museum tells its Polynesian history, and other sites like the Shangri-La reveal its rich cultural diversity.
See also: this extensive list of cultural things to see and do on Oʻahu.