10 Hidden Gems of Oahu

PHOTO: Ko Olina Sunset (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Noreen Kompanik
by Noreen Kompanik
Last updated: 3:03 PM ET, Mon March 25, 2019

The Gathering Place

Oahu, "The Gathering Place," is Hawaii's most populated island, home to almost a million people. Despite this, Oahu has its share of magic just like the other Hawaiian Islands. Visitors just have to know where to find it.

There's no doubt that lively Waikiki, historic Pearl Harbor and towering Diamond Head are still must-dos for first-time visitors, but the real soul of Oahu lies off its beaten paths on roads less traveled.

Ko Olina

Staying in Ko Olina on Oahu's southwestern shore couldn't be a better vacation destination. With its almost-always sunny weather and stunning sunsets painting the sky, Ko Olina seems light years away from the hustle, bustle and urban sprawl of hectic Honolulu and wild Waikiki.

Ko Olina, meaning "place of joy," is home to some magnificent resorts that front four picture-perfect idyllic tourmaline lagoons. Accommodations range from the quiet tranquil luxury of Four Seasons Resort Oahu to the family-oriented Disney magic at Aulani or the perfect balance of tropical relaxation at Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Resort. Simply put, Ko Olina is escapism at its very best.

Hale'iwa Town

Rustic. Authentic. Laid-back. These are just a few ways to describe the more than a century-old surf town of Hale'iwa, located on Oahu's North Shore.

Once the playground of Hawaiian royalty, the town features charming art galleries, surf shops and food trucks serving the island's famous garlic shrimp, fish tacos and more. But you can't pass through without stopping for Hale'iwa's renowned island treat-shaved iced. Much finer than the traditional snow cone, you can enjoy with your choice of a multitude of flavored syrups.

North Shore's Turtles and Tide Pools

Oahu's North Shore has long been a siren calling surfers and free spirits to its sandy shores. Winter swells can bring towering 30 to 40-foot waves. As for the rest of the year, these North Shore beaches are perfect for snorkelers, sunbathers, tide-poolers and turtle-watchers.

Laniakea Beach, situated between popular Waimea Bay and Hale'iwa, is an ideal spot at low tide for its magnificent tide pools teeming with tropical fish. It's also known for the honu (Hawaiian sea turtle) that makes its home in these Hawaiian waters. We couldn't have been more excited to see several of these magnificent sea creatures gliding through the crystalline seas.

Chasing Waterfalls

Unlike the other Hawaiian Islands, Oahu isn't particularly well-known for an abundance of waterfalls. Make no mistake, though, they are here, and they are splendid.

One of our favorites is the breathtaking two-tiered Likeke Falls, a one-mile roundtrip uphill hike through a tropical emerald rainforest reminiscent of a Jurassic Park movie set. The rustic root-covered lava rock trail can be slick and muddy after a rainstorm, but, oh, is it ever worth the trip. And, it's the one waterfall on the island that's always flowing, despite the season.

Ha: Breath of Life - Polynesian Cultural Center

Yes, the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the top tourist attractions on Oahu. But, most visitors don't know they can skip the luau here, or anywhere on Oahu, and still be treated to a magnificent critically-acclaimed spectacle. Ha: Breath of Life is hands-down the best show we've seen on the island.

The epic Polynesian saga of passion, fire, song, dance, storytelling and special effects, featuring a cast of over 100 performers, is an unforgettable experience celebrating the history of the Polynesian islands and the importance of family. This show literally took our breath away. Photography during the show however is strictly prohibited. Prior to the performance, guests are free to explore the incredibly beautiful grounds celebrating Polynesian culture.

Byodo-In Temple

Nestled at the foot of the picturesque cloud-covered Ko'olau Mountains sits a spectacular red and gold Buddhist structure. It's an exact replica of a 900-year-old temple in Uji, Japan. This architectural masterpiece contains an 18-foot Buddha statue and an adjacent sacred Bell House. Constructed in 1968, the temple commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Japanese arrival to the island to work the sugar plantations.

With two acres of ponds stocked with hundreds of Japanese koi and black swans gliding on the surface, there couldn't be a more stunningly peaceful setting in all of Oahu.

Halona Blowhole and Cove

Located on Oahu's southeastern shoreline just minutes from renowned Hanauma Bay, Halona Point is a "honey, stop the car now" destination. At high tide, water can shoot up to 30-feet through a hole in an impressive lava tube formed by volcanic eruptions eons ago. The point is also an ideal place for whale-watching and, sure enough, we caught some spouts and tail flukes in the distance.

Just to the right of the blowhole sits quiet Halona Cove with its narrow stretch of sand and surf made famous during a steamy 1953 "From Here to Eternity" movie scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. When waters are calm, the intimate cove, aka Eternity Beach, is great for swimming.

Waimanalo Beach

Likely the most beautiful stretch of uninterrupted pristine white sand on the entire island of Oahu, stunning windward Waimanalo Beach, with its tourmaline waters, is perfect for a stroll. Just above the beach, a 38-acre park is an ideal location for a picnic lunch.

Mysterious Caves

At the base of a huge cliff outcropping, the 100-foot high, 450-foot deep Kaneana Cave (Makua Cave) is a mystifying coastal cavern rich in Hawaiian lore. Situated on the remote western edge side of Oahu, legend has it that Kaneana is one of Hawaii's most haunted sites.

There are many stories associated with the cave, of shapeshifter gods and mankind's birth from the womb of the Earth goddess. Nonetheless, the impressive cave formation located directly across the street from beautiful Kaneana Beach is a must-do. If nothing else, just to satisfy the curiosity.

Oahu Coffee Farm

The Hawaiian Islands are renowned for their coffee plantations and even populous Oahu has a claim to fame in the coffee-growing business.

Green World Coffee Farm in the North Shore region lies just a few minutes from Dole Plantation. The farm is family-owned and operated, with chickens as the official greeters. Seven and a half acres of coffee beans are grown on site. Demand exceeds supply so additional beans harvested from other Hawaiian Islands are fresh-roasted and also marketed here. A self-guided tour through the picturesque coffee garden is available along with free tastings of premium coffees.

There's more to the beautiful island than just the popular tourist spots.

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Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

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