UPDATED APR 20, 2020
The island of Oahu offers some of the most picturesque green spaces in the world. Inside the island’s parks and gardens, you can look forward to everything from waterfalls to inviting spots to lay down your picnic blanket or gas up the barbecue. Check out a few of our faves!
A scenic park that is also the gateway to one of the most majestic hikes on the island? Sign us up! The popular (and notoriously butt-kicking) Wa‘ahila Ridge Hike begins right in the back of Waʻahila Ridge State Recreation Area just outside of Honolulu. The forested reserve will also provide you with sweeping views of both the Manoa and Palolo valleys. Looking for even more recreational activities? There’s a boat ramp for fishing boats here.
Lyon Arboretum is often overlooked due to its proximity to the popular Manoa Falls hiking trail, but don’t make the mistake of coming to Manoa without stopping at this pristine section of tropical rainforest — almost 200 acre’s worth! The University of Hawaiʻi is super involved in keeping this area protected and thriving.
A true hidden gem, Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden is nestled behind a quiet neighborhood in Kaneohe on Oahu’s east side. This is a perfect spot for a picnic, especially next to the 32-acre lake (sorry, no swimming!). However, you can rent some fishing poles at the information center. If you’d rather explore, you won’t be disappointed, as this place is home to plants from all around the world. But make sure to grab a map on your way in — the sections of the space are divided geographically and it helps if you know which you’re exploring.
On the Windward side of Oahu lies the unspoiled valley of Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park. This spot holds quite a bit of cultural importance to the area, as it is one of the few publicly-owned ahupua'a left in the state. It contains over 5,000 acres of gorgeous land from the sea to one of the wettest areas on the island. Want a quiet camping spot on the beach? You’ll find a limited number of ocean-side camping sites here. Fitt Tip: it’s by permit-only, so make sure to snag a spot ASAP!
You could spend hours at the Waimea Valley Botanical Garden, just wandering around learning about the different plant species that thrive there. Though, what sets this place apart from other gardens is the natural 45-foot waterfall — it's the only botanical garden on the island with one. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the sprawling lawn (often used for wedding ceremonies) and just enjoy the sunshine, themed gardens, and over 5,000 different types of plants.
Imagine a park inside of a huge crater formed by a volcanic eruption over 300,000 years ago. Well, at Diamond Head State Monument, you won’t have to. Easily one of Hawaiʻi’s most iconic landmarks, this area provides grassy knolls, a rich military history, and a chance to get in some good exercise hiking to the top of the crater. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with crystal-clear coastal views of the surrounding ocean waters and the Waikiki area below.
Catch a glimpse of how Hawaiʻian royalty lived at the Moanalua Gardens — King Kamehameha V enjoyed the area so much that he had a cottage built at this very spot. Arborists will love spending some time at these gardens because of the historic Hitachi tree that the Japanese Hitachi Group used for its famous logos and the enormous monkeypod tree, which is over a century old.
Magic Island is undoubtedly one of the best spots to watch the sunset, no matter what time of year it is. You will often find the space littered with pop-up tents and bouncy castles for children’s birthday parties on the weekends and everything from yoga classes to joggers on the weekdays. Grab a blanket and find a spot on the grass for a stunning sunset over the water, or watch the surfers catch some waves at the popular Ala Moana Beach across the park.
The last monarch to reign over Hawaiʻi, Queen Liliʻuokalani, was the original owner of this space. A true testament to her love for the Hawaiian people, she eventually donated Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden to the city of Honolulu so that the beautiful gardens could be open to the public. A constant work-in-progress, parts of the garden are still being upgraded with a goal to cultivate native Hawaiʻian plants.
A great little park when you want to get away from the busy Honolulu area, Sand Island State Recreation Area is a hidden oasis just outside of an industrial area. There are picnic benches for when they get tired of swimming at the beach and want to watch the big supply boats come in. And if you want to stay a few days, there are several campsites available (weekends only) by paid permit, and they even offer local rates!
Right in the middle of Honolulu, the Foster Botanical Garden provides a quiet escape from the city life right outside its gates. They offer live music during the summer months, but it’s worth a visit all year round. One of the highlights is the massive rainbow eucalyptus tree and the greenhouse full of colorful orchids. They also have a “corpse flower” if you’re interested… just don’t smell it.
A favorite just outside Waikiki, Kapiʻolani Park is the perfect spot for a weekend barbecue. If you find yourself needing to cool off, just cross the street for a dip in the ocean at the popular Kaimana Beach. The wide-open spaces offer an awesome opportunity for a game of fetch with your dog or a quick soccer match with friends. You’ll also find tennis courts, basketball courts, and amazing views of Diamond Head. Don’t forget to stop inside the Waikiki Aquarium to support the conservation of Hawaiʻi’s marine life — it's right next door!
Named for the Fort Derussy Armed Forces Recreation Center located inside, this park offers paved walking trails that lead to Fort Derussy Beach. Here, you’ll find friendly games of volleyball and basketball next to the beach at all hours of the day, and there is an army museum within the grounds as well. Cook up some dinner on the public grills and then head over to the beach for an evening stroll. Or, come to watch the Waikiki fireworks set off by neighboring Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel every Friday night.
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