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When you’re surrounded by some of the best surf, sea, sand, mountains, and weather in the US, staying inside seems like something of a crime. Ok, perhaps not a crime, but it’s certainly a mistake. After all, there are a million ways to tackle the great outdoors in Hawai‘i. And while it would probably take you a lifetime to try every adventure that exists on Oahu, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite places to get you started.
Mokoli‘i island is known more colloquially as “Chinaman’s Hat”. (You’ll see why when you spot this cone-shaped islet.) It’s a charmingly picturesque land formation off the coast of Kualoa Ranch on the northeast side of the island and a distinctive, iconic fixture of the coastline vista. Usually, it’s viewed from afar, but the water between the shore and Mokoli‘i is totally kayakable, and when doing so, it feels like you’re setting off on a secret adventure. Once you’ve worked up a sweat on your 'yak and you’re on land, hike up to the modest summit or break for lunch on the islet’s shore.
Beautiful Ho‘omaluhia is a sprawling, 400-acre green space that includes a little manmade lagoon (not available for swimming) and plants from a bevy of tropical regions. And although it was designed by the Army Corp of Engineers to provide flood relief to the surrounding area, it’s also an ideal place to go camping! The wide-open expanse has tons of nooks and crannies featuring otherworldly collections of stunning botanicals. So, reserve a campsite, pitch your tent, and get ready for an evening under the stars.
Oahu is home to some of the most famous surf breaks in the world, so the local surf scene is, understandably, huge. One of the more unusual ways to take advantage of this surfer’s paradise is hitting the waves way past the time most others have long gone in — at night! And there’s no better place to do it than Waikiki. While you might not want to attempt the more intense breaks in the dead of night, you’re apt to encounter other folks surfing under the light of the full moon in Waikiki’s calmer, safer waters.
Stand-up paddleboarding is wildly popular, and we can understand why. It’s an awesome way to experience the water (you get a better view of our picturesque coastlines than you do swimming) and it’s great exercise, too. Paddleboarders can be found up and down Waikiki and Kailua, but one of the best spots to put in your board is actually on the more remote Anahulu River, which is just off the charming and historic town of Hale‘iwa. The river is a prime spot for sea turtle sightings and also leads to one of the town’s most famous landmarks, a cute little overpass known as the Rainbow Bridge.
You can find lists and lists of Hawai‘i hikes to try, but one of the more adventurous and popular ones is the Olomana Three Peaks Trail. This hike will take you through forest floor terrain, over steep, rocky trails, and even up climbing ropes! The end lookout is the real reward, though. You’ll be able to see for miles and the pinnacle of Olomana, which has a needle-point zenith, offers an epic, 360° view of the east side coastline and the Ko‘olau mountain range.
At the farthest west point of Oahu is Ka‘ena Point, a scenic, moody, remote spot that feels worlds removed from the rest of the island. It’s also the site of a Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Preserve, a gated area that serves to protect the sand dune habitats that include endangered seabirds and native plants. You’re also likely to spot whales and monk seals out there. You can access the preserve via a hike along the Ka‘ena Point Trail from the north or west sides of the island — just be sure to be respectful of the animals and cognizant of the signs as you go through.
Humans aren’t the only ones that can’t get enough of Hawai‘i — lots of wildlife love flocking to Oahu’s shores. The best part? You can get up close and personal with some of them. Dolphins are famous for being incredibly friendly and playful, often flitting by the western coastline in pods to swim alongside boats and whale-watching tours. Schedule a catamaran snorkeling tour that will take you to the best sites to spot and swim among the dolphins. Or, charter a private boat and take off from the west side of the island. Either way, you’re in for an experience you won’t soon forget.
The rocky south shore of Oahu features dramatic sea cliffs and is a far cry from the calm, sweeping beaches of Waikiki or the wet rainforests of the east side. And it’s those cliffs that make this spot ideal for rock climbing, especially at climbing favorite Makapu‘u Point, near Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail. You’ll find an abundance of well-loved and accessible routes, plus stunning ocean views. The area is a bit windy, though, so packing a jacket isn’t the worst idea.
Waimea Bay on the north shore has a lot to offer: amazing waves in winter, a vast expanse of white sand for lounging and playing, incredible snorkeling, and an iconic seacliff-like rock that sits right on the shoreline. It’s also a popular spot for cliff jumping into the area’s deep bay waters below (in fact, you’re likely to find a line of jumpers waiting their turn). There are even different levels of the rock to try if you’re feeling a little squeamish cannonballing off the 10-meter tippy-top.
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