With over 10 million annual visitors, Oahu has its fair share of tourists. While it’s often hard to escape the crowds, this list of 10 somewhat secret spots in Oahu will get you away from the tourist hot spots and help you find destinations off the beaten path. These spots aren’t completely unknown, but they are definitely not at the top of every tourist’s bucket list. Just make sure they are at the top of yours!
But if there is one touristy thing you need to do in Oahu, it’s definitely taking a tour at Kualoa Ranch!
1. China Walls
China Walls got its name from Richard Okita, one of the first to surf this wave at Portlock Point in 1948. When he surfed the quarter-mile-long wave into the bay he thought it resembled the Great Wall of China.
Today the official name is Koko Kai Mini Beach Park but everyone knows it as China Walls.
Although it has been designated as a beach park, you won’t find any sand here. The eastern tip of Oahu (near Haunama Bay) is the last to be formed and you can still find evidence of the volcanic activity in places like China Walls. The China Walls cliffs are made of layers of lava rock overlooking the ocean.
While this can be a fun spot for cliff jumping and snorkeling, it is also one of the most dangerous. There are no lifeguards on duty and the ocean can be unpredictable and unforgiving.
As with many activities in Hawaii, this comes with a disclaimer to only cliff jump when the water is calm. On rough days the surf can produce massive swells that can be deadly.
If you plan to visit, be sure that it is on a calm day and a life jacket would still be recommended.
When we visited, there were no waves and we had a great day jumping, swimming, and enjoying the sun. However, that is not always the case and there have been many rescues at this site.
The waves run parallel alongside the cliffs and on calm days it’s fun to ride the gentle wave, it feels as if you’re in a wave pool at a waterpark!
However, on big surf days only the most experienced surfers should attempt to get in the water as the waves could easily smash you into the wall.
It is impressive to watch the professionals from a safe distance if you happen to be there, YouTube is also full of cool videos.
When the waves are rough it is also hard to climb out of the water as the rocks become slippery. The waves have even been known to crash on top of the ledge knocking unexpected bystanders into the ocean.
So please use caution and common sense and avoid this area if the conditions are unsafe.
But if you plan it right and take the necessary precautions, it is an awesome place to hang out and spend the day! Plan to stay for sunset, as this is also one of the best spots on the island to watch the sun dip into the ocean.
The China Walls are located in Portlock within a quiet neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac on Hanapepe Place. Parking is not allowed in the cul-de-sac, but there is plenty of street parking in the neighborhood. Just always be courteous and respectful of the residents.
And if you’re still craving an adrenaline rush, head to the nearby spitting caves for even higher cliff jumping. The locals have also wedged wooden planks into the cliffside at Alan Davis Beach making for some pretty epic diving boards! One of our favorite places to cliff jump is also at Waimea Bay.
2. Mermaid Caves
The Mermaid Caves are luminous sea caves that have been formed over time by the ocean waves hollowing out the lava rock lining the coast.
The caves are located on the west coast of Oahu at Zablan Beach. There is a small parking lot off Laumania Ave at the south end of the beach. If it is full you can park on the north end at Nanakuli Beach Park. It is also known as Kalaniana’ole Beach, which can be confusing.
From the beach, head to your left and you’ll see an unassuming outcrop of lava rocks. You would never guess that underneath the rocks there is a magical world just waiting to be discovered.
The rocks are only a few hundred yards from the parking lot, but be sure to wear shoes as it is rough. As you make your way across the rocks you’ll notice gaping holes, or “pukas”. Most of the holes have a long drop to reach the water and are not safe to enter.
To find the best entrance, head to the back of the rocks near the road. Here you will find a more shallow entrance onto dry ground.
It is still about an 8-foot drop, so only go in if you are confident that you can get back out. There are some crevices in the rocks for your hands and feet, but you will need to use your own body strength to climb out. You can also get a boost from a friend.
The rock is rough so you may get a few scrapes going up and down. Sometimes the locals will bring ladders or ropes that they are willing to let others use. Once you are in the cave, the water level and condition will determine how far you can explore.
You really don’t need to venture far, once you drop down you’ll immediately experience the magic of the caves and can snap a few pictures.
While visiting these mystical caverns can be a memorable adventure, there are some important things to note.
Only visit the Mermaid Caves during low tide when the water is calm. As you walk across the rocks you’ll notice several plaques scattered about in memory of those that have lost their lives here.
If you are in the cave and a large swell hits, you could easily be smashed into the rocks or carried out to sea. Summer is the best time to visit as the water level tends to be lower and the waves are not as rough.
Even if you choose not to explore inside the caves, it is still a beautiful spot to visit.
There are tidepools down near the ocean and the small beach has great boogie boarding waves.
Zablan Beach and Nanakuli Beach Park also tend to be less crowded than other popular beaches. You’ll find a playground, large grassy area, restrooms, sports courts and fields. We even spotted a Hawaiian Monk Seal lazing on the sand.
As a side note, never leave valuables in your car. A couple parked near us in the lot had their window smashed and their wallets were stolen. This smash and dash happens ALL the time in Hawaii. Lock anything in your trunk that you don’t want to take to the beach with you. Even a cluttered car without valuables can still attract thieves.
3. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Ho’omaluhia means “a peaceful refuge”, which perfectly describes this 400-acre botanical garden. The garden was designed and built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1982.
They imported plants from 7 tropical regions around the world then planted the botanical collections together in distinct geographical regions. You’ll find informational plaques about the trees and plants throughout the park.
Immediately after you drive past the entrance gate, prepare to be blown away as your breath will escape you.
The scenery is seductive as the narrow road is lined with a thick span of palm trees. You’ll also see the silky folds of the revered Koolau Mountain Range looming in the background.
If you want to capture the striking view, you must do so from your car window. There is a security guard posted to ensure that no one stops to get out and take pictures.
The road continues to wind throughout the park with alluring views along the way. If you’re lucky, you can find an empty stretch of road further along where you can hop out and take a quick photo.
The road is 4.2 miles long and takes about 20 minutes to drive from one end of the park to the other. It is not a loop road but ends at a neighborhood.
There are several hiking trails within the park. The 2.2-mile Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Trail offers a great taste of the gardens. The path winds through the thick jungle and contours along the shore of the lake. The trail consists of a paved path, gravel, and dirt. The dirt portion can get quite muddy during the rainy season.
There is also an easy 1.5-mile trail that leads around the lake. You’ll find the ripe scent of blooming plumeria trees and hauntingly beautiful vistas of the Koolau Mountain Range. If you’re looking for a longer hike, check out the 5.8-mile Likeke Loop Trail that leads to the Likeke Falls.
Catch and release fishing is also available at the lake. The visitor center has bamboo fishing poles that visitors can borrow at no charge on a first come first serve basis from 9:30 am-1 pm. Just bring your own bait, white bread works great! It is about a 15-minute walk to the fishing spot from the visitor center.
Limited camping is also available on the weekends. You must make a reservation, but I can’t think of a more spectacular view to wake up to! Other tours, programs, and activities are also available, check the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden site for more details.
The park is open daily from 9 am-4 pm and entrance to the park is free
4. Sherwoods Beach
The official name for this beach is Waimanalo Bay Park. It is spread across three pristine miles, making it the longest stretch of sandy beach on the windward side of Oahu.
The north portion of the beach is part of the Bellows Field Air Force Station and can only be accessed by military personnel and their families. The southern portion is open to the public but still remains somewhat of a secret spot in Oahu.
Here you’ll find the jewel-toned ocean caressing the white sandy beach, backed by a thick forest of ironwood trees.
In the 1950s the forest was a popular spot for illegal activities such as stripping stolen cars. The name “Sherwood Forest” was soon coined as a nod to the mischievous behavior of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This led to the name “Sherwoods Beach”.
The quiet beach has ample free parking, restroom facilities, large grassy areas, and shaded picnic tables. It shares a similar shoreline with the popular Lanakai Beach, but you won’t be competing with tourists for the limited street parking.
There is a shallow sandbar that makes this beach great for boogie boarding, my kids could have spent all day here!
Just use caution as the Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish is known to frequent these waters. From the beach you can also see the Makupu’u Lighthouse perched atop the dramatic cliffs in the distance.
5. Maunawili Falls
*Please note: This trail is currently closed for the next two years while it is undergoing an improvement project. It is illegal to hike the trail while it is closed and violators will be subject to fines.
The Maunawili Falls are gaining in popularity but are still considered one of the secret spots in Oahu. The trail is 2.8 miles round trip, but we clocked it at 3.1 miles on our All Trails app. It took us about 2 hours, but that included time to play in the falls.
The trail is not too challenging under good conditions with mostly just a gradual incline. However, when it has been raining the trail turns into a muddy slip-n-slide. There are a few portions with ropes and wooden steps for assistance, but most of the trail you’ll need to use caution and take it slow.
You’ll also be required to cross the river multiple times. When the water level is low you can often hop across boulders to reach the other side.
We made the unfortunate decision to hike this trail in the rain and the rushing swollen river was not only brown and muddy but much more challenging to cross.
The trail is easy to follow at the beginning, as it is clearly marked and follows alongside the river. However, many people get lost at the first river crossing, or by venturing onto side trails. I would HIGHLY recommend downloading the trail on the All Trails app before going.
It does take some effort to reach the falls, but once you get there it will be worth it! Hidden in the deep shade of the jungle canopy, you’ll discover a Hawaiian oasis with a 20-foot waterfall plunging into a deep pool of water. It may not be the tallest waterfall in Oahu, but it is one of the only ones that you can jump into and swim.
There are some important details and tips you should know before attempting this hike. See our Maunawili Falls Trail Guide so that you can be prepared! Despite the mud we all decided that this hike and Crouching Lion were our favorite hikes in Oahu!
And if you’re planning a trip to Maui, be sure to check out our favorite waterfall hike and some more hidden gems in the West Maui Mountains!
6. Electric Beach
Electric Beach is a small beach that seems unassuming at first. It is located next to a power plant and isn’t the most scenic beach. But those that are in the know, know that it is one of the best places for snorkeling and diving on the entire island!
An underground pipe leads from the power plant about 300 feet into the ocean where clean warm water is released. The warm water attracts a wide variety of marine life such as sea turtles, eagle rays, parrotfish, butterflyfish, dolphins, eels, octopus, and even white tip sharks.
You’ll find other submerged machinery to the right of the pipes that are covered by coral and have created an artificial reef. There is even a Buddha statue and a shark cave further to the right. If you Google images of snorkeling at Electric Beach, you will be amazed at this underwater wonderland!
There are some important things to note before attempting to snorkel here. You will be required to free swim about 300 feet out to the end of the pipe, so a life jacket would be helpful.
The water released at the pipe creates a strong current that can push you out into the ocean, so you’ll need to steer clear of that. This is a great article about diving at Electric Beach that is helpful to let you know what to expect.
We didn’t feel like we were adequately prepared to snorkel here, especially with kids, so we opted to just boogie board.
It is a great little spot for boogie boarding as the waves are channeled into the small cove. My kids seriously had the best time! There are a few large submerged rocks hidden in the wave break so use caution.
Snorkeling at Electric Beach is one of the coolest secret things to do in Oahu, but just make sure you are prepared and follow safety precautions.
7. Goat Island
Goat Island, also known as Moku’auia Island, is a little islet and seabird sanctuary located just off the Malaekahana State Recreation Area in Laie Bay.
The island is only about 700 feet from shore and is easy to access with a short 10-15 minute paddle in a kayak or SUP.
There is also a shallow limestone reef submerged about 3 feet deep that connects to the island, so when the tide is out you can actually walk to the island. Just be sure to wear durable water shoes as the coral is rough and pokey. You’ll only want to attempt walking when the water is calm as it can be a bit challenging in choppy water.
The walk takes about 10 minutes each way. If you plan to stay and play on the island just be aware of the tide and make sure that you make it back before it rises.
Contradictory to what the name says, the island is not overrun with wild goats. It actually got its name because if you look at an aerial photo it is shaped like a goat. Instead of goats, you will find an abundance of seabirds and protected nesting grounds.
The interior of the island is carpeted with native plants and lithified dunes. Much of this area is a designated sanctuary and is closed to the public. However, there is a walking trail around the circumference of the island that leads to three beaches that are open to the public.
Plan to spend some time relaxing on the shores and enjoying a respite from the crowds. You’ll feel as if you’re on your own private Hawaiian island!
Entrance and parking at the Malaekahana State Recreation Area are free. You’ll find wooded picnic areas, restroom facilities, and one of our favorite beaches, Malaekahana Beach (also known as Castles Beach). It is a nice quiet beach that is great for boogie boarding and beginner surfing. There is also a campground with tent sites and small cabins.
You can also take a guided tour to discover secret coves and beaches.
8. Kawela Bay
Kawela Bay is a small protected cove on the north shore near Turtle Bay Resort. It’s a nice spot for families to spend the afternoon while their kids play in the calm surf.
But what makes this beach extra special is the impressive banyan tree that has caught the attention of Hollywood. In Jumanji, Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas) is living in a makeshift jungle treehouse. That house was built into the intertwined roots of this massive banyan tree on the shores of Kawela Bay. Several scenes from Lost and Pirates of the Caribbean were also filmed at this particular banyan tree.
The shores of Kawela Bay is also where Alex discovers the Jumanji board half-buried in the sand at the beginning of the movie. Katniss also shares a kiss with Peeta in Catching Fire while they are sitting together on the shore of Kawela Bay.
Scenes from Soul Surfer were also filmed here. The nearby Turtle Bay Resort served as a basecamp for the stars during filming production
To reach the banyan tree and Kawela Bay, you’ll see cars parked alongside the Kam Highway just across the street from the Kahuku Land Farms stand. There is a sign posted showing the direction to go.
Follow the trail leading into the trees and under this beautiful tree tunnel.
After you emerge from the tunnel you’ll see the banyan tree on the left. Continue for a short way until you reach the bay. You can also continue on the trail to reach a WWII military bunker known as a “pillbox”.
While the banyan tree looks like it is a cluster of multiple trees, it is actually just one single tree. As the banyan tree grows, “prop roots” emerge and spread forming trunks that can be just as large as the original. It is truly fascinating!
After you spend time at Kawela Bay, walk across the street to the Kahuku Land Farms stand.
The Kahuku Farm Cafe just down the road is one of our favorite places to eat in Oahu, but this roadside stand is where you can pick up fresh locally grown fruit to take with you.
We ended up getting a bag of fresh-cut pineapple and a bag of sliced mangos sprinkled with the trademark Hawaiian li hing powder.
You’ll find li hing powder sprinkled on almost any fruit or snack you can think of in Hawaii. It’s made from ground preserved plum skin and has a little bit of a sour taste that compliments the sweet fruit juice.
They also sell chilled coconuts that they will cut open for you. Drinking fresh coconut water should definitely be on everyone’s Hawaii bucket list!
This stand is also known for having the best banana lumpia on the island. This mouthwatering Filipino snack is made from brown sugar encrusted bananas wrapped in lumpia (like an egg roll wrapper) and deep-fried. We will definitely be back to try those next time!
9. Byodo-In Temple
The stunning Byodo-In Temple is located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial park. It is situated at the foothills of the prominent Koolau Mountain Range with its distinctly beveled grooves.
This Buddhist temple is a small-scale replica of the original 950-year-old Byodo-In Temple in Japan. It was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to arrive in Hawaii.
Byodo-In is not an active temple for Buddhist worship and is open to the public. Visitors can reverently tour the interior and walk around the perfectly manicured gardens. You’ll see wild peacocks roaming the property and ponds teeming with colorful koi carp.
The serenity of the Byodo-In Temple earned it a spot on National Geographic’s list, 20 of the World’s Most Beautiful Buddhist Temples in 2019. It also served as the setting for several scenes in Magnum PI, Hawaii Five-O, Lost, and House of the Rising Sun.
The temple is open daily from 8:30 am-5 pm. Admission is $5 for ages 13-64, $4 for seniors, and $2 for children ages 2-12 years. 2 years and younger are free. You can also call ahead to schedule a guided group tour.
I hope this guide will help you discover some of the best hidden gems and secret spots in Oahu. There is so much more to explore in Oahu beyond the glitzy shores of Waikiki and the city limits of Honolulu!