The State of Hawaii Travel
With travel back in full swing and COVID-19 tests being skippable, Hawaii has turned into the new Disney World. People have been stuck in their homes for 18 months and are itching for an adventure. Oahu has turned into one of the top places to go due to relaxed travel laws, the United States being mostly open, and being a (somewhat) close to home exotic experience. Luckily, Oahu has a range of hidden gems to help you get away from the crowds.
While Honolulu and Hawaii has always been a bucket list and heavily sought after destination, it seems to have increased in the wake of the pandemic.
Now, the experience has turned into a very Disney like experience with hoards of people rushing to one sight, lines for EVERYTHING, bumper to bumper traffic, and the onslaught of distraught families.
My family was excited to hit some of the iconic spots we were seeing all over Instagram, but quickly learned we had to REALLY go off the beaten path to find some Hawaiian recluse.
Below I highlighted some top Oahu and Honolulu destinations with their more Oahu hidden gems counterparts.
Place to Visit: Lanikai Pillbox
Instead Visit: Lanikai Pillbox Alternate Trailhead
It’s hard to search Hawaii or even glimpse at Instagram without seeing a snapshot of the Lanikai Pillbox. Luckily for you, we discovered an alternate trailhead in a residential area with few cars and plenty of parking. The main trailhead for Lanikai Pillbox often fills up by sunrise and is filled to the gills with tourists trying to hike this famous trail.
Located on Kamahele Street in Enchanted Lakes, is a small and hidden staircase leading up to the Lanikai Pillbox trail.
The trail goes up hill for about three quarters of a mile until it meets up with the other trail on the ridge. Both trails are about the same intensity but if you’re looking to hike in the middle of the day, opt for the Enchanted Lakes entrance.
Please remember this is a residential neighborhood so be respectful of the locals, be quiet, and do not overfill their street parking. And remember to always leave no trace.
Place to Visit: Waikiki Beach
Instead Visit: Ala Moana Beach Park
You might be reading this and think “why visit a never before heard of beach instead one of the top beaches in the world?” The answer is quite simple; you won’t get a spot to yourself in Waikiki.
The beaches are almost identical being adjacent to each other with similar views and sand. However, Ala Moana actually won out in my family because it was a whole beach park which meant grass and shady trees lining the beach. We spent a good portion of the day enjoying the shade, running out to the water, smiling at the resident sea turtle, reading under the tree, and eating fries from the food stand.
Ala Moana Beach Park was far superior in our eyes, plus there was barely anyone there. The beach was quiet, we were able to find a large piece of shade for our entire family without taking up someone else’s space, and we enjoyed watching all of the planes take off over us.
Bonus, if you want to walk out to the edge of this beach and over some rocky surfaces, there is a “mermaid hot tub” to take enviable pictures in.
Place to Visit: Hanauma Bay
Instead Visit: Kāne’ohe Bay
Okay, I will admit, I’ve never been to any other reef in the world that is only a couple feet from the beach. Hanauma Bay is great, I’ve gone three times now and will probably go again. BUT, it was already an incredibly crowded snorkel spot and now with pandemic regulations in place it is near impossible to get a reservation or to plan ahead.
If you’re down for a little adventure before the snorkel, check out Kāne’ohe Bay. You can rent kayaks from He’eia State Park and head out for a day on the water.
The team at He’eia State Park are super helpful, inform you of currents and tides, and best places to go for the day. The day we went the tide was a little high so we didn’t make the trek to the sand bar but we did head out to multiple reefs.
This area is way less crowded, we only saw two or three other groups out there, and a pretty calm kayak area on the island.
The reef was incredible and we saw so much marine life and even a few sea turtles! Definitely earning an Oahu hidden gems award.
Place to Visit: Kalakaua Avenue
Instead Visit: Waialae Avenue
It’s tempting to visit the main strip of any city you visit, and Kalakaua Avenue proves that to be true. It’s filled with chain restaurants, tourists favorites, luxury shops, and wait times out the wazoo.
It could be the fact that it has big name restaurants or it could be the close proximity to the resorts making it accessible to anyone.
Either way, it’s sardine madness. And the pandemic has just doubled it.
My family and I were waiting almost two hours every night for dinner. Then, Tyler stole me away for one night for dinner and we decided to check out Waialae Avenue. We stumbled upon this place looking for the best vegan ramen in Oahu and up popped Noods Ramen Bar – and it was by far the best ramen I’ve ever had.
We took an Uber (only about $16) and found our spot. The avenue was lined with trendy bars and cuisines from all over the world – Vietnamese, Mexican, American, Japanese, and more!
Best of all, little to no wait times.
We enjoyed a night away from the crowds and with some of the best food and drinks we’ve ever had.
Place to Visit: Manoa Falls
Instead Visit: Judd Trail
It’s kinda impossible to visit Oahu and not jump into a waterfall.
Manoa Falls is right outside of downtown Honolulu making it a visitor favorite. It’s a beautiful falls with an easy trail but get ready for the crowds. There’s no such thing as a picture at Manoa Falls without a random person wondering through.
The platform is filled with people attempting to get to the front for a prime picture. The bottom of the falls is filled with people waiting in line and slipping on rocks trying to get an iconic waterfall picture.
The Judd Trail is close to the city and has a refreshing and near empty swimming hole.
The falls isn’t really a falls on the Judd Trail but it’s worth it to be able to jump in and play to your hearts content.
Beware, this trail is super muddy and can get slippery when wet so definitely wear some grippy shoes.
At the swimming hole you can either jump in from one of the high rocks or look for the slick rock on the right side to slide down.
More to Do in Oahu
Oahu is the the most visited Hawaiian island. This island has a plethora of things to do ranging from relaxing resorts along Waikiki and day long hikes through the rain forest.
Hawaii is a unique area because of how the climate and environment can change so drastically in such a small area. Oahu in itself is a hidden gem that has been discovered by the world.
While in Oahu, make sure to stop at those scenic over looks, stop at the beaches, and climb some mountains. There’s a reason Hawaii has been overrun with tourists, the islands are beautiful and truly are paradise.
Be sure to respect locals and the Hawaiian culture while visiting Oahu and get to finding some hidden gems.
- Explore Sleeping Giant on Kauai
- Chase waterfalls on Kauai
- Get to budgeting now for your Hawaiian vacation
- Read these hiking tips
- Hawaii not in the budget? Opt for some tropical rivers in Florida
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