Searching for Ohau hidden gems? Even though millions of people visit this breathtaking island each year, it is still very possible to explore Oahu off the beaten path. Keep reading for 21 unique hidden gems and secret spots on Oahu for your next Hawaii trip.
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Oahu Hidden Gems
If you’re looking to explore the Oahu beyond Waikiki and the island’s major tourist destinations (Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, the Dole Plantation, etc), you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend several weeks exploring the hidden gems of Oahu throughout my five Hawaii trips. I’ve gotten plenty of wonderful recommendations from local Oahu friends, and found a few more hidden gems along the way.
This guide to Oahu secret spots and hidden gems includes a diversity of places and activities, ranging from freediving with sharks and wandering through Japanese-style temples to exploring sea caves and tasting local rum.
As a disclaimer, some of these places used to be secret spots on Oahu and have grown in popularity over the past few years. You might see other tourists at some of these places, and might not at others. Either way, you’ll be exploring Oahu off the beaten path as you journey to unique destinations that the majority of tourists miss.
A Note on Responsible Travel & Oahu Hidden Gems
Practicing responsible travel is essential when visiting hidden gems and local spots on Oahu. These places are locals’ stomping grounds and backyards, and many are home to a diversity of wildlife as well.
Approach your off the beaten path explorations with humility and respect.
Cleaning up after yourself is just the beginning—consider leaving a place better than you found it. If there is trash left on the beach, pack it out.
Respect locals you encounter and any signs that warn you about trespassing or other dangers. There are some dangerous (but legal) places to visit on this list, but my list Oahu hidden gem list does not include places that require trespassing.
However, there are plenty of controversial but beautiful Oahu hikes (not on this list) that pass onto private land or have been closed to the public. Avoid those hikes as a respect to local community and authority.
When swimming anywhere on Oahu, only wear reef-safe sunscreen, and avoid touching or standing on coral—it is a living organism that tourists are killing by contact!
Now onto my list of hidden gems and secret things to do on Oahu, Hawaii!
21 ‘Secret’ Things to do in Oahu Off The Beaten Path
1. Mermaid Caves
My favorite secret spot on Oahu has to be the Mermaid Caves. These majestic sea caves are situated on the island’s leeward (western) side, just 40 minutes away from Honolulu.
Turquoise blue water glistens in these volcanic rock caves as sunlight streams in through natural openings in the cave ceiling. Depending on the tides and waves, you can swim in the water and explore the gorgeous grottos alongside sea turtles and other marine wildlife.
The sea cave system quite literally qualifies as a hidden gem because the entrance can be a little challenging to find, but thankfully, I have entire blog post on how to visit the Mermaid Caves.
If you do visit the Mermaid Caves, be sure to follow all the safety tips in my article, avoid caving alone, and respect the local community that calls this beautiful area of Oahu home.
2. Halona Beach Cove (Eternity Beach)
All the way on the other side of Oahu you’ll find a small, picturesque cove just off the coastal highway. It is right next to the Halona Blowhole, which is a popular 5-minute stop on island tours and road trips, but few visitors venture down to the stunning beach below.
Halona Beach Cove, also called Eternity Beach, has been featured in a handful of iconic Hollywood scenes including a scene out of the 1953 film From Here to Eternity (hence the name Eternity Beach), the first kiss scene in 50 First Dates, and even in the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
This breathtaking beach is a wonderful place to sunbathe and swim. When the tides are right, you can even find a small sea cave on the edge of the beach, and peek in some tide pools.
If you decide to visit Hanauma Bay (a very popular place for snorkeling) or the China Walls (later on this list!), you’ll find Halona Beach Cove just down the road.
3. Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
If you read my guide on the best things to do in Kailua, you know that the unassuming 1.4-mile-long trail along the edge of the Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary was one of my favorite local recommendations I got while housesitting in Oahu. The marsh is beautiful, as is the unobstructed view of towering lush mountains.
Walking on the town’s well-maintained, flat pathway through the marshland is definitely one of the most underrated things to do on Oahu. The walk is easy, close to the center of Kailua, and frequented by locals, yet very few tourists find this spot.
I highly recommend checking out this trail during sunset, perhaps after a day of other adventures in lovely Kailua. Park at Kaha Park near the corner of Kaha St and Kaipii St. From there, you can walk the full length of the trial (1.4 miles) to Kailua Rd (Highway 61) and head back, or just walk part of it. Either way, you’ll be in for a treat!
4. China Walls
Rugged volcanic cliff sides and the roaring Pacific Ocean meet, making one of Oahu’s best cliff jumping spots. China Walls technically refers to the surf break right near the sea cliffs, but most people associate the volcanic rock formations with the name.
It is worth mentioning that ocean rescues are common here because it is difficult to get out of the water, and powerful swells can come unexpectedly. You also have to be careful when standing on the rocks because the waves can sweep you in, bashing you on the rocks along the way.
Even still, I loved swimming here and would definitely visit again. I recommend checking out my guide to Oahu’s China Walls to get a better idea of how to stay safe and still have fun with this unique Oahu experience.
5. Shark Freediving on Oahu’s North Shore
While Oahu’s North Shore is a hot spot for shark cage diving, few vacationers know that you can actually go freediving with sharks here, alongside a professional guide.
Trust me when I say this is an experience you’ll never forget! There are only a few local companies that take visitors on these cage-free diving experiences, so be sure to check out my guide to the best tours if you want to give shark diving a try.
6. Electric Beach
Electric Beach is probably Oahu’s most unique snorkeling spot. Located across the street from a power plant, this beach isn’t particularly appealing until you get in the water and swim several hundred feet out into the open ocean.
The nearby power plant releases warm water into the ocean here, which naturally attracts an abundance of marine life. The water is clear and around 30 feet deep, making it a lovely spot to freedive down (or scuba dive).
Bring your own snorkel gear (there isn’t anywhere to rent or buy it within 20-30 minutes of here) and ideally some fins, and then go on the snorkeling adventure of a lifetime!
Since the best snorkeling is several hundred feet from the shore, you should be a strong swimmer, and you should always go with a friend. Thankfully, given the area’s increase in popularity, Oahu has hired lifeguards at this small beach.
7. Kailua Farmers Market
Back in Kailua, you’ll find another hidden gem—the town’s lively Sunday farmers market at 640 Ulukahiki St.
Although there are several farmers markets in Kailua, this one stands out with a diversity of food and non-food vendors, fresh local produce, stunning mountain views, and a local vibe.
Since this Sunday market is such a fun thing to do on Oahu, I recommend visiting Kailua on a Sunday. There are plenty of other things to do in Kailua on this Oahu hidden gems guide, as well as in my other Oahu guides.
8. Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout
The Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout is a breathtaking viewpoint right off of Hawaii Route 61, which is also called the Pali Highway.
It is so easy to drive right by this viewpoint on your way to or from Kailua, which is why I added it to this list of secret places in Oahu—it is hidden in plain sight! I highly recommend you stop for some amazing views of the Koʻolau mountains, Pacific Ocean, Kailua, and Kaneohe.
To ensure you don’t miss this viewpoint, and other roadside attractions on Oahu, download the Shaka Guide audio tour. It syncs with your GPS location and tells you about hidden gems and stories about historical spots along the way as you drive around the island.
9. Swimming with Dolphins in the Wild
Most Hawaii travel guides will not mention that you can (ethically) swim with wild dolphins off of the coast of Oahu. But yes, you can!
I was fortunate enough to go on a similar dolphin watching tour in Mexico, and it was one of my most magical travel experiences ever.
This Oahu dolphin watching day trip leaves from Honolulu and includes a boat ride out to the West Coast line, where you encounter several pods of wild dolphins. The playful dolphins swim and jump beside your boat and after a briefing you can jump in the water with them.
As with any other sea animals, you should keep a respectful distance and never touch them. Curious about this unique Oahu activity? Check out the tour details and read reviews here.
10. Puaʻena Point Beach Park
Experience off the beaten path Oahu at Puaʻena Point Beach Park, a hidden cove on the North Shore.
This beautiful small beach is popular amongst local surfers, but virtually unknown to vacationers. If you’re looking for a beach to relax or surf on the North Shore beyond the most popular beaches, Puaena Point is a great place to go.
The trees and bushes along the shore create natural shade, and depending on the conditions, this can be a great place to learn how to surf. In fact, you can book surfing lessons here ahead of time.
11. Haleʻiwa Bowls
Once a local favorite and Oahu secret spot, Haleʻiwa Bowls’ delicious smoothie bowls have made this place a well-known acai joint on the North Shore.
I didn’t realize acai bowls could taste so good until I tried Mana Bowl, which features perfectly thick, creamy acai, delicious granola, fresh fruit, and peanut butter (which I added). Whatever you do, make sure you add this spot to your North Shore itinerary.
Haleʻiwa Bowls’ menu features a diversity of acai bowls, as well as other smoothie bowls, smoothies, and coffee. It is located right by the Haleiwa marina and its a great place to fuel up after an early morning surf, shark diving, or a day at the beach.
12. Shark’s Cove
I hesitated to include Shark’s Cove on this list as it is overflowing with tourists. Even still, it is easy to visit Oahu and completely miss this incredible snorkeling spot.
Located at Pūpūkea Beach Park on Oahu’s North Shore, this calm, protected cove is one of the best places to snorkel in Oahu. The majority of the cove is only a few feet deep, making it an easy place to snorkel with kids. My favorite spot, however, is the 20-30 foot deep area near the cove’s main opening.
This area is less crowded, and has incredible coral formations you can dive through alongside a diversity of vibrant fish and sea life.
Keep in mind that the conditions here change based on the surf. One day, you’ll find calm, gentle waves and clear conditions perfect for snorkeling, and another day you’ll find rough water and low visibility.
13. Ko Hana Distillers
Visit Oahu’s first and only rum tasting room to learn about how sweet sugarcane is transformed from from an infamous plant to Captain Jack Sparrow’s favorite drink.
If you sign up for Ko Hana’s rum tour, you’ll get to taste fresh sugarcane juice, see several types of sugarcane plant, tour the barrel rooms and distillery, and of course taste Ko Hana’s incredible rum.
Ko Hana Distilleries is located halfway between the North Shore and Honolulu, so it is a great place to visit on your way between the two. If you’re thinking about taking a day trip to the North Shore, be sure to check out my Oahu North Shore itinerary.
Be sure to book your rum tour ahead of time. Although this is one of the hidden gems of Oahu, space is limited for tours and Ko Hana is growing in popularity.
14. The Mokulua Islands & Popoia Island
While the Mokulua Islands are certainly the type of place you’ll see on an Oahu postcard, few vacations know that they can actually visit these tiny uninhabited island, as well as the nearby Popoia Island (also called Flat Island).
If you visit Kailua Beach Park or Lanikai Beach, you’ll see people kayaking to these islands and wish that you knew and booked a kayak tour ahead of time.
After a 2.5-mile kayak to the Mokulua Islands you’ll be rewarded with swim in lava tube pool at the Queen’s Bath and a moment to relax on a secluded beach before you have to journey back to the main island.
The kayak to Popoia Island is a much shorter .25-mile journey from shore, but you still get to tick ‘kayak to a Hawaiian island’ off your bucket list.
15. Kailua Boat Launch
Arguably the most underrated place in Kailua, the town’s small boat launch is a great spot to see sea turtles that love to feed nearby. Out of all the places I’ve visited on Oahu, this is where I saw the most sea turtles, yet I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere in Oahu travel guides.
You can either walk along the road above the boat launch and spot turtles from up there, or get in the water and swim with them. Of course, remember to stay 10 feet away from sea turtles and never touch them.
16. Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden
This free-to-visit botanical garden on Oahu’s windward side has significantly grown in popularity due to social media. And for good reason! The garden’s mountainous backdrop makes you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park, and the garden’s 400 acres are filled with lush foliage from Hawaii and many other tropical destinations around the world.
17. Manoa Chocolate Factory
You won’t see chocolate tasting on most Oahu itineraries, but the free chocolate tastings and reasonably priced tours at the Manoa Chocolate Factory are a great add to any Oahu trip!
My local friend from Honolulu recommended this place to me, and I was so glad she did. The factory and tasting room is located in downtown Kailua, but is deceptively difficult to find without Google Maps, so it does feel like a true Oahu secret spot.
18. Kaʻena Point State Park (Oahu’s Northwest Corner)
Oahu’s Northwest point might be less of a hidden gem if it was easier to get to, but few visitors make the long journey out to this part of the island.
Those who do drive to this remote area are in for a treat! Kaʻena Point State Park features rugged coastline, picture-perfect beaches, and beautiful hiking trails.
19. Lanikai Brewing Co.
Lanikai Brewing Co. is a thriving local brewery serving “Island Inspired” beer in downtown Kailua. Beer drinkers will love this place, and anyone who isn’t a big fan of beer (like me) will find plenty of other options on their menu.
I recommend Lanikai Brewing Co’s Mai Tai, which of course is a drink created in Hawaii! They make their beer with local Hawaiian ingredients, too, which I love.
20. Byodo-In Temple
Oahu’s Byodo In Temple is a striking replica of the a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. With sky-scraping verdant mountains set behind the temple, this place is picturesque to say the least. And if you’re looking for a unique cultural experience in a peaceful setting, this is the place to go!
I debated whether or not to add the Byodo In Temple of my list of secret spots on Oahu, because honestly, there is nothing secret about it. It is a popular tourist attraction, yet I hadn’t heard about it until my second trip of Oahu, so I thought I’d highlight it here.
I have a full guide to the Byodo In Temple with important details on what to wear if you want more information about this special place.
21. Goat Island (Mokuauia)
Goat Island is a small islet a short walk or swim’s distance from Oahu’s northeast coast. Despite the name, there are no goats on Goat Island, but you will find native plant species and sea birds.
Depending on the tide, the island is about 720 feet from the shore. You can check the tides ahead of time, and try to visit at low tide, when it is easiest to walk to the island. Otherwise, you can swim or kayak, which are both fun!
To get to Goat Island, head toward Laie along the eastern coast of Oahu. Just after leaving the city of Laie, stop at Mālaekahana State Recreation Area, which is where you will park to access Goat Island.
Oahu Off The Beaten Path FAQs
What are the best touristy things do on Oahu?
Where you draw the line between touristy and non-touristy things on Oahu is a little difficult. With that in mind, here are some things I excluded from this Oahu hidden gems list because they are more popular, but still worth doing!
★ Hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail: Wake up early and see the sunrise over the ocean on this incredible, short hike. Read my full guide to the Lanikai Pillboxes here.
★ Spending some time in Waikiki: Sure, it is filled with tourists, but did you really visit Oahu if you didn’t see Waikiki?
★ Taking a surfing lesson in Waikiki or on the North Shore: Oahu has surfing classes for people of all experience levels! Browse the best Oahu surfing lessons here.
★ Exploring the North Shore’s best beaches: See where the pro surf competitions take place at Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline, see sea turtles at Laniakea Beach, or go cliff jumping at Waimea Bay Beach.
★ Relaxing at Lanikai Beach: Oahu’s most beautiful beach is not one to be missed! I share more about this special place in my Kailua travel guide.
★ Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay: If your expectations are properly set, you can have an incredible time snorkeling at one of the most touristy places on Oahu, Hanauma Bay. You’ll need to make reservations two day ahead of time and sit (well, stand) through a length presentation before heading to the beach. All things considered, the bay is stunning and it definitely is a great place to see lots of tropical fish!
★ Going on a Pearl Harbor tour: There are over a hundred tours of Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Choose the tour that interests you most here.
★ Seeing where Jurassic Park was filmed at Kualoa Ranch: If you ask me, all of Oahu looks like its straight out of Jurassic Park, but at Kualoa Ranch you can see the actual filming sites. Keep in mind that it is a bit of a tourist trap, but families and Jurassic Park fans will love it. Browse Kualoa Ranch tours here.
What are the best nontouristy things to do on Oahu (hidden gems)?
Some of the best Oahu non-touristy things things to do from my list of Oahu hidden gems include:
★ Exploring the Mermaid Caves
★ Going on a walk at the Kawainui Marsh in Kailua
★ Cliff jumping at China Walls
★ Visiting the Sunday Kailua Town Farmers Market
★ Tasting local craft beer at Lanikai Brewing Co.
Can you visit hidden gems in Oahu on a guided tour?
Yes! While I do recommend renting your own car so you can truly see Oahu off the beaten path, there are a few guided tours that will take you to some of Oahu’s hidden gems:
★ Private South Shore of Oahu Tour: Includes stops at Byodo-In Temple, the Nu’uanu Pali, the Halona Blowhole (next to Halona Beach Cove), and several other scenic spots on Oahu. Since it is a private tour, you may even be able to make special requests for additional places to visit!
★ Honolulu Sea-Cliff Sunset Photo Adventure: This afternoon tour includes a visit to the China Walls at sunset, and a short stop at the Halona Blowhole (next to Halona Beach Cove), as well as Koko Crater Botanical Gardens (another Oahu hidden gems that didn’t make the list), and several stunning viewpoints.
★ Swim with Dolphins in the West Coast line of Oahu: This is the same incredible dolphin tour I recommended earlier in the article!
★ Pelagic Shark Dive Tour: This is the same thrilling shark freediving tour I recommended earlier in the article!
Final Thoughts: Oahu Off The Beaten Path
Teeming with breathtaking beauty, Oahu is one of my favorite places in the United States. I hope this Oahu hidden gems guide helped you identify some fun things to do on your Hawaii vacation. If you’re looking for even more things to do on Oahu, check out my other Hawaii travel guides:
★ The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List
★ 21 Fun Things to do in Kailua, Oahu
★ How to Hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail at Sunrise
★ 5 Best Oahu Shark Dive Tours: Cage Dives + Freediving
★ The Ultimiate Oahu North Shore Itinerary
★ Oahu Byodo-In Temple Visitors Guide
★ How to Visit the Mermaid Caves in Oahu
★ How to Visit the China Walls in Oahu
Essential Hawaii Resources
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