Hawaii: Places you need to Adventure on Oahu

18 of the Coolest Places You NEED to see in Oahu, Hawaii

So you want to travel to paradise. If you’re flying to Hawaii, chances are you’re going to fly into Honolulu and spend some time if not your whole vacation on the island of Oahu, “The Gathering Place”. Lucky for you, that’s my second home. Here are my favorite spots:

1. Crouching Lion

Crouching Lion is a short hike with an amazing view. The incline is a little steep but short (under 0.5 miles round trip) and totally worth it. This spot is great at sunrise and you’ll get an insane show of pinks, oranges, and yellows if the skies are clear. I recommend using AllTrails to ensure you stay on the correct route. It’s best to start about 20 minutes before sunrise so you can see the best colors.

Crouching Lion Distance: 0.5 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 300 feet

Where to park: http://52-204-52-180 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaaawa, HI 96730

If you want a better view you can continue past Crouching Lion to Pu’u Manamana trail which is 3.7 miles round trip. In my opinion, this is a much better view and I’d recommend hiking past the Crouching Lion lookout. This allows you to see so much more.

AllTrails Link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/hawaii/oahu/puu-manamana-turnover-trail?u=i

2. Sacred Falls

Personally, I think Sacred Falls is the coolest waterfall on Oahu. It’s a little adventure to get there but there’s not much elevation gain. The pool at the bottom is deep enough to dive in and the fern covered valley walls make the hike to get there otherworldly. As a bonus, there’s now a swing in the river too. Or it was there the last time I went. It’s technically “illegal” but I haven’t heard of anyone getting arrested or fined for this hike. There is a gate and fence that you will either have to jump or take a path to the left of the fence that allows you to easily walk around the whole fence.

The falls are shrouded in Hawaiin folklore and myth. It’s said that a mischievous ancient Hawaiian demigod lives here. People have died from falling rocks the size of cars here so you should be very careful when you enter the narrow part of the valley. I’m not going to lie, it does feel a little eerie at times but I’ve always had a great time despite seeing a few falling rocks that probably could have killed me.

Distance: 4.4 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 400ft

Where to Park: Between 53-776 Kamehameha Hwy, Hauula, HI 96717 and 53-839 Kamehameha Hwy, Hauula, HI 96717

3. Kouliouou Ridge Hike

So this exact view is past the initial Kouliouou summit. You will have to take a left at the initial Kouliouou “summit” aka outlook. Its about another 1.5 miles to this spot but just look at it. It’s definitely worth the extra effort.

Distance: 4.6 miles round-trip / Elevation Gain: 1,650 feet – To Kouliouou “summit”

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/775+Kalaau+Pl,+Honolulu,+HI+96821/@21.3033463,-157.7266304,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c0012fb1466f1dd:0x63f288a288a164ee!8m2!3d21.3033463!4d-157.7240555!16s%2Fg%2F11c4m8ftxz

Add another 1.5 miles and another 500ft to get to the location pictured above.

4. Pali Notches

Pali notches is one of my all time favorite hikes on the island. It’s extremely short but the views are incredible. As with every short but awesome hike it is steep, but don’t let that dissuade you. It’s totally doable. When you get to the second notch you can get some rappelling in. If you’re really brave you can try and climb the chimney. People have died here so make sure you’re extra cautious and don’t attempt it if the winds are too strong.

Distance: 0.7 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 500 ft

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Nuuanu+Pali+Dr,+Kaneohe,+HI+96744/@21.3664599,-157.7969915,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c006c6305362c5d:0xbf8ea84bad7c4775!8m2!3d21.3664599!4d-157.7944166!16s%2Fg%2F1tf3p3bd

In the video you can see me climbing down the first notch on the trail.

5. Waimano Falls aka Palisades Falls

This is a mid-range hike coming in at 3 miles round-trip. Getting here is all downhill. Coming back is the uphill part but still not incredibly physically demanding. The rope swings and deep aqua pools up the creek from the waterfall make this feel like somewhere in Bali or the Thailand. This hike can get extremely muddy if it has rained recently but if it hasn’t rained in the last few days the hike should be easily manageable.

Distance: 2.9 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 810 ft

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Mānana+Ridge+Trail/@21.4301666,-157.9413665,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c00688823ee72fb:0x40d02d372515187e!8m2!3d21.4301666!4d-157.9387916!16s%2Fg%2F11bzq3ll2w

6. Waimea Bay

A trip to Oahu isn’t complete without this iconic cliff jump. Head to Waimea Bay for an adrenaline rush and stop in Haleiwa on the way there or on the way back for the local food truck scene or some famous shaved ice from Matsumoto’s. My favorite time is sunset (pictured above).

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Waimea+Bay+Beach+Parking/@21.6393575,-158.0648075,909m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c00595b9cf64951:0x2a7776f2a229c4dd!8m2!3d21.6393575!4d-158.0622326!16s%2Fg%2F11s3vsr12t

7. Makapu’u Tide Pools and Lighthouse

Below is a a short clip of the lighthouse. I think the tide pools are a lot cooler though.

I usually hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse for sunrise and then climb down the cliffs to these gorgeous tide pools. These tide pools are definitely worth a detour from the incredibly easy Makapu’u light house hike. To get to the tide pools, find the sign that has a whale on it and hike down straight to the ocean from there.

Distance: 1.9 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 450 ft

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Makapuʻu+Point+Lighthouse+Trail,+Hawaii/@21.3038979,-157.6584478,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c00117714a2e61d:0x71ab27b87c1d133f!8m2!3d21.303898!4d-157.6535769!16s%2Fg%2F1ptybn588

8. Olomana Trail aka Three Peaks

Okay, no way around it. This hike will kill your legs. But the views as always, are worth it. This picture was taken on the backside of the second peak which you get to rapel/scramble down. The hike up the first peak is the calf killer and will definitely have you stopping to “take in the view” at the summit of the first peak. The view from the second peak is the best. The third peak is probably the most fun and has a keyhole window you can climb through. Here’s a pic from the keyhole of the last peak.

Where to park: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/hawaii/oahu/olomana-trail?u=i

Distance: 4.6 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 1,794 ft

9. Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens

This place got so popular that the Gardens really cracked down on people taking pictures at the entrance which is one of the prettiest views. They lined the roads with signs that say no pictures which is really annoying. But if you get there before the park opens you’re allowed to walk through the pedestrian gate and walk through the gardens. If you walk past the main entrance straight away you’ll come to this view which is still gorgeous and you can sneak some pics in. Then your can drive you car through once the car gate opens. Below is a pic of me a little past the entrance that my sister snuck in with her phone.

Distance: 1 mile round trip / Elevation Gain: 100 ft

Where to park/enter: https://www.google.com/maps/place/95WR%2BJW,+Kaneohe,+HI+96744/@21.3965625,-157.8102624,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x7c006a3fb7d103bf:0xb4bd23e54f7e058f!8m2!3d21.3965625!4d-157.8076875

10. Lanikai Pillboxes Hike

This is another Oahu staple. A super easy hike that’s spectacular at sunrise. Bring some coffee and a snack and enjoy sunrise on top of the pillboxes. This picture was taken just underneath the first pillbox. Afterwards, head down to Lanikai Beach (pictured below).

Distance: 1 mile round trip / Elevation Gain: 406 ft

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/321A+Kaelepulu+Dr,+Kailua,+HI+96734/@21.3899529,-157.7216617,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c0014f121b1881d:0xd349f5c84d0c5001!8m2!3d21.3899529!4d-157.7190868!16s%2Fg%2F11c2c_q6n7 Or in the general neighborhood

11. Lanikai Beach (Cash Beach)

This view is right off of Cash Beach. it’s the perfect place to watch the sunrise up behind the Mokes. My friend (who is an open sea swimmer in San Diego) and I actually decided to swim to these islands and back in choppy seas. I did it for the story but def would not advise swimming here unless you’re an incredibly strong swimmer. (I almost died). Not really, but my body legs and arms were jello.

Above you can see a gorgeous sunrise over the Mokes at Cash Beach. My friend Bryful and actually decided to swim to the islands and back. I almost died haha

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/502+Mokulua+Dr,+Kailua,+HI+96734/@21.3955281,-157.7227036,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x7c0014fc1be6846b:0x3de7e818f296861b!8m2!3d21.3955281!4d-157.7201287

12. Stairway to Heaven aka Haiku Stairs

Disclaimer: These pics were taken with a cheap DSLR in super foggy conditions so pics aren’t as clean as I’d like.

Also, the stairs were completely fogged out.

This hike is straight up treacherous if done the complete legal way. This might be THE coolest hike on Oahu but it’s also the most ILLEGAL hike on Oahu. Almost every hike on Oahu is “illegal” but this one is actually monitored and people have received fines up to $1,000 for trespassing. People from all over the world fly in to attempt this beast. The legal way to do this hike is over 10 miles. That’s quite a commitment.

The illegal way is to take the stairs up and down. It’s a grueling 3,922 steps. The stairs were installed to access radar towers set up on the mountains. However, mudslides damaged the stairs and caused them to become dangerous. The stairs are slippery and some are in disrepair. I know people that still manage to climb them unencumbered.

The main reason they are so hard to access without getting fined is that they’re located in the middle of a neighborhood and some hikers have taken shortcuts going through people’s yards to get to the hike. The neighborhood residents have become very pissed off at anyone even parking in their neighborhood to attempt the hike and will call the cops in a blink of an eye.

Many people try to start at 12am-4am to avoid residents and cops but some residents wait for hikers and patrolling cops frequent the neighborhood. There is also a guard at the base of the steps but they can’t do anything except call the cops on your way down.

Is there a solution? Do the hike the legal way or start the hike in the wee hours of the morning, get past the guard, and then hike out one of the legal ways down the backside of the ridge. The second option is totally NOT what I did in the picture above.

If you’re up for a Mission Impossible-esque adventure I wish you the best of luck.

Distance: 2 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 2,630 feet if you illegally do stairs both ways

Distance: 10.5 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 5,030 feet if you do Moanalua Valley Trail to Haiku Stairs and back

Distance: About 6.5 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: About 4.100 ft if you start wit the stairs illegal then go out backside of the ridge.

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/46-24+Kuneki+Pl,+Kaneohe,+HI+96744/@21.4075851,-157.8225291,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c006bae125bc015:0xd3058b37d3f12ca4!8m2!3d21.4075851!4d-157.8199542!16s%2Fg%2F11jzwstglg

13. Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove

A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without taking a dive into the waves and seeing what’s underneath. My favorite place to snorkel in Oahu is Shark’s Cove. It’s a Marine wildlife sanctuary so fishing is prohibited and the Marine life is abundant. I’ve seen turtles here every time and it always makes me feel like a kid following them around the crystal blue waters. the best place is to jump off the rock shelf in between Three Tables and Shark’s Cove. I always see turtles here.

Where to park: At either parking lot near: https://www.google.com/maps/place/59719+Kamehameha+Hwy,+Haleiwa,+HI+96712/@21.6484428,-158.0650375,909m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x7c005992fc52a69b:0x6051ffd49c3ba4f8!8m2!3d21.6484428!4d-158.0624626

14. Makua Beach

This is one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever been to. Imagine a deserted island with an insane backdrop of tropical green mountains. This is that beach. Also, if you come here for sunrise and swim out you’re almost guaranteed to see dolphins.

Also, there’s this super cool natural sea spa here if you can find it.

This was an amazing sunset in January of 2023 at Makua Beach.

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Mākua+Beach/@21.5322143,-158.2399799,1820m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c00f4a47d7e8d99:0x268cbe20d28bb155!8m2!3d21.5319042!4d-158.2294045!16s%2Fg%2F11b62kfvrt

15. Pali Puka (Opposite of Pali Notches)

This hike is accessed by parking at the Pali lookout and then hiking to the left of the parking lot. The direct opposite side of the Pali lookout is the Pali Notches hike. This hike is safe but there is a little exposure that people with a fear of heights may not appreciate. A very short hike with an amazing ridge line view and a unique hole to peer out at the gorgeous island below.

This picture is right above the puka hole.

Distance: 0.7 miles round trip / Elevation Gain: 485 ft

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Nuʻuanu+Pali+Lookout/@21.3671383,-157.7957065,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c006b6247261c9b:0xc97922b8ab8815d7!8m2!3d21.3671383!4d-157.7931316!16s%2Fg%2F11btyv7108

16. Tantalus Lookout

Tantalus Lookout at sunset gives you a gorgeous view of the sun going down behind Waikiki and Diamond Head. The parking lot is right next to the lookout. There’s a gazebo and a green grassy lawn that’s perfect to spread a blanket out on and enjoy the fading pastels streaking across the sky.

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Tantalus+Lookout+-+Puu+Ualakaa+State+Park/@21.3134333,-157.8254221,911m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x7c006db013b8d9ef:0xc206ab217259706c!8m2!3d21.3134333!4d-157.8228472!16s%2Fg%2F11c1nl5c6s

17. Kaehekili Hike

This is one of the best views of the island. I wish I had a better picture but I’ll go next time I’m in Oahu and snag a better one for ya’ll. This hike is a WORKOUT due to the steepness. It will break you off but you won’t regret it once you get to the top. It gives you all around views of the ocean below and you can see where part of Jurassic Park was filmed on Kualoa Ranch.

My sister did this hike and cried so don’t underestimate it. But once I helped her to the top she agreed that it was one of the coolest spots she has been and said it was worth it.

This is the sign at the beginning of the hike. Not exactly reassuring. Hannah was asking why I was making her do this lol.

If you continue past the lookout there is some rock scrambling and rope sections but it’s not too technical and honestly a lot of fun. If you’re scared of heights, this hike probably isn’t for you. I loved it and got my adrenaline rush fix for the day.

Distance: 3 miles round trip to the lookout / Elevation Gain: 1,800ft

Where to park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Kahekili+Ridge+Trailhead+(Puʻu+Manamana)/@21.5547156,-157.8580864,910m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m15!1m8!3m7!1s0x7c0046aab608cdbb:0xc23df99cbcc81902!2s51-520+Kamehameha+Hwy,+Kaaawa,+HI+96730!3b1!8m2!3d21.5547156!4d-157.8555115!16s%2Fg%2F11c1ghbxc1!3m5!1s0x7c00412410b5baa3:0x4cbae35b8c98bf6f!8m2!3d21.5539088!4d-157.8557145!16s%2Fg%2F11tn_x6l14

The trailhead is at the end of Huamalani St

18. Getting Scuba Certified Anywhere on Oahu

On one of my longer trips to Oahu I got my open water scuba certification and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places you can dive. The island has a whole other world to offer below the water’s surface and it’s teeming with turtles, fish, dolphins, and colorful reefs.

Courses vary but it’s usually a 30 hour commitment with pool lessons a few hours on weeknights and 2 open water dives on the weekend. I used Island Divers Hawaii and they were great.

If this commitment is a little too much for you or the price (which is $300-$550) is too steep for you at least grab or rent some snorkeling gear because you’re missing out if you don’t check out marine life.