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Top 6 Things To Do In Hawaii (Mostly in Flip Flops)

Tess dinapoli
Top 6 Things To Do In Hawaii (Mostly in Flip Flops)

The Honolulu airport is the gateway to a paradise of possibility. Whether you’re looking for adventure by land or by sea — or even an adventure on the air in between — Oahu gives you the opportunity to do everything from hikes to shark dives to skydives. It’s true that Waikiki offers hotels and beaches, shopping and food, but there is just so much more to Oahu.

First, don’t waste your time at the airport. With so much to see, you’ll want to find the easiest way to get car rentals at the Honolulu airport terminal. Then, all that’s left to do is grab your snorkel and fins, ocean-safe sunscreen, and hit the road!

Waimea Valley

As you make your way out of Honolulu and toward the beaches of Oahu’s famous North Shore, the lush land on your right is perfectly complemented by the vast ocean on your left. Just a little further north and over a quaint bridge, you’ll start to see cars parked along the side of the road. Surfers may have caught sight of the perfect swells, beachgoers felt the draw of the sand, or maybe some heard the beckoning of the Waimea Cliff Jump. Whatever draws you to Waimea Bay Beach, remember that the parking lot fills up quickly. You might need to find a spot on the side of the road, one that won’t block traffic, so you can make your way toward whatever it is that is calling you to the ocean.

Waimea Falls Park & Botanical Garden

Not far from Waimea Bay Beach, on the other side of the road, you’ll see Waimea Falls Park and Botanical Garden. As you pull in, be aware of the various birds that leisurely meander about. Once you make your way to the Visitor’s Center, you’ll find all kinds of snack and drink vendors, as well as a bustling Farmer’s Market on certain days of the week. But you will absolutely want to pay the admission and walk through the carefully preserved spaces of Oahu’s ancient landscapes. With plant species from around the world, these gardens provide a vast botanical education. They also show how Hawaiian natives lived in harmony with the land, and how their descendants are keeping those traditions alive today.

The hike is about 3.5 miles and is paved. While it may be a bit hilly in places, it is extremely easy to do in flip-flops. There are also tram options for those who would rather ride. No matter how you get there, you will arrive at the famous 45-foot Waimea Falls at the end. If you go on the right day, you can grab a life vest and go for a swim in Waimea Falls’ lake.


A bit further of a drive up the North Shore, you will see the iconic sign for the town of Haleiwa. Before you come to Haleiwa’s Rainbow Bridge, you’ll be greeted by Haleiwa Beach Park, delicious acai bowl stands, as well as some of the world’s most recognizable surf shops. Before heading into town, you may want to rent a paddleboard and take a leisurely paddle down the canal. If you do, definitely keep your camera handy. You’ll be surprised at how many sea turtles you’ll run into. Once you’re back on dry land, it’s just a short walk across Rainbow Bridge before you find yourself in a town bustling with shops, restaurants, and the famous Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.

Shark’s Cove

If you stay on the road to the North Shore, you’ll come to a variety of beaches known for their world-class surfing. You’ll also come to Shark’s Cove, which has some of the best snorkeling on the island of Oahu. Parking can be kind of tight at Shark’s Cove, depending on the time of day, but it is definitely worth a stop if you enjoy seeing the variety of tropical fish Hawai’i has to offer. You may even spot more turtles.

If all of this travel has worked up an appetite, you’re on the right road. A variety of food trucks can be found, as well as small, roadside restaurants that are famous for their Hawaiian dishes, including Spam© and Hawaiian barbeque. If sushi is more your style, pop into Foodland and get in line at the deli counter for a poke bowl. It’s fresh and delicious, plus, extremely affordable. Keep in mind that it is popular, and they have been known to run out.

Kawela Bay

As you continue north and around the island, you’ll come across beautiful beaches and experience lands that look as though dinosaurs still roam. About 12 miles past Haleiwa, you’ll come to a true Hawaiian paradise, Kawela Bay. Not only is the beach and surrounding area absolutely stunning, you can also easily access a World War II bunker, known as a pillbox, right on the beach. There are actually a few “pillbox” hikes on Oahu that offer tremendous views.


As you circle back down the east side of the island, you’ll come to Kaneohe. Kaneohe is about thirty minutes east of Honolulu and is where the Byodo-In Temple awaits. This Buddhist Temple is a replica of an ancient temple in Japan. While it is non-practicing, it is still a place of great serenity and the impeccably kept grounds are teeming with the pulse of the rich cultures of Hawai’i.

While you’re in Kaneohe, you definitely need to take a drive through Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, too. Admission is free, and the scenery represents a variety of geographical regions from around the world. There are events and classes, as well as private and professional photo opportunities. You can even reserve a campsite if you’d like to bask in this luscious landscape a bit longer.

Coming Full Circle

If you take the loop around the island, from the North Shore, down the Windward side, and back toward Honolulu, you may want to take the route which will bring you to another famous snorkeling spot, Hanauma Bay. This will also put you close to other famous sites worthy of experiencing, such as Spitting Caves and China Walls. While the distance of this tour of Oahu can be done in a day, it’s truly best to take your time and “live Aloha” while you’re here. If time permits, you should definitely repeat as often as possible. If time doesn’t permit, you should plan to come back and drive the island again soon.

No matter which direction you head on Oahu you will experience the mana of Hawai’i. It is the spirit you can only experience when all of nature’s elements come together. It is a spirit unique to Hawai’i — the spirit of ohana.

Tess dinapoli
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