Oahu's 10 Best Kept Secrets
10 places in Oahu that visitors (and some locals) haven't found out about yet.
A magical world hidden below the rocks
The Mermaid Caves are beautiful and enchanting but can also be dangerous so check out our safety tips below. One reason they are still secret is because most locals won’t tell tourists how to find them. You can’t blame them for wanting to keep the crowds away. These caves are actually the remnants of lava rock that’s been hollowed out by the ocean over time.
Lots of people enter the cave by jumping through the big holes in the rock, but most have a pretty long drop and may not be safe. If you head to the back of the rock (towards the street and rocky side of the beach), you can drop down onto the sand below to enter. But before you go into the cave, make sure you can get back out because you’ll have to use your own strength to make it back up about 8 feet to the top. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there on a day when one of the locals has brought a ladder or ropes.
Whether you venture into the caves or not, the surrounding beaches are also beautiful and not crowded. There are restrooms and playgrounds nearby too.
Getting there: head to Nānākuli Beach Park (aka Kalaniana’ole Beach Park). From the beach head to your left. The cave is about a 5-7 minute walk away. Wear water shoes or something that you can walk on jagged lava rocks with and not get your feet scraped up.
Safety Tips: Only visit the caves during low tide. (You can check that here.) If you try going into the caves during high tide, you could get smashed against the rocks or carried out to sea. Ideally come in the summer when the water level tends to be lower. Go with friends and hold off exploring the cave until there are other people there, just in case you run into trouble. There are plaques on the outside of the cave in memory of people who lost their lives here, so be extra cautious.
Secret omakase dinner hidden in the back of a coffee shop
22Kailua is a coffee shop by day, secret omakase spot by night. If you’re not familiar, omakase is Japanese for “I’ll leave it up to you.” It’s a Japanese multi-course meal, where every dish is chosen by the chef and you’re just along for a really delicious ride. 22Kailua started off as a true omakase speakeasy where you either had to be invited by someone who had been before or strike up a conversation with the chef / owner during the day and hope for an invite. Today, you can follow them on Instagram or Facebook and find out how to get a spot when they open up reservations once a month.
Most omakase dinners are very pricey and very fancy. But what makes this one really unique is that it’s not stuffy or pretentious. The ingredients are top notch (and some even flown in fresh from Japan) but it’s a humble sushi bar that only seats 6 guests. Dustin and Malia are masters at what they do, creating each dish perfectly, but they’re so down to earth and really just want each guest to have a good time.
22 Oneawa St, Kailua, HI 96734
Moanalua Valley Trail (aka Kamananui)
Here’s how you get your photo of The Stairway to Heaven, without actually climbing it (because it’s illegal and will cost you 1000 bucks if you’re caught)
The Stairway to Heaven (aka The Haiku Stairs) is one of the most iconic and breathtaking hikes in Oahu. It also happens to be super illegal. When they first closed the trail, people would still sneak up but now there’s a guard at the bottom of the steps and if you’re caught hiking the trail, you’ll be slapped with a $1000 fine. But what most people don’t know is that there’s another way to get to the top of the stairs. And that’s by hiking the Moanalua Valley Trail instead. It’s a pretty adventurous trail — about 10 or 11 miles round trip (about 8-10 hours). Expect some steep (especially in the last 2 miles) and narrow parts along the way. When you get to the end of the Middle Ridge Trail, you’ll spot the radio tower at the top of the Haiku Stairs. (It’s about 0.5 mile away.)
Tip: Don’t attempt this hike if it’s expected to rain or if there was heavy rain within a couple days leading up to your hike. September is one of the best months to go.
FYI: Legally, you’re not supposed to step foot on the stairs, even from the top. So make sure you come back the way you came.
1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu, HI 96819
Dolphins and crystal clear water, but far enough west to deter most tourists
Mākua Beach looks like a postcard, and yet most tourists don’t even know it exists. Mākua Valley and mountains make up the backdrop to this white sand beach with water that’s insanely clear. It’s a great place to snorkel and you’ll likely see Hawaiian Sea Turtles and schools of fish. There’s a good chance of seeing dolphins too, especially in the morning. It’s a trek to get here, but even the drive along the Waianae coast is a scenic one.
Tip: This is a remote one and it’s a long drive to get there so check the water conditions before you go to make sure it’s not too rough for swimming and snorkeling before you head out.
FYI: Makua Beach is part of Ka’ena Point State Park. Heads up that there’s no restroom at this beach.
Koko Crater Trail
There’s a prayer box at the top of this dormant volcano
Koko Crater Trail is a short, but intense hike up the side of a dormant volcano. The “steps” are actually old railroad ties from WW2. After you huff and puff your way to the top, the reward is one of the most spectacular views of coastline. But before you make your way back down, find the wooden prayer box sitting in a tree. It’s just behind the graffitied military bunker at the very top. There’s a pencil case and papers attached so you can scrawl out your prayer and leave it in the locked box. Apparently Angela Tomiye used her grandpa’s old toolbox and turned it into the prayer box after she had a vision where she says “I heard [God] say to me, ‘Everyone needs prayer, but not everyone is willing to walk into a church to receive it.”
7604 Koko Head Park Rd #7602, Honolulu, HI 96825
ʻĀweoweo Beach Park
A little known North Shore beach with its own turtle cleaning station
ʻĀweoweo Beach is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. You’ll mostly find locals and families here because it’s not on the radar of most tourists. There are bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, and a basketball court, but no lifeguard. But what makes this beach really unique is that you’ll find a turtle cleaning station here. No, this isn’t a man made thing, It’s just a spot where turtles like to meet up and little fish clean all the nooks and crevices of their shells. You’ll see turtles hanging out for hours and sometimes a few at the same time. If you’re standing on the beach facing the ocean, the turtle cleaning station will be to your right. Look for the big, round rock that looks like it’s out of place. The turtles float around the rock and small fish will swim out as the turtles get close. This is also a great beach for snorkeling.
Tip: Try to get there by 10am to get good parking. Also, most people bring a tent or umbrella because there’s not much shade.
FYI: It’s illegal to touch turtles in Oahu, so watch them all you want but keep your hands to yourself.
68-197 Au St, Waialua, HI 96791
Giant North Shore Tree Swing
Several swings, but few addresses to find them
There are a few different tree swings hidden on beaches throughout Oahu, but their locations are not easy to come by. So here’s the address of one to get you started: 53-936 Kamehameha Highway, Hauula. You’ll find it at a beach and it’s a pretty large swing. Almost (but not quite) big enough to lay on. It makes for a great photo op but it’s also just fun because most people don’t know where to go to find it.
53-936 Kamehameha Highway, Hauulam HI 96717
Did you know that there are 3 different sunflower fields in Oahu?
For a few weeks each year, you’ll find sunflower fields in full bloom in Oahu. Aloun Farms (about 40 min east of Waikiki) and the Waialua Sunflowers Farm at Dupont Pioneer Farm (North Shore) bloom sometime between October and early December. Waimanalo Country Farms (about 40 min east of Waikiki) bloom for about 10 days, sometime between June and October. Sunflower season at each farm is pretty short, so be sure to call or check websites ahead of time to see when it’s happening.
Aloun Farms: 91-1440 Farrington Hwy, Kapolei, HI 96707
Waialua Sunflowers Farm: 67-172 Farrington Hwy, Waialua, HI 96791
Waimanalo Country Farms: 41-225 Lupe St, Waimanalo, HI 96795
A calm stretch of beach that tourists haven’t found yet
Just west of Turtle Bay is a protected, crescent shaped beach with calm waters and no tourist crowds. It’s a good spot for swimming or going on long walks. The only downside is no restroom, lifeguards, or parking, etc. It’s protected from large waves, making it a good place to snorkel (although it can get murky at times). You might even see turtles sunbathing.
Did you know? Kawela Bay was seen in Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hunger Games, and Lost. You may recognize the huge banyan tree. It’s the largest one in Oahu.
There used to be houses all along Kawela Bay, but everyone was forced to leave in 1986 to make way for a resort that was never built. So for now, it’s still undeveloped.
From Turtle Bay Resort, it’s about a 30 minute walk.
57 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731
You’ll need to know the secret password to get in
You probably wouldn’t head to a strip mall to splurge on a nice dinner and great cocktails, but Gaslamp is so unique that it’ll change your mind. Way in the back of the Kailua Town Pub & Grill is a phone booth with a secret entrance to the cozy, dimly lit speakeasy in the back. It’s crazy to go from a noisy bar to this secret hideaway in the back. Reservations are a must and there’s a dress code you’ll have to follow. The day of your reservation, you’ll get a text with the secret password to get you in.
26 Ho'olai St, Kailua, HI 96734