Catch some rays or throw a beach barbecue at Ala Moana Beach in Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo: Alamy)
The picture-perfect Hawaiian island of Oahu has long been a beloved tourist destination with famous hot spots flocked to by visitors from around the world. However, aside from the (tourist-filled) attractions found in every guidebook, Oahu is also chock full of worthy off-the-beaten-path locations popular among locals and in-the-know travelers. From authentic Hawaiian fast-food joints to picturesque drives usually overlooked by visitors, here are nine secret spots to make your next trip to Oahu unique.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Many tourists flock to Oahu’s Waikiki beaches, which tends to make for loud, crowded shores and waves. Locals, however, opt for the much quieter Ala Moana Beach Park, located a short 15-minute walk south of Waikiki. While not ideal for big-wave surfing thanks to its calm shoreline, the expansive spot is perfect for catching some rays or throwing a beachside barbecue. In other words, it’s a respite of Hawaiian tranquility.
A Fast-Food Favorite
Zippy’s is as beloved a fast-food franchise to Hawaiians as In-N-Out is to Californians — but trust us, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill fast-food joint. With multiple locations around the island (many located in Honolulu), the 24/7 eatery has been a favorite no-frills local haunt since it opened its first location in 1966. For more than five decades, hungry customers have chowed down on Zippy’s classics like their famous chili (a whopping 110 tons of it is sold around the island per month) and authentic fare ranging from Spam to Chicken Katsu.
Tee Off with a View
Located in the military community of Kaneohe, Bay View Driving Range is a driving range with jaw-dropping views of nearby Kaneohe Bay and the lush surrounding mountains, as well. While many courses around Oahu offer extravagant golf excursions, Bay View is no frills and the perfect way to release some stress while in Hawaii’s great outdoors.
The typical go-to shopping destination for tourists visiting Oahu is the Ala Moana Mall, which offers a host of high-end retailers and eateries. However, locals know that Honolulu’s Ward Village, an open-air shopping mall located a few blocks south, offers exemplary shopping and dining without Ala Moana’s immense crowds. From its small boutique stores to mom-and-pop restaurants, the Village’s dozens of outdoor eating and shopping outposts make it one of the best Oahu stops.
The Best Tiki Bar in Hawaii?
Hands-down the best tiki bar in Hawaii, or anywhere for that matter, La Mariana Sailing Club is located on the water in Honolulu’s warehouse district, making for the kind of hidden location you wouldn’t stumble upon unless you knew it was there. Whether you’re driving or sailing there (La Mariana has a dock), once inside you’ll find classic Hawaiian cocktails from Mai Tais to blue Hawaiians in a space overflowing with 50s-era tiki decor, all undoubtedly authentic considering La Mariana has been open in some form or another since 1955.
Authentic Hawaiian Comfort Food
Dishing out Hawaiian comfort food, The Street Side Inn is the definition of a local spot that, true to its name, is on a side street outside of Waikiki in a nondescript location. Inside its cafeteria-style setting, however, chefs dole out heaping helpings of the most authentic Hawaiian grub you can get your hands on at dirt-cheap prices. As if that weren’t enough, its extensive alcohol selection includes everything from hard-to-find craft beers to a bevy of options on “Colin’s List,” which encapsulates owner Colin Nishida’s premium libation picks.
Road Trip, Oahu-Style
To call Kamehameha a mere highway is to not grasp the roadway’s extreme beauty and the plentiful activities that lie off of it. Snaking around the island and down its north shore, the 24-mile-long Kamehameha Highway offers Instagram-worthy views and a variety of spots to pull off and take a dip, fish or surf in the famous North Shore waters. While private beaches may look tranquil, swim with caution as the secluded waters off of Kamehameha obviously lack lifeguards and beach patrols.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
Sitting on Oahu’s most eastern shore, Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail offers not only sweeping vistas of the Pacific, but is a prime spot for whale watching in the winter months. A relatively easy-to-walk paved trail offers plenty of places to sit, relax and take in the surroundings, including the namesake lighthouse, which was built in 1909.
Support the Local Arts
No doubt inspired by their natural surroundings, Oahu has a vibrant community of artists, the center of which is the Haleiwa Art Gallery. Located just off the Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa is filled with the work of dozens of local artists and displays everything from photography and ceramics to paintings and embroidery.