Welcome to the best non-touristy things to do in Oahu!
My boyfriend and I have been coming to this island for many years, so we’ve exhausted all the tourist traps. While popular places like Waikiki Beach and Honolulu’s Chinatown attract hordes of visitors, there are still plenty of lesser-known sites that make for an ultra-secluded stay.
We’ve learned that these lesser-known activities are often the most fun in Oahu! That’s why I’m here to share with you our favorite hidden gems in Oahu, ones that don’t cost too much or get too crowded. From the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, Rainbow Drive-In for breakfast, sampling authentic Hawaiian coffee, and visiting religious and cultural sites – these activities will provide a truly authentic experience.
Finding these activities isn’t always easy as they can be scattered throughout the island – so I’ve written this article to save you from overcrowded areas and overpriced attractions by listing all my favorite non-touristy things to do in Oahu!
Let’s go explore the best non-touristy things to do in Oahu!
Swim with Dolphins at Makua Beach
Oahu’s Westside has the most secluded beaches, perfect for ditching the crowds and finding your private spot on the shore. Find Yokohama Bay and Makua Beach in Makaha, where there are clear, strong waters to swim and snorkel in, plus terrific marine life.
Drive to Farrington Highway to get here, pack a lunch and a cooler of drinks, and enjoy a beach picnic with the gorgeous sunset.
The best part is the dolphins breaking the shore during the early hours of the day. Right after sunrise, we came here one morning and saw the beautiful creatures bobbing around. You can put on snorkeling gear and go deep in the waves or swim alongside them as the water is calm this time of day.
Just make sure to give the marine life their space and keep the secluded beaches clean for newcomers.
We love Makua Beach and always try to fit it into our itinerary, as it’s a fun, non-touristy thing to do in Oahu.
- Come in January to March to sight humpback whales.
- There aren’t any bathroom facilities nearby.
- You’ll find locals catching fish from the cliffside, who sometimes let you join in.
Eat Local Hawaiian Food
Oahu island is crawling with terrific dining spots and scenic cafes, but nothing beats the local food. So don’t miss out on authentic poke bowls, hot malasadas, shaved ice, and a Hawaiian loco moco when in Oahu.
First thing’s first, try the poke. I think local grocery stores sell the best poke in pre-packaged bowls or made fresh over the counter from seasonal seafood like Ahi and Mahi Mahi served with fresh veggies. Visit Foodlands, a local chain, for terrific poke bowls.
Next, you have to experience an authentic Hawaiian loco moco breakfast, and no one does this better than Rainbow Drive-In. This place is off-the-beaten-path, far from tourist eateries, and a local favorite spot.
Try their loco moco – grilled beef patty, topped with two sunny side eggs, over scoops of white rice, and a delectable gravy. Let’s just say you won’t have room for anything else after this breakfast.
Finish off with dessert from Leonard’s hot malasadas, available from their bakery and food trucks around Oahu. This piping-hot fried pastry is perfect for every occasion and comes with a range of cream fillings.
And if you aren’t keen on fried sweets (are you okay??) then you’ll love the refreshing shaved ice from Matsumoto’s, a local favorite, and topped with sweet fruity syrups.
Trying local food is a must in Oahu and saves you from grazing on hotel food for days.
- Local food is cheaper than restaurant food, and you can eat a whole meal for less than $10!
- You’ll encounter long lines at places like Leonard’s Bakery and Rainbow Drive-In, so try to go early.
- Also try authentic multicultural food in Oahu like spam musubi from Musubi Cafe Iyasume and pho from Filipino eateries.
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Watch the Sunrise at Lanikai Pillboxes
While most tourists head to Diamond Head volcano, this gorgeous hike in East Oahu is the best way to enjoy Oahu’s natural beauty. The hike isn’t for novices, as there are some rough patches, but the struggle is well worth the breathtaking sunrise at the top.
The hike is approximately 1.3 miles long and starts from the nearby Kailua Beach. You can take a bus from Waikiki to Lanikai early in the morning and start the thirty-minute hike with enough time to enjoy the sunrise.
‘Pillboxes’ refer to WWII bunkers at the top of the cliffs, which were mass produced during the war but never used. There are two pillboxes on the site, adding a rustic look to the cliffside and making a great backdrop for photos.
We highly recommend taking the Lanikai Pillbox hike, as it’s the best non-touristy thing to do in Oahu.
- You can park your cars at Kailua Beach and start the hike from there.
- The two pillboxes are located a five-minute hike from each other.
- Hiking to the top reveals terrific views of Lanikai Beach and its turquoise waters.
Pay Your Respects at Multicultural Sites
Hawaii is home to many multicultural sites, most of which have been preserved as landmarks and display each culture’s architecture beautifully.
Witness gorgeous Islamic art and architecture at Shangri La, home to Doris Duke, and a mansion filled with her collections of Islamic art pieces, furniture, and more. Historians will fall in love with this site, as some of the articles date back centuries.
Walking the halls feels like stepping back in time. Explore sitting rooms inspired by the Ottoman era, halls featuring Arabic tilework on the walls, a marbled bathroom reminiscent of royal lavatories, and a gorgeous outdoor lanai facing the water.
Another stunning sight is the Byodo-In Temple, a Buddhist temple built to commemorate 100 years of Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. This temple faces a graveyard, which keeps most people away, but with gorgeous views of Oahu’s mountains in the back, it’s a beautiful site.
You can roam the grounds, with smaller structures scattered throughout, and take in stunning Japanese architecture. There are koi ponds with fish swimming that you can also feed.
We recommend coming here early in the morning as it’s serene for meditating, and you can ring the temple bell.
Exploring the different cultures residing in Hawaii is a terrific way to acquaint yourself with the land and the best non-touristy thing to do in Oahu.
- You can access Shangri La from a bus at Honolulu Museum.
- There’s an entry fee for the Byodo-In Temple of $5.
- You need to make reservations to visit Shangri La online, which sell out quickly, so keep an eye out for them.
Roam Fosters Botanical Gardens
Hawaii’s oldest botanical garden, built in the 1800s, is a sprawling 14 acres of gorgeous lawns, conservatories with rare species of plants, and lines of shady trees to walk under. A stroll through these gorgeous gardens is a wonderful way to escape the throngs of tourists crowding the city.
The gardens boast nearly 4000 rare tropical plants, plenty of different trees blooming every season, birds of paradise, and a lovely butterfly garden, which you can explore at your own pace as there aren’t any guided tours here.
Catch a bus from Waikiki to get here, as most of them have Fosters Gardens as a stop. We toured this area on a local’s recommendation and had the most calming experience walking amongst nature.
Seeing such a well-preserved Botanical Garden in Oahu was amazing, and we recommend everyone to come here for a welcome break from the island.
- There’s metered parking outside the gardens.
- They have an entrance fee of $5 per person.
- The range of plants attracts lots of mosquitos, so wear repellant when visiting.
Buy Local Produce from Farmers Markets
Hawaii’s food movement started in the last few decades and included growing and utilizing organic and locally-grown produce. You can find farmers markets throughout Oahu, with some great ones on the North Shore like Haleiwa Farmers Market and Waialua Farmers Market.
Haleiwa Farmers Market
Located in Waimea Valley Park, this old market hosts regular stalls from local vendors selling homemade jams, fresh fruits, vegetables, and packaged foods. This market is a great stop for getting a quick bite after the Waimea Valley hike, as it’s open from 2 pm to 6 pm.
There are almost 20 vendors selling produce as well as Hawaiian crafts. We bought the freshest papayas and pineapples here, followed by a yummy taco lunch.
Waialua Farmers Market
This Farmers Market is held on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings near the former Sugar Mill in Waialua and has terrific fresh food stalls and organic produce.
We stopped by after visiting the Waialua Public Library and ate delicious poke from a stall, followed by a dragon fruit that a fruit vendor cut up for us. We also bought organic asparagus, lettuce, apple bananas, avocados, mangos, and papayas, all so flavorful and ripe.
We loved mingling with locals and buying Hawaiian goods at these farmers markets, and everyone needs to stop by them, as they’re one of the best non-touristy things to do in Oahu.
- The produce at these markets is cheap, and you can buy it in bulk.
- The Waialua Farmers Market is locally known as the Waialua Peoples Market, so ask around by this name if you can’t find it.
- You can get the most fresh homemade bread from these markets, baked by local families.
Swim at Kapena Falls
Oahu has some terrific waterfalls and scenic hikes leading to them. You can avoid overcrowded tourist favorites like Waimea Falls by heading to Kapena Falls in Oahu. A half-mile hike leads to these falls that are mostly shaded and end in a protected pool.
There’s a cemetery on the hike, and you may encounter some homeless people, but the beautiful falls are well worth the journey, as they’re secluded, and you can get the area to yourself.
On our visit, we couldn’t go swim in the waters and chose to sit on the rocks and take in the gorgeous forestry surrounding the falls. Plus, the hike is lined with ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs (pictures inscribed on rocks that mark a historical event), which were very interesting.
I’d recommend everyone to hike to Kapena Falls as it’s off the beaten path and a fun, non-touristy thing to do in Oahu.
- You can dive from the rocks into the pool below.
- The hike is short and easy, so you can bring children along.
- The hike has some thick foliage, so wear good hiking boots.
How do you avoid crowds in Oahu?
First things first, stay at an Airbnb instead of hotels and experience a home-like atmosphere. Secondly, visit secluded beaches like Makua Beach, Yokohama Bay, and Makapu’u Beach, which are just as beautiful as tourist beaches. And lastly, eat from local chains like Foodlands, Rainbow Drive-In, and food trucks to avoid going through reservations and long lines.
What beaches do locals go to on Oahu?
Some favorite local beaches include Lanikai Beach, Turtle Bay Beach, Waimanalo Beach, Ko Olina Lagoons, and Yokohama Bay.
How do you enjoy Oahu?
There are tons of different ways to enjoy Oahu. Explore the beaches and have a sunset picnic, go surfing at Waikiki Beach, hike the many trails and waterfalls on the island, shop in Honolulu’s Chinatown, stop by farmers markets, and visit historical sites, to truly enjoy this island.
What are the best non-touristy things to do in Honolulu?
Visit downtown Honolulu where you can take a scenic walk through Fosters Botanical Garden, and explore Hawaii’s history at The Plantation House tours. Experience Islamic architecture at the Shangri La estate, which only allows a handful of visitors, and explore independent art galleries in Chinatown.
The Wrap Up: Non Touristy Things to do in Oahu
Despite being known as the biggest tourist hub in Hawaii, Oahu has some great places off the beaten path, and you can visit for a relaxing time away from the crowds. Some of these places, like Kapena Falls, are non-touristy for their seclusion, and others fall in this category because they’re crowded with locals only.
However, I can guarantee that whatever you do in Oahu will be an amazing experience.
Want to see a gorgeous secluded sunrise? Take the Lanikai Pillbox Hike.
Looking for local-favorite eateries? Head to Rainbow Drive-In, Leonards Bakery, and local food trucks.
Want to explore beaches on your own? Visit the Makapuu and Makua beaches.
You’ll never run out of fun non-touristy things to do in Oahu!
Last Updated on May 24, 2023 by Brigitte