The excitement was real when my boyfriend and I finally booked our dream trip to Hawaii. Like you, we wanted to make the most of our vacation and explore everything this tropical paradise has to offer. But with so many options, where do you start? Well, look no further because I’ve got your back.
During our visit, we soon discovered that Kaneohe is packed with thrilling adventures and remarkable sights just waiting for us – from pristine beaches to lush hiking trails. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though; we had our fair share of tourist traps and disappointments along the way. That’s why I took it upon myself to create the ultimate list of must-do activities in Kaneohe.
With years of travel experience under my belt – not to mention countless hours spent researching local hotspots – trust me when I say that these are the best-of-the-very-best experiences you’ll find in this charming corner of Hawaii.
To save you precious time and money, I’ve narrowed it down to 7 absolutely worthwhile activities based on unique experiences, cost, easy access, and overall satisfaction. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or a nature lover, there’s something here just for you!
Warning: Get ready for an unforgettable adventure! Once you tick these off your bucket list, leaving Kaneohe might be harder than saying “Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa” three times fast (that’s the Hawaiian state fish by the way).
So buckle up – let’s dive into paradise together!
#1. Byodo-In Temple – Peaceful Japanese Buddhist Temple
This temple was the most peaceful and reflective experience on our trip. The Byodo-In Temple in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is welcoming and open to all religions and faiths and is the right place to sit and reflect. My boyfriend loved the architecture and beautiful panoramic views.
After breakfast, we visited the temple in the morning, and it took us about 1 hour to make a small tour. The beautiful temple grounds are so clean and well kept. It was quiet without a lot of tourists.
Outside, there are a lot of large ponds filled with traditional Koi fish that feed on the plants and algae in the water. We also saw turtles, peacocks, and swans walking the grounds. There is also a huge several-ton peace bell before the entrance into the temple. It is said that ringing the bell brings longevity and happiness (so we rang it several times – just in case!)
Inside, the most impressive part was the statue of the Lotus Buddha. We were told it was 18 feet tall and covered in gold. It is a traditional place for saying a prayer and light incense.
There is a small gift shop for “good luck” souvenirs, which I loved. There is no official dress code. We wore t-shirts and shorts (with comfortable shoes for walking).
The temple has general admission, and we paid $10 in total. There is a discount for children and seniors.
This spot is a must-visit and my #1 pick because:
- It is a beautiful place to take a walk and enjoy the traditional Japanese garden and architecture.
- It’s a peaceful and meaningful place to visit regardless of faith.
- There is a huge bell that brings you good luck!
- The large statue of Buddha is wonderful to see and say a prayer.
#2. Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens – Best Free Things to do in Kaneohe
Visiting the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens was just as memorable as my number one pick. If you are looking for a fun activity, solo, as a couple, or family – this is it. Did I mention it was free (large parking lot included)?
We set aside the whole afternoon to walk the gardens and spent over 3 hours here. After parking, we visited the visitor center, where we loaded an online map of the park (there are printouts too). We had a pleasant talk with one of the assistants. She was knowledgeable and explained the most appropriate trail to take, including the best picnic spot.
The gardens stretch over 400 acres, and the trails are filled with many, many types of tropical and exotic plants. There is a picturesque mountain view in the open areas and lots of canopies and foliage to explore. The plants are labeled for those looking to learn more. If you take advantage of the whole trail, it is a nice workout too!
My favorite part was the picnic next to the lake. There were a lot of ducks eyeing our food which I found really funny! There were virtually no tourists. We spent some time just lying in the grass and listening to the different bird and tree sounds.
Note: There is a driving option for those not wanting to hike! The road is paved, and it takes about 20 minutes.
It is a great place to take a long walk, have lunch and relax! Here’s why you’ll love it:
- Lots of tropical plants and birds to explore (most are labeled).
- Large picnic area next to the lake for visiting the fish and many ducks lounging on the grass.
- There is a walking and driving option for this tour.
- This site is free to visit, there is free parking, and the ladies in the visiting center are super friendly.
#3. 21 Degrees Estate Cacao Farm – The Family-Friendly Chocolate Tasting Tour
We spent about two hours at this wonderful veteran-owned and family-operated local farm, and I could have spent two more easily. This cacao farm is on a large open space with a lot of different trees (including exotic fruits), flowers, and most importantly the Cacao plants.
We took the tour on a Saturday morning, and it wasn’t too crowded. This place is super friendly, and it even has small animals like goats and bunnies to pet (fun for adults too!) You can book events here for up to 50 people, so it’s perfect for a birthday party.
The guide was super patient and friendly with a lot of information about the area’s agricultural history. We had the opportunity to learn about several different types of bananas, apples, papaya, mango, star fruit, and more. We held the ripe cacao pod and a sample during the cacao orchard visit. I was genuinely surprised at how big they are!
The most enjoyable part (for most people, including my boyfriend) is the chocolate and honey tasting at the end. Several types of chocolate are presented from around the world, and the chocolate is from this farm. If you love dark chocolate, this is worth a trip. We bought some tasty chocolate for our families to support the local farm.
Note: The two of us paid $120 for the tour. There are discounts for teens and children. Ask ahead!
If you are looking for a memorable family-friendly activity, you should visit 21 Degrees Estate Cacao Farm for a tour! Some of the reasons are:
- The guide is super friendly and informative, so you get the chance to learn about the region’s history, agriculture, and plants.
- During the visit to the orchard, you get to hold and taste a fresh cacao pod!
- There is chocolate and honey tasting.
- Lots of cute animals for the kids to play with!
#4. Kaneohe Sandbar – The Beach in the Middle of the Ocean
This beach is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you don’t know, Kaneohe Sandbar is basically a white sandy beach in the middle of the ocean – deserted island style. The water is crystal clear, and the sand is soft and white. Make sure to go when the tide is down because the water is down to your ankles! When the tide is up, it can get up to your waste (still worth visiting!)
Some people paddle out to the sandbar or hire a kayak. But we took a boat tour that organized snorkeling and food for us. We spent about 4 hours on the tour. Since this was a spot in the middle of nowhere, I appreciated taking a boat where we could leave our stuff and feel safe. We made sure to go when the tide was down, so the water level was really low. We spent a lot of time snorkeling. I saw several turtles swimming close by.
The tour organized a nice lunch on the boat (where it is dry) with grilled burgers and chips. There was a cooler on board if you wanted to buy refreshments. Still, those who came without a tour had picnics on the sand, which looked fun.
This place is awesome for taking the perfect pictures. Besides the sandbar and open ocean view, there is a beautiful view of Kaneohe Bay. It is a safe trip with kids, especially if you take a boat when the tide is down. Do wear a hat and sunscreen. There is no shade!
The reasons why I would visit (and visit again) the sandbar are:
- This is a gorgeous and safe place to swim, snorkel, or sunbather.
- The view in all directions is breathtaking!
- There is a high chance you will run into turtles, seals, or dolphins!
- Your pictures will look like postcards from a deserted island.
#5. Bay View Mini-Putt and Zipline – Great Afternoon Activity for the Whole Family
If you are a fan of mini-golf or just looking for a break from the beaches, this is a fun place to visit. We did not book anything, just showed up! You can book and pay online ahead of time if you wish.
The ride was quick and there is plenty of parking. There are two golf courses to go through. A 36-hole and an 18-hole course are available depending on your time. We did the 18-hole course, because my boyfriend is much better at it than me, and I don’t like losing!
My favorite part, however, was the zip line! I am not experienced in zip lines, so this was the perfect size to gather my courage and go! In fact, I did it twice. I especially liked that the workers took special care about safety and instructions. I noticed kids on the zip line as well (brave!)
I recommend wearing closed-toe shoes and something sensible for the zip line for this activity!
Here’s why you should check out Bay View Mini-Putt and Zipline:
- This is a pleasant change of pace from the water and hiking activities.
- There are a lot of creative holes in the courses suitable for both beginners and seasoned golfers.
- The zip line is suitable for beginners and intermediates.
- It is not crowded so no rush once you get there!
#6. Kaneohe Farmers Market (at Windward Mall) – Great Place for “Foodies” (a Local Favorite)
I am a big fan of farmers’ markets, but this one is special! The Sunday Farmers Market at Windward Mall is very popular with the locals. But it happens twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays. Unlike your local farmers’ market, this one is filled with exotic fruits, spices, and sauces.
In the same way, as at home, I made sure to arrive early. There was plenty of parking in the mall parking lot. The day was warm and sunny, so many vendors were out. I saw some very unique handmade products and lots of flowers. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many exotic flowers in one place.
But my favorite part (besides the tasty fruit and seasonings) was the smoked meats and sauces! I bought some delicious hot sauce and some jerked meat. The prices were also much better than those in the supermarkets.
You can do all of your shopping at the farmers market, located right next to the Windward Mall. We walked through the mall and bought a couple more gifts before our trip home.
Note: The farmers’ market is cash only, so come prepared!
This place is great for meeting the locals and doing some shopping. You will love it too because:
- There is an endless supply of exotic fruits, seasonings, homemade jellies, jams, honey, and other authentic regional products.
- You will see beautiful fresh and exotic flowers being sold.
- There is a nice mall next to the market for additional shopping.
- It’s a way to support the locals and buy goods cheaper than in the stores.
#7. Ko’olau Distillery Tours – Best Whisky and Distillery Experience
So I have attended wine tasting tours, but this was my first whiskey tasting!
This tour was recommended to us by some friends. It is a small veteran-owned distillery that makes authentic Hawaiian whiskey.
We had a knowledgeable tour guide who knew everything about the process and was great at explaining. He showed us all the different steps involved in making and packaging. They let us get hands-on; we even bottled our bottle (a great gift for friends!) They also have a really cool souvenir shop where I got the most awesome shot glasses (my boyfriend got a t-shirt for bragging.)
The most interesting part was the tasting, where they discussed what to look for in the smell and taste. There are some neat tricks and things to look for that I just had no idea about. As a surprise, some chocolate was involved in the tasting!
I enjoyed seeing the bottling process and liked supporting a local business.
Check out Ko’olau Distillery Tours because:
- This is a great (small) distillery where everything is still hands-on.
- Tasting at the end of the tour with the opportunity to learn a lot about whiskey.
- They have some pretty cool souvenirs!
- This is a really fun kids-free activity for adults.
Your visit to Kaneohe is incomplete without visiting some of the best to-do spots from this list. Each place on the list is unique and offers a fresh and creative break from the traditional beach vacation.
Whether you want to learn about the heritage and tradition of the region, take an active hike or zipline, or eat chocolate and drink whiskey, there is something for all!
These are all viable alternatives to get you moving or get your children off their phones!
We enjoyed visiting these spots and reporting back to you!
If you agree with us, please support us and share!
Until next time!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Can you swim in Kaneohe?
Yes. Kaneohe has four gorgeous beaches right at the edge of the city. A great pick is Kaneohe Beach Park. There is also the Kaneohe Sandbar if you are looking for a different swimming experience. If you take a sandbar tour, you can spend half the day swimming and snorkeling. Most also provide lunch.
What side of Oahu is Kaneohe?
Kaneohe is a city located on the east side of Oahu Island. It is about 12 miles from the capital city of Honolulu. The locals would say it is located on the island’s windward side. The city is a famous tourist destination with many attractions and scenic beaches.
Can you walk to Kaneohe sandbar?
You cannot walk to the Kaneohe Sandbar (even when the tide is low). It is one mile out from the coast. Some people kayak or paddle out to the sandbar, but this is not recommended for most. The fastest and safest way to get to the sandbar is by boat. There are small and large boat tours each day. The boat tours are about 4 hours in total and offer a safe place to keep your personal belongings or hide out from possible rain.
Last Updated on March 30, 2023 by Brigitte