All you need to enjoy a quieter Oahu is a rental car and a plan.

By Evie Carrick
November 16, 2020
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A trip to Oahu doesn’t have to include battling the crowds at Waikiki Beach or dining with what feels like half the island at an indoor restaurant. There’s plenty to see and do that’s off the typical tourist checklist — you just have to go a bit more off the beaten path. 

And with the virus top of mind for most travelers, Hawaii makes it easy to eat and play outdoors thanks to its year-round balmy weather. If you need a little AC or come up against a rainy day there are plenty of indoor activities operating at 50 percent capacity and limiting groups or “quarantine pods” to five people, per guidelines from the Hawaii State Department of Health. That means you don’t have to worry about running into a ton of people at the museum or  sharing your sunset cruise with a bachelor party.

All you need to enjoy Oahu without the crowds is a rental car and a plan. To help you out with the latter, we’ve compiled some of our favorite, more remote, Oahu experiences.

Hike the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail

You don’t have to travel far to get out of Honolulu and into the mountains. The 4.5-mile Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail is less than 20 minutes from the city and rewards those willing to make the trek with panoramic views of Honolulu, Waimanalo, and Konahuanui, the highest peak in the Ko’olau Range. 

The best part about this trail is that there are a limied number of parking spots at the trailhead, which means there are a limited number of parking passes each day. By starting early and securing one of the day’s passes, you’ll be guaranteed a tranquil afternoon.

Credit: Getty Images

Dive With Sharks

This isn’t your average shark dive — for starters you’ll be out in the open water with sharks (no cage) and you’ll be helping the team at One Ocean Diving collect data while learning about how to interact with a shark in the wild. It’s at once terrifying and wonderfully life changing. 

The folks at One Ocean have been operating for over 20 years and have a 100-percent safety record, plus the activity is completely outdoors (and underwater) and they limit the group size to eight people.

Browse the Honolulu Museum of Art

Credit: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art or HoMA offers a true sanctuary from the buzz of Honolulu and the scorching midday sun. You can meander through the open-air museum’s many collections — just don’t miss the Hawaiian art wing — before stopping by the café for a refreshing drink.

The team at HoMA takes visitor health and safety seriously, so expect to have your temperature taken on arrival and make use of the disinfectant dispensers located throughout the museum.

Take a Self-guided Walking Tour at Pearl Harbor

You could spend an entire day exploring the many sites of Pearl Harbor — from the USS Arizona Memorial to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. But many activities require a shuttle ride and reservations. If you have your heart set on a purely outdoor, crowd-free experience head to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center for a self-guided walking tour. You can enjoy the views of the harbor across the bay while learning about the day’s events.

If it’s not too busy, slip into the two nearby open air museums for a quick education on the events leading up to the attack and some of the key players. 

Explore the Waimea Valley

Credit: Getty Images

The Waimea Valley has always been a deeply spiritual and special place to Hawaiians. It was a place given to high priests (kahuna nui) as early as 1092 AD because of its lush beauty and plentiful resources. Today, visitors can enter the valley and experience just a taste of what makes the place so revered. 

There are religious places of worship, historic burial sights, and of course, the beautiful Wailele Falls. And thanks to the outdoor, spaced nature of the valley, you can explore this special corner of the island in peace. 

Learn About Hawaii at the Bishop Museum

If you came to Hawaii for the beaches but quickly realized there is so much more to the islands than sun and surf, you’ll want to spend an afternoon at the Bishop Museum. The museum is home to the largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific cultural artifacts and natural history specimens in the world, making it the perfect place to get a much-needed education on the rich history and culture of Hawaii.

Relax at Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden

The word Hoʻomaluhia translates into "a peaceful refuge," which is exactly what this botanical garden offers visitors. You can walk through botanical collections from places like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Africa, and of course, Hawaii.

The best part is, you can take all the space you need while strolling through the garden’s 400 acres, and if you’d rather, you can enjoy the views from the comfort of your air conditioned car. 

Surf Waikiki

Sure, Waikiki Beach gets busy and there are always a handful of surfers in the water, but if you’re a beginner, there’s no place like Waikiki to learn to surf. The waves tend to be consistent and if you catch one, you’ll be treated to a nice, long ride. Just make sure to maintain six feet of space between you and your fellow surfers (which you should be doing anyway) you should be able to enjoy being out on the water worry-free.

For a rental board, head to Moku (just one block from the beach). If it’s too busy there, drop by the neighboring Star Beachboys or Moniz Family Surf.