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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Dolphins leap and spin and penguins frolic at this marine-life attraction 15 miles from Waikiki at scenic Makapuu Point. The park has a 300,000-gallon Hawaiian reef aquarium, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Care Center, and a breeding sanctuary for Hawaii's endangered honu sea turtle. Join the Stingray or Dolphin Encounter and get up close and personal in the water with these sea creatures (don't worry, the rays' stingers have been removed) or go on an underwater photo safari. www.sealifeparkhawaii.com. COST: $30. OPEN: Daily 10:30--5.
The Pearl Harbor visitor center, recently reopened after a $58 million renovation and now part of the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, is the starting point for visitors to this historic site. The site is a must-see for many, but there are things to know before you go. Consider whether you want to see only the Arizona Memorial, or the USS Bowfin and USS Missouri as well (the latter two sights charge admission fees). Allow approximately an hour and 15 minutes for the USS Arizona tour. Arrive early—the free, first-come, first-served tickets for the Arizona Memorial can disappear quickly. There are restrictions on what you can bring with you, including purses, backpacks, and camera cases (although cameras are allowed). Baggage lockers are available for a small fee. Also, don't forget ID. www.nps.gov/valr/. COST: Free (timed tickets required for Arizona Memorial). OPEN: Daily 7--5; Arizona Memorial tours daily 8--3.
This lovely park is the site of the internationally acclaimed Prince Lot Hula Festival on the third weekend in July. Throughout the year, the Moanalua Gardens Foundation sponsors 3-mi guided hikes into Kamananui Valley, usually on Sunday; call for times. Self-guided tour booklets ($5) are also available from the Moanalua Gardens Foundation office. To reach Moanalua Gardens, take the Moanalua Freeway westbound (78). Take the Tripler exit, then take a right on Mahiole Street. Pineapple Place is just after Moanalua Elementary School. www.mgf-hawaii.org. COST: Free, guided hikes $5. OPEN: Weekdays 8--4:30.
Tucked all the way back in Manoa Valley, this is a gem of an arboretum operated by the University of Hawaii. Hike to a waterfall or sit and enjoy beautiful views of the valley. You'll also see an ethnobotanical garden and one of the largest palm collections anywhere—all within a park-like setting. Its educational mission means there are regular talks and walks with university faculty. Docents give 60- to 90-minute tours weekdays at 10 am. There are also self-guided audio tours. www.hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum. COST: $5 donation. OPEN: Mon.--Fri. 8--4; Sat. 9--3.
Encompassing 4,000 acres about 45 minutes by car from Waikiki, this working ranch offers a wide range of activities—from ATV and horseback tours to hula lessons or jungle expeditions in six-wheel-drive vehicles. The mountains, which serve as the backdrop of this scenic ranch, may seem familiar as the ranch has served as the set for movies such as Jurassic Park andWind Talkers, and TV shows Magnum PI and Lost. From the grounds, you'll have a wonderful view of the ocean and Chinaman's Hat. www.kualoa.com. COST: Admission varies based on activity. OPEN: Book activities 2--3 days in advance.
If you've visited any of Oahu's other botanical gardens, this one will be in stark contrast. Inside the tallest tuff cone on Oahu, in one of the hottest and driest areas on the island, Koko Crater Botanical Garden allows visitors the opportunity to see dryland species of plants including baobab trees, cacti, plumeria, and bougainvillea. www1.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/kcbg.htm. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily sunrise--sunset.
Rolling hills carpeted in lush green grass greet the visitor to Kakaako park. Popular with local families and perfect for watching the sunset or the Friday evening sailboat races, it has a seaside promenade following a lava-rock wall. Though it has no beach access, the Diamond Head end of the promenade is a great spot to watch surfers and Friday evening fireworks off of Waikiki. OPEN: 7--7daily.
The name means "the heat" and, indeed, this windy barren coast lacks both shade and fresh water (or any man-made amenities). Pack water, wear sturdy closed-toed shoes, don sunscreen and a hat, and lock the car. The hike is along a rutted dirt road, mostly flat and 3 miles long, ending in a rocky, sandy headland. It is here that Hawaiians believed the souls of the dead met with their family gods, and, if judged worthy to enter the afterlife, leapt off into eternal darkness at Leinaakauane, just south of the point. In summer and at low tide, the small coves offer bountiful shelling; in winter, don't venture near the water. Rare native plants dot the landscape. November through March, watch for humpbacks, spouting and breaching. Binoculars and a camera are highly recommended. www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu.
The name, which means "to make a place of peace and tranquillity," describes the serenity and feeling of endless space you find in this verdant garden framed by the stunning Koolau mountain range. Inside its 400 acres are plant collections from such tropical areas as the Americas, Africa, Melanesia, the Philippines, and Hawaii. Not just for the botanist, Hoomaluhia also has a 32-acre lake and open lawns ideal for picnicking. www1.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/hmbg.htm. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 9--4.
To get a glimpse of the endangered nene, the Hawaii state bird, check out the zoo's Kipuka Nene Sanctuary. Though many animals prefer to remain invisible, particularly the elusive big cats, the monkeys appear to enjoy being seen and are a hoot to watch. It's best to get to the zoo right when it opens, since the animals are livelier in the cool of the morning. There are bigger and better zoos, but this one, though showing signs of neglect due to budget constraints, is a lush garden and has some great programs. There is lots of work going on, including the creation of a new elephant enclosure with more space for the pachyderms to roam. The Wildest Show in Town, a series of concerts ($2 donation), takes place on Wednesday evenings in summer. You can have a family sleepover inside the zoo during Snooze in the Zoo on a Friday or Saturday night every month. Or just head for the petting zoo, where kids can make friends with a llama or stand in the middle of a koi pond. There's an exceptionally good gift shop. On weekends, the Zoo Fence Art Mart, on Monsarrat Avenue on the Diamond Head side outside the zoo, has affordable artwork by contemporary artists. Metered parking is available all along the makai (ocean) side of the park and in the lot next to the zoo—but it can fill up early. TheBus, Oahu's only form of public transportation, makes stops here along the way to and from Ala Moana Center and Sea Life Park (routes 22 and 58). www.honoluluzoo.org. COST: $14. OPEN: Daily 9--4:30.