The Most Non-Touristy Experiences in Hawaii

Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Oahu, Hawaii, USA | Photo by Mir Ali on Unsplash
G Wong

Writer

Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation hot spots in the Pacific, with over 8 million people flocking from all over the world to see its natural beauty and brimming culture annually. Although it’s easy to get sucked into the normal touristy destinations—like Waikīkī, luaus, and whale watching tours—adventure can be found around almost every corner if you are looking for it. From hiking, swimming, stargazing, getting involved in local events: here are the most non-touristy experiences to have in Hawaii. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Hike the Stairway to Heaven on Oʻahu

Walkers pictured on the Haiku Stairs

Those who love hiking have to climb the Hāʻiku stairs, more commonly known as the Stairway to Heaven. Located on eastern Oʻahu in a town called Kāneʻohe, the hike starts at the footsteps of the majestic Koʻolau mountain range. It is quite easy to get to, approximately 30 minutes by car from Honolulu. Although this trail is currently illegal to climb and has a security guard located at the bottom of it, many hikers still head here (starting the trail before 3a.m. to avoid the guard) to watch the sunrise from the top. Pack water and bring a special friend—this experience will forever be engraved into memory.

Hike to Hanakapiʻai Falls

Drive along the scenic highways in Hawaiʻi

Whenever possible, take the highways in Hawaiʻi—the Hawaiʻi Belt Road literally circles the island—and be greeted by local stores, beautiful private beaches, lush jungle vegetation, and smiling faces while winding and curving with the highway coastline. It may take a little longer to get from A to B, but it is absolutely worth it.

Snorkel and free dive along Oʻahu’s west coast

Turtle swimming over the coral reef

Love wildlife and swimming? Snorkeling and free diving along the west side of Oʻahu is the perfect place. Numerous animals call this coastline their home, and it is fairly easy to swim alongside some of the oceans most lovable creatures straight from the beach. The western side is home to turtle cleaning stations, where turtles swim, feed, and sleep in just a few feet of water. Don’t ever harass them, though, since they are federally protected as endangered species.

Play with marine life

Marine mammals, such as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian spinner dolphin, also take advantage of the quiet west side. Find napping monk seals on the beach and playful dolphins splashing around at the surface. Feeling adventurous? Jump in the water to see the playful dolphins underwater, but please check the ocean currents and swell, and always swim with a buddy.

Eat at a local food truck

Food trucks are scattered all over the islands, each one is different and interesting. A local favorite are the shrimp trucks in Kahuku, where fresh shrimp and grown in local aquaculture ponds and served fresh daily.

Take a helicopter tour

Kauai, Hawaii, USA

See a different perspective with a birdʻs eye view of the beautiful islands from hundreds of feet above from a reputable helicopter tour operator. Get views of the untouched valleys, secret beaches, and waterfalls of cultural significance.

Go shelling

Take a nice, quiet walk along the beach or jump into the water to find colorful seashells that canʻt be found anywhere else in the world. Bring them home as souvenirs to give to friends or families, or decorate furniture with the new ocean treasures. Make sure to check if any critters are calling the shells home before taking them.

Trade the beach for the cooler eastern coasts

Not feeling up for lounging at the beach all day? Try cruising to the lush east side of any island to find a rainier, environment to take a nap, read a book, or just relax. Be sure to take advantage of the numerous botanical gardens in the Hawaiian Islands as well and and admire their beauty.

Make a lei

No, lei is not cheesy, and yes, even locals love to wear them. Not only because they smell good, but also because it symbolizes love and acceptance. String up a lei of any flowers that grab your attention. Plumeria flowers smell the best and bloom all year long, go find one and smell it, youʻll be glad you did.

Have a sunset BBQ

Instead of wasting money at a restaurant, finish off a perfect day on the west side of any Hawaiian island with a sunset and a BBQ. It is quite magical here on the islands watching the sun set right in front of your eyes. It seems like the sun literally sinks into the water as the orange and pink hues light up the sky. Pack a cooler filled with your favorite drinks and foods, bring a stereo, some friends, and enjoy the moments. Pure magic.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

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Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

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