Picture it: You’ve had a busy morning on Oahu and have already had lunch. You’re too tired to take a full- or even half-day excursion anywhere, but aren’t ready to head back to your hotel room. Besides a short stint at the beach, what’s a visitor to do?

Here, we have your top 5 Oahu excursions when you’re short on time, but still want to make the most of your Hawaii vacation:

1. Waikiki Aquarium: Located right across the street from the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium is the perfect place to spend as little — or as much — time as you want. There, you’ll find 15 different exhibits, including tanks dedicated to seahorses, corals, and octopuses. Although there’s lots to see, the space is quite small which lends itself to a quick visit. Outside, you’ll find a touch pool and monk seals, in case you want to linger a little longer.

2. Nuuanu Pali Lookout: Just a five-mile drive northeast from downtown Honolulu, you’ll find the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, which offers panoramic views of the sheer Koolau cliffs and the lush Windward side. The stone terrace overlooks the areas of Kaneohe and Kailua, Mokolii (a pointy island locals call Chinaman’s Hat) and the University of Hawaii’s marine biology research center, Coconut Island. Other notable landmarks that can be seen are Hawaii Pacific University’s Windward campus, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base and the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, which is part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. The best part? You can be in-and-out in less than an hour. Of course, if you’re NOT short on time, but still want to include the Nuuanu Pali Lookout in your itinerary, consider taking a Circle Island Tour, offered by Hawaii Jeep Tours. In addition to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, you’ll stop at a Mac Nut Farm, Sunset Beach, and Haleiwa Town.

a crowd looking over the nuuanu pali lookout

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

The Nuuanu Pali Lookout is a quick-stop for visitors in a hurry. However, the site offers panoramic views of the lush windward side of Oahu--well worth a visit!

3. King Kamehameha Statue: King Kamehameha was such a strong influence in Hawaii, each and every visitor should learn more about this amazing historical figure. The most recognized Kamehameha statue stands in front of Aliiolani Hale (home to the Hawaii State Supreme Court) across from Iolani Palace and a short walk from historic Kawaiahao Church and the State Capitol. If you love history and have another few minutes to spare, check-out the Duke Kahanamoku statue on Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. Duke Kahanamoku was a true Hawaiian hero and one of the world’s greatest watermen, a master of swimming, surfing and outrigger canoe paddling.

4. Kawaiahao Church: This historic church is sometimes called the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific” for a reason. It’s registered on the state and national registers of historic sites because this is the site where, in 1820, missionaries were granted permission to establish their residence. Since then, the church has served many functions, including as a sanctuary in 1900, when a fire displaced thousands of residents and again in 1941 during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The tower clock is called the Kauikeaouli clock in memory of King Kamehameha III, it’s donor, and dates back to 1850. And, take a moment to see the Kawaiahao fountain, named after the High Chiefess Hao, who frequented the freshwater spring located in this location. Thu,s the Church bears her name: Ka Wai a Hao – the water of Hao.

kawaiahao church

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ)

Kawaiahao Church is one of the oldest sites on Oahu, but is still in operation today. If you visit during a church service, you can still tour the outside grounds.

5. Valley of the Temples: If you don’t have a lot of time, but want to get outside and absorb some spiritual culture, take a trip to the the Valley of the Temples on the windward side near Kaneohe. The park features a 1968 replica of the 11th-century Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-In Buddhist temple complex in Uji, Japan. Inside the main part of the temple is a 9 ft. Amida Buddha statue sitting on a gold lotus leaf. Also on the grounds are large Catholic statues depicting the Passion of Christ, the Virgin Mary, various Catholic saints, crypts and mausoleums of some of the most influential people in Hawaii.

You may be surprised how much culture you can absorb in such a short amount of time when you visit these “in a hurry” Oahu excursions. So, grab your water bottle, hit a few of these sites, and still be back in time for dinner!


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