A lot has happened here in Hawaii in the last few years. I don’t have to remind you about COVID-19 and the wildfires, but one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the beauty of the islands and their appeal as vacation destinations. One of the things we love to do here is share fun things to do and, hotel reviews, off-the-bean path spots, help visitors understand these islands, share Hawaii’s Worst-Kept Secrets, and how to prepare for a memorable vacation.
Surfing Sucks- Don’t Try It
Have you ever seen or heard the meme, “surfing sucks don’t try it”? If you have then I’m sure you know the purpose behind it. Any local can attest to the frustration of their hometown becoming more and more crowded, and not just the popular towns of Hawaii like Waikiki. It’s happening everywhere.
I think there’s something to be said about this. First and foremost, the earth is a thriving place. It’s ignorant to think that population growth won’t affect your hometown. Whether it’s happening now or 25 years from now, the place that you call home will (or already does) see more people within its borders than it did when you were growing up.
I understand why so many people feel this is a bad thing. I can definitely get frustrated when trying to get around town. I wouldn’t say I like being held up by slow-moving cars, hoards of tour bus pedestrians crossing the road, or unusual traffic, all caused by overcrowding. But all that being said, if you don’t change your attitude about it, you’ll always be conflicted by it. Unfortunately, it is inevitable, and the only way to stay happy amongst an ever-growing population is to embrace it. Or at least learn to accept it. Or move I guess. I know it’s hard.
So in honor of changing our attitude toward population growth, I’m highlighting Hawaii’s worst-kept secrets. The destinations of the islands are what everyone knows about, but the locals wish they could be kept secret forever.
It’s these ‘secrets’ that give visitors a unique experience in Hawaii though, which they have a right to enjoy. Everyone deserves to have an insightful and fun vacation right? Locals from the islands want to know about the best nightclubs in Vegas or the secret surf spots in California, just like I wanted to know about the best wineries in Bordeaux or the most fun place to surf in Barbados when I traveled there.
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Hawaii’s Worst Kept Secrets
This is why I’m sharing the top things about Hawaii that should have been kept a secret a long time ago, but are now widely known for your vacation pleasure. Enjoy.
There was a time when visitors came to Hawaii but didn’t swim. Well, they did swim, but it was in layered gowns, stockings, wool suits, and swimming caps and only wading out to their waists. Getting in the water wasn’t a widely enjoyed outdoor activity, especially because bathing suits (especially for women) were very uncommon until about the early 1900s. So you can bet that Hawaii’s now popular water activity- snorkeling- was definitely not a common thing to do. Thus the waters were void of snorkelers.
But today, snorkeling has become one of the top ocean sports for visitors to partake in during their Hawaii experience. Which means many of the top snorkel spots are crowded. But if you’re adventurous enough, there are coastlines, coves, and beaches that are snorkel-friendly AND uncrowded, you have to be willing to explore a little. Top snorkel spots that are Hawaii’s worst-kept secrets are Hanauma Bay in Honolulu, Shark’s Cove on Oahu’s North Shore, Poipu Beach on Kauai, Molokini off of Maui and Kahaluu in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. Remember, if it’s crowded, it must be for a reason!
Hawaii has quite possibly one of the most popular food truck scenes in the country. From bakeries and shave ice shops on wheels to the famous shrimp trucks of Oahu’s North Shore, these ‘meal on wheels’ didn’t used to be such common knowledge. Elena’s, which is known as one of the first food trucks in Hawaii, has been serving up incredible Filipino food since 1974 and is constantly being featured on dining and food and dining television shows. They began by serving up family recipes that had been brought over from the Philippines and dishes like their Pork Adobo Fried Rice Omelette became a national hit.
Hawaii’s working class was really the first one to take advantage of these food trucks. They were cheap meals that could be prepared fast and fill the belly. Many locals still make food trucks their go-to lunch spots, but word has spread and they are now a popular destination for tourists as well. And if you haven’t heard about the shrimp truck craze on Oahu’s North Shore, then I guess the secret has been kept better than we think! Top food trucks that are Hawaii’s worst-kept secret are Elena’s, Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck, Leonard’s Bakery, and Pupukea Grill.
When driving this road, I always try to imagine what it must have been like back in the day when no one else was on it. You could probably drive faster than 20mph, not see another car for hours, and stop in the middle of the road to open your doors and take in the views. The remote area of Hana on Maui is no secret though, and many vacationers make it a point to explore the highway during their trip to the Valley Isle. However, it’s not as traversed as it could be, since some tourists are deterred by the extremely windy (curvy not breezy) road.
The views in Hana change from lush green rainforest with tumbling waterfalls to dramatic sea cliff vistas to drier, desert-like pastures. It’s a mix of landscapes and so worth the tour! Just don’t expect to have an easy drive- many people traverse this highway every day, both tourists and locals alike. So you won’t have a big empty road to kick gravel up and fly around corners, sorry.
In the late 19th century, before the roads were built, there was a railroad that stretched around the island, past Waimea Bay, and all the way up to Laie point. You can see images of this railroad in old shops, like at the Waialua Sugar Mill, Jerry’s Pizza, and throughout Haleiwa’s small stores. One thing you’ll notice is that there was hardly anyone on the beaches.
Waimea Bay is an extreme dichotomy. In the summer months, it is as gentle as a lake with crystal clear waters and sand that stretches almost up to the valley behind it. But in the wintertime, the waves pound the shoreline, which rumbles beneath your feet, and trying to create a beach day here during this time isn’t recommended. Nevertheless, Waimea Bay is packed with people year-round. You can swim, snorkel, surf, bodysurf, jump off rocks into the waters below, BBQ, and picnic, plus there is an easily accessible parking lot with restrooms and fresh showers.
Waimea was once the location of an ancient Hawaiian ahupua’a, and Captain Cook also moored his ships here. The North Shore was a very remote area of Oahu, as it took a three-hour train ride to get from Honolulu to Haleiwa, and the only ‘destination’ was the Haleiwa Hotel. Today, the North Shore is an extremely popular point of interest, and Waimea Bay can sometimes get just as crowded as Waikiki.
Other worst-kept secrets of Hawaii include the entire island of Kauai, the Pipeline (most surfers would argue the entire 7 Mile Miracle too), camping spots around the islands, Waikiki, (try telling HTA that!), the volcanoes of Big Island, Mt. Haleakala on Maui, Kokee on Kauai and every beautiful beach that the state offers