Oahu’s botanical gardens are as beautiful as they are different. Best of all, they provide a tranquil break from the bustling atmosphere of Honolulu city. Whether it is your first time to the island or your 15th, save some time to explore one of these serene spots.
One of the best-kept secrets of Oahu’s Manoa Valley is located just 5 short miles from busy Waikiki. Here you will find 194 acres of rainforests with over 5,000 different tropical plants and flora thriving in the rainy climate (the area gets an average of 165 inches of rain annually). If you don’t have time for the popular Manoa Falls hike nearby, come to Lyon Arboretum to enjoy the garden’s 7 miles of hiking trails that range from 450 feet to 1,850 feet in elevation.
If that doesn’t convince you, Lyon Arboretum is owned and managed by the students and staff at the University of Hawaii, so your admission price goes toward the conservation and research of important Hawaiian plants. Students, scientists, and teachers use the land here as an “outdoor laboratory,” with collections of living plants used for educational activities and seed exchange programs. Visitors are asked to donate whatever they can to enter the grounds.
Foster Botanical Garden
What makes the island of Oahu so unique? The flawless blend of city and nature! Foster Botanical Garden and its tropical collection of plants and trees provides perhaps the best example of this dynamic. The 14-acre, hidden zen-like oasis is located right in the middle of bustling downtown Honolulu, though you would never know it.
The botanical garden features an outdoor butterfly garden and an indoor orchid greenhouse as its highlights, with free guided tours offered every day at 10:30 am (though self-guided tours are available during all open hours with the help of a visitor map). Some of the trees at Foster’s were planted as early as the 1850s by Dr. William Hillebrand, a famous German physician and botanist who spent over 20 years in the Hawaiian islands. Admission costs $5 for adults and $1 for children aged 6-12.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Only in Hawaii would you expect to find a thriving botanical garden inside of a volcanic crater. Koko Crater Botanical Garden was created in 1958 when 60 acres inside the basin of the 200-acre crater were set aside for the development of a botanical garden. The garden specializes in desert-like, dryland plants from cactus and succulents, palms, African and Madagascan plants, and of course Hawaiian plants. Another highlight making this space truly special is the plumeria grove, featuring plenty of photo-worthy flowers that both smell amazing and embody Hawaii.
The gardens are open daily from sunrise to sunset and admission is completely free. A self-guided tour takes visitors on an interpretive 2-mile loop through the space.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Located in the rainy windward town of Kaneohe, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden (Hawaiian for “peaceful refuge”) is the perfect place to enjoy nature with friends and family. On Saturdays and Sundays, participate in the catch-and-release program with provided bamboo poles and barbless hooks to fish for tilapia and micas cichlids in the lake, and there are a number of designated camping sites to enjoy the garden overnight.
The 400-acre botanical garden has been around since 1982 and features plants from all over the world grouped geographically. Find collections from the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and more as you wander throughout the massive grounds.
Waimea Valley on the north side of Oahu is one of the epicenters of Hawaiian culture and history on the island. From weekly farmers markets to authentic luaus, special events and education programs, there is always something going on inside this peaceful garden space. The importance of the valley was first recognized by Kamehameha I himself in 1795, though ownership changed hands many times until 2003 when a collaboration between the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Army, and the Trust for Public Lands put the land back into the trusty hands of a Native Hawaiian non-profit agency.
These days, Waimea Valley is used to preserve the natural resources of the sacred land for generations to come. Check the events page for complimentary walking tours led by botany specialists and historians, or visit during a Hawaiian cultural demonstration. Even if you come simply to explore the gardens via paved trail and swim under the natural 45-foot waterfall, Waimea is a must-visit on the north shore.
Find Moanalua Gardens a few miles northwest of Honolulu off of the Moanalua Freeway. The history of Moanalua goes all the way back to 1884, when the land was inherited by banker and businessman of the Hawaiian kingdom Samuel Mills Damon. While the land inherited by Damon originally consisted of 6,000 acres, the present-day Moanalua Gardens only spans 24 acres (though ownership has remained in the family). Highlights here include the Kamehameha V Cottage, originally built in the 1850s to house King Kamehameha V, and the Hitachi Tree, a massive Monkeypod tree that has become famous in Japan.