Near the ocean, inland, or inside craters, Oahu has plenty of options when it comes to parks. Residents take advantage of the island’s beautiful and unique parks for everything from birthday parties and barbeques to exercise and picnics. Visitors can take a break from the tourist-heavy neighborhood of Waikiki by walking down to Kapiolani or Ala Moana Beach Park, or hop in the car for a road trip to Waimea all the way on the north shore. Explore protected lands originally inhabited by the ancient Hawaiians at Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park, or take in views of the dramatic mountain ranges from Kualoa Regional Park. Maybe the best part? Plenty of Oahu’s parks are just steps from the beach; that means the park fun doesn’t have to end when you’re ready to take a dip in the ocean.
Located just beyond the famous Waikiki resort area, Kapiolani Park is the perfect place to escape crowds within walking distance to your Waikiki hotel. Not only are there outdoor exercise facilities and tennis courts, but the park partly borders both the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo. Don’t forget to check out who’s performing at the Waikiki Shell inside the park; past performers include Jimmy Buffett and Damian Marley!
Ka’ena Point is the only park accessible from two separate sides of the island. Since it converges onto the westernmost tip of Oahu at Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, hikers and nature lovers can enter from either the north side at Waialua or the west side at Yokohama Beach. The park itself is in a remote location and attracts activities such as hiking and fishing, as well as surfing during calm conditions (experts only — the current here is notoriously strong and unpredictable).
Just past the town of Waimanalo, Bellows is home to 50 well-maintained campsites with outdoor showers and restrooms. It is also used as a military training area, so be prepared to follow some rules if you decide to camp there (campsites are weekend-only and must be reserved online in advance). The civilian side of the beach park is completely available to the public on the weekends and has some of the very best ocean views on the island. There are lifeguard stations on the beach for added safety, making it an excellent spot for families with children to get in the water.
Up a windy road through the dense jungle of Mount Tantalus, you won’t believe that you’re only a few miles from the city at Puʻu ʻUalakaʻa State Wayside Park. Make the drive in the late afternoon and get ready for a breathtaking sunset, or visit any time of the day for sweeping panoramic views of Diamond Head and the south side of Oahu. On a clear day, Pearl Harbor is even visible in the distance. If visiting during the day, the ‘Ualaka’a Loop Trail is a great one-mile loop hike to get some nature in without venturing too far out of town (just don’t forget the bug spray). There are a few picnic tables here, with a small restroom and limited parking.
The only place on the list you’ll have to pay to enter, Waimea’s collection of botanical gardens and important cultural sites make this park worth every penny. Restrooms are available throughout the park, as well as resting areas, places to grab snacks, and informational plates explaining the significance of the plants and historical structures. The waterfall within the park is one of the most accessible on the island, with an easy paved trail leading up and a small tram for those who can’t make it up on their own.
Also known as Kahana Valley State Park, the thousands of acres that help make up Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park are known for the lush, green natural landscape and culturally significant sites. The park is home to ancient fishponds, a heiau (ancient Hawaiian temple), hiking trails, campsites, restrooms and showers.
Ala Moana Beach Park is a local favorite spot for celebrating casual barbeques and bouncy-castle birthday parties, especially considering the available amenities like restrooms, lifeguards and fresh water showers. The connecting man-made peninsula dubbed “Magic Island” has running trails and grassy areas where you’ll often find sunset yoga sessions and picnics.
Off the pristine waters of Kaneohe Bay, He’eia State Park is known for its barrier reef, ancient fishpond and epic views of the Ko’olau Mountain Range. The bay offers some of the best snorkeling on the island because of the calm water, allowing coral to thrive protected from harsh weather and currents. Enjoy a walk around the natural area, or rent a kayak to explore the sandbar — it’s truly a special place.
Most of Oahu’s visitors go to Kualoa Ranch to visit filming sites for “Jurassic Park,” but many miss out on the park across the street. Enjoy swimming, lounging, picnicking or just soak up the mountainous background. This park is famous for its unobstructed views of the small island of Mokoli’i, less than a mile offshore. Though it may seem remote, Kualoa Park still has facilities like restrooms and picnic tables.
Perhaps the most iconic landmark on Oahu, Diamond Head was formed by a volcano eruption 300,000 years ago and was once an essential lookout for the U.S. military. Now the area is a popular recreation area housing the most popular hike in the state to the edge of the crater. For those who don’t want to make the journey up, the park on the inner crater floor has separate facilities and a grassy area with picnic tables.