The Hawaiian Islands have been called many things. Paradise, utopia, tropical Eden, and surfer’s delight are just a few of the monikers the 50th state has picked up over the years. For many Americans, though, Hawaii remains a distant wonderland, out of sight and out of mind. Many locals visiting the US mainland are asked about “Hawaiian money” and if we live in grass huts (we do not), and visitors to the islands from other states frequently ask whether they need a passport (no) and will their cell phone work (yes). The Internet and President Obama have certainly reduced this disconnect, but it still happens a lot more frequently than you’d think.
Partly because of this divide, Hawaii is an incredibly provincial place with its own culture, cuisine, and lifestyle. One of the unstated tenets in this magical green paradise is closely guarding the secrets of our favorite places. In this article, we unveil one of Oahu’s gems that a majority of tourists never even hear about: Manoa Valley. Located roughly 20 minutes away from Waikiki (honestly, everything in “town”—meaning central Honolulu—is roughly 20 minutes from Waikiki), this verdant valley is home to four private high schools, including Barack Obama’s Punahou, gorgeous hikes, a marketplace for great grinds (food), a diverse arboretum, and the state’s largest university.
That may seem like a lot going on, but Manoa Valley doesn’t feel busy unless you’re coming or going at the beginning or end of the school day.
Get Your Hike On
The Lyon Arboretum, with over 194 acres of land containing more than 5,000 species of plants, is a fantastic place to start your exploration. Located in the back of the valley, the plant life is preserved and studied. Bromeliads, heliconias, gingers, and so much more thrive in 12 distinct gardens. There is also a local restaurant neatly nestled within the foliage, for those who’d like to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
A Hidden Waterfall
Behind this amazing array of flora is Manoa Falls, which depending on how ambitions you are can be either a very short or quite long hike. This area was used heavily during the filming of the TV show Lost.
The walk to the waterfall is approximately 20 minutes through dense tropical rainforest. With an average rainfall of 165 inches annually, the hike can sometimes be very muddy. Manoa Falls itself is 150 feet tall with a small pool at the bottom. It’s not a grandiose waterfall along the lines of Niagara. Instead, it’s tranquil and understated. Nevertheless, it is well worth a visit.
Often, people turn back after reaching the waterfall, assuming the hike is over. However, there is a small trail to the left as you face the waterfall that takes you up the ridge. If you’re determined, the hike can take you all the way over to the top of Tantalus. At one point of the hike you find yourself standing on the ridge overlooking Nuuanu Valley and the east side of the island—a spectacular view—while still being able to see the south coast. Many people have gotten lost hiking the back trails of Manoa, so be careful not to take on more than you can handle.
Are You Hungry Yet?
The marketplace, ingeniously named Manoa Marketplace, has a wide variety of places to eat. Here you can find just about any cuisine you can imagine. Explore Japanese sushi and ramen shops, Korean BBQ, Italian pizza and pasta, French pastries, and local favorites like manapua and crack seed (don’t worry; despite being insanely addictive, the nuts and seeds don’t contain any actual drugs).
Manoa Valley has remained very local and understated, despite all the various schools and sites located there. Because of the frequent showers, which dissipate over the Koolau mountain range, rainbows are an almost daily occurrence. Not coincidentally, the University of Hawaii sports teams are known as the Rainbow Warriors.
Next time you visit Oahu, add Manoa Valley to your list of must-see places.