1. The Surfboard Fence
Why It’s Awesome: Donald Dettloff’s surfboard fence started in 1990 when he heard a hurricane was approaching and wired his boards together to keep them from blowing away. Instead of taking it down when the weather had cleared, he decided to keep it up and continue adding boards. Now he has 647 different surfboards, displayed around his property in Haiku, Maui, which earned him a Guinness World Record for the largest collection of surfboards.
Accessibility: The fence is on Kaupakalua Road and can’t be missed.
2. Moiliili Underground Caves
Why It’s Awesome: The neighborhood of Moiliili, Oahu, sits over cavernous limestone caves, which are said to be dark, cramped, and filled with water. The limestone base was formed from an old coral reef, and rainwater caused it to erode creating caves.
Accessibility: The caves are accessible, but good luck getting anyone to tell you where there’s an entrance. Additionally, the quality of the air and water in the caves is poor and possibly hazardous.
3. Redwood Trail
Why It’s Awesome: Over the course of three decades beginning in 1927, the USDA Forest Service planted 130,000 redwood trees across the Hawaiian Islands. The trees were planted to reestablish watershed ruined from logging in the 1800s, and were used before native conservation was prioritized. Even though the trees are not as tall as those in California, their growth in the warm climate, cool mists, and high elevations of the islands is still awe-inspiring.
Accessibility: Redwood Trail is accessed from Maui’s Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area.
4. Sanju Pagoda
Why It’s Awesome: Built in 1966, the 119-foot pagoda at Honolulu Memorial Park on Oahu is a replica of a temple in Japan. It is said to be the largest pagoda in the U.S.
Accessibility: The pagoda once housed urns, but it is now crumbling and has been closed due to safety concerns, although it can still be viewed from the outside.
5. The Wallaby Colony
Why It’s Awesome: In 1916, two brush-tailed rock-wallabies escaped from a private zoo, after being attacked by dogs. The male and female wallaby went into Kalihi Valley, where nature took its course, and now it is believed a community of wallabies lives there.
Accessibility: No one really knows how many wallabies live in Kalihi, since they are very rarely seen, but every few years someone captures one of them on film.
6. Red Hill
Why It’s Awesome: Inside Red Hill, and 450 feet underground, runs a train that services 20 massive fuel tanks that were built to be safe from attack during the World War II era. It’s one of Hawaii’s most amazing engineering feats and was placed alongside the Eiffel Tower, Hoover Dam, and Panama Canal as a historic landmark. It is still used by the Navy, and fuel flows directly from the facility through a three-mile tunnel to Pearl Harbor.
Accessibility: It was top secret until the 1990s when it was declassified. After the Sept. 11 attacks, tightened security made Red Hill off limits to the general public.
7. Kapiolani Community College Cactus Garden
Why It’s Awesome: This cactus garden is a labor of love, founded by Moriso Teraoka in 1988, who ordered the plants from catalogs and later donated them to the school on Oahu. Now in his eighties, Teraoka still maintains the garden with the help of volunteers.
Accessibility: The garden is located on Kapiolani Community College’s campus near Diamond Head and is free to view.
8. Koloa Sugar Mill
Why It’s Awesome: Founded in 1835, this sugar mill on Kauai was used during Hawaii’s plantation era, when much of the islands were owned by the five big pineapple and sugar corporations. The mill operated for 161 years before it shut its doors in 1996.
Accessibility: The sugar mill is protected by an enclosed fence, but its rusted shell can still be viewed from afar.
9. Big Island Bees
Why It’s Awesome: Garnett Puett became famous in New York for his beehive sculptures, which are now included in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., before moving to the Big Island to start his bee farm.
Accessibility: Big Island Bees in the Kailua-Kona area includes a free museum on the history of beekeeping and honey tasting.
10. David Hockney’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges
Why It’s Awesome: The Honolulu Museum of Art’s second location, Spalding House, sits on the hillside of Oahu’s Makiki Heights and overlooks the city. It features a site-specific installation by David Hockney called L’Enfant et les sortilèges with backdrops and props inspired by Maurice Ravel’s children opera of the same name. The immersive space simulates an eerie and magical place from another world.
Accessibility: The museum is easily reached from Honolulu, and admission costs $10 for adults.
11. Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau
Why It’s Awesome: This heiau is the largest on the island and sits on a hillside overlooking Waimea Bay. It may have been constructed as early as the 1600s, and for the Hawaiians it served as a major focal point for social and political activity. During the late 1700s, when there was great upheaval, it is likely that humans were sacrificed at the temple, possibly for success in war.
Accessibility: The heiau is off of Pupukea Homestead Road and is free to the public during daylight hours.
12. Manoa Chinese Cemetery
Why It’s Awesome: This is the oldest and largest Chinese cemetery in the state. At the top of the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Chinese Soldiers, where the remains of seven Chinese soldiers who died during World War II were buried in the 1940s after being shipped to Hawaii by accident.
Accessibility: The cemetery sits on a slope in the back of Manoa Valley, Oahu, which is easily accessed from Manoa Road.
13. The Liljestrand House
Why It’s Awesome: This house built for Betty and Howard Liljestrand in 1952 on the side of Oahu’s Mount Tantalus was designed by Vladimir Ossipoff, who pioneered Hawaii’s mid-20th-century modern architecture. It is one of Ossipoff’s most spectacular homes, fitting in seamlessly with its unusual rainforest surroundings.
Accessibility: One of the Liljestrand’s children, Bob, hopes the residence will serve to inspire lovers of architecture and design and shows the house on request.
14. Kahumana Farm and Café
Why It’s Awesome: This farm, café, and temple is an organic gem that grows everything from papayas to daikon and is situated in the back of Oahu’s Waianae Valley. They also have an aquaponics garden, where fish poo is used to feed plants.
Accessibility: Visitors are welcome to check out the farm and eat at the café.
15. Kaahumanu Church
Why It’s Awesome: In Wailuku on Maui, this church is an important reminder of Hawaii’s missionary history. It was designed to resemble New England’s gothic architecture and was built with local materials on the grounds of a heiau in 1876. For many years, the clock on the steeple was central to Maui time and was even designated as the official town clock in 1964.
Accessibility: The building is deteriorating, but the church still serves a small congregation, who hope to restore it. Every Sunday, services are held and hymns are sung in Hawaiian.
16. Mu-Ryang-Sa Buddhist Temple
Why It’s Awesome: The temple’s name, Mu-Ryang-Sa, means “Broken Ridge Temple.” The construction of the first temple began in the 1980s, but the neighbors complained that the roof of the main hall exceeded city and county height limitation. The roof was eventually topped and construction was finally completed after 13 years. The colorful Buddhist temple is built in traditional Korean style with a gate featuring the Four Heavenly Kings, a bell tower, and a peace pagoda.
Accessibility: The temple sits in the back of Oahu’s Palolo Valley and welcomes visitors.
Why It’s Awesome: The so-called Forbidden Isle is owned by the Robinson family and is home to about 300 native Hawaiians, who live mostly a subsistence lifestyle and speak Hawaiian as their first language. There’s a church, playground, and school, and bicycles are the primary form of transportation. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a lost Japanese pilot crashed on the island and was captured by locals and eventually killed.
Accessibility: This island can be seen by helicopter tour, but you will not be allowed into the town Puuwai — at least without special permission from the Robinson family.
18. The Vintage Cave
Why It’s Awesome: Headed by 29-year-old chef Chris Kajioka, the restaurant is said to source the most unusual ingredients found on the island as well as have the most spectacular wine cellar. Artworks by Pablo Picasso, Anton Molnar, Zhou Ling, and others valued at more than $1 billion hang from the brick walls of the dimly lit restaurant.
Accessibility: At $295 for a meal and with membership fees starting at $5,000, this is the most expensive and exclusive restaurant on Oahu. If you can afford it, the entrance to the restaurant is in Ala Moana Center mall.
19. Zoe The Golden Zebra
Why It’s Awesome: Zoe is a rare golden zebra with gold stripes, blonde hair, and blues eyes. She is not an albino, but her golden color is caused from amelanosis, which is characterized by a lack of pigmentation. The golden zebras are not known to survive in the wild, because they are targeted by predators for looking different, and Zoe is the only known golden zebra in captivity.
Accessibility: Zoe lives at the Three Ring Ranch Exotic Sanctuary on the Big Island, which does educational tours by appointment for small groups of six or more.
20. East-West Center
Why It’s Awesome: Designed by Architect I.M. Pei, this building on the University of Hawaii Manoa’s campus was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1960 for education and research related to strengthening relations with the Asia-Pacific region. President Barack Obama’s mother Ann Dunham studied at the East-West Center beginning in 1973, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke here in 2010. It’s open design is stunning and features a tranquil zen garden in the back.
Accessibility:The East-West Center has an art gallery with changing exhibitions that welcomes visitors.
21. The Corsair Airplane Wreck
Why It’s Awesome: This plane has been underwater since 1946, when the pilot ditched it after engine problems during an exercise. The plane lies on the sandy floor about 100 feet deep, where it is guarded by eels and rays, and is still in good condition with the propeller standing tall and the cockpit seat still intact.
Accessibility: If you scuba dive, the wreck is accessible from Oahu’s Portlock.
22. Manoa Cliff Native Forest Restoration Project
Why It’s Awesome: A lot of plants that are common in Hawaii, like the plumeria and bird of paradise, are not native to the islands. The Manoa Cliff Restoration Project received a grant from the state in 2005 to promote native plant growth across a six-acre area that has been fenced off to keep wild pigs from destroying the land.
Accessibility: The conservation area can be accessed by a short hike. The group meets every Sunday to work on the area, and volunteers are welcomed.