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Honolulu: Natural Hawaii

updated February 21, 2017

SEE Foster Botanical Garden
50 N. Vineyard Blvd., 808/522-7060, co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/hbg/fbg.htm
A 14-acre living testament to the flowers, herbs, orchids, and palms that have flourished in Hawaii since the 1850s. With the help of a free tour book, track down the double coconut palm that can produce a 50-pound nut, as well as Honolulu's official tree, the rainbow shower tree (which can grow as high as 40 feet). Free tours weekdays at 1 p.m. $5 adults, $1 kids.

SEE Nu'uanu Pali Lookout
Near the summit of Pali Hwy.
For one of the best views on the island, brave the 35 mph-plus gusts that-over centuries-have carved out dramatic finger-like cliffs that face east towards Kailua. To the right of the lookout, the Old Pali Highway makes a pleasant little detour on foot. Note: TheBus does not stop here.

SEE Waimea Valley Audubon Center
59-864 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/638-9199, audubon.org
One of the most tranquil places on the island, spanning 1,875 shady acres. A paved path meanders from the visitors center to a swimming hole at the base of a 40-foot waterfall. A dip here makes a refreshing reward before heading back down to the car. $8, kids $5.

PLAY Diamond Head Crater
Enter from Diamond Head Rd. near 18th Ave.
The sweeping panoramic view of eastern Koko Head, Waikiki's pearly sand, downtown's skyscrapers, and Barber's Point (the southwestern corner of Oahu) is worth every step of the 1.75-mile climb to the top of this 760-foot volcanic crater. $1.

PLAY Ka'ena Point State Park
End of Farrington Hwy., Makaha
At the very western tip of the island, Pohaku o Kauai ("Rock of Kauai") is where legend says souls depart this world for the next. To get there, you'll have to hike a couple of miles on a dirt path (it begins where the road ends) to one of the outcroppings over the water-the sunsets here are worth it, and you'll probably have the view to yourself.

PLAY Kualoa Regional Park
Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe
A 150-acre, tree-lined peninsula perfect for a picnic lunch, especially with the scenic, craggy peaks of the Koolau Range in the background. On the windward coast, tales still circulate about hearing drums and seeing night marchers after the sun goes down.

PLAY Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park
North of Honolulu; 2.5 miles up Round Top Dr. from Makiki St.
Jaw-dropping views of southern Oahu; at night, Honolulu's twinkling city lights inspire smitten lovers to "park" here.

SPLURGE Surfing Lessons
Surf N Sea, 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, 808/637-9887, surfnsea.com
Instructors help beginners catch waves, stand up on the board, hang 10 (all toes curled over the edge), and even make turns. $75 for two hours, includes board rental.

Oahu doesn't take itself too seriously. While there's plenty of respect for history and culture, there's also an appreciation for the kitsch inextricably linked to Hawaiian tourism. Locals and visitors alike go for hula-girl bottle openers and aloha belt buckles. If you have serious shopping stamina, brave the stalls at the outdoor International Market Place (2330 Kalakaua Ave., 808/971-2080). Otherwise, retreat to two surprisingly good sources for cheap souvenirs: Kmart (500 Nimitz Hwy., 808/528-2280, plus three other locations around the island) and Longs Drugs (2220 S. King St., 808/949-4781), which carries a wide selection of inexpensive leis made from fresh flowers, dried kukui nuts, macadamia nuts, or candy.

Having a car in Waikiki is unnecessary and parking is expensive, up to $15 a day. The area is a maze of dead ends and one-ways, many of which seem to be permanently under construction. It's better to rent a car on the days you know you want to venture out of Honolulu. Stay off the roads during rush hour: There are only three major highways on the island and they're jammed on weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. On Friday nights, rush hour extends until 8 p.m. If you do hit traffic, don't lay on the horn; it's considered rude. Honolulu locals will give directions by telling you to head makai (toward the ocean, or south), mauka (towards the mountains/north), toward Diamond Head (east), or toward Ewa (west).

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