Despite what people may think, there’s much more to Hawaii than sandy beaches, and if you’re looking for a more “in-touch-with-nature” Oahu holiday, the botanical gardens are what you’re looking for.
The islands are blessed with tropical lush vegetation, and a unique environment made of tropical dry and wet rainforests, with plenty of endemic plants that can only be found in Hawaii.
If you want to experience Oahu to the fullest, you should add the botanical gardens to your island bucket list.
Read my guide to find out everything you need to know about these incredible Oahu destinations.
Where are the Botanical Gardens in Oahu? Are they worth visiting?
Visiting the botanical gardens in Oahu is great for mindfully enjoying the local nature. While hiking around Oahu is perfect to spend a day in nature, you’ll just appreciate the surroundings, and you won’t probably pay as much attention to the stunning native vegetation.
The botanical gardens offer the opportunity to observe the rarest tropical plants and learn more about their history and biology without having to scout them out hiking.
There are more than 10 botanical gardens in Oahu, all worth visiting for different reasons.
You can find the botanical gardens mostly on the south and east coast of the island, around Honolulu, but the northern shores also feature some interesting gardens.
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My Top 6 Botanical Gardens in Oahu
1. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Looking for the most beautiful botanical garden in the world? You may have found your piece of heaven on earth.
Located just outside Honolulu, the stunning Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are nestled between Kaneohe and the Ko’olau mountains, which make for the dramatic backdrop of the gardens.
Deeply forested and blessed with a peaceful atmosphere, this is a perfect destination for a peaceful and tranquil day away from the capital.
The grounds of this botanical garden are huge, and the trails and paths one could follow are virtually endless.
While walking around the gardens is great, consider renting a car to explore the garden more freely and without having to worry too much about distances.
Some gorgeous lookouts and viewpoints are significantly easier to reach with a car than on foot.
Another thing to know about the garden is that it is mostly a “tree” botanical garden, and not as much a “flower” one.
This means lush greenery, but not as many tropical flowers to observe.
The strong point of this garden is its incredible landscape and stunning mountain backdrop.
Admission to the park is free, making the gardens perfect for travelers on a budget, or big groups.
2. Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Located on the backside of Koko Crater, this botanical garden is truly outstanding: a plant enthusiasts’ perfect destination.
Forget about any botanical garden you’ve been to, this is something else entirely.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden is split into different themed areas: Hawaii, Madagascar, Africa, and the Americas.
Each area features different kinds of trees and flowers, so especially for the flowers you want to check beforehand what kinds are blooming and in which season.
Several hiking paths lead you through the park, but don’t expect much more than signaling. While the park is clean and well kept, it’s relatively spartan and basic, with plants growing freely like in the jungle and no greenhouses.
The most popular trail is the 2-mile-long loop that goes around the Koko Crater. The rocky path is covered in cactuses and other tropical greenery.
This is a great park for those looking for some adventure unspoiled by comfort.
The only equipment you’ll find in the Koko Crater Botanical Garden are picnic tables, so remember to bring water with you, as well as snacks, solar protection, and other necessities.
3. Foster Botanical Garden
The Foster Botanical Garden is a hidden gem in the heart of Honolulu. A perfect break from the metropolis, without having to leave the metropolis.
This 14 acres of botanical garden boasts a lush and diverse natural environment (palms, vines, flowers, and much more), and is a great location for observing the local wildlife.
If you’re interested in bird watching, you can download all the info on the botanical gardens’ bird population here, or you can ask at the info point for a brochure.
Inside the Foster Botanical Garden, you’ll also find an area dedicated to butterflies and greenhouses inhabited by lovely geckos.
To make the most of your time at the botanical garden, I recommend going for the 90-minute long self-guided tour. You can visit the garden at your own pace, without missing any of the highlights, or having to worry about the itinerary.
4. Waimea Botanical Garden and Waimea Falls
Waimea Valley is one of the most gorgeous naturalistic areas in Oahu, blessed with awe-inspiring scenery at every turn.
The most popular way to experience Waimea Valley is to take the hiking path that leads to the Waimea Falls.
After a scenic hike surrounded by lush tropical nature, you’ll reach the waterfalls, which dropped into a natural pool.
And guess what: you can swim in the waterfall pool. The water tends to be pretty cold, but it can be rewarding to swim and cool down after the hike.
While the falls may be the main attractions, you don’t need to rush to reach them. There is plenty to see in the Valley and the over 52 gardens are worth exploring.
Take your time to wander around the side paths and lesser beaten trails, and you’ll likely run into the perfect secluded photo opportunity.
The Waimea Valley is known for the many species of exotic tropical flowers that break the greenery with their vibrant colors. Check out the official guide to the Waimea botanical collection here.
The area is also inhabited by stunning peacocks that can be easily encountered and are usually used to seeing people.
Entrance tickets to the Valley can go from $8 to $25 and can be easily purchased on the official fees website. I recommend booking the tickets in advance to avoid lines.
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2 Japanese Botanical Gardens in Oahu
5. East-West Center Japanese Garden
The East-West Center Japanese Garden was built in the traditional Japanese zen style and the tranquil atmosphere surely reflects that.
This is a great location for those looking for a relaxing spot away from the city’s hustle and bustle, or maybe looking for a peaceful picnic.
Sure, the garden is much smaller compared to the others listed here, but is just as beautiful and still fun to explore. Also, it’s completely free!
While the beauty of the gardens makes it a tourist spot, the locals love it as well and often spend their afternoons in this relaxed setting.
This is a trendy location among the local university students, who love coming to the Japanese Garden to relax between classes.
6. Byodo-In Temple and Gardens
Want to make your holiday into two holidays? Check out the Byodo-In Temple and you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Kyoto, in Japan.
If you’re looking for a complete change of scenery and a serene atmosphere, check out the Valley of Temples Memorial Park, where you’ll find the mesmerizing Byodo-In Temple.
This non-denominational temple is a replica of the larger original temple that can be found in Kyoto, but despite it being smaller and more recently built, the Hawaiian Byodo-In temple remains an absolute must-see on Oahu.
Visiting the temple is a great way to recharge your batteries, take a walk in the shade and enjoy the peaceful vibe.
For some fun activities, you can try ringing the temple’s bell three times, feeding the koi carps and many swans and peacocks that inhabit the park, or just take a stroll around the temple’s grounds and wait for the perfect photo opportunity (don’t worry, the temple is simply stunning from any angle).
The temple also has great historical value as it was built to celebrate 100 years of Japanese culture arriving in Hawaii.
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What about the other islands of Hawaii? Are there more Botanical Gardens to visit?
While the most popular botanical gardens are in Oahu, the other islands of Hawaii also feature some interesting gardens:
- The Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park of Kuai, both feature amazing tropical flora, and a series of bronze statues scattered across the grounds of the park, which make this location truly unique.
- The Kula Botanical Gardens of Maui is the home of hundreds of wild chameleons. You can find these super interesting (and cute!) animals all year round, but you’ll have the best chance to observe them during Spring and Fall.
- A real must on the Island of Hawaii is the Liliuokalani Gardens. This Japanese-style garden is midway between an Edo-era park and a tropical botanical garden.
If “koi ponds meet gigantic Banyan trees” is your thing, the Liliuokalani Gardens are the way to go.
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Traveling to Hawaii? Here are more suggestions to help you plan the perfect holiday:
When visiting Hawaii, a day at the beach is an absolute must. If you’re planning a trip and you’re not sure which Hawaiian shores are worth visiting, check out my article on The 12 Best Beaches in Kauai and the 10 Best Beaches in Oahu.
Looking for some unusual destinations and fun activities? Take inspiration from the 20 Best Places To Visit In Hawaii.