Sure visitors flock to Oahu for its golden crescents of sand and it's surf-centered sports. But whenever I'm on the island, I don my walking or hiking shoes to explore some of my favorite parks and gardens.
I didn't run into anyone at Ka'ena Point, the western most point of Oahu that's accessible only by foot or mountain bike. This wind-swept expanse of dunes and tiny beaches is an albatross nesting site where, on my several visited, I spied monk seals, dolphins, whales, and green sea turtles.
Not far from Diamond Head, the Koko Crater Botanical Garden is lush with sweet-smelling plumeria trees. In this 200-acre arid garden that's set in two craters, I again was one of only few visitors. This time I was mesmerized by the towering crater walls.
At Makapuu Point, I walked a road to the lighthouse that hugs a lava cliff where I had panoramic views of the Koko Crater and Molokai. I even spotted some whales in the open ocean as I took the unofficial cliff trail to the bottom.
It's easy to spend the whole day in Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens, which is blessed with 400 verdant acres laden with heliconia and other sweet-smelling blossoms and other plants from around the world. I strolled the more than half dozen different trails that wander through a landscape rimmed with sheer-walled cliffs and the ocean beyond. This garden couldn't be a more perfect place to lay out the beach blanket and chill.
I knew it was impossible to walk the entire 700+ acres of the leafy Senator Fong's Plantation Gardens. Luckily, they provide a narrated tram tour as well as guided nature walks through a small portion of this green space. Here, I learned how kukio nut trees are used to make hair conditions; ti leaves are considered good luck; mango is related to poison ivy; queen ginger can grow to 10 feet tall and a rose apple smells like a rose and tastes like an apricot.