Hawaii is flush with the bounty of nature, and the island of Oahu is no stranger to tropical plants, wild orchids, velvet green landscapes, and an endless array of botanical gardens and blooming trees.
The island boasts no less than five tropical gardens that make full use of the natural rainforests with tropical flowers and plants.
While many visitors will make a dash for the white sand beaches or amazing Oahu tours, you should be sure to duck inland and discover another side to this Hawaiian paradise. From historic Hawaiian gardens to sprawling tropical rainforests, here are the best botanical gardens in Oahu to tour and walk around.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Ho’omaluhia, meaning “peaceful refuge” in Hawaiian, is one of the largest tropical botanical gardens in Oahu. Nestled at the base of the majestic Ko`olau Mountains, the botanic garden and tropical rainforest was established in 1982. It was designed and built by the US Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection to Kaneohe.
The island of Oahu has always been famed for its dense rain forests, awe inspiring natural beauty, and trees and orchids in bloom. This 400-acre rainforest garden certainly lives up to its Hawaiian name.
Plant groupings depict major tropical growing regions including trees and plants from Polynesia, Melanesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India, Africa, and Tropical America. The tour gardens have placed a special emphasis on conserving plants native to Honolulu, Oahu, and in general Hawaii and Polynesia, as well as aroids and heliconias.
Discover a Tropical Plant Paradise at Ho’omaluhia
Acres of trails crisscross through lush vegetation through the rainforest, taking hikers on a journey between towering tropical flowers, plants and trees, around a 32-acre shimmering lake. Unfortunately swimming in the lake is not permitted but on the island of Oahu there are plenty of lakes, plunge pools, and beaches to satisfy swimmers already.
After swinging by the visitor’s center, guests can opt for a self-guided tour beneath the towering palm trees and wild orchids. This is an incredible chance to immerse yourself in the Hawaiian flora and fauna of these native Hawaiian tropical gardens. The buzz of downtown Honolulu is sure to feel a million miles away.
For those who want to take a self-guided tour or walk of the botanical gardens this is a great way to get a taste for mini hiking in Hawaii. The island of Oahu boasts endless walks and hikes that take you from the depths of the rain forest to the tips of mountains and past a million tropical flowers. Yet, in the splendor of this tropical botanical garden you can safely explore the flowers and palms without losing your way.
Flora, Fauna, and Fun at Ho’omaluhia
In addition to driving or taking a walk through the garden’s network of trails, there are also many other recreational opportunities such as camping, hiking, picnicking, and bicycling when you want to escape from Honolulu.
If you’d like to test your luck, you can fish at the lake with bamboo poles and barbless hooks – you bring the bait! They say fresh white bread works really well. The fishing is part of the catch-and-release program. Commonly seen fish include tilapia and midas cichlid.
For those who are craving the glut of green space and the cool air of the rain forest but can’t make it to the tropical plant paradise of Ho’omaluhia, downtown Honolulu can offer a small taste of the wild. The Foster Botanical Garden is a slip of perfect paradise. Honolulu has five public botanical gardens brimming with beautiful plants, and Foster’s measures a manageable 13.5 acres.
What makes the Foster Botanical Garden stand out is the fact that it is the oldest Hawaiian garden, not just on the island of Oahu but in the whole of Hawaii. Back in the 19th century, Queen Kalama leased the land to a German botanist who introduced scores of tropical flowers and tropical plants, along with mynah birds and deer.
Later, the first director of the Foster botanical gardens would introduce thousands more tropical plants and would plant the famed orchid collection that makes Foster Botanical Garden such a fragrant pleasure to visit.
A Historic Escape in Downtown Honolulu
In the bliss of the Foster Botanical Garden visiting the orchid garden is a must. You can also find rare trees in Foster, some of which have even become extinct in the wild. A herb garden further adds to this green native Hawaiian tropical paradise, and a prehistoric garden boasts age old palm trees and plants from far beyond the borders of Hawaii. The economic Hawaiian garden also offers a fascinating look at various tropical plants and flowers that are used for medicine, food, and even fabrics.
You can opt to take a daily guided tour of the plants or you can simply choose a self-guided tour and wander through the acres of gauzy green space at your own leisure. For those who want a beautiful break from downtown Honolulu without having to step further afield – the Foster Botanical Garden is a natural pleasure playground.
Wahiawa Botanic Gardens
Acres of towering palm trees and soft fern plants make Wahiawa one of the most celebrated native Hawaiian Botanical Gardens. Away from Honolulu and nestled between the Waianae and Koolau Mountains on an elevated plateau, this tropical garden enjoys buckets of rainfall each year to help the plants and trees grow.
Wahiawa is famed for its Hawaiian palms, which provide a shady respite from the dazzling sun. The name translates to place of noise, perhaps in reference to the sound the raindrops make when they drip from the splayed fingers of the palm trees. Along with the palm plants you will find the white petals of Heaven Sent flowers, and the tropical colors of Heliconia.
Most of the plants in Wahiawa are native Hawaiian, unlike the other botanical gardens on the island of Oahu which showcase plants from across the globe. This means that Wahiawa is one of the best spots to walk and experience a true Hawaiian garden the way nature intended it at the very beginning of time.
The Lyon Arboretum botanic gardens can be found on Manoa Road in the sprawling greenery that surrounds Honolulu and makes the island of Oahu such a beautiful place to be. The botanic garden is owned by the University of Hawaii and is set in the Manoa Valley in one of the tropical rainforest zones.
The wealth of water from the sky means that this tropical garden boasts a plethora of native Hawaiian plants that are the very picture of perfect health. Again, it is also a Hawaiian garden famed for its pretty palms and colorful flowers, which look stunning from the view of an Oahu helicopter tour.
The Manoa Road Trail is famous for leading visitors to the impressive Manoa Falls. Yet there is so much more to this wonderful garden than the tumbling falls. The Manoa Road Valley botanical garden features everything; from a Bromeliad Garden to a Children’s Garden. The Native Hawaiian Garden makes for a great educational visit for those wanting to learn more about the plants from the natural landscape they are visiting.
Helpful Information for Botanical Garden Visitors
Most gardens open 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily.
Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day
Free parking and restrooms are available.