Fun and Unique Things To Do In Manoa

There is more to this valley than the often advertised Manoa falls hike. As a local Manoan, I’ve had the privilege of being able to do a multitude of activities in the valley, though some like crawling through the drainage pipe at the park and catching crayfish in the stream are no longer as feasible as they were in the nineties.

By REAL. Updated May 10, 2023. | Living in Hawaii | 6 min. read

Pu‘u Pia Trail

I much prefer this hike to Manoa Falls. Parking is on Alani Drive and is then a quick walk down Alani Lane, following the signs for the hike. You’ll soon come upon the entrance for Pu’u Pia Trail. Total cost for this hike? Free. This is one of my favorite hikes to do when I need to get out in nature but feel too lazy to go far. The trail switches quickly between different types of vegetation. One way is about 1.2 miles and the elevation change is 400 feet. As you hike, you will see koa trees, eucalyptus, strawberry guava, and naupaka. The hike takes a total of around an hour and a half to complete depending on your pace.

This is a less crowded hike especially in the early morning. The hike is a bit steep, and can get slippery and muddy with recent rains on exposed tree roots. If you feel so inclined, there is a small clearing before the top where you can sit for a rest and enjoy some snacks or lunch.

I always feel pretty accomplished when I reach the clearing at the top denoted by a simple bench. At the bench you can look out and see a panoramic view of the valley from mountain to ocean. If you feel daring, you can go beyond the bench (carefully) and through some thorny ferns to touch the telephone poles that you can see from the valley floor below. When driving away you can look back up to the top and say to yourself you were there.

Lyon Arboretum

Often overlooked by locals and tourists alike, the Lyon Arboretum is a fun place to explore. With awesome points of interest like the “haunted” seismograph station that was decommissioned in 1974, ʻAihualama Falls, and the aptly named Vanilla Valley. With over seven miles of hiking trails and more than 6,000 taxa of tropical and sub-tropical plants on nearly 200 acres, there is plenty to see.

Besides the beautiful flowers and plants, you might spot a sulfur-crested cockatoo and more to take photos of and there’s a good chance you’ll see a rainbow at some point in Manoa. I’ve seen some kind of green parrot here as well, probably a pet bird at one point that is now a part of the Manoa wilds. Shoes and mosquito repellent are a good idea. Be sure to check the Lyon Arboretum’s website to see what classes or workshops are being offered like lei making, yoga, or vanilla orchid cultivation and pollination. Be on the lookout for their awesome plant sales!

The arboretum is open Monday through Friday from 9 am until 3 pm and admission is free–though donations are welcome and $10 is suggested. Due to Covid, they are limiting guests, so be sure to book a time slot ahead of time online and reserve your spot.

Manoa Heritage Center

If you are a local wanting to check out something new or a tourist looking for something beyond the highly advertised beaches and hotels, and rather experience the island’s heritage and deep cultural and historical roots, you do not have to travel far. Located on Oahu Avenue resides the hidden treasure of the Manoa Heritage Center.

Photo credit: Manoa Heritage Center
Photo credit: Manoa Heritage Center

The Heritage Center is an extension of the Cooke family’s history of commitment to preservation and conservation that began with Charles Montague “Monte” Cooke, Jr. and his wife Lila Lefferts Cooke in 1901. The Heritage Center encompasses beautiful botanical gardens including a Native Hawaiian garden featuring endemic and indigenous plants and safeguards Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau, the last remaining intact Hawaiian temple in the greater ahupua‘a of Waikiki.

The Manoa Heritage Center puts on wonderful workshops, tours, and partners with schools, organizations, and community members to educate and promote Hawaii’s cultural and natural heritage. The Heritage Center offers tours by reservation: regular price $20, Hawaii residents (with ID) $10, arrive by bicycle for 50% off admission, Hawaii educators (with ID) and Students under 18 are free.

Manoa Chinese Cemetery

Cemeteries are probably not your first thought for something beautiful or worthwhile to stop at, but Manoa’s Chinese Cemetery might be your first exception. Steeped in history and cultural significance, this cemetery offers serene views down the valley all the way to the ocean. Rather than scary and somber, the cemetery offers peaceful contemplation and solitude. Contemplate life and nature at the pinnacle of the knoll the cemetery resides on, where stands a grand banyan planted in honor of the founder of the cemetery.

Photo credit: Manoa Chinese Cemetery
Photo credit: Manoa Chinese Cemetery

Founded in 1852, it is the oldest and largest Chinese cemetery in Hawaii. The history of this place says that in 1852, a young Chinese man named Lum Ching came to Hawaii to make a living with his freshly learned skills of Feng Shui. While hiking into Manoa Valley and taking careful and complex measurements using his feng shui instruments, Lum Ching found that shockingly, the exact spot they were on, had his compass needle pointing south. He told his friend that it was the pulse of the watchful dragon of the valley so the Chinese people must buy the land and keep it as a sacred place, for the living and the dead.

As a side note, if the kids aren’t interested in its contemplative value, the cemetery is also a great place to catch Pokémon on the Pokémon Go mobile game and has a few PokéStops to fill up on items. Making your way to the intersection of East Manoa Road and Pakanu Street, you will see both old and new tombstones, zodiac statues, and archways. Follow the road up to the towering banyan where you can sit for a while gazing over the valley, appreciating life and all the beauty it has to offer.

Alternative Activities

If the aforementioned activities aren’t really your jam, you can catch a play at the iconic Manoa Valley Theater, rent a Biki bike from Manoa Marketplace and enjoy a nice ride around the valley or even pick up some lunch and have a picnic or fly kites at Manoa Valley District Park. If you appreciate art and architecture, you could make a day out of visiting Manoa’s homes for sale; even if you're not shopping for a house, you'll appreciate the inventive layouts and designs. You could even check out Manoa’s stunning public library located on Woodlawn drive. There are so many options to choose from when it comes to things to do in Manoa.

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