Our Family Guide: Koko Crater Botanical Garden in Hawai‘i

Find a shower of plumeria, cactus and other unusual plants you probably won’t find in backyard gardens in this 60-acre garden.


Guide Koko Crater Botanical Garden Cactus Photo Cathy Cruz George

Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


Where: Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Who: Two adults and their 5-year-old daughter

When: 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday


Koko Crater Botanical Garden–one of five Honolulu Botanical Gardens run by the City & County of Honolulu–sits in a crater formed by a volcanic eruption 100,000 years ago. In 1958, leaders tapped 60 acres of the crater for the development of the garden, and today the fruits of their labor are evident.


If your family loves easy hiking trails that can be tackled in less than three hours, this would work for you. The dry terrain is relatively flat. On the trail, you’ll encounter beautiful plants from Madagascar, the Americas and Pacific, Africa and Hawai‘i. You’ll inhale the unmistakable scent of tropical flowers. You’ll read about exotic plants.


It’s like an outdoor classroom!


See also: 🌺 Weekend Adventures: Our Family Guide to Exploring Wahiawā Botanical Garden


Guide Koko Crater Botanical Garden Golden Barrel Cacti Photo Cathy Cruz George

The Golden Barrel Cacti are interesting, but you wouldn’t want to touch them! Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


Our Tips


1. Secure your car. A uniformed security officer oversees the unpaved parking lot and entrance gate seven days a week. However, he isn’t always on duty the entire time the park is open from sunrise to sundown, so keep that in mind. The gate is next to the unpaved parking lot between Hawai‘i Kai Golf Course and Koko Crater Stables. Lock your car doors and keep valuables out of sight.


2. Look for the black box. Once you walk past the gates, look for an information sign with a map and history of the garden. Next to the sign is a black mailbox with pamphlets to help you in a self-guided tour. Handy for first-time visitors, the pamphlets show a map of the 2-mile loop trail and descriptions of each plant.


Guide Koko Crater Botanical Garden Plumeria Ground Photo Cathy Cruz George

Plumeria shower from the trees. Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


3. Don’t miss the Plumeria Grove. This long row of trees bearing pink, yellow and white flowers is a highlight of the garden. Hundreds of stray little flowers blanket the ground and the perfumed air smells like you just walked into a Bath & Body Works on a humid day. If you want, spend some quality time here, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. If you bypass the Plumeria Grove the first time, catch it on the return trip. After all, it’s a quick 2-mile trail loop.


4. Wear good shoes and be ready to get dirty. On your walk, you’ll kick up clouds of dust and step on loose rocks. And if you get too close to a spiky plant in the Cactus Grove … ouch! For safety’s sake, encourage the family to wear sneakers with good traction and remind everyone that the plants are hands-off.


See also: 🥙 6 Best Spots for A Family Picnic this Spring in Honolulu


5. Pack snacks and water and go before you go. The amenities are no-frills. There are no bathrooms and dining facilities in this botanical garden, just a portable potty at the base of the loop and picnic benches strategically placed throughout the trail. Bring water and snacks for the family. We peeked at the porta-potty for the sake of this blog. The facility was sort of clean. But the plumeria grove smelled better. As for the nearest places to eat, Hawai‘i Kai Golf Course has a restaurant serving breakfast, salads and sandwiches from $6 to $13 . The Thai restaurant wasn’t open when we drove by the Kalama Village Center, an isolated strip mall located a few blocks away from the garden. Your best bet for food? Any restaurant in the Koko Marina Center in Hawai‘i Kai, less than 10 minutes away by car.


6. Go in the early morning or late afternoon. This garden isn’t your typical branch-heavy, shady trees so at noon the garden was blazing hot. You’ll have more staying power when the sun isn’t directly overhead.


Overall pros

Free entry. Unusual plants kids won’t see in a lot of other places. A security guard and the trail is easy for beginner hikers.


Overall cons

Isolated with an inconsistent security presence. No “real” bathrooms.


Koko Crater Botanical Garden