Jurassic Park. Godzilla. 50 First Dates. Hawaii Five-O. Kong: Skull Island. What do these movies and TV shows have in common? Kualoa Ranch.
Spread across 4,000 verdant acres on the island of Oahu, the private nature reserve is reportedly the most popular filming location in Hawaii. That’s because the varied terrain includes lush tropical rainforest, white sand beaches, awe-inspiring cliffs, ancient Hawaiian fishponds, and undulating valleys that seem to go on for miles. The land, which was initially acquired by Dr. Gerrit P. Judd from King Kamehameha III in 1850, has stayed in the family for seven generations; it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you’re intrigued by the reserve’s pop culture history, sign up for a VIP cinema tour. A coach drives guests to notable film and TV spots while playing the clips that made them famous. The tour takes 2.5 hours and costs $119.95 for adults. Short on time and money? Kualoa runs an abridged movie sites tour for $45.95.
Another way to see the Ka’a’awa Valley, where both Jurassic Park and Lost were filmed, is on horseback. These tours last one hour ($84.95) or two ($129.95) and the scenery, which includes sparkling views of the mighty blue Pacific Ocean, is breathtaking—just know that you’ll be enjoying it in the company of many of other riders trotting at a snail’s pace in a (mostly) single-file line.
Point being: Don’t think for a minute that Kualoa Ranch is an under-the-radar find. This is a big, glossy, commercial operation with its hands in many pies. Beyond the film shoots and horseback rides, other on-site activities include zip lining, ATVing, shrimping, cattle ranching, and piloting catamarans to “secret” beaches (lol). The ranch is just 24 miles northeast of Honolulu and the drive out is obscenely scenic. You should be renting a car if you’re on Oahu for any length of time, but the crew at Kualoa also offers roundtrip transportation to/from your hotel in Waikiki for an additional $15 per person. Advance reservations recommended for all tours, although walk-ins can sometimes be accommodated.
49560 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe, Oahu, HI; 808-237-7321.