If your on Oahu and get thrills from visiting movie sets or movie related sites, Kualoa Ranch is definitely a trip worth while. Its on the north west side of the island, aka away from “city” attention, very much a spacious area. Beautiful! You almost wonder why there’s so little development in terms of homes or small business but there may be some zoning restrictions or protection law in the area against a particular amount of development. The university BYU and the Polynesian Culture Center is on this 20 minute stretch of the highway, but you wouldn’t recognized the PCC’s popularity from the outside. They both have very private feelings to them. I wish I’ve been to the PCC to give a proper review of it, however I’ll have to put that on my to do list the next visit out there I take.
Camping is very popular on this side of the island as well, many sites are available for people to park and tent it up. It’s on this side of the island you’ll see and visit China Man’s Hat, a popular public beach known for the island just off shore which looks like… you got it! A china man’s hat. If you have the means to you can paddle out to the island and hike to it’s peak. You can actually see people at the top of it from an outlook on Kualoa Ranch (where the bunkers into the mountain are). If you do choose to hang out on the beach be prepared for wind, This is the windward side of the island so gushes of wind can be a side affect of the location. Will this deter you from visiting these beaches? Absolutely not.
Going up to Kualoa Ranch is definitely a day trip that may initially appear like a more family oriented trip. You can go with a friend though, it will be just as fun. If your not a fan of “cafeteria” style food, I’d recommend packing a lunch instead. It will probably cost less and will satisfy you more. I missed the time period while I was there for the “buffet” style lunch, I was taking a movie set tour, so take that into account as well if you chose to eat at the Ranch. Tour times. I’ll be completely honest, it was a bit of a disappointment eating there from what I was hoping, expecting, and getting for my dollar. I got the Kalua pulled pork sandwich on rye bread it was about 10$.
My friend and I took the movie set tour via bus on the ranch. Lasts for about an hour and a half, great thing about this tour was if your first language was Chinese (might have been Japanese, can’t remember) they had an alternative bus for those tourist who would have struggled to keep up with all the information the tour guides provided, which was a lot! The one thing the guide wanted to make sure that we understood right off the bat was the reason why films are made in Hawaii was because the location itself is a “set” so in terms of actual structures still loitering around there were few. The biggest man made set I’d say was the mountain side bunker, commonly used by military themed movies because prior to the Ranch being a movie set it had been once used as a military site during the war. Inside the bunker is a bunch of memorabilia from various films.
My favorite part however is a classic; the Jurassic Park stamped scene. I’m sure the majority of people know what scene I’m talking about in the movie. Where the kids are on an open plain where many dinosaurs are grazing about, suddenly a stamped of them start running in their direction so they take cover behind a fallen tree. It’s still there! Movie Magic! They will stop the bus at various points during the tour so you can take your obscene amount of pictures (I took way too many).
Another thing that really got my giggles going was the sleeping grass, it’s hard to spot unless you know what it looks like but once you do you realize your in a field of sleeping grass! It’s sensitive to touch, so it’ll close up on contact.
Attached to the dining area is also their gift shop. It has a nice range of choices from locally made items to movie related shirts. However if the prices are off putting and what you wanted was one of the more locally made/inspired items than an ABC store or the Walmart tourist/gift shop section might be able to fulfill your needs at a more budget friendly price (by Hawaii standards).
If all else fails, the Polynesian culture center is close by and they host evening Luau. Diner and entertainment, sounds good.