The sunny and bright skies of Oahu are something that should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list – providing many enviable sights to see.
As such, one of the best ways to experience these sights first-hand is to immerse yourself in the country fully, and what better way than doing this with a scenic drive?!
Known as “The Gathering Place”, Oahu is a captivating location that provides you with the perfect combination of modern, natural wildlife, and ancient. So, get ready to buckle your seat belts, with the help of this guide, you’ll be planning your trip in no time.
Don’t worry, planning your Hawaii road trip couldn’t be easier. In addition to this, it is one of the cheapest methods of seeing the country, too.
Some of the best scenic drives, for the ultimate unforgettable trip, are located in the eastern half of the island – near the mountainous regions.
Here, you’re provided with sprawling coastal plains and lush green valleys. You’ll travel through the winding roads to head further into the highlands where you’ll be rewarded with cascading waterfalls, stunning state parks, and peaceful forests.
You can’t forget to stop at some of the most iconic beaches, either!
If you have just started researching your itinerary, chances are you’re beginning to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options available.
Although don’t stress, we’re here to help! In this guide, we have outlined the best stops to make on your Oahu scenic drive – ensuring you make the most out of what this beautiful country has to offer.
Let’s get straight into it!
What You Need To Know Before You Set Off
- When traveling on freeways, the speed limit is generally 60 MPH.
- Like most of the other United States driving laws, the ones in Hawaii are much the same. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about learning new driving rules – simply pay attention to all the street signs.
- Keep your travels counterclockwise from the city of Honolulu. Most of the best stops are located in the eastern points of the island. Plus, here you’ll find a lot of food trucks along the beaches’ road, too.
- Beware of cyclists. Especially around Honolulu, cycling is becoming increasingly popular, therefore, make sure to always be aware of others using the road.
- When you park, ensure you take all valuables with you. Even though crime rates are low, you don’t want to risk it, especially in touristy areas.
- Generally, all the street signs are written in Hawaiian, so keep this in mind when you travel on the island as this can sometimes be hard to acclimatize to.
- Ensure you’re allowing plenty of time to make your travel around Oahu. While you could easily drive around the island in under 6 hours, you’ll want to ensure you have enough time to appreciate all the stops and see what they have to offer. You’ll also want to make enough time to take serendipitous stops. Whether this involves stopping at a beautiful beach you see on your journey or even stopping for toilet breaks!
- If you’re asking for directions, you’ll likely hear two common words – mauka and makai. These are commonly used by locals when giving directions. Here, mauka translates to ‘towards the mountains’, while makai translates to ‘towards the ocean’. Moreover, when driving through Honolulu, Diamond Head is used as a reference point a lot of the time.
- In Hawaii, honking your horn is oftentimes interpreted as rude. Here, the locals don’t use it unless in an emergency or extremely necessary. In the states, especially in busy cities, honking your horn is seen as the norm, well, not in Hawaii.
- In Oahu, there are virtually no dangerous places where you could end up in. This means you don’t have to worry about taking a side road and ending up somewhere sketchy. Instead, you can travel around Hawaii stress-free and enjoy everything it has to offer. completely.
Tips For Your Oahu Drive
Before you pack up your car and head out on your road trip around Oahu, there are a few things you should keep in mind. These include:
- Traffic – In the Honolulu region, there is tons of traffic. If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, select the “depart at” option on Google maps to gain an estimated time of arrival at your destination.
- Google Maps – In Oahu, Google maps is known to sometimes lead you astray in the area. Therefore, make sure to keep an eye on road signs. Plus, if the road signs are different from the maps, always trust the signs!
- Timing – Before starting your road trip, ensure you know all the opening and closing times of your planned stops. Nothing is worse than turning up to a spot to find out it is closed.
Plus, you’ll find out that some places may open earlier or later than you expect. Moreover, you’ll want to be mindful of the sunset times, too. Depending on the time of year, this usually takes place between 6 PM and 7 PM.
- Attire & Weather – In Oahu, it is extremely windy, therefore, it can make you feel slightly chilly at times, too. Therefore, ensure you bring a light jacket or wear layers.
Sometimes, when it’s windy it can be easy to forge the strength of the sun’s rays. Plus, being so close to the Earth’s equator, you’ll want to ensure that you are wearing and reapplying sunblock; no matter how many times your hat falls off!
- Rental Cars – In Hawaii, the roads are generally pretty flat and driveable, therefore, no special car is required. All you need is something that will fit the size of your group.
You can either pick up your rental car directly from the airport or head over to a rental car location in Waikiki.
Stops To Make On Your Journey
Your first stop in Oahu has to be Leonard’s Bakery where you need to grab one (or two) of their famous malasadas!
If you’re unfamiliar with malasadas, these are essentially a combination of a doughnut hole and a beignet – both incredible foods in their own right.
Depending on your preferences, you can choose ones with or without filling, however, both are utterly delicious.
Spaces are tight in the parking lot. That said, people tend to come and leave pretty quickly, therefore, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting a spot.
Boasting spectacular ocean views with half a mile of sandy shores, Ala Manoa Beach Park features an incredible 100 acres of beach park situated in the heart of Honolulu – making it the perfect destination before you begin your travels through Oahu.
This is a popular location among tourists and locals alike, especially families with children, paddleboarders, and swimmers.
Here, the waters are very calm, plus, with several amenities on offer, including picnic spots, family-friendly activities, and tennis courts, it makes for the perfect spot on your trip.
The next stop on your itinerary has to be Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. Here, you’re provided with spectacular panoramic views of the eastern region of Oahu. Ensure you plan enough time to take in all the stunning sights and snap a few pictures, too.
There is a $3 parking fee, however, there are no other chargers here. Keep in mind that it can be extremely windy, therefore, make sure to grab a light jacket before leaving your home.
4. Manoa Falls
Cascading down an impressive 150 feet high mountainside is the gorgeous Manoa Falls. This is the perfect spot to stop and stretch your legs after driving for a while.
While walking to the falls, you’ll feel as if you’re walking in a rainforest as you’re surrounded by lush settings and massive plants.
The hike is pretty simple, and you’ll be rewarded with amazon scenery along the way, making the falls a perfect reward.
As you make your way to Byodo-In Temple, you may be lucky enough to spot some waterfalls coming off the Ko’olau Mountain Range.
The mountain itself is located on your left side as you’re driving northwest on Highway 83 toward the temple.
The waterfalls are a result of water collecting in pools at the top which then overflows and cascades down the mountain. Saying that this isn’t always visible.
Byodo-In Temple itself is located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park – a stunning memorial cemetery. Here, the temple is a replica of the 1,000-year-old temple found in Uji, Japan.
Before entering the temple, you have to remove your shoes, although, when you walk in, you’ll be rewarded with a 9-foot, golden Buddha.
This monument is arguably one of the most iconic natural sights on the whole island, making the Diamond Head State Monument a must-do spot on your itinerary.
If your scenic drive starts in Honolulu, then Diamond Head may be the best place to begin your Oahu travels.
Overlooking the Waikiki area, the volcano acts as the perfect backdrop for the whole city’s skyline. While you may see it from most angles, there is no better experience than climbing it!
Here, the hike takes you on a 1-mile each-way trek. While this is somewhat short, keep in mind the altitude changes quickly.
The trail itself is entirely paved, plus there are also stairs on the steeper levels – great for hikers of all levels.
In addition to this, there are various benches and lookout points located throughout the trail, making it a great place to stop and catch your breath when need be.
7. La’ie Point
The next stop on your itinerary has to be La’ie Point. This is one of the best-known secrets in Oahu.
Here, while it may feel as if you’re going to end up in a dead-end, keep driving down the residential neighborhood until you reach a small parking lot overlooking the ocean.
From here, you can walk straight up to the point which provides you with some impressive Oahu coastline views.
In the pristine waters, you’ll be able to see some colorful fish, as well as some tiny crabs scuttling all over the rocks.
While Hanauma Bay State Park is only situated 30 miles away from Honolulu, this paradise feels like it is a world away from the bustling city – thanks to its quiet and peaceful nature.
Regarded as one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, Hanauma Bay is also one of the best spots for snorkeling in Oahu, too. Here, you’ll find hundreds of species swimming on the shores.
Plus, it is the best place to see honus (green sea turtles) swimming near the coast!
After exploring underwater, you can take your adventures on land by journeying along the Koko Bay Trail. This hike takes you up the volcanic crater where you’ll be rewarded with beautiful ocean and mountain views.
9. North Shore
Next, you’ll want to head up Oahu’s North Shore to arrive at Waimea Bay. During the winter, this area is famous for its incredible waves.
During the summer, these waves are much smaller. However, even during the summer months, it makes for a perfect place to take the family and enjoy a peaceful, laid-back atmosphere while watching the surfers catch some waves.
As you make your way from La’ie Point to Waimea Bay, you’ll find tons of various food trucks parked along the road to feed hungry customers. For some delicious shrimp, you need to stop here.
While making your way along the coast, you have ample time to stop and explore any beach you come across – with tons of parking you’re sure to find some incredible beaches.
Providing unforgettable views of Oahu’s south coastline, you’ll want to stop at Makapu’u Point Lighthouse for one of the most historic landmarks on the island.
Built in 1909, the lighthouse casts an impressive backdrop to the sea behind a beautiful view. While the lighthouse itself is off-limits, you can snap some gorgeous pictures.
To reach the lighthouse, simply hike along the trail at the Kaiki State Scenic shoreline.
Throughout your travels, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views overlooking the windward coast, where you’ll see Koko Crater and Koko Head and even catch glimpses of Lana’i Moloka’i islets on a nice day.
Plus, if you’re traveling from November to March, you’ll be provided with ample opportunities to catch glimpses of migrating humpback whales, too!
In addition to this, since these islets are sanctuaries for birds, you’re sure to catch a glimpse of various Hawaiian birds, such as the frigate birds, ‘iwas, and tropicbirds – so, don’t forget your binoculars!
11. Waimea Valley
Once you finish checking our Waimea Bay, make sure your way to Waimea Valley Road – which is only a five-minute drive – to see everything the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens has to offer.
Here, after walking ¾ miles, you’ll find a beautiful swimming pool and waterfall. Therefore, make sure to pack your bathing suit and some water shoes to swim around the waterfall.
The opening hours are between 9 am – 5 pm (or 5:30 pm in the summer), plus there is an admission fee you should take into consideration, too.
Here, general admission costs $16 (for those ages 13-61), $8 for children (those between the ages of 4-13), and $12 for students (those with an appropriate college ID), moreover for seniors, it is $12 (62+).
If you’re following Google maps while making your way to Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens, you’ll often be provided with various options. Therefore, you’ll want to ignore all of them except the ones that take you along Waimea Valley Road.
Plus, if you get lost, simply stick to the road signs which clearly display the directions to the botanical gardens from Waimea Bay.
12. Waimanalo Beach
From Wailea Point to Makapuu, Waimanalo Beach boasts an impressive 5-mile stretch with incredible shores and must-do attractions – you won’t want to miss it.
That said, the waters here aren’t that great for swimming since they can become very unpredictable and rough at any given moment.
However, the white sands on the beach are incredibly soft and you’ll be surrounded by dreamy scenery. Therefore, it is the perfect place to stop and rest.
You can also spend some time sunbathing, walking along the beach, and testing your skills at boogie boarding.
13. Dole Plantation
As you leave Waimea Valley, make your way toward the Dole Plantation. However, just be warned, there are many tourist traps here.
To skip these, simply head straight toward Dole Whip. This is a deliciously magical dish where pineapple is transformed into one of the best ice cream-textured desserts.
Many people may tell you to completely skip the Dole Plantation, however, since it is on the way back to Waikiki and Waimea Valley – with a huge parking lot and no entrance fee – it makes for a fun trip. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on Dole Whip!
It is open between the hours of 9:30 am and 5:30 pm. However, make sure you ensure enough time in your day to make a quick pit stop here before it closes for the day.
If you’re looking to take a deeper dive into all the flora offered in Hawaii, then the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens has to be at the top of your Oahu road trip itinerary.
Spread across 400 acres of property, the gardens are home to some of the most beautiful and fragrant trees on the island.
There are several trails that take you through the impressive flora where you can learn about all the different plants and flowers that inhabit the islands of Hawaii.
15. Lanikai Pillbox
Situated on the Windward Coast in Oahu, the Lanikai Pillbox provides you with some incredible hiking trails that take you on a journey of your lifetime – enabling you to see all the beautiful sights of Oahu.
The hike itself only consists of a simple 1.25 miles that offer steep elevation gains. However, what makes it worth your efforts is the amazing vistas of Lanikai and all the nearby islands.
After your hike, head over to the nearby Lanikai Beach to treat yourself to a few hours of relaxation. Plus, it is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Oahu, so it would be rude not to.
Once you arrive, take a dip in the bright turquoise waters, relax under the hot sun, or even kayak your way to the Mokes – two stunning islets just off the shore.
Looking for the quintessential Hawaiian beach experience? Then you need to stop at Kawela Bay Beach.
Here, you’re provided with everything that makes Hawaii home to the best beaches all without the crowds.
It is quite literally a hidden gem in Oahu, especially when it comes to beautiful beaches.
Featuring crystal-clear waters, beautiful trees lining the shores, and white sands, this beach is the perfect place to take a picnic and cool down in the waters.
17. Kualoa Ranch
Famously known as the filming location for the iconic Jurassic Park series, Kualoa Ranch is commonly nicknamed the Jurassic Valley.
While you don’t have to worry about coming across any dinosaurs here, instead Kualoa Ranch provides you with various fun activities to take part in.
For instance, you can go on a movie tour, go on an ATV adventure, or even embark on an education tour around the area.
Even though it may feel touristy, there are some quality experiences you’ll find here that make it a must-see spot.
In addition to this, the ranch is home to some incredible scenery with green valleys, cascading waterfalls, and jagged peaks.
18. Sharks Cove
Since Shark Cove is a protected area featuring shallow waters, it is one of the best places in Hawaii to go snorkeling.
This small bay is located on the Kamehameha Highway which boasts an incredible array of marine wildlife swimming in the pools.
The best thing to see here is the various colorful tropical fish. Plus, you may even spot a couple of sea turtles, sea urchins, some beautiful coral, and even an octopus!
19. Banzai Pipeline
As you make your way down the highway, you’ll pass various famous beaches, including Waimea Bay, Laniakea Beach, and Banzai Pipeline.
Among the three, Banzai Pipeline has the be one of the most legendary surfing destinations in the whole world.
During the winter months, thousands of surfers will flock to the area to test their surfing skills with some of the most challenging collections of waves in the world.
Therefore, if you’re visiting during the winter, make sure to stop here and watch the amazing surfing mecca.
Looking for some thrill. Then you need to stop at Coral Crater Adventure Park. Here, you’ll find everything from a challenging aerial obstacle course, ziplining, a freefall from 50 feet, an ATV tour, and much more.
Arguably, your trip isn’t complete without experiencing an authentic luau. Hence, you need to stop at Paradise Cove for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Situated right by the ocean, here you’ll be offered traditional Hawaiian dishes, as well as being taken on a journey through Polynesian cultures through dance and music – all while the sun sets on the coast.
Oahu is home to many adventures just waiting for you. One of the best ways to experience this? A road trip!
As you traverse along the roads of Oahu, make sure to take plenty of stops to see what the island truly has to offer. Hopefully, this guide has informed you about the best stops in Oahu.
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