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Going on an Oahu scenic drive? Here are the stops you can’t miss!
Due to its unique fusion of ancient, modern, coast, and nature, the Hawaiian island of Oahu is commonly nicknamed “The Gathering Place”.
Known for its strikingly beautiful shores, incredibly lush nature, and unparalleled landscapes, Oahu is insanely scenic.
There’s no better way to truly experience its beauty than by grabbing your car keys and heading out to the open road in search of panoramic views!
If you’re currently planning your drive around Oahu, chances are you’re feeling a bit daunted with all the options on offer.
Even though the island is relatively small and can be driven around in just a few hours, the stops worth making along the way are plenty, which pretty much means you’ll need a ton more time than you think in order to truly experience the island.
From south to north and east to west, you’ll find lots of incredible stops to make along the way.
Whether you plan to see them all throughout the span of a few days or just want a shortlist of the best ones to make in order to decide what to see and do, here are some of the most noteworthy stops for your Oahu scenic drive!
Tips for Your Scenic Drive Around Oahu
- Hawaii has pretty much the same driving laws as the rest of the United States, which means you don’t need to learn any additional rules. To stay on the safe side, make sure you pay attention to any street signs.
- The speed limit on most freeways is 60 MPH.
- Watch out for cyclists! Bicycles are becoming increasingly popular, especially around Honolulu, so make sure you keep your eyes out for them.
- Start your Oahu scenic drive counterclockwise from the city of Honolulu. This is because a ton of the most worthy stops are located on the east side of the island and also due to the fact that most of the food trucks are set on the ocean side of the road.
- Street names in Oahu are generally written in Hawaiian, which can get tricky if you don’t know the language.
- Don’t leave any valuables in the car whenever you park. While crime is rare in Hawaii, it’s best not to take any chances!
- When asking for directions, you’ll notice the words mauka and makai used a ton by locals to explain where you should go. Mauka means to go towards the mountains while makai means head towards the ocean. Diamond Head is also used as a reference point, especially when driving in Honolulu.
- Allow plenty of time for your Oahu scenic drive. Even though you can easily drive around the island in under 6 hours, there are plenty of amazing stops to make along the way. Moreover, be sure to allow time to make serendipitous stops, as you’ll find plenty of beautiful Oahu beaches scattered along the road. You may want to park for a while!
- There are practically no dangerous places in Oahu, which means you don’t have to worry about ending up in a sketchy area like you would find at most other destinations. Drive freely and enjoy yourself!
- Honking your horn is considered pretty rude in Hawaii, and locals don’t really do it unless it’s absolutely necessary or in an emergency. Keep this in mind, especially if you’re traveling from a busy city where honking is seen as standard driving behavior.
21 Stops for Your Oahu Scenic Drive
1. Ala Moana Beach
Featuring half a mile worth of sandy shores and glorious ocean views, Ala Manoa Beach Park boasts 100-acres of beach park located right inside Honolulu, making it a perfect stop to make on your Oahu scenic drive before you head out on the road.
Ala Moana is a popular place for visitors and locals alike, especially swimmers, paddleboarders, and families visiting the island with kids.
The water here is pretty calm, and there are plenty of amenities on offer, including several tennis courts, tons of spots perfect for a picnic, and plenty of family-friendly activities.
2. Manoa Falls
Crashing down into the mountainside from a whopping 150 feet high, Manoa Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii and a pretty perfect stop to make in order to stretch out your legs while driving around Oahu.
In order to get to Mano Falls, you’ll need to hike over a trail, which is a part of the journey in itself.
Along the way, you’ll get to feel as though you’re walking inside a rainforest as you walk past enormous plants and insanely lush settings.
The hike itself is relatively easy, and the amazing views along the way make it well worth your while even before you reach the falls!
3. Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head may very well be the most iconic natural sight on the island of Oahu, making it a must-do stop on your Oahu itinerary.
If you’re starting your Oahu scenic drive in Honolulu, Diamond Head is a gorgeous place to begin your itinerary in.
Soaring high above the Waikiki area, this iconic volcano serves as the perfect backdrop of the city’s skyline, and even though you can see it from pretty much any point of the city, there’s nothing quite like actually climbing it!
To reach the top of Diamond Head, you’ll need to follow a hiking trail that is less than 1 mile one way. While the hike is relatively short, there is a pretty quick gain in altitude, so keep that in mind when hiking and make sure you go slowly!
The entire trail is paved, and there are stairs available on the steepest parts, making it a doable hike for anyone keen to summit Diamond Head.
Moreover, there are plenty of worthy lookout points and benches scattered along the way, which provide a great excuse to stop and catch your breath whenever you need to.
4. Hanauma Bay State Park
Even though Hanauma Bay State Park is located only a 30-mile drive away from Honolulu, this glorious respite feels as though it’s a world away from the rest of Oahu, thanks to the peace and quiet you’ll find here.
Hanauma Bay is considered one of the best places to visit in Hawaii and a top spot in Oahu for snorkeling, with hundreds of different species gliding freely close to the shore.
This is also a prime spot to see honus (green sea turtles), who love swimming very close to the coast of the bay!
After exploring underwater, you can continue adventuring on land by hiking the Koko Bay Trail, a hike that will take you all the way up to a volcanic crater where you’ll get glorious views of the ocean and hills around.
5. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse
Offering unbeatable views of Oahu’s southern coastline, Makapu’u Point Lighthouse is one of the most emblematic historical landmarks on the island.
The lighthouse was built in 1909, and while it’s actually off-limits, the beautiful view it creates backdropped by the sea is simply splendid.
To get there, you’ll need to follow a hiking trail along the Kaiki State Scenic shoreline, which is an adventure in itself.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the windward coast, get to see Koko Head and Koko Crater, and catch glimpses of Moloka’i and Lana’i islets on a clear day.
If you’re traveling during the season (November through March), this trail also offers plenty of opportunities to catch sights of migrating humpback whales.
Moreover, because the nearby islets are actually sanctuaries for birds, you’re guaranteed to see tons of Hawaiian birds, including ‘iwas, tropicbirds, and frigate birds, so make sure you bring binoculars along!
6. Waimanalo Beach
Stretching almost 5 miles all the way from Wailea Point to Makapuu, Waimanalo Beach is a massive shore and a must-do stop on your Oahu itinerary for some serious beach time.
The water at Waimanalo Beach isn’t great for a swim as the sea can get pretty rough and unpredictable.
Still, this white sand beach is incredibly soft and has dreamy scenery, making it a wonderful place to stop and relax by the sea. While here, you can sunbathe, go on a long walk along the coast, or try your hand at boogie boarding!
7. Lanikai Pillbox
Located on Oahu’s Windward Coast, the Lanikai Pillbox is a glorious hiking trail that provides some of the most beautiful views on the entire island of Oahu.
The hike in Kailua Beach is only 1.25 miles one way with a somewhat steep elevation gain, but the vistas of Lanikai and the nearby islands at the pillboxes make it well-worth your efforts!
After hiking, you can treat yourself to a few hours spent relaxing at the nearby Lanikai Beach, which is considered the most beautiful in Oahu!
Here, you can swim in its bright turquoise waters, relax under the soon, or kayak your way to the Mokes, a set of two beautiful islets located right off the shore.
8. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
If you love all things plants and flowers and want to dive deeper into the flora of Hawaii, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is a beautiful place to stop as you drive around Oahu.
Home to a myriad of beautiful fragrant trees spread across a 400-acre property, a visit to this massive botanical garden will give you the chance to stroll over several walking trails in search of unique flora, all while getting to learn more about Hawaii’s botanical importance with views of the Koolau mountain range off in the distance.
9. Byodo-In Temple
Japanese culture is deeply ingrained in Hawaii’s everyday life, and a visit to Byodo-In Temple is a great example of that.
Founded as a small replica of the original temple of the same name in Japan, Byodo-In Temple was built along the foot of the gorgeous Ko’olau mountain range as a way to honor the Japanese who migrated to Hawaii hundred years ago.
The temple is non-practicing, which means you can freely walk its sacred grounds, but we recommend covering your shoulders to remain respectful to the Buddhist temple dress code.
10. Kualoa Ranch
Famed for being the filming location for the Jurassic Park movie series, Kualoa Ranch is very commonly nicknamed Jurassic Valley.
While there are no actual dinosaurs residing here, Kualoa Ranch offers a wide array of fun activities to try, be it joining a movie tour, braving an ATV adventure, educational going on an educational tour around the farm, and so much more!
It may feel touristy, but the quality of the experiences you’ll find at Kualoa Ranch makes it a must-do stop on any Oahu itinerary. Plus, the ranch is extremely scenic and features gorgeous views of jagged peaks, green valleys, and cascading waterfalls!
11. Kawela Bay Beach Park
Want to have that quintessential Hawaiian beach experience, sans the crowds?
Kawela Bay Beach Park is quite likely one of the biggest hidden gems in Oahu, especially when it comes to beaches.
Featuring beautiful trees along the shore and calm, crystal-clear waters, this sandy beach is an ideal stop to make for a picnic along your Oahu scenic drive combined with swimming!
12. Banzai Pipeline
On this part of the highway, you’ll pass tons of famous beaches, including Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay, and Laniakea Beach.
Almost a legendary spot, the Banzai Pipeline is the ultimate surfing center in the world.
On the winter vacation, thousands and thousands of surfers flock to this surf reef break off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea on Oahu’s North Shore in order to test their skills at the most challenging collection of waves on the planet, which is commonly referred to as the Banzai Pipeline.
If you’re visiting during the winter, make sure you take the chance to visit this incredible surfing mecca in Hawaii.
Top surfers from all around the world head here in order to conquer waves, while visitors get the chance to enjoy one of the most insane surfing spectacles in the entire world!
13. Sharks Cove
Thanks to the fact that it’s a protected cove boasting shallow waters, Sharks Cove is considered one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii, making it a must-do stop on your Oahu scenic drive.
Located on the North Shore inside Pupukea Beach Park, this small bay along the Kamehameha Highway boasts an exceptional number of marine life swimming beneath its surface.
The main thing to see at Sharks Cove is colorful tropical fish, but you may also get to see sea turtles, some coral, sea urchins, and maybe even an octopus or two!
14. Dole Plantation
Once a humble fruit stand back in the 50s, today, Dole Plantation is one of the island’s most famous attractions and a must-do stop on any drive around Oahu, especially if you love pineapples!
While here, you’ll get to indulge in some seriously exciting pineapple-themed experiences, including riding their famous Pineapple Express Train Tour around the plantation, getting lost inside the Pineapple Garden Maze, and joining a tour around the estate in order to learn all about growing fresh pineapples!
15. Paradise Cove Luau
Experiencing a luau is pretty much a rite of passage for any visitor to Hawaii, and Paradise Cove offers the most exciting one in Oahu.
Located right by the ocean, this exciting luau offers an extensive menu of authentic Hawaiian dishes and award-winning performers that will take you on a journey of traditional Polynesian culture through an exciting display of music and dance, all of which you’ll get to enjoy as the sun sets along the coast.
Moreover, a visit to Paradise Cove also offers other exciting activities, including the chance to stroll their Hawaiian Village, learn the fishing techniques of Old Hawaii, join an underground oven cooking class, and so much more.
16. Coral Crater Adventure Park
Looking for a thrill? If you’re the type of traveler who loves getting their heart rate up, a visit to Coral Crater Adventure Park is a most on your Oahu scenic drive.
Home to the largest climbing wall in Hawaii, an aerial challenge course with obstacles, a freefall from 50 feet, ziplining, ATV tours, and plenty more adventures, visiting Coral Crater Adventure Park is guaranteed to give you a serious dose of adrenaline.
17. Hawaii Prince Golf Club
Few golf courses in the world are as beautiful as the ones you’ll find at Hawaii Prince Golf Club.
Offering 27 holes and three interchangeable nines, the course homes 270 acres with striking views of the Waianae Mountains and several dreamy lakes.
Here, you can spend the day golfing, playing tennis, or having a casual lunch at their Bird of Paradise Restaurant, which offers stunning views of the golf course.
If you’re visiting on a Sunday, make sure you join the restaurant’s famous Sunday Brunch Buffet, which offers scrumptious dishes, including crab legs, prime rib, and more!
18. Pearl Harbor
No trip to Oahu would be complete without visiting Pearl Harbor.
As the state’s most iconic historic landmark and the site where one of the most important events in the history of the United States took place, visiting Pearl Harbor is not only a must on any Hawaii itinerary but it’s also an important visit in order to learn more and honor the soldiers that perished in World War II.
During your visit to Pearl Harbor, you’ll learn more about what happened here on that December 7th morning in 1941.
Pearl Harbor isn’t an attraction itself but rather a mix of various sites and activities, including museums, ship tours, historical locations, and memorials.
In order to get the full experience, you’ll need several hours to see everything, but dedicating time out of your itinerary is not only a way to learn about World War II and the impact it had on the country but also a way to pay respects to the heroes who fought during the war.
19. Iolani Palace
Once the home to the last reigning monarchs of Hawaii, Iolani Palace is the only official royal residence found in the United States.
Today, Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most famed buildings in Hawaii.
During your visit, you’ll get to feel as though you’ve traveled back to the time when Hawaiian kings and queens walked the palace’s halls!
20. Kaka’ako street art murals
Keen to check out Oahu’s creative scene? Kaka’ako is Honolulu’s most artsy neighborhood and one of the most exciting places to visit on the island if lively arts and colors are your jam.
Once an industrial community, today, Kaka’ako brims with colorful street murals created by artists from all over the world, trendy stores, and even a few emerging skyscrapers!
Several art festivals and events are held at the heart of Kaka’ako throughout the year, so make sure to check out the neighborhood’s calendar to see if you can catch one during your visit!
21. Waikiki Beach
Located on the Honolulu coast, Waikiki is one of the most popular beaches in Hawaii.
Even if you’re not into super crowded locations, a visit here is pretty much considered a rite of passage to the island.
While here, you’ll get the chance to try your hand at surfing, as the gentle waves in Waikiki make it a perfect location for beginner surfing lessons.
You’ll find plenty of certified instructors available at the beach, so you don’t need to do much planning if you want to book yourself a lesson!
If surfing is not your jam, Waikiki is also a perfect place for swimming, sunbathing, and people-watching.
Moreover, if you visit on a Saturday, you can also join the beach’s weekly Torchlighting and Hula Show, where you’ll get to see a traditional halau hula dance, dance to Hawaiian music, and see Hawaiian performers right at sunset!
Final Words on This Scenic Drive in Oahu
We hope this list of the best stops to make on your Oahu scenic drive helped you plan the perfect road trip in Oahu.
Even though the island is pretty small, it features tons of things to do pretty much every mile of the way, so we actually recommend giving yourself a few days if you want to see everything.
Moreover, Oahu allows for a ton of serendipity, especially when it comes to beautiful beaches.
As you drive from one place to the next, you’ll stumble across plenty of beaches worth making a stop at, so make sure you plan a few extra hours into your itinerary for unexpected detours.
Have you ever driven around Oahu? Which of these stops was your favorite and why? Let us know all about your experience road tripping the Gathering Place in the comment section below!