Ultimate Guide: Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour
One of the best ways to see the beauty of Oahu is to drive around the island and stop along the way to enjoy the beaches, food shakes, the lookouts, take a break for a snorkel trip & more.
Oahu is the most diverse of the Hawaiian Islands when it comes to the variety of things to do, things to see and things to experience. One of the best ways to see the beauty of the island is to drive around the island and stop along the way to enjoy the beaches, food shakes along the road, the lookouts, take a break for a snorkel trip and more.
You cannot drive around the entire island of Oahu, but the drive around most of the island can be covered in a long day drive. We have created our, ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’ which lists many of the top landmarks, beaches and points of interest that you would want to see on a drive around to island, although if you stopped to enjoy each of the points of interest it may likely take longer than one day, so we have provided the list, so you can choose what you want to do, see, and experience.
Why is it a good idea to tour Oahu by a car? When you are driving your own car or rental car, you can start and stop your tour when you like, and if you see a beach, a landmark or other interest simply pull over and enjoy it.
This is where most Islands Tours will begin, since this is where most of the island visitors stay during their visit. You can enjoy an early morning walk along Waikiki Beach beginning in front of Moana Surfrider Hotel walking towards Royal Hawaiian and further if you like. You may like to stop for an early morning breakfast at any of the beachfront hotels and watch the early morning sun wake up the beach activity, surfers and paddle boarders and tourists.
Hike Diamond Head:
Hiking Diamond Head is a very popular Oahu activity, and it is a great early morning choice to beat the crowds who tend to visit a bit later in the morning. The 1.5-mile hike up Diamond Head Trail takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and is moderately difficult. Throughout the hike there are numerous points to enjoy the ocean, mountains, and city views. The views of the coastline from the top of the hike are an amazing photo opportunity.
The Diamond Head hike includes 74 normally spaced stairs and followed by 99 steep stairs that takes you through a dark tunnel to the top. Some people bring a small flashlight, but this is not a must. You should bring water for this hike and for all the other activities for the Oahu Island Tour.
Notes: The park gates are closed at 6 p.m. and the last entrance to the park is 4:30 p.m. There is a $5.00 per car fee or a $1 per person const if you walk in.
Hanauma Bay is one of the many premier snorkeling destinations on Oahu. Hanauma Bay is a protected Marine preserve located in a beautiful horseshoe bay and is home to more than 400 species of beautiful tropical fish and rays. This activity is ideal for novices. You can stop by Hanauma Bay just for a quick look around and some beautiful photos, or you may choose to take a bit more time and cool off in the ocean after your Diamond Head Hike.
Side Trip Option: If you’re feeling extra energized after your snorkeling at Hanauma Bay you may choose to hike Koko Crater Trail. This is a challenging hike and if you choose to do this activity, you will almost certainly not be able to hit all the landmarks and points of interest listed below. The Koko Crater Trail is a great activity for another day of your visit.
Notes: The entrance fee is $7.50 per person and parking is $1 per car. If you leave the park within 15 minutes, they will give your $1.00 back.
Sea Life Park Hawaii:
The Sea Life Park Hawaii is Oahu’s world-famous marine park. Over 4,000 species of sea creatures make Hawaii’s underwater sea world come alive. We wanted to include this stop on the list but this activity really does deserve its own day to truly experience all the activities, attractions and exhibits.
Notes: Sea Life Park Hawaii is open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo:
The east side of Oahu offers many options for enjoying ocean life and outdoor activities including the landmarks above Sea Life Park Hawaii and Hanauma Bay. If these two attractions are of interest to you, plan on skipping these destinations on your ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’.
Side Trip Option: Enjoy a short 2-mile hike up to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse – another very popular Oahu landmark.
From Makapu’u Point Lighthouse you can take in stunning views of the coastline, Molokai, Rabbit Island and, if you are lucky, this area is a great vantage point to see migrating whales between the months of December and May.
Kailua is a popular beach community with two popular beaches; Lanikai and Kailua Beaches, which have both been recognized as the prestigious ‘#1 Beach in America.’
These beaches are usually not crowded early in the mornings and can be very calm and shallow for enjoying a brief swim. One other tip – look out for the chickens. You have been warned!
If you have time or if you want to take time off your Oahu Island Tour, you can enjoy the short hike up to Lanikai Pillbox Hike and enjoy the amazing view of the beautiful beaches below.
Kailua is a good place to grab a coffee, juice, or a bite to eat from of the many local shops and vendors.
It is a good idea to grab something to eat and even a few items to take on the trip with you since there are few real dining options along the stretch of road between Kailua and the North Shore, although you will see a few fresh fruit stands which you definitely want to stop by and enjoy.
Pali Lookout is an amazing place to enjoy a 180-degree view from a 1,200 foot view of the Ko’olau cliffs below and coastline. The Pali Lookout is the site of the final battle to unite the Hawaiian islands.
Something you will notice immediately are the strong winds that cut through the mountain passes and by strong winds we meant that you can easily lose a hat, sunglasses or anything that is not secured.
Kane'ohe is a beautiful mountainous destination that lies along the Kamehameha Highway and is one of the largest residential communities on the windward side of Oahu. Kane’ohe is 12 miles from downtown Honolulu.
Two points of interest on this stop of our Oahu Island Tour are; Byodo-In Temple and Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens. These destinations are seen on the popular TV shows Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-O.
Byodo-In Temple is beautiful replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan including gardens, peacocks, swans, ponds with Koi fish, a Tea House and more. You can also see an 18-foot Buddha that is the largest that has been carved in the past 900 years.
Next on the Oahu Island Tour is the area Kualoa Ranch & Zipline which is ranch area where many movies have been filmed including Jurassic Park. The park offers several activities including TV Location Tours, ATV Tours, and thrilling Ziplines. This stop will require more time than you have to complete the Oahu Island Driving Tour so perhaps plan on coming back to the Kualoa Ranch for a half day of fun.
Polynesian Cultural Center:
Continuing along Kamehameha Highway is The Polynesian Cultural Center. If you have more time the Polynesian Cultural Center is a perfect place to experience a typical a Luau on 42 acres of lush, tropical beauty. You can take part in hands-on activities and learn how Hawaiian’s lived in the past.
Guests will dine like Hawaiian Royalty while enjoying a spectacular show of dancers, singers and other amazing entertainment. A stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center will require more time than you’ll have when completing the ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour,’ so plan on coming back to the Polynesian Cultural Center to enjoy it completely.
It’s lunch time! These Shrimp Trucks are very likely some of the most popular eateries on Oahu. They can be found throughout the Island but, in our opinion, the best Shrimp Trucks are located on the North Shore in an area called Kahuku.
Be sure to plan for a bit time to enjoy this island specialty of Garlic Shrimp and Rice because you will have to wait in line no matter what time of day that you visit. The famous “Giovani’s Shrimp Truck” is located past Banzai Pipeline in Haleiwa.
North Shore Area
Driving further along Kamehameha Highway you’ll come to the North Shore area where several of the next stops on our ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’ are located, including Turtle Bay, Turtle Bay Resort, Pipeline, Laniakea Beach, Waimea Bay and more.
Just down the road from Kahuku is Turtle Bay, which is a prime location for Whale watching during December to May while the Whales migrate.
Turtle Bay Resort
This is a massive 880-acre resort community that includes Hotel, Golf Courses, Spa, Swimming Pools, and some beautiful beaches. Turtle Bay Resort is a great place to enjoy a lunch with a view of the bay or enjoy a cocktail at the famous pool bar.
Next up is Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline, Shark’s Cove and the community of Pupukea. Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline are North Shore’s most famous beaches which are known for having some incredibly large waves which are perfect for world surf competitions during the winter months.
Further past Banzai Pipeline on Kamehameha Highway is Shark’s Cove and Waimea Bay which features a famous giant rock made popular for jumping off into the surf.
Waimea Valley has a long history as a sacred place for more than 700 years. Waimea stands for The Valley of The Priests, a title it gained back in 1090 when the ruler of Oahu gave the land to the Kahuna Nui.
Next is Laniakea Beach also known as “Turtle Beach.” This famous beach is where turtles gather on the beach to relax on the beach and when it is time, they will lay eggs. You can swim with the Honu or watch them rest on the sandy shores but please don’t touch – Honu are protected by law.
Haleiwa is a laid back beach town filled with local style and country ambiance, with surf shops and charming art galleries including Robert Wyland’s gallery, boutiques, and casual restaurants housed in plantation-era buildings.
Spend the afternoon at one of surrounding North Shore beaches then stop in Haleiwa for relaxing lunch, drink or Shave Ice. Grab a meal at Haleiwa Beach House or from the famous Giovani’s Shrimp Truck.
No visit the North Shore will be complete without a visit to Matsumoto Shave Ice—a favorite shop which opened its doors in 1951.
The day time is ending but you should make time to continue down Kamehameha Highway and stop by Dole Plantation. Dole Plantation offers several activities, exhibits and attractions like the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Plantation Garden Tour, and the Pineapple Garden Maze.
In 2008, Guinness World Records named Dole’s Pineapple Garden Maze the world’s largest maze made up of 14,000 colorful Hawaiian plants. While you’re there, try the world-famous DoleWhip.
Dole Plantation - Operating hours are 9:30 am – 5:30 pm.
If you got stuck at Turtle Bay Resort, or if you stopped and fell in love with Banzai Pipeline, no problems, that is the best part of the Oahu Driving Tour, you can see as much or as little as you want. But if you ran out of time before you made it to Ko Olina, you owe it to yourself to make time to spend an hour or a day at this beautiful Oahu Resort.
Ko Olina is a resort community that includes 2 top Oahu Resorts; Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina and Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa. Ko Olina also features a world-class golf course, beautiful marina, and 4 man-made lagoons that are perfect for children and adults alike.
As you can imagine the resorts have a wide range of shops, restaurants, spas and swimming pools to enjoy.
Ko Olina is approximately 45 minutes from Waikiki Your drive time back into Waikiki.
It is not likely that you made every stop on our ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’ – there is simply too much to do see and experience. You may have stopped at Hanauma Bay in the morning and chose to stay there for the day. That is the beauty of the ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’ – you can stop, start and add stops along the way and then come back the next day to pick up where you left off.
Our ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’ is only a guide, take our recommendations as suggestions only and, instead, make your own ‘Oahu Drive Around the Island Tour’ …and enjoy Oahu.
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