Where to Drive and Sightsee Around Oahu
When most people think of a Hawaiian road trip, the Road to Hana on Maui probably comes to mind. While the Road to Hana is an excellent drive (and I highly recommend you drive it if you’re visiting Maui), there are plenty of scenic roadways on all of the Hawaiian Islands, especially Oahu.
Driving around Oahu is easy thanks to a complete highway system and the ease of access to a rental car, either through a traditional rental car company, Turo, or a carshare like Hui Carshare. When I moved to Oahu from the Big Island, what surprised me was how close everything is – you can drive from one end of the island to the other in about an hour without traffic.
If you decide to rent a car versus taking a bus tour, you can save a lot of money (an average rental is around $40/day on Turo, a bus tour on average costs around $100). Also, you have the freedom to go wherever you want, when you want.
Driving around Oahu’s coast is not only scenic, it’s also fun! There are so many places to stop for a bite to eat or a quick dip in the ocean. Also, most people in Hawaii drive with aloha, making your driving experience much more enjoyable.
There are too many popular sites to list in this article, but I’ll recommend my favorite stops to sightsee on Oahu, from Waikiki to North Shore!
1. Diamond Head Lookout
Diamond Head Crater
Diamond Head lookout is just a quick drive from Waikiki, and it offers an insane view of the coastline below.
You can watch people surf from the lookout, or walk down the paved path for access to the sandy beach below. Parking can fill up on the weekends, so get there early!
Distance from Waikiki: 10 minutes
2. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a gorgeous beach and a nature preserve. The bay features a variety of marine life making it a popular spot for snorkeling. If you're just looking for a great view, I recommend you park at the top and stop at the lookout. You'll see the whole bay from above. You do have to pay to park, but the fee is worth it.
Distance from Waikiki: 25 minutes
3. Halona Blowhole
Halona Blowhole sits just after Eternity Beach and just before Sandy Beach. It’s a geyser-like cave that shoots misty seawater into the air when there’s swell or high wind. You can park right at the top and look down at the blowhole. From the lookout, you can also hike down into Eternity Beach if you feel like going for a swim.
Local tip: police like to hang out at the lookouts around the South Shore, so make sure to watch your speed!
Distance to Halona Blowhole from Waikiki: 25 minutes
4. Makapu’u Point
Makapu’u Beach from the Point Lookout
Makapu’u lookout is another easily accessible lookout to pull into on your drive through Oahu’s South Shore. From the lookout you can see rocky cliffs, Makapu’u beach, and Rabbit & Sharkfin Islands just off the coast. You can also hike to the tip of the point by following directions to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.
Distance from Waikiki to Makapu'u: 30 minutes
5. Pali Lookout
The View of Windward Oahu and Pali Cliffs from the Pali Lookout
The Pali lookout is just off of the Pali highway and provides a gorgeous vantage point of Oahu’s Windward (East) side. There’s a ton of history at the Pali Lookout – and a ton of wind too! The lookout sits nestled in the Pali cliffs, and the surrounding mountains and foliage are gorgeous. There is a small fee to park in the little parking lot, and there’s almost always someone patrolling it. Also, there aren’t any bathrooms nearby, so make sure to go before heading up to the Pali lookout.
Distance from Waikiki to the Pali Lookout: 25 minutes
6. Chinaman’s Hat
Mokolii, commonly known as Chinaman's Hat
Chinaman’s Hat is the local name for Mokoli’i Island due to it’s resemblance to the hats worn by early Chinese immigrants to Hawaii. It’s a small island right off shore from the east side of Oahu near Kualoa Ranch. You can kayak to the island or even walk if the tide is low enough.
There’s a public beach park with a great view of Mokoli'i and free parking. There are also restrooms available. The beach is often littered with driftwood and other debris, but the park is still quite enjoyable.
Distance from Waikiki to Mokoli'i Island: 45 minutes
7. Laie Point
La’ie Point Sea Arch
Laie point is just a quick pull off on the way to North Shore from the East Side that sits at the end of a small neighborhood. The point itself is at the end of a cliff that locals often fish and cliff jump off of. A few hundred yards off of the point is the iconic sea arch that Laie Point is known for. There isn’t much of a parking lot – more like a culdesac. Stop by for a quick photo before making you way to the next scenic point on the list.
Distance from Waikiki to Laie Point: 1 hour
8. Kahuku Shrimp Trucks
Garlic Shrimp Plate
This might not be your typical scenic spot, but the sight of delicious garlic shrimp gets our heart racing! The small town of Kahuku is known for both its produce and shrimp farms. Thanks to the abundance of farm-fresh shrimp and prawns, there are multiple food trucks that serve delicious, world-class shrimp. Amongst the shrimp trucks, you can also find various food trucks serving everything from BBQ corn to shave ice. There are a few different collections of food trucks so don’t worry about finding the “right one”.
My personal favorite, however, is Romy’s, which isn’t really a food truck at all but more of a shack. Everything they serve is amazing, but they are best known for their garlic shrimp. Lines here can get really long, so I recommend you call in your order ahead of time to save yourself hours (literally) of wait time.
Distance from Waikiki to Kahuku Shrimp Trucks: 1 hour and 10 minutes
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9. Banzai Pipeline
Visitors at Banzai Pipeline
This stop needs no introduction – Banzai Pipeline (Ehukai Beach) is a world-class surf spot for professional from around the world. While these waves are raw, powerful, and dangerous, the white-sand beach it borders is warm, gorgeous, and generally less crowded than beaches on the south shore (especially in the summer when the waves here are small).
There is a small parking lot, but it fills up really quickly on weekends. Your other options are street parking or parking at Sunset Elementary. There are also bathrooms, so no worries – stick around for a few hours!
Distance from Waikiki to Banzai Pipeline: 1 hour
10. Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay at Sunset
Waimea bay is my personal favorite beach on Oahu – there’s just so much to do! Also, it’s insanely gorgeous. The beautiful white sand beach is surrounded by the stunning Waimea Valley to the rear. On days that there’s surf, you can watch big-wave surfers catching giants off of the point; on days that it’s flat, the beach is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, or cliff jumping off of the jump rock.
The parking lot is very small and is almost always full. Your best bet is to either park on the street going towards Haleiwa or pay to park in the Waimea Valley parking lot or the nearby church parking lot. Make sure to bring cash, as payment is cash only.
Distance from Waikiki to Waimea Bay: 55 minutes
11. Haleiwa Town
Haleiwa Town Sign
Haleiwa Town is must during your Oahu road trip. The small beach town will appeal to everyone, but especially surfers, art fans, and foodies. There are dozens of surf shops, art galleries and places to eat. Also, Haleiwa is probably the best place to get authentic souvenirs to take home to your family and friends.
Distance from Waikiki to Haleiwa: 50 minutes
12. Yokohama Bay
Yokohama Bay, or Yokes for short, is a hidden gem. It’s a pristine white sand beach that is often overlooked by visitors, but revered by locals. It sits at the very end of the road on Oahu’s West Side, and you really need a whole day to make the excursion. The drive is well worth it – the beach is beautiful and often empty, especially on weekdays. If you feel like hiking, Kaena Point Trail starts at the far side of Yokes. The parking lot is well accommodating and there are bathrooms and showers.
Distance from Waikiki to Yokohama Bay: 1 hour 10` minutes
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Tour Guide App
Shaka Guide’s audio tour guide apps are the perfect companions when exploring the Hawaiian Islands. The tours work offline and play automatically as you drive, giving you turn by turn directions to destinations, eateries and shops you can’t miss. The narration also tells you local stories, history, culture and fun facts along the way. It’s like having your own personal tour guide in your car while you drive! Download Shaka Guide Oahu to download the tours.