Known for its stunning shores, its unbeatably beautiful landscapes, and incredibly lush terrain, going on a scenic drive in Oahu is as gorgeous as it gets.
The island is commonly nicknamed “The Gathering Place” for several reasons. For one, it’s Hawaii’s most populated island and the one that receives the most visitors every year, but it’s also called that way because it perfectly merges a plethora of cultures, lifestyles, and modernity with the ancient.
If you’re currently plotting a trip to Oahu, chances are scenic driving around the island to get the most out of it is part of your plans. Even though lounging for hours on end at the many resorts that dot the place is definitely a great way to spend your vacay, fitting in a few adventures out in the open road is pretty easy, especially considering how small and drivable the island is!
Below is a list of some of the most scenic drives in Oahu, be it short stints to get the best ocean views or adventures that can take several days for those who want to treat them as road trips.
Tips for Driving in Oahu, Hawaii
Even though Oahu and Hawaii have pretty much the same driving laws as the rest of the country, there are a few things worth noting down:
- Pay attention to street signs, they are there for a reason!
- This one is interesting: If you ask locals for directions, you’ll notice they’ll say mauka and mukai a lot. Makai means “drive towards the ocean,” and mauka translates into “to the mountains”!
- The speed limit on most highways is 60 MPH unless noted otherwise.
- Bicycles are an extremely popular transportation method, so keep your eyes out for them, especially around Honolulu and surrounding areas.
- Street names in Oahu are usually written in Hawaiian. This can get a bit confusing if you don’t speak the language, but it’s also easy to get used to.
- Foodies: There are plenty of food trucks scattered all over Oahu’s roads, especially on the ocean side. For that reason, we recommend driving counterclockwise when possible!
- Crime in Oahu is rare but still, be mindful of leaving any valuables inside the car when you go out to explore.
- You could loop around Oahu in just under 6 hours if you were to make 0 stops. Most scenic drives here are short and sweet, but we still recommend scheduling several hours for each as you’ll catch yourself making plenty of stops.
- Honking your horn in Oahu is a huge no-no unless it’s an emergency as it’s considered extremely rude in Hawaii.
The Most Scenic Drives in Oahu
1. Lagoon Drive
This short but incredibly scenic drive starts just right next to the Honolulu International Airport, making it one of the easiest scenic drives in Oahu to tackle for those who don’t want to waste any time and plan to rent a car at the airport!
Lagoon Drive is actually incredibly quick and can be completed in under 5 minutes. Still, despite its shortness, the views along the way are absolutely breathtaking and a fabulous way to get an “Aloha!” from the island.
At the very end of the road, you’ll find a parking lot and a viewpoint from where you can catch beautiful views of the ocean dotted by tiny islets, as well as airplanes landing and taking off.
2. Highway 3
This scenic Oahu drive starts right in Honolulu and will take you all the way to the easternmost side of the island.
Although short, this drive will have you passing some of the most popular spots in Oahu, including Diamond Head, the Koolau Mountain Range, the Ha’iku Valley, and Kāneʻohe Bay. Gorgeous ocean vistas are the staples of this road, and you may very well have to pinch yourself to realize you aren’t dreaming!
3. Pali Highway
Pali Highway only takes 15 minutes to complete, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for with striking views.
This incredibly popular scenic Oahu drive starts in downtown Honolulu and ends at the famous Pali Lookout, a viewpoint that provides mesmerizing views of the southern side of Oahu.
Aside from the lookout point at the end, the drive itself is as beautiful as it can get, with glorious ocean views offered on one side and splendid mountains on the other.
4. Windward Oahu
If you want to tackle a drive that isn’t as popular as the others, Windward Oahu is a wonderful choice.
This scenic road is actually an addition to the popular Honolulu to Kaneohe road, but most people don’t really know you can continue onwards. Once you reach Kaneohe, you can drive further toward Oahu’s North Shore in order to find this gem!
This side of Oahu is called the Windward Coast and provides rugged ocean vistas, secret beaches you can get pretty much all to yourself, and landscapes as lush as they can get.
We recommend allowing at least a full day to complete this drive because you’ll be making plenty of stops along the way. An interesting stop to make while driving is the Valley of the Temples at the foot of the Koʻolau mountains, which houses several Buddhist and Shinto temples. Mokolii is also a great place to spend a few hours exploring if you’re into nature, with plenty of hiking trails available and gorgeous lookout points on offer.
5. Kamehameha Highway
Starting in Kailua and ending there as well, the Kamehameha Highway is a great alternative if you don’t have an entire day to complete the Windward Oahu scenic drive.
This drive only takes about 3 hours to complete and can easily be treated as a morning day trip. Kamehameha will take you through Diamond Head State Monument and the Punchbowl Crater, but the reason this drive is considered one of the most beautiful in the world is the picture-perfect ocean views it provides.
For those who aren’t in a rush, you’ll also be able to find tons of beautiful beaches scattered all along the highway, many of which are extremely secluded, and you can have all to yourself!
6. Tantalus Round Top Drive
The Tantalus Round Top Drive is a very short one at only 6 miles, but the views it provides along the way are definitely ones for the books!
As you make your way to the final viewpoint, you’ll be treated to striking views of Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and the Tantalus Quarry and Lava Tube. At the very end, you’ll get to park your car and step on a viewpoint that provides the most glorious views of Waikiki, Honolulu, and beyond. This is a particularly favorite drive for sunset views.
7. Diamond Head Road
This drive starts at Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki and will take you all the way to Kapiolani Park in Honolulu, all while curving its way around the mesmerizing Diamond Head, a volcano that is definitely the most iconic natural landmark on Oahu.
Aside from providing access to some of the best things to do in Honolulu, the magic of this drive is the fact that it will give you access to some of the most beautiful views of the rugged Oahu coastline, not to mention you’ll be awe-struck by the scenery of Diamond Head all along the way!
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