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Oahu is a tropical paradise with amazing things to see all around the island. The island is small enough that you can see a lot of the island in a single day. That makes it ideal for a road trip!
Read on for seven must see spots to visit on your Oahu road trip, plus tips to make this one of your best road trips ever.
Know Before You Go
Before you start your road trip, there are some key things that you should know about Oahu:
- Google Maps: Google maps will sometimes lead you astray in Oahu. Pay attention to road signs. If the road signs say something different than Google maps – trust the road signs.
- Traffic: There can be a lot of traffic in the Honolulu area. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, use the Google maps “depart at” option to estimate the length of time it will take to reach your destination.
- Weather & Attire: It is extremely windy in Oahu, which can make it feel a little chilly. Bring a light jacket or wear layers. Because it can feel a little chilly, it’s easy to forget how intense the sun’s rays are that close to the Equator. Apply and reapply sunscreen. Wear a hat that won’t blow away in the wind.
- Timing: Confirm the opening and closing times of places before starting your road trip. You might find places open later and close earlier than you’d expect. The sun sets between 6PM and 7PM (depending on the time of year), so be mindful of that when planning the timing of your stops.
- Rental Car: Roads are pretty decent and fairly flat, so you don’t need a special car – just one that fits the size of your group. You can either get a rental car from the airport when you arrive in Honolulu or go to one of the rental car locations in Waikīkī. TIP: Reserve your car ahead of time – you’ll skip the line and won’t risk getting stuck with a car you don’t want (or worse, not getting a car at all).
The Road Trip
There are so many great places to stop when driving around Oahu. The seven must see spots below are my favorite spots that you can see within a single day of road tripping around Oahu.
To see the seven spots below, plan for a full day of site seeing. You’ll spend about 3-4 hours driving throughout the day and you’ll want to allow for plenty of time at each stop.
I recommend starting your road trip between 8 and 9AM. You want to get a fairly early start to make your way around the island before the sun sets, but you don’t want to leave too early because some places don’t open before 9AM.
1. Leonard’s Bakery
Address: 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816 | Distance & Time from Waikīkī: 1-2 miles, 10-15 minutes
First stop is Leonard’s Bakery to eat their famous malasadas! I’d describe a malasada as a mix between a beignet and a doughnut hole. I love both of those things, so malasadas are a dream come true to me. They have ones with filling and ones without filling. Both types are delicious!
Parking can be tight in the parking lot. However, people tend to leave pretty quickly, so if you’re patient, a spot should open up fairly soon.
2. Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout
Address: Nuuanu Pali Dr, Kaneohe, HI 96744 | Distance & Time from Leonard’s Bakery: 9.3 miles, 15-30 minutes
Next stop is the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout. This stop gives you a stunning, panoramic view of the east side of Oahu. Plan to take tons of pictures here and spend a lot of time taking in the view.
Parking is $3 for cars, but there are no other fees. It is extremely windy, which makes it chilly, too. Bring a light jacket on your road trip that you can throw on when you get out of the car at this stop.
3. Byodo-In Temple
Address: 47-200 Kahekili Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744 | Distance & Time from Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout: 8.6 miles, 20-35 minutes
After Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout, head over to Byodo-In Temple, which was featured on the TV show Lost.
Along the way, you might be lucky enough to see waterfalls coming off the Koʻolau Mountain Range. The mountain range will be on your left side as you drive northwest on Highway 83 towards the Byodo-In Temple. The waterfalls come from pools of water that collect at the top of the mountains after heavy rainfall, so you don’t always see the waterfalls.
The Byodo-In Temple is in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, which is a beautiful memorial cemetery. The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a nearly 1,000 year-old temple in Uji, Japan.
As you’re walking towards the Byodo-In Temple, you’ll likely hear the sound of a gong. This is a three-ton brass bell that you can ring prior to going into the temple. Ringing the bell is said to bring you happiness, blessings, and a long life.
You’ll need to take off your shoes before entering the temple, where you can see a golden, 9-foot tall Buddha. Incense is available to light and you can mediate in front of the Buddha.
The Temple grounds are open from 9AM-5PM. General admission is $5 (ages 13-64), $2 for children (ages 2-12), and $4 for seniors (ages 65 & up).
4. Lāʻie Point
Address: 55-44 Naupaka St, Laie, HI 96762 | Distance & Time from Byodo-In Temple: 21 miles, 40-50 minutes
Next stop is Lāʻie Point! We stumbled upon this location by accident and were so happy to find it. After driving through a residential neighborhood, you’ll reach a small parking lot that overlooks the ocean. From the parking lot, you can walk out on the point, which gives you a great view of the Oahu coastline. You’ll be able to look down to see colorful fish in the pristine waters and watch tiny crabs scuttle along the rocks. At Lāʻie Point, you’ll some small islands close to the shore. One of the islands, Kukuiho’olua Island, has a hole right in the middle of the island (see picture below).
5. North Shore
Address: Waimea Bay, Hawaii 96712 | Distance & Time from Lāʻie Point: 13 miles, 20-25 minutes
You’ll head on to Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore next. During the winter months, this area is famous for its huge waves. The waves are much smaller during the summer months. But even during the summer months, it’s still a fun area to take in the laid-back atmosphere and watch the surfers try to catch a wave.
Along the drive to Waimea Bay from Lāʻie Point, you’ll see lots of food trucks with huge parking lots of hungry customers. Stop at any one of these food trucks for delicious shrimp.
While driving along the coast, pull over into a parking lot or find street parking to take in the fun beach and surfing atmosphere.
6. Waimea Valley
Address: 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 | Distance & Time from Waimea Bay: 0.8 miles, 5 minutes
After checking out Waimea Bay, head 5 minutes down Waimea Valley Road to see the the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens. You’ll want to allow for plenty of time to stroll through the amazing, lush gardens.
After a 3/4 mile walk, you’ll reach a swimming pond and waterfall. Bring your swimsuit and water shoes to swim to the waterfall!
Hours are 9AM-5PM (or 5:30PM in the summer). Admission is a little expensive, but definitely worth it: $16 general admission (ages 13-61), $8 for children (ages 4-12), $12 for students (with a valid college ID), and $12 for seniors (ages 62 & up).
TIP: Google maps has multiple options to get you to the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens, but some are going to lead you astray. Ignore all the ones except the one that takes you down Waimea Valley Road. There are also “Waimea Valley” road signs to help you get from Waimea Bay to the botanical gardens.
7. Dole Plantation
Address: 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa, HI 96786 | Distance & Time from Waimea Valley: 11.9 miles, 15-25 minutes
After Waimea Valley, your next stop is the Dole Plantation! Fair warning – this is a tourist trap. But you can skip all the touristy things and go straight to the Dole Whip. Dole Whip is a magical dish that turns pineapple into an ice cream texture.
Some people will tell you to skip the Dole Planation entirely, but it’s directly on the way back to Waikīkī from Waimea Valley, there’s a huge parking lot that makes parking easy, and you don’t have to pay an entrance fee to get access to the Dole Whip. And you need Dole Whip in your life.
The Dole Planation is open from 9:30AM-5:30PM, so make sure you allow plenty of time during your road trip to get to the Dole Plantation before it closes for the day.
Back to Waikīkī
Address: Varies by your hotel | Distance & Time from Dole Plantation: About 25 miles, 35-60 minutes (depending on your destination in Waikīkī)
Finally, it’s time to head back to Waikīkī! You can spend the rest of your drive basking in the deliciousness of Dole Whip and reminiscing about your awesome road trip around Oahu!
Bonus Stop: Hanauma Bay
Address: Hanauma Bay, Hawaii 96825 | Distance & Time from Waikīkī: About 10 miles, 25-45 minutes
If you have more than one day to drive in Oahu, take the time to go to Hanauma Bay. It’s a beautiful beach with great snorkeling opportunities. You’ll want to get there early, because the parking lots fill up in the morning and they shut down the access road to cars. There are other areas to park farther away, but the walk from those parking lots can be lengthy.
I hope these tips help you to have an incredible road trip around Oahu! For places to see in Honolulu, check out: