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Want to connect with Hawaii, beyond Waikiki? Then it’s definitely worth taking a full day from sunbathing, renting a car, and driving to tour around Oahu.
There are many stories, tips and advice along the way, that will enhance your Oahu, Hawaii vacation experience. We’ll highlight the many viewpoints, but how and how long you choose to explore is up to you.
The main attraction is the North Shore, and it’s famous big wave surfing beaches of Sunset Beach & Banzai Pipeline.
Hear about the history of surfing, local legends and some overseas challengers to the throne. Enjoy a stop for some tropical delights at the Dole Plantations on the way to the laid back North Shore town of Haleiwa, or continue on to Shrimp Truck heaven.
We’ll point out a few of our favourites, but remember to bring mints or friends that don’t care about garlic breath.
Continue driving along the windward side and grab a photo of the hole in the rock Laie Sea Arch.
Looking for a cultural experience? The Polynesian Cultural Center is a theme park and living museum, home to the Islands biggest luau and evening show. Or find your zen at the serene Buddhist Byodo-In Temple.
Loop back around the Pali and return to Waikiki. You can also choose to drive this route in the opposite direction and arrive at Sunset Beach, late in the afternoon before returning to Waikiki.
Or scope out Ko Olina, the resort area with crested shaped beach lagoons and the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa.
Oahu’s Southeast corner is an area dominated by extinct volcanoes and sandy beaches. Get fit by hiking up the short but steep staircase at Diamond Head, you’ll be reward with breathtaking view overlooking Honolulu. And one of the best, but also most popular spots to snorkel is Hanauma Bay. To help the reef, the bay is closed on Tuesdays, so make sure you plan around that.
Escape to the small towns of Kailua and Lanikai for pristine beaches, or take a guided kayaking tour to the twin islands, “The Mokes” just offshore. It’s not hard to feel the spiritual significance at the Pali Lookout, but hang onto your hats, you’ll also feel the strong wind blowing up against these cliffs.
Continue on the Pali to finish the loop back in Waikiki, or continue driving to complete the Island Circle.
If you want to have an amazing day and see everything, then all you have to do is start early and spend a full day of sunshine driving all the way around the island. Simply combine the North Shore Loop and Volcanoes & Beaches into one easy continuous tour.
You can drive either way around the island, start at the North Shore and go clockwise, or start with Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay and go counter-clockwise – it’s your choice.
If you want to make longer stops like hiking Diamond Head, snorkelling at Hanauma Bay or visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, then you will need to keep an eye on time to make sure you don’t run out of daylight! If going counter-clockwise, its nice to watch the sunset at Sunset Beach, have dinner at Haleiwa and then drive back to Waikiki in the dark.
You’ll be amazed by the variety of experiences, including authentic Hawaiian places of interest, once you drive away from Waikiki.
We recommend you dedicate at least a 1/2 day as its own day trip from Waikiki for the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center if you want to pay respects and explore this still active naval base.
We include driving instructions on where to exit for Pearl Harbor as you are heading towards the North Shore.
Official starts are along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki or Ko Olina, or join and pick up commentary anywhere along the route.
Island Circle – expect to spend a full day (10+ hours) between driving and sightseeing stops
North Shore Loop – expect around 6 hours between driving and sightseeing stops
Beaches & Volcanoes – allow a half day to drive with sightseeing stops.
Pearl Harbor – Expect a half day depending on how busy the site is.
Island Circle Loop – 105 miles
North Shore Loop – 90 miles
Beaches & Volcanoes – 45 miles for the loop
Yes. Driving counter-clockwise (starting with Diamond Head) has 2 small advantages;
You will most likely run out of daylight before you can complete the full circuit. When you arrive the at Pearl Harbor, the first thing to do is sign up for the next available boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. Sometime the wait is short, sometimes it can be a couple of hours depending on how busy it is.
If you want to try, then aim to be at Pearl Harbor no later than 8am. Start the tour by driving in the North Shore direction.
If you find the sun is setting before you make it around, you can take the short cut across the island via Pali Lookout. Then complete the shorter Beaches & Volcanoes route another day.
Double check it is open and the operating hours – generally 6am-6pm and closed on Tues. It’s one of the most popular snorkelling beaches on the island, so get going early before the car park is full.
Yes, recommend taking cash as some don’t take credit cards. An remember to bring some hand towels and mints. Yup – there’s lots of garlic!