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
Most visitors have their first experience of Hawaii on Oahu. You may love the bustling atmosphere and amenities of Waikiki, but if you venture around the island you’ll start to see the tropical scenery, turquoise waters, rich culture and history that attracts many visitors.
Also known as ‘The Gathering Place’, Oahu is Hawaii’s third largest island but has far more activities and cultural/historical sites than any other island. From the surfing beaches on the North Shore, to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, to historic sites like Pearl Harbor, there’s something for everyone in Oahu.
There are far more activities and cultural/historical sites on Oahu than any other island, but some of the top highlights include snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, watching surfers along the North Shore, hiking Diamond Head and visiting Pearl Harbor.
The off-peak, shoulder seasons of April to May and September to mid-December are when you’ll find the best values in Oahu. You can expect far more crowds (and higher prices) in the winter months, with a similar, schools-out family vacation crowd in June, July and August.
Depending on your list of what you want to experience, and considering the travel time involved, one should try to stay a week on Oahu if they don’t want to feel rushed.
Honolulu is the state capital and largest city in Hawaii, and millions of visitors arrive through Honolulu to stay on the island of Oahu.
No trip to Oahu is complete without a trip to Hanauma Bay, consistently one of the top three attractions. As part of the conservation efforts, reservations are now required to enter the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. The nature preserve is open to the public from Wednesdays through Sundays, with entry from 6:45am to 2pm, and can be booked online two days in advance or by walk-in and drive-in. A small fee applies for entry and parking to this popular spot.