Top Three Scenic Drives Oahu

Top Three Scenic Drives Oahu

In Hawaii, holoholo means “road trip”. People might not think of the Hawaiian islands as being the best place to holoholo, but Oahu scenic drives can rival any route on the mainland.

A lot of people choose not to rent a car when they visit Oahu. But at 44 miles long, 30 miles wide and roughly 112 miles around, Oahu has lots to see outside of Waikiki.

Trust us when we say the rental is worth it. Here are our top 3 favorite roads in Oahu, along with all of the best stops along the way. If you don’t want to rent a car but still want to see some of these spots, join an Island and You bus tour of Oahu!

#1: HI-72 (H1) East from Waikiki to Waimanalo
Miles: 19.6 Miles
Drive Time: Approximately 1 Hour
Traffic: Traffic tends to be congested at around 3-6pm on weekdays

Tour around Oahu with Island and You

Sandy beaches and skyscrapers line the coast at Waikiki, but just out of town the scenery changes drastically.

Heading East on the H1 takes you past the iconic Diamondhead Crater and through the upscale town of Hawaii Kai. Once you pass the marina, the road winds along cliffs carved by the sea and mesmerizing rock formations.

The first point of interest will be Hanauma Bay. This popular location boasts some of the best snorkeling on the island. But it’s best to show up early, as it can get somewhat crowded. Non-Hawaii residents must pay a fee of $7.50 to snorkel in the bay.

Across from Hanauma Bay is Oahu’s less famous, but equally beautiful crater, Koko Head. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can try the thigh-burner of a hike. But otherwise, it’s pretty to just drive past and take in the view.

Next, you’ll pass by the Halona Blowhole. There is limited parking available at the blowhole, but it’s worth it to make a quick stop if there is an open spot. Down below the parking lot is a pristine cove known by the name of Eternity Cove. With a small sandy beach, a lava tube and ocean sheltered from the waves beyond, it’s the perfect place to take a quick dip.

Beyond Halona Blowhole is a beach that is popular with locals called Sandy Beach Park. This beach is for experienced swimmers only. It has one of the world’s most dangerous shore breaks in the world, earning it the nickname ‘Broke Neck Beach’. It’s no joke, so please be careful if you stop here.

The last stop on this cruise along the coast is the eastern-most point of Oahu: Makapu’u. It’s the home to a charming little lighthouse and some unforgettable views. The best way to take in the view is to park at the base of the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail and hike up the paved road to the top. This will take about 3-4 hours and can be hot, so be sure to bring water and comfortable shoes.

If you still have some light left in the day, you can keep going along the same road all the way to Waimanalo Beach Park, or you can turn around and head back the way you came.

#2: I-H-3-E North from Halawa to Kaneohe
Miles: 12.7 Miles
Drive Time: Approximately 25 minutes
Traffic: Traffic can be congested at around 3-6pm on weekdays

H3 Scenic drive on Oahu
Photo by Casey Horner

Though this route doesn’t have any stops along the way, it’s arguably one of the best drives on the island in terms of views.

As you head out of Halawa, the scenery becomes wilder as sloping tropical hills rise to peaks on the left and right side. The raised John A. Burns Freeway shoots down the middle of Halawa Valley until it approaches the sheer cliffs of the Ko’olau Mountain Range.

The almost 5,000-foot long Tetsuo Harano Tunnels are a feat of modern engineering. They pierce through the middle of the multi-thousand-foot mountains, knocking out radio connection or cell reception for about a minute.
Keep your eyes open as you burst out of the Kaneohe side of the tunnel to one of the most stunning views on all of the island.

Lined on all sides by cliffs with Ruffles-potato-chip-like ridges, the view is incomparable. Movies such as “Triple Frontier” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” use aerial footage of the tunnel exit.

In winter, the view can be even more awe-inspiring. After a few days of heavy rain, each ridge on the mountainside turns into a waterfall. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road when the views are so beautiful (but make sure to drive safely!).

 

#3: I-H-2 and Kamehameha Highway North from Pearl City to Haleiwa
Miles: 18.7 Miles
Drive Time: Approximately 35 minutes
Traffic: Portions of the road are 1-lane, so accidents or construction can lead to slow-downs

Haleiwa, the ‘surfing capital of the world’, is a great getaway for anyone trying to escape the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. There’s plenty to do there, like shopping in the old-fashioned town square or surfing lessons. But the farms and sights on the drive up can be just as exciting.

The road starts fairly unassuming as you exit onto the H2 heading North. The highway cuts through midland forests past small towns like Waipio and Mililani. One bridge stretch near Mililani is particularly attractive, as the highway brings you above the treetops and over a small river.

After passing by Wahiawa, keep your eyes peeled for a red-dirt shoulder on the left side of the road (or type Kukaniloko Birthing Stones into Google Maps). This little-known state monument is full of cultural significance on the island. This stop is known as the navel of the island since it is almost directly in the center. Royalty gave birth to chiefs in this location.

After getting filled up with mana (strength), we recommend stopping at Green World Coffee Farm for some fresh, authentic Hawaiian coffee. If there’s time, you can take a tour of the coffee trees to see where the coffee is grown. The pastries here are delicious, too.

Once you’re past the coffee farm, the whole landscape turns into farmland. You’ll pass by taro fields, macadamia nut fields and more. But the biggest draw of all is the pineapple.

The last stop of your drive is the infamous Dole Plantation. This is a great family-friendly stop, where you can ride the pineapple train, eat dole whip or take a tour of the pineapple fields.

But our favorite part of the drive is still to come. As you draw closer to Haleiwa, the scenery shifts to a unique type of pine trees unlike anywhere else on the island.

And as you gain elevation and pique at the top of the hill, you get one of the most unobstructed views of the ocean on the island. Check out the surf and get ready to explore Haleiwa town!

Bonus: Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden via Park Access Road
Miles: 2.6 Miles
Drive Time: Approximately 10 minutes
Traffic: 1-Lane, Can be busy on weekends

Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden scenic drive
Photo by Wild Away

If these drives weren’t enough, the quick drive through the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is heralded for its breathtaking views of the Ko’olau mountain range and beautiful plant life.

Scenic Drives on Oahu

 

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