Aloha, fellow Oahu adventurers!
I can still feel the warm sun on my face and the ocean breeze in my hair as my boyfriend and I cruised down some of the most scenic roads in Oahu. It’s a feeling that everyone should experience at least once in their life – and lucky for you, we’ve done all the legwork to find the best drives on this gorgeous island.
If you’re like us, just itching for an unforgettable journey with jaw-dropping views without breaking a sweat on long hikes or worrying about packing enough supplies, then you’ve come to the right place. We spent countless hours exploring Oahu’s breathtaking landscapes from behind the wheel, so trust me when I say we didn’t miss a single hidden gem.
As someone who loves seeking out beauty in every corner of this planet, these driving routes hold a special place in my heart. They offer everything from lush jungle paths to sparkling waterfalls and pristine sandy beaches – all accessible from your vehicle! Not only did we keep our eyes peeled for amazing sights, but we also made sure each route had plenty of delicious pit stops along the way.
Warning: These drives are so captivating that they may cause an uncontrollable urge to pack up your car and embark on spontaneous road trips!
So buckle up, sweet travelers – it’s time to let those windows down and immerse yourself in Oahu’s endless magic through its most stunning drives!
#1 Pali Highway (Route 61) To the Pali Lookout – Best Short Drive and Shoreline View
I love this gorgeous and scenic route that links Honolulu with the Windward coast. Making your way from Honolulu, you will pass through the two Nu’uanu Pali tunnels and head down to Kailua and Kaneohe. The road will be full of curves, each one revealing a stunning view with the Koolau Mountain Range as the backdrop.
This is a short 15 to 20-minute drive to the Pali Lookout – which is a must-see spot itself. There is a large parking lot upon arrival and a viewing station that lets you see almost all of the southeastern part of the island. It is the most powerful view of the shoreline on the island.
Overall, taking this easy and scenic drive you get to see the mountain range, crystal clear ocean, jungle forests, and vast shoreline. There is nothing I would add to this view.
Make sure to enjoy the Pali Highway scenic drive up to Pali Lookout because:
- It’s a short, comfortable drive that provides stunning views.
- You will get to see the shoreline, mountains, lush forest, and open ocean.
- The Pali lookout is famous and a must-visit, with plenty of available parking.
#2 Diamond Head Road – The Best Cliffside Views and Whale Watching
If you are a fan of cliffside views, Diamond Head Road has the best ones on the island. Take the road from the eastern end of Waikiki passing by Kapiolani Park. Diamond Head Road actually circles around Diamond Head exposing breathtaking views along the spacious coastline. Follow the road uphill along the cliff while enjoying the panoramic views of the ocean below. There are also great views of Molokai on a clear day.
There are several well-worth stops on this drive, including the Kuilei Cliffs Beach Park. Here you will see the 11-acre narrow sand beach. More populated by marine life than people. A perfect peaceful and humbling stop.
There are several great spots on the drive to stop and see the whales (between December and March), so bring binoculars! At the end of the road, you will arrive at Kahala Avenue, which is a gorgeous mansion neighborhood. Even here it’s fun to see the houses only seen in movies.
Don’t miss out on the Diamond Head Road drive because:
- This road has the most beautiful cliff views on the island.
- You can stop by Kuilei Cliffs Beach Park to enjoy the view and peaceful ocean-side.
- There are many great whale-watching spots on the way.
- You can drive around some of the most gorgeous Hawaiian mansions at the end of the drive.
- The road is well-kept and maintained.
#3 Kamehameha Highway – The Best Half Day Trip or an All-day Adventure
This is the perfect half-day trip that takes about 3 to 4 hours (or more if you wish). The drive is full of great stops and views. It’s the best drive if you want to see the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. The drive will curve up and around the North Shore and lead you all the way to Kaneohe.
Consider stopping at Ehukai Beach, Sunset Beach, or Waimea Bay to see some professional surfing. There are also great spots on the way for whale watching like Kawela Bay.
Since this road leads through a traditional farming area, it’s also a great place to add some other activities like a pineapple plantation tour, a luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center (best on the island!), or a stop at Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa Ranch is known as the spot where Jurassic Park and the series Lost were filmed. These are some of the top destinations I recommend on the island (so just make it a day trip!)
Check out the Kamehameha Highway drive because:
- The drive is a great way to see breathtaking views and stop at some great attractions.
- Make it a day trip and enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches for swimming, whale watching, professional surfing, and more.
- Stop by the Polynesian Cultural Center and experience the best luau on the island.
- Visit Kualoa Ranch for some Jurassic park scenery.
- Appreciate the island farming practices with a juicy and tasty pineapple tour.
#4 H-2 From Pearl City to Haleiwa – Best Drive To Historic Haleiwa
The Pearl City to Haleiwa drive should take you about 2 hours to drive. But make sure to make several stops and make it a half-day activity. This is a great area to explore because you get to see city views, authentic Hawaiian scenery, jungle forests, and more. I love the rainforest feel around Waipio.
There are also nice views of Waianae Mountain. All leading you to the authentic and original town of Haleiwa. The road right up to the town is inclined and winding which is fun to drive.
Exploring the Historic town of Haleiwa will be the highlight of your day. It’s a true beach town with plantation-era buildings, small shops, and local art. It also has some great places to eat, so make sure to follow the locals.
I would describe the town as a hipster with many great surf shops. When you visit I would make sure you stop by Haleiwa Surf Museum which has free admissions. Also, take a swim at the Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park or just enjoy watching professional surfers (they are all around).
Make sure to do the H-2 from Pearl City to Haleiwa because:
- The views are different and most of the mainland.
- You can see jungle and rainforest views along with farms and authentic towns.
- The drive takes less than 2 hours and the destination is the historic town of Haleiwa.
- You can spend a few hours shopping, eating, and on the beaches of Haleiwa.
- They have great professional surfers to watch and an overall surfer vibe.
#5 Windward Coast (Honolulu to Kaneohe) – Secluded Beaches and the Byodo-in Temple
Following the Windward coast drive, you will see the most picture-perfect views the island has to offer. The road will show you panoramic beach views, open oceans, and lush jungles.
If you are searching for small and secluded sandy beaches, that look like they belong on a deserted island. Do this drive! Better yet, when you spot these great spots stop and enjoy the peace and quiet. This is the most relaxing and laid-back drive on the list. If you and your partner want a romantic picnic without anyone in sight, you will find a spot on this drive.
Also, make sure to stop at the Valley of the Temples. Byodo-in Temple is a Buddhist temple that welcomes tourists and is a great place to spend some quiet time. Here you will see an abundant koi pond, turtles, chickens, and a great temple.
Inside is a stunning 18-food Buddha statue. Generally, the area is serene and perfect for relaxing or even meditating. We spent a little over an hour at the temple. But there is a dress code, so add some long pants and leave them in the trunk for this visit.
Indulge in the windward coast drive from Honolulu to Kaneohe because:
- There are many gorgeous and breathtaking views of the ocean and shore.
- There are jungle and rainforest views as well.
- You will find many small secluded beaches to have a romantic picnic or just some peace.
- You can stop by the Byodo-in Temple at the Valley of the Temples and enjoy some time enjoying the grounds or even meditating.
#6 Tantalus Drive – Short Drive With Lots to Experience
If you are looking for a short drive packed with places to see and things to do – this is it. The Tantalus Drive is a little over 8 miles long and follows the gorgeous coastline. It’s a two-lane spacious road, well-maintained and safe. It’s a perfect place to stop by for some incredible Instagram-worthy pictures.
This is the road to take if you want to see the bird’s eye view of Honolulu and Waikiki. The road exposes incredible city views, mountain ridges, beaches, and the ocean. It’s my favorite shoreline view. Parts of the road not showing the ocean-side are covered in a rainforest canopy, and incredibly relaxing.
My favorite view is the incredible Hanauma Bay with the bluest water and marine life-rich coral. Also, stop by the Diamond Head State Monument and have the perfect picnic with a view. I love the plush green areas perfect for a couple’s picnic.
Since there is a vast city and shoreline view, consider making the drive at sunset and night. The fiery sunset is amazing. And the city lights are an exciting and romantic view as well.
Tantalus Drive is worthwhile because:
- There are many different views to experience including a panoramic view high above Honolulu and Waikiki.
- The road has a great canopy covering rainforest parts of the drive.
- For this drive, you can check out the Hanauma Bay and Diamond Head State Monument.
#7 Makapu’U Point Drive – A Stunning View of the Shore and Historic Lighthouse
Take the trip from Waikiki to the Makapu’u Point lookout and lighthouse. The trip should take about 45 minutes and you will easily find parking. The entire drive is jungle-like and exotic. The road is safe and opens all year round. So enjoy it slowly and soak up the shoreline and the lighthouse views below you.
The view of the lighthouse is beautiful and it was built over a hundred years ago. You can’t go inside, but it is still well worth a visit.
Here you will also see Makapuu Beach with stunning cliffs right ahead. It’s popular surfing. Make sure to watch some professional surfing here. Also, there is the Hanauma Bay marine sanctuary view with the most beautifully colored water and coral reef.
If you register for entrance ahead of time, the Bay offers the best snorkeling on the island. The coral reef at the sanctuary is home to over 400 types of tropical fish and many other marine creatures.
This is a great drive because:
- The Makapu’u Point lookout and lighthouse provide a great and authentic Hawaiian view with some history attached.
- There are great views of cliffs, ocean, and rainforests along the way.
- It’s a good spot to have a picnic and enjoy a sunset. It is a romantic spot.
- It’s near the one-of-a-kind Hanauma Bay marine sanctuary.
Conclusion on the Best Scenic Drive in Oahu
When visiting Oahu, there are many scenic drives to consider and experience. The natural beauty is highlighted by jungles, beaches, and panoramic views of the ocean no matter where you go.
Make sure to check out my favorite drives on the island and I’m sure you will find your favorite.
If you are looking for a short and impactful drive, make sure to check out the Tantalus Drive or the Pali Highway (Route 61) to the Pali Lookout.
If you want to make it a day trip, I highly recommend the Kamehameha Highway packed with great additional activities.
For the secluded date trip, head to the Windward Coast from Honolulu to Kaneohe.
No matter what route you choose, you will find something special and memorable.
Enjoy the paradise views of Oahu by doing multiple scenic drives, or pick your favorite.
I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers:
Can you drive around Oahu in a day?
It would be difficult to drive all of Oahu in one day. But a carefully planned trip could be done in two days. For those looking to experience authentic Hawaii without too much tiresome driving, check out Kamehameha Highway. It’s packed with great stops and activities on the way including the Polynesian Cultural Center which offers the best luau on the Island. There are also amazing beaches on the way. Another option is the Windward Coast drive which offers panoramic views of the laid-back shores and some secluded beaches.
Where is the famous road in Oahu?
The most famous drive in Oahu is the Kamehameha Highway drive. The drive usually takes three to four hours, but can be an all-day activity. Driving along the Kamehameha Highway you will witness the island’s most beautiful beaches like Ehukai Beach, Sunset Beach, or Waimea Bay. And have the opportunity to make some great stops to admire the local culture. Take the pineapple tour for some local farming information and a juicy treat. If you have the time I also highly recommend visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center and staying for the Alii Luau.
Can you drive into Diamond Head Crater?
If you wish to visit the Diamond Head Crater there are two ways to enjoy some of its views. You can’t drive into the Crater, but you can drive around it. This road is known as the Diamond Head Road. The drive offers many great cliffside views. Also, you pass the Kuilei Cliffs – Beach Park. The other way is to do the hike. It’s a 1.8-mile out-and-back trail from Waikiki and it takes about 1 hour to complete. This is the better option if you can hike because the views are incredible.
What is the most beautiful place in Oahu?
Oahu has many beautiful sites. Most are found on scenic drives around the island and make perfect stops on your drive. Check out the Byodo-in Temple at the Valley of the Temples while driving up the secluded Windward Coast. Or visit Kualoa Ranch the filming spot of Jurassic park and the series lost, while driving along the Kamehameha Highway. This highway is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the island, so make sure to stop by Sunset Beach, Kawela Bay, or Waimea Bay. These are also great spots to watch professional surfing and do some whale watching in the winter. My favorite is the Makapu’u Point lookout and lighthouse drive and hike. They are also close to the gorgeous Hanauma Bay marine sanctuary, the island’s best snorkeling spot with over 400 types of tropical fish.
Last Updated on April 7, 2023 by Brigitte