Are you looking for the best Oahu scenic drives? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!
Oahu, Hawaii is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you can see a ton of the island’s nature beauty on casual scenic drives on Oahu. You don’t have to go on difficult hikes or pay expensive tour companies to get some of the best views. This guide has nine of the most stunning Oahu scenic drives.
Before I get started, I want to clarify something. While you can drive around the entire island of Oahu in one day, I don’t recommend it. As a matter of fact, one of the most popular Hawaii FAQs is, “How long does it take to drive around Oahu?”
In theory, without the island’s horrendous traffic, it only takes three and a half hours. But this means that you’ll miss all of the excitement in the middle, and you won’t make any stops. Instead, I recommend picking and choosing your favorite Oahu scenic drives from the list below and centering a day-long itinerary around that area, rather than trying to cover the entire island in one day.
By far, the best scenic drive on Oahu is H-3. H-3 is one of Oahu’s three highways (That’s right. We number them 1, 2, and 3.), and this one happens to have absolutely stunning views.
H-3 was built through the greenery-filled Koolau Mountain Range, which makes it a beautiful Oahu scenic drive. On a sunny day, you can not only see these stunning mountains, but you can also get glimpses of the beautiful Kaneohe Bay.
However, in my opinion, the best time to experience the H-3 drive is when it’s pouring rain. Let me paint a picture for you. You’re winding through the luscious, plant-laden Koolau Mountain Range. Then, imagine, water is pouring out of the sky and into each and every crevice of the Koolau Mountain Range. This creates dozens, if not hundreds, of Oahu waterfalls. Can you imagine more spectacular Oahu scenic drives than that?
To get the full experience H-3, you’ll want to set you GPS from Kailua to Aiea (or vice versa). If you want to experience the rainy version of H-3, try to time your drive on the rainiest day of your trip. Check the weather for Kaneohe before you head out. If it’s supposed to rain there most of the day, you may be in luck!
This entire Oahu scenic drive takes about 20 to 25 minutes.
*Local Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for a silver staircase snaking up the Koolau Mountain Range. This is the infamous Stairway to Heaven hike.
You’ve landed at the Honolulu Airport, and you’re ready to start exploring right away. What should you do? Where should you go? Lagoon Drive.
Located just outside of the Honolulu Airport, Lagoon Drive is a hidden gem of Oahu. This drive is on a road right next to – I mean like INCHES away from – pale blue teal water. And this water is dotted with dozens of little rounded islands with a ton of trees growing on each of them. When you get to the end of the road, you’ll reach a parking lot where you can sit and watch planes fly over this beautiful landscape. Pretty awesome, right?
Lagoon Drive is the shortest Oahu scenic drive on this list, as it takes only five minutes. But, if you’re in the area (so right after you land or right before you leave), you should definitely check it out.
No one really tells you about the east side of Oahu farther north than Kaneohe. But the drive up that coast – also known as the Windward Coast – all the way up to the North Shore is breathtaking.
You’ll be able to watch the color of the ocean start at a light
turquoise and then fade into a darker blue as you continue. You should definitely consider stopping at one of the tiny beaches you see along the way, so you can enjoy your own little slice of paradise. And keep your eyes peeled for a rope swing or two!
For this Oahu scenic drive, plug in “Kaneohe” as your starting point and “Laie” as the end.
This Windward Oahu drive is one of the longer ones, as it takes about 40 minutes.
The Pali Highway is known for the views from the Pali Lookout. From the Pali Lookout, you can see a large portion of the southeastern part of the island. However, most people don’t know that the drive to the Pali Lookout (or past it) is filled with bright greenery!
To get the most of the Pali Highway scenic drive, plug in your starting point as “S Vineyard St.” in Honolulu and your ending point as “Kailua Road.” If you would like you can continue the drive all the way to Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach, or the Lanikai Pillbox Hike.
This Pali Highway drive is only about 15 minutes, but it’s stunning! To make the most of this drive, be sure to pair it with a few of the other amazing things to do in Kailua.
Tantalus Round Top Drive
The winding road of Round Top Drive takes you all the way to Tantalus Lookout Point. This blooming road is filled with green vegetation. And at the end, the views of Diamond Head, Honolulu, Waikiki, and the Pacific Ocean aren’t too bad either.
This Tantalus Round Top Drive scenic drive only takes about 10 minutes.
The scenic drive on the North Shore on Kamehameha Highway is filled with changing sites. On the western end of the North Shore, there are hidden, untouched beaches. As you drive further east, you’ll pass the sleepy, surfer town of Haleiwa – complete with the famous food trucks.
Then you’ll pass tons of famous beaches, including Laniakea Beach, Waimea Bay, and Banzai Pipeline. If you’re lucky, there might even be a surf competition happening! Past Pipeline, there’s even more to see, including shrimp farms, produce farms, the Turtle Bay Resort, and Laie Point.
To plan the perfect North Shore drive (complete with awesome stops), check out our Ultimate Guide to the North Shore of Oahu.
If you plan on covering the entirety of the North Shore (from Waialua to Laie), the drive will take 45 minutes at minimum. And you should probably add at least another 15 to 30 minutes to account for traffic. (It’s a road with one lane going in each direction, so congestion is a bit of a struggle.)
Basically, if you include stops on your scenic drive (which you should), you can easily spend a day or two on Oahu’s North Shore.
The Dole Plantation is one of the most popular tourist attractions on Oahu. (And the Dole Whip is one of the most popular treats.) However, when visitors are driving from Wahiawa town to Haleiwa, most visitors don’t realize that a large portion of this drive has views of pineapple fields!
The ocean of silvery plants on the way to the Dole Plantation is actually pineapple crowns! If you happen to pass by at the right time, you might even catch glimpses of miniature pineapples.
This Oahu scenic drive takes about 20 minutes.
The scenic drive near Makapuu Point is another one of Oahu’s hidden gems. You’ll drive past Hawaii Kai’s Koko Marina, China Walls (a popular cliff jumping spot), Hanauma Bay, Halona Blowhole, and Sandy Beach Park before you even reach Makapuu Point!
At Makapuu Point, you can take on the easy Makapuu Lighthouse Trail hike or check out the Makapuu Tidepools. If you continue driving down this winding part of Kalanianaole Highway, you’ll come across Makapuu Beach, Sea Life Park, and a few other hidden beaches. You can even extend the drive all the way to Kailua (although, I’ll be honest, this isn’t the most efficient route, just the most scenic route).
For an easy starting and stopping point, plug in “Kuliouou Beach Park” as the start and “Waimanalo Beach” as the end.
This drive only takes about 15 minutes without stops. But stops are essential part of this drive, you should block out at least an hour of time to stop at all of the worthwhile stops.
Nuuanu Pali Drive
Right next to the entrance of the Lulumahu Falls hike is one end of Nuuanu Pali Drive. This road is canopied with blossoming greenery from start to finish. This area is filled with streams that keep this canopy happy, healthy, and vibrant. It’s like a natural magical wonderland!
If you start this Oahu scenic drive at Lulumahu Falls, you can drive the entirety of Nuuanu Pali Drive and end up just ten to fifteen minutes away from Chinatown, downtown Honolulu, and Waikiki Beach.
The Nuuanu Pali Drive is really only five minutes. But if you combine it with the part of Pali Drive that heads back into to Honolulu, it’ll take ten minutes.
Looking for more amazing activities to do on Oahu? Here are 100 things to do on Oahu.
Are there any Oahu scenic drives that I missed on this list? Or have you done any of these drives? Let me know in the comments!
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