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Planning a family Oahu road trip? This guide is everything you need to know about the best scenic drives on Oahu, including how to prepare for an Oahu trip and where to find the most scenic stops around Oahu.
Oahu is one of the most impressive Hawaiian islands of volcanic origin. The third largest island in the archipelago is also one of the most exciting in Hawaii, with a highly diverse landscape, wonderfully developed infrastructure, numerous attractions, and rich culture. This makes it an excellent choice for a family trip with kids. About half of Hawaii’s residents live here, but you can still find wild places and nearly deserted beaches. Just rent a car and take one of the best Oahu scenic drives.
Green dense tropical forests, coastal cliffs, volcanic peaks, and paradisiacal beaches with the most famous Waikiki surrounded by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean make the Oahu road trip a fantastic family adventure. Renting a car and hitting the road to see the incredible panoramic views of Oahu is one of the best ideas for spending time in the Aloha state.
How to prepare for an Oahu road trip with kids? How long does it take to drive around Oahu? What are the best Oahu scenic drives? In this article are all answers to making the Oahu road trip unforgettable, full of activities, and epic vistas.
Since “holoholo” means “road trip” in Hawaiian, read these tips and start your epic journey.
Tips for Oahu Scenic Drives with Kids
Oahu offers hundreds of attractions for families with children of all ages. So below are some tips for the Oahu road trip so that every member of the journey has a beautiful and joyful time.
[Don’t forget the essentials for your Oahu scenic drives! Check out our family road trip packing list with a free printable download!]
- Divide the Oahu road trip into shorter lengths. The routes on Oahu are not long, so your kids will not be bored and tired. Choose from the best scenic drives on Oahu below that match most of your family’s interests.
- Start your Oahu scenic drives counterclockwise from the city of Honolulu. That’s because many of the most worthwhile stops are on the island’s east side and also because most of the food trucks are on the ocean side of the road. In Honolulu, you will also find the largest selection of rental cars.
- Ensure your kiddos do not leave valuables gadgets on the seats during stops. Hawaii is very safe, and the crime rate is low, but why tempt fate with a new iPad or a phone lying on the back seat?
- The roads on Oahu are in excellent condition, and the ride is easy. But the road meanders through lush valleys, volcanic mountains, and cliff seaside. If any trip participants may have motion sickness, pack pills and remember to hydrate.
- Please, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Some viewpoints on the Oahu scenic drives require a short walk. The route can often be rocky, so flip-flops might not be a good idea.
- If you can, head to the Oahu scenic drives on weekdays. There is more traffic on the weekends, and there may be a problem with parking, so start your trip early in the morning.
- While exploring the Oahu scenic drives, add in some stops specifically for the kids! [Like these kid-friendly Oahu luau for families!]
How long does it take to drive Oahu Scenic Drives?
Scenic Drive around Oahu is doable in one day. Driving time with stops and visiting some attractions will take you all day, at least eight to twelve hours. But if you have more time on an Oahu road trip, it is worth breaking it into a few days and choosing the most exciting routes from the list below, depending on what activities your family likes. So choose those best scenic drives on Oahu that suits you most.
The 9 Best Oahu Scenic Drives
Below is a list of the most stunning scenic drives on Oahu. Check it and choose the route that suits you best. The time given for each part of the Oahu road trip is indicative. It depends on whether and how much time you want to spend on individual attractions and how often you will stop. It also depends on whether you go on short hikes and visit some highlights along the route.
Interstate H-3 – for spectacular tunnels and views of the Koolau Mountains
Length: 16 miles
Time Required: 40 minutes
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the H-3 Highway:
- Tetsuo Harano Tunnels
- Hospital Rock Tunnels
- Viaducts above the tree line
- Ko’olau Mountain Range
The H-3 Highway stretches 16 miles and connects Pearl Harbor on the south coast of Oahu with Marine Corps Base Hawaii on the Mokapu Peninsula. It is one of America’s most beautiful yet controversial highways. Without a doubt, it is the best Oahu scenic drive. During this drive, you will see the essence of the island. You can start your road trip with a tour of Pearl Harbor and Aiea then end in Kailua.
H-3 is also known as the John A. Burns Freeway. This road leads the Ko’olau Range via several viaducts. One of the most spectacular and impressive human-made road infrastructures is Tetsuo Harano Tunnels. This tunnel is 5.165-feet-long. But the shorter Hospital Rock Tunnels also make a formidable impression. Series of tunnels are connected by viaducts high above the tree line of the Ha’ikū Valley, which makes you speechless by the beauty of the scenery. Waterfalls flow down from the luscious, full of greenery Koolau Mountain Range.
The construction of this route was complicated because of its natural, historical, and cultural values. Engineers had to find various solutions to mitigate the environmental impact and overcome Native Hawaiian opposition to the project. For this reason, it is the most expensive public project in Hawaii. The highway took 37 years to complete and cost about $1.3 billion.
Diamond Head Road – for sweeping views of the ocean and whale watching
Length: 5 miles
Time Required: 30 minutes – 4 hours
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Diamond Head Road:
- Waikiki Aquarium
- Diamond Head Landmark
- Kuilei Cliffs
- Amelia Earhart Memorial
- Whales in winter months (December through March)
Diamond Head Road is a short Oahu scenic drive that starts at one of Hawaii’s most famous beaches – at the east end of Waikiki. Take this route and drive along Kalakaua Avenue. Along the way is the Waikiki Aquarium, which is a perfect stop if you are traveling with kids. The aquarium houses more than 2,500 animals and is the third oldest aquarium in the United States. In addition, it is not only a public attraction but also the University of Hawaii’s research and educational facility for aquatic life.
After visiting the aquarium, continue your drive through the scenic Oahu landscape along Diamond Head, one of the most famous and photographed landmarks of Oahu and the entire state of Hawaii. It was once an active volcano but has not spewed ash in more than 150,000 years. The extinct crater and viewpoint at its summit are popular hiking destinations.
Diamond Head Road along the coast is the most scenic part. The road goes uphill along the cliff, and below is the ocean. This is a perfect place for coastal whale watching in the winter months, from December to March. [Take a narrated hike up Diamond Head as the perfect accompaniment to your Oahu scenic drive]
The best vantage point is Kuilei Cliffs overlooking Oahu’s south shore and Kahala’s oceanfront villas. On this scenic drive, be sure to check out the monument to Amelia Earhart. She was an American pilot, journalist, and book author. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in 1928 and the first woman to fly solo as a pilot in 1932. Moreover, she was also the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to North America. She did it in 1935.
On sunny days, with a clear sky, it is possible to see two more paradise Hawaiian islands, Molokai and Lanai. Continue down Diamond Head Road, and you will reach Kahala Avenue. You can loop around and end your trip in Waikiki.
Farrington Highway North Shore – for hiking with ocean views
Length: 8 miles
Time Required: 40 minutes – 3 hours
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Farrington Highway North Shore:
- Mokuleia Beach Park
- Army Beach
- Kaʻena Point Trail
- Ka’ena Point State Park
First of all, it is essential to know that this highway consists of two parts. So be sure to check the map to see which Farrington Highway you want to drive. This is because one part is on the island’s north coast, while the second part crosses the west coast. There is no road between the two parts. Between the two parts of the road is an unapproachable part of the island called Ka’ena Point. You can only go hiking here. This place is famous for the habitats of albatrosses and other sea birds.
If you want to drive the Farrington Highway North Shore, start your scenic drive in the town of Waialua. The 8-mile drive will take you no more than 30-40 minutes unless you choose to trek at the end of the road. The road ends just before the Ka’ena Point State Park. You can admire the coastal beaches and Waianae Mountains along the scenic way. If you would like to stop for a picnic or chill on the beach, Mokuleia Beach Park and Army Beach are the nicest.
If you like hiking, the Kaʻena Point Trail at the end of the road offers beautiful vistas. It’s an easy walk, perfect for kids, especially as you can birdwatch and Hawaiian Monk Seal. Make sure to keep at least 150 feet distance from animals. Wear also comfy shoes, as it is a rocky area.
Farrington Highway West Shore – for empty and sandy beaches
Length: 40 miles
Time Required: 1 – 4 hours
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Farrington Highway West Shore:
- Ko Olina
- Mermaid Caves
- Keaau Beach
- Mākua Beach
- Jeep Trail
The Oahu scenic drive on the Farrington Highway West Shore begins at Kamehameha Highway north of Pearl Harbor, near Waipahu. It heads west along the southwestern and western shores of the island. The most scenic route starts near Ko Olina and ends just before Ka’ena Point State Park. So if you have less time, you can start your trip in Ko Olina. It is less than 30 miles from here.
The best stops along the way are Kahe Point Beach Park, Tracks Beach, Mermaid Caves, Kalaniana’ole Beach Park, Ulehawa Beach Park, and Mana Kai Beach. The most scenic section of the road is north of Makaha until it dead ends. It is worth stopping at Mākaha Beach Park, Kea’au Beach Park, Keaau Beach, and Mākua Beach. The essence of the beaches is they are beautiful, empty, and sandy, surrounded by the Waianae Mountains and green valleys. At the end of Farrington Highway West, the Jeep Trail to Ka’ena Point State Park begins.
If you want to do something different during your trip, check out this private tour of the mermaid caves with a hike, swim, picnic, and so much more.
Pali Highway (Route 61) – for Nu’uanu Pali Lookout and historic site
Length: 10.8 miles
Time Required: 30 minutes
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Pali Highway:
- Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
- Views of Kāne’ohe and Kailua
- Historic location
Pali Highway – Hawaii Route 61 is one of the most scenic roads on Oahu. It is the main road connecting downtown Honolulu with the windward side of the island of O’ahu. From downtown, it passes through Nu’uanu Valley and the Nu’uanu residential neighborhood, through the Nu’uanu Pali Tunnels, and down to the communities of Kāne’ohe and Kailua.
Pali Highway scenic drive starts near “S Vineyard Blvd” in Honolulu, close to the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. The ending point is Kailua Road.
Be sure to stop at Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, located before the tunnels, if you are coming from Honolulu. It is one of the most beautiful lookouts on Oahu. This famous vantage point on Oahu is situated on a 1,186-foot mountain saddle surrounded by 3,000-foot peaks of the Ko’olau Mountain Range. From this vantage point, you can see the charming and picturesque towns of Kailua and Kaneohe above the sea.
In addition, it is also a historic site. It was here in 1795 that the last battle of King Kamehameha took place in his war to unite all the islands.
Nuuanu Pali Drive – for a jungle experience and spooky Hawaiian legend
Length: 2 miles
Time Required: 10 minutes
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Nuuanu Pali Drive:
- Morgan’s Corner
- Ginger Pond
- Jackass Ginger Trailhead
Nu’uanu Pali Drive is a beautiful experience in lush greenery. During this short Oahu scenic drive, you will feel like you are in the jungle. It begins next to Pali Highway (Route 61) near Toho No Hikari Hawaii Church. This scenic drive will take you to the entrance of the Lulumahu Falls hike. The best idea is to combine Nuuanu Pali Drive with Pali Highway drive during one trip.
This greenery-covered road has some interesting-looking trees and lush vegetation surrounding it. But it is also home to a popular Hawaiian scary legend. In fact, locals consider the sharp turn, known as Morgan’s Corner, one of the creepiest places on Oahu. It’s really dark at Morgan’s Corner. There are many variations of the spooky story. A girl from Morgan’s residence hanged herself from the tree at the end of the street. When she was found, her head had separated from her body and was hanging from the rope. Her ghost haunts Nu’uanu Pali Drive. [If you like to be spooked, check out this list of 11 of the Best Halloween Towns in the United States.]
Tantalus Round Top Drive – for sunset and Honolulu night-time lights
Length: 7 miles
Time Required: 20 minutes
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Tantalus Round Top Drive:
- Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park
- Sunset over Honolulu
- City lights at night
Oahu road trip is not complete without Tantalus Round Top Drive. It’s one of the best Oahu highways to take in panoramic bird’s-eye views of Honolulu and Waikiki. The winding, covered road loops up to the top of Mount Tantalus and back down.
The best viewpoint is at Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park. You can see Diamond Head to the east, Honolulu International Airport, and Pearl Harbor to the west. The view of the sunset and the city lights at night is also unique from up here. It is the first street on Oahu to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
Kalanianaole Highway – for sea cliffs and movie location of Eternity Beach
Length: 18.5 miles
Time Required: 1 – 4 hours
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Kalanianaole Highway:
- Eternity Beach from the Oscar movie From Here to Eternity
- Sea cliffs
- Koko Head Crater
- Hanauma Bay
- Makapu’u Lighthouse
- Waimanalo Beach Park
Are you familiar with the 1953 movie From Here to Eternity? The film, directed by Fred Zinnemann, is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by James Jones. The film won 8 Oscars, including a statuette for Best Picture. The action was set in Hawaii in 1941. Some of the photos of the film were shot in Oahu. Also, the famous Eternity Beach pictures were shot here at the beautiful Halona Beach Cove. That is why Kalanianaole Highway – Hawaii Route 72 – is one of the best scenic drives on Oahu.
Kalanianaole scenic drive runs through Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo, and offers stunning viewpoints. One of the most famous landmarks on the south coast, which you see during this trip, is Koko Head Crater. If you have more time, you can consider hiking at the top. But the trail contains 1,048 stairs. They are steep, so it’s quite a challenging trail. Prepare for this hike well.
During this scenic Oahu drive, you can also admire Hanauma Bay. It is one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu.
One of the best viewpoints on this route is Lanai Lookout. You can see Molokai, Lanai, and Maui on a sunny and cloudless day. Another exciting point during this scenic drive is Halona Blowhole Lookout. Here you can see seawater rising from a hole in the lava shelf below.
Another great lookout on this route is Makapu’u. It offers stunning views of beaches Makapu’u and Sandy.
If you have more time for your Oahu road trip, also consider Ka Iwi Scenic Shoreline Trail. If you like lighthouses, this trail will lead you to one of the more beautiful lighthouses on Oahu, to the viewpoint of Makapu’u Lighthouse. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring more water for a 2-mile one-way hike. You can end this Oahu scenic drive in the charming Waimanalo. There is also worth stopping at Waimanalo Beach Park, which is a perfect place for family relaxation.
Kahala Avenue – for the posh Honolulu neighborhood
Length: 1.5 mile
Time Required: 10 minutes
Oahu Scenic Drives Highlights on the Kahala Avenue:
- Exclusive Honolulu villas
Our Oahu Scenic Drives list ends with a short Kahala Avenue trip. This is the wealthiest street and neighborhood in Honolulu. You’ll find impressive mansions with prices starting well above $1 million.
The houses are a mixture of modern and older villas. You can also find exclusive restaurants, entertainment centers, designer boutiques, fine jewelry, and designer clothing stores here. The villas are surrounded by some of the most beautiful postcard beaches in Hawaii, Waikiki, and Kahala.
Which of these scenic drives on Oahu is your favorite?