Driving along Oahu’s coastal roads, taking in the island’s breathtaking beaches, lush rainforests, and iconic landmarks is an experience not to be missed for Hawaii visitors. If you’re wondering just how long this scenic island circuit would take, here’s a quick answer: plan for a full day, or about 6-8 hours, to comfortably drive around the perimeter of Oahu.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide everything you need to know to plan your own road trip around Oahu, including average drive times along different routes, must-see stops, tips for maximizing your time, and more.
Driving Times and Routes Around Oahu
South and East Shores: 3-4 hours
Exploring the beautiful South and East Shores of Oahu is a must for any visitor to the island. With its stunning beaches, scenic drives, and cultural landmarks, this part of the island offers a unique experience. To fully appreciate the beauty of this region, it is recommended to allocate 3-4 hours for your drive. Start your journey in Honolulu and head east towards Hanauma Bay, a popular snorkeling spot with crystal-clear waters. From there, continue along the coast, passing through iconic spots like Sandy Beach and Makapu’u Point Lookout. Make sure to take a detour to the stunning Lanikai Beach and visit the historic town of Kailua. The scenic drive will leave you awe-struck as you take in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
North Shore: 1.5-2 hours
The North Shore of Oahu is famous for its world-class surfing spots, picturesque beaches, and laid-back vibe. If you’re a fan of big waves and want to witness some incredible surf action, a drive to the North Shore is a must. The drive from Honolulu to the North Shore takes approximately 1.5-2 hours, depending on traffic. Once you reach the North Shore, you’ll be greeted by legendary surf spots like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. Take some time to relax on the beautiful beaches, grab a delicious plate of garlic shrimp from one of the famous food trucks, and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere. Don’t forget to visit Haleiwa, a charming town known for its unique shops and art galleries.
West (Leeward) Coast: 1-2 hours
The West Coast of Oahu, also known as the Leeward Coast, offers a different perspective of the island. With its pristine beaches, rugged cliffs, and stunning sunsets, this part of Oahu is definitely worth exploring. The drive from Honolulu to the West Coast takes approximately 1-2 hours, depending on traffic. As you make your way west, you’ll pass through the vibrant city of Kapolei and continue along the coast, passing by beautiful beaches like Ko Olina and Makaha. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a detour to the picturesque Makaha Valley and enjoy the scenic views. The West Coast of Oahu is a hidden gem that offers a more tranquil and less crowded experience compared to other parts of the island.
Must-See Stops and Attractions Around the Island
Southeast Oahu: Hanauma Bay, Makapuu Lighthouse, Halona Blowhole
If you’re driving around Oahu, make sure to include the southeast part of the island in your itinerary. One of the must-see stops in this area is Hanauma Bay, a stunning marine sanctuary known for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life. Snorkeling here is an experience you won’t want to miss. Another popular attraction is the Makapuu Lighthouse, offering breathtaking views of the coastline. And don’t forget to stop by the Halona Blowhole, where you can witness the impressive natural phenomenon of ocean waves shooting up through a lava tube.
East Shore: Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach, Kualoa Ranch
The east shore of Oahu is home to some of the most picturesque beaches on the island. Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach are both renowned for their pristine white sands and turquoise waters. Spend a day relaxing on the beach or try out some water activities like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Another must-visit spot on the east shore is Kualoa Ranch, a 4,000-acre private nature reserve offering a variety of outdoor adventures. From horseback riding to ATV tours, there’s something for everyone at this scenic location.
North Shore: Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, Haleiwa
The North Shore of Oahu is a surfer’s paradise and a must-see for beach lovers. Waimea Bay is famous for its massive waves, attracting professional surfers from around the world. If you’re not into surfing, you can still enjoy the stunning beach and take a refreshing dip in the clear waters. Sunset Beach is another popular spot known for its breathtaking sunsets and excellent surf breaks. And don’t forget to explore the charming town of Haleiwa, where you can find unique shops, art galleries, and delicious local cuisine.
West Coast: Kaena Point State Park, Waianae Coast Scenic Byway
If you’re looking to explore the more rugged and untouched side of Oahu, head to the west coast of the island. Kaena Point State Park offers a beautiful coastal hike with stunning views of the ocean and wildlife. Keep an eye out for Hawaiian monk seals and seabirds as you make your way to the westernmost point of the island. Another scenic drive to consider is the Waianae Coast Scenic Byway, which takes you through picturesque coastal communities and offers breathtaking views of the dramatic cliffs and pristine beaches along the way.
Tips for Maximizing Your Drive Around Oahu
Allow a Full Day for the Drive
If you’re planning to drive around Oahu, it’s important to allow yourself a full day to truly experience all that this beautiful island has to offer. The drive itself takes approximately 4-5 hours, but you’ll want to make plenty of stops along the way to take in the breathtaking views and explore the various attractions. Whether it’s visiting famous beaches like Waikiki or exploring the lush landscapes of the North Shore, giving yourself enough time will ensure that you don’t feel rushed and can fully appreciate the island’s beauty.
Get an Early Start to Avoid Traffic
Oahu’s popularity as a tourist destination means that traffic can get quite congested, especially during peak hours. To make the most of your drive and avoid spending unnecessary time in traffic, it’s advisable to start your journey early in the morning. By hitting the road before the rush hour begins, you’ll not only enjoy smoother driving conditions but also get a head start on your itinerary. Plus, there’s something magical about experiencing the sunrise as you drive along the scenic routes of Oahu.
Fill Up on Gas Before Heading Out
Before embarking on your drive around Oahu, make sure to fill up your gas tank. While there are gas stations available along the way, it’s always a good idea to start your journey with a full tank. This will give you peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to worry about running out of gas in the middle of your adventure. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to stock up on snacks and drinks for the journey.
Bring Snacks, Drinks, and Sun Protection
As you drive around Oahu, you’ll undoubtedly work up an appetite from all the sightseeing and exploring. To keep yourself energized and hydrated throughout the day, it’s essential to bring along snacks and drinks. Pack a cooler with refreshing beverages and pack some non-perishable snacks like granola bars or fruit. Don’t forget to also bring sun protection, including sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. The Hawaiian sun can be intense, and it’s important to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
Alternative Ways to Explore Oahu
When it comes to exploring the beautiful island of Oahu, there are several alternative ways to get around besides driving. Whether you prefer to sit back and relax on a guided bus tour or soar above the island on a thrilling helicopter ride, there are plenty of options to suit your preferences and budget.
Public Bus System (TheBus)
One of the most affordable ways to explore Oahu is by utilizing the public bus system, known as TheBus. With an extensive network of routes covering all major attractions and towns on the island, TheBus offers a convenient and cost-effective way to get around. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to mingle with locals and soak in the vibrant atmosphere of Oahu’s communities. You can find more information about routes, fares, and schedules on TheBus website.
Guided Bus Tours
If you prefer a more structured and informative experience, joining a guided bus tour is an excellent option. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who will provide interesting commentary about the island’s history, culture, and attractions. You can choose from a variety of tour options, including full-day or half-day tours, and even specialized tours that focus on specific themes like food, nature, or history. Some popular companies that offer guided bus tours on Oahu include Roberts Hawaii and Poly Ad.
For a truly breathtaking and unforgettable experience, consider taking a helicopter tour to explore Oahu from above. These tours provide a unique perspective of the island’s stunning landscapes, including its lush mountains, pristine beaches, and iconic landmarks like Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. You’ll have the opportunity to capture breathtaking aerial photographs while enjoying the thrill of soaring through the sky. Some reputable helicopter tour companies on Oahu include Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Hawaiian Helicopter Tours.
A full loop around Oahu by car takes roughly 6-8 hours, depending on your stops. While the highway stretches over 100 miles, the key is not to rush your journey but rather take time to soak up the island’s natural wonders. By planning your route, packing accordingly, and breaking up the drive with sightseeing and snacks, circumnavigating Oahu by car is an amazing way to experience the diversity of landscapes and cultures that make this island so special.