12 Best Scenic Drives in Oahu, Hawaii for Unforgettable Views

Wondering about the best scenic drives in Oahu? You have landed in the right place. In this post, I will tell you all about it!

I’ve lived on the island of Maui for the last 5 years and love going to Oahu to explore. Even the views from the airport are stunning!

The island of Oahu is small, but there’s so much to see and do. Offering everything from hikes with waterfalls, cute surf towns, delicious local food, and stunning beaches, you’ll always have things to do. 

Oahu is arguably one of the most beautiful spots in the world. If you plan to visit soon, you should hit the road and see some of the most gorgeous scenic drives Oahu offers. 

I’ve picked out the top 12 best scenic drives to Oahu so you can make the most of your time in Hawaii. 

View of Oahu Beach with blue water surrounded by white sand.

Table of Contents

Best Scenic Drives in Oahu

1. North Shore Loop (Honolulu to Haleiwa)

I adore Oahu’s North Shore. It’s got it all: gorgeous beaches, cute surf towns, indie art galleries, and stunning views. 

Even if you’re staying elsewhere on the island, doing the North Shore Loop is 100% worth it! I’ve loved doing the North Shore loop during day trips to Oahu.

The North Shore has a bunch of neighborhoods and beaches. If you’re visiting during the winter, you can see surfing competitions at iconic North Shore beaches.  

Check out some of the most iconic stops along the drive below!

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Dole Plantation

Originally a fruit stand, the Dole Plantation offers much to anyone visiting. Check out the open-air Pineapple Express Train, learn about the delicious tropical fruit, and then walk through a garden maze shaped like the iconic fruit. 

Make sure to try Dole Whip while you’re here. It’s famous for a reason. 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay is a must-do while exploring the North Shore. If you’re visiting during the winter, you can see 30-foot waves and possibly even some big-wave surfers! 

This gorgeous beach has a full list of amenities: plenty of parking, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, and a lifeguard on duty throughout most of the day.

Waimea Canyon under a cloudy day.
Waimea
πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach)

Laniakea Beach is also known as Turtle Beach because of its frequent marine visitors!

This is an excellent spot to visit if you hope to see a Hawaiian green sea turtle. There are almost always turtles hanging out in the rocky cove.

Plus, the beach is gorgeous and a great spot to hang out.

2. Diamond Head Drive

Diamond Head, known as Lē’ahi, is an iconic volcanic formation that you can see from Waikiki. It’s rich with history and cultural significance and is worth driving up to.

The crater became a state monument in 1962, and a hike to the top offers fantastic views of downtown Honolulu. 

If you’re staying in downtown Honolulu, it’s a quick half-day activity. To enter the monument, you must have reservations unless you have a Hawaii state ID.

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Waikiki Beach

Located on the south shore of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is right next to the vibrant Kalākaua Avenue. 

You’ll be able to see LΔ“Κ»ahi in the distance, and the calm waters of Waikiki are the perfect spot to learn how to surf.

There is plenty of room to sunbathe, swim, or boogie board!

View of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Hotel under a blue sky.
Waikiki
πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Diamond Head State Monument

The main thing to do within the Diamond Head State Monument is the Diamond Head Hike. This 1.6-mile (roundtrip) trail might be short, but the elevation gain can make it challenging. 

You’ll climb 560 feet from the crater floor to the overlook. The path is paved the whole way, and you’ll finish with a good section of stairs. 

I recommend going early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid some of the heat.

You do need to make a reservation for parking and entry

3. Interstate H-3

Interstate H3 is a gorgeous drive, crossing the Ko’olau Range for breathtaking views. 

Head into the 5,165-foot-long Tetsuo Harano Tunnels and see how long you can hold your breath. 

It begins northwest of Downtown Honolulu and follows the Hālawa Valley towards the Ko’olau Range. 

It goes past the Kaneohe Interchange and the Kauila Interchange and finally ends at the main gate of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. 

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Ko’olau Mountain Range

One of the two major mountain ranges on the island, the Ko’olau Mountain range is known for its lush vegetation, waterfalls, and hiking trails.

Most of the hiking trails start on the western side of the mountains.

Some of the hiking trails are intense. If you’re a serious hiker, I’d recommend Manana Ridge Trail to the Ko’olau summit. 

It’s a 9.8-mile out-and-back trail that takes approximately 5 hours to finish.

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Pearl Harbor National Memorial

You must go to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial if you’re a history buff. It’s open every day from 7 am to 5 pm. (It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). 

Check out the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of a sunken battleship. See the final resting place for the crew members killed on December 7, 1941. 

The attack on Pearl Harbor was the reason for the U.S. involvement in WWII. 

View of the ship in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Pearl Harbor

4. Hanauma Bay Scenic Drive

For a beautiful 30-minute drive from Waikiki, head over to Hanauma Bay. See gorgeous coastal scenery as you drive past the sea. There are postcard-worthy beaches and volcanic sea cliffs.

This drive is niceβ€”but the best part is arriving at the Hanauma Bay. Once you get there, you can snorkel and enjoy the unique nature preserve. 

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Koko Head Crater

The Koko head crater hike is a great way to test your endurance. Lace up your hiking shoes and get ready to climb 1,048 steps to the top of Koko Head Crater. 

The trail comprises old railroad tracks that the military once used to transport equipment and supplies to the pillbox-style bunkers at the top. 

Once you get up there, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work with amazing views of the island of Oahu.

Pro Tip: Go for sunrise or sunset!

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Hanauma Bay State Park

A protected marine life conservation area, Hanauma Bay State Park is a popular snorkeling spot. The bay is an old volcanic cone on the island’s eastern side.

It is gorgeous, and a vibrant underwater world exists to explore. 

You must make a reservation to be allowed entry. 

The Hanauma Bay.
Hanauma Bay

5. Kalanianaole Highway

This scenic Oahu drive is between Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo. It’s built into the sea cliffs, so you can see the ocean crashing below you as you drive. 

There are lots of lookout points along the way. See Molokai, Lanai, and Maui from the Lanai lookout or the Halona blowhole. 

You can stop at a few hikes and enjoy plenty of beaches. Remember to pack a bunch of snacks and turn it into a full day of exploring and adventuring. 

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Makapu’u Point Lighthouse

This quick hike offers fantastic views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline. You’ll see Koko Head, the windward coast, and offshore islets.

The Makapu’u lighthouse is iconic, with a red roof against the stunning backdrop of Oahu’s coastline. 

If you’re visiting during the winter months, this is a fantastic spot to whale watch. 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Waimanalo Beach 

You can’t get any better than Waimanalo Beach! It’s more secluded than the average beach. As you sit on the sand, you’ll have the striking Ko’olau Mountains behind you. 

Plus, the water is clear and calm. There’s plenty of parking and a vast stretch of soft white sand, and it’s perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle typical on the island. 

Stareway to heaven hike - oahu
Stairway to Heaven hike

6. Pali Highway Drive

The Pali Highway is a short but scenic drive out of Honolulu. In just a short 5-mile drive northeast of Downtown, you’ll watch the city melt away to dense forests and tall trees. 

The lush vegetation and beautiful views make the Pali Highway one of the most memorable scenic drives Oahu offers.  

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

This lookout offers panoramic views. While pictures can never do it justice, you’ll want to try. Plus, it’s historically significantβ€”in 1975, the battle of Nu’uanu occurred here.

 At that time, King Kamehameha I finally united Oahu under his rule.

This spot typically has strong winds, so hold on to your hats! 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Byodo-In Temple

The Byodo-In Temple is a non-practicing Buddhist temple with gorgeous landscaping. It’s a peaceful and restful location, perfect for deep breathing.

Meander around the grounds and enjoy the koi ponds, meditation niches, and small waterfalls. This temple is a smaller-scale replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan. 

7. Windward Coastline Drive

The windward coast of Oahu has a tranquil atmosphere and lush mountain views, country landscapes, and a glittering sea. It’s a gorgeous drive. 

Explore the area around Kailua town, with some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. 

Make sure to bring a fully charged camera for this drive! It’s stunning. 

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Lanikai Beach

Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (yes, world!) Lanikai Beach is a half-mile long. It has the softest white sand I’ve ever seen and gorgeous blue water.

From the beach, you get great views of the Mokulua Islands. You can kayak to “The Mokes” or snorkel in the water.  

The reef is near shore, so you don’t have to go far to see brilliant tropical fish darting around pretty coral. 

This beach has no amenities, so bring anything you want. Parking is also difficult to find, so I’d recommend parking at Kailua Beach Park and walking over. 

View of Lanikai and Kailua Beach in Hawaii.
Lanikai and Kailua
πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Kailua Beach Park

Since you’ll probably be parking at Kailua Beach Park, you should also check out this gorgeous beach! It’s one of the bigger beach parks on the windward side.

There’s lots of shade and bathrooms and showers. Plus, the majority of Kailua Bay is less than 20 feet deep. It’s a great spot to go swimming and perfect for all ages. 

Want to go paddle boarding? Kailua Beach Park is the perfect spot to hit the open water! 

There’s a variety of rental shops located close to the park. Rent by the day or the hour. 

8. Kamehameha Highway (3-hr drive along Windward Coast)

Kamehameha Highway leads you along the windward coast towards the north shore. 

The highway follows the coast, passing a variety of coves, bays, and white-sand beaches. 

Completely different than Honolulu, the hustle and bustle of Waikiki will feel like a different world. Stop at a roadside stand and buy fresh fruit, cold shrimp, and Hawaiian snacks.

Don’t resist the urge to stop at one of the gorgeous beaches you drive pastβ€”the journey is the destination. 

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline is a famous surf reef break on Oahu’s north shore and off Kamehameha Highway.  

It is known for getting perfect barrel waves during the winter and is the location of several famous surf competitions (such as the Billabong Pipeline Masters).

There’s nothing cooler than standing on the beach and watching a pro surfer shred just over 100 feet away.

The waves are smaller in the summer, making this a great beach to snorkel or swim. 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Waimea Valley

Deeply important to Hawaiian history, Waimea Valley is lush and vibrant. It’s truly a natural treasure and is rich with history and meaning. 

The mission of the Valley today is to “preserve and perpetuate the human, cultural, and natural resources of Waimea for generations through education and stewardship.”

It’s a fantastic place to stopβ€”the beauty in the area is breathtaking, and it’s an excellent way to learn more about Hawaiian history and culture. 

The Valley feels like a place of peace and is one of my favorite spots on the island.

View of Waimea Canyon on a beautiful sunny day.
Waimea

9. Farrington Highway North Shore

A half-circle loop highway on the western part of Oahu, Farrington Highway heads through Ewa and Kapolei before ending at Kaena Point State Park. 

Driving along the coast, the Waianae mountains majestically rise in the background. See crystal clear beaches and fantastic rock formations and experience a quieter part of Oahu.

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Ka’ena Point State Park

The northwestern point of the island of Oahu, Ka’ena Point State Park, is a wild coastline park where you can go hiking, picnicking, and fishing. 

The north shore section of Ka’ena is called the MokuleΚ»ia Section. It’s got plenty of coves, tide pools, and dunes. Follow shoreline trail signs and hike approximately 2.7 miles to the point! 

Make sure to bring plenty of water and anything else you might needβ€”no amenities are available. 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Yokohama Bay Beach State Park

Located at the end of the road, Yokohama Bay Beach State Park is a quiet beach with stunning views. The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming. 

The remote area of this beach means you won’t have to share it with many other peopleβ€”a luxury on the bustling isle of Oahu.

This beach does get deep pretty fast, so be wary of ocean conditions. There are no lifeguards on duty.

10. Leeward Coast Drive

The west side of Oahu is one of the least visited areas. It’s less developed and a bit more isolated since the road dead-ends behind the Waianae Mountains. 

Don’t let that deter you from visiting! There are gorgeous beaches and plenty of hikes. 

Sunny and dry, the Leeward Coast drive is a perfect day activity. 

oahu wakiki beach sunset
Waikiki Beach

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Makaha Beach Park

One of the best surfing beaches on the West Coast, Makaha Beach Park is a narrow 21-acre park. 

Makaha means fierce, and it’s appropriately named. Waves can get as high as 25 feet! Plus, with a strong backwash and rip currents, I wouldn’t recommend swimming there during the winter months.

However, it’s a trendy diving spot when the water is calm. The Makaha Caverns, a series of arches, caverns, and overhanging ledges, are excellent to explore. 

11. Tantalus Round Top Drive

One of the best scenic drives in Oahu is the Tantalus Round Top Drive. It’s shortβ€”only 8 miles long; this two-lane paved road begins at the entrance to Punchbowl National Cemetery. 

You’ll climb an elevation of 1,800 feet before descending the other side. Along the way, you’ll drive over three volcanic cinder cones! 

At the peak, you’ll see a birds-eye view of Honolulu and the glittering ocean surrounding it. 

🚘 Stops Along the Way

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Tantalus Lookout

Stop on the lookout if you’re doing the Tantalus Round Top drive! With a vast grassy area, this is the perfect spot for a sunset picnic. 

During the day, you can see Honolulu and the entire Waikiki region and into the Diamond Head Crater. Best of all, there’s no hiking required to get to this impressive lookout point. 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Pu’u Ualakaa State Park

I’d recommend stopping at Pu’u Ulakaa State Park along the road. There’s a short, one-mile loop hike to enjoy panoramic views of southern Oahu.

It’s a forested area on a cinder cone and typically doesn’t get very busy, making it the perfect respite from downtown Honolulu.

12. Kahala Avenue Drive 

Kahala Avenue is a scenic drive to see one of Oahu’s most expensive neighborhoods. 

Drive east along Diamond Head Road to get to this area and see million-dollar mansions with manicured gardens. 

Check out the Wai’alae Beach Park for a good picnic spot along the way!

Planning Your Oahu Scenic Adventure

Oahu is truly a gorgeous island with stunning mountain ranges and glorious beaches. Now that you know how much there is to see and do on this tiny island, let’s plan! 

πŸš™ Renting a Car in Oahu

While you can visit some of the spots on this list using Oahu’s public transport system, I recommend renting a car so you can see and do as much as possible.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you can find rental cars for as low as $21 a day. Prices are typically higher during the winter months.

Beach in Oahu.
Oahu

πŸš™ Is Driving in Oahu Easy?

Driving on Oahu is easy. The roads are well taken care of and follow standard traffic rules. 

Plus, you’ll find that other drivers embody the spirit of aloha and are considerate and kind. It’s rare to hear someone honk in Hawaii!

πŸš™ Best Time To Embark On an Oahu Road Trip

Planning your Oahu Road trip to avoid rush hours is a good idea. Otherwise, every day is a good day for a road trip!

How Long is the Drive Around the Island of Oahu?

Oahu is a small islandβ€”it would take you about 4-6 hours without stops to drive around the entirety. Of course, you are going to want to make plenty of stops! So I would budget a full day.

πŸ’‘ Is it Possible to Drive Around Oahu in One Day?

It is possible to drive around Oahu in one day, and many people do that! It’s a fun way to see the bigger picture of the island. 

However, I’d recommend taking more drives out of Honolulu and slowing down so you can soak in all the island has to offer.  

lighthouse on a green slope
Makapuu

How Many Days in Oahu is Enough?

I’d recommend planning to spend at least 5 to 7 days on Oahu

You could easily spend more time in this paradise, but a week will let you see significant attractions like Diamond Head or the North Shore and still have time to spend at the beach. 

Oahu Scenic Drive Safety and Practical Tips

Check out my top Oahu Scenic drive safety tips below so you can have a smooth experience.

πŸ“Œ Drive with Aloha! Practice good driving etiquette while on Oahu. Don’t tailgate; be courteous and observe speed limits. 

πŸ“Œ Yield to Locals. The drives on Oahu are so gorgeous it can be tempting to go as slow as possible to soak it all in. 

πŸ“Œ Be courteous and speed up or pull over if someone’s behind you.

πŸ“Œ Many locals are commuting to and from work and appreciate your consideration as they go about their normal days.

πŸ“Œ Learn these two words! Mauka – meaning towards the mountain – and Makai – meaning towards the ocean – are often used when giving/getting directions in Hawaii. 

Stairway to heaven hike - oahu at sunrise
Stairway to Heaven Hike

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There a Scenic Drive on Oahu?

Any driving you do on Oahu will be scenic, so choose a route and soak in the glorious views!

What is the Most Scenic Drive in Oahu?

While everyone has a different preference, the North Shore Loop is one of the most beautiful scenic drives on Oahu.

Coastal Overview from a peak
Photo Β© Chris

Do You Need a Car in Oahu as a Tourist?

Oahu is one of the few Hawaiian islands where you could get away without a car if you stay in Honolulu. However, I recommend getting a vehicle to see more of what this fantastic island offers.

What is the Famous Road in Oahu?

Kamehameha Highway is one of the most famous roads in Oahu, with unrivaled mountains and coastline views.

oahu beach
Oahu Beach

What is the Nicest Area of Oahu?

Waikiki is one of the most popular spots in Oahu, with towns like Kailua and the North Shore closely behind.

Can You Drive to Waterfalls in Oahu?

There are only a few waterfalls in Oahu that you can drive to, although, during the rainy seasons, you can see many from the road gushing over the mountains in the distance.Β 

Oahu sunset - best scenic drives Oahu.

How Many Days Do You Need a Car in Oahu?

The amount of days you need a car in Oahu boils down to how much you want to do out of the area you’re staying.

I recommend renting a car for most of your trip so you can do more than one of the scenic drives on this list.Β 

Oahu sailboat at sunset

Wrapping Up: Scenic Drives Oahu

With so many scenic drives, Oahu is a small island that never fails to delight.

Don’t spend your whole trip in Waikikiβ€”with splendid mountains, beaches to play at, and flourishing vegetation; this island is beautiful.

Whether you want to explore the surf towns and beaches of the north shore, head to the snorkeling destinations off the windward coast, or traverse the controversial H-3 highway, each drive has something unique and equally beautiful to offer.

I can’t wait to hear which drive is your favorite.