So you've decided to rent a car on Oahu, now what?
Here are some of our favorite stops on Oahu:
South and East Oahu
1. Diamond Head Lookout (5 min drive from Waikiki)
From Waikiki take Kalakaua Ave through Kapiolani Park, take a right on Diamond Head Road and follow it uphill around the edge of Diamond Head. When you see many cars parked along the right side(ocean side) of the road. Look for a spot to park, the easiest spot is generally the semi-circle area where you may see many tour buses. Jump out and take a few pics of the ocean or just stop to enjoy watching the surfers for a few minutes. It can be a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning(you'll have to bring your own) or a plate lunch in the late morning or early afternoon. It is also great for catching sunrises during the winter time(Dec-March), as the sun rises over the ocean. There is also a paved path down to the beach. Diamond Head Beach is more popular with surfers than beachgoers, but still a great place to enjoy the beach. Diamond Head Beach tends to be more windy and a little rockier than the beaches of Waikiki.
See more information, pictures, and directions: https://www.yelp.com/biz/diamond-head-beach-park-honolulu
2. Hanauma Bay (25 minutes from Waikiki - closed on Tuesdays)
Haunauma Bay is a great place to snorkel for anyone. We recommend going early to get a parking spot. Cost is currently $7.50 per person, if walking down to the beach to relax and/or snorkel. Hanauma Bay can also be a great place just to stop and grab some beautiful pictures which will only cost you $1 per car.
See more information: https://www.yelp.com/biz/hanauma-bay-honolulu-4
Route 22 by The Bus: https://www.thebus.org/Route/timetables/rt22.pdf
Note: If you want to snorkel at Hanauma Bay or anytime while you are on Oahu, you can probably save some money by renting from Snorkel Bob's just outside Waikiki on Kapahulu Ave at Date St(across from Starbucks) https://www.yelp.com/biz/snorkel-bobs-honolulu-honolulu
3. Lanai Lookout (30 minutes from Waikiki)
Just around the corner from Hanauma Bay as you head east, is a scenic pullover nicknamed Lanai Lookut. The parking lot is small, so may be hard to get a parking spot, but normally most people stop, take a few pictures and leave, so you can wait for a spot or drive on to another more popular scenic spot just around the corner at Halona Blowhole(below). https://www.yelp.com/biz/lanai-lookout-honolulu-2
4. Halona Blowhole & Halona Cove aka Eternity Beach (35 minutes from Waikiki)
You will see Halona Cove then immediately after a parking lot for Halona Blowhole.
Halona blowhole is really active when the waves are big. Also, next to the parking lot is Halona Cove, it's a short walk down to the beach and great a little stop as long as the ocean is not too rough.
See more information, pictures, and directions:
Note: Their are no lifeguards at this beach, if you not a strong swimmer, it is not recommended.
5. Makapuu Lookout and Makapuu Lighthouse Trail (40-45 minutes from Waikiki)
If you are looking for a family friendly hike then this is one of them. The recently repaved 1-2 hour hike(roundtrip) up the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail will probably get your heart rate up and you'll probably break a sweat, but you will be rewarded with ocean views along the way, climaxing with a wonderul view of East Oahu at the top near the lighthouse. Note: There are no bathrooms or facilities and little shade, so plan ahead when coming here.
See more information, pictures, and directions: https://www.yelp.com/biz/makapuu-point-lighthouse-trail-honolulu
Sidenote: If you are in a hurry or just not an avid hiker there is a great lookout just past the entrance to the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. Parking at Makapuu lookout is limited so it may take a few minutes to get a spot during peak hours.
6. Waimanalo Beach (50 minutes from Waikiki)
Waimanalo Beach and nearby Bellows Beach are both very family friendly most days. Just be aware there are only lifeguards at a few Waimanalo beaches, so go to any of the public Waimanalo beaches if you are not a strong swimmer.
See more information, pictures, and get directions to the beaches of Waimanalo:
7. Kailua Beach, Kailua Town, Lanikai, and Lanikai Pillbox Hike (35-55 minutes depending on route)
View above is from the popular and relatively family friendly Lanikai Pillbox hike overlooking world famous Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands aka The Mokes. Lanikai beach, once a semi-secret beach, now no longer. It's a beautiful beach, however parking is very limited (no parking on 3 day weekends) and there are no nearby bathrooms or showers. https://www.yelp.com/biz/lanikai-beach-kailua
Just around the corner from Lanikai Beach is Kailua Beach Park. This is a great beach for the whole family. Busy on the weekends, but you should be able to find parking during the week: https://www.yelp.com/biz/kailua-beach-park-kailua
The Nuuanu Pali Lookout is an easy stop being only 5-10 min up Pali Highway from downtown Honolulu. The view is spectacular overlooking the Windward(east) side of Oahu. It may be windy and/or cold at times, so you may want to bring a jacket or sweater just in case.
See more information, pictures, and get directions to Pali Lookout: https://www.yelp.com/biz/nuuanu-pali-state-wayside-honolulu
North East Oahu:
9. Byodo-In Temple (45 minutes from Waikiki) https://www.yelp.com/biz/byodo-in-temple-kaneohe
10. Tropical Farm (Makadamia Nut Farm) Great place to stop to sample a variety of coffee and macadamia nuts, as well as much more. You will see a sign for the macadamia nut farm just before you reach Kualoa Regional Park and Chinaman's Hat(below).
11. Chinaman's Hat and Kualoa Regional Park (1 - 1.5 hours from Waikiki depending on route)
See more information, pictures, and directions to Chinamans Hat and Kualoa Regional Park: https://www.yelp.com/biz/kualoa-regional-park-kaneohe
12. Shrimp Trucks (1-1.5 hours from Waikiki)
There are many shrimp trucks on Oahu and the majority are located in Northeast Oahu area called Kahuku. The 2 most popular are Giovanni's, Fumis, and Romy's, but there are several other options.
North Shore of Oahu
(times will vary depending on if you take the shorter route of H-2 up the middle of Oahu or the longer scenic route along the Windward(east) side of Oahu
13. Sunset Beach (1.5-2 hours)
Sunset Beach is a nice wide beach usually with plenty of parking. It's great for swimming during late Spring through early September. And, it is a great place to watch a sunset during the Summer, hence the name. Not recommended for swimming during the winter months when the surf is large, but it's a great place to watch surfers during that time.
12. Ehukai Beach aka Pipeline (1-2.5 hours)
Probably the most famous surfing beach in the world and for good reason. The waves are large and break in a near perfect cylinder or pipe shape very close to the beach, which makes it a great place to get up and close to watch the surfers tackle some very large waves. The last professional surf contest of year is held here every December.
13. Shark's Cove (1-2.5 hours)
Shark's Cove, don't let the name scare you, is a great place to swim and skorkel late Spring to early Fall. There is a protected area that is great for kids and those that are not strong swimmers. Shark's cove can be very dangerous during the winter months do not attempt to swim if they have closed the park. You should be able to find snorkel rentals across the street, if you do not bring your own. There is a supermarket, food trucks, and bathrooms nearby.
14. Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley (1-3 hours from Waikiki)
Waimea Bay is probably the most famous big wave surf spot in the world and a great place to watch surfers try their luck at some of the biggest waves on Earth. Bring binoculars for a better view, as the waves break very far from the beach. If you see how calm and welcoming Waimea Bay is during the summer months it's hard to believe that it's the same beach during the Winter.
Waimea Valley directly behind Waimea Bay is a very easy, family nature walk to Waimea Falls at the back of the valley.
15. Haleiwa Town (1-3.5 hours Waikiki)
Haleiwa is a small rustic town on the Northshore of Oahu. It is a great little town to park and walk to enjoy all the little shops, as well as grab a bite to eat. There is also an area on the edge of town across from the McDonalds with an assortment of delicious foodtrucks to choose from.