Road trips from Honolulu are not typical of what you’d expect on a drive elsewhere in America. Being set on the island of Oahu, which is just half the size of Rhode Island, the country’s smallest state, Honolulu doesn’t have those endless miles of open road to explore that you’d see in such road trip adventure movies like Easy Rider (1969). 

    Even though you might not cover a long distance on a road trip from Honolulu, it’s still well worth getting behind the wheel to embark on your own driving adventure – Hawaiian style. Driving to the beautiful beaches, parks and laid-back towns of the North Shore or Windward Coast, you’ll get to take in the island’s otherworldly landscapes, and have plenty of alluring sights to stop at along the way. Here are just a few suggestions on what to see and where to go on a Honolulu road trip.

    1

    Makapu‘u Point

    Spectacular viewpoint with many scenic sights along the way

    Makapu‘u Point sits on the easternmost edge of Oahu about 20 km from Honolulu along the Kalanianaole Highway. Once you reach this lookout point, you’ll enjoy panoramic views over the ocean and across to Manana Island and Black Rock Island, and maybe even spot some whales gliding through the water. Driving to Makapu’u is a picturesque journey in itself, with Diamond Head, Koko Head, Lanai Lookout, Halona Blow Hole and Hanauma Bay among the sights along the way worth a stop if you have time to explore.

    Road trippers could easily make a day of it at Makapu’u Point, by hiking the 3-km trail to Makapu’u Lighthouse or making their way down to Makapu’u Beach Park, an idyllic white sand beach set at the base of steep black cliffs. Swimming is hazardous here but it’s a fine spot for a picnic, with BBQ grills on-site as well.

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    2

    Waialua

    Former sugar plantation turned trendy small town

    Waialua takes only about an hour to reach on a drive from Honolulu, but this tiny community on the North Shore feels a world away. Once home to a sugar plantation, this town of fewer than 4,000 residents now draws in surfers and beach-loving visitors looking for good food and hip places to shop.

    Waialua Sugar Mill still stands in the centre of town, but you won’t find much sugar here aside from that served with coffee and tea at the Waialua Coffee & Chocolate shop. Come on a Saturday to check out the weekly farmers’ market at the old mill. If you want to keep exploring the area around Waialua, there are several lovely beaches just a short drive away, including the secluded Polo Beach and Mokuleia Beach Park, a great spot to watch kitesurfing action.

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    3

    Haleiwa

    Quaint North Shore town close to big wave surfing action

    Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu is a town that’s small in size but big in character and local colour. Life here revolves around surfing, with several surf shops and beachy-styled eateries catering to a surfing crowd. Surfers and non-surfers alike love to fuel up on the town’s famous huli huli chicken or shrimp that’s grilled and sold from local food trucks, or cooling down with a shaved ice treat from Matsumoto’s. Haleiwa is also a great spot to browse for unique local arts and crafts at the galleries and shops scattered around the town.

    Haleiwa sits about 50 km northwest from Honolulu. If you drive there on the Kamehameha Highway you could make a stop on the way at the Dole Plantation, a popular place for visitors with a train tour and maze on-site and – you guessed it – many pineapples and pineapple-themed gifts to buy.

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    4

    Waimanalo

    Sea turtle spotting and beachside camping

    Head east from Honolulu to Oahu’s Windward side to discover the scenic wonder of Waimanalo and its surrounding beaches. Found between Waimanalo Bay and the Koolau mountain range, Waimanalo is a small community of about 5,000 where you can enjoy a slow pace of life amidst lush wild beauty and farmland. Known locally as “Nalo Town”, it’s blessed with some beautiful beaches where green sea turtle sightings are common for swimmers and snorkelers. 

    Sherwood Beach, officially called Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, is a favourite for families with its brilliant white sand and gentle surf. Those looking to extend their road trip into an overnight excursion could pitch a tent here, where weekend camping is allowed. It’s also possible to camp overnight at Bellows Field Beach Park, just north of Sherwood Beach on the same stretch of sand, or just spend a few hours here strolling along the powder-soft sand.

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    5

    Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau

    Sacred site with spectacular views

    Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau is a historic site on the North Shore, about an hour’s drive from Honolulu. Spread over 2 acres, this site is home to the remains of a temple (heiau) believed to have been built in the 1600s. For centuries it served as a place of worship, and possibly used as a spot for human sacrifices during times of war in the 1770s, but was abandoned in 1819 when the island’s colonial rulers abolished local traditions.

    Set on the hilltop, the site also offers fine views over Waimea Bay and it’s well worth lingering on to catch the sunset, or you could carry on to Sunset Beach Park, a 5-minute drive away. To drive there, you’ll need to navigate the steep, winding Puu O Mahuka Road up through the lush landscape after turning off the Kamehameha Highway.

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    Location: 59-818 Kamehameha Hwy #96712, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 808-587-0300

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    6

    Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park

    Delve into local culture in a ‘Jurassic Park’ setting

    Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park is a unique park that offers the chance to learn about the area’s cultural heritage as well as its natural environment. The park covers 5,300 acres around 40 km north of Honolulu. Some 31 families live at the park, which is a publicly owned “ahupuaʻa”, or ancient Hawaiian land division. They run programs to teach visitors about Hawaiian native culture and the Kahana area’s past as a thriving fishing and farming community.

    Being one of the wettest areas of Oahu adds to Kahana’s lush, misty, mysterious landscape, which stretches from the sea at Kahana Bay up to the Ko’olau mountains. Visitors could also explore the park on the 2 public trails, including the 4 km Nakoa Trail through tropical rainforest. Keep a lookout for stray dinosaurs if you stop by Kualoa Ranch on the way to the park, the location where many scenes from the Jurassic Park movies were filmed.

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    7

    Laniakea Beach

    Turtle nesting grounds on Oahu’s northernmost point

    Laniakea Beach is a drive up to the North Shore that's perfect for when you’re in the mood for a turtle sighting trek. There’s a good chance of seeing some sunning on the sands. Laniakea’s turtles are accustomed to sharing the beach with humans, but be sure to just observe them from afar – they’re a protected species and are not to be touched.

    Laniakea Beach, often called Turtle Beach, is found within the area called the 7 Mile Miracle, a stretch of shoreline that's home to some of the world’s best surfing sites. You could extend your North Shore road trip with some beach hopping, by driving to nearby beaches like the tranquil Papa'lloa Beach, Kawailoa Beach or Chun's Reef for surfing. Surfers looking to test their skills should try to come between November and February, when low-pressure systems kick up the best surfing waves.

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    8

    Waimea Valley

    Tropical wonderland with a waterfall

    Waimea Valley is a botanical garden covering nearly 1,500 acres that offers a green, leafy escape within an hour’s drive from Honolulu city. Found on the North Shore near Hawaii’s famous surfing beaches, Waimea Valley offers the chance to wander through tropical greenery along a paved track to a 14-metre waterfall. Don’t forget your swimming gear so you enjoy a dip in the cool water!

    In addition to the 5,000 species of plant life, you’ll have a chance to discover local culture with tours led by native Hawaiians and displays of local art. Road trippers could easily make a day of it by driving on to check out the beaches in the area, including Ehukai Beach Park where you could watch expert surfers testing their skills on the famous Banzai Pipeline surf break.

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    Location: 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +1 808-638-7766

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    9

    Kailua

    A laidback beach town in a spectacular setting

    Kailua is a town on the east coast of Oahu, found about 20 km from Honolulu. Surrounded by the Koolau Mountains and Kailua Bay, Kailua has an exceptionally beautiful setting, but it also brims with local charm with its locally-owned small shops and cafes to explore.

    Those who drive straight to Kailua can reach it within a half-hour, but it's best to take your time to catch some of the scenic sights along the way. Few will fail to be awed by the jungly splendour seen along Nu'uanu Pali Drive, well worth the detour off the Pali Highway. Road trippers could also stop to see the stately Byodo-In Temple and take in the views up at the Nu-uanu Pali Lookout. Or you could just spend the day chilling out in and around the town, which has 2 of Oahu's finest beaches, Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach.

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    10

    Kaena Point State Park

    Rugged seascape at the end of the road

    Kaena Point State Park is so remote that the last bit of your road trip here will be on foot. Found on the northwestern tip of Oahu, Kaena Point is about 65 km from Honolulu and best reached via the Farrington Highway so you can enjoy the scenic coastal views along the way.

    There’s no road access inside the park, but you could stop at Yokohama Bay, then hike for an hour or so to reach Kaena Point. If you’re hoping to take a dip in the sea, it’s best to do so at Yokohama Bay or the nearby Makua Beach, both of which have sand and calmer conditions. The hike takes you along a rocky shoreline with tide pools and a coastal landscape of wild beauty.

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    Location: Waialua, HI 96791, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 6.45 pm

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    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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