Tomorrow I leave the Islands after a 3 week stay. I am ever amazed by the number of people that visit Honolulu and never leave Waikiki. Hawaii is so much more. Rent a car or book a tour. Take a city bus. But go.
And there are so many great places to visit.
The Tripadvisor Oahu top ten is a good place to start. 10 popular destinations. I’ve been to all of them at one time or another in my years spent in Hawaii. Each is a good place to visit. I haven’t been to most of them in years and years. It’s not what I do when I go to Oahu. I sight-see, eat in my favorite restaurants, and walk at my favorite places.
- I like the trail inside Diamond Head. Lots of cool stuff including old WWII bunkers. It can be crowded and hot, so go early in the day.
- A walk around Ala Moana Park including Magic Island (not really an island) is a short walk from Waikiki and a great place to walk in the evening. And the Friday night fireworks look good from there.
- I love walking on Kailua Beach. My favorite beach in Hawaii. A trip to the Island that does not include a walk on Kailua Beach is a bit of a disappointment. Go at low tide for the best walking.
- The Malaekalana Recreation Area is a wonderful undiscovered Oahu gem. A beautiful stretch of beach that is never crowded.
- I try not to miss the short hike up to Makapuu Point Lighthouse.
The scenery is spectacular.
And I go mostly on weekdays. Oahu literally means The Gathering Place in Hawaiian. 80% of Hawaii’s million plus population live on Oahu. Places that are relatively quiet on weekdays are crowded with locals on weekends. Popular beaches (like Hanauma Bay) are crowded every day, but just a few miles up the road is Bellows, a beautiful beach that is nearly empty on weekdays.
Hawaii is an Island, and the perimeter roads are circular. The result, nobody seems to know which way is North. North moves around. The mountains (Mauka in Hawaiian) are to the North in Honolulu, but to the South in Kaneohe.
And the city fathers were, shall we say, creative in their use of directional labels on streets. North King Street is West of downtown is South King Street is East of downtown. East Manoa Road is East of Manoa Road, but both Manoa and East Manoa run in a northerly direction.
Local directions are given using reference points. Head Mauka or Makai (towards the ocean) or perhaps toward Diamond Head or perhaps Pearl Harbor. As one moves around the Island, the references change. Once you know where the local landmarks are, it’s easy.
Two mountain ranges run diagonally from Southeast to Northwest and there is a large central plain in between. The Koolau Mountains separate Honolulu from Kailua and the windward side. The Waianae Mountains run all along the western coast. Northeasterly trade winds dominate normal weather. The windward shore including most of of the Koolau Mountains are wet, the West shore is hot and much drier.
The map that follows has one important flaw. THERE IS NO ROAD around Kaena Point (the western most point on the island). The road has been impassable since the late 1960’s. I have no idea why it is shown as a road.
And the road across the Waianae Mountains (route 780) traverses military lands and is only open one day a year.
If you rent a car and want to view the dramatic scenery there are 3 basic choices.
- Tour the East end of the Island
- Visit the West shore
- Tour the stuff in the middle.
My favorite relatively short one day trip covers the East end of the island. Take Kalakaua Ave. toward Diamond Head until the road ends, then follow Diamond Head Road into Kahala. Work your way up to H1 East. When the freeway ends you will be on the Kalanianiole Highway, the main road around the East end of the Island.
Possible stops include Hanauma Bay, the Blow Hole, Sandy Beach, the Makapuu Point Lighthouse, Makapuu Beach, Sea Life Park, Waimanalo Beach, Bellows Beach and Kailua town. The stretch of road from Hanauma Bay to Waimanalo is spectacularly beautiful. Pull off the road a few times and take in the view. On a clear day you can see Molokai in the distance, and if the humidity is low you can see Maui too.
I like to stop at Hanauma Bay,
just to look at the spectacular view, then stop again at some point along the road before Sandy Beach. If the surf is high, the Blow Hole is a fun choice.
Next is the Makapuu Lighthouse parking lot. The walk to the lighthouse and back takes about an hour. After a lunch in Kailua town,
I’m ready for Kailua Beach before heading back to town.