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DIY Oahu Driving Tour

DRIVING ROUTE DIRECTIONS


1.       Leave A, your point of departure (in our case, near Hickam AFB/Pearl Harbor).


2.       Take Nimitz Highway to Ala Moana, traveling through Waikiki and around Diamond Head (Ala Moana becomes Kalakaua Ave which becomes Diamond Head Rd), people watching and partially window shopping from your car along the way ;)


NOTE: You can easily make Waikiki Beach a stop -- just plan for parking ahead of time or just park at the Honolulu Zoo since it’ll be earlier in the morning and therefore less crowded.  We were going to spend another day in downtown and Waikiki, so we opted to skip it on this day and just catch of glimpse of all of the upscale shops and the beautiful beach.


3.       Take Diamond Head Rd as it turns into Kahala Ave, then turn left onto Kealaolu Ave.  Drive a little more slowly through here to check out some of the island's more expensive houses!


4.       Merge onto Hwy 72 (Kalanianaole Hwy/H-1 East).  Continue past where H-1 ends and stays just Hwy 72.  Keep following until coming up to Maunalua Beach Park, which will be on your right at the red light at Hwy 72 and Hawaii Kai Drive.  


Parking is free

Restrooms are available but still closed as of July 2013

Trash cans are available

There is a large paved parking lot and a small, rather unimpressive beach (it's actually a boat launch), but the views are very pretty.  It isn't a completely necessary stop though, so skip if you're so inclined.  This picture was taken from a picnic area about a tenth of a mile from the end of the parking lot (and probably isn't an actual part of this beach park, but close enough!).  Plan to stay about 5 to 10 minutes for photo ops.


5.  Drive out of the parking lot (or picnic area if you went a little farther up) and take a right back out onto Hwy 72 (Kalanianaole Hwy).  Drive approximately 1 mile until you reach a red light intersection with Lunalilo Home Rd.  Turn right onto Lunalilo Home, drive about 0.2 miles, and then take a left onto Poipu Dr.  From there, drive 0.7 miles and then take a left onto Lumahai St.  Then drive to the end of Lumahai St and park along the side of the street near a yellow sign that says 119A (this marks the passageway to the next stop) just before the cul-de-sac.


STOP C - Spitting Caves

    Parking is free

    No restrooms

    Trash cans are available

The Spitting Caves is a cliffside spot tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the far side of Hanauma Bay.  The waves crash violently here and at one spot into a cave, but sometimes they're calm enough for some risk-taking cliff divers to jump into the waters below.  Please note that the pathway down to the cliffs is a bit steep, so be careful if you're in flip-flops.  It's also pretty windy!  Plan to spend about 10-15 minutes here.


WARNING: If you choose to jump from this spot, Laie Point, Waimea Bay, or anywhere else, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK.  Spitting Caves has had two tragic deaths in the past few months (both young Navy sailors) because of jumping into rough ocean waters.  Please be WARNED and be KNOWLEDGEABLE of the risks of this kind of activity before participating and STAY SAFE.  If the ocean looks rough and/or you aren't a strong swimmer, DO NOT JUMP AT ALL.


6.  Go back the way you came on Lumahai St. and make a right back onto Poipu Dr.  From there, drive about 0.5 miles and turn right onto Nawiiliwili St.  Then take Nawiliwili St. until it ends and turn right back onto Kalanianaole Hwy.  Drive for approximately 0.2 miles until you come across a tiny lookout on the left side of the road with the impressive Koko Head behind it.  Turn left into the lot and park.


STOP D - Hawaii Kai Overlook

    Parking is free

    No restrooms

    Trash cans are available

Beautiful pull out on the side of the road that overlooks Hawaii Kai, its marina, the blue-green water, and the backside of Diamond Head (on the far left of the picture).  Limited parking, but it rotates quickly after people have taken their pictures.  Plan to stay 5 to 10 minutes for photo ops.


7.  Pull back out onto Kam Hwy by taking a left.  Drive literally only 0.1 miles before making a right at the sign that says "Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve."


STOP E - Hanauma Bay Overlook

NOTE:  Make sure you're not going on a Tuesday or else the park will be closed, and try to get to this stop before about 9AM.  The parking lot loves to get full around this time!

Parking is $1

Restrooms are available

Trash cans are available

One of the most famous snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii, if not the world.  It's great to get a sneak peek of this crystal clear bay and is a must see if you don't get a chance to actually snorkel here.  If you do actually plan on spending a morning or a day here, you could probably skip this.  Plan to stay 10 minutes or so for photo ops.  (Bonus: I'm pretty sure that if you stay under 15 minutes from the time you pay to park, you'll get your dollar back on the way out.  I'll reconfirm this and update if necessary.)


If you're looking to visit here later and want more information, check out my post on visiting Hanauma Bay.


8.  Exit the Hanauma Bay parking lot and turn right onto Hwy 72.  Drive for about 1 mile until you see a "Scenic Point" sign on the right hand side of the road.  Pull into the parking lot.


STOP F - Lanai Lookout

Parking is free

No restrooms

No trash cans

The first pull out after you pass Hanauma Bay and start the rocky coast portion of your drive.  It's not completely necessary, but it's always nice to soak in your first moments of seeing this gorgeous coastline.  Plus, if you're a LOST fan, you'll recognize that some scenes were filmed here!  Plan to spend about 5 to 10 minutes here for photo ops.


WARNING:  Please don't hop the barriers to get closer to the edge of the rock walls -- it's obviously hazardous to you staying alive.


9.  Pull out of the parking lot and get back on Hwy 72, taking a right.  Stay on Hwy 72 until you come upon a parking lot on the right side of the road with a small beach close by, approximately 0.7 miles.  Pull in and park.


Parking is free

No restrooms

Trash cans are available

The Halona Blowhole is one of the more well-known sights on the island.  Waves can push the water as high as 30 feet into the air during the wintertime through the blowhole, making for a pretty spectacular sight.  Plan to spend about 10 to 15 minutes or so here waiting for that perfect bit of spray and checking out the beach mentioned below from the parking lot.


WARNING:  Again, just like Lanai Lookout, don't go past the barriers and climb down the rocks to the blowhole.  It's reckless, dangerous, and people have died here.  Don't be like them.


"Eternity Beach", or Halona Beach Cove, is another spot on Oahu made famous by Hollywood.  If you've ever seen From Here to Eternity, you'll recognize it as the location of the beach scene.  You are able to see  this beach from the parking lot of the Halona Blowhole, and there is a pathway down to it closer to the road.  If you climb down, you'll probably want to spend a little bit of time there, so I'd suggest coming back on another day if you really want to check it out.


10.  Pull back out onto Hwy 72, taking another right.  The road will break a bit from the coastline and travel a little more inland.  After roughly 2.5 miles from the Halona Blowhole, you will see a turn lane leading to a road (Makapu'u Lighthouse Rd) on your right that leads to a long, narrow parking lot; drive slightly past that road and you'll see a blue Scenic Point sign.  Get in the turn lane, turn into the lot, and park.


Parking is free

No restrooms

Trash cans are available

Makapu'u Overlook is a fabulous place to get a bird's eye view of some more of Oahu's coastline.  Off in the distance are two islands that have been designated as bird sanctuaries and also Makapu'u Beach Park to the left.  On a clear day, this is the spot to attempt to see Moloka'i.  A very popular paved trail also begins from the first parking lot you passed called the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail and just happens to be a great spot to view humpback whales in the wintertime.  Like the other scenic overlooks, plan to stay about 5 to 10 minutes to soak in the views.


11.   Pull out of the lot and take a right back onto Kalanianaole Hwy (Hwy 72).  Continue for about 8.5 miles; the road will veer from the coast and travel inland.  You'll pass through the town of Waimanalo (which actually has a beautiful beach at Waimanalo Beach Park) and eventually come to the intersection of Hwy 72 and Hwy 61 (Kailua Rd).


   NOTE:  I would stop here in Kailua or up a little ways in Kaneohe for lunch if you didn’t bring a picnic with you, or you can keep going up to Laie and Kahuku in the northeastern part of the island if your stomach isn't rumbling as loudly as ours was the day we did this tour.  If you decide to head to Kailua for lunch, turn right at Hwy 61 and follow it into Kailua proper.  If you choose Kaneohe instead, follow the directions through #11, which should take you right into town.


FOOD OPTIONS FOR KAILUA AND KANEOHE:


    There are a few places in Kailua I either really like or have heard great things about.  Teddy's Bigger Burgers is one I've tried -- it's a local chain (which I hear has actually branched out to the mainland now!) that has some pretty delicious burgers.  I've only been to the Waikiki and Hawaii Kai locations, but if it's anything like those, you'll leave satisfied.  And spring for the garlic fries, they are delicious!  Lanikai Juice is another place I've tried that has really great smoothies with fresh, local, organic ingredients and other healthier alternatives to calorie-heavy fast foods.  The Lanikai Splash smoothie is one of my favorites!  Mr. L and I have also come to love Aloha Salads, a great little salad and sandwich place that is also local and organic and committed to supporting local farmers.  My favorite salad is the Caesar, and I'm completely in love with their bisque!


     Cinnamon's in Kailua is another stop that's actually really famous.  I've only been there for breakfast, but I've heard wonderful things about their lunch.  The red velvet pancakes really are as good as they say they are, and I also loved the eggs Benedict.  The wait times are notoriously long, so be prepared if you show up during a popular time of day.  Crepes No Ka 'Oi is also on my list to try -- it's a supposedly fantastic crepes place located in Kailua that claims to be "the original Hawaiian crepe company," serving both sweet and savory crepe-y deliciousness (check their contact page to make sure they're open before you go).


    In Kaneohe, I have a couple of recommendations.  First up is Dean's Drive Inn, which serves great authentic Hawaiian plate lunches, from ahi cakes to teri beef to loco moco.  And if Hawaiian isn't up your alley at the time, Kaneohe's Boston Style Pizza's generous pizza slices and a variety of toppings may do the job.


12.   Turn left at Kalanianaole Hwy and Kailua Rd to stay on Kalanianaole Hwy/Hwy 72.  Take Kalanianaole Hwy for approximately 2 miles until it meets with Kamehameha Hwy (Hwy 83); take a right onto Kamehameha Hwy. 


13.   Stay on Kamehameha, going through Kaneohe, for approximately 5 miles until you come up to a sign on your right that says "Hee'ia State Park".  Turn right onto that road and park.

Parking is free

Restrooms are available

Trash cans are available

I personally enjoy this park (I say park, but really, it's more of a nice place to have a party since you can rent out the building) because of the gorgeous view of Kaneohe Bay with Chinaman's Hat and the Koolau Mountains in the background, as seen above; otherwise it isn't totally necessary to stop here, so if you're short on time, feel free to pass it on by.  However, it's worth noting that you are able to launch kayaks from the nearby pier if you end up renting some on this side of the island.


14.  Pull back onto Kam Hwy by taking a right.  Stay on Kam Hwy for approximately 8 miles, traveling more inward towards the latter part of the journey, until you see a small turn lane on your right just as you've begun to see the ocean again, opposite a bus stop.  Turn right where you see the Kualoa Park sign and park your car.  (And by the way, the land to your left is a part of Kualoa Ranch where they offer many kinds of ATV, horseback, and movie set tours.)


STOP J - Kualoa Regional Park (Chinaman’s Hat)

Parking is free

Restrooms are available

Trash cans are available

Kualoa Regional Park is a fabulous spot to get some great shots of the famed Chinaman's Hat, AKA Mokolii Island, and to also get a feel for just how big it is.  You can kayak out to the island, and on good, calm days during low tide, even swim out to it; just be sure 1) know the tide timetables so you don't get stuck if you walk/swim over; 2) bring good reef shoes so you won't cut up your feet; and 3) bring extra water so you don't get dehydrated.


15.   Continue with a right back onto Kamehameha Hwy; stay on Kam for about 12.5 miles total along the coast until you reach Laie.  You'll pass the Polynesian Cultural Center on your right; keep going until you see a shopping center area on your left and look for the intersection of Kam Hwy and Anemoku St.  Turn right at the red light.  Follow the road until it ends pretty quickly at Naupaka St and take a right.  Park at the end of the road.


STOP K - Laie Point

Parking is free

No restrooms

No trash cans

     Laie Point State Wayside is a great little stop and introduction to the beauty of Oahu's North Shore.  The views of the offshore islands and distant Ko'olau Mountains are gorgeous and it's truly peaceful here (unless you run into buses full of tourists, of course).  You are probably familiar with the area since a scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed here where the two main characters jump into the ocean.  If you visit, just keep in mind parking is very, very limited, and don't go blocking entrances to people's driveways since this is in a residential area.


WARNING: If you choose to jump from this spot, Spitting Caves, Waimea Bay, or anywhere else, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK.  Spitting Caves has had two tragic deaths in the past few months (both young Navy sailors) because of jumping into rough ocean waters.  Please be WARNED and be KNOWLEDGEABLE of the risks of this kind of activity before participating and STAY SAFE.  If the ocean looks rough and/or you aren't a strong swimmer, DO NOT JUMP AT ALL.


      FOOD OPTIONS IN LAIE/KAHUKU:


If you’re still hungry or have yet to eat, in Laie there are a few places to eat including the Hukilau Café of Man vs. Food fame and also our new favorite place to stop, the Kahuku Grill (the burgers are outstanding!).  There are also a couple of shrimp trucks here that are pretty yummy, especially the Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck (and they serve more than just shrimp!).


Up a little further in Kahuku there are a few more shrimp trucks, including the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, two Fumi's Shrimp trucks, and a Romy's.  Make sure you have cash on hand just in case the spot of your choice doesn't take credit cards.

      

16.  Pull back onto Naupaka St and take a left onto Anemoku St.  Turn right back onto Kam Hwy at the red light and stay on the road for about 9.5 miles.  Start keeping your eyes peeled for parking after passing Oopuola St on your right and Ted's Bakery on your left.  When the houses and trees become beach on the right, you should see cars parked in a small lot on the right side of the road.  Follow their lead.


Parking is free

Restrooms across the street (Sunset Beach)

Trash cans are available (Sunset Beach and 'Ehukai Beach Park)

      If you're coming to Oahu in the wintertime, expect large waves here at Sunset Beach, especially if an advisory is out, and don't plan on going in for a nice, relaxing swim -- it can be incredibly dangerous.  The waves won't be nearly as large in the summertime (in fact, it's relatively calm), which actually makes it a fantastic beach to check out and possibly explore better later.  If there isn't enough parking at Sunset Beach and you're itching to see some waves (given it's the appropriate time of year), drive down about 1 mile to 'Ehukai Beach Park (also known as the Pipeline) and check for parking (there should be a small lot on your right).  Plan to spend approximately 10 to 15 minutes (or longer, depending on how much time you have) watching the waves and surfers.


17.  Turn right back onto Kam Hwy and continue roughly 2.5 miles until you reach a red light at the intersection of Kam Hwy and Pupukea Rd.  Turn left onto Pupukea Rd. and go about 0.6 miles.  Take a right onto Pu'u O Mahuka Rd. and park in the parking lot at the end.


STOP M - Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau State Monument

Parking is free

No restrooms

Trash cans are available

      The Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau State Monument is a significant piece of Hawaiian history set atop a hill overlooking Waimea Bay.  This heiau (Hawaiian temple) is thought to have been built in the 1600s and was regularly used to communicate with another heiau all the way over on Kauai via signal fires.  Explore the trail around the heiau and be rewarded with a gorgeous view of Waimea Bay Beach Park below you.  Plan to spend about 15-20 minutes here.


18.  Go back the way you came down Pu'u O Mahuka Rd., then left onto Pupukea Rd., and then finally a left at the red light back onto Kam Hwy.  Drive about 0.8 miles, past a curve with a view of a gorgeous bay and across a bridge over Waimea River.  Take a right at the sign that says "Waimea Bay Beach Park" and find a spot to park.


Parking is free

Restrooms are available

Trash cans are available

      Waimea Bay is a pristine curve of sand and another beach made famous by its pounding surf.  The "Eddie" is sporadically held here -- sporadically because the waves must be large enough at 20 feet before the competition can even happen, meaning there's only been 8 tournaments total since the contest's inception.  The famous Waimea Bay Jump Rock is obviously also here.  Parking may be free, but it gets crowded pretty quickly, so don't be surprised if the lot is full.  If it is, try to come back on another day.


WARNING: If you choose to jump from this spot, Laie Point, Spitting Caves, or anywhere else, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK.  Spitting Caves has had two tragic deaths in the past few months (both young Navy sailors) because of jumping into rough ocean waters.  Please be WARNED and be KNOWLEDGEABLE of the risks of this kind of activity before participating and STAY SAFE.  If the ocean looks rough and/or you aren't a strong swimmer, DO NOT JUMP AT ALL.


19.  Get back onto Kam Hwy by taking a right; continue down about 2 miles until you see a pretty beach to your right, possibly with some green algae exposed.  Park along the side of the road and be careful not to obstruct anything.


STOP O - Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach)

Parking is free

No restrooms

Trash cans are not available as far as I know

    NOTE:  Unfortunately, officials have constructed concrete barriers to keep people from parking across from this beach and therefore disrupting the flow of traffic -- this stretch of Kam Hwy is notorious for insanely long traffic backups due to people crossing the street and pulling in and out of the makeshift lot.  I've heard that solutions are in the works, including shifting the parking lot to the beach side of the road, so as soon as anything becomes official I'll update again here.  If you'd like to still visit Laniakea Beach, you're going to have to park on the side of the road and walk to it, which may or may not be worth it.  It's up to you!


If you're looking for some sacred honu (green sea turtles), then Laniakea is an easily accessed little beach that has lots of yummy green algae that these beautiful creatures just love to snack on.  If you don't see any honu sunning on the sand, keep an eye out for them in the water; chances are they're there.  This is unfortunately a crowded spot most of the time (EDIT: not sure how crowded it is now since the parking lot closure), but the turtles really do flock here so I decided to include it.  If you'll be spending a good amount of time at the North Shore, you can probably skip this beach and find one of the more secluded "turtle" beaches that are out there.  Plan to spend about 10 to 15 minutes here looking for turtles and admiring the scenery.  


     WARNING:  It is completely 100% against the law for you to touch or disturb the honu in any way.  If you plan on ignoring this and pet or swim too close to a turtle anyway, be prepared to be slapped with up to $2000 in fines if you get caught.  These laws are in place for the safety and continued existence of these animals; please respect them.


20.   Turn back onto Kamehameha and continue until you see signs pointing to the right for Haleiwa (about 1.5 miles); hang right at the red light and stay on Kamehameha Hwy until you pass Haleiwa Beach Park and enter Haleiwa town.


STOP P - Haleiwa


     Hale'iwa is a beautiful seaside surf town with lots of little shops and restaurants to explore.  It is home to some of the most delicious (and famous) shave ice in Hawaii and has plenty of art galleries for you to pick up a souvenir of your trip to Oahu.  Spend as much time or as little time as you deem necessary here.


FOOD OPTIONS IN HALEIWA:


   If you want to sit down and relax to a nice meal, check out Jameson’s By the Sea or Haleiwa Joe’s, both (pricey) seafood restaurants (I enjoyed Jameson's clam chowder the last time Mr. L and I were up that way).


If you’re looking for something quick or on the cheaper side, we enjoyed Kua’Aina (great little burger joint, but only takes cash) and there’s a wide assortment of food trucks around.  Macky's Shrimp Truck on the outer edge of Haleiwa is delicious (get the garlic butter shrimp, you won't be disappointed!), and off the main road is a collection of food trucks, including another Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, a VJ's North Shore Dogs, which has AMAZING organic burgers and dogs, and another truck called Dat Cajun Guy that serves up some really fantastic Cajun food (that makes Mr. L and I feel a little more at home, haha).  And although we haven't been to either of these yet, we've heard good things about the Grass Skirt Grill and Cafe Haleiwa (the latter serving supposedly wonderful breakfast -- I'll definitely check it out).  We've also noticed that there are a good number of Thai restaurants around, though I can't personally attest to quality/price at this time (I've heard Souvaly is delicious though, but check out Yelp for more info).


And if you’re dying for some shave ice, Matsumoto’s or Aoki’s (our personal favorite, but unfortunately it's closed down due to new construction in the area.  They do have plans to reopen in 2014 though!) are ready to satisfy your craving.  And pro-tip: definitely get the ice cream in the bottom of your shave ice -- it's so delicious!


NOTE:  If you ate dinner in Haleiwa and you are ready to head back to your house/hotel, go ahead and follow Kam Hwy back to Honolulu/your destination via the posted signs.  Otherwise continue on to Mokuleia, especially if you grabbed a quick dinner to eat on the beach!


21.   Get back onto Kamehameha and take it straight onto Kaukonahua Rd; drive on Kaukonahua Rd until it ends at Farrington Hwy; take a right onto Farrington Hwy (Hwy 930).  After you get to Dillingham Airfield on the left, feel free to pull over on the right side at any of the beach areas you see.  Mokuleia Beach Park is approximately 7 miles from Haleiwa.


STOP Q - One of Mokuleia’s beaches

Parking is free

Port-a-Potties located at Mokuleia Beach Park

Trash cans are available at Mokuleia Beach Park

Mokuleia has some pretty gorgeous beaches in my opinion.  They're also very, very windy -- in fact, kite surfing is a big thing up this way.  Scenes from LOST were also filmed on some of these beaches (in particular "Army Beach"), and if you travel farther down Farrington Rd, you'll catch a glimpse of the YMCA Erdman yellow cabins, otherwise known as the Others' Camp.


22.  Take a left back onto Farrington (Hwy 930) until it becomes Kaukonahua Rd.


23.   Take Kaukonahua Rd (Hwy 803) until it becomes Wilikina Dr (still Hwy 803); continue following Wilikina until it merges with Hwy 99, becoming Hwy 99.


24.  Take Hwy 99 all the way through where it becomes the H-2; merge onto the H-1 East when the H-2 comes to an end.


25.  Take the H-1 back to your home/hotel!


Estimated tour time:  6-9 hours maybe, depending on length and number of stops -- definitely a full day.  The bare minimum amount of driving time with no stops is approximately 4 hours.