The roads of O’ahu create a huge circle around 2/3 of the island, making an excellent 1 day road trip. This was one of the first things I did when I moved to Honolulu, the only problem was, I had no idea what their was to see. Even after googling the options I had no idea what to expect while I had a friend drive me around the island. He was new too, only living here 6 months, so he had no idea what to see either. You don’t have to go through that predicament. These are the best 10 tops to see in the ultimate circle island road trip around Oahu.
While you could take the bus while on this trip also (since the buses do go around the island in this fashion) it will take much longer. In case that’s you’re option I give bus numbers and stops as well. If not, buckle up for the best road trip experience on O’ahu! It also happens to be some pretty scenic scenery along the way, have the camera out and the window down!
There is a hike available, if that’s your thing. If you’re just here to see the sights then that’s okay too. Halfway up the mountain is a free pull-over spot to see a great view of eastern Honolulu and O’ahu. In the distance is a beautiful view of the mountains, houses, beaches, and roadways. If you drive further you can a full view of being inside of a dormant volcano. Bus 2 stops at the Kapiolani Community College which is right next to Diamond Head. If you like hiking I suggest coming back to this spot later, as we have a road trip to continue!
Located on the far eastern side of the island has a beautiful shoreline in the most perfect shape. Coral reefs go right up to the sand. If you stand at the top of the viewing deck it’s free (although parking is 1 dollar). If you want to go down to the sand below it’s $7.50 per person, or kama’aina are free. Bus 22 gets to Hanauma Bay from Diamond Head. You’ll have to walk .9 miles to Kahala and Paikau from Diamond Head if you’re taking the bus.
Right next to the Makapu’u Lighthouse is some of the most beautiful views you’ll see. Far into the ocean with the little islands popping up every once in a while, and then the contrast of sandy beaches against the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. It’s worth the stop in the parking lot that’s for sure. Bus 22 gets there from Hanauma Bay, although it only stops at Sea Life Park. It’ll be a 1/2 mile walk along a road with no sidewalks that go at high speeds, so it could be dangerous, I don’t suggest it but getting pictures from the bus window is nice too.
Waimanalo Beach Park
One of the most beautiful beaches on the island, no, the state, okay, maybe the world (you have to decide on that one!). The white sand is almost blinding against the clearest blue ocean waters you’ve ever seen in your life. The way all of the mountains seem to rise to the sky and form steep cliffs is just amazing. Well, I don’t have to describe, it, look at it in pictures for yourself! It’ll inspire you to go there that’s for sure. Bus 57 gets there from Sea Life Park and stops at Kalanianole and Nakiki.
Kailua Beach Park
Similar to Waimanalo, although, this is a much larger beach. If you love kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddle boarding then this is the place for you to do it! Rentals are everywhere. You can even book a trip to see the islands in the distance up close. The trees make perfect shade too, if you burn easily. This is a site that can’t be missed! Bus 57 gets close, however sometimes there is a transfer to bus 70 to get directly to Kailua Beach park. Get off 57 at Kalanianole and Castle Medical Center, cross the street, and get on 70. If not, Wanaao and Kailua is the stop you want. From there it’s a .8 miles walk to the beach and back to that stop again when you want to leave.
Valley of the Temples
No matter what your religion (or lack of one) this has got to be one of the most beautiful places to visit on the island. The valley of temples houses shrines and temples of several different religions and gravestones of many different high standing families. At the back of it all there is the Byodo-In Temple. It’s actually a replica of a temple in Kyoto, Japan. If it were an actual temple then it would be too sacred to allow visitors to enter. At the top of the hill behind the temple you can an amazing view of Kaneohe and the ocean. If you’re driving, spotting the Valley of the Temples is easy to miss, the sign is lower than you think! It’ll take several buses to get there from Kailua Beach Park. Get on 57 to Kaneohe Bay and Makalani. Cross the street and get on the 56 until Kahekili and Keaahala. Get on the 88 until Hui IWA and Hui Alaiaha. From there is a mile walk to the Byodo-In Temple. This site is $3 per person to go in.
Turtle Bay Resort
Hawai’i has a state law that says all beaches are public property, which means even though there is a huge resort blocking the view, you can walk right up there and take your spot on the beach. No one can say anything to you, even if you aren’t a guest there. Turtle Bay Resort has some of the best beach views too. While I was there I saw a seal sleeping on the beach, so cute! Like the name says, you might even spot a turtle! Along the way on the drive you’ll pass Chinaman’s Hat and some amazing scenery Oahu has to offer. A couple of buses will get you there. Once you’re back on the road at Valley of the Temples take the 65 that says “DOWNTOWN — Bishop Street to Haiku and Alaloa. Cross the street and take the 55 to Turtle Bay Resort.
Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site/Waimea Bay
I’ve got to say this is the most beautiful spot I’ve seen on O’ahu. I know I’ve been saying that, but this one took me by complete surprise. I had no idea what to expect. The site itself is actually a ruin of when the ancient Hawaiians would worship the God of war. It is said there were a few human sacrifices, but we don’t if that’s actually true or not. The view of Waimea Bay seen from this site, the best part is, it’s completely free. Bus 55 gets you there from Turtle Bay Resort. However, it doesn’t go near the site. It’s a mile and a half hike from there, and when I say hike, I mean it. The roads are narrow and windy and there aren’t any sidewalks.
Heading back toward Honolulu now, one more stop before we get back into the city. The Hawaiian Birthstones Hawaiian name is Kukaniloko Birthstones State Monument. It sounds like it would be a huge tourist trap but it honestly isn’t. There isn’t even any parking spots (you have to park on the side of the highway and walk in). It’s a great place technically off the beaten track. Ancient Hawaiians would give birth here if their child could be the ali’i (royalty or chief). It is said the stones helped relieve the pain of childbirth. A couple of buses are needed for this one. Bus 55 will take you to Weed Circle and Kaukonahua. From there take the 52 to Kamehameha and Whitmore.
Kuhio Beach Hula Show/Sunset on Waikiki Beach
Last stop on this beautiful road trip journey. Back in Honolulu now, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is the Kuhio Beach Hula Show at 6:30 (or 6pm November-January). If you don’t take your road trip on those days that’s alright. Stop by Waikiki Beach and watch the sunset anyway (6-7pm no matter the time of year) and relax from the awesome trip you just took. Bus 52 will get you out of the Hawaiian Birthstones to Hotel and Bishop. Cross the street and take the E to Monsarrat and Kalakaua and you’re there!