Oahu is the third largest island in Hawaii and is the most populated, home to the majority of the population. It stands out for its fascinating blend of modern cultures and indigenous Hawaiian traditions. There are lots of different ways to discover Oahu — by helicopter, on a coastal boat trip, or by taking a full-day ground tour. While these are all viable options, we highly recommend renting a car and exploring the island at your own pace. One question remains for your Oahu road trip: can you drive around the island in a day?
The answer is yes. Here’s a map of our proposed road trip through Oahu to prove it. After all, the island is small enough to drive around in an action-packed day, yet big enough to keep you occupied. The most likely outcome is that you’ll get side-tracked by the island’s beauty on the way — a waterfall, a beach or a mountain. So, without further ado, stack up on food and drinks, get in your car, put on your seatbelt and drive off on a laid-back road trip with family or friends.
Where to start on your Oahu road trip
The most likely starting point is Honolulu, in particular the Waikiki neighborhood, with its famous beach and excellent hotels. Honolulu is home to the main historical attractions in the city, which include the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, as well as the Punchbowl Cemetery. You can start with a trip down to Diamond Head, where you’ll see old military bunkers, a lighthouse and incredible views.
If you head to the east of the city you’ll come across Sea Life Park and Hanuama Bay, where you can swim with dolphins and see the island’s marine life up close. Another place to check out is Makapu’u Beach, with its breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline. If you head up the coastline you’ll come to Waimanalo, a hidden gem in the island’s crown. Rated at one point as the top beach in America, the crystalline waters make for a fabulous view.
Experience the magic of Oahu’s northern tip
Further up the eastern coast, you’ll find the island’s scenic North Shore. The route up is truly picturesque, with beautiful Kaneohe Bay on one side. Imposing mountains and nature reserves will be on the other. This is also where you’ll find the Polynesian Cultural Center, an iconic spot showing off the cultural variety of Oahu. This impressive place consists of seven villages that each showcase a different culture. That’s why it’s an ideal setting to experience a traditional Hawaiian luau.
Continuing up the coastline (after a stop on the way in Kahuku to re-stock the refreshments) you’ll come to Haleiwa. This is a surfer’s paradise in the spiritual home of surfing on the island’s northwest region. The area is home to the Seven Mile Miracle, a celebrated stretch of world-class surf breaks during the winter months. The region is also where you’ll find Laniakea Beach, which the famous honu (Hawaiian sea turtles) call home. The sunsets here are amazing as well, the perfect backdrop for a day admiring the island.
When you’ve seen it all, complete your Oahu road trip by simply driving back south to Honolulu.
Take an Oahu road trip during your Hawaii vacation
The next time you’re in Oahu, don’t pass up the chance to really explore the island. Hire a set of wheels, stock up on refreshments and explore. There is so much to see, and you can do the whole island in one day if you like.
The best way to do it is to explore on the first day, and then go return on following days to spend more time in your favorite places. Just don’t forget the cooler and ice, as it’ll be hot and you’ll be thirsty throughout the trip!