Hawaii is a heavenly island paradise on Earth—and people know it. As of April 2023, a total of 827,537 tourists visited Hawaii to explore the breathtaking archipelago. If you’re about to join the next batch of travelers, count yourself lucky.
While all eight islands have their own unique draws, Oahu comes the closest to giving you the all-in-one experience. Here, you can purchase souvenirs at luxurious shopping districts, hide on ramshackle beaches, and hike jungle trails. And if you want to sample the best from those options, there’s no better way to do so than seeing the sites along Oahu Circle Drive. Here are five spots you definitely don’t want to miss.
What is Oahu Circle Drive?
The best way to see Oahu is to drive along its eastern coast—a route called the Oahu Circle. If you drive it without stopping much, it will take about 4-6 hours. But for a complete, enriching Oahu road trip from Waikiki, Honolulu, to the North Shore, and back, set aside at least 8 hours to enjoy the ride. You’ll want to head out of Waikiki early in the morning and follow the shoreline on Highway 72. From there, you’ll be connected to the rest of the scenic roads of the route. There’ll be numerous spots you’ll want to stop your car at and explore.
5 Great Spots on Oahu Circle Drive
This is the classic first stop on the route. A historical Oahu landmark, Diamond Head is a dormant volcanic tuff cone near the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline, with stunning coastal views, a glorious landscape, and a storied military past. You can make this a quick stop, pausing by the lookout to take in the view, or a day in itself—the 0.8 hike from trailhead to the summit is a steep and strenuous hike through time, including the crater interior of Diamond Head itself, a 1911 fire control station, a navigational lighthouse, and a spectacular perspective of the shoreline from Koko Head to Wai’anae.
As shown by Diamond Head, Oahu is now entirely free of active volcanoes. But that’s not the only remnant of the island’s volcanic past you can visit. The Halona Blowhole Lookout was formed when a previous volcano eruption formed molten lava tubes. In certain conditions, the seawater can push through those tubes and shoot skyward up to 30 feet in the air. You can watch the waterspout from the highway guard rail or hike to get closer to the geyser.
If you pause your drive at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains and wander a bit further, you may be surprised to see an intricately detailed Japanese temple. This is the Byodo-In Temple—a monument built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to arrive in Hawaii. When you enter, you’ll be greeted by an ostentation of colorful, wild peacocks and, further in, numerous Japanese koi carp in the vast reflecting pond. Feel free to take a moment to breathe, meditate, or pray near the tranquil waterfalls or gardens. The non-practicing Buddhist temple welcomes all faiths in their worship practices.
This waterfront has two names. The first, Laniakea Beach, means ‘wide sky.’ Its other moniker is Turtle Beach. Both are accurate descriptions of what this seashore has to offer: azure horizons and, on the golden sands, giant sea turtles basking in the sunlight. You can spread your towel and relax next to your shelled compatriots or take a swim with them on a snorkeling trip.
Dole Pineapple Plantation
Finish off your full day of fun adventures by visiting the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Once there, you’ll be flooded with pineapple-related things to do, from the Pineapple Express Train to the Pineapple Plantation Guided Tour to the Pineapple Garden Maze. To cap it all off, you can grab pineapple-themed souvenirs like pineapple syrup and pineapple cookies from the gift shop and then purchase the plantation’s signature Dole Whip, which is pineapple soft-serve ice cream.
Oahu Circle Drive has many exciting spots to explore. Consider checking out the five spectacular ones above for your next journey on the route.