If you’re short on time and looking to circle the island for a day as part of a self-guided tour, there are definitely enough places to visit and things to do on Oahu to fill up your whole day!
Of course the best way to experience any part of Oahu is to take it slow and not cram a ton into a single day.
But still, you want to see it all! Well, that won’t be possible to do in a day, but here are some ideas for you to include on your day trip driving around Oahu.
The only way you’d want to try to get through all of the activities listed here is if you are driving past each of these locations, and maybe stopping for a short break for a photo opportunity at the locations. And you know there are going to be a ton of those!
Here’s a list for quick reference for the things to do that you’ll find on this page.
In italics are places that aren’t on this road trip itinerary, but places you may have heard of during your research. So they are listed where it could be the most convenient to add to your list if you want to do so!
- Diamond Head Hike
- Hanauma Bay | Koko Head Hike
- Halona blowhole lookout
- Makapuu Lighthouse Trail | Lanikai Pillbox Hike | Lanikai Beach | Mokulua Islands
- Nuuanu Pali lookout
- Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
- Pearl Harbor
- Dole Pineapple Plantation
- North Shore Beaches: Waimea Bay | Sharks Cove | Laniakea Beach | Waimea Falls
- Polynesian Cultural Center
And for more exploration of Oahu, have a look here for the best tours on Oahu.
Explore Oahu by region!
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- 2 mile walk on Waikiki Beach
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Explore Oahu by activities!
A start to your trip planning to Oahu
This list is by no means a complete list! Take this list as a starting point.
You can drive the whole route, and maybe choose 1 or 2 that you want to spend extra time on.
Maybe it’s hiking, maybe it’s snorkeling, or maybe it’s just extra time catching the stunning views at an overlook area!
Take a look at these activities and see what interests you. Look into the activities further to see if you want to devote more time during your drive around the island to any particular activity.
If you have extra time (days), then hopefully this list will also give you ideas for how to spend some of your days on Oahu!
Many of these activities you could easily turn into a half-day or full-day trip.
But when that’s not possible, the next best thing may be a drive-by or at least a few minutes to check it out so you can get a taste of different parts of the island!
Many of the activities and things to do listed here are free activities on Oahu. Parking may be a nominal fee at some locations.
Even if you do have extra days, it can still be worth it to devote a day to an island road trip around Oahu.
Island driving = slow driving
Keep in mind that driving around the island takes time.
The time can be due to traffic, and it can also just generally be due to maximum speed on the island. The highest speed limit you’ll find anywhere on Oahu is 55mph, and often you will be going below that.
So take it slow and take it all in!
And the earlier in the day you start, the more you can experience!
Your GPS device can also be cause for delay.
You can use the GPS on your phone as a guide, but it’s not definitive. Sometimes it might get confused and send you in the wrong direction.
But don’t get stressed! You’re in Hawaii! It’s all in the experience!
Just another reason to make sure you aren’t on a specific time table when you’re planning for an island road trip!
Interactive map of Oahu
Here first is an interactive map of Oahu with points of interest.
– Click on the image below to view the map in Google Maps.
– Click on any icon on the map and it will tell you what’s there.
– You’ll find a list of places of interest by name when you open up Google Maps. Click on any name from the list, and it will indicate where on the map that point of interest is located.
– Above the list you’ll find a share button to e-mail the map to your travel companions!
– Mobile visitors: Pin this page for later so you can play around with the map better when you’re on a desktop!
– Mobile visitors from Pinterest: First click the “open” button to view this page in your browser, then click the map below. This will allow the map to open up in Google Maps if you have that app on your phone. This will then allow you to explore a little better than within the Pinterest app. (Desktop is still better!)
Below the map is a list of the locations that are indicated on the map. Use the map as a guide as part of your trip planning process for the best Hawaii vacation ever!
Places to stay in Oahu to save money on accommodation
If you’re looking to save money during Hawaii vacation, have a look to airbnb vacation rentals!
Many times it can work out so that you will spend less than you would staying at a Waikiki hotel, and you might get to learn a bit more about Hawaii by staying with a local! Get a referral link so you can have a discount on your first booking!
About those things to do in Oahu for your DIY circle island driving tour!
Listed here first is Waikiki as a general starting point! Now here we go!
Possibly one of the most famous hikes on Oahu is the Diamond Head Summit Trail. It’s less than 2 miles round-trip.
If you want to choose to spend more time here by hiking up to the summit instead of just driving past the crater, plan for 1-2 hours. That’ll give you time to go up, take in the views of Waikiki and Honolulu, and come back down.
Not too far from Diamond Head, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is possibly the most famous snorkeling spot on Oahu.
The waters are full of marine life for your viewing pleasure. Swimming with the colorful tropical fish at Hanauma Bay is sure to be a memory that will last a lifetime!
Keep in mind that Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays. Other than that, it opens up at 6 in the morning if you want to get an early start!
Those famous pictures you see overlooking Hanauma Bay you can capture for yourself with a stop here without paying the nature reserve $7.50 entry fee per person. With a $1 parking fee, you can get access to those views!
Near Hanauma Bay: Nature’s stairmaster with the Koko Head Hike
Halona Blowhole Lookout
As the name suggests, a stop at the Halona Blowhole lookout on your island tour is a chance to see the ocean waves shoot into the air! With the lookout point, it makes for an easy stop on your drive around Oahu if you’re passing by!
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Located on the southeastern part of Oahu, the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail offers you stunning views as you hike along the coast!
The lighthouse that is referred to in the name of this trail is off limits, but you go for the views!
This trail is around 2 miles, so allocate an hour or so if you want to stop for a hike. Occasionally a part of this trail may close due to storm surge and unsafe conditions.
This coastal trail is a part of the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline. This means that you’re in for a treat when driving around here too! There’s also a lookout point so you can stop by conveniently without hiking the trail.
If you’re going to Hawaii during whale season, this trail is a good spot for whale watching in Oahu.
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
The Pali lookout combines scenic views of Oahu with a bit of history.
It marks a historical landmark for Hawaii, and it is considered a heritage site of Hawaii. This scenic lookout is known to be a bit windy, so hold on to your hat!
The scenery along with the Hawaiian history makes this another worthy stop on your island tour.
Learn more about visiting the Pali lookout from Hawaii’s tourism department.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Drive in to the grounds of these botanical gardens for the mountain views!
A visit to the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens will offer you views of the types of mountains that you sometimes see when you’re watching Hawaii Five-0… because you totally watch that TV show leading up to your Hawaii vacation in anticipation of your Hawaii trip, right? 😉
If you choose to spend extra time here, you’ll be walking through gardens that emphasize Hawaiian plants.
This could also be a good place to stop for a picnic if you pack along some food. (A picnic lunch can save you money too!) Here are some quick and easy food ideas to take on a hike that can make for good road trip snacks too!
Learn about visiting the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens from the City of Honolulu.
Near Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens: Puu Maelieli Hiking Trail in Kaneohe
Even driving by to see the site of Pearl Harbor can be worth it for the historical significance of the area.
If you’re interested in experiencing more of Pearl Harbor, there are free walk-in tickets available daily to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.
It’s also possible to purchase reserved tickets for a nominal fee online. For more in-depth information while you are visiting Pearl Harbor, there is also a narrated audio tour for a fee.
Near Pearl Harbor: Aiea Loop Trail with nearby ancient Hawaiian temple
Dole Pineapple Plantation
Hawaii’s ultimate “pineapple experience”!
If you want to take a train ride (pineapple express train tour), go through a maze (pineapple garden maze), or learn more about the gardens (pineapple garden tours), there are fees for those.
There’s also the Plantation Grille where you can get your pineapple goodness! This could be a good place to stop for some snacks!
Otherwise, if you are just driving by, you’ll know when you’re in the area of the Dole Plantation because you can’t miss it!
It’ll be like you’re driving through rural country-side, except instead of corn fields or vineyards, they are expansive pineapple fields!
Learn more about paid and free things to do at the Dole Plantation.
Near Dole Plantation: Kukaniloko Birthstones an ancient Hawaiian cultural site
North Shore Beaches – Waimea Bay, Shark’s Cove, Laniakea Beach
The North Shore is known for its surf which is at its best in the winter months.
When the water is in its calmer months, it can also be fun to go snorkeling at a beach or two on the North Shore.
That said, take precautions and make sure it’s a safe time for you to snorkel if that’s what you’re looking to do. Laniakea Beach is also known as Turtle Beach for one of the best beaches for turtle sightings on Oahu.
Learn more about visiting beaches on the North Shore.
Near North Shore beaches: North Shore pillbox hike
Polynesian Cultural Center
There are so many activities at the Polynesian Cultural Center that this could be an activity for a day all on its own!
o get access to the really fun and educational activities, there is an admission fee, but it can still be an experience to wander around the free part of the cultural center.
The free activities at the Polynesian Cultural Center would be the Hukilau Marketplace and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
The Polynesian Cultural Center could be another good place to stop for food with the Hukilau Marketplace having food kiosks and restaurants. You can get a taste of true Hawaiian culture and history through food!
Things to maybe pack for your trip to Hawaii!
Now, here are some things that you just may want to add to your Hawaii packing list!
- This case so you can take pristine underwater pictures with your phone when swimming! (It’s cheap!)
- This waterproof pouch so you don’t have to worry about leaving valuables on the beach
- These types of beach shoes so you don’t have to worry about hidden rocks under the sand!
- This type of beach bag that’ll help you dry things out so you can be ready for the next beach day!
- For your beach outfits, take a look at…
- These packing cubes so you can find the stuff in your suitcase easily once you land in Hawaii so you waste no time getting out and about!
HAPPY OAHU PLANNING!
Best shoes for your active vacationHit search at the top for any of these items to get more variety on Amazon through these affiliate links!
- Walking: These types of hiking sandals. For walking in hot weather, they are more breathable than shoes, while still giving you necessary traction on the trails. Also see these travel sandals.
- Beach: These types of beach shoes. For beach walking, wading in the water, and rocky shorelines, they can prevent cuts from hidden rocks or when bumping into coral reef.
- What to wear hiking
- What to wear snorkeling
- What to wear on a cruise formal night
Best things to pack for active travel- First-time snorkelers love full-face snorkeling masks.
- These UV protection shirts are a hit so you don't have to keep re-applying sunscreen and don't have to worry as much about getting sunburn!
- These types of small backpacks are perfect for a day out so you can carry essentials... and snacks!
- And these popular packing cubes can be a life-saver when you're traveling!
Don't get your valuables stolen when you travel- On city excursions: This neck pouch that tons of people love. It makes it harder for money to be stolen, and RFID-blocking feature stops thieves from scanning your credit card info when they are close to you.
- At the beach: This type of pouch that you can easily take your wallet in the water with you, instead of leaving on the beach.