Oahu sightseeing tour and driving map via the Pali Lookout

The USS Arizona Memorial is our first stop of our day trip to explore Oahu.

This Oahu day trip plan is designed for you to see many of Oahu’s top attractions in one day. Fly into Honolulu airport from one of the other Hawaiian Islands. Spend the day discovering Oahu. Then, fly back to the island where you’re staying.

Mokoli'i Island
Mokoli’i Island (also known as “Chinaman’s Hat”) as viewed from Kualoa Beach Park is one of our many coastal stops.

This day trip plan starts from HNL airport in Honolulu, Oahu. From there, you go to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument where you can visit the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. After a solemn stop at Punchbowl and a visit to one of the island’s most beloved bakeries, you’ll then head outside of the hustle and bustle of Honolulu to see amazing views along the windward and north shores of Oahu.

A view from the Pali Lookout
A view from the Pali Lookout.

This particular plan goes to the Pali Lookout and then onwards. (We have a different plan that goes to Halona Blowhole Lookout and Makapuu Lookout. All the other stops are the same. To help you decide which plan you prefer, see this link.)

* Due to Google Map limitations (only 10 destinations per map) we have to split the directions into two separate maps. So, consider the second portion the continuation of the first. *

First Portion of Oahu Tour Drive

> From this link, you can customize, print and/or download directions of the first portion to your smart phone.

Here’s the written explanation of the first half of the Oahu drive tour map:

  1. Start from Honolulu (HNL) airport. Rent a car. Your actual starting location may be different depending on where your rental car company is. For simplicity, we’ve started the directions from the main airport address. You can modify the starting point to customize it to your actual starting point.
  2. Go to Pearl Harbor National Memorial Park. See our article with tips for visiting Pearl Harbor also review the national park’s website. You can take in the views and snap photos from the shoreline where you can see the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri which are positioned near each other. The USS Bowfin submarine is also in Pearl Harbor at the northern end (towards the Ford Island Bridge) of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Park grounds. Additionally you can tour the open air museum. Taking in the views and checking out the museum is all free and does not require a ticket. If you want to take the boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial, you must have a reservation with a specific time. Ticketing/reservations have become increasingly tricky since we originally wrote this article. If you are able to get an early morning reservation for the boat ride, allow 1.5 hours for your time here. If not, allow 45 minutes. Note that if you do not have a reservation, inquire upon arrival for any standby opportunities.  [If you get a reservation that keeps you here longer than 1.5 hours, bear in mind that you may have to adjust this plan to keep you on time.]
  3. Punchbowl, the National Cemetery of the Pacific. From this peaceful, resting place, you can contemplate the ultimate sacrifices. From here, there’s also a sweeping view of Honolulu — including one of Oahu’s most iconic mountains — Diamond Head. See more details about visiting Punchbowl. Allow 30 minutes here.
  4. A mid-morning snack may be in order, so we recommend a stop at nearby Liliha Bakery. They’re known throughout Hawaii and beyond for their Coco Puffs. Plan on 15 minutes at this bakery.
  5. The Nuuanu Pali Lookout, gets you out of the city of Honolulu out to those green mountains. There is a parking fee so check the park’s page for current fees and policies. Plan on 15 minutes here.
  6. Lanikai Beach is the next stop, but not the last, in our Oahu tour. With it’s powdery, white sand and turquoise waters, Lanikai is thought to be one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches. There’s no parking lot for Lanikai. You must find off street parking and one of the beach access paths. Make sure that you are respectful in where you park and do not trespass. The Google Map directions only get you to the general area. Allow 30 minutes to park and see Lanikai.

Note that this first portion of the drive tour will take approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes. If your visit to Oahu is constrained by a same day arrival and departure flight, take note of how much time has actually elapsed so that you can plan accordingly.

Second Portion of Oahu Tour Drive

> From this link to second portion of map you can customize stops, print directions and/or download directions to your smart phone.

Now, we’ll move to the second portion of your Oahu driving tour. Note that the only reason we’ve split the drive into two halves is that Google Maps limits the number of destinations to 10 per map.

  1. Starting from Lanikai Beach, we’re heading north to on Oahu’s windward side.
  2. Byodo-In Temple and its setting is truly a stunning sight. There is a nominal fee to visit. As of January, 2017, the fee is $3 per adult, $2 per senior and $1 per child. See our post about Byodo-In Temple. Allow up to 30 minutes here.
  3. A stop at Kualoa Beach Park will give you an opportunity to stop to view Mokoli’i, which is more commonly known as Chinaman’s Hat. It’s one of Oahu’s more iconic views. See our post about stopping at Kualoa Beach Park. Allow 15 minutes here.
  4. Laie Point is next. Allow up to 15 minutes here.
  5. Lunch options in Kahuku and beyond –  If you like shrimp, the North Shore Oahu shrimp truck’s are famous. As you continue north on Highway 83, you’ll see the shrimp trucks on the right.  There are several options in Kahuku as you can see from this Yelp link. As we don’t have a favorite shrimp truck, we’re just going to identify Kahuku, in general, on the map. We suggest sharing a plate as we have another food stop about 30 minutes down the road. If you don’t like shrimp, a couple more options that are close by are restaurants at Turtle Bay Resort (parking fee that might be validated is possible) on the right side of Highway 83 and Ted’s Bakery on the left side of Highway 83. Allow 30 minutes to get lunch.
  6. Along the North Shore of Oahu, there are many picturesque beaches. We’ve identified Sunset Beach on the map. Stop there, if you like, or pick another one along the way. FYI – the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park is just a mile further down from Sunset Beach. Another potential point of interest on the North Shore is the beach where the hit television show LOST was filmed. You can find directions to the “LOST  beach” here. Allow 30 minutes to enjoy one or two North Shore Beaches.
  7. Our next stop is for Hawaii’s famous shave ice at Matsumoto’s in the surfer town of Haleiwa.
  8. Alas, it’s time to make our way back to the airport. You will drive past pineapple fields, coffee and other fruit fields on the way.

Including driving time and stops and getting back to the airport, the second portion of the driving tour will take five hours.

Important Notes:

  • The combined driving time and time spent at each stop is estimated to take 9 hours and 30 minutes.
  • When planning your flights into and out of HNL airport on Oahu:
    • Allow time to get from the gate to the rental car site. We estimate that will take roughly 30 minutes.
    • Allow at least one hour and 30 minutes to get gas, return your rental car, take the shuttle to the airport terminal, get boarding passes, go through security and get to your gate.
  • With the tour time plus the allowances getting your rental car, returning it, etc. You should plan a minimum of 11 hours and 30 minutes on Oahu. Adding an extra cushion of time wouldn’t hurt at all.
  • The drive times are generated by Google Maps. They do not take into account traffic jams or stoppages. As best we can, we have tried to avoid typical traffic jams. So, if you get caught in an extended delay, you may have to adjust the sightseeing plans accordingly.
  • We’ve listed scenic stops, but the entire drive is rather scenic.
  • Don’t leave valuables unattended in your rental car.
  • Take note of what you can and can’t carry into the Pearl Harbor monuments.
  • Bring your smart phone charger to top up battery life that navigation tends to quickly consume.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat and perhaps a light rain proof jacket. You’ll likely want a jacket at the Pali Lookout.

What about Waikiki Beach?

Why haven’t we included Waikiki Beach? There are several reasons why we’ve not included Waikiki but the most important one is that finding convenient and inexpensive parking can be a challenge.  To drive there, find parking and walk to the beach to soak in the views and snap photos will probably add another hour or more on top our already lengthy schedule. If you want to visit Waikiki Beach, it’s more efficient to do so by modifying our Oahu driving tour via Halona Blowhole and Makapuu Lookout.