Best budget Honolulu road trips to the rest of Oahu, Hawaii
The Hawaiian islands are a Pacific Ocean treasure with beautiful beaches, massive cliffs and stunning mountain ranges. The most popular of the islands with millions of visitors each year is the small, centrally located island of Oahu. This island is the perfect road tripping island as you’ll get the chance to see and do a lot without having to travel to the world’s end. In fact, all of Oahu’s destinations can be easily reached from a home base in the city of Honolulu, making a great vacation even better. To help you plan your Hawaii trip, here are some of our best budget Honolulu road trips to the rest of Oahu.
Choosing Honolulu as your home base while in Hawaii
When planning your Oahu vacation, you’ll find that most accommodation options are found within the city of Honolulu. In fact, it’s pretty much a safe bet that this is where you’ll end up as it’s not an easy task trying to find a good place to stay outside of the city. Luckily the city is prepared year-round for an influx of visitors, both national and international, and thus provides a vast array of sleeping options including hotels, hostels, resorts of all price ranges, Airbnbs and a few rental houses.
Another great reason to stay in Honolulu during your entire stay is the availability of shops and dining options. A vibrant city with lots to do and see, Honolulu caters to visitors just as much as it does its own locals, meaning that you’ll never run out of things to do, whether you enjoy the ocean or not.
Taking road trips around Oahu
As the island of Oahu is on the small side, a road trip or two during your stay isn’t as big of a deal as a road trip across a mainland state. Once on the island, you’ll find that road trips are a part of life in Hawaii and that many weekend warriors road trip frequently to their favorite beach or hiking spot. The key to a successful road trip from Honolulu is planning out what time you’re going to leave the city and what time you’re going to return. The reason this is so important is due to Honolulu’s infamous rush hour traffic. This doesn’t mean that the only time you’ll experience traffic is during the week’s rush hour traffic slot as there is always a bit of traffic, but generally speaking, other times of the day are not a big deal.
A great way to avoid traffic both at the start and end of your drive is to leave in the opposite direction of the oncoming traffic. You can also simply stay off of the highway as long as possible by taking the residential streets instead. This route can actually be a lot more interesting if you’re seeking a closer look at how locals live and don’t mind having to drive on smaller roads while avoiding parallel parked cars.
*Note- The activities and attractions listed below are all budget friendly with associated costs being that of admission fees and/or parking fees. The only exception is Hanuama Bay Wildlife Preserve, which is a little pricier but still viewed as well worth it by many visitors.
Honolulu to the southern and eastern coast
The southern and windward coasts of Oahu are comprised of a ton of great, and popular, attractions where you’ll find a lot of like minded visitors. This is also a very easy road trip to take as you’ll only be driving a short distance outside of the city, and not to the other side of the island. Some of the great attractions and activities that you’ll find in this part of the island include:
- Diamond Head
- Hanuama Bay Wildlife Preserve
- Halona Blowhole
- Various beaches including Sandy Beach
Outside of the Stairway To Heaven, Diamond Head is arguably the most famous of Oahu’s hikes. Here you’ll park inside of a crater and then make your way up the side to the top where you’ll find outstanding views of Honolulu and the surrounding mountains. If you’re not up for a hike but rather a swim, Hanuama Bay Wildlife Preserve is a great place for both beginner and expert snorkelers. Here you’ll find large schools of small tropical fish as well as coral heads. Keep in mind though when planning a trip to the preserve that it gets quite busy during the middle of the day and there is a video that you have to watch prior to entering the water.
Another popular attraction is the Halona Blowhole where if the timing is right, you’ll witness sea water being pushed through a hole in the lava rock up into the air above. As you’re traveling on a coastal highway, you’ll find plenty of great beaches to stop at and explore along the way. One of the most visited beaches here is Sandy Beach. Known for its large surf, this is a great place to sit down and watch body boarders and surfers test their luck. This part of the road trip also grants visitors fantastically windy roads with both sea and mountain views so even if you don’t feel like making a lot of stops along the way, you should have enough of a good time just driving the road itself.
Honolulu to the North Shore
Located on the complete opposite side of the island is the famed North Shore. Noted for her large waves, surfing contests and food trucks, the north shore is widely publicized and visited. To get here from Honolulu, you can take two routes- straight through the island or from the eastern coast. Some great treats of the North Shore include:
- Beaches (Sunset, Ehukai, Turtle Bay, Waimea Bay, etc..)
- Food Trucks
- Surfing contests (winter)
- Waimea Falls
- Matsumoto Shave Ice
The North Shore is paradise for many with lots of different beaches to enjoy, clear ocean waters, dining options (both local and not), shops and boutiques and a great short paved hike to a waterfall. If you love beaches, you’ll find a wide selection to choose from on this coastline. Some of the more talked about beaches include Turtle Bay and Waimea Bay where you’ll find soft sand to lay out on, rocks to climb and a little cliff jumping. Close by you’ll find Waimea Falls which consists of a cafe, walking/hiking trail, gardens and at the end, a waterfall where you can rent a life vest and swim under.
Also, during the winter months, you’ll find a variety of surfing contests in the area. Some you won’t be able to see due to beach closures, but others you will. If you’re into any type of photography, this is when you’ll want to bring your camera and invest in a good zoom lens. When you’re done at the beach, you’re next stop should be into Haleiwa, which happens to be the North Shore’s most iconic and busiest town. Here you’ll find endless shops and a number of food truck options with the most popular being the shrimp and seafood options. No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll want to stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice for a cooling treat. There are also other shave ice cafes in the area, so don’t be shy to check out one of those as well.
Honolulu to the mountains
Though Oahu is an island known for its beaches and surf, that doesn’t mean that everyday has to be all about the water. In fact, the inner mountain range is just as beautiful and offers splendid views of both the jungles and the ocean, proving that Oahu is really much more than that classic Waikiki Beach postcard. Some of the things you can enjoy in this region of the island are:
- Dole Plantation
- Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
Out of all of the different road trips you can take on this island, this is by far the shortest. Most likely, you’ll want to take this one if you’re planning on spending half the day out of and half the day in Honolulu. During this trip though, you’ll find two exciting things to do, outside from the stopping on the side of the road to take pictures activity. The Dole Plantation is a widely known tourist attraction that combines a shop and maze. This attraction is extremely kid friendly as well, perfect for families who have come to the island. For out of this world views, the Nu’unanu Pali Lookout is THE place to go. Here you’ll find views similar to those found on the island’s various hiking trails without having to venture onto an ‘into the jungle’ trail.
A drive around the entire island
Though you can’t technically make a trip around the entire coast of Oahu, you can travel through the middle of the island and then over to the eastern and southern coast back to Honolulu and vice versa. This trip without a bunch of stops will take about 4 to 6 hours, meaning that it’s perfect for a longer day trip with a few sightseeing stops added in. If you’re planning on only being on the island for a few days or just a weekend, then this is probably the best route to take as you’ll get to see a lot of the island and what it’s about in a short amount of time. With that said, you’ll want to stay away from longer lasting activities such as the Dole Plantation and the Hanuama Bay Wildlife Preserve as they’ll end up taking up most of your road trip, leaving little time for anything else.
Pictures provided by Rachel Campbell of TravelTipsAndTricks.