The state of Hawaii in its 2008 annual report lists the state’s ten top visitor attractions as follows:
1. USS Arizona Memorial (Oahu)
2. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)
3. Haleakala National Park (Maui)
4. Polynesian Cultural Center (Oahu)
5. Honolulu Zoo (Oahu)
6. Diamond Head State Monument (Oahu)
7. Puuhonua O Honaunau (Big Island)
8. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (Kauai)
9. Aquarium Maui • Maui Ocean Center (Maui)
10. Iao Valley State Monument (Maui)
Certainly, each is worth a visit if you are vacationing on the appropriate island.
If your visit includes Oahu and you have a rental car, we recommend that you drive around the eastern end of the island, remaining close to the ocean, early during your stay. That will give you a good feel for where things are beyond Waikiki and most of the island’s other popular attractions such as the USS Arizona Memorial (1), the Polynesian Cultural Center (4), and the historical areas in Downtown Honolulu. You will discover things you might want to explore more fully later on. We encourage you to print this article and have it available for reference.
Start in Waiikiki on Kalakaua Avenue, which is one-way heading toward Diamond Head, or east. You will pass Kapiolani Park and the Honolulu Zoo (5) on your left and the Waikiki Aquarium on your right. All three are worth seeing when you have time. Kalakaua will become more residential looking as you approach Diamond Head, and you will encounter Diamond Head Road were Kalakaua terminates. Diamond Head Road will take you up to the Diamond Head Lookout, where you might want to pull over in the designated area to gaze for a while. (You won’t be alone, regardless of the time of day.) A quarter of a mile farther on Diamond Head Road is a left-hand turn that will lead you around to the entrance to the Diamond Head State Monument (6), but we recommend going straight on this trip.
Diamond Head Road becomes Kahala Avenue, which will take you through one of Hawaii’s richest neighborhoods. The road is lined with mansions, estates and retreats for the rich and famous. Just before you would continue on to the posh Kahala Hotel and Resort and Waialae Country Club on whose course the Sony Open is played, make a left on Kealaolu Street, where the hedge on your right hides the golf course. Follow Kealaolu until it dead ends at the H-1 Freeway and use the on-ramp. As soon as you’re on the freeway, it will end and become Kalanianaole Highway.
The golf course will still be on your right as you head into East Oahu, a pleasant residential area of the island. You will pass two modest shopping centers on your left (Aina Haina, which is home to the state’s first McDonald’s restaurant; and Niu Valley, which has a couple of nice sit-down restaurants) before you reach Hawaii Kai, a large, canal-laced bedroom community that was created and developed by Henry J. Kaiser in the 1950s. You’ll pass Maunalua Bay on your right, a pleasant place for water sports and sailing, with the Pacific beautifully displayed beyond.
On your left, just past the bay, you will see another shopping center, Koko Marina, which is relatively large and filled with restaurants, shops, attractions and worthwhile water activities. Continue on Kalanianaole Highway and you will pass Hanauma Bay on your right. Hanauma Bay is not listed among the state’s top ten attractions, but it’s close; and it boasts some of the finest snorkeling and scuba ping in the world.
As you move along, you will find yourself on one of the state’s most spectacular drives. There are several spots where you can pull over and take in the views. On a normally clear day, you’ll be able to see the island of Molokai in the distance. You’ll see the Holana Blow Hole on your right. It’s a lava tube under the water at the perfect height for waves to be driven into it. The water is compressed as the lava tube becomes smaller and smaller causing the pressure to increase and force a stream of water to shoot up to thirty feet into the air. It’s worth a stop (There’s a parking area) to watch for a few minutes.
Farther along the highway you’ll pass Sandy Beach Park, a popular bodysurfing beach for young people bordered by a huge, grassy area used largely by locals for dog running, kite flying, picnicking and family gathering.
Passing the Hawaii Kai Golf Course on your left, you’ll drive up an incline that opens to a magnificent panorama you’ll want to photograph. The large parking area on your right is used by hikers, sightseers, cyclists, and others who simply love being there at the Makapuu Point State Wayside. If conditions are right, you’ll see hang gliders that have taken off from the ridge above and will land on Makapuu Beach Park below.
As you continue northward, still on Kalanianaole Highway, you will pass Sea Life Park on your left and go past Waimanalo Beach Park, which fronts Waimanalo Bay, and go through the little country town of Waimanalo before reaching the Windward area of the island. On your left you’ll see the Town and Country Stables and on your right the Olomana Golf Links, where Barack Obama played on his last visit.
Kalanianaole Highway will dead end at Castle Junction, where you will take a left onto Maunawili Road, which becomes Kalanianaole Highway again before it turns into Pali Highway. (Don’t be confused by the name changes; just keep driving.)
You now are headed toward Honolulu, and it’s a beautiful drive. You probably will encounter some rain along the way as you approach the tunnels that allow the road to cut through the Koolau mountains. To your right, you will see an access road to the famous Pali Lookout, a stop worthwhile for the view. By all means, park, get out of the car and take a look.
Back on Pali Highway, you soon will see Downtown Honolulu and the harbor beyond in a panorama. When you reach Vineyard Boulevard, go left. It will become the H-1 Freeway and signs will show you the way back into Waikiki.
It’s a great way to spend the better part of a day, allowing plenty of time to stop and enjoy the sights along the way.
Once again, print this article and keep it on hand if you plan to be on Oahu during your Hawaii vacation. You’ll find it easier than trying to follow a map, even though there will be a map in the glove box of your rental car. The trip is also available by tour bus.