How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Oahu? Plan Your Ultimate Oahu Road Trip

by | Apr 22, 2024

If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes to drive around Oahu, buckle up because we’re about to embark on an adventure of epic proportions.

So, how long does it take to drive around Oahu, you ask? It takes about 3.5 hours to drive around Oahu without any stops.

However, it’s not just about the destination; it’s about the journey.

While it might only take about 3.5 hours to complete the Oahu scenic circle drive without any stops, trust me when I say that the real magic happens when you take your time to explore all the breathtaking sights along the way.


Planning a trip to Hawaii? Join our Hawaii Travel Facebook Group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!

This Oahu road trip post is written by Bryan Murphy, an expert in Hawaii travel and a top-rated podcast host. The post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission if you use the provided links. Learn more on my privacy policy page.

Planning Your Trip? Use Our Favorite Resources!

🏨 Accommodations: We recommend Expedia

✈️ Flights: For the cheapest flights, we use Skyscanner

🚗 Rental Car: We recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental

🌋 Attractions: We recommend Get Your Guide

🌺 Luaus and Tours: We recommend Hawaii Tours

📱 Mobile Tour App: Our favorite is Shaka Guide

In this post, we’re diving into the nitty-gritty of trip planning and trip ideas for your road trip around Oahu.

From the windward side of Oahu to the scenic drive around the eastern half of the island, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know to make the most out of your journey.

We’ll also be uncovering the best-kept secrets of Oahu, including hidden gems, must-see attractions, and where to find the most delicious North Shore food.

So, sit back, relax, and get ready to spend a day immersing yourself in the beauty of Oahu, known as the Gathering Place.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, this guide is your ticket to experiencing Oahu like never before.

Ready to hit the road? Let’s go explore! And don’t forget to check out the latest episodes of Hawaii’s Best Travel Podcast for even more insider tips and tricks. Hawaii’s Best Travel Podcast.

Key Takeaways of Oahu Road Trip

  • Driving around Oahu can take 3.5 to 6 hours depending on stops and traffic.
  • Traffic in Honolulu can slow you down, especially during weekdays and tourist peak seasons.
  • Planning your trip for off – peak times like late spring or early fall can help avoid crowds.
  • The Eastern Loop drive offers beautiful beaches and lush landscapes, while the Kamehameha Highway is great for exploring local culture and stunning views.
  • Important stops include Waimanalo Beach, Lanikai Pillbox Hike, Ko Olina Marina, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Iolani Palace, and exploring Chinatown for a rich cultural experience.

Recommended Oahu Tours

Overview: Driving Around Oahu


Driving around Oahu isn’t merely getting from point A to B; it’s embarking on an adventure that reveals the soul of Hawaii.

This captivating journey, which can span anywhere from 3.5 to 6 hours, depending on stops and traffic, showcases some of the most extraordinary landscapes and cultural landmarks you could imagine.

The island, being the third largest in Hawaii at 597 square miles, offers more than just postcard-perfect beaches; it’s a canvas where history paints itself onto modernity.

As you navigate Oahu’s route, there are spots along the way that feel like they’re reaching out to greet you—from Diamond Head Lookout with its breathtaking views offering a feast for your eyes to Hanauma Bay’s snorkeling paradise inviting you into its embrace.

Then there’s Waimea Valley’s lush gardens whispering ancient stories through their flora and Pearl Harbor’s hallowed grounds reminding us to reflect and remember.

Scenic drives such as Kamehameha Highway will guide you through emerald forests and lead beside azure waters caressing craggy shores—a visual symphony that captivates your spirit.

Navigating around peak traffic times by setting off early or delaying until later allows these experiences to resonate even deeper—making what might just be one of your life’s highlight reels play out in vibrant color before your eyes.

The beauty of Oahu will follow you home long after your journey ends.

Indeed, each mile traveled is not just distance covered but memories etched into your heart—an escapade into Hawaii’s embrace that stays with you long after the journey concludes.

Factors Influencing the Drive around Oahu

Driving around Oahu is not just about hitting the road; it’s also about timing and traffic. Traffic jams can slow you down, especially on the H-1 in Honolulu, and tourist season peaks mean more cars on the road.

Traffic Considerations

Traffic around Oahu can really shift your plans. On weekdays, roads get busy, especially near Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. These spots draw lots of people. If you drive during these times, expect delays.

Weekends see less traffic in the city but more on scenic routes. Places like the North Shore fill up fast with both locals and visitors keen to surf or relax by the sea.

Rural roads are usually clear, but a single accident can block things for hours.

Planning helps avoid stress on your trip around Oahu. Check traffic apps before you head out. They show live updates which can save you time.

Also, driving early in the morning or later in the day helps dodge heavy traffic periods.

Timing and Peak Tourist Seasons

I’ve driven around Oahu a few times over the years and quickly learned that knowing the island’s busy seasons can change everything.

During peak tourist periods, like summer and winter holidays, roads to popular spots like Waikiki Beach or Hanauma Bay get really crowded.

This means what should be a quick drive can turn into a much longer journey.

The best advice I have? Plan your trip during off-peak times if you can. Late spring or early fall are ideal – fewer visitors mean less traffic on the road and shorter lines at must-see destinations like Pearl Harbor National Memorial or Kailua Beach.

Trust me, avoiding school holiday rushes not only makes for smoother driving but also lets you enjoy Oahu’s beauty without the crowds.

Recommended GPS Tours for Oahu

Suggested Route for Scenic Oahu Road Trip

scenic oahu road trip aerial-shot-of-the-narrow-highway-along-the-beach

Mapping out a road trip around Oahu promises adventure at every turn.

Apps like Shaka Guide can help make this easier!

Choose from the Eastern Loop for breathtaking beaches, the Kamehameha Highway for lush landscapes, or the Western Shore for stunning sunsets—each offers a unique slice of Hawaiian paradise.

Eastern Loop Drive

The Eastern Loop drive offers an experience like no other around Oahu, taking you through a landscape filled with ocean vistas and lush greenery.

It starts with Hanauma Bay‘s turquoise waters, inviting for snorkeling.

Then, you hit Kailua Beach Park, perfect for sunbathing or kayaking in its crystal-clear waters. The journey continues to Crouching Lion Hike, where breathtaking views await hikers at the summit.

Driving counterclockwise adds excitement as each turn brings new surprises—Kualoa Ranch showcases locations of famous movies; Secret Island offers tranquility away from crowds; Wahiawā Botanical Garden is a paradise of tropical plants.

This route takes about 3.5 hours non-stop but plan for 4-6 hours with stops along these highlights.

On this drive, prepare to be amazed by the island’s beauty. Your camera will be your best friend, capturing moments at Lanikai Beach or during a quick detour to see sea turtles basking on the shore.

Keep an eye out for food trucks serving local delights—it’s a tasty way to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture while exploring Oahu’s eastern loop.

Kamehameha Highway Drive

Driving around Oahu on the Kamehameha Highway is a trip filled with stunning views.

This route takes me past iconic surf spotsbeautiful beaches, and through quaint towns like Haleiwa.

Here, I get to explore local shops, art galleries, and try delicious food. The journey shows off Hawaii’s diverse beauty—from geyser-like sea caves to panoramic lookouts.

Along this road, there are plenty of stops for world-class surfing or snorkeling. I always make time for Yokohama Bay’s pristine white sands—a favorite among locals but often missed by visitors.

Each turn brings something new: whether it’s the chance to dive into clear waters or simply soak up breathtaking mountain scenery.

This drive isn’t just about getting from point A to B; it’s an experience that connects me with the heart of Oahu.

Every mile reveals another piece of the island’s spirit. From watching skilled surfers tackle massive waves to enjoying a quiet moment on a secluded beach—the Kamehameha Highway offers all this and more in one unforgettable journey around Oahu.

Western Shore Drive

The Western Shore Drive is a must-see for anyone visiting Hawaii. This route takes you along Oahu’s coastline, offering breathtaking views and a chance to explore some of the island’s most iconic lookout points.

You’ll find Hanauma Bay, famous for snorkeling, and the Halona Blowhole, where water shoots high into the air from natural rock formations.

Don’t miss Makapu’u Lookout with its sweeping ocean vistas or Pali Lookout for panoramic views of Oahu’s rugged cliffs.

I made sure to stop at each point, feeling amazed by Chinaman’s Hat at Kualoa Regional Park—an island that seemed straight out of a painting—and Laie Point for another dose of stunning scenery.

Each stop offered something unique, whether it was the sound of waves crashing against rocks or the serene beauty of clear blue waters stretching into the horizon.

Every turn on the Western Shore drive reveals another piece of Oahu’s unrivaled beauty.

Highlights of the Oahu Circle Road Trip

Seeing places like Waimanalo Beach, Lanikai Pillbox Hike, and Pearl Harbor will make your Oahu road trip unforgettable. Each stop brings its own magic, from stunning beaches to historic sites.

Get ready to hit the road and see all that Oahu has to offer!

Waimanalo Beach

waimanalo beach oahu road trip

Waimanalo Beach is a must-visit for anyone on an Oahu road trip. Its tranquility and scenic beauty are unparalleled. You’ll find soft, white sand stretching for miles and the clearest blue water you’ve ever seen.

It’s less crowded than other beaches, so it feels like a private paradise.

I always make time to stop here, soak up some sun, and take in the views of the stunning Koolau Mountains in the background. The gentle waves make it perfect for swimming or just wading near the shore.

For those who love nature, Waimanalo offers lush greenery and towering ironwood trees lining its edges.

Make sure to bring your camera because every angle of this beach is worth capturing. Whether it’s early morning or late afternoon, the light plays beautifully off the water, making for breathtaking photos.

Trust me, you won’t want to leave once you arrive at Waimanalo Beach; its beauty captures everyone who visits.

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

lanikai pillbox hike oahu

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a must-do for anyone visiting Oahu, offering breathtaking views of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands. This hike is pretty straightforward, taking about 30-45 minutes to reach the old military pillboxes at the top.

The path might be steep in places but trust me, every step is worth it once you see the view.

Snorkeling at Lanikai Beach after your hike adds another layer of adventure to your day. The clear water and vibrant marine life make it an underwater paradise not to be missed.

Imagine floating above schools of tropical fish with nothing but sunshine and serene waters around you—it’s an experience that captures the essence of Hawaii.

Exploring Oahu’s North Shore: A Surfer’s Paradise

north shore oahu surf

No trip around Oahu would be complete without a stop at the legendary North Shore. Renowned for its massive waves and laid-back vibe, the North Shore is a must-visit destination for surfers and beach lovers alike.

As you drive north from Honolulu, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by lush tropical scenery and breathtaking coastal views. Make sure to stop at iconic surf spots like Sunset Beach, Pipeline, and Waimea Bay to witness some of the world’s best surfers tackling towering waves.

But the North Shore isn’t just for thrill-seekers; it’s also home to charming beach towns like Haleiwa, where you can browse local shops, indulge in delicious shave ice, and soak up the relaxed atmosphere.

For those craving adventure, don’t miss out on exploring Waimea Valley, a lush botanical garden with hiking trails leading to a stunning waterfall. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot some sea turtles basking in the sun at Laniakea Beach.

Whether you’re catching waves or simply taking in the scenic beauty, a stop at Oahu’s North Shore is sure to be a highlight of your island road trip.

Ko Olina Lagoons and Marina

ko olina lagoons marriott beach club

Credit: Bryan Murphy, Hawaii’s Best Travel

Ko Olina Marina dazzles with luxury. It’s where impressive yachts anchor, offering water activities and sunset cruises that you won’t forget. This place isn’t just for the sea lovers; it’s a hit with both tourists and locals.

They come here for the top-notch amenities and services.

Located close to Oahu’s other attractions, Ko Olina Marina serves as a perfect starting point for any road trip on the island. Want to explore more of Hawaii? Start your journey here, where adventure meets elegance on the coastline.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

pearl harbor memorial on oahu

I visited the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and felt a deep respect for the 2,403 US citizens who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor. This site serves as a powerful reminder of that tragic day in American history.

The memorial includes several key sites including the USS Arizona Memorial, where you can see the sunken battleship beneath clear waters. It’s not just about looking; it’s about remembering and honoring those who lost their lives.

Getting to the memorial early is best to avoid long lines. You’ll need tickets to visit certain parts, like the USS Arizona Memorial, but I found planning ahead makes everything smoother.

Walking through this historic site, I learned so much about what happened on December 7, 1941. It was an experience filled with emotion, reflection, and understanding—something everyone should witness firsthand.

Iolani Palace

iolani palace honolulu oahu

Iolani Palace is a must-see spot on anyone’s list. It’s the only royal residence in the United States where Hawaiian monarchs once lived, making it a unique treasure of Hawaiian culture and history.

Queen Liliuokalani’s grace fills its halls, offering visitors a profound glimpse into Hawaii’s royal past.

As you walk through, the palace shares stories of celebrations, political changes, and personal tales of the royals who called it home.

Every room has its own story; from lavish state dinners to more somber moments like Queen Liliuokalani’s imprisonment within her own walls.

Visitors get to see firsthand how royalty lived during Hawaii’s monarchical era with authentic furnishings and artifacts that have been carefully preserved or restored.

Walking through this historical landmark provides an immersive experience unlike any other on the island.

The docent-led tours are especially enlightening—they bring history to life with insights into each artifact and room significance you might miss if walking alone.

Plus, getting up close with items that belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy offers a tangible connection to their legacy.

If you’re looking for an authentic slice of Hawaiian history amidst your Oahu adventure, Iolani Palace is something you truly can’t pass up.


I discovered Chinatown on a day trip around Oahu, driving along the scenic Kamehameha Highway. This place grabs you with its vibrant blend of history and cultureChinese immigrants came here in the 19th century, leaving a lasting mark.

Today, it’s not just a neighborhood; it’s a glimpse into Hawaii’s rich multicultural tapestry.

Walking through Chinatown feels like stepping back in time and across the world simultaneously. The area bursts with colors, smells, and sounds that are uniquely Hawaiian yet distinctly Chinese.

I found markets filled with exotic fruits, shops selling traditional medicines, and galleries showcasing local artistry side by side.

The adventure here isn’t just about sightseeing—it’s also about tasting. From street food vendors to upscale eateries serving authentic Chinese cuisine mixed with Hawaiian flavors—I tried some dishes that I still crave!

Chinatown stands out as a key highlight of any road trip around Oahu for those who love to explore different cultures through their senses.

Helpful Tips for Your Road Trip Around Oahu

Book your vehicle ahead of time to snag the best deals. Try to hit the road early or late to dodge heavy traffic during school breaks.

Booking a Rental Car in Advance

I always book my rental car well before my trip to Oahu. This move makes sure I get the best deals and a wide selection of vehicles.

Trust me, it beats rushing at the last minute. You’ll find options around $40 per day, which is way cheaper than hopping on a bus tour for about $100.

Avoiding stress is key – especially when you’re planning a road trip around an island as breathtaking as Oahu.

A booked car waits for you, not the other way around. Plus, having your own ride means freedom to explore hidden gems on your schedule.

The island has so much more to offer beyond the usual tourist spots; with your wheels secured early, every coastal turn and mountain vista is yours to discover at leisure.

I recommend booking with Discount Hawaii Car Rental.

Avoiding peak times during school holidays

Driving around Oahu during school holidays can be quite a challenge. The island feels more crowded, and the roads near top spots like Waimea Bay or Lanikai Beach get super busy.

I learned quickly that timing is everything if you want a smooth ride without the traffic jams.

Traveling either early in the morning or later in the afternoon helped me dodge the worst of it. This way, I enjoyed my drives more and spent less time stuck behind the wheel.

I also found that avoiding weekends and public holidays during these peak seasons made a big difference.

With schools out, families flock to Hawaii for vacation, making places like Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve packed with visitors.

Planning my route around Oahu on weekdays meant fewer cars on the road and shorter lines at attractions like Dole Plantation and Polynesian Cultural Center.

Lastly, booking my car rental well in advance was a lifesaver. Rentals can sell out fast during school breaks, so securing one early meant one less thing to worry about.

Plus, it gave me freedom to explore off-the-beaten-path spots across Oahu at my own pace—away from crowded tourist areas—an experience I deeply valued.

Oahu Road Trip Wrap-Up

Exploring Oahu by car is an adventure worth taking. We’ve covered the main question, “How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Oahu?” and discovered that while it might only take about 3.5 hours to complete the Oahu circle without stops, the real joy comes from immersing yourself in the island’s beauty along the way.

Now, it’s time for action! If you’re feeling inspired to hit the road, start planning your own Oahu road trip today.

Don’t forget to check out our Podcast for more insider tips and tricks to make your journey unforgettable.

And remember, the beauty of Oahu awaits you—so grab your keys and embark on your own adventure around this stunning island. Safe travels, and may your Oahu road trip be filled with unforgettable memories!

Enjoyed this Post About an Oahu Road Trip? (Pin it to save it!)

oahu road trip - pin

FAQs for an Oahu Road Trip

1. How long does it take to drive around Oahu?

Driving the 110-mile loop around Oahu takes roughly 3 hours, but add stops and it’s a full day adventure.

2. Can I explore all of Oahu in one day?

Yes, you can circle Oahu in a day if you start early and plan your itinerary well—remember to include scenic drives and key spots like Sunset Beach.

3. What are some must-see places on my Oahu road trip?

Don’t miss the Banzai Pipeline, Byodo-In Temple, Waimea Waterfall, and the Windward Side for breathtaking views.

4. Is there a guided tour option for driving around Oahu?

Sure! If short on time or prefer guidance, many tours offer an immersive experience with local insights into Hawaiian culture and hidden gems.

5. What makes driving around Oahu special?

Oahu offers one of the best drives—from cityscapes in Honolulu to lush landscapes and iconic beaches—it’s diverse. Plus, many movies have been filmed here!

6. Any tips for planning my drive around the island?

Start early to beat traffic; consider taking breaks at Haleiwa Town or Kailua Bay; always have your camera ready for unexpected beauty spots along the way.

Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy, owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel, is a certified Hawaii destination expert from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. He actively participates in the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau as a member and has a strong educational background focused on local culture and sustainability. As the host of “Hawaii’s Best Travel,” a top-30 US travel podcast, Bryan combines his years of experience with valuable insights. He connects with a broad online community, reaching nearly half a million people, and offers a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.