Although we were based in Honolulu during our time in Oahu, we opted to rent a car and drive around the island for two days to ensure we saw some sights outside of the city. The first day was a bit underwhelming, although still worthwhile. We visited the North Shore, where we had a couple goals: 1) visiting Haleiwa to sample some local food trucks, 2) visiting a coffee farm, and 3) visiting the Dole Plantation (which is now a very touristy site with a train, garden and the ‘world’s largest maze’).
The highlight by far was the food in Haleiwa. We stopped at No7 Japanese Food Truck, which had incredible poke for ~$8, along with HUGE handrolls for ~$4.50.
We then headed back from the North Shore to the Green World Coffee Farm, which is about a ~15 minute drive inland towards Honolulu. It was effectively a roadside farm with a building where you can order a coffee from their cafe, sample coffees in their warehouse, and buy a variety of sundry goods.
We did have the option of visiting the coffee farm itself, but while waiting for the organizers to get ready, it started downpouring and we decided to skip it and head for the Dole Plantation instead. The plantation is another ~5-10 or so minutes down the highway back towards Honolulu. If the coffee farm was slightly underwhelming in terms of not offering enough “tourist appeal”, the plantation was definitely tourist hell.
Afterwards, it was back to Honolulu for the afternoon. The following morning, we decided to stick to the southern end of Oahu, making a loop from Honolulu up to Kailua and then down through Hawaii’s Scenic Byway drive along the southern coast. It was by far my favorite thing we’ve done on Oahu and an absolutely gorgeous ride.
First things first, we decided to hike up the Diamond Head crater, which is located just south of Honolulu (and seems to be the tourist activity of choice regardless of fitness level). The hike itself is just about 2 miles, and offers incredible views of Waikiki from above.
After a very, very sweaty trek off of Diamond Head and back to our vehicle, we decided to see if we could tour a beautiful mid-century home located in the hills above Honolulu. Unfortunately, they were out of tickets for the day, but the drive up offered both incredible views as well as the feeling that we were driving through a magical tropical rain forest.
We then did the ~35 minute drive across Oahu’s mountains to Kailua, a sleepy beach-side city with some great food options. We stopped into a restaurant that was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives for some kalua pork fries (essentially Hawaiian bbq pork on fries), fried calamari, and fried ahi tuna served with kimchi and buttery mashed potatoes (those three items should not go together, but absolutely do and were delicious!).
From there, we continued on our roadtrip around southern Oahu, enjoying the views of the mountains and small beach until we hit the Hawaii Scenic Byway that connects the coast of Oahu back to Honolulu. We were stuck in traffic for quite a while, but loved getting to see some of the “lived” Hawaii outside of the main city.
Our first stop was the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail, which overlooks an absolutely breathtaking section of cliffs.
A couple miles down the highway, we hit our next stop: the Lanai lookout.
Our last stop was my favorite: the old Japanese fishing shrine. Unlike the other “lookouts” which had a parking lot / designated traffic pattern for stopping, the shrine is quite literally off the shoulder of the highway with essentially shoulder parking for interested viewers (a bit scary, especially in a rental car!). The shrine overlooks the Pacific and is clearly still in use today, with incense burning and a variety of offerings.
From there, we attempted to find the “spitting cave” (which supposedly exists close to Honolulu) – we ended up driving around a very affluent neighborhood about 8 miles away from Honolulu which offered great views of the beach, tennis courts, and a variety of esteemed looking restaurants. From there, it was back to Honolulu to drop off the rental car (which led to me accidentally interrupting a luau at the hotel complex and stumbled upon a nice little Hawaiian concert) and to enjoy the beach for our last day in Honolulu!
Now, off to Maui for some additional relaxation.