There’s more than one way to get from Waikiki to Oahu’s North Shore.
The towns of Haleiwa and Kahuku form the unofficial borders into the North Shore region. The four itineraries I’m about to suggest begin in Waikiki (south) and lead to either Haleiwa (west entry point) or Kahuku (east entry point), with ideas for stops along the way.
Combine Routes depending on what experiences you’d like to have. For example, you could take Route 1 to get up there and Route 2 (backward) to get back to town.
For affordable car hire, book online with Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. Choose from a variety of brands and vehicle types. They have no booking fees, no pre-payment, and no cancellation penalties! Convertibles and Jeeps are popular options.
TIP: If you only have one day to explore the North Shore, carefully plan the itinerary and stick to it – it’s easy to get sidetracked! Routes 1 & 2 are best when you’re short on time (cherry-pick your favorite stops). Routes 3 & 4 tend to pack a lot in and will be full days from sunrise to sunset. Remember, you can always do Kailua and Oahu’s South Shore on separate trips.
Route 1: The Quick & Dirty
Waikiki to Haleiwa via the Interstate H1 (West) and H2 (North) .
This is the quickest way to drive from Waikiki to Oahu’s North Shore, traveling on the Interstate H-1 (West) and Interstate H2 (North) direct to the surf town of Haleiwa.
The majority of this route is on the Highway, but there are a few main attractions.
- If you have limited time on holidays, you could squeeze in Pearl Harbor Historic Sites en route. This would add a couple of hours to the itinerary, plan accordingly.
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- Within close proximity to Pearl Harbor is Aloha Stadium. This venue hosts the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace, Hawaii’s biggest open-air flea market. Swap Meet is on Sun 6:30am-3pm, Wed and Sat 8am-3pm. Marketplaces opens Wed, Sat and Sun 8am-3pm.
- Shopaholics might want to duck over to Waikele Premium Outlets, Oahu’s only outlet stores. It’s a short detour.
- This route will naturally pass Dole Plantation, one of the last remaining pineapple fields in Hawaii. It’s the perfect place for a break. Try the famous Dole Whip dairy-free soft-serve.
- About 20-minutes into the drive from Waikiki is the magical Moanalua Gardens. It’s a beautiful green space with an absolutely stunning Hitachi tree (large monkeypod tree). For those with kids, buy a bag of food from the souvenir shop to feed the fish and ducks at the pond.
- Venture off the beaten track to Mokuleia Beach Park (this will require backtracking to get to Haleiwa). It’s a small North Shore community with a lovely beach park, polo field, and airfield where skydiving companies launch from. Hawaii Polo Oceanfront Trail Rides also take place here.
Route 2: Scenic Highway
Waikiki to Kahuku via the Interstate H1 (West) and H3 (East); Kahekili and Kamehameha Hwy.
The main draw of this circuit is the Interstate H3 (East), a highway that took 37 years and $1.3 billion to build! It’s the hero image of this post.
At the end of Interstate H3, you will pass through the Tetsuo Harano Tunnel bringing you to a stunning view of Kaneohe Bay on the East Side of the island.
Follow the Kahekili Highway which connects to the Kamehameha Highway, a single lane road that hugs the coastline all the way to the North Shore.
- Around half-way to Kahuku is Waiahole Poi Factory. Taste homemade Hawaiian foods at this former poi factory. It’s been revived into a restaurant and art gallery, offering native cuisine in a nice outdoor setting. Save room for the Sweet Lady of Waiahole dessert, warm kulolo (a Hawaiian dessert).
- Further north is Tropical Farms, a macadamia nut farm with a country gift store. Take a breather and enjoy free coffee and mac nut samples.
- Kualoa Ranch in Kaneohe is a hub for outdoor activities. It’s well-known for Hollywood Movie Site Tours but there’s also Horseback Rides, ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) and UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) Adventures, Jurassic Jungle Expeditions, E-Bike Tours, Jurassic Valley Zipline (Flying Fox), Secret Island Beach Activities, Kayak Adventures, and Taste of Kualoa Farm Tours. In other words, a whole lot of fun! Tour departures begin around 7-8am with regular departures up until around 4pm, but they can sell out weeks in advance. Some activities are longer than others. Rather than chance it, book your Kualoa Ranch Tours ahead of time and factor it into your road trip. When my Dad came to visit, we locked in the Jurassic Valley Zipline for a midday start and enjoyed a leisurely drive up in the morning.
- Across the street from Kualoa Ranch is Kualoa Regional Park. This area has an amazing panorama of Mokolii, a small island known locally as Chinamans Hat. If you’ve packed a picnic lunch, this parkland has tables with a great view.
- Keep pushing north until you reach the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. It’s a 42-acre park featuring six themed Island Villages, each one has the traditional look and feel of the islands it represents (Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fiji, and Tahiti). It opens at 11:45am, there’s a Canoe Pageant around 2:30pm and most activities finish up by 5pm. There’s a variety of luau and buffet options between 4-6pm and Ha: Breath of Life Show 7:30-9pm. There are multiple packages. Book at least 10 days in advance you’ll save 15%.
- Even if you opt-out of the Polynesian Cultural Center, check out the Hukilau Marketplace. It’s a public dining and shopping mecca outside the park entrance. There’s a mix of brick-and-mortar retailers and food trucks. Try Penny’s Malasada’s for custard-filled donuts, Tita’s Grill for spicy garlic shrimp or Kiwi Style Fish ‘n Chips for crispy seafood and hot chips. They have chicken salt and potato scallops, woohoo!
- Eventually, you’ll hit the final destination of Kahuku. A variety of “shrimp shacks” serving finger-licking garlic shrimp plates are what put this town on the map. The most popular food trucks are Giovanni’s, Romy’s and Fumi’s. Fumi’s also has a free-standing Fumi Shrimp Farm location, lookout for a blue building with outdoor seating and restrooms, this is my pick! The spicy garlic shrimp is incredible, and they also serve Dole Whip from the side window.
- The McDonald’s at the Koolau Center in Kaneohe (47-250 Hui Iwa Street). Bet you didn’t think I was going to say that, LOL. Detour specifically through the drive-thru for a coffee or snack, it has a gorgeous view of the Koolau mountain range from this vantage point.
- Across the street from the McDonald’s is the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park home to The Byodo-In Temple. It was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii and is a smaller-scale replica of the over 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple in Japan. Get out and stretch your legs, explore the grounds, and gift shop. Find the bon-sho (sacred bell), it’s customary to ring it before entering the temple. It’s said to bring you happiness, blessings, and long life!
- There are a number of art galleries, they make for curious pauses. Peruse original art from Hawaii at Sunshine Arts Main Gallery, matted prints at Fairly’s Fine Art and Hawaiian goods store Kim Taylor Reece Gallery.
- Kahuku Farms is a hidden gem on Oahu’s North Shore. This local family-run farm serves fresh smoothies, salads, and sandwiches in a peaceful setting. You can also buy local products like honey and chocolate.
You could also detour to Kailua as show in Route 3.
Route 3: Pit Stop in Kailua
Waikiki to Kahuku via Interstate H1 (West); Pali, Kahekili and Kamehameha Hwy.
Kailua on Oahu’s East Coast is an idyllic setting, much-loved by locals and visitors. You might have heard of Lanikai and Kailua Beach? They’re ranked as top beaches in the nation!
Visit this region to enjoy the gorgeous beaches, participate in ocean activities and munch on ono (delicious) eateries around town.
- Follow the Interstate H1 (West) to the Pali Highway. Once on the Pali, you can detour to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. Allow for a short stop to take in the dramatic views over Kailua and Kaneohe. Take note of the sign depicting the Battle of Nuuanu, it’s a significant historical event that took place in the area.
- Continue on to Kailua where you can hang out in town or head to the beach. Kalapawai Market has two locales, one at the entrance of Kailua Beach Park which is great for grabbing snacks to-go, and another in the heart of Kailua town perfect for dining-in.
- If you love Hawaiian poke make a special stop for it at The Hibachi at Windward Town & Country Plaza.
- Don’t miss seeing the iconic Mokulua Islands or “The Mokes” as the locals call them. These two islets sit off the coast of Kailua and draw avid kayakers from far and wide. Hire kayaks or book a Twin Islands Guided Kayak Tour.
- Stock up on road trip supplies at Whole Foods Market in Kailua. The market carries a lot of cool locally-made products. There’s even the Windward Bar inside, perfect for a quick cold one (for the non-drivers).
- Get your blood pumping on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, a medium-level narrow trail that crescendos with two military bunkers and a premium view over Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands. It takes about 30-minutes to complete. You’ll want to investigate the parking situation beforehand, that part can be tricky.
- Kailua is known for its talented local artists and designers, and many of them have one-of-a-kind boutiques in town. Check out Coco’s Trading Post (modern aloha lifestyle shop), Under A Hula Moon (home decor, resort wear, and accessories), Manuhealii (Hawaiian clothing store), Muumuu Heaven (women’s clothing store), Olive Boutique (beach-chic fashions), to name a few.
From Kailua make your way to the North Shore via the Kahekili and Kamehameha Highways. From this point forward you can choose any of the stops already mentioned in Route 2.
Route 4: Longest & Most Scenic
Waikiki to Kahuku via Interstate H1 (East); Kalanianaole and Kamehameha Hwy.
My favorite Oahu road trip! It’s the long way around the island taking in the South Shore. If you choose this option you’ll see some of the best sightseeing Oahu has to offer.
The main difference in this itinerary is the addition of the Kalanianaole Highway upfront, a tour of the south-east corner of the island.
Traversing the Kalanianaole Highway will introduce you to the neighborhoods of Aina Haina, Hawaii Kai, and Waimanalo.
- Jack’s Restaurant at Aina Haina Shopping Center is a small locals spot. They are famous for their diner-style breakfast and biscuits.
- Hawaii Kai is a marina community popular for watersports including snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. If you don’t have time to snorkel, there’s a fantastic lookout over the bay.
- Keep your eyes peeled for Koko Head Crater and the tiny figures hiking up the steep Koko Crater Trail (over 1,000 steps to reach the top).
- As you meander around the coastline see Halona Blowhole and Halona Beach Cove, the beach From Here to Eternity was filmed on.
- Then there’s Sandy Beach a bodyboarder’s dream (Obama loves to bodysurf here).
- Next stop, Makapuu Lookout and the short paved hike to Makapuu Lighthouse. As you leave this carpark pay close attention, the coastline reveals itself in all its glory!
- Sea Life Park is out this way. It offers interactive programs, shows, and exhibits. Popular things to do are the Dolphin, Sea Lion and Shark Encounters (reserve early).
- Cap off this south-east exploration at Waimanalo Beach. Stretching 5mi (8km) along the eastern coastline, this is Oahu’s longest beach. It’s is a dreamy landscape with ocean views of Manana (Rabbit) Island and mountain views of the majestic Koolau range. Paradise!
- As you begin the journey from Waikiki head to Kahala Avenue for a real estate drive-by. Kahala is in the Top 10 wealthiest zip codes in America, home to some jaw-dropping million-dollar mansions.
- Before arriving at Waimanalo Beach, hit up the nearby Ono Steak and Shrimp Shack for an eat-in meal or a takeaway plate of food to enjoy down on the beach.
Once again, this itinerary joins the Kahekili and Kamehameha Highways. You could also detour to Kailua as show in Route 3. From this point forward you can choose any of the stops already mentioned in Route 2.
And there you go! Four ways to Oahu’s North Shore.
We’ve only just touched the surface, and haven’t even mentioned what to do once you get to Haleiwa (west entry point) and Kahuku (east entry point) on Oahu’s North Shore. That will be the content for another blog post!
TIP: The Google Maps app is great for directions. While the destinations are either Haleiwa or Kahuku, sometimes the app will show you a different way to get there. Make sure you are following the Highways outlined.
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TIP: Consider staying on Oahu’s North Shore for one or more nights, this would allow you to take your time traveling up and back. There are only a handful of traditional hotels on the North Shore, the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore and Turtle Bay Resort. Alternatively, look at vacation rentals.
For affordable car hire, book online with Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. Choose from a variety of brands and vehicle types. They have no booking fees, no pre-payment, and no cancellation penalties! Convertibles and Jeeps are popular options.Disclosure: The Hawaii Admirer will earn a small commission for purchases made through the affiliate links used on this website. Mahalo for your support!