Oahu, meaning “Gathering Place,” is the focal point for the Hawaiian Islands’ greatest commercial and entertaining ventures—while still retaining its gorgeous views and natural landscapes. While the city is always bustling, a drive along the southeastern coast of Oahu reveals uniquely beautiful vistas with clear views of crashing waves and tropical mountainsides.
Head east from town to visit Oahu’s greatest monument, Diamond Head Crater. Once the site of an ancient Hawaiian heiau (temple), Westerners mistook the calcite crystals on the crater slope for diamonds, hence its name. It’s also known as Leahi, for its fish-like shape.
From Diamond Head State Monument, take 18th Avenue and turn right onto Kilauea Ave to get to Kalanianaole Highway (72) and head east along the coast for 6.2 miles to the snorkel capital of the Islands, Hanauma Bay. With over 420 species of tropical fish and beautiful glowing sands, Hanauma Bay has it all and is a favorite of residents and visitors alike. There are restrooms, a food concession stand and interactive exhibits in addition to its pristine waters, warm sand and cool winds.
Jump back on Kalanianaole Highway (72) and head east another 1.4 miles to Halona Blowhole Lookout and nearby beach Halona Beach Cove. This blowhole was formed thousands of years ago when lava flowed into the ocean. The molten lava tubes extend into the ocean and are very narrow at the top, so when the tide is high and the winds are strong, the blowhole can shoot sea spray up to 30 feet high..
Four minutes away, between Halona Beach Cove and Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is Hawaii Kai Golf Course. Although technically not a destination for “sightseeing,” the ocean vista and views of the mountainside are unparalleled here. The Pacific Ocean can be seen from every hole and, on clear days, the course provides a view of Maui and Molokai.
Continue east for one more mile to Makapuu Point Lighthouse, the easternmost tip of Oahu with views of Rabbit Island, Molokai and Lanai. There are a few less traveled trails leading from the main road, but you’ll have to ask the locals where they lead.
A 22-minute drive north from Makapuu Point brings you to Kailua Beach, arguably the most beautiful beach on the island. Clear blue water, glowing sand and views of the Mokulua Islets make this a great beach for kayaking, sunbathing and swimming, with reliable surf all year round.
Photo by Shutterstock/Allen.G