Time to venture out of Waikiki, and yes you should! You can’t come to Oahu and not get out of Waikiki. As much as I love seeing overly sunbathed tourists day after day, Oahu has some of the best beaches in the world, and no Waikiki is not one of them in my opinion. If you have a rental car then I highly suggest venturing to east Oahu. If you don’t have a rental car, you can rent mopeds at Makai Moped Rentals (yelp reviews – 10% off if you mention yelp). Technically mopeds can go on any roads except for the interstate. Make sure you are comfortable with the moped before leaving the store.
Head out of Waikiki, heading east on interstate H-1. The interstate turns into Kalanianiole Hwy pretty quickly and you’ll be driving through residential neighborhoods. Thirty minutes into your drive you’ll past the Hawaii Kai neighborhood. Once passing the Foodland on the left, you’ll begin the best scenic drive the island has to offer. There are a few viewpoints to take pictures.
Here is a list, in order of appearance on the drive of things you can do in East Oahu:
Hanauma Bay – Once you pass the Foodland on the left, you’ll drive up a small hill. The entrance to Hanauma Bay will be on the right at the top of the hill. Hanauma Bay is famously known for its snorkeling due to the amount of coral reef that attract fish and sea turtles, and the easily swimmable calm shallow waters. It’s also a beautiful beach for sunbathing by the crystal blue waters. However, over the years Hanauma Bay has turned into a cesspool of tourists that have driven away many of the beautiful sea life that once called this place home. Don’t get me wrong, this place is worth a visit, but be forewarned that you will run into crowds, lines, waits, no parking signs, fees for entrance, fees for parking, fees for snorkel rentals, etc. So my advice is, get here early in the AM or go later in the PM for the best chances of finding parking (they will turn you away if the lot is full), make sure you can swim because there are more fish the farther you go out, and wear TONS of waterproof sunscreen on your back to avoid being lobster-like. If you can’t find parking, you’ll unfortunately have to head back down towards Foodland and find parking either in the shopping center or in the neighboring residential areas. Which sucks because you have to carry all your crap up that hill in the hot sun, and then once inside Hanauma Bay, you have to trek down the hill to the beach. The prices of paradise…
Koko Head Crater - The big volcano looking thing on the left as you drive through Hawaii Kai is actually Koko Head Crater. If you stop at the scenic viewpoint past Foodland on the left, you can actually see the staircase trail that leads straight up the side of the hill. I wouldn’t really recommend this hike unless you’re looking for a really good leg workout. The view from the top isn’t as impressive as other hikes.
Sandys Beach – After winding on the coast for about a mile, you’ll come upon a large stretch of beach right off the highway. This is one of the more dangerous beaches due to the rip tides and shorebreak. If you decide to swim or join the locals in some bodysurfing, be careful.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Hike – This is a really easy hike with spectacular views of East Oahu. The entire way is paved so it’s easy for the entire family. It can get really hot out here so I recommend bringing water and wearing sunscreen. There is very little shade.
Sea Life Park – Hawaii’s version of Sea World, but there’s really no comparison. Sea Life Park might be fun for the kids, but honestly it’s a sad attempt at being called an “attraction”. Yes you can see turtles, dolphins, penguins, and sea lions, but the facilities look so sad that you’ll wish they could all be freed to live in the ocean only feets away. They do offer dolphin encounters where you can swim with the dolphins.
Waimanalo Bay State Recreation Park – This is the last spot I will highlight. After Sea Life Park you’ll continue to drive along the coast passing some more residential areas. Once you pass the McDonald’s on the right, there will be a chain link fence. The entrance to this park is where the fence breaks. You can’t see the beach from the road but it’s in there. This beach is where I take people who want to bodysurf (boogie board). Most times the waves are gentle and break near the shore where the water is shallow, making it easier to catch a wave. But I also like coming here to get away from the crowded beaches.