Reasons to Visit Southeast Oahu | Oahu’s best scenic drive

Last Updated on February 4, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

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Tope things to Do in Hawaii


The best Oahu scenic drive of the island is the Southeast Oahu coastal route. Here’s reasons to visit Southeast Oahu

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Reasons to Visit Southeast Oahu

Driving the Southeast Oahu coastside is one of the most stunning drives you’ll find on Oahu. It’s a winding drive hugging against the gentle Koko crater mountains as cascading seaside lava cliffs reveal deep turquoise ocean waters. Hawaii beaches and land formations are dramatic with contrasts. The winds can be strong. Waves on this side of the island can be choppy and occasionally dangerous, especially against the jagged lava rock surfaces.

Note: When hitting Oahu beaches, spotting our endangered species like the Hawaiian turtle or seal can feel exciting. Please respect and keep a distance from these species. Please also help us protect them and keep fellow travelers in check; make sure no one is harassing or touching these species. Read my responsible tips for ethical travel

1. Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve is a famous Hawaii landmark snorkeling spot.  It is a protected marine life preservation bay, housing a reef and marine life galore. There is a nine minute video  that visitors are required to watch, educating you on how to respect the bay, marine and protect the coral from ruin (you might see yours truly; I’m in their PSA!) .  While there are other spots for snorkeling, Hanauma Bay is the only spot that has life guards for safety.

Hanauma Bay is the king of snorkel spots hands down for its prolific marine life and safety. Shallow or deep, spotting marine life (and lots of it) is guaranteed.  Parking: Come early. The parking lot is large but can get filled and you may need to park on the side of the road. Dog-friendly: No.

Hawaii Hiking: You can hike Hanauma Bay along the upper crater. It is a 1.5 mile hike with no shade. Avoid peak hours of 11am-2pm and take water. It has some lovely coastal and cliff-side views.

Tip: Don’t forget to bring your reef-friendly sunscreen! Hawaii has banned harmful sunscreen. See my reef-friendly sunscreen tip guide.

TIp: Make your way around Southeast Oahu viewpoints to Haleiwa with the Circle Island Experience

snorkeling at hanauma bay, hanauma bay, best snorkel spots in hawaii
hanauma bay

2. Lanai Lookout

Lanai Lookout: Enjoy the beautiful, crashing waves and try to catch a glimpse of the Hawaiian island of Lanai from this spot on a clear day. There’s plenty of parking, which makes this an easy lookout stop and part of what makes this a best Oahu scenic drive.

best beaches hawaii, southeast oahu views

Check out my top 20 Hawaii beach tips – Do’s & Don’ts

3. Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole is a lookout stop worth stopping at. During high tide, the ocean spray shoots up through the blowhole geyser from the lower caves. It is quite dangerous, so avoid standing over it. You can walk down to the base but its slippery and be careful of high tide. It’s a stunning lava cliff lookout. I love this Oahu lookout. it’s a beautiful spot to enjoy and very breezy.

Tip: Save money on your trip and get the Go Oahu: All Inclusive Pass

4. Halona Cove (From Here to Eternity Beach or Cockroach Beach)

Just after the blowhole, you’ll pass a secret beach cove, Halona Cove. I call it From Here to Eternity Beach named after the Hollywood film that made it known.  It’s a picturesque and small cove tucked between lava formations. It is visible from the road. Since then it has also appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean and 50 First Dates. 

Caution: The waves further from the beach can get rough. Be careful of the tides sweeping you out. Read my 20 Oahu Beach tips

Check out 12 Best Beaches in Hawaii
eternity beach hawaii oahu
eternity beach hawaii oahu

5. Wawamalu Beach next to Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach is at the base of the first coastal descent. It is not a particularly beautiful beach and it often has choppy and dangerous breaks, making it popular for bodyboarding, but not swimming. The parking lot is small, while Sandy Beach Park is long. Keep driving down Sandy Beach Park to the second parking lot.

Here you’ll find the hidden gem of Wawamalu Beach Park, a small but stunning tide pool beach. Lava rock formations are smooth, jagged and uneven. Be careful where you step.  The beach has small pools I’ve seen parents let their toddlers splash in.  I recommend reef shoes if you plan to spend time there. The tides here can be choppy and rough making a dramatic contrast between frothy sea spray and dark lava rock.

🤙🏾 Tip: Don’t forget your reef-safe sunscreen. Hawaii has banned sunscreen with harmful chemicals to our coral waters. Read my reef-friendly sunscreen guide.

Check out my Hawaii packing list.
Wawamalu Beach Park sandy beach hawaii
Wawamalu Beach Park sandy beach hawaii

6. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail & Tidepools

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is an easy uphill paved hike to a lighthouse with an epic view. It is a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike with old military pillboxes, and gorgeous views staring out to Hawaii Kai and the windward side. There are no restrooms on the trail. Walking along this 2.4-mile path you can spot whales during whale watching season or visit the giant Makapu’u tide pools below. The Makapu’u tide pools are halfway to the lighthouse but a 2.19-mile hike.  There is no worn path to the tide pools, but you can see it from the trail. Be careful descending the rugged cliff-side and check the tides before descending, as there have been deaths during high tides. Take water and sunscreen, because it is hot and there is no shade. These tide pools are not for children

The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse sits on the top of a windy 600-foot sea cliff overlooking Makapu’u Beach, down to Waimanalo Beach and the Windward Coast.

This is a dog-friendly trail. Avoid walking Fido during scorching peak hours of noon – 2 pm as the asphalt is hot. I recommend early morning and a late afternoon near sunset for dog-walking. Make sure you bring lots of water for your pooch to keep from overheating. The ground is hot and dogs feel it more than the tradewinds you are feeling at a higher level.

Parking: There is a small parking lot before the trail. Often there is roadside parking if the lot is full.

🤙🏾 Tip: Experience a Hawaiian Luau at Sea Life Park with Dinner & Show

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7. Alan Davis Beach

Alan Davis Beach is a secret local beach tucked below the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.  It’s not a particularly lovely beach but it is a secluded cove surrounded by lava rock formations. It is nice for getting away to less touristy spots. The beach sand is on the gritty side and is not a place for swimming and splashing. Folks like to do light snorkeling here as the waters are gentle. It’s a great dog-friendly beach.

Pele’s Chair is a rock is a giant rock situated five minutes overlooking the beach. It’s a lovely spot for to catch the sunset.  Walking to the beach feels a little adventurous- from the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse parking lot, you’ll see a small worn dirt pathway weave its way through the wild brush landscape. The beach is an 8-minute short hike from the parking lot.  You can find parking at the Makapu’u Lighthouse parking lot or park on the side of the highway.

alan davis beach hawaii
alan davis beach


8. Waimanalo Beach

Waimanalo Beach is 3 mile stretch of a beach with white sands perfect for a long stroll. It is where the Southeast Oahu coastal drive ends and residential country living begins. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches on Oahu, a local beach park set against the picturesque Ko’olau mountain range.  It is a family-friendly, picturesque beach with deep sandy beaches and lovely Tradewind.

The spacious beach park protecting it is popular with local families, who love to camp. It can be confusing who is camping and who is living–off-the-land as the homeless rate grows and blends with country living.

Waimanalo is protected Hawaiian Homestead land and is the most Hawaiian Hawaii can get. Be respectful of the laid-back local culture as you pass through.

Read  Wakiki Beach Tips

Getting Around Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu is a medium-small island. You can circumnavigate it in a day. However, to squeeze all its highlights in, you’ll need at least three days or longer. Oahu also has incredibly scenic hikes of various levels (read my Hawaii hiking tips), from easy hikes like Spitting Caves and Lanikai Pillbox hike to day long hikes like Kaena Point.

There are always all-inclusive vacation package deals online or you can organize day tours, hop a Waikiki trolley (they make stops at some main attractions) or take TheBus. But if you want to explore more and have flexibility, it’s best to rent a car from a place like Discount Hawaii Car Rental. Read more on How to Get Around in Hawaii

Where to stay on Oahu

Hilton Hawaiian Village. Luxury. Large resort with spacious luxury rooms and gorgeous high-rise views, a private lagoon and free Friday fireworks. The man-made lagoon is an easy and safe experience for children and is next to the beach.

Disney Aulani Hotel. Family. Ko’Olina Resort Area on the East Oahu. It’s a bit of a drive from Honolulu, but the area has lovely and tranquil family-friendly beaches. The resort hotel has a plethora of activities from wet slides and tubing to snorkeling and more.

Ihilani Four Seasons Resorts Luxury resort, favorite Hawaii film location

Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel. Budget. Great location, walk to Waikiki Surf beach. Dorm rooms are as low as $35/night. You cannot beat that deal for a central spot in Waikiki. Read more about Waikiki’s 12 Top Beaches to Explore

Travel Resources for your Hawaii trip – Hotel bookings. No cancellation fees
NordVPN – Online security and the ability to watch Netflix. Use “grrrltraveler” for 70% off 3-year plan + 1 month free
Get your Guide – book tours in Hawaii
Discount Hawaii Car Rental.- book inexpensive car rental in Hawaii
Check out my Reef Safe Sunscreen guide to see which sunscreen is banned in Hawaii.

Whzat would you recommend visiting as Oahu’s best scenic drive?

Reasons to visit southeast oahu

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