A drive along Oahu's North Shore passes world-famous beaches. // © 2014 HTA/Tor Johnson
Feature image (above): The Halona Blowhole Lookout, a highlight of Oahu's eastern coastal drive. // © 2014 HTA/Tor Johnson
When you’re behind the wheel in Hawaii, almost anywhere you go can be considered a scenic drive because there’s usually a mountain or ocean nearby.
But when it’s time for a road trip that truly showcases the beauty of the destination, certain routes are better than others.
Hawaii’s most beautiful byways must be savored, not sped through. Take your time during the journey, stopping when the spirit moves you. Check out a food truck or fruit vendor along the way. Park at lookouts and read historical markers. Snap pictures to capture the moment.
While there are plenty of scenic drives around the islands, following are five favorite routes that invite visitors to relax and enjoy the ride.
Eastern Shores, Oahu
After passing through several urban communities, Kalanianaole Highway heading east changes into a coastal gem. Hugging sea cliffs, it winds past breathtaking vistas. Pull over at designated stops for views of Hanauma Bay, Halona Blowhole and Rabbit Island. Take the short, steep hike to the Makapuu Point Light lighthouse for jaw-dropping panoramas. Finish at Sea Life Park Hawaii, a maritime attraction with the ocean in its front yard.
Hamakua Heritage Corridor, Hawaii Island
North of Hilo, Highway 19 snakes up the northeast coast through valleys and rainforests and right next to the ocean. Explore the four-mile detour past Onomea Bay and its collapsed sea arch. Stretch your legs at Akaka Falls State Park, Laupahoehoe Point and the historic Honokaa town, with its quaint plantation-style buildings. End at Waipio Valley, with its black sand beach, 2,000-foot-high sea cliffs and dramatic waterfall.
Hana Highway, Maui
This 52-mile marvel traces Maui’s northeast shore, dipping in and out of forests and past unforgettable ocean views. With 54 one-lane bridges and lots of hairpin turns, it’s not to be rushed.
Picnic at Puu Kaa State Wayside Park and walk to its waterfall. Buy coconut candy at a roadside stand and peruse the tropical plants of Keanae Arboretum. Do the experience justice by spending one or two nights in the rural Hana town before returning.
Kuhio Highway, Kauai
Also known as Route 56, the road north from Lihue has it all: beaches, mountains, cute towns and views straight out of a movie set. Sunbathe and swim at Anahola, spot soaring seabirds at Kilauea Lighthouse and slurp shave ice in Hanalei. Embrace the aloha spirit at each one-lane bridge. Snorkel with turtles at Makua Beach, nicknamed Tunnels. Shortly before the road dead-ends, check out Maniniholo Dry Cave, 300 yards deep.
North Shore, Oahu
Welcome to what locals call the country. Kamehameha Highway runs along Oahu’s North Shore, imbued with a laid-back ambiance. Learn about island traditions at the Polynesian Cultural Center and Waimea Valley, suck on fresh shrimp from a Kahuku food truck and watch surfers at Sunset Beach. Browse Haleiwa, the ultimate surf town with galleries, shops and eateries. It’s the culmination of one of Hawaii’s best scenic drives.