When out of town guests arrive, my favorite way to acquaint them with the lay of the land is to take an O’ahu driving tour. As a lifetime resident, I’ve got the inside scoop on the best beaches, scenic views and crystal bays in O’ahu.
Local Flavors, Gorgeous Beaches
The optimal start to the drive is with the hearty breakfast buffet at Longboards Bar & Grill right at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. The views overlooking the quiet lagoon silhouetted by slender palms stretching into the silvery morning sky offer a sneak peek of scenic things to come.
But wait to have your second cup of coffee until you get to your first stop, Green World Farms, which is located about 30 minutes away in lush Wahiawa. The farm grows their coffee right outside their doors, and a sample station allows you to generously try before you buy.
The next stop is a just a mile north at Dole Plantation, where you can browse a garden of pineapple varieties you probably didn’t know existed. They’re pink, yellow or green, and grow squat or long. Indoors, on the half hour, enjoy demonstrations on pineapple and chocolate production (Hawai’i is the only cacao-growing state in the U.S.) with tastings to follow.
At this point, you will want to pull out a towel, sunblock and goggles or snorkel because a little more than 10 miles away is the world-famous Waimea Bay, known for its deep, silky shore, plentiful fish, and locals leaping and diving from a rock island. In winter, the waves may be too big, so head just yards past the bay to some of the best beaches in O’ahu, like Three Tables or the adjacent Shark’s Cove. Don’t let the latter’s name scare you — the waters are very friendly to swimmers and snorkelers.
Lunch at Top Surfing Spot
When you’re buzzing with the thrill of submerging yourself in Waimea’s underwater wonderland — and your body is craving what we call in Hawai’i ono grindz, or great food — you can backtrack a few miles into the historic surfing town of Haleiwa. As you drive past Laniakea Beach, you may glimpse native green sea turtles or monk seals lazing on the sand.
In Haleiwa, head to Beet Box Cafe, a diner with superfood smoothies and hearty lunch plates. It’s one of the best places to eat in O’ahu for vegetarian and organic fare. Or check out the lunch truck stand around the corner, where Malai Thai and Surf N Salsa serve authentic Thai and Mexican deliciousness.
Perhaps a frozen dessert appeals on this day of bountiful sun. Continue 14 miles northeast to Kahuku Farms for a bowl of acai grown right on the property, or an additional mile to the food-truck station at the old Kahuku Sugar Mill, and look for Ono Yo, which serves quality acai imported directly from Brazil, as well as frozen yogurt with a wide selection of toppings.
Just a few miles ahead, you’ll come to Mālaekahana State Recreation Area, a hidden beach with a small island. Even if you’re not quite ready to jump in the water, you’ll want to snap a few shots of the Instagram-worthy vistas. Another two miles further is a panoramic lookout, Lā’ie Point State Wayside, with an equally mesmerizing coastline. Local legend goes that a mo’o or giant lizard was defeated here in battle and flung into the waters, forming the off-shore islands. It’s also the spot where the big screen comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall filmed a key scene.
Continue two-and-a-half miles to Kokololio Beach Park, a tucked away gem with a stretch of pristine beach. Here’s the perfect spot to enjoy a refreshing dip and shower before continuing 10 miles further to Kualoa Ranch and nearby Tropical Farms Macadamia Nuts for the day’s final stops.
Kualoa Ranch sports a majestic mountain range that has served as the backdrop for dozens of movies, including the Jurassic Park franchise. Tours are available, but you can stroll the beautiful grounds and visit the petting zoo for free. Meanwhile, Tropical Farms serves up free cups of macadamia coffee and samples of macadamia nuts covered in cinnamon, Maui onion, ground coffee and other flavors.
For your hour-long ride back to Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, drive along the gorgeous Windward Coast that was featured in the Hawaii Five-O television series with Danno and McGarrett as they drifted along the road making wisecracks.
If time and energy allow, you may want to visit one of the two garden sanctuaries along the way, Byodo-In Temple or Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.
For the final stretch, you’ll head onto Interstate H-3, arguably one of the most breathtaking lengths of highway anywhere. And then it’s time to take a welcome soak in the hot tub as you unwind and reflect over a full and eventful day in our lovely paradise — or as we say fondly, in our Hawaii nei.
Where to Stay: