Oahu is not the biggest island in the Hawaiian chain, that’s Hawaii (Big Island), but it is the busiest. Oahu is home to Pearl Harbor and Waikiki Beach, the world’s shopping playground. It is also the most populated of the islands with a year-round population of 800,000-plus, substantially more if counting tourists. I was ready to dislike Oahu/Waikiki based on the crowds and city atmosphere alone, but I didn’t—I couldn’t. It seduces you, brings you into its ebb and flow. Before you know it, you’re wandering the main drag, checking out the high-end shops—and the tourist traps as well. Suddenly, everyone at home needs a Day-Glo green refrigerator magnet. With the stores come an eccentric collection of beachfront bars and restaurants; many are part of the iconic hotels that line the beach. At night, each of these places has its own entertainment, making it possible to “cruise the beach.” With these levels of popularity come both traffic and parking problems, the only relief being multi-level parking structures, or your hotel, both of which you will be paying for. The main drag of Waikiki is Kalakaua Avenue, which is a one-way street. The fact is, most of downtown Honolulu is one-way streets, meaning that to go one block you have to ride four, not my favorite kind of riding, especially when you mix in taxies, tour buses, and airport shuttles. My advice is to put it on the kickstand and walk.
Oahu is also the only island with a freeway system. They’re called the H1, H2, and H3 and they all start in Honolulu, then, like spokes on a wheel, they head out to the East, West, North, and South. Within this is an efficient highway system that wraps the island. Hwy. 99 cuts through the center of the island, past the Dole Plantation, from Pearl City (home to Pearl Harbor) to Hale’jwa. Hwy. 93 follows the west coast from Honolulu to Keawa’ula Bay where it ends. Hwy. 92 runs from Honolulu south to Diamond Head where it forks into Hwy. 72 east. Hwy. 72 traces the east cost to the Walmanalo Bay, past Hanuman Bay and Beach, where Elvis filmed Blue Hawaii, then past the Magnum P.I. house before heading inland to Hwy. 61.
By following 61 east we are able to get back to the coast to Kailua Beach. By following this route west it’s possible to join with Hwy. 83 in the city of Kane’ohe. Hwy. 83 takes us to several standout locations, the first out of Kane’ohe is called the Valley of the Temples, home to the breathtaking Byodo-In Temple. From here 83 hugs the shore all the way to Makahoa Point. Along the way are Sacred Falls State Park and The Polynesian Cultural Center. Think of this as a “cultural” theme park, without the rides or cheap thrills. The entire area is set up in different Polynesian buildings where arts, crafts, and entertainment are demonstrated, giving an insider look at how Hawaii’s cultural mix has been achieved. Along with this is a luau and grand stage show. Allow all day to do this right; while you’re at it, see if you can spot where Elvis shot Paradise, Hawaiian Style here in the 60’s.
This is also the famous “North Shore,” or surfer’s heaven; this is where everyone comes to “hang ten” and catch the big waves. There is a bizarre collection of surfer shacks, food trucks, shops, and crowds. On the weekend, it’s bumper to bumper at a snail’s pace while surfers, kids, and dogs race across the road. It’s one of those places to say…“I’ve been there,” but you’re not sure if it was worth it. From here it’s around the point to Kullima, then south down to Hale’jwa and on to Hwy. 99 and back to Honolulu in one big circle.
Yet, if you want to “break bead” and hang your own ten, there’s this secret road just north of downtown Honolulu called Tantalus Drive. You can find Tantalus just north of the National Cemetery of the Pacific. This whole area is very residential, so it takes some digging to find it. Look on the map for a twisted, bent, and broken snake and you’ve found it. This road requires respect as it’s steep climbing and damp. It’s also popular with locals for biking and hiking, which adds enough distractions to make it challenging. Though there are several things you don’t want to miss. Along the roadway are some of the best views of Honolulu’s skyline, and at the top the road goes through a stream… enjoy.
Over-all road conditions are good to excellent with the rougher roads being in the North Shore area, the H1, 2, and 3 systems are as wide as eight lanes with numerous off-ramps and very good signage. Of the three islands we were on, Oahu seems to have the most complete road system, but also the most traffic. Ride on.