East Oahu Region Sights, Tours, & Information
Things to Do & Visitor Tips for Windward Oahu
Oahu's East Shore, also known as Windward Oahu, is located 30 minutes from Waikiki and Honolulu and is well worth touring by car as the coastal drive is scenic and varied. The region is largely made up of quiet, coastal neighborhoods and towns nestled between stunning 3000ft mountain ranges and the sea.
Bordered by the Ko’olau Range, the East Shore extends from Makapu'u Point and Lighthouse on the southeastern point of the island, all the way to Kahana Bay which adjoins the area known as the North Shore. Windward East region is perfect for outdoor adventures such as swimming, hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling, with many beautiful beaches such as stunning Lanikai Beach, Waimanalo Bay and Kalama Beach.
Getting around Windward Oahu
From Waikiki, there are two main routes to explore Oahu's East Shore. Take Highway 72 directly east and there are many sights to see en route to the Windward Oahu, such as Diamond Head Crater, Koko Head, and Hanauma Bay. Makapu'u Point is the dramatic beginning of the east shore. It is worth stopping at, with panoramic views of the coastline and nearby islands as well as a moderate hike to the Makapu'u Lighthouse.
The road surmounts the volcanic 600-foot ridge that is Makapu'u, before turning sharply and steeply downhill and passing Makapu'u Beach (a local surfing beach) toward the town of Waimanalo. This small rural town has a mostly Hawaiian population, many of whom continue their ancestral traditions. Farms here produce much of the fruit and vegetables that are sold at local markets. Waimanalo also has an excellent swimming beach at Waimanalo Beach Park, which is the longest stretch of continuous white sand beach on Oahu.
Heading north is the well-known Lanikai Beach, nestled in the neighborhood of trendy Kailua, is ranked among the best beaches in the world with its powdery white sand and dreamy tranquil azure blue waters. Kailua Beach Park is just around the corner from Lanikai and is known for its excellent windsurfing and boating conditions, with kayaks and sailboards for rent.
The nearby town of Kane'ohe has a very scenic bay, lush tropical botanical gardens, and the stunning backdrop of the looming Ko'olau Mountains.
The other route connecting the East Shore with Waikiki is along the mountainous Pali Highway, which is a more direct way to Kailua and Kane'ohe and offers spectacular views of the region from the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout along the way. It is quite an experience to drive right through the Pali along the road that tunnels through the mountains - leaving the chaotic and populated Honolulu region and entering another world beyond the mountains, where sparkling seas beckon and quaint towns nestled between the stark green hills and the expansive ocean invite exploration. The Pali Highway was very controversial when proposed, and it was strongly opposed by many local residents.
East Oahu Top 5 Things to Do
Best Things to See & Do in East Windward Oahu
Valley of the Temples
#5 Rated in East Windward Oahu
The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is situated on the windward side of Oahu, in an area called Ahuimanu. It is a favorite gathering place for people of all faiths to enjoy some peace and tranquility.
Its gardens honor many faiths including Christianity and Buddhism. There is also a Japanese WWII cemetery on the grounds.
The Valley of the Temples is well worth a visit, especially if you are seeking some tranquility - away from the bustle of the Honolulu city traffic.
Chinaman's Hat - Mokolii
#4 Rated in East Windward Oahu
This little cone-shaped lump of lava off Kualoa Point is officially called Mokoli'i but has earned the nickname Chinaman's Hat from its resemblance to the straw hats that the Chinese immigrants wore.
In the past, this little chunk of land was part of Oahu, but through years of erosion, it has separated. You can still reach it though. It is possible to walk there from Kualoa Regional Park during low tide. You can also surf or kayak there.
The island supports an interesting array of sea life and a small beach in a secluded cove.
Kailua Beach Park
#3 Rated in East Windward Oahu
This 2.5 mile stretch of gorgeous sand is one of Oahu's most beautiful beaches. It boasts excellent swimming and windsurfing as well as kayaking.
It has a very nice, fine sandy beach for strolling and general lounging about. This is a world-class windsurfing destination and there are several shops in Kailua that offer rental gear and can arrange for lessons.
Kailua rarely experiences the high surf of the North Shore.
Nuuanu Pali Lookout
#2 Rated in East Windward Oahu
The Nu'uanu Pali Lookout is one of the most stunning views of Oahu's Ko'olau Mountain Range. Located just a short 5-mile drive from downtown Honolulu, this lookout offers some of the best views on Oahu.
From here you can spot Kailua town as well as Kaneohe Bay and, of course, the breathtaking Ko'olau Mountains.
In 1795, Kamehameha the Great's troops drove Oahu's men up the hills only to force them off these cliffs and to their deaths. Following that battle, Kamehameha was able to finish his quest and unite the islands.
#1 Rated in East Windward Oahu
This little treasure has plenty of soft sand and seclusion for a morning of peaceful sun-worshipping or swimming.
This beach used to be about a mile long but development has caused erosion, making it about a half-mile. But a great half mile!
The two lovely offshore islands make it a picture-postcard spot. The wind is also good here for sailing and windsurfing. There is even some good snorkeling to be had.
Additional Attractions in Windward Oahu
The coastal road north of Kane'ohe takes on another level of spectacular, as it hugs the ocean via small towns and rural areas that exude the energy of old Hawaii. Traveling through this area is like stepping back in time while simultaneously experiencing a mix of cultures. The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, situated north of Kane'ohe in Ahuimanu, is a large replica of a traditional Japanese Buddhist temple that celebrates the coming together of many cultures in a place where people of all faiths can enjoy peace and tranquility.
Back on the coastal road, you can head north through the sleepy communities of Waiahole and Waikane – largely agricultural towns that were built on the sustenance foods of old Hawaii: coconut, papaya, and especially the taro. Some of the best poi on the island can be found here, and a visit to the Waiahole Poi Factory is definitely worthwhile. Along the beaches, you will see many fishponds, some of which were created for the Hawaiian royalty. This area was originally the favorite and sacred place of the High Chiefs of Hawaiian Royalty, and the cliffs of the Ko'olau Range hold many ancient burial sites and places that are sacred to the Hawaiian people.
At Kualoa Point, you can't miss the famed Chinaman's Hat (Mokolii), which is accessible at low tide via Kualoa Regional Park. Kualoa Ranch is nestled in the hills just across the highway, and the family-owned ranch has been the backdrop for countless movies and television shows such as ‘Lost’ and ‘Hawaii Five-0’. From here, the highway meanders past Kaaawa Beach Park and beautiful Kahana Bay where it adjoins the North Shore region, which boasts the Polynesian Cultural Center at Laie, Waimea Valley, and the famed north shore surfing beaches of Sunset and Ehukai (Pipeline).
A visit to Oahu's Windward East Shore requires at least a day or two to explore the many sights, beaches and quaint towns that make up this unique area.