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The Best Views on Oahu and How to Find Them

Oahu, one of the most beautiful islands in Hawaii, is renowned for its breathtaking views and scenic landscapes. From towering mountains to sparkling seas, Oahu offers a variety of vantage points that provide stunning panoramas. Whether you’re an avid hiker or prefer a leisurely drive, Oahu has something for everyone. In this article, we’ll explore the best viewpoints on the island and how to find them.

Key Takeaways

  • Pali Lookout offers a quick stop with a breathtaking view just 5 miles from Honolulu.
  • Lanikai Pillbox provides a moderate hike with rewarding views of the windward coast.
  • Diamond Head Summit is a must-visit for a panoramic view of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Tantalus Lookout offers a scenic drive with a stunning view of Honolulu’s skyline.
  • Makapu’u Point is perfect for whale watching and offers a spectacular ocean view.

1. Pali Lookout

The Pali Lookout sits over a thousand feet above the Oahu coastline, offering breathtaking views of the windward side of the island and the ocean. This lookout provides an incredible bird’s eye view, but if you aren’t looking for it, you might miss it, as it’s not visible from the road. On a clear day, you can see Flat Island, the Mokes, and the island known as Chinaman’s Hat.

Historical Significance

“Pali” means ‘cliff’ in Hawaiian. Aside from being a beautiful place to stop and take a picture, it also has significance in Hawaiian history as the site of the 1795 Battle of Nuuanu. During this battle, King Kamehameha I united Oahu under his rule.

Practical Information

  • Parking Fee: $3.00
  • All other lookout points in this article are completely free.

The lookout is a living postcard of green and blue vistas, making it a must-visit spot for anyone exploring Oahu.

2. Lanikai Pillbox

an aerial view of a tropical island with a boat in the water

The Lanikai Pillbox, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, is a popular hike located above the renowned Lanikai Beach in Kailua. This trail offers some of the prettiest panoramic lookouts in Oahu, showcasing stunning views of Lanikai Beach’s Nā Mokulua islets, Kailua Bay, and Mōkapu Point. The hike is subtly steep, with a 550-foot climb to the summit, but the breathtaking scenery makes it well worth the effort.

Hikers who reach the top can marvel at the deep blue waters and offshore islands, including the “Mokes,” as well as Lanikai Beach, Kaneohe Bay, Chinaman’s Hat, and Waimanalo.

How to Get There

The trailhead for the Lanikai Pillbox Hike is located near Lanikai Beach. Parking can be challenging, so it’s advisable to arrive early. The beginning section of the hike is the steepest, but the trail is primarily unshaded, so be sure to bring water and sun protection.

What to Expect

  • Trail Length: Approximately 1.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 550 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Best Time to Hike: Early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat

Highlights

  • First military pillbox bunker: A great spot for a photo opportunity or a water break
  • Second pillbox: Offers a 360-degree vista of the windward coast and more of the best views in Oahu

Tips for Hikers

  • Wear sturdy shoes with good grip
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks
  • Use sunscreen and wear a hat
  • Be prepared for a subtly-steep climb

Exploring the Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a must for anyone looking to experience some of the best views on Oahu. The combination of historical landmarks and natural beauty makes this hike a memorable adventure.

3. Diamond Head Summit

boy in white crew neck shirt

Overview

Diamond Head State Monument offers one of the most stunning views of the entire South Shore. The hike, though under a mile in length, has a steep incline. Once at the top, you find yourself on the edge of an enormous crater, providing a jaw-dropping view of Waikiki and the Honolulu skyline. It’s well worth the sweat!

Historical Significance

Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone formed by a long-ago Koʻolau Volcano eruption. The crater’s interior is home to a visitor center, and from the summit, hikers obtain unobstructed views of the vast Pacific and downtown Honolulu.

What to Expect

  • Trail Length: Under a mile
  • Difficulty: Moderate due to steep incline
  • Highlights: Views of Waikiki, Honolulu skyline, and the crater’s interior

For adventure sports on the north shore: a must-do list. Explore Waimea Valley, kayak, paddleboard, snorkel, scuba dive, hike, and experience local culture. Surf the legendary Banzai Pipeline.

Tips for Hikers

  • Wear comfortable hiking shoes
  • Bring water and sun protection
  • Start early to avoid crowds and heat

Best Time to Visit

The winter season is ideal for whale watching from the summit. The trail is open year-round, but mornings offer the best conditions for a hike.

Nearby Attractions

  • Waikiki Beach
  • Honolulu Zoo
  • Kapiolani Park

4. Tantalus Lookout

Tantalus Lookout offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Honolulu and Diamond Head Crater from the top of Mount Tantalus. The drive to the top is short but steep, winding through a curvy residential area. Be cautious of cyclists who often ride up for exercise. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning vista that includes Diamond Head, Punchbowl Crater, and the city of Honolulu nearly a mile below.

How to Get There

To reach Tantalus Lookout, take the Tantalus Drive from Honolulu. The road is well-paved but narrow and winding, so drive carefully. Parking is available at the top.

Best Time to Visit

The lookout is accessible year-round, but the best time to visit is during sunset for a spectacular view. In the winter, it’s also a great spot for whale watching.

Tips for Visitors

  • Bring a camera to capture the stunning views.
  • Wear comfortable shoes if you plan to explore the area.
  • Be mindful of cyclists on the road.
  • Consider visiting during the week to avoid crowds.

For a different view of Honolulu and Diamond Head Crater, come to the top of Mount Tantalus. This view is a bit off the beaten path but well worth the effort.

Nearby Attractions

  • Punchbowl Crater: Another great lookout point nearby.
  • Diamond Head Crater: Offers hiking trails and more panoramic views.
  • Honolulu: Explore the city’s vibrant culture and attractions.

5. Makapu’u Point

a scenic view of the ocean from a hill

Makapu’u Point, also known as the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, is one of the most incredible lighthouse hikes on Oahu. This short hike is just under two miles round-trip and is paved, making it more accessible for those with disabilities. The lighthouse, built in 1909, is still functional and can be seen from the summit of this iconic lookout. Makapu’u Lookout is an ideal spot for whale watching on Oahu!

6. Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside

Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside is a must-visit spot for anyone exploring Oahu. This lookout offers breathtaking views of the windward coast, with its lush valleys, towering cliffs, and the sparkling ocean. The panoramic vistas are far and away some of the best on the island. The site is also steeped in history, as it was the location of the 1795 Battle of Nu’uanu, where King Kamehameha I united Oahu under his rule. Parking is available for a small fee, making it accessible for all visitors.

How to Get There

To reach Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside, take the Pali Highway (Highway 61) from Honolulu. Follow the signs, and you’ll find the entrance just a short drive from the city. The route is well-marked and easy to navigate.

What to Expect

Visitors can expect a well-maintained area with ample parking and clear pathways leading to the lookout point. The views are particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset, so plan your visit accordingly. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the scenic vistas.

Tips for Visitors

  • Pack essentials: Bring water, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: The paths can be uneven, so sturdy shoes are recommended.
  • Check the weather: The lookout can be windy, so dress in layers.

The Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside offers a unique blend of natural beauty and historical significance, making it a highlight of any trip to Oahu.

7. Koko Head Crater

man looking on mountain sitting on rock

Koko Head Crater offers one of the most rewarding hikes on Oahu. The trail, known as the Koko Crater Railway Trail, is a challenging climb up an old railway track with over 1,000 steps. The panoramic views from the top are absolutely breathtaking, providing a stunning vista of the southeastern coastline, Hanauma Bay, and even the island of Molokai on clear days. This hike is not for the faint-hearted, but the effort is well worth it for the incredible scenery you will encounter.

8. Ka’ena Point

Overview

Ka’ena Point is the westernmost tip of Oahu and offers one of the most breathtaking views on the island. This remote area is a natural reserve, home to native Hawaiian plants and seabirds. The rugged coastline and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean make it a must-visit for nature lovers.

How to Get There

To reach Ka’ena Point, you can hike from either the Waianae side or the Mokuleia side. Both trails are approximately 2.5 miles one way and offer stunning coastal views. The hike is relatively flat but can be challenging due to the rocky terrain.

What to Expect

  • Wildlife: Keep an eye out for Hawaiian monk seals and seabirds.
  • Scenic Views: The panoramic views of the ocean and the rugged coastline are unparalleled.
  • Historical Sites: You may come across old railway tracks and bunkers from World War II.

Ka’ena Point is a place where you can truly disconnect and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Oahu. The sense of isolation and the stunning scenery make it a unique experience.

Tips for Visitors

  1. Wear sturdy shoes suitable for rocky terrain.
  2. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
  3. Respect the natural habitat and avoid disturbing the wildlife.
  4. Check the weather conditions before you go, as the trail can be slippery when wet.

9. Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park

Overview

Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park offers a breathtaking view of Honolulu and the surrounding areas. The park is a peaceful refuge, perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The Ko’olau Mountain range flanks the edge of the park, making you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from Jurassic Park.

Activities

Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities at Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park:

  • Hiking: Several trails offer different levels of difficulty, making it suitable for both beginners and experienced hikers.
  • Picnicking: There are designated picnic areas where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
  • Bird Watching: The park is home to a variety of native Hawaiian birds, making it a great spot for bird enthusiasts.

How to Get There

The park is easily accessible by car. From downtown Honolulu, take the Makiki Street exit and follow the signs to the park. There is ample parking available.

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10. Manoa Falls

Nestled in the valleys behind downtown Honolulu, Manoa Falls is a lush paradise just minutes from the city’s hustle and bustle. The short and easy trail leads to a towering 150-foot waterfall, with a pool for swimming. Freshwater is considered sacred to Hawaiian people, so don’t be surprised if you come out feeling completely refreshed.

How to Get There

Manoa Falls is easily accessible from downtown Honolulu. Drive towards Manoa Road and follow the signs to the trailhead. Parking is available for a small fee.

What to Expect

The trail is well-maintained and suitable for all ages. Along the way, you’ll pass through a botanical garden with over 5,000 types of plants, including endangered species. Cultural sites like Hale O Lono, a heiau (religious place of worship), are also worth a stop.

Tips for Visiting

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Bring insect repellent and water.
  • Swimming is allowed, so bring a swimsuit if you plan to take a dip.

Manoa Falls offers a serene escape into nature, making it a must-visit for both adventurers and photographers.

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Conclusion

Oahu is a treasure trove of breathtaking views that cater to every type of traveler. From the easily accessible lookouts to the more adventurous hikes, the island offers a diverse range of scenic spots that are sure to leave you in awe. Whether you’re capturing the perfect Instagram shot or simply soaking in the natural beauty, these viewpoints provide a unique perspective of Hawaii’s stunning landscapes. As you plan your visit, make sure to include some of these must-see locations in your itinerary. They not only offer incredible photo opportunities but also a chance to connect with the island’s rich natural heritage. So pack your camera, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready to experience some of the best views that Oahu has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time to visit Oahu for scenic views?

The best time to visit Oahu for scenic views is during the dry season, which typically lasts from April to October. During these months, the weather is generally clear, providing unobstructed views of the island’s natural beauty.

Are the lookout points on Oahu accessible to everyone?

Many of the lookout points on Oahu are easily accessible by car or a short walk. However, some, like the Lanikai Pillbox and Koko Head Crater, require a moderate to strenuous hike. It’s recommended to check the accessibility of each lookout point before planning your visit.

Do I need any special equipment to visit these lookout points?

For most lookout points, no special equipment is needed. However, if you plan to hike to places like the Diamond Head Summit or Koko Head Crater, it’s advisable to wear comfortable hiking shoes, bring water, and use sun protection.

Is there an entrance fee for any of the lookout points on Oahu?

Some lookout points, such as the Diamond Head Summit, have a nominal entrance fee. Others, like the Pali Lookout and Makapu’u Point, are free to visit. It’s a good idea to check ahead for any fees or required permits.

Can I visit these lookout points year-round?

Yes, most lookout points on Oahu can be visited year-round. However, weather conditions can vary, especially during the rainy season from November to March. It’s best to check the weather forecast before heading out.

Are guided tours available for visiting Oahu’s lookout points?

Yes, there are several guided tours available that can take you to multiple lookout points on Oahu. These tours often provide additional information about the history and significance of each site, enhancing your overall experience.

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