We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

California
Level Contributor
1,379 posts
6 reviews
Save Topic
Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

Hello. We are going to rent a car for a day and drive the "Circle Island Drive" while in Oahu in December. Not sure how to plan this. The guidebook recommends 2 scenic highways through the middle of the island, Pali highway and H-3. It looks like we can start out counter clockwise around the island and after the North Shore beaches turn onto 99 and head for Waikiki, but take a detour after Pearl Harbor area to take scenic H-3 and then hook up with Pali Highway, stopping at the Pali lookout and then go on to Waikiki. Is this detour worth it scenically at the end of a long day? Alternatively we can take Pali Highway to the Pali Lookout early in the day when we get near Kailua, then return to Kailua to continue our drive around the island, and skip H-3 completely. Any suggestions on which might be better, whether H-3 is worth it, and what do you think the travel time would be from Kailua to Pali Lookout, and the travel time in the detour H-3 to Pali Highway? Thanks!

Cedarville, Ohio
Level Contributor
588 posts
113 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

If you only have one day with the car I would start at waikiki, drive to diamond head then to Honauma bay/koko head then to makapuu beach then up the coast to Kailua. At that point you could take a drive up the Pali highway to see the overlook which really is magnificent. Then you have to drive back down the pali highway you just came up, back to Kailua (but it is a really fun drive). Then continue up along the coast to Kahuku (eat shrimp), round the corner and enjoy the north shore (stop at pupukea), go through waimea (cool park) and on to haliewa. Then go down through the center on 99 through Schofield and Wahiawa. Then you can go right back to waikiki after your long exhausting but glorious drive. Once you get south of Wahiawa I can't imagine that you would have the energy to go over to the Pali overlook on the way back...all you want to do is just get back to the hotel and relax.

Also i would not go up the pali highway over to Kailua and then up the coast because you miss one of my favorite parts of Oahu...the spectacular southeast corner.

Edited: 19 September 2012, 22:17
California
Level Contributor
1,379 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

Sounds like a good plan. We just weren't sure about missing H-3 through the center of the mountains but I read though it it very scenic there are no stops along the route to appreciate it, so I guess we can skip it. How long does it take to get from Kailua to Pali lookout? Oh, and if we do the plan you just suggested, the coast up to North Shore with a stop at Pali Lookout and back to Waikiki from 99, we want to stop at Diamond Head when we pass it in the morning and hike up it. We are figuring on a long day, maybe leave by 8 AM, home around 5ish with Diamond Head, Pali Lookout and the rest of the drive with short stops. Is this reasonable?

Saint Cloud...
Destination Expert
for Oahu
Level Contributor
27,617 posts
Save Reply
3. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

If you are only going to rent a car one day, forget Kailua Beach. Stop at Waimanalo Bay Recreation Area instead.

Read the Top Questions on the right side of the page. Driving tours, maps websites, etc.

Combine Driving tour #1 & #2.

You'll go along the coast from Diamond Head, Driving tour #1.

When you reach Highway 61, turn left. Continue toward Honolulu past the turn to Kaneohe. You'll actually go over the Pali. As soon as you get to the top, continue until you see a sign for Pali Lookout. Take it to Pali Lookout.

It is only a few miles out of your way to go to Pali Lookout & then continue your circle island tour.

Going to Pali Lookout from Kailua side is really scenic once you reach the turnoff to the lookout.

When you leave Pali Lookout, head back toward Kailua. Stay in the left lane & turn left toward Kaneohe (83).

Then follow the rest of Driving tour #2.

honolulupublishing.com/OahuMaps/oahu_map_isl…

honolulupublishing.com/OahuMaps/oahu_map_eas…

It will be a long day touring. Try to fit Diamond Head in on a different day.

Riverside, CA
Level Contributor
682 posts
139 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

I agree with dusty.... Waimanalo all the way!!

Have fun.

California
Level Contributor
1,379 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

I guess we can take the bus to hike Diamond Head on a different day. We are doing the Ko Olina Dolphin/Snorkel tour the next day and have one full unscheduled day after that(then on to Kauai). We wanted to leave the last full day pretty unscheduled to just relax and do whatever, How much of the day do you think it would take to take the bus to Diamond Head, do the hike and take the bus back to Waikiki(staying at the Iliki). And how many hours do you think it will take to do the Circle drive the way we are discussing? We don't usually take very long stops, maybe some short walks along the beach or in the towns, photos, watching the surfers at Norrth Shore, quick stop for lunch kind of things. Thanks, the responses have been very helpful.

Saint Cloud...
Destination Expert
for Oahu
Level Contributor
27,617 posts
Save Reply
6. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

It will take about 2 - 2 1/2 hours from the time you leave the Ilikai to the time you get back.

The hike from the trailhead will take 30 minutes to the top, about 10 minutes at the top and 20 minutes down. Add about 1/2 hour for the bus including waiting time each direction.

Add about 10-15 minutes from the bus stop to the trailhead and the same back.

With a short time on Oahu, you ought to think about renting a car the entire time. Then you can take Driving tours #1 & #2 on separate days and be able to go to Kailua Beach, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden and others that you would have to miss trying to see everything in one day.

National Cemetery of the Pacific is much better by car. Then you could also add Tantalus Drive. It is just above the National Cemetery.

Edited: 20 September 2012, 02:05
Sun City West...
Level Contributor
3,777 posts
51 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

don't take any ham sandwiches up to the pali lookout. you may get more than you planned on!

Cedarville, Ohio
Level Contributor
588 posts
113 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

We did the circle drive with the side trip up to the lookout and back in July. We left Waikiki at about 7:30 and got back to the hotel at six pm. We stopped for shrimp at the trucks in Kahuku for lunch, stopped for an hour to see the fish and critters at Pupukea, stopped for short stops at Holona blow hole , overlook of Hanauma Bay, Makapuu beach and overlook, Sunset beach, Waimea park, Haliewa, Dole plantation, three tables, had coffee in Kailua. So we did a lot but it was a full day. I agree with Dusty about Hoomaluhia Botanical gardens. He recommended it to us when we posted before we went to Oahu this time...we took the advice and it was fantastic.They were major highlight of our trip this time but you just can't fit it in with the circle tour because you will want to spend an hour at least there if not two. Hopefully the traffic along the north shore will be a little lighter for you than it was for us in July.

California
Level Contributor
1,379 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. We'll leave hiking Diamond Head to the final day and take our time going around the island, and check out your suggestions. Not adverse to renting a car for 2 days, just didn't think I needed to. We'll play it by ear and rent one if it looks like we need to, no problem. Thanks again.

Saint Cloud...
Destination Expert
for Oahu
Level Contributor
27,617 posts
Save Reply
10. Re: Circle Island Drive and Pali Lookout

My number 1 advice is to rent a car the entire time on Oahu just like you would any other island.

It isn't that you can't have a great time on Oahu taking public transportation & renting a car for a day or two. You can!

But you can see much more of the island with a car. And it won't be much more expensive if any.

A car will take you anywhere on the island. You can go where you want, when you want & stay as long as you want.

Oahu has the most beaches of any of the islands. Oahu has many of the best beaches in Hawaii.

Oahu has many really nice hikes or beach walks.

Don't limit yourself by trying to save a few $$ by taking public transportation.

As they say, stop & smell the roses (in this case the hibiscus, ginger, plumeria, etc).

Nothing wrong with spending only a few minutes at some of the stops on a driving tour just for photos. Some stops only warrant a few minutes. Other stops warrant more time.

But wouldn't it be nice to drive Tantalus, stop at the Surf Museum in Haleiwa, hike to Makapuu Lighthouse, spend a couple of hours at Kailua Beach & Lanikai Beach, stop at Turtle Bay Resort & explore the grounds and maybe a hike to Kahuku Point and/or Kawela Bay.

Those are the attractions you give up by renting a car only a day or two.