From the high-rises of Waikiki, venture down Kalakaua Avenue through tree-lined Kapiolani Park to take a look at a different side of Oahu, the arid south shore. The landscape here is more moonscape, with prickly cacti onshore and, in winter, spouting whales cavorting in the water. Some call it the South Shore, others refer to it as Sandy's (after the mile-long beach here), but Hawaiians call it Ka Iwi, which means "the bone" -- no doubt because of all the bone-cracking shore breaks along this popular bodyboarding coastline. The beaches here are long, wide, and popular with local daredevils.
This open, scenic coast is the best place on Oahu to watch sea, shore, and even land birds. It's also a good whale-watching spot in season, and the night sky is ideal for amateur astronomers on the lookout for meteors, comets, and stars.
To get to this coast, follow Kalakaua Avenue past the multitiered Dillingham Fountain and around the bend in the road, which now becomes Poni Moi Road. Make a right on Diamond Head Road and begin the climb up the side of the old crater. At the top are several lookout points, so if the official Diamond Head Lookout is jammed with cars, try one of the other lookouts just down the road. The view of the rolling waves is spectacular; take the time to pull over.
Diamond Head Road rolls downhill now into the ritzy community of Kahala. At the V in the road at triangular Fort Ruger Park, veer to your right and continue on palm-tree-lined Kahala Avenue. Make a left on Hunakai Street, then a right on Kilauea Avenue, and look for the sign H-1 WEST -- WAIMANALO. Turn right at the sign, although you won't get on the H-1 Freeway; get on the Kalanianaole Highway, a four-lane highway interrupted every few blocks by a stoplight. This suburban bedroom community to Honolulu is marked by malls on the left and beach parks on the right.
About a half-hour outside of Waikiki, you'll see the turnoff to Hanauma Bay on the right. This marine preserve is a great place to stop for a swim; you'll find the friendliest fish on the island here. Note: The beach park is closed on Tuesdays.
Around mile marker 11, the jagged lava coast itself spouts sea foam at the Halona Blowhole. Look out to sea from Halona over Sandy Beach and across the 26-mile gulf to neighboring Molokai and the faint triangular shadow of Lanai on the far horizon. Sandy Beach is Oahu's most dangerous beach; it's the only one with an ambulance always standing by to whisk injured wave catchers to the hospital. Bodyboarders just love it.
The coast looks raw and empty along this stretch, but the road weaves past old Hawaiian fishponds and the famous formation known as Pele's Chair, just off Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) above Queen's Beach. From a distance, the lava-rock outcropping looks like a mighty throne; it's believed to be the fire goddess's last resting place on Oahu before she flew off to continue her work on other islands.
Ahead lies 647-foot-high Makapuu Point, with a lighthouse that once signaled safe passage for steamship passengers arriving from San Francisco. The automated light now brightens Oahu's south coast for passing tankers, fishing boats, and sailors. You can take a short hike up here for a spectacular vista.
Turn the corner at Makapuu, and you're on Oahu's windward side, where cooling trade winds propel windsurfers across turquoise bays; the waves at Makapuu Beach Park are perfect for bodysurfing.
Ahead, the coastal vista is a profusion of fluted green mountains and strange peaks, edged by golden beaches and the blue, blue Pacific. The 3,000-foot-high sheer green Koolau Mountains plunge almost straight down, presenting an irresistible jumping-off spot for hang-glider pilots, who catch the thermals on hours-long rides.
Winding up the coast, Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) leads through rural Waimanalo, a country beach town of nurseries and stables, fresh-fruit stands, and some of the island's best conch and triton shell specimens at roadside stands. Nearly 4 miles long, Waimanalo Beach is Oahu's longest beach and the most popular for bodysurfing. Take a swim here or head on to Kailua Beach, one of Hawaii's best.
If it's still early in the day, you can head up the lush, green Windward Coast by turning right at the Castle Junction, Highway 72 and Highway 61 (which is also Kailua Rd. on the makai, or seaward, side of the junction, and Kalanianaole Hwy. on the mauka, or inland, side of the junction), and continuing down Kailua Road (Hwy. 61). After Kailua Road crosses the Kaelepulu Stream, the name of the road changes to Kuulei Road. When Kuulei Road ends, turn left onto Kalaheo Avenue, which becomes Kaneohe Bay Drive after it crosses the Kawainui Channel. Follow this scenic drive around the peninsula until it crosses Kamehameha Highway (Hwy. 83); turn right and continue on Kamehameha Highway for a scenic drive along the ocean.
If you're in a hurry to get back to Waikiki, turn left at Castle Junction and head over the Pali Highway (Hwy. 61), which becomes Bishop Street in Honolulu and ends at Ala Moana. Turn left for Waikiki; it's the second beach on the right.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.