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An insider’s guide to the ultimate Windward O‘ahu scenic drive

Friends laughing having fun in Oahu island, USA travel lifestyle. Hawaii surfers people lifestyle happy living friends talking on beach relaxing from surfing with surfboards. Grab family or friends for a road trip north along O‘ahu’s windward side. | Photo by Right Frame Photo Video/stock.adobe.com

Growing up on O‘ahu, I would jump at my parents’ call to “go country,” to drive the long way on the winding two-lane Kamehameha Highway (Highway 83) headed north to Hale‘iwa for a dose of adventure. Nowadays, with my kids in the backseat, I have that same anticipation of fun when we embark on this coastal scenic drive along Windward O‘ahu.

The city falls away, concerns detach, and relaxation permeates as traffic moves—or sometimes moves—at an increasingly unhurried pace. Views of the Ko‘olau range, then Kāne‘ohe Bay, Mokoli‘i, and beyond deliver O‘ahu’s verdant beauty. Many spots along the way have endured—like Punalu‘u’s small roadside shops where I’d bought musubi as a kid—honoring their roots but also evolving and adapting.

The 5 stops below reveal a glimpse of history and a taste of today, and because you might not want to make them all in a single drive, it’s all the more reason to plan multiple road trips.

Read more: 34 reasons to visit O'ahu now

Stop 1: Byodo-In Temple

Byodo-In Temple at the Valley of the Temples pays homage to Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants. | Photo by Shane Myers Photo/stock.adobe.com

Byodo-In Temple at the Valley of the Temples pays homage to Hawai‘i’s first Japanese immigrants. | Photo by Shane Myers Photo/stock.adobe.com

At the foot of the Ko‘olau mountains inside Kāne‘ohe’s Valley of the Temples, the Byodo-In Temple state landmark was often a first stop when my family’s mainland friends were along for the ride. It is a smaller-scale reproduction of the original, nearly 1,000-year-old temple in Uji, Japan. Byodo-In Temple was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i.

One of the main attractions is a 9-foot Buddha statue welcoming all to appreciate its artistry, while a meditation pavilion and reflecting pond inspire a sense of beauty and peace. The lush, serene grounds are an ideal place to commune with nature and animal life, such as colorful koi. A Japanese teahouse converted to a gift shop is a place where you might find the perfect gift or simply food to feed the koi.

Info: Kama‘āina rates: $2–$5.

Stop 2: Waiahole Poi Factory

Waiahole Poi Factory serves up ono Hawaiian dishes and a relaxing country vibe. | Photo by Ann Cecil

Waiahole Poi Factory serves up ‘ono Hawaiian dishes and a relaxing country vibe. | Photo by Ann Cecil

Burned in my memory as a longtime fixture along this scenic drive, Waiahole Poi Factory reverberates with more than 100 years of history. From 1905 to 1971, it provided poi to valley and island residents. Into the ’70s, when I’d most often pass by, it had been transformed by Charlene and Calvin Hoe into an art gallery.

Passed down to the next generation, since 2009 it has served Hawaiian food and hand-pounded poi. Its popularity has only grown in the past year as people steadily seek nourishment close to their hearts from dishes inspired by traditional Hawaiian lū‘au.

It is an undeniable treat to be served such incredibly fresh poi, and also superbly smoky kālua pig and combinations of favorite dishes. My family must have squid lū‘au, chicken long rice, and laulau, while others might stop by just for a drink of ‘awa or a “Sweet Lady of Waiāhole”—a sugary treat of warm kūlolo (made from kalo) and haupia ice cream. But what the Hoe ‘ohana want foremost to share are the true traditions and cuisine of Hawai‘i, while supporting local farmers and Waiāhole’s agricultural legacy.

Info: Online orders via the website; takeout only. Parking in the back.

Stop 3. Kahuku Farms

 Stop at Kahuku Farms for a meal of salads, pizza, panini, and smoothies. | Photo courtesy Kahuku Farmsl

Stop at Kahuku Farms for a meal of salads, pizza, panini, and smoothies. | Photo courtesy Kahuku Farms

This part of Kahuku was once an open stretch of sugarcane fields that signaled that our drive was getting close to Hale‘iwa. It’s also home to Kahuku Farms, where 4 generations of Kylie Matsuda-Lum’s family have grown foods that feed O‘ahu. Ten years ago, they diversified even further from their 125 acres of apple banana, papaya, long eggplant, and lū‘au leaf to create a family-style farm-to-table experience with a café, garden, and wagon tours to share farming with others.

These days, guests can get farm-fresh takeout (like veggie panini and pizzas, liliko‘i and papaya smoothies, and sweet treats) and then picnic on the lawn and throughout the spacious garden. This is also the only place Matsuda-Lum knows of in the state that grows acai, delectably sampled in the café’s signature acai bowl. The farm stand is full of fresh produce, farm-made bath and body treatments, jams, and chocolate. I never leave empty-handed.

Info: Open 11 a.m.–4 p.m. for takeout or lawn picnics; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Stop 4. Haleiwa Beach House

The light-filled Haleiwa Beach House includes an open-air deck lounge on the second floor. | Photo by D.G. Anderson

The light-filled Haleiwa Beach House includes an open-air deck lounge on the second floor. | Photo by D.G. Anderson

The casually romantic Jameson’s By the Sea, across from Ali‘i Beach Park and Hale‘iwa Harbor, was really a special-occasion spot in years past—but always a comforting landmark on the road. When Jameson’s finally closed its doors in 2015, this North Shore fixture was showing its age. But instead of losing a tradition, a renovation made the space something arguably better. The Haleiwa Beach House retains Jameson’s 2 levels, but it is more open and contains modern decor. Firepits complete the transformation.

The restaurant feels both familiar and new, offering pūpu and entrées with comfort and fresh twists, from ‘ahi tartare to a kālua pig grilled cheese, and Thai curry with lobster to paniolo rib eye. Sitting on the lānai with a craft brew in hand and Hale‘iwa’s expansive sunsets on vibrant display just might be the biggest draw of all.

Info: Walk-ins only.

Stop 5. Matsumoto’s Shave Ice

Try a combination from Matsumoto’s: coconut, pineapple, lemon shave ice drizzled with condensed milk. | Photo courtesy Matsumoto Shave Ice

Try a combination from Matsumoto’s: coconut, pineapple, and lemon shave ice drizzled with condensed milk. | Photo courtesy Matsumoto’s Shave Ice

On a typical day, iconic Matsumoto’s Shave Ice serves up hundreds of soft and sweet shave ice to lines of people waiting patiently for their beach-day treat. Based out of its renovated but original 1951 store on the main road through Hale‘iwa, Matsumoto’s offers 40 flavors to tempt keiki to kūpuna.

Everyone has a favorite shave ice flavor or combination (lychee is mine), but Matsumoto’s has made it even harder to choose with new and nostalgic tastes locals love, like Green River, a sweet lime soda once sold in local drive-in theaters; fruit punch; ume (part plum, part apricot); and Ramune, a carbonated lemon-lime soda from Japan. I’ve always wanted to sample them all, which, of course, means many more road trips are in my future.

Info: Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

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Though driving the kids to school is her most frequent road trip adventure, regular contributor Christine Thomas prefers long drives like this on O‘ahu and many more on Hawai‘i Island.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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