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One Day Getaway: Circle Island Drive Around O‘ahu

By Richard Melendez, Digital Editor

I love my job, but sitting in front of a computer screen all day does take its toll, eventually. Furthermore, living and working among the hustle and bustle of Honolulu can become a grind. So yes, even though I live on an island paradise, I still need to find an escape now and then. One of my favorite ways to get away from it all? Take a circle island drive.  View from the Pali Lookout

My preferred route is to start from Downtown Honolulu and head up the Pali Highway. This winding, historic road is a pleasantly jarring shift from the concrete jungle I just left behind and a wonderful way to begin the decompression process. A brief stop at the Pali Lookout with its astounding views and gusty winds is the perfect way to punctuate the first leg of the drive. 

Feeling invigorated, Iʻll continue making my way down Kamehameha Highway into the relative bustle of Kāneʻohe town and then on up the Windward Coast, with stark mountainsides overlooking sleepy shorelines. By now Iʻm thoroughly reminded of why I love Hawai‘i so much. If I’m so inclined, I’ll head into the Valley of the Temples for a Zen-ful pitstop at the Buddhist temple, rounding out this growing sense of serenity Iʻm feeling.

Driving builds up an appetite, so once I’m further along the way, I might pull off to the side of the road to grab a plate lunch or burger at Keneke’s in Punalu‘u. Or if I’m able to hold off a little longer, there are the famous shrimp trucks in Kahuku, including Giovanni’s and Fumi’s, along with a bevy of other food trucks and roadside stands to choose from.

Haleʻiwa is another welcome place to stop for some shopping, dining, or–at the very least–a refreshing shave ice from the famous Matsumoto’s or Aoki’s (there’s a local debate as to which is better; try them both and decide for yourself). Hale‘iwa town can get busy during peak tourist season, but the charm of the older buildings and the generally laid back vibe here makes up for it.

Hale‘iwa town

 Now, here’s my favorite part: Instead of continuing along Kamehameha Highway down towards Wahiawa, Mililani and,eventually, Honolulu, I’ll instead take a slight detour towards Mokulē‘ia and Ka‘ena Point, which is quite literally the end of the island. The beaches here are pristine, and though human traffic has increased noticeably over the years, it remains mellow compared to other, more centralized beach spots. Whip out that beach blanket, sunscreen, a good book, and if you purchased lunch someplace along the way, you’re set.

After spending some time completing the decompression process, I’ll hop back in my car and meander home via Kamehameha Highway, cutting through the suburbs of Central O‘ahu and onto the H-1 freeway, back to Honolulu. The slow transition back to civilization flows nicely, and if I encounter any traffic, it will barely faze me by this point. If all went well, Iʻve left behind all my worries and came back with only a tan, sandy feet, and a satisfied belly. Mission accomplished.

(Missing from this journey are the extreme West and East sides of the island, but we’ll save those for another time.)

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