Driving Tour: Oahu’s Sights and Culinary Delights

Some of the best food in Hawaii can be find right in O'ahu. Let us recommend some of the tastiest spots on the big island with this food tour guide.

Ono is the Hawaiian word to express deliciousness, and that’s exactly what you’ll find while driving through the Rainbow State’s islands. Hawaiian cuisine is deeply rooted in its diverse history, reflecting the influences of generations of settlers alongside native Hawaiian traditions.

Begin your journey to ono in Oahu. Renowned for its beautiful beaches, vibrant and lush plant life, exceptional outdoor activities and friendly locals, the island also boasts a unique culinary scene. Fly into Honolulu International Airport and drive less than 10 miles southeast to Waikiki Beach. From here, it’s easy to explore and taste your way through the culinary delights of the island.

Leonard's Bakery Since 1952, Leonard's Bakery has been serving Hawaii's most popular sweet treat, the malasada, alongside other classic pastries and desserts. Photo credit: Ken Lund, Flickr.


Satisfy Your Appetite in Honolulu

Start your trip at Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu, where you can pick up some piping-hot malasadas as fuel for a tour of Diamond Head crater, whose trailhead is about 2 miles from the shop. These deep-fried, sugar-coated Portuguese doughnuts will melt in your mouth. The bakery also sells an assortment of pastries, cakes and pies, including pao doce, a Portuguese sweet bread. Grab some to go and enjoy a sweet snack while hiking up from the crater floor.

After sunbathing on the white sands of Waikiki Beach just northwest of the crater, head across the Ala Wai Canal to savor the latest creations in Hawaiian regional cuisine at Alan Wong’s, consistently rated one of the best fine-dining experiences in Oahu. Try Misoyaki North Shore Farms tilapia with ginger sweet potatoes and Otsuji Farm’s mustard cabbage. For a more casual experience, nearby Yama’s Fish Market offers some of the best homestyle Hawaiian food, including local favorites such as poke, lomi salmon, kalua pig, laulau and homemade haupia for dessert.

 

Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside Visit Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside, located off Hawaii Route 61, to see beautiful, panoramic views of Hawaii’s landscape.


Taste Your Way up the East Coast

On day two of your island exploration, head north toward Oahu’s east coast on Hawaii Route 61. Make your first stop at the Nuʻuanu Pali State Wayside for sweeping views of the Nuʻuanu Valley. It can get quite windy up there, so you may want to bring a windbreaker or sweater. Once you’ve seen Kaneohe from above, drive into town for lunch at Hale Pops Market, a local favorite serving a little bit of everything, including a quintessential Hawaiian plate lunch: a pan-Asian-influenced dish of meat, two scoops of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad.

Drive up the coast along Kamehameha Highway to the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you can learn more about Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage. Still hungry? Be sure to stop at the Shrimp Shack, which was recently featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Unique Eats.” Sink your teeth into some straight-off-the-boat seafood — mahi-mahi, shrimp, crab, calamari — all prepared with Shrimp Shack’s creative take on food truck fare.

Matsumoto’s Shave Ice Matsumoto’s Shave Ice has been cooling down Hawaiians since 1951 with its frozen treats. The shop sells nearly 1,000 shave ices a day. Photo credit: Anthony Quintano, Flickr.


Find Island Flavors in the North Shore and West Coast

Back on the Kamehameha Highway, continue west to experience the stunning beauty of Waimea Bay and check out the massive waves of the North Shore. Once you’ve had your fill of hiking through the lush Waimea Valley or taking in views of the awe-inspiring Banzai Pipeline, a surf reef break, stop at a classic local snack stand: Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. Serving up this beloved treat since 1951, Matsumoto’s has mastered the art of creating delicious shave ice flavors. Try the Ichiban special — your favorite flavor combined with ice cream, adzuki beans, condensed milk and mochi, all in an edible waffle bowl.

In the evening, drive down Oahu’s west coast to Paradise Cove Luau in Kapolei, consistently rated one of the state’s best luaus. Enjoy a traditional Hawaiian feast with island favorites including poi, a paste made from the fermented root of the taro plant, while watching theatrical performances and dances against the backdrop of a Hawaiian sunset.

Loco Moco The loco moco is one of Hawaii’s most popular dishes. The classic version of this meal consists of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy.


Take One Last Local Bite

To complete your full culinary circle, head east on Interstate 1 to grab a last meal in Honolulu, at Lani’s Loco Moco. Here you can dig into one of the locals’ most beloved dishes: a hefty scoop of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy, also known as loco moco. Before returning your car at the airport, take one last, breathtaking look at all the ground you’ve covered on the island: Nearby Makani Kai Helicopters offers 30- to 60-minute tours of Oahu. Keep your eyes peeled for waterfalls, coral reefs, humpback whales or even a rainbow if you’re lucky.

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About the Author

Cynthia Beisiegel is a writer and editor based in Dallas. A native of New York, she has also lived in central Florida, Southern California and even on the island of Oahu for a few short months. She travels extensively throughout world, stamping her passport so far in five of the seven continents.