Exploring Oahu in Hawaii can take many days. There are so many things to do in Honolulu and beyond. One of my favorite days of any trip is the day we get on the Pali Highway and drive up to the Pali lookout.
Pali Highway sights
Royal Mausoleum: Many of the ali’i (royalty) of the Kamehameha and Kalakaua families are interred here, along with spouses and close advisors. It was originally completed in 1865 as the resting place for little Prince Albert, Queen Emma’s son. It’s a beautiful location with lovely old trees. It’s actually not part of the United States and flies only the Hawaiian flag. Walk around, read the inscriptions, and pay respects to the leaders of the Kingdom of Hawaii. You may want to bring a lei to leave for one of them.
[If you have shoes for hiking and bug spray, you may want to first turn right into the Nu’uanu Memorial Park and Mortuary. Drive to the back of the cemetery and park. The short trail to Kapena Falls begins here.]
Queen Emma’s Summer Palace: The frame of this house was built in Boston and came to Oahu on a ship to be assembled in 1848. It was given to Queen Emma in 1857. Queen Emma was the wife of Kamehameha IV and mother of Prince Albert Edward. She was a very powerful influence in Hawaiian politics until her death in 1885. This home (Hānaiakamalama or The Southern Cross) has wonderful royal artifacts and shows how upper class Hawaiians lived in Victorian times. Admission to the Palace is $10. You can get a brochure and tour yourself or you can catch a docent-led tour between 9 am and 3pm.
The gardens are very beautiful and cool, with a stream running through. A huge monkey pod tree hosts ferns and you can see hibiscus, ‘ōhi’a lehua, shell ginger, and palapalai ferns. If you want to learn more about Hawaii history and culture, the gift shop has excellent book, CD, and DVD offerings.
Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside: Nu’uanu means “cool heights” and is the name of a stream that comes out of the mountains down into Honolulu. Pali means cliff. This historic spot at the top of the Ko’olau Range is the site of the epic battle between Kamehameha the Great’s forces and the Kalanikūpule’s defenders of Oahu. Kamehameha triumphed and united the islands into the nation of Hawaii.
If you are not a Hawaii resident, you’ll have to pay $3 to park. Be prepared for the wind. Some say you can lean and the wind will hold you up! The lookout has displays to tell the stories of the great battle, the building of the road and tunnels to connect Honolulu with the windward side, and maps to orient you with the vista. Give yourself enough time to soak in all sides of the lookout and see some of the amazing windswept trees (you may have to work around tour groups to take it in quietly.)
[For another side adventure, turn right onto Nu’uanu Pali Drive and follow it north onto Old Pali Road. This is a beautiful old neighborhood. You may recognize some houses from movies and TV (The Descendants, Hawaii Five-0, Magnum, PI, and more.) The historic Cooke House is here. You’ll have to retrace your path back to the Pali Highway to go the lookout.]
You will probably want to eat before or after these outings. The Pali Highway does not really have food choices.
Liliha Bakery: The original Liliha Bakery is on North Kuakini Street (right off Liliha). The bakery produces fantastic chiffon cakes, cookies, and other goodies and has a single diner counter worth waiting in line for. The wait staff is efficient but will really take care of you and it’s fun to watch the experienced cooks work the griddle. Along with breakfast and bakery, the 24-hour diner menu includes mahi and cheeseburgers and the like.
You can continue north on the Pali Highway after the lookout and head into Kailua. You have a lot of choices for food in Kailua. Cinnamon’s Restaurant is a Hale ‘Aina award winner. They have a huge menu, including benedicts, eggs, and pancakes. They are known for their cinnamon macadamia nut roll and their many breakfast meats. Open from 7 am to 2 pm, the menu also includes salads, sandwiches, and kalua pork.
Buzz’s Original Steakhouse: This old-timey steakhouse and bar is across from beautiful Lanikai beach. Lunch is 11 am to 3 pm, dinner 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Good mai tais and crab, fish, shrimp, chicken, burgers and steaks are all available.
Bishop Street and Fort Street in downtown Honolulu join to become the Pali Highway, route 61. From Waikiki, use Ala Wai Boulevard to get to McCully Street. Turn left on Beretania, then right on Nuuanu Street. Nuuanu Street parallels HI-61 and north of the Royal Mausoleum, intersects with the highway. Start on Nu’uanu Street to get to the Royal Mausoleum. When you leave, turn right and go to the circle that connects you to HI-61. Head north and watch carefully on the right. After Laimi Road, the turn into Queen Emma’s Summer Palace is very sharp and almost hidden. There is a small Hawaii historic marker. If you miss it, turn right on Puiwa Street. You can park in the Nu’uanu Valley Park parking lot and walk across to Queen Emma’s. When you leave, turn right and continue on the Pali Highway 3.8 miles to the Pali Lookout ramp.
- Pali lookout from the Hawaii Tourism Authority
- The Royal Mausoleum from Virtual Tour Hawaii
- Queen Emma Summer Palace from Daughters of Hawai’i
- 20 great Oahu hikes from Honolulu magazine
- Hiking Kapena Falls from Hawaii.com
- Clarence H. Cooke residence from Historic Hawaii Foundation
- Kailua restaurants from Yelp
I’ve had friends tell me that Oahu is their least favorite island in Hawaii. It may be because they haven’t explored the island beyond Waikiki. Oahu has beautiful beaches, mountains, history, and culture. The Nu’uanu Pali state park is a sacred place to me. If you can find a spot on the lookout away from the more raucous tourists, you can feel the wind, think of the souls in the battle there, and soak in the power (mana) of the mountains and water. We always bring leis to throw as a tribute.
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