Driving Tour of Hawaii's Mount Tantalus and Round Top Drive

Tantalus in Oahu Hawaii

Tony Shi Photography / Getty Images

Whether you're a hiker, jogger, walker, or just out for a pleasant car ride, the Tantalus and Round Top Drive in Oahu are perfect places to spend a few hours. The views of Diamond Head, downtown Honolulu, and Punchbowl Crater are fantastic. If you're lucky enough to be on the mountain at sunset, the views of the city's lights are amazing.

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Directions to Tantalus and Round Top Drive

Diamond Head and Waikiki as seen from Mt. Tantalus

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If you're staying in Waikiki, the easiest way to get to the 2,010-foot Mount Tantalus is to take Ala Wai Boulevard, which borders the canal, until you get to McCully Street. Make a right on McCully until you reach Beretania Street where you will make a left. 

In a few blocks, you'll come to Punahou Street, where you will make a right. After .3 of a mile, there is a traffic light at Nehoa Street. Make a left, and go three blocks to make a right on Makiki Heights. One block later, you'll come to a small park where the road forks.

Take the right fork, and you've begun your journey on Round Top Drive! The road is a long nine-mile loop, so you can also take the left fork and return to the same spot.

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Round Top Drive

Manoa Valley as seen from Round Top Drive

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Taking the right fork, you'll find yourself on Round Top Drive. You will be passing many lovely homes along this part of your trip. After about five minutes, you'll come to an area where there is a shoulder on the right of the roadway. 

If you stop here, you will have excellent views of Diamond Head and Waikiki in the distance as well as the entire Manoa Valley below you and off to your left.

There are numerous lookouts along the road. If you make this trip at sunset, watch out for limousines. Residents have been complaining in recent years of the heavy bus, car, limousine, and van traffic, particularly in the evenings. There have been proposals made in recent years to curb vehicular traffic in the area while still offering tourists the opportunity to experience the views.

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Puu Ualakaa Park

Puu Ualakaa Park on Mt. Tantalus Overlooking the City of Honolulu

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Less than a half-mile further along the road, you will come to the entrance to Puu Ualakaa Park.

This park contains the best views from Mount Tantalus. If you watch the movie Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley, this is where he and his girlfriend went for a picnic. In the movie, you can see how the park and skyline of Honolulu and Waikiki looked in 1960. It is much different today.

The overlook at Puu Ulalakaa Park offers a panoramic view of southern Oahu from Diamond Head to your left, through Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and to Punch Bowl Crater and the Honolulu International Airport beyond on the right.

Take special care of your car and belongings at this park. The forest borders the parking lot, and car break-ins are frequent. Take all valuables with you when you leave your vehicle and lock your car.

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Tantalus Drive

Punchbowl Crater as seen from Mt. Tantalus

Ann Cecil / Getty Images

As you leave the park, make a left and continue upwards past some of the most secluded and exclusive homes on Oahu. You'll also pass many trailheads that lead into the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve and Puu Ualakaa State Park. You will pass a wide variety of trees, including ironwood, guava, and pine. You will also encounter many of Hawaii's flowering trees, including African tulips, jacaranda, and shower trees.

About halfway through your drive, the name of the road changes to Tantalus Drive, and you begin your descent back to the foot of the mountain.

Along the way, there are several interesting lookouts, including one where you get a beautiful view of Punchbowl Crater, home to the National Cemetery of the Pacific. 

When you reach the end of Tantalus Drive, you can bear left to return to that fork in the road where your journey began. If you elect to take that route, you will pass the Contemporary Museum, where for a small admission charge you can explore the famous Spalding House and its art collection or wander through the extensive gardens. The galleries feature changing exhibits of national and international artists. 

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National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl

Ann Cecil / Getty Images

If you bear to the right, the road will take you to Punchbowl Crater, where you can explore the grounds of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific contains a memorial pathway lined with a variety of memorials that honor America’s veterans from various organizations. As of 2005, there were 63 such memorials throughout the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific—most commemorating soldiers of 20th-century wars, including those killed at Pearl Harbor

A visit to Mount Tantalus and Round Top can take as little as an hour or as long as a full day if you decide to hike the trails and explore the museum. Whichever you choose, you'll be glad you made the trip.

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