Dishing up breathtaking views of Oahu's southeastern coastline, the Makapu'u Lighthouse teeters on the edge of a 182-meter sea cliff overlooking sun-kissed Makapuʻu Beach — considered one of Oʻahu’s best bodysurfing beaches.
From the unobstructed lookout point, you can soak in the rugged curves and dramatic cliffs of the mainland's volcanic landscape, likewise the island of Molokaʻi in the distance.
Dating back all the way to 1909, this longstanding architectural landmark is small but mighty, representing the easternmost point on the island and a shining example of exceptional natural scenery.
You will find below all you need to know about the Makapu'u Lighthouse, one of the most beautiful locations for day trips in Oahu.
Sitting on the easternmost point of the island in the Hawaii Kai neighborhood, the Makapu'u Lighthouse is located about 19 kilometers east of Waikiki as the crow flies.
It's about 15 minutes past the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, and not too far from popular destinations like Sandy Beach, the Hawaii Kai Golf Course, and the Makaapu'u Tide Pools.
As you'd expect of a lighthouse, it sits high up on a cliff, offering dramatic views of the coastline in every direction.
Depending on where you're staying in Honolulu or Waikiki, the drive should take no more than 30 to 35 minutes.
Along the way, you'll drive along the sparkling coastline, passing through Koko Head District Park, Halona Beach Cove, and Hanauma Bay — all worthwhile stops if you want to break up the drive.
If you're staying along the Windward Coast, the island's eastern coast, simply drive south down the coastal highway past Kailua and Waimanalo Beach.
If you're staying on either the Oahu North Shore or the western coast, the fastest route is to make your way along the John A. Burns Freeway. However, the scenic route — through Honolulu and along the southern coast — only adds 10-15 minutes to your drive.
Once you arrive at the trailhead, you'll need to park your car and hike the rest of the way to the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself, due to its cliffside location, isn't directly accessible by car.
There is no direct route to access the cliffside Makapu'u Lighthouse by bus, however, there are ways to reach the trailhead. From there, you'll have to walk the 1.25-mile path for the final leg of the journey.
If you're staying in the Honolulu/Waikiki area, take the 23 Oahu Bus from the main haunts in Waikiki, headed in the direction of Diamond Head. Get off at Sea Life Park and then walk 15 to 20 minutes before arriving at the trailhead.
It should take about 1 hour and 45 minutes to arrive at the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail. The 23 bus runs once per hour during weekdays and about once every half hour on the weekends. If you're staying in Waikiki, this will be your quickest option.
If you're staying in Downtown Honolulu, this is actually the quickest option.
While less straightforward, the mountain route offers a different vantage point. This requires a simple bus change in Kailua from the 67 bus to the 69 bus, from which you'll be dropped off at Sea Life Park.
The best option for a Makapu'u Lighthouse day trip without any hassle is to join an organized tour.
You'll learn about the history and geology of the area from a knowledgeable guide as you soak in the views of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and beyond en route to the Makapu'u Lighthouse.
Makapu'u Lighthouse day tours typically pick you up directly from your hotel in Honolulu or Waikiki, usually departing from Waikiki in the morning and returning by late afternoon.
Some companies also offer combination tours that include other top Oahu attractions such as Diamond Head, Koko Head, and time to laze around on the beach.
The Makapu'u Lighthouse — and the hiking trail — is free to visit. Parking is free too. Spaces are limited, so it is best to arrive early morning to guarantee a spot.
If you opt for a guided tour, the price will include transportation, entrance fees to any other attractions, the company of a local guide and a light lunch or snack.
The typical itinerary of a Makapu'u Lighthouse day tour depends on the style of tour you choose.
The most basic tours will pick you up from your hotel on an air-conditioned vehicle, drop you off at the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trailhead, and return to pick you up a few hours later.
Other tours may add on an additional activity such as swimming or snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve before or after visiting the lighthouse.
Some tours include a stop at the little beach town of Kailua. Here, you'll have time for souvenir shopping, lunch at one of the local shops, and time to relax on the beach for tanning or snorkeling.
The most comprehensive tours might also include a visit to the Diamond Head State Monument and/or Koko Head Stairs Hike.
The trail starts at the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trailhead, at the end of the Kaiwi parking lot, and winds its way past the Kaiwi Channel viewpoint before reaching the lighthouse.
The first section is immersed within lush flora and rocky outcrops. The second section comes out of the forest path and reveals a dramatic coastline, with several intersection paths hugging the coastline should you want to keep walking.
Throughout the trek, you'll be treated to stunning views of the sparkling ocean, the Windward Coast as it curves along Oahu's southeastern shore, and on a clear day, the Mānana Island Seabird Sanctuary in the distance.
The moderate incline and ocean breezes make for a relatively easy 1.25 mile hike, that takes most people about an hour to complete at a leisurely pace. The paved trail also makes it accessible for families, strollers, and anyone traveling with dogs.
You'll find a variety of tour options should you want to check out the Makapu'u Lighthouse. Some tours include activities such as swimming or snorkeling and visiting beaches and other attractions.
Depending on your preference, the tour will last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, with the shorter ones usually being more affordable too. This means, regardless of budget or schedule, you can find something that fits your needs.
With a friendly and knowledgeable local guide with you as you make your way to and from the Makapu'u Lighthouse, guided tours are a terrific option for those looking for a more in-depth experience.
The nature-savvy guides will escort you along the hiking trail — a fantastic way to learn more about the history, culture, and environment of Hawaii. Plus, they're always happy to offer insider tips on the best places to eat, shop, and explore during your Oahu visit.
A no-frills experience, this is a great choice for those who are tight on time or budget. You'll save hours compared to if you were taking the bus, however, you still have the freedom to explore at your own pace.
All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as you're chauffeured to and from the Makapu'u Lighthouse trailhead from your hotel in Waikiki or Honolulu.
Private tours can be customized to include any number of activities, and most will pick you up from your hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle.
You'll be taken on a scenic drive past Diamond Head before arriving at the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail, with a potential post-hike visit to the town of Kailua.
You can customize your tour to visit nearby locations like the Sea Life Park, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, the Kawainui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, or the bounty of Windward Coast beaches.
One of the most popular tours, this day-long excursion hits multiple major highlights in one go.
Diamond Head is a volcanic cone that straddles the shoreline and overshadows the Honolulu skyline. You'll get to explore its crater — used as a military lookout post back in the early 1900s — before making your way down to the Makapu'u Lighthouse.
Similar to the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail, the Diamond Head hiking trails aren't too physically challenging, making this a popular choice for families.
These outdoor adventures will include hotel pickup and drop-off from Waikiki, as well as a stop for lunch.
One of the more jam-packed yet still relaxing Makapu'u Lighthouse day tour options, this one includes time to explore and appreciate a handful of other nearby landmarks, natural and manmade.
Starting from Waikiki and Honolulu in the morning, you'll make your way past a handful of beaches and lookout points en route to the Makapu’u lighthouse hiking trail.
After you've conquered the trek, you'll be back in the minivan and whisked away to the beach town of Kailua. Here, you're given time to swim, snorkel or sunbathe on the warm white sands.
This tour includes all transport, snorkeling equipment, as well as lunch and snacks throughout the day. Most importantly, it'll give you a chance to see some of Oahu's best beaches that are often missed by first-time visitors to the island.
The cost of your Makapu'u Lighthouse day tour will depend on several factors, such as whether you're going solo or with a group, how long the tour lasts, and which other activities are included.
A shuttle tour is your cheapest option, at between US$30 and US$50 per person. The guided hiking tours range between US$55 and US$70. This options include a local guide who will share stories and insights about the area as you make your way up to the lighthouse.
At the top end of the scale, a multi-activity tour such as the Makapu'u Lighthouse plus East Coast Beaches will cost around US$150. Lasting an entire day, this is a great option if you want to add in other activities or take your time at specific places without feeling rushed.
Private tours can vary in price but will be in the hundreds of dollars range. Keep in mind, however, that these are typically per vehicle, not per person, so may wind up being an affordable option if you're traveling as a family or as a group.
In order to reach the Makapu'u Lighthouse, you will have to hike the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail — a gentle, paved path suitable for most fitness levels.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — Makapu'u Lighthouse — is a picturesque spot perfect for photos. It was built in 1909 and used as a navigation aid for ships.
While small in stature, it's one of the most popular lighthouses in Hawaii, largely thanks to the foreboding cliffs and lush greenery that surrounds it.
The famous backdrop to Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head is one of the most popular tourist attractions on Oahu. The summit hike is 2.5 kilometers round trip and takes around 2 hours, and from the top, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the coastline.
The Koko Head crater trail is another popular Oahu hiking spot, although it's far more challenging than Diamond Head and the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail.
The main ascent is a steep climb consisting of 1,000+ steps along an abandoned railroad track. The views from the top are worth the effort, especially on a clear day when you can see a brilliant contrast of built-up Honolulu with its natural surroundings.
A picturesque town just north of the Makapu'u Lighthouse, Kailua is a great place to stop for lunch or a swim. It's also home to Lanikai Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on Oahu.
If you're looking to add some culture to your day, Kailua Town is also home to a number of galleries, shops, and restaurants.
A lesser-known but equally beautiful spot, the Makapuʻu Tide Pools are a great place to cool off if you're hiking in the area.
They're located just below the lighthouse and can be accessed via a short downhill trail, just down from the first set of whale information signs. These underrated gems also have blow holes that spout water high into the air when waves crash against the rocks.
Some tours will also take you to a number of East Coast beaches, including Waimanalo Beach Park, Lanikai Beach, and Kailua Beach Park. These are some of the best beaches on Oahu, and are often far less crowded than those in Waikiki.
Thanks to Hawaii's year-round tropical weather, the Makapu'u Lighthouse is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset. However, tours only operate during daylight hours, so you'll need to plan your visit accordingly.
The Makapu'u Lighthouse trail is open daily from sunrise to sunset — from 7 AM to 6:45 PM. However, these hours are for the parking lot — you can always park outside of the parking lot and bypass the opening hours, giving you a chance to do a sunrise or sunset hike.
The nearby Makapuʻu Tide Pools are also open daily, but best accessed during low tide. Check the tides before you go to make sure you'll be able to access them.
There is no bad time of year to embark on a Makapu'u Lighthouse day tour in Oahu, but be mindful that the winter months are more likely to welcome rain.
In the summertime is when you'll have the largest crowds and it can get very hot during the middle of the day, so try to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat and the tourists.
Springtime is often considered the best time of year to visit, thanks to the mild weather and smaller crowds.