I scored the deal of the year this winter: Vancouver to Honolulu for $200 return. Coupled with hotel deals, it was a cheap getaway and my first trip to Hawaii. But I must confess something. Whenever anyone asked me where I was going, I told them "Oh, just Oahu." I had this idea that it was the lamest and most commercial island. But let me tell you what I learned. It's beautiful and if you get away from Waikiki, you can find a true Hawaiian experience.
Just over an hour up island is the lush and scarcely commercialized North Shore, where the bohemian heart of Oahu beats. North Shore culture is surf culture. It's the breeding and stomping ground of some of the world's best surfers. A place where you can find 30-foot swells and fit in a surf before and after work; where you can mingle with pro surfers, colourful characters and barefoot, wet-haired locals in the grocery store (fresh off their boards); and where dressing up literally means throwing a dress over your swimsuit.
Sample roadside delights :: It's worth pulling over for the food stands along Kamehameha Highway. From Haleiwa to Kahuku, you'll find family fruit stands, acai bowl shacks, shrimp trucks, shave ice and haupia pie. It's not fancy, but it's delicious. Must stops: Ted's Bakery at Sunset Beach for bbq chicken plate lunch and chocolate haupia or banana cream pie, Matsumoto for guava, pineapple and lilikoi shave ice, Fumi's for garlic or coconut shrimp plate and Cholo's for Mexican.
Visit Hawaiian green sea turtles :: A couple miles north of Haleiwa on Kamehameha Highway, pull over at Laniakea Beach and see the basking turtles who crawl up on shore daily. You'll also meet volunteers from Save the Sea Turtles International, who protect the turtles from ... tourists. Stroll along the beach and try to catch sight of a few more turtles, minus the tour bus passengers.
Watch surfers in action :: The best workout on the island has got to be a walk on the beach, where the quicksand-like pebbles not only make your legs burn, but also give you a killer pedicure. My favourite activity was strolling on the beach, flip flops in hand, stopping along the way to watch throngs of surfers paddling out in the late afternoon. Check out Pipeline, Sunset Beach and the break off Turtle Bay. Visit between late November and early December to catch the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. If you'd prefer to get out there yourself, rent a board in Haleiwa, where you'll also find surf schools and calmer waves.
There is one hotel on the North Shore: Turtle Bay Resort. Despite this, you'll still see a hand-painted sign on the side of the highway that reads "No more hotels!" The resort sits on the northern tip of Oahu. You may remember it from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. While the property is beautiful, it looks much nicer in the film thanks to the magical wizards of production design. The hotel has multiple restaurants---including one on the beach, golf courses, stables, pools, and a surf school on site. Stay in the beach bungalows if you can, but if you leave the lanai door open, the soothing sound of crashing waves means any room will do. If you'd prefer to stay in a house, try the basic Ke Iki Beach Bungalows or one of the many homes rented out by owners.
Trip Styler Tip: I booked Turtle Bay on Hotwire for a discounted rate. If you see a four-star beachfront hotel on the North Shore, it's Turtle Bay.
It only takes an hour to drive from Honolulu to the North Shore, but you'll probably want to stop and ride the Pineapple Express along the way. Not that Pineapple Express ... this is a train at the Dole Plantation. It's a total tourist trap, but worth stopping for a cone of delicious pineapple Dole Whip.
[all photos taken by @heatherlovesit and @dresseswpockets]