Hawaii Travel Guide: 48 hours on Oahu’s North Shore
Here’s how to have a swell time on Oahu’s North Shore. (You don’t even need a surfboard to have fun.)
Oahu is a medium-sized island (it’s smaller than Maui, just larger than Kauai, and it could fit into Vancouver Island 20 times with a Lanai left over), and it’s blessed with multi-lane highways, which means that the drive from the airport in the south to the North Shore can happen in under an hour if you time it right. Ignore Google maps that dictate you head up the east route—it’s marginally faster, but the western route rewards you with the ocean on one side and soaring verdant mountains on the other. The trip is so quick that you can jag just steps off the main road to Kualoa Ranch, the 4,000-acre historic ranch-cum-movie lot. Skip the movie tours—unless you really loved You, Me and Dupree—and instead hop on the back of a horse to realize how quickly civilization recedes from these parts and to slow down your urban pace to the North Shore setting. Once oneness with nature is achieved, dismount, slide into your car and proceed the remaining half-hour to Turtle Bay. The iconic resort has defined the North Shore since it opened in the early 1970s, but now it’s had a brand-new overhaul and is being managed by Joe Houssian’s (of Intrawest fame) new company—and that combo makes it the only serious lodging option in these parts.
The new day starts with too many possibilities. Tennis? Golf 36 holes? But you’ve got to at least try getting up on a surfboard or it’s like going to the Vatican and skipping the Sistine Chapel. There’s an on-site outpost of the famed Hans Hedemann surf school, which will take you to one of the nearby coves to see if you have what it takes to hang ten. Ask (okay, insist) on Rocky Canon, former pro surfer turned wave whisperer, to be your spirit guide—if the sight of his effortless cool on a board doesn’t spur you on to take up the sport, then you’re a lost cause, grommet. By lunchtime your arms will be rubber and your pride tenderized, so head in, towel off and hit one of the nearby surf meccas to see how it’s really done. Grab lunch at the institution that is Ted’s Bakery—for $10 you’ll get a plate lunch (a scoop of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and your choice of a main, like chicken katsu) and a slice of Ted’s famous pie—a series of cream-filled towering creations that look like they belong at the Brady Bunch’s table. You can probably now roll yourself into the parking lot located across from Sunset Beach Elementary School a short distance away. The beach is unmarked, but you are now at Banzai Pipeline. It’s tough to overstate the size and power of the waves here. They break insanely close to shore (this is why the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing calls this spot home), so much so it’s as if tiny earthquakes are happening several times a minute as they crest and crash. Grab a patch of sand, sit down and utter, as has been done a thousand times before, “Those guys are nuts.”
On the way home, go at one of the cluster of shrimp stands (look for the tourist buses full of day trippers from Waikiki) not far from the entrance to Turtle Bay. Giovanni’s is the old-school classic and still great, but we liked the shorter lines and nice char on the little fellas from Romy’s. Either way, grab them to go and feast while strolling through Turtle Bay’s 850 acres (for perspective, all of Waikiki can fit into 600 acres)—there’s always a secluded spot to find.
In theory, you should be waking up at the crack of dawn to catch some early-morning waves, but we won’t tell if you sleep in. You can get your fitness boost the easy way—an acai bowl. There’s an unnamed truck manned by a pair of Brazilian surfers just up from Pipeline, but if the surf is good they might not show, so continue on to the more reliable Haleiwa Bowls in Haleiwa Town. At either spot, grab your bowl of fruity goodness and spend one last session regarding giants, this time at Waimea Bay. The waves break further offshore than at Pipeline, but when they’re big they have almost no comparison in size. Those guys are really nuts.
On the way back to Honolulu, take in a sport that no one associates with the North Shore—polo. The Hawaii Polo Club, just past Haleiwa, opened in 1963 and Sundays are game day. You can often see international sides from Argentina and England ride against the best of the Islands, and it’s only $12—how North Shore is that? Match over, it’s time to hit the airport, less than an hour away. You’ll be sharing the road with many Honolulu residents, who treat the North Shore as their personal vacation spot, but unlike them, you’ll soon be flying back to reality.