Last winter I was so sick of holing up in my house, hiding from Atlanta’s dreary, cold weather, that I found myself daydreaming about a warm, tropical vacation. On a whim, I checked ticket prices to Hawaii and was shocked to find round-trip fares to Honolulu for $600. My boyfriend, Kyle Howser, and I bought tickets for May. That didn’t get me out of my hole as soon as I’d hoped, but just having a countdown made the frosty temps easier to bear.
We made a pact to squeeze in as many adventures as we could. We didn’t want to fly halfway across the world just to sit on the beach. We also focused on one island since we were only going to be there a week.
Oahu’s North Shore is a mecca for outdoor activities. Known as the most touristy of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is only 597 square miles. Its bad rep is unfortunate, though, because Waikiki is really the only tacky commercial area. There is plenty of unsullied landscape to explore. We set out on foot, flipper, board, bike, and wing. Some highlights of our trip:
Check out my view from the 2012 Triumph Bonneville we rented in Waikiki. We drove up the windward side of the island to the North Shore—along the Kamehameha Highway. Riding in the open air with the Pacific on our right and lush greenery on the left was a much cooler way to arrive than in a rental car.
Catering to thrill-seekers, Turtle Bay is the only resort on the North Shore. It offers a surf center, horseback riding, kayak tours, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkel equipment, and more. When we pulled up on our bike, the valets admired our ride: “Sick!” “Sweet!” “Awesome!” We’re sure they were local surfer dudes.
The movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed at Turtle Bay, and it looks just as spectacular in person as it does on film (our one celebrity sighting: Demetri Martin). We could watch surfers from our room’s oceanfront balcony. And though we’re not usually into fruity drinks, we decided “when in Rome” and ordered cocktails at the pool bar. We later discovered even the locals drive up to Turtle Bay just for the Mai Tais.
We rented SUPs from Surf n Sea—a retro-looking, wood-paneled building with a surfboard-crammed porch. The outfitter offers two options for SUP renters: the bay directly behind the shop (where you might catch some waves) or the calmer Anahula River. Since we were beginners, the staff suggested the river. Balancing on the board was surprisingly easy. A few minutes in, it felt like we had the island to ourselves. We could watch turtles and colorful fish through crystal-clear water.
Waimea Valley is just up the Kamehameha Highway from the resort and across from the famous Waimea Bay (celebrated in the Beach Boys hit “Surfin’ USA”). The valley has an easy, well-maintained path that leads to a forty-five-foot waterfall where you can swim. The whole trail is surrounded by towering trees, winding roots, colorful birds, and historic plaques (including tales of Captain Cook).
The best food of the trip was in the small town of Haleiwa. We had breakfast at Cafe Haleiwa, a tiny place with laminated menus and a bathroom that you have to walk outside to reach. Don’t let the dive vibe fool you, though. We filled up on hearty egg dishes and savored being the only tourists among locals and pro surfers. In the afternoon we stopped at a roadside stand called Haleiwa Bowls. Their acai bowl (a blend of frozen acai, berries, bananas, and rice milk, topped with granola, apples, bananas, and coconut, all drizzled with honey) was to die for!
On one of our last days, we drove back down the coast for a sunrise hike. The Lanikai Trail is along a ridge, famous for a couple of World War II bunkers called pillboxes. We climbed up on one of the graffiti-covered structures and watched two SUP riders paddle to a pair of nearby islands called the Mokes. To the west we could see Kailua, where President Obama stays when he visits.
Photographs by Caroline C. Kilgore.
This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue.