Walmea Bay

Walmea Bay

Oahu, Hawaii

Where it’s easy to find your perfect stretch of paradise

By Elaine Glusac

Hawaii is arguably the most exotic place you can go without a passport. Between Obama family visits and the 2011 movie The Descendants, Oahu, the most cosmopolitan of the islands, seems to be having a moment. And, because visitors are increasingly exploring Oahu’s lesser-known beaches to the east, north, and west, those areas have stepped up their tourist-friendly attractions to accommodate the rush.

So rent a car and get as far from Waikiki as you can, as quickly as speed limits allow. Head east and cross the Koolau range on the Pali Highway. As you wind down the mountain, a panorama of the Windward side—the sprawling residential valley where the First Family vacations—will come into view. Kailua Beach Park, great for families, and Lanikai, a gorgeous half-mile strip of water and sand with hiking nearby, are safe bets for all-day beach outings.

Winter is high-surf season in Hawaii, and the North Shore is the best place to watch big-wave riders. Start in Haleiwa, home to Matsumoto (808-637-4827, matsumotoshaveice.com), which deals the island’s best syrup-drenched shave ice. Head north toward Kahuku and keep your eyes peeled for Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach Park (home of the Banzai Pipeline), and Sunset. You might also bump into surfers at the Kahuku Superette (808-293-9878), a dinky grocery where they stock up on poke—a local salad of seasoned raw ahi—by the pound.

On the island’s west side, stop for a history lesson at Pearl Harbor and then continue on to the golf-and-beach-resort development of Ko Olina for a snorkel and dolphin tour with Ko Olina Ocean Adventures (808-396-2068, koolinaoceanadventures.com). The town of Ko Olina is also where Disney recently plunked down its latest resort, the Aulani (714-520-7001, resorts.disney.go.com; from $399). In Kapolei, refuel with fish tacos and burgers made with locally raised beef at the new Monkeypod Kitchen (monkeypodkitchen.com).

What's New Around Waikiki

1. DINING Local foodies love the pop-up restaurant Miso & Ale (misoandale.com) and a hipster ramen joint in Chinatown called Lucky Belly (50 N. Hotel St., 808-531-1888). The dining scene’s most exciting newcomer is Morimoto (1775 Ala Moana Blvd., 808-943-5800), a high-energy sushi restaurant from the iron chef Masaharu Morimoto.

2. DRINKING The new L’Aperitif bar at the elegant beachfront Halekulani (2199 Kalia Rd., 808-923-2311) features cocktails created by famed Ritz Paris bartender Colin Field. The Waikiki Ocean Club (waikikioceanclub.com; admission $89), a floating deck anchored a six-minute paddle away from the Hilton Hawaiian Village pier, offers watersports, plus DJs and drinks after sundown.

3. STROLLING Visit the Bishop Museum (1525 Bernice St., 808-847-3511) through February 4 to see a new exhibition about Alfred Shaheen, the textile designer who gave the world the aloha shirt, or stop by the new Damascus Room, filled with Islamic art, at Shangri-La (4055 Papu Cir., 808-734-1941), the former estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke.

Where to Stay

The Trump Waikiki (808-683-7777, trumpwaikiki.com; from $399), which opened in 2009, pumps up the party vibe with a sixth-floor lounge that’s the top perch for watching Waikiki’s Friday night fireworks over the water. On the surfcentric North Shore, Turtle Bay (808-293-6000, turtlebayresort.com; from $229) offers farm tours, horseback riding, beach yoga classes, guided fishing excursions, and surfing lessons. Your best budget option is the boutique Hotel Renew (888-485-7639, hotelrenew.com; from $208), nicely located just off Waikiki Beach.

Getting There

The nine-hour direct flight aboard United—roundtrip fares start just above $1,000—gets you to most island hotels in time for sunset mai tais. Bring your Ambien for the reverse redeye flight home. For maximum freedom on the island, rent a car and buy a disposable cooler for packing snacks in the trunk.


Photograph: Cavan Images/Getty Images