While many may dream of exotic island escapes to the Maldives or Tahiti, it’s easy to overlook the idyllic paradise we have closer to home. A six-hour flight from Los Angeles, Hawaii is the perfect place to put on your travel hit list for 2018. We’ve partnered with travel expert Julia Dimon as she shares her best bets and top activities on the Island of Oahu.
Formed by volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii isn’t exactly an off-the-beaten track destination. Over 7 million people visit each year to surf her beaches, hike through rain forests, spot sea turtles, swim with dolphins and bask in the never-ending sunshine. Hawaii is certainly on the tourist radar, but don’t let the popularity of the island deter you from discovering her stunning beauty.
While there are many Hawaiian islands to choose from (Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai to name a few), there is something very special about the remote, underdeveloped vibe of the North Shore on the Island of Oahu. The summer months draw tourists looking to surf, eat shave ice in the trendy town of Halewi and dine on locally-farmed shrimp at one of the many food trucks that dot the seaside. During the winter months, the North Shore is home to some of the world’s biggest surf competitions, where uber athletes charge into 30-foot waves on a quest for the most incredible rides of their lives. Basically, Oahu has something awesome to offer year round. Having recently scoured the island, I’ve been able to have some incredible experiences. Here is my list of what you must include during YOUR island escape.
13 Life-Changing Moments to Have in Oahu, Hawaii:
Take a Scenic Helicopter Tour
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The absolute best way to see the beauty of the island is by helicopter. This is an unforgettable way to get a bird’s eye view of Oahu’s highlights. From the historic sunken ships of Pearl Harbor, to the epic peaks of Lē‘ahi (Diamond Head), you’ll fly over the lush Kaliuwa‘a (Sacred Falls), see the epic waves of the Pacific Ocean and cruise past those million dollar condos of iconic Waikīkī. Flying overhead in a helicopter reveals landscapes and locations that would otherwise take you weeks to discover overland. For an added thrill, opt for the doors off feature, which allows for greater vibility and killer Instagram photos. This is truly the best activity I did while in Oahu. The view is absolutely epic, it’s a huge adrenaline rush and the pilot’s guided narration is very informative.
SUP with Dogs at Turtle Bay Resort
If you’ve never tried stand up paddleboarding, this is the place to do it. While the island of Oahu has a million protected inlets and cool places to hit the water, adventure seekers will want to head to Turtle Bay Resort to test out a most unusual water activity — stand up paddleboarding with a pooch! Rocky, a Turtle Bay Resort adventure guide, offers this SUP experience with a unique twist. If you think maintaining your balance is tough, just add a barking Lab to the mix and see how you do. It’s a great core work out, a chance to get out on the water and an opportunity to connect with man’s best friend. Want something a little more low key? Try a Paddleboard Yoga Class for the most scenic class of your life!
Sample Cuisine From Local Food Trucks
The North Shore is known for its’ garlic-butter shrimp, so be sure to stop into one of the many brightly colored food trucks that dot beach towns like Kahuku and Haleiwa. Popular shrimp trucks include Giovanni’s (said to be one of the first food trucks on the North Shore dating back to 1993), Honos, Romy’s and Fumis. Food truck culture extends far beyond just seafood. There are many outdoor food courts, where several trucks gather daily and offer up a variety of cuisine for the famished traveler. Think jambalaya, acai bowls and Nutella crepes. Delice Crepes, a red volkswagon van, makes some sinfully delicious dessert crepes. I recommend the “Tahiti.” Nutella, strawberries and coconut in a crepe, topped with whipped cream. Yum!
Try Hawaii’s Legendary Shave Ice
Wash down that messy plate of garlic shrimp with a refreshing scoop of “Shave Ice,” a traditional Hawaiian dessert and guaranteed crowd pleaser. Popular spots include places like Waiola Shave Ice and Shimazu Store. I checked out the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice in the surf town of Haleiwa. They seem to have every flavor imaginable — from bubblegum to guava to things I’ve never heard of like Lilikoy (yellow passionfruit) and Yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit). You can add vanilla ice cream, Azuki beans, condensed milk and a whole whack of other ingredients. Place your order and eat at a picnic table in the shopping square.
Catch A (Deadly) Wave
Hawaii is known around the world as one of the best places to surf. Surfing originated here and the tradition continues today. No matter your skill level, there is a wave with your name on it. During the winter months, however, the surf along Oahu’s North Shore is not for novices. This is where the world’s best big wave surfers come to compete. The famous Banzai Pipeline, for example, is one of the most dangerous waves on the planet with a shallow coral reef that has claimed more lives than any other wave in the world. For the spectator, it’s amazing to watch these super athletes challenge the immense power of Mother Nature. If you want to surf the North Shore during the summer months, there are many surf shops offering lessons. Drive along the west coast of the island along the “Seven Mile Miracle,” which stretches from Hale’iwa to Sunset Beach. This part of the islands contains many of the major surf spots on this big-wave coast, including Pipeline, Waimea Bay and Rocky Point.
Treat Yo’ Self at the Spa
While many would assume Disney’s Aulani Resort is just for kids, parents looking to be pampered will be pleasantly surprised. Laniwai Spa, tucked away in the Waianae Tower, offers a quiet refuge for relaxation and rejuvenation. Treatments, many inspired by ancient Hawaiian healing traditions, include: Lomilomi, a traditional Hawaiian massage incorporating sticks and warm river stones. The spa features the only outdoor hydrotherapy garden on Oahu with private vitality pools, a reflexology path, mineral baths and rain showers. You get complimentary access to the garden with the purchase of any full-service spa treatment.
Shop ‘Till You Drop in Waikīkī
While it is wildly touristy, the shopping/beach mecca of Waikīkī must not be missed. It’s super cosmopolitan with a ton of restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and seemingly every luxury brand available for purchase. There is a real energy to the streets, with breakdancing performers and live music blasting from every corner. Shopaholic tourists from all over the world flock here for a glimpse at the beautiful and retro 60s architecture. In terms of accomodations, stay at the Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach, a boutique hotel that opened in January of last year. Located just steps from the main drag, it’s the perfect home base, with easy access to the commotion and craziness of Waikīkī while still providing a quiet, comfy refuge. The focal point of the hotel is the hanging bed in the lounge and the pool deck, which features a 9-inch pool, particularly great if you’re traveling with a baby or young children.
Explore Kuala Ranch
Go horseback riding, take an ATV excursion or enjoy a jungle expedition through the 4,000-acre working cattle ranch that spreads from mountain cliffs to the sea. Located along the northern side of O’ahu, Kuala Ranch is considered a sacred place where hundreds of chiefs were buried. If you’re traveling with the whole family, a jungle expedition aboard a six-wheeled vehicle is a blast … rumbling down ravines, through rivers, up to a scenic panorama of Kane’ohe Bay. For a more physical day, explore valley trails beneath cliffs on horseback or opt for a “movie tour” where you can see filming locations of “Jurrassic World,” “King Kong,” “Lost” and “Hawaii-Five-0.”
Shop in Surf Town USA
The historic surf town of Hale’Iwa is a great place to go if you want to browse art galleries, pop into clothing boutiques and buy goods from local surf shops. Stroll down the main drag and you’ll find there are plenty of coffee shops, bars, Mexican joints and Thai food trucks to keep you satiated throughout the day.
Hike Waimea Valley and Waterfall
For a simple hike that’s great when traveling with the kids, head over to Waimea Valley. It’s a vast expanse of privately owned non-profit property, filled with over 5,000 different plant species and native flora, many found nowhere else on earth. The valley has a very long history and showcases many cultural sites, temples and archaeological ruins. Follow the paved path up to the waterfall, where you can jump in and take a refreshing swim in the natural spring waters.
Get Fancy at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
For travelers looking for oceanfront luxury, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the impeccable Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina. The grounds are gorgeous with white-sand beaches nestled in a sheltered beach lagoon. Guests have access to three swimming pools, a 35,000-square-foot spa, and top-notch golfing at Ko Olina Golf Club. The resort offers a plethora of cultural activities as part of their #FSWAYFINDERS series, from ukulele lessons to bamboo wood carving, lauhala weaving to sarong dying. Once you’ve worked up an appetite making indigenous crafts, there are five indoor-outdoor restaurants to delight the tastebuds. My fave was La Hiki, a central spot overlooking a turquoise pool, with menu offerings that merge classic American dishes with a twist of island cuisine.
Watch the Whale Migration
Annually some 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the warm Hawaiian waters for the winter so to breed and give birth to new calves. In the southern seas, off the coast of Oahu, you can watch them from the shore or you can take a boat cruise alongside these huge gentle giants for an up-close encounter. The best months to spot a a majestic kohola (humpback whale) is January-March.. Go NOW to see these wonderful whales in their natural habitat during peak season.
Snag Affordable Flights
One of the biggest reasons to visit Oahu in 2018 is the price. Starting in January, nonstop round-trip flights to Honolulu are becoming cheaper. As airlines launch new flights with lower prices, other airlines will be forced to compete. This means great things for the traveler on a budget who is searching for a tropical getaway. Check out Travelocity for affordable flighs to Oahu via Honolulu.
Julia Dimon is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.