A recent long-awaited trip to Hawaii was first planned for the spring of 2020 and finally accomplished in September of 2022.
Most visitors to the Aloha state choose Waikiki Beach as their destination. And why not? With approximately two miles of shoreline along the Pacific Ocean and views of Diamond Head rising against the sky, it is the iconic Hawaiian expectation.
If the island’s center of tourism is not what you would fly all the way to Hawaii for, keep reading. Following are two perspectives with recommendations on both Waikiki Beach and the North Shore.
Hosting us for this Hawaiian tour was our son and his family who moved to the island in 2019, and quickly discovered the best beaches, bays, trails and views. The insider tips herewith originated with their guidance.
Consider doing a “windshield” tour, as the entire island is so profuse with natural beauty, one need only pay attention.
To get the full tourist experience, we began by staying at The Hilton Hawaiian Village (aka the Village), a high-rise oceanfront resort. This property offers it all: panoramic views, restaurants, cafes and shopping, all surrounded by lush gardens.
Near the Village is the Moana Surfrider, an historic hotel close to the International Market Place and Waikiki Beach Walk. Onsite are restaurants, a spa and a large lanai for people watching and resting.
Just up the road is The Outrigger Reef Resort, a contemporary oceanfront hotel with excellent reviews. Note: Sea turtles are often seen from the elevated walkway behind the oceanfront hotels.
Check with VRBO and Airbnb for rental properties if more privacy or space is desired.
The historical sites of Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona can be visited free when you book through recreation.gov. Tickets are available as far as two months ahead of your visit with only a $2 booking fee.
For dining, Tropics Café is recommended for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Vanilla Cream Caramel French Toast is a “must try.”
In the same area is Bali Oceanfront, offering premier dining and views, while a casual eatery adjacent to the pool is convenient for lunch, snacks and beverages.
There is no shortage of shopping here. Waikiki Shopping Plaza is brimming with three levels of retail heaven. Just steps from the Village are many small shops, including Honolulu Cookie Company, famous for their butter cookies. You can also take a short walk up Kalakaua Avenue to Luxury Row, a mecca of luxury brands and trending styles.
Enjoy a beachfront hike, heading towards Diamond Head, until you reach Fort DeRussy Beach Park. This public beach is on the grounds of a former military base. Lush landscaping and monkeypod trees provide restful shade.
Onsite is the U.S. Military Museum, free to the public. For ambitious hikers, climb the steep 0.8 mile trail to the top of Diamond Head.
The North Shore is just a 30-minute drive from Waikiki Beach. Here, there are no high-rise hotels blocking the views. With small towns and roads that hug the shoreline, the North Shore is all about the ocean, waves and sunsets.
Winter months are the busiest, primarily November and December, when elite surfers of the world congregate to ride the enormous waves, up to 50 feet. The record, set in 2016, is 70 feet.
Turtle Bay is the only full resort on the North Shore and definitely pricy … but you can actually spend the day on the property without staying there. (At this point, we were staying with family, so took advantage of this opportunity.)
Stroll the lush, manicured grounds, visit the lobby cafe, the reading room and take a self-guided tour of Hawaiian history. Also, adjacent to this resort is a secluded beach, Kuilima Cove, for swimming or snorkeling.
Other places to stay include a Courtyard by Marriot which is across the street from the beach and several 4-star hotels on or very near the beach.
For fun in the water, check out Shark’s Cove, which was free of sharks but a good spot for snorkeling and sea turtles. The Cove is a collection of tide pools and part of Pupukea Beach Park, free and open to the public. Nearby Laniakea Beach offers yet another place to watch for sea turtles as they drift in on the clear-water surf.
Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice in the Haleiwa area is worth a stop to try this cool treat with many favors to choose from. Café Haleiwa features a local-style breakfast called Loco Moco, and offers burgers and sandwiches for lunch. For dinner, enjoy casual surroundings and colorful cocktails at the Haleiwa Beach House (with sunset view).
While in the northern part of Oahu, visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, a living museum in Laie with art, information and exhibits on Hawaiian and Pacific Island culture.
Saving the best for last, let’s close with Hawaiian sunsets. Why the best? The combination of westward drifting volcanic dust from Kilauea and year-round humid climate creates more intense colors, plus the remote location surrounded by water means there is nothing to break up the line of horizon.
Wait 10 minutes AFTER sunset, because the colors change. You will have the best angle, richest colors and longest view – truly an unforgettable experience.
Glenda Harris is a freelance writer and book reviewer. This first-ever trip to Hawaii was a reunion with her son and family, currently stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.