While it may be tempting to pass your days lounging on Waikiki Beach and dining at the countless eateries that dot every corner of Honolulu, there much more to Oahu than its urban center. Many visitors leave Hawai‘i having missed out on the chance to experience what locals love most about their island, but there’s no reason you should be one of them. Keep in mind that this day-trip is much easier with a rental car and a lot of energy.
Wake up, grab a cup of coffee at your hotel, load your car and go, go, go! The day can be as busy and action-packed as you want it to be, but at the very least pack some water, a snack or two as well as a change of clothes (wear your swimsuit!), towel, running/hiking shoes and anything else you consider essential – snorkeling gear?
Today, you’re headed to the ever beautiful beach enclave of Lanikai on the East Side of the island to watch the sunrise over the Mokulua Islands. As for the vantage points, you have two options: the first and easier choice is to sit on the white sand of Lanikai Beach, which never disappoints.
However, for those craving a bit of morning exercise, you can do the 30 to 40-minute hike up the Lanikai Pillbox Trail (Ka‘iwa Ridge Trail). The summit offers some of the most spectacular views on Oahu.
With a lot of the morning still ahead of you, it’s time to fill your belly! If you want a local diner-style meal, Moke’s Bread & Breakfast in nearby Kailua Town is your place. Don’t miss out on their fabulous lilikoi (passion fruit) pancakes. Just don’t let all that delicious food keep you too long–there’s so much more to see and do!
Your next destination is just east of Kailua in the lush, verdant area of Kane‘ohe, which is home to Oahu’s most magnificent botanical gardens, Ho‘omaluhia. Wander the trails and learn about native plants by sitting in on one of the many lectures or nature tours on offer.
After meandering through the gardens, follow the Kahekili Highway through Kahalu‘u and then along the coastline, making your way slowly north. This is the best drive on the island so enjoy the rich colors and the sweet island air as you cruise along at slower, more island-appropriate speeds.
If it’s a calm-ocean, clear-sky day, pull into Kualoa Beach Park for a photo op in front of Chinaman’s Hat, a small island resembling its namesake. When ready, hop back in the car and continue along the same road towards the legendary North Shore.
Since there are at least a couple hours before you’ll reach Hale‘iwa to have a proper lunch, stop in the small town of Kahuku for some of the best shrimp you’ll ever have at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. Warning: You can smell the garlic shrimp before you even get out of the car!
Now it’s time to explore Oahu’s North Shore, a seven-mile stretch of coastline that is revered (and feared) by surfers from all over the globe for its countless surf breaks, whose waves that are nothing short of perfection. Your next stop is Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau on Pupukea Ridge, which is a Hawaiian religious site constructed in the 1600s. Before you leave, take a moment to soak up the dazzling view.
After a jam-packed morning, you’re probably jonesin’ for a good meal. There are two great spots on the North Shore for awesome, hearty sandwiches and both are locally owned. For those who want some great homemade cookies or smoothies with your sandwiches, head over to Waialua Bakery in the heart of Hale‘iwa town. Another place worth trying is Sprout, which serves up high-end, custom sandwiches – all go brilliantly with their ginger cooler! Both businesses pride themselves in using local and organic ingredients (whenever possible), so give them a try.
If you’re not in the mood for sandwiches, Souvaly Thai Mobile is a tasty alternative. It offers superb Thai food prepared and served by some of the friendliest people on the North Shore from a truck centrally located in Hale‘iwa. Whether you’re after, drunken noodles or a curry, Souvaly is the place to go.
Your early rise and the afternoon heat may have you hankering for a nap; in which case, feel free to make your way back to the hotel for a shower and a snooze. Should you, however, wish to carry on, why not get a surf or SUP (stand-up paddleboard) lesson–book your lessons well in advance–from the friendly folks at Surf N Sea, one of O‘ahu’s oldest surf shops.
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Before driving back to your hotel or vacation rental, consider stopping for a quick caffeine fix and to feed your sweet tooth. The best place for this is The Coffee Gallery in the North Shore Marketplace, which serves freshly roasted coffee, homemade chai and pastries baked daily in house. Maybe grab a bag of 100% Kona or Peaberry beans to take home with you.
Since you’ve been firing on all cylinders well before dawn, it’s time to get you back to your hotel for a shower and a catnap. Feeling inspired to venture beyond the four walls of your room for dinner? Just a stone’s throw away is Tokkuri-tei, one of Honolulu’s most beloved restaurants, best known for phenomenal sushi and its extensive Japanese menu. Snag seats at the counter and chat the evening away with your sushi chef while throwing back a few shots of sake (if you have a designated driver or taxi to get you home safely).
After today’s adventures, you might enjoy kicking back and relaxing tomorrow.