O‘ahu: Town and Country
Island destinations tend to share a common dilemma: Most lack the balance of a dreamy tropical escape — think friendly locals, sandy beaches and turquoise waters — coupled with an equally impressive cosmopolitan center — think arts, dining and a compelling nightlife. So where do you go when you want the best of both worlds? Follow in the footsteps of experienced travelers and head to O‘ahu—a bonus in itself since you’ll still be in the comfort of your own 50 states.
Here, the island’s South Shore, otherwise known by residents as “town,” is home to action-packed Waikiki and the historic corridors of Chinatown and downtown Honolulu. The North Shore, nicknamed the “country,” is what you’d hope to expect: a spot where surfers ride monstrous waves and open spaces bring immediate respite. The best part? These destinations are a mere one-hour drive from one another, making it easy to experience both locales on the same trip — or even in the same day.
Take a cue from the locals on O‘ahu: When the sun rises, it’s time to head into the great outdoors. Avid hikers can choose from a number of short day treks, including the Manoa Falls Trail, a rain forest escape that leads to the back of an ancient valley and requires only a ten-minute drive from Waikiki. Adrenaline junkies can get their fix by taking up rock climbing. Don’t think the sport is possible in Hawai‘i? Think again. Climb Aloha (808-387-7825; www.climbaloha.com) has been teaching classes on O‘ahu since 2001 and scales strong, solid ‘a‘a lava flows, which don’t crumble as most may think. Newbies with no prior experience can sign up for the all-day introductory course held at Makapu‘u Point, the easternmost tip of O‘ahu, which reveals an incredible view of windward beaches and nearby offshore islands.
On Saturday mornings, arrive hungry at the outdoor Farmers’ Market at Kapi‘olani Community College (808-848-2074; www.hfbf.org/FarmersMarketKCC.html), located on the slopes of Diamond Head Crater. More than 55 vendors are on hand each week, some selling items that will fill the belly on the spot, like fresh beef from the North Shore Cattle Company or fruits and vegetables from the west side’s MA’O Organic Farms, a nonprofit organization that supports local youth, sustainable practices and Hawaiian culture. Above all else, don’t walk away without investigating stands selling Island honey. Varieties come from different flowers across Hawai‘i’s landscape — among them, liliko‘i (passionfruit), strawberry guava, and native ‘ohi‘a lehua blossoms. Plus, each boasts its own unique color, flavor and thickness.
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, make a beeline for Alan Wong’s (808-949-2526; www.alanwongs.com) on bustling King Street. Acclaimed for his Hawai‘i regional cuisine, Chef Wong is a James Beard Foundation award winner — an honor lauded as “the Oscars of the food world” by Time magazine — and his restaurant is a ten-time winner of the coveted Hale ‘Aina Award as the state’s “Restaurant of the Year.” As expected, every dish is extraordinary, but a top pick is the ginger-crusted onaga, a local long-tail red snapper surrounded by a miso sesame vinaigrette. It’s a melt-in-your-mouth kind of experience.
For late-night drinks, head to Chinatown, located only 15 minutes from Waikiki, where you can choose from a number of eclectic bars such as The Dragon Upstairs (808-526-1411; www.thedragonupstairs.com), a second-floor lounge off Nu‘uanu Avenue that features live jazz and boasts an artsy retro interior.
I Scream, You Scream…
Well, it isn’t exactly ice cream, but if it’s good enough for Barack Obama, it’s good enough for us.
In August, he and his daughters stopped for a shave ice — a tradition in the Islands — at Island Snow in Kailua (130 Kailua Rd.; 808-263-6339). If you’re on the North Shore, compare flavors with Matsumoto Shave Ice (808-637-4827; www.matsumotoshaveice.com) in historic Hale‘iwa town, established in 1951 and arguably the most famous spot in Hawai‘i for the icy treat.
Stay on the North Shore and it’s almost impossible not to switch into kick-back-and-relax mode. World-famous beaches like Waimea Bay, ‘Ehukai Beach Park and Sunset Beach are just a short drive from one another and, in the summer months, swells shift south, creating perfect conditions for swimming and snorkeling.
Golfers will be in seventh heaven, too, since Turtle Bay Resort (808-293-8574; www.turtlebayresort.com) is home to the Arnold Palmer Course, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Ed Seay and Arnold Palmer himself. Any skill level can play here, but concentrating on the round might prove difficult. The course, which features sand, water and an ironwood pine forest, surrounds a 100-acre wetland preserve that serves as a refuge for native Hawaiian birds.
At night, when the North Shore becomes almost eerily still, foodies in the know head to Ola at Turtle Bay Resort (808-293-0801, www.olaislife.com), a beachfront restaurant named by the Zagat Survey in 2008 and 2009 as one of “America’s Top Restaurants.” This is partly due to the fact that owner and chef Fred DeAngelo is an avid supporter of Hawai‘i’s agricultural community and applies the “farm-to-table” concept throughout his menu of contemporary Hawaiian cuisine. Be sure to try the seared Kulana Big Island beef poke, an all-natural, grass-fed rib eye steak with grape tomatoes, watercress, Maui onions, Kahuku sea asparagus and chili pepper gelée — all of which are local products.
To learn more about O‘ahu and how to plan a vacation that suits your “town” or “country” personality, go to www.visit-oahu.com.
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