Kickstart your day with a stiff cup of Kona coffee. Glazer’s is a hip spot to chill out and savor the neighboring island’s beans. But today you must grab-and-go because, after all, you’re in paradise and there’s generally about 12-hours of daylight. Maximize all that sunshine.
To get the most out of the island of Oahu, it’s best to rent a car from one of the many agencies at the airport. (If you opt for the bright-yellow Mustang convertible, expect to stand out like an true haole… But, hey, at least you’ll have the wind in your hair!) But the island has also recently introduced Uber so if you’re simply zipping around Honolulu/Waikiki that may suit you better. Taxis in Town are abundant as well and there’s Da Bus that circles the island albeit very slowly.
Head down to the Waikiki beachfront for a traditional longboard session at Queen’s. If you are a first-timer, you can organize lessons from one of the many beach boys offering their services. Chances are they’ll have you standing up in your first few attempts. If you’re a novice, you can rent giant boards from the many vendors lining the sand. They’re all super-buoyant and are great for the slow, dribbly, user-friendly waves. Yet even if you’re an experienced waverider, splashing around out here with the ominous Diamond Head in the background is an Oahu rite of passage. Everyone must surf here at least once.
Afterwards, (it’s not to early for a drink) head in to the Barefoot Bar at Duke’s for Mai Tais and some pu pus, which will set you on your way for the rest of the day’s adventure.
Drive out towards Oahu’s southeastern corner but skip the heavily touristed Hanauma Bay. If you’re up for it, pull into Sandy Beach for a quick body-whomping session in the shorebreak. But, be careful. Freak waves can come up and slam hard on the shallow sand. You might even see the famous Oahu surf photographer Zak Noyle there shooting inside-the-tube images. Just keep your GoPro out of his way!
If scorpioning yourself into dry sand isn’t your thing, then pull in for the quick hike up out to the Makapu’u Lighthouse. It’s on the eastern-most corner of Oahu and provides epic views of Town as well as the the crystalline waters of the Eastside. Paragliders will buzz your line of sight as you check out Makapu’u Beach below.
Hop back in your flashy rental and drive along the 72 up Kaneohe where you’ll pick up the 83, also known as Kamehameha Highway (aka Kam Highway) — your ticket to Oahu’s famous North Shore. Be sure to stop by one of the many fruit stands along the way and it’s definitely worth pulling in at Chinaman’s Hat for a photo op. There’s all sorts of adventure tours at the adjacent Kualoa Ranch, including horseback riding and ATVs. Over 50 Hollywood movies were filmed in the mountainous jungles behind the ranch.
But by now, you’re probably ready for a mean snack. After you pass Laie and the Polynesian Cultural Center, you’ll have a very tough decision to make — poke or shrimp.
While it may not look like much from the exterior, the Kahuku Superette easily has the best ahi poke bowl on the entire island. I like to grab a bowl and a coconut water and head to the end of the road by the golf course. There’s a little parking area there where you can look past the fairways at the ocean while woofing down your lunch.
If you’re not one for seasoned raw fish, there are a host of old school food trucks just west of Kahuku overlooking the shrimp farms. They’re all pretty similar so I usually just pick the one that doesn’t have an unloaded tour bus waiting in the line out front.
And from here, your next stop is the fabled North Shore. In winter, this is the place to see some of the biggest and best waves in the world. Famous surf spots like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay are right along the side of the road and are somewhat spectator friendly. Binoculars surely help.
As the sun begins its decent in the west, dipping down behind Kaena Point — Oahu’s western-most corner — you’ll want to find a great spot for yet another Mai Tai.
If you’re still closer to the Kahuku side of the Seven-Mile Miracle (as the North Shore is known), then head to the pool bar at the Turtle Bay Resort. Sometimes they’ll even put on a free fire-twirling show just after sunset. From there, walk to Lei Lei’s by the Turtle Bay golf courses. The menu is pretty standard island fare but it’s prepared with aloha and the owner Ian is a gregariously friendly guy. This is also the spot to rub shoulders with pro surfers from all over the world who are on Oahu for the macking winter swells.
Though, if you’ve ventured all the way to the western side of the North Shore, you’ll end up in the funky surf village of Haleiwa. There are a ton of great eateries there like Opal Thai, Banzai Sushi, and Luibueno’s . But for sunset, it’s Haleiwa Joe’s overlooking the harbor with its epic sunset views. They even let you take home a souvenir Mai Tai glass with each purchase.
By now, Honolulu’s traffic has pretty much died down. So hopefully there’s someone in your group who hasn’t had too many Mai Tais and is able to drive you through the dark pineapple fields of Oahu’s interior and safely back to your hotel. Once there, you can rest easily knowing you maximized the sunshine and saw more in a single day than some Hawaii visitors do in an entire week.
8 tips for 24 hours on Oahu:
1. Don’t speed. What’s da rush, brah? You’re on island time.
2. Wear sun protection.
3. Always have a change of clothes handy.
4. Drink lots of water.
5. Try something adventurous, whether it’s surfing for the first time, paragliding, or a new food.
6. Coral is not a souvenir.
7. Smile at the locals. They’ll smile back.
8. Respect the island.