10 Trips – 01 Oahu, Hawaii

O'ahu, Hawai'i

Surfing's capital.

Why you should go:

Year-round surf. World-famous waves. Beautiful scenery and climate. O'ahu is to surfing as Washington D.C. is to capitalism.


About O'ahu:

Don't let the island's size fool you. Even though it's only the third-largest Hawai'ian island (598 square miles), O'ahu is a powerful place. Located in nearly the dead center of the Pacific Ocean, Hawai'i's “main island” is surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of open ocean. As a result, it's constantly being bombarded by swell. As O'ahu was once two giant volcanoes, the island's scenery is dramatic and mountainous, with a canopy of dense, green vegetation. Located in the tropics, the weather is nearly always perfect, with temperatures in the 80s during the day and the 70s at night. Light rain falls most days, growing heavier in the winter and lighter in the summer.

Surfing in Hawai'i will be a shock for those who've never surfed in the tropics before. The water is warm (usually in the high 70s) and it moves fast. First timers will discover that even small surf is powerful in Hawai'i. Despite the common misconception that surfing on O'ahu only happens during the winter on the North Shore, the island is littered with spots ranging from fun summertime beachbreaks to fear-inspiring outer reefs. The crowds in O'ahu's lineups can be intimidating and competitive, and can frustrate even the most tolerant surfer. Keeping a cool head is crucial, and those who can manage their anger will catch waves and not get their faces beat in.

When to go:

O'ahu can be surfed year-round. Late fall through mid spring the north and west shores get bombarded by storms in the Gulf Of Alaska. Late spring through mid fall the south shore picks up Southern Hemisphere storm activity. Truthfully, if you have a rental car and enough patience to drive for a half hour, it's hard to get skunked on O'ahu.

Where to stay:

Hawai'i's biggest industry is tourism, so there's no shortage of accommodations. The problem is, Hawai'i is known for being pricey. On the south shore, Honolulu glistens with huge resort hotels packed full of Hawai'ian-shirt-clad American and Japanese tourists. If you have $300 per night to burn, try the new, trendy W Hotel at Diamondhead (808) 922-1700, but if money is tight, affordableHawai'ivacations.com lists at least a dozen Honolulu hotels under $100 per night. The less-developed North Shore has only one hotel, The Turtle Bay Resort (808) 293-8811, where rooms start at $140 per night. A favorite of frequent North Shore visitors are the Ke Iki Beach Bungalows keikibeach.com–beachfront cabanas right on the sand a five-minute walk from Log Cabins. If you want to stay on The Shore, you also might want to think about renting a house. It's a cool way to get into the slow-paced rhythm of the North Shore. Sterman Reality specializes in North Shore rentals, and you can browse its Web site, sterman.com, and assess your options.

Where to eat:

Eating in O'ahu is just like eating on the mainland–the food's safe to eat, the water's fresh, and restaurants abound, but eating out can be expensive. The South Shore is littered with every restaurannt you can imagine, from McDonald's and most other fast-food chains to higher-end places like Kobe Japanese Steak House (808) 941-4444, which can easily cost $100 for dinner for two. On the North Shore you have to eat at Kua'aina Burger in Haleiwa, it's addictive. If you're looking for a good dinner, try Hale'iwa Joe's at the harbor. If you're on a budget, consider just buying groceries. PB and Js make great after-surf meals.

Must do:

*Rent a longboard and surf Waikiki

*Jump off the rock at Waimea Bay

*Eat a shave ice (try Matsamuto’s in Hale'iwa)



*A sturdy leash

*A rental car

*Respect for local surfers in the lineup

Look out for:

Hawai'ian surf can be treacherous. Reefs, strong currents, and powerful surf lurk around every corner. So before paddling out, take some time to watch other surfers and make mental notes of areas they're avoiding. This goes double on the North Shore.


Nothing's cheap on O'ahu. If money's tight, O'ahu's a far better bargain in its off-season (early October through early June), when tourism slows and hotels struggle to fill their rooms. Most airlines run specials in the off-season, and if you research some Web sites and the travel section of your paper, you should be able to find $200 airfare for the five-hour flight from Los Angeles.

More Info:

Seeing that it's the undisputed capital of surfing, every surf mag in the world runs photos from O'ahu, so getting an idea of the surf you'll be facing is simple. If you have thoughts of moving to Hawai'i from Tempe, Arizona to pursue a career as a pro surfer, rent The North Shore, and while you're watching it, repeat over and over, “This never happens.” There's also a great Web site for discout travel to Hawai'i called royalelephant.com. Aloha.