Anytime is a good time to book a holiday on Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest island. Known as "the gathering place," Oahu is home to about two-thirds of the state's population so, to escape the crowds, head for the less-developed North Shore.
Much of Lost was filmed here because of the area's quiet natural beauty. Without a lot of tourist traps, it’s easy to experience the North Shore like a local. Once you do, you may want to come back and actually become one.
1. Extend the spirit of “aloha” with a shaka
Hamana Kalili statue — Photo courtesy of Polynesian Cultural Center
Nothing represents the “hang loose” attitude of Oahu’s North Shore better than the shaka, the iconic hand gesture that spread throughout the mainland when the Hawaiian surf culture hit Southern California in the 1960s.
This statue, at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Hukilau Marketplace, honors Hamana Kalili, the father of the shaka. After losing his three middle fingers in a sugar mill accident, he went to work at the railroad, waving his hand to signal that the train was leaving. Local kids began to copy his distinctive wave.
When Kalili played King Kamehameha in the Laie Hukilau, he would always shaka to visitors.
2. Cheer on the surfers
Surfing on the North Shore of Oahu — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
It’s no wonder that many of the most prestigious surfing competitions in the world take place along the seven miles of the North Shore. During the winter, catch the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, with contests at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park, Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline.
And, if the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau is a go – as it was in February for the first time in seven years - then you must experience this invitational-only event, with massive waves reaching between 30 and 40 feet. Warning: Do not try this yourself!
3. Slurp a shave ice
Matsumoto shave ice — Photo courtesy of Matsumoto Shave Ice
First lesson in this frosty treat? It’s called shave ice, not shaved ice. Matsumoto’s has been setting the standard since 1951, now producing over 1000 a day. This refreshing snow cone is best enjoyed with vanilla ice cream on the bottom.
Although you can have your shave ice served in a plastic cup with a wide rim for less spillage, locals opt for the paper cones. The secret: place your straw where the ice meets the rim of the cup to drink the melted juice before it overflows, then use the little wooden spoon to shovel the ice into your mouth.
4. Soak in the culture
Polynesian Cultural Center — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Voted the number one attraction by locals, the Polynesian Cultural Center lets you explore authentic villages from half a dozen Pacific islands, meeting natives from each one and learning firsthand about their customs, games, food and history.
Through interactive activities like fire-making, spear-throwing and canoe-paddling, you get a real sense of their unique and proud heritage. Stay to see “Ha: Breath of Life,” a live show complete with fire knife dancing that will take your own breath away.
5. Eat lunch from a food truck
Garlic shrimp and kalbi from Tita's food truck — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
With its outdoor lifestyle and with real estate so expensive, it’s no wonder food trucks have sprung up all over Oahu. Try Tita’s Grill, at the Hukilau Marketplace, which offers a garlic shrimp and kalbi beef combo, the ultimate local plate lunch.
Food trucks, aka lunch wagons, originally began cropping up as the go-to spot for garlic shrimp plates, especially around the famous Kahuku shrimp farms. In fact, the road to Kahuku is known as “shrimp row” and you really can’t go wrong at any of the shrimp trucks.
6. Catch a wave with a surf pro - and his dog
Rocky and Hina catch a wave — Photo courtesy of Turtle Bay Resort
Professional surfer and North Shore native Rocky Canon pioneered this popular program at Turtle Bay Resort in 2010 after his Pit/Lab mix, Pulu, followed him on to his surfboard. Now, Hina has taken Pulu’s place, helping kids – and adults – get over their fear of the water or just making them smile as their four-legged surfing buddy.
Thanks to Rocky and Hina, you can also SUP (stand up paddleboard) with a pup!
7. Feast at a luau
Luau imu — Photo courtesy of Polynesian Cultural Center
Luaus are a Hawaiian tradition, synonymous with great food and music. Until you’re lucky enough to be a local and just go to a friend’s backyard for one, head back to the Polynesian Cultural Center for their nightly luau, where you will see an authentic imu – the Hawaiian in-ground oven – and you can actually watch and participate in food preparations during the day.
The luau pig is the centerpiece of the meal and is transported via a wooden suspension bridge to the dinner theater, which, by the way, was featured in the Elvis Presley movie Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
8. Wear jewelry made of sea glass
Sea glass bracelet by Christine Pagano — Photo courtesy of Full Fathom Five
A lifetime resident of Oahu, Christine Pagano has an intimate relationship with the island, the ocean and all things beach. She walks the shoreline daily in search of the best sea glass to use in her highly-coveted collection of jewelry.
It takes decades in the Hawaiian seas to bring a broken shard of manmade glass to the jewelry-grade perfection of sea glass, and Christine honors that natural process with her stunning handmade pieces.
Elegant, instantly recognizable and a point of pride for locals, her graceful, wire wrap designs are on display at Full Fathom Five, and are as bespoke as the pieces of sea glass themselves.
9. Taste the sea asparagus
Poke with sea asparagus from Pounders — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Who knew eating your veggies could be so tasty? Marine AgriFuture grows sea asparagus hydroponically on the North Shore of Oahu. Organic and pesticide-free, this green sea vegetable grows symbiotically with fish in a self-contained ecosystem.
A superfood and antioxidant, it’s all natural and packed with nutrients. Best of all, it’s delicious. Crunchy and salty, it’s a staple at Pounders, where it’s served with fresh poke (raw fish).
10. Say "mahalo"
Turtle Bay Resort — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Don’t be surprised to find yourself using this Hawaiian word for “thank you” often on Oahu’s North Shore, especially if you splurge for a beach cottage, ocean villa or premier room from the Turtle Bay Collection. Your own private paradise, indeed.