I just recently spent some time in Oahu, Hawaii. Staying in Honolulu, it was a great base to explore all that the island had to offer. I have been to Oahu before for a conference, stayed in Waikiki and did the touristy things such as Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head and the main strip. This time though, we got a car and drove out of Honolulu, exploring beaches and activities beyond the beaten path. It was such a rewarding experience. The highlights were:
Kailua: In the north of Oahu, Kailua beach is one of, if not the hippest beach on the island. The town itself has a local flavor to it. Dotted with cool restaurants, eateries, and gorgeous Lanikai beach next door, it has a relaxed feel to it. Not a lot of tourists about, aqua green waters, fluffy sand, local kayak rentals - what more could you ask for in a beach? Kailua is so cool that if you come at the right time you might spot Obama and his entourage in action. He allegedly has a house in Lanikai. It takes about 40 minutes to directly get to Kailua from Honolulu and be prepared for breathtaking views along the way.
Coastal drive: Highway 72 is a great way to take in the island. The winding road curves along the coast dramatically and can be done in an hour and a half. From Hanauma bay to Waimanalo beach, the surrounding views of the mountains and the coast are fantastic. Along the way, there are look out points where you can snap pictures and take in the scenery. A must-do along the way is Kaiwi Seashore Park. There is a path to hike it to the top where you can see the Koko crater, the Makapuu lighthouse, amazing mountains and beach views, interesting cacti, and an assortment of exotic birds. The hike can be done in an hour. There are beaches worth stopping at along the way such as Sandy Beach best known as a surfers paradise and Waimanalo beach, a quieter beach with a local village vibe.
Culture: Besides the beautiful surroundings, it was fascinating to people watch, observing the ethnic make-up of the island. Inhabited by a large contingent of Japanese Americans and tourists alike, and multiracial Asians, it is educational to see first-hand the cultural nuances of the unique American destination.