Step off the beaten path and fall in love with a different side of Oahu.
With the number of travelers venturing to the Hawaiian Islands trending higher than ever, it’s become difficult to escape the onslaught of visitors and find locals to interact with. We have to wonder—is it even possible to immerse yourself in Oahu’s local vibes? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the island’s most popular places, but for anyone who has visited more than a few times, living like a local is especially appealing. Here are seven of the best ways—from picking your own neighborhood to finding locally owned and locals-only spots—to meet people who live on the island and enjoy life off the tourist track.
1. Skip the Hotel
Yes, perks and amenities at Hawaii’s hotels are plentiful, but you won’t meet people who live on the island—unless of course, they work in the tourism industry. Instead, pick a Homeaway on the North Shore in Haleiwa town, Sunset Beach, or Pipeline. Homeaway accommodations are usually owned by locals and sit on uncongested blocks. Wake up for a morning walk or swim, and make sure to end up at one of the neighborhood fruit and banana bread stands, which are only open in the mornings. Then end your day right—just ask the neighbors where to buy your mahi mahi and swordfish, and grill it alongside fresh pineapple and enjoy dinner on the lanai.
2. Savor Uncrowded Seas
Even if you’ve been to the islands more times than you can count, surfing can still feel like an obligatory experience. Get away from the first-timers and take your surf lesson with former pro Ken Bradshaw and the Hawaiian Surf School. He teaches travelers and locals alike in beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, stop at Sandy Beach and take on the storied shore break alongside Oahu teenagers—but only join them if you have experience body boarding. Go for a post-surf drive around the southern tip of the island and arrive in Kailua. Here, join the regulars for red curry grilled fish or a poke bowl with furikake rice at Uahi Island Grill.
3. Eat Small (and Often)
Small, fresh bites dot the island. If you have time to loop the island’s perimeter, here are the essential pit stops where you’ll find local surfers and hikers, doctors and construction workers alike: Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, which has great açaí bowls and smoothies; Sunrise Shack, owned by pro surfer Koa Smith; Pupukea Grill, where you should order the coconut quinoa curry with spicy ahi poke; Yama’s Fish Market, known for its lomi salmon and Kahlua pig; and of course, Leonard’s Bakery, famous for its sweet malasadas. And don’t leave Oahu without grabbing a musubi with classic Spam (or maybe avocado) at Musubi Cafe Iyasume.
4. Source Your Own Food
The best way to meet the storied farmers and environmentalists who call Oahu home is at the weekly growers’ markets. Luckily, there are several each week. You can stock up on all the local favorites—just get there early! Enjoy some ‘ulu (breadfruit) and limu (seaweed) on Thursdays at the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market. On Saturdays, the KCC Farmers’ Market offers fresh-brewed Koko Crater Coffee, as well as Hawaiian classics with a twist, from fresh taro and poi to taro hummus and mochi. On Sundays, the crop of vendors moves to the Mililani Farmers’ Market.
5. Ditch the Mai Tai; Try the Beer
Locals and transplants alike have kick-started Oahu’s craft beer scene and it’s growing fast. Ask the owners at Beer Lab for the best small-batch experiments that represent the citrusy flavors you’d expect in an island brew. To sip small-batch brews alongside university students and auntie and uncle, head to the open-air tap rooms at Honolulu BeerWorks or Waikiki Brewing Company.
6. Find the Right Beaches
Pack the picnic basket and juice for a secluded day at beaches that aren’t crawling with tourists. On the North Shore, set out toward Kaena Point and pick a stretch of sand just about anywhere along the road. (Note: The lush scenery behind you is where they filmed episodes of Lost.) Another North Shore option, where you’ll find local kite surfers on breezy days, is Aweoweo Beach Park. On the south side of the island, Halona Cove near Sandy Beach is not a locals-only secret, but it is worth visiting to explore the tide pools near the Halona blowhole (make sure to watch your step!). You can venture a few miles up the coast for a quiet swim at Makapu‘u Beach, a common beach day spot for Kailua locals making their way around the island.
7. Hike at the Golden Hour
In Hawaii, you should never be the only hiker on the trail, in case you get lost. But you won’t have to worry at Kuliouou Ridge Trail, where you’ll find clear ascents with local adventurers. The trail straddles the ridge between the east and west flanks of the island. On the North Shore, locals try to keep quiet about the idyllic and hidden sunset hike at the old war bunker above Sunset Beach Elementary School. It’s short (15 minutes) and steep, and it offers a sunset finale to round out a perfect, offbeat Hawaii adventure.