A forest of resort skyscrapers towers above nightclubs, designer shops, tourist traps, restaurants and an artificial beach lined with acres of sun-sensitive flesh on Waikiki Beach. Diamond Head looks down on it all. Shuttle buses venture out to Hawaii's top attractions: Pearl Harbor, Bishop Museum, Polynesian Cultural Center, and Hanauma Bay. Yes, Waikiki delivers the goods for a tropical vacation.
But what surprises most visitors are the miles of sandy beaches of Oahu—more accessible coastline than any of the Hawaiian islands—and the number of state park trailheads into two mountain ranges, again, more than any other island.
Surprising, too, is the North Shore. Most everyone has heard of the "Banzai Pipeline," but few realize how rural the coastline is at the "surfing capitol of the world." A two-lane highway fronts a largely commercial-free shore, paralleled for many miles by a bike lane. Connected to North Shore is the Mokuleia Coast, which is essentially wild. Similarly, the north end of the Windward Coast (on the other side of the North Shore) is a wide-open run of recreational beaches and a few sleepy towns.
Oahu has about ninety percent of Hawaii's million-plus population. It's not exactly laid back. Honolulu is dynamic and humming with activity. But there's another face to the place awaiting anyone who wants to venture out from Waikiki in a rental car—and nothing is more than an about an hour's drive.
Many of the best hiking trails are close to metro Honolulu. Oahu Trailblazer is organized into 54 different "trailheads," which include hikes to gardens and waterfalls, snorkeling spots and beach walks, as well as all the better known attractions. Before you rule out Oahu and head to Maui again, pick up a copy on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or trailblazertravelbooks.com and take a look.