This article originally appeared on Outside
Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor are must-see attractions for most visitors to Oahu. Iolani Palace and sunset luaus are also popular. But John John Florence has other ideas about how to spend time on Hawaii’s most touristy island.
The 30-year-old North Shore native, two-time world champion surfer and member of the first US Olympic surfing team was born and raised here. When he’s not riding a series of waves or sailing, he enjoys meditative activities on land: gardening, beekeeping and mountain biking are his three favorites.
Florence doesn’t usually spend time in the city, as the locals call Honolulu, but she does frequent a number of places that don’t necessarily make it into her Instagram posts. (You have to keep some secrets from 1.5 million followers.) From the prettiest beaches to the healthiest cafes, surfing, sailing, and hiking, here are her tips on the best ways to complete a trip to Oahu.
OUTSIDE: Oahu welcomed over three million visitors in 2021. That’s a lot of people! Where would you send your friends who want to see stunning beaches and get a taste of the wild side of the island but avoid the crowds?
FLORENCE: Oahu in general is a really beautiful place, and I enjoy every side of the island, but I’ll share a few stops from a few different areas. Starting with the North Shore, almost anywhere you decide to stop the car is going to be a really nice beach. Waimea Bay is a special place and perfect for a day at the beach. On the South Shore, I like to spend time in the Ala Moana area of Honolulu – the waves are fun, there are lots of great restaurants, and the Friday night sailing and racing scene is great. Lastly, I would recommend visiting some of the nature reserves: the bird sanctuary at Kaena Point [the island’s westernmost tip]Sharks Cove on the north shore and Hanauma Bay [in the southeast]to name a few.
What are your recommendations for visiting the north coast? What is the best month? Where do you go if you are up there to see professional surfers in big waves? Take a look at the pros? And do you have any advice for fans of surfing that stretch of coast?
I may be biased, but I think visiting the North Shore is fun any time of the year. Summer and winter have different faces, but both offer great things. I could give you a big list, but instead I’ll show you an ideal day: During a day of competition, head over to Pipeline and watch some heats. It’s a fun environment and really cool to see such big waves up close. Head to Pupukea Grill for a bite to eat before heading into the town of Haleiwa to check out the local shops. If you’re looking to learn to surf, head over to Uncle Bryan’s Surf School at Puaena Point for an afternoon and sunset lesson. That’s a pretty good day on the North Shore.
After surfing and sailing, what are your favorite outdoor activities on the island?
I have recently gotten into cycling, both road and mountain. It’s been a lot of fun learning about them and using them as another training method. Also, I am part of a strong group of people who are into downwind foiling. Foil boards are essentially surfboards on a big foil. We move with the wind, downwind, and basically see how far we can go without falling back into the water. It’s a lot like snowboarding in powder, but in the ocean. I do it a lot.
If you only had time for one hike on Oahu, what should it be and why?
That’s a tough question, but I’d say Koko Head. It is fairly well known but not too long and offers great views of the southeast side of the island.
I know you grow a lot of produce yourself, but when you’re out and about, where do you go to eat healthy, and what kind of local farmers’ markets or local farms would you encourage people to look for while they’re visiting? ?
There are definitely great farmers markets around the island. I also use an awesome resource called Farm Link; groups the offers of all the organic farms in a market for the purchase. They’re great. The Kokua Hawaii Foundation Learning Farm, Kim and Jack Johnson’s nonprofit organization, is a fairly new farm and retail space in Haleiwa. It’s a really cool place to visit, learn about agriculture and volunteer. For healthy cafes, I like Country Eatery and Raised by the Waves, both in Kahuku.
What do you do on a rainy day on Oahu?
I guess it depends on how rainy it is. If it’s a flood type of rain, there’s not much you can do, but we also get a lot of light rain. That usually doesn’t stop my normal activities: surfing, mountain biking or foiling. I suggest doing the same things you would do on a sunny day. The rain goes fast!
Most mainlanders know that Hawaii is famous for poke and ice cream. Where are you going to get these? What other traditional food places do you frequent and do you have a favorite request?
Ha, we’re kind of famous for it. I don’t have a place to shave ice, but if I’m getting a flat, I’ll stop by Kahuku Superette. The best though is when a friend fishes and makes fresh poke at a BBQ or something. Some other food places I really like are Kahuku Farms and in Haleiwa, Haleiwa Joe’s, Haleiwa Bowls for acai, and Pupukea Grill, everything on the grill is amazing!
As a sailor, do you have any recommendations to get to know the island in this way, either with a company or with your own boat? Any off the radar coves or areas with a lot more marine life or a fantastic swim or snorkel?
Yes, definitely. There are plenty of great tours you can take. On the north shore, Island View Hawaii has a really cool pelagic tour where you can swim with the sharks off of Haleiwa. That is a great experience. In town, there is a tour called the Hawaii Glass Bottom Boats that will take you around the Waikiki area to see all the sights. Both are great ways to see different parts of the island.
What local stores have a good selection of unique Oahu home items?
There are plenty of great local stores on the North Shore. The Cove Collection sells gifts for the home, jewelry, and art. That’s right in Sharks Cove. In Haleiwa, there are a ton of cool art galleries and surf shops. I like Surf N Sea and North Shore Surf Shop. You don’t have to look far to find what you’re looking for when it comes to gifts.
Do you follow any local musician?
If you get a chance to see Hawaiian artists like Paula Fuga, Kimie Miner, Jack Johnson, or Ron Artis, I highly recommend it. My friend Martin Saito is another amazing musician on the rise.
Have you ever considered moving to another Hawaiian island?
I enjoy visiting all the islands, they are all amazing in their own way, but I haven’t given much thought to moving to another. Oahu is your home!
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure and travel stories, plus discounts on travel, events and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.