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When it’s time to go under the radar on Oahu, give Waialua a try. The flip side of Honolulu in size, location and mood, this unassuming town drowses in its sugar plantation past as it offers a satisfying look at present-day island life.
While Haleiwa, with its many restaurants and shops, may be the better-known North Shore destination, Waialua — just a five-minute drive away — shares a more laid-back experience.
Following are some of our favorite Waialua pastimes.
Aweoweo Beach ParkNorth Shore beaches generally have fewer crowds than their Waikiki counterparts. Case in point is Aweoweo Beach Park, a serene stretch of soft, palm-lined sand that provides plenty of room to roam.
Popular with families, the park features picnic tables and a fun little playground, but the real lure is the ocean. Not only is the water shallow and swimmer-friendly, but Hawaiian sea turtles love it here, sometimes hauling themselves up on the beach for a nap. Keep your eyes open for occasional glimpses of skydivers over a nearby airfield, and stick around for the stellar sunsets.
Brew + FoamThis hip cafe plays every bit the part of a North Shore hangout. From its unpretentious decor of concrete floors and wood counters to its turntable that spins LPs, it feels like a blast from the past.
But Brew + Foam keeps pace with the present through its creative coffees. Besides concocting traditional drinks such as lattes and cappuccino, the menu also channels its surf-inspired surroundings. The Undertow, for instance, pairs mighty espresso with coconut syrup and half-and-half, and the Dawn Patrol enlivens drip coffee with grass-fed cow butter and cold-pressed coconut oil.
DuPont Pioneer SunflowersTo visit this attraction, clients must be in the right place at the right time. That’s because it’s only open to the public for a couple of weeks each November. The effort is worthwhile, however, as guests wander blissfully around 20 acres of joy-inducing sunflowers.
Several thousand people make the annual pilgrimage to the North Shore to photograph and learn about these bright-yellow beauties, which are cultivated for their cooking oil. Tours of the fields are free, but reservations are required by phone or email (808-637-0100, [email protected]).
Paalaa Kai BakeryWhat’s a “snow puffie”? At this decades-old bakery, the answer is a custard-filled puff pastry dusted with powdered sugar and swirled with chocolate icing. It’s the signature treat at Paalaa Kai, which also specializes in malassadas (Portuguese doughnuts) and Filipino-style ensaymadas (coiled buns topped with sugar and butter). While its homemade goodies offer little to no nutritional value, they guarantee grins as wide as a North Shore beach.
For whatever the sweet tooth craves, patrons should arrive early for the best selection. Another suggestion: Show up between 6-7 p.m. for half-off specials.
Waialua Sugar MillThis one-time sugar factory looks funky, but it has found a trendy new calling as a home base for community businesses. Among its tenants is Island X Hawaii, where clients can sample Waialua coffee and buy regional soda and chocolate. Then there’s North Shore Soap Factory, which sells 30 types of soap plus skincare products made with kukui nut oil.
On Saturday mornings, the mill’s humble parking lot blossoms into a farmers market. Visitors can chat with area growers while perusing fresh flowers and produce, then dig into a plate lunch served with heaps of aloha.