Anyone planning a luxury Hawaii vacation knows that the Turtle Bay Resort is more than the top choice on the North Shore, it’s the only choice. Authentic Hawaiian experiences, outdoor adventure and lots of beach activities by day, and relaxing late afternoon/evening sunset gazing with a tropical drink make up many tourists’ ideas of perfectly happy Hawaii trips…and days like that are the name of the game at this resort. About an hour from the urban bustle of Waikiki, Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore feels like it’s on a different island. It has a peninsula to itself, with some calmer shorelines than most of the typically windy North Shore weather allows. Contributor Kim Tracy Prince was treated to a vacation there, and came away with a richer understanding of the appeal of Hawaii’s most populous island.
Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu is the place to stay if you haven’t slept through the night in seven years. Turtle Bay Resort’s location – oceanside within paddling distance of some of the most famous surf breaks in the world – makes for a lot of adventure travel during a Hawaii vacation. The resort can hook up guests with kayaking, surfing lessons, horseback riding, snorkeling, and pretty much anything else an outdoor adventure traveler could want. After an activity-filled day on the beach, the luxurious rooms and comfortable beds are impossible to resist.
After you’ve participated in any adrenaline-pumping activity at Turtle Bay Resort, you’ll surely need to grab a cocktail and/or a tasty meal and spend some time on the beach, which is right there. Unlike other enormous resorts, the beaches of Turtle Bay are literally right outside your window no matter which part of the resort is your temporary home. The resort lodging consists of a three-winged tower, a strip of villas which each have their own beach entrance and a hammock, and a building that houses condo-type suites that sleep up to 14 people.
After a fun- and food-filled day under the North Shore sun, you will head back to your room to find that the housekeeping staff has turned down your bed, left you a pair of homemade chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and turned on soft, relaxing music on the bedside clock radio. If you then open the sliding door to the lanai and sink into the extremely comfortable bed, you will be lulled to sleep by the hypnotic sound of the crashing waves in minutes.
And that’s just if your first day there is anything like mine was. On a recent trip to the North Shore, I stayed at Turtle Bay Resort and surfed (or tried to), snorkeled, kayaked (even standing up!), and ate. At the end of each day, I slept better than I have any night since before my first child was born.
The standard guest room in the tower section of Turtle Bay Resort is neat, clean, and just what you need – nothing more. These rooms have not been renovated like the villas or condos have been, so the decor is visibly worn but everything is comfortable and works fine. In fact, the shower’s water pressure is top-notch, something many travelers will appreciate. Wireless internet access is included in the resort fee. Another nice inclusion is a free hour of snorkel gear rental at the on-property beach shack if you show your room key. Room rates are fairly reasonable considering this is the only resort on this side of Oahu – with certain promotions at the right time of year, a room can be as low as $199 per night.
During my stay I sampled the dining in three of the resort’s eateries. First up was Ola Restaurant, an open-air dining space settled right next to the beach. A sunset dinner was just the right thing to ring in my stay, but a word to the wise: skip the Ola Tea – a cocktail that is similar to Long Island Iced tea but made tropical with pineapple juice. If it’s your first night and you are jet-lagged, this choice is not worth the calories. Still, it comes with a little umbrella, so that feels right. Fortunately the appetizers – kahlua pork and goat cheese nachos? yes, please – and my entree’ were delectable and filling. Just reading the description of my dinner will make you hungry: seared scallops with cranberry fig relish, crisp pancetta, orechette pasta, Kahuku sea asparagus, grape tomatoes, asparagus tips. The sea asparagus is indeed grown one town over in seawater, giving the vegetable a salty taste that complimented the scallops nicely.
You may be tempted to simply head down to the convenient buffet on the Tower’s first floor for breakfast, but since it is $25 per person you’re better off heading into town to sample some of the local flavor at a place like the Hukilau Cafe – famous for its association with the movie “50 First Dates,” or Ted’s Bakery, which is a big hit with surfers and locals alike and serves full breakfast dishes along with bakery fare like chocolate haupia pie (a delicious coconut cream) and malasadas (local donut-like pastry) . A popular local breakfast dish is loco moco: 2 eggs served over 2 hamburger patties over a bed of rice, all covered with thick brown gravy. Because you decided to eat healthy on this trip, right? Anywhere you dine for breakfast on the North Shore, be sure to have a glass of passion orange juice with your meal.
Food and snacks are everywhere – in the lobby they serve free-flowing pineapple juice, you can buy snacks in the gift shop, and at Surfer Bar or the Hang Ten poolside bar where I ate a “normal” chicken sandwich and shoestring fries. You don’t even have to head into Haliewa for some famous Hawaiian shave ice – the Heli Kai adventure shack where you sign up for excursions serves the frozen treat right there on property.
The pull of the North Shore of Oahu is its feeling of remoteness. Laie, where Turtle Bay is located, is about an hour and a half drive from Honolulu Airport. The atmosphere of the area is much more rural and “country” than in the popular tourist area of Waikiki. Rather than slick high-rise hotels and gleaming designer storefronts, Laie and its neighbor, Haleiwa, are hosts to charming old antique stores, pop-up fruit stands that offer the ubiquitous pineapples, mangoes, and coconuts prepared in many different ways as well as more exotic fruits like mangosteen and rambutan, and grungy little surf and jewelry shops.
Here is where you will drive by large rectangular shrimp beds cut into the grass and where you will race to meet the Kahuku or Giovanni’s shrimp trucks that sell the shellfish in garlicky concoctions on a plain paper plate over rice. Even the most mundane of stores like 7-Eleven and Foodland are backed by breathtaking mountain tops on one side and the impossibly blue ocean on the other.
Of course, you can get the traditional Hawaii experience you have always dreamed of by attending a luau or the “Ha – the Breath of Life” show at the nearby Polynesian Cultural Center , which is a destination for hands-on learning about the seven island cultures that have most influenced Hawaii’s past. Just as if you were visiting a mainland theme park, you can spend most of a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center and still not see everything there is to offer. I did just that on my trip to Turtle Bay: I’ll never forget my adventures in hula dancing, fire making, and banana peeling, among other activities.
I saw travelers of every type during my stay at the Turtle Bay Resort: honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries, large family gatherings, die-hard surfers, and every age from babies on up. The only adult-reserved activity I witnessed was a soak in the oceanside hot tub, and even that was marauded by children during the day. It has a great view of the break where would-be surfers took their lessons – I’m sure plenty of people had a good laugh when I took mine. With the protected bay, the beautiful pool with a waterslide for children, and all the available gear for adventures on hand, this is a great location for a getaway for anyone.
Kim Tracy Prince was hosted on this trip by Turtle Bay Resort and the Polynesian Cultural Center for the purpose of this feature. Special thanks to Ola Restaurant for the lovely meal. Kim is a blogger and web producer in Los Angeles who writes about her adventures as a wife and mother at House of Prince.