The true stars of Oahu's famed North Shore aren't the actors in ABC's "Lost" or top-selling musician Jack Johnson, they're the monster waves that roll in every winter.
The rest of the year, when the 30-foot surf and the crowds are long gone, the North Shore returns to its usual laid-back, country lifestyle. It's perfect for swimming, golfing, hiking, snorkeling or a lazy day at the beach with family.
This remote coastline stretches for more than 20 miles and seems a world away from the high-rise jungle in Honolulu. But it's actually only about an hour drive, or two hours with a stop to stretch at the Dole Plantation.
While driving along Kamehameha Highway, keep an eye out for the colorful Haleiwa sign directing you to food, gas, shops and beaches. If you spot the sign, featuring a boy catching a wave, take a picture while it's still there. The signs are stolen more often than unattended bags on the beach.
The town of Haleiwa is the gateway to the North Shore. There are several gift shops, surf shops, restaurants, art galleries and real estate companies all peddling a piece of paradise.
You won't find the Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton brands that dot Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. The big names here are Local Motion, Billabong and Quiksilver.
Haleiwa is where Queen Lilioukalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, spent her summers.
A trip here is never complete without stopping at Matsumoto's, known for its shave ice, Hawaii's version of snow cones. There's usually a line out the door at this place that has served Hollywood stars such as Tom Hanks and Adam Sandler, who wore a Matsumoto's T-shirt in the film "50 First Dates."
Two bucks will get you a giant cone with vanilla ice cream or azuki beans inside. There are dozens of flavors, but the Rainbow (strawberry, pineapple and lemon) and the Hawaiian (pineapple, coconut and banana) are the top sellers at Matsumoto's, a North Shore favorite since 1951.
Another must-eat North Shore treat is fresh Kahuku shrimp. Cooked and sold from large trucks along the road in Kahuku, a plate costs about $12 and includes a couple of scoops of rice and about a dozen shrimp. There used to be only a few, but now there are at least a half dozen - all claiming to be "world famous" or the "original."
I'm still a fan of Giovanni's, next to the old Kahuku Sugar Mill. Its signature dish is the shrimp scampi, which is covered in garlic. I always get it with a side of fiery hot sauce.
Giovanni's white truck is covered with graffiti and messages of customers from around the world.
There are many activities to build your appetite, even with no waves to surf. Shark's Cove is one of the great snorkeling spots. It's across the street from the Foodland supermarket.
You can go skydiving or take a glider ride from Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia, bird watch at the Waimea Valley Audubon Center, hike at Kaena Point, tour the sleepy former sugar town of Waialua or simply relax and watch the sun go down at Sunset Beach.
The Polynesian Cultural Center, the top paid attraction in the state, is also located on the North Shore in the Mormon settlement of Laie. Visitors can walk through seven villages representing different Polynesian cultures and watch a spectacular hula and fire dance show. The center provides jobs for students at adjoining Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
As breathtaking as the beaches are, the rugged, green Koolau and Waianae mountain ranges are just as impressive. They often serve as backdrops in "Lost," which has a base camp next to Haleiwa.
Creators of the hit castaway drama needed a remote, unspoiled location with scenic stretches of sand and dense forests for their mystery island. They chose the North Shore.
Actor Daniel Dae Kim said he looks forward to going to the office every day, or in his case, the beach.
"Since moving to Hawaii, I have a vision of paradise now; it's the North Shore," Kim said. "The incredible water, the wildlife, the beaches and the surf. It's really something you really can't find anywhere else in the world."
The North Shore is a popular place for filmmakers and was even the name of Fox's short-lived hotel TV drama. It can also be seen in films such as "The Big Bounce" and "Blue Crush."
The only major hotel on the North Shore is the Turtle Bay Resort, featuring 443 rooms and guest cottages. There's two golf courses on the resort's 880-acre property, including the Palmer Course, which hosts a Champions Skins and LPGA tournament every year.
Even in the so-called off-season the surf culture lives on here throughout the year. This unpretentious place is all about comfort, with rubber flip-flops the dominant footwear.
There's no rushing here. The pace is as mellow as the folksy tunes of Jack Johnson, who grew up surfing these beaches and went on to become a multiplatinum, Grammy-nominated musician. Johnson always returns home when he's not touring and can be spotted in the waters or riding around on his bicycle, with a surfboard tucked under his arm.
During the winter, the big waves and throngs of pro surfers and spectators crowd the beaches and roads. The North Shore is home to seven miles of the world's best surf breaks, including Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, Off The Wall, Pupukea and Ehukai.
If you can't pronounce these names, it's better to stay away from the water.
But in the summer, you'll realize there's more to the North Shore than its pretty waves.
If You Go:
GETTING THERE: To get to Haleiwa from Waikiki hotels, take H-1 west for about 20 miles, take H-2 north until the freeway ends and turns into Kamehameha Highway, also in maps as Highway 99. Stay on Kamehameha Highway as you pass Dole Plantation on your right side. Continue through pineapple and coffee fields and turn left at the first signal light and continue on Kamehameha Highway, which will take you into the heart of Haleiwa.
LODGING: There's only one main hotel here, the Turtle Bay Resort, which offers everything from a standard room to four-bedroom villas. 57-091 Kamehameha Highway, http://www.turtlebayresort.com or 808-293-6000, rates start at about $250 a night. There are also several vacation condominiums and houses for less. Rooms at the no-frills Laie Inn run about $100 a night, http://www.laieinn.com/index.html or (800) 526-4562.
DINING: The food is great and the ocean ambiance is even better. The North Shore is all about shrimp and shave ice, but there are also restaurants that serve more traditional menus. Kua Aina Sandwiches is where hungry surfers and locals go for a satisfying, juicy charbroiled burger. It serves mahi mahi or turkey sandwiches for nonsurfers who need to watch their waistline. 66-214 Kamehameha Highway. Another popular spot is Haleiwa Joe's, which specializes in seafood. 66-011 Kamehameha Highway. http://www.haleiwajoes.com/index.html or (808) 637-8005. You can also find everything from Thai to Mexican restaurants.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND EVENTS: