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Rediscovering Oahu

I’ve left footprints on the sandy beaches of different Hawaiian isles at least a dozen times. At some point over the years, Oahu lost its appeal.

It came to represent a decampment for corn-fed, lobster-hued masses; a Pacific mini-metropolis serviced by Sebring-clogged roadways. The spirit of aloha seemed more alive during more-exotic stays on Maui and the Big Island. Meet me in Waikiki? Bunking with Martha Stewart seemed more desirable.

I’m too young to be jaded. But it’s with some trepidation that I check into the 527-room Royal Hawaiian Hotel, smack dab in the swirl of midtown Waikiki.

Pleasant surprise: In several ways, the historic hotel is actually a quiet and elegant oasis—even though it’s so close to the beach that my room window could be a television, continually playing a montage of opening shots from old episodes of Magnum, P.I.

There is a calming courtyard to the 77-year-old property. Here, in the shade of banyan and monkey pod trees—where many a couple has tied the knot —you can find the peace that has largely been paved over in surrounding plots.

  You can’t mention the Royal Hawaiian without coloring your language. Nicknamed “The Pink Palace of the Pacific,” the Spanish-Moorish designed stucco hotel is painted head-to-toe in coral pink. The theme carries over into rooms, too. My towels, bed sheets, soap, shampoo—even the bathrobes—are pink. Left in my room as a welcoming gift: a bottle of pink champagne. Sadly, pop diva Pink didn’t stop by for some bubbly.

Somewhat reclaimed by Waikiki, I give the rest of Oahu another chance. Just a 20-minute ride to the windward (east) side of the island is the town of Kailua. There are no megaresorts here. The locals balk at any such notion. But there is a beautifully unspoiled beach, serviced by Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks.

I take a windsurfing lesson from an Anglo-Australian instructor named Beth. With an Aussie accent, she says things like “Stick out your bum, like this.” Beth is a good teacher, but I’m half the pupil. I managed to catch a breeze out from the shore. But I have to paddle my ride back in.

Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks also rents bikes. I hop on a red Coaster and tour nearby Lanikai. It’s a pristine residential area with some amazing homes built into the side of a mountain. I also explore more residential areas north of Kailua. It’s beautiful—if unspectacular. Highlights included glimpses of a renegade rooster and a woman manicuring her lawn with scissors. But the trip does make me realize there’s more to Oahu than the tourist trap on the other side.

 Another day, in keeping with the plan to minimize Waikiki time, I go north on the island’s leeward (west) side to Wai’anae. The directions on the brochure for Wild Side Specialty Tours bespeak the quasi-remoteness of the area: “H1 west ... becomes HWY 98 ... First town is Nanakuli with a McDonald’s on the right side ... in Wai’anae, there’s the 2nd McDonald’s and the only Taco Bell on the coast. Proceed past first traffic light ... take second driveway left.” (Like U2 sang: “where the streets have no name.”)

hotel near the ocean This Wild Side cruise, aboard the Island Spirit, is ultimately rewarding. We watch as a male humpback whale breaches and head-slaps over and over —at least two dozen times. One guide —a marine biologist—surmises the whale is probably showing off for a lady humpback.

A little farther down the coast is a sandy-bottom spot known as a popular aquatic breeding ground. Here is where spinner dolphins hang out. They’re everywhere—you can easily count three dozen fins in any given field of vision. These guys pop out of the water to break-dance in circles, showing why some clever observer named them spinners.

Truth be told, the trip—dancing dolphins, head-banging whales, windsurfing paradise, sleeping in the pink —resold me on Oahu. I can’t begrudge the Greater Isle to spite the urbanization of Waikiki. Truth be told, I could not wait to visit the club at the W Hotel in Diamond Head.

Oahu, let’s be friends again.

If You Go

My American Airlines (800-433-7300, www.aa.com) flight flew to Honolulu from Los Angeles. It was mostly smooth—until the return American Eagle hop from L.A. to San Diego. It was canceled (no reason given), and seven of us had to be driven home ... Rooms at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (808-923-7311) start at $239 ... To rent equipment or lessons at Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks, call 808-262-2555 ... For information on Wild Side Specialty Tours, call 808-306-7273.

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