Surfing still reigns supreme as Hawaii’s most iconic sport, but throughout the islands, pickleball has started to gain in popularity. Of the archipelago’s eight major islands, Oahu has the most vibrant pickleball scene, with 173 public pickleball courts at 90 parks. “All of the parks are public and therefore free and open to all,” says Marianette Kauahikaua, a local pickleball instructor. “I call it ‘aloha play’ rather than ‘open play’ because the community is so diverse and has a lot of aloha, or welcoming for visitors.” Jenny Vierra, a member of the Oahu Pickleball Association, notes that the pop, pop, popping of plastic balls now competes with the swishing sound of crashing waves. And that’s just one of the many examples of what makes play on Oahu so unique. In addition to the relaxing coastal respite of the North Shore, there’s the buzzing cultural hub of Honolulu, home to world-class restaurants, shopping, and art galleries. The island truly offers the best of both surf and turf. Here’s our insider’s guide to help you navigate where to play, eat, and stay, and the cultural experiences to check off as you’re bouncing between the lively city and breezy seaside.
Oahu’s coast offers surfing and swimming between games.
SURF: North Shore
Where to Stay and Play
Fresh off a multimillion-dollar renovation, which includes brand-new pickleball courts, Turtle Bay Resort is on the island’s North Shore. All 408 rooms and suites in the main building have ocean views, while 42 secluded bungalows are steps from the sea. You can hear the waves crashing from the six dedicated pickleball courts. Guests receive one free hour of court time, then it costs $15 per person, per hour. Nonguests can reserve a court for $20 per hour. Equipment is included in court reservations and players can book group or private clinics run by the Oahu Tennis Academy (from $35 for 90 minutes). The resort’s 11,000-square-foot spa and fitness center is the perfect place to keep up your training or treat sore muscles to a massage. Between matches, learn to hang ten at the in-house surf school run by local pro surfer Jamie O’Brien, or visit the stables and explore the resort’s 12 miles of oceanfront trails and seaside pathways on horseback. (From $719; turtlebayresort.com)
The North Shore is made up of around a half dozen small communities. The main town, Haleiwa, a 20-minute drive west of Turtle Bay, is the hub of social life with easy-going restaurants and surf shops, and at Haleiwa Beach Park you’ll find two pickleball courts shared with volleyball teams. Play is first come, first served, and you must bring your own nets.
Where to Eat:
Helmed by star Japanese-American chef Roy Yamaguchi, the Beach House at Turtle Bay Resort is worth the splurge for its beachfront setting and decadent dishes like steak-and-cheese spring rolls and twice-cooked baby back ribs. Haleiwa has countless options for laid-back healthy restaurants, like the Beet Box Cafe (thebeetboxcafe.com). This breakfast and lunch destination receives produce deliveries from local farms four times a week and crafts delicious vegetarian dishes like the Yogi Bowl: roasted eggplant, portobello mushrooms, cashews, and tofu served atop brown rice.
Dink then dine on hawaiian specialties while savoring the views.
Hale’iwa Bowls (haleiwabowls.com) keeps surfers energized with creative acai bowls that can be topped with everything from goji berries to bee pollen. For the island’s excellent burgers, head to Seven Brothers (sevenbrothersburgers.com). This casual spot has a menu of more than a half dozen patties, including veggie and the pineapple- and bacon-topped Paniolo burger. And if you crave something a bit lighter, the coconut macadamia nut shrimp salad is a bestseller.
Where to Drink:
Local hangout Haleiwa Joe’s (haleiwajoes.com) is beloved for its happy hour specials and live music. Head to Cholo’s (cholos.mx) for some potent margaritas (try the tart-plum-spiked Li Hing Mui), which should be sipped with a heaping plate of nachos. “If you’re craving Mexican flavors, this is the place to go,” says Donna Ching, founder and president of the Oahu Pickleball Association. Toast the sunset at Off the Lip, a classy cocktail bar at Turtle Bay that makes one of the island’s best mai tais. And several of the ingredients, from the juices to the bitters, are made in-house.
Play breaks include “snowThies” amid beautiful mountains.
Where to Cross-Train:
For a quad-burning workout and unparalleled views of the Seven Mile Miracle—the North Shore’s stretch of world-class surf, including surf breaks like the Banzai Pipeline—tackle the Ehukai Pillbox hike.
Where to Play
Located on the east end of Waikiki, Donald A. Andrews Diamond Head Tennis Center hosts drop-in play on four courts seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. There is also one dedicated stand-alone court used for paddle tennis and pickleball. Oahu Pickleball Association member Jason Oshiro learned to play on these courts and notes that you meet players visiting from all over the world here, thanks to the convenient location across from the beach and walking-distance proximity to popular resorts. On the opposite end of Honolulu, Mother Waldron Neighborhood Park is in the less touristy Kakaako neighborhood.
Oahu Pickleball Association coach Keven Wong says it can be difficult to get a court all to yourself here in the afternoon to early evening. “If the courts are full, just ask to join and you’ll be able to mix in. The community of players is like one big ohana, or family, always welcoming new players and helping others,” says Wong, who hosts an open-play meetup open to all levels every first and third Sunday of the month. “If you are on the island and looking for games, come out to Mother Waldron.”.
Where to Stay:
Tucked away on the quieter side of Waikiki, Kaimana Beach Hotel, a 1960s classic fresh off a massive renovation and rebrand, has an unbeatable beachfront location just a 15-minute walk from the courts at Diamond Head Tennis Center. Complimentary activities include outdoor yoga and fitness classes, and paddleboard lessons led by longboard world champion Kai Sallas. You’ll want to work up an appetite so you can indulge in the famous brunch (don’t miss the crab cake Benedict) at the hotel’s beachside restaurant, Hau Tree. (From $349; kaimana.com)
Where to Eat:
After a match at Diamond Head Tennis Center, Oshiro refuels with an acai bowl from Da Cove Health Bar and Cafe (dacove.com), just a 10-minute walk away, or acai-specialty spot Tropical Tribe (tropicaltribe.net), a 10-minute drive. Even though they were invented in Brazil, acai bowls have become a Hawaiian staple as they’re a cool, healthy treat that can be topped with the islands’ abundant tropical fruit and other superfood ingredients. Wong notes that there are always food trucks around Mother Waldron. His favorite, Milky Way Hawaii Ice, serves “snowthies,” a marriage of shave ice and a smoothie. Duke’s Waikiki (dukeswaikiki.com) is a beachfront institution and a great option for watching surfers over a lunch of poké tacos, or the hearty rib and huli-huli chicken plate. Honolulu’s sophisticated food scene is on par creatively with other major cities; make reservations in advance to score seats at the Pig & the Lady (thepigandthelady.com), the acclaimed modern Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown known for inventive dishes like vegan pho and Manila clam and sausage linguine.
Oahu is vibrant, from the people and places to sips and signs.
Where to Drink
Ching caffeinates ahead of play with an iced latte from boutique coffee spot Ars Cafe (arscafe.net), located a short walk from Diamond Head Tennis Center. If you crave a beer after a few matches at Mother Waldron, Wong recommends heading to Aloha Beer Company (alohabeer.com), Honolulu Beerworks (honolulubeerworks.com), or Waikiki Brewing Company (waikikibrewing.com), all within a 15-minute walk of the courts. Cocktail snobs should visit Bar Leather Apron (barleatherapron.com), known for its perfectly executed classics and farm-to-glass libations like Mari’s Garden, a mix of gin, watermelon, yuzu, cucumber, and fennel bitters.
Where to Cross-Train
For some of the best island views, hike to the 760-foot summit of Diamond Head State Monument. This 300,000-year-old volcanic crater was home to a military base in the early 1900s and the steep but well-paved trail passes artillery cannons and a WWII bunker. The 1.6-mile hike takes about 90 minutes to two hours.
Pack water and sunblock! Ocean lovers should try the state sport—surfing! Ohana Surf Project rents surfboards and offers lessons in Waikiki tailored to all experience levels (from $104 per person for a two-hour open group lesson; ohanasurfproject.com).
Where to Shop
To get the latest selection of paddles from brands like Selkirk, Onix, and Paddletek, visit Waipahu Racquet Shop (1831 S. King St.) or Pearl Kai Tennis Shop (pearlkaitennisshop.business.site). Both are locally owned and staff happily share intel on everything from their favorite courts to the best poké shops.