If you are planning a trip to Oahu, make sure you don’t miss North Shore Oahu – home to laidback Hawaiian surf culture, gorgeous beaches, and delicious dining. Read on to find out the best things to do on the North Shore.
I have visited four Hawaiian islands in total over the past 12 years and I loved them all, but for different reasons.
I love Maui for its swimmable waterfalls. I love Kauai for its lush greenness. I love the Big Island for the volcanic activity. I love all of them for their beaches. And I love Oahu, but particularly North Shore Oahu because it is laidback and undeveloped.
And because the North Shore Oahu beaches are some of my favorite beaches anywhere in the world.
Compared to the other islands I have visited, Oahu can be a hard island to love. Sure, Waikiki is beautiful but it is crowded.
And with urban sprawl creeping out in all directions from the largest city in Hawaii – Honolulu – a lot of the island feels like it has lost its Aloha: its love and connection to the land.
One of the exceptions to this is the North Shore.
Why You Should Visit North Shore Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is different. It’s not about shopping or fine dining like in Waikiki. It’s about soaking up nature, swimming in the ocean, eating at an iconic North Shore shrimp truck, and riding a bike along the beachside bike trails.
It’s about the simple life and that is why I love it.
A visit to the North Shore is definitely one of the best things to do in Oahu. And even if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, a North Shore day trip from Waikiki is perfectly feasible – although try to stay up there if you have time.
Best Things To Do North Shore Oahu
Visit the Cute North Shore Town of Haleiwa
Haleiwa is a cute tourist town with colorful buildings, souvenirs, and excellent food trucks and restaurants, and you should definitely add it to your North Shore Oahu itinerary.
Small wooden shop fronts that look like a film set for a technicolor wild west film line the main street. This is a great place to shop for tasteful Hawaiian souvenirs and surf wear – there are a lot of options here.
One of the many things I love about Hawaii is the plate lunches and food trucks. Haleiwa has a very large number considering how small it is.
Make sure to try Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – the original shrimp truck on the North Shore and so delicious and garlicky. And if you want to grab shave ice – Matsumoto Shave Ice is renown as the best.
Swim and Relax on North Shore Oahu Beaches
Further east along the North Shore is a string of gorgeous powdery white sand beaches including the famous Waimea Bay and Pipeline which are prime surf spots in winter but are calm enough to snorkel at in summer.
Three Tables Beach and the surrounding area is where I usually stay on the North Shore and is a beautiful north shore beach where I have spotted endangered Hawaiian monk seals on more than one occasion.
Waimea Bay is the crown jewel of the north shore beaches and my favorite beach in Hawaii. This perfect crescent of golden sand is backed by verdant green mountains and a lush river valley.
The church tower overlooking the beach is an iconic sight and immediately identifies Waimea Bay for me when I see it. The crystalline water is great for snorkeling in summer and it was the first place I ever swam with a sea turtle.
I’m not much of a cliff jumper but if you are, then make sure to jump off “The Rock” a rock island that is popular with thrill-seekers.
Sunset Beach is one of the best beaches to catch a sunset. This beautiful beach has steep sand dunes that slope down to the water. Grab a slice of the famous Chocolate Haupia Pie from Ted’s Bakery near Sunset Beach to enjoy while watching the sunset.
Go Snorkeling in the Summer Months
In the summer months, the water is very calm at the North Shore beaches and I highly recommend snorkeling if you are visiting during this time.
Waimea Bay is a great choice to see turtles that swim right near the shore, and there are lots of colorful fish and marine life in the coral and small caves of Shark’s Cove, part of Pūpūkea Beach Park.
Marvel at the Big Wave Surfers in Winter
Between November and February, it is too dangerous at times to swim on the North Shore Oahu because of the massive waves that average 16 feet in size, but this is a fantastic time to watch the big wave surfers.
Watch some of the best surfers in the world tackle these giant waves which can get to be as big as 35-50 feet at Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and ‘Ehukai Beach (home to iconic Banzai Pipeline).
I promise you it will be one of the most epic and entrancing things you will ever witness.
Walk or Bike From Three Tables to Sunset Beach
There is a walking/biking path that links Three Tables Beach to Sunset Beach and it is 3.7 miles out and back.
This is the path where I had my epiphany back in 2009 where I realized that I loved walking and that I had finally found a hobby that made me happy, other than traveling. It is a pretty special place for me.
The path winds alongside beaches and through thickets of subtropical foliage. Fragrant hibiscus and frangipani scent the air and give color to the dark green surroundings.
Breadfruit and mangoes hang from the branches, and wild chickens and their chicks are constantly seen on the path.
Walking or biking the trail is a great way to get in some gentle exercise and to see a number of the North Shore beaches.
Hiking and Waterfall Swimming in Peaceful Waimea Valley
You should definitely make time to go to Waimea Valley, a lush botanical garden that is scented by tropical flowers.
Walk through the valley and learn about the Hawaiians who called this place home, and see the recreation of a traditional village.
Swim in Waimea Falls, a beautiful waterfall at the end of the valley that you may recognize from the TV show ‘Lost’.
Attend a Traditional Hawaiian Luau
Make sure to spend an evening of dining and entertainment at Toa Luau in Waimea Valley.
It is one of the best luaus on Oahu with a show incorporating different cultural performances from islands across Polynesia, and demonstrations of Hawaiian cultural traditions such as making coconut milk, braiding flax headbands, and preparing bananas to be cooked.
It is one of the more traditional luaus and is a great way to incorporate Hawaiian culture into your North Shore trip.
Go on the same day you intend to visit Waimea Valley because entry into the valley is free on the same day you have a Toa Luau ticket.
See Resting Turtles at Laniakea Beach
If you want to see turtles on the North Shore, go to Laniakea Beach, just north of Haleiwa, where they are known to rest on the beach.
There weren’t any there when we went, but this is your best bet to see them so it is definitely worth a quick stop.
Hike the Ehukai Pillbox Trail
This is a hike that I haven’t had a chance to do yet but it looks awesome and it is definitely on my list for next time I visit North Shore Oahu.
This short but steep hike is 2.3 miles out and back and you will get epic views over the coastline from the top.
Tour the Dole Pineapple Plantation
Although we didn’t do a tour, we did visit the Dole Plantation and checked out the free exhibits, and tried Dole whip.
There are a couple of different tours you can do here and I think if you are traveling with kids, this is a fun stop and one of the best things to do on the North Shore.
How to Visit the North Shore of Oahu
Getting to the North Shore of Oahu
The best way to get to the North Shore is by renting a car but if you have the time or are lacking in funds the local bus is a great alternative.
It only costs $2.75 per journey and you get two transfers to be used within two hours – otherwise, get a day pass for only $5.50 if you are planning to visit as a day trip.
It takes about two hours to reach Three Tables Beach from Waikiki if you take the route through the middle of the island and about two and a half hours if taking the more scenic route along the east coast.
You will need to change buses at least once in Honolulu or Ala Moana and you can only take luggage that can fit on your lap or under your seat on the bus so leave your big bags in Waikiki. More information at http://www.thebus.org/
Accommodation on the North Shore of Oahu
I stayed at Backpackers Hawaii, the only budget accommodation in the area which includes the Back House with twin and double rooms, a Backpackers (Main House) with dorm rooms, the Plantation Village with a mix of both, or the Beach House with more luxurious (and expensive) studios.
I don’t recommend staying at Plantation Village as it was quite rundown but the Back House was great.
If you want to splurge – you could stay at the iconic Turtle Bay Resort. This beautiful resort is located on five miles of pristine beach, and has two Championship golf courses, various restaurants and bars, swimming pools, hot tubs, and an on-site spa.
There are also numerous vacation rentals on the North Shore, and this is a great option if you want a kitchen or are traveling with friends or family. Here are the best options:
Mokulē’ia Beach Houses at Owen’s Retreat: This property has units from studios through to four bedrooms, all with private parking, kitchens, WiFi, and a private patio.
Kalani Hawaii Private Lodging: A unique boutique private lodging option with a mix of accommodation options including dorm rooms and private rooms. It is only a five-minute walk to Sunset Beach.
Pipeline Studio: A cute studio apartment that only a two-minute walk to the beach. There is a kitchenette, WiFi, and a small balcony.
Aloha Nui Loa: This spacious one-bedroom apartment is located right by Turtle Bay and has a fully equipped kitchen, balcony with a grill, and a living room.
If all else fails, at least head up to the North Shore Oahu on a day trip from Waikiki.
If you liked this post, check out some of my other Hawaii content:
- The Ultimate Big Island 7 Day Itinerary
- Incredible Hawaii Tree Houses That You Can Rent!
- Impressions of the Garden Island: Kauai
- How to Escape the Crowds in Waikiki
- The Best Kauai Hiking Adventures
- Hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail in Hawaii