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I’ve got you covered if you’re looking for the best things to do in Oahu’s North Shore. As one of Oahu’s biggest attractions, the North Shore of Oahu has something for everyone. Gorgeous beaches, Oahu’s best snorkeling spots, amazing hikes, and yummy restaurants barely begin to scratch the surface of the Oahu North Shore.
Aloha with love,
Getting around Oahu’s North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu is (unsurprisingly) the northern coast of Oahu. For local residents, “North Shore” usually refers to the area between Kaena Point in the west and Turtle Bay Resort in the north. In the middle, you have Haleiwa, the surf town that’s full of good food and boutique shops.
Between Kaena Point and Haleiwa, the main road is Farrington Highway (HI 930) and the attractions here mainly consists of beaches and beach parks. You’ll mostly find local residents here who want to avoid the touristy crowds.
From Haleiwa to Turtle Bay Resort is where most of the things to do in North Shore, Oahu are. Stunning beaches, snorkeling, hikes, great food, turtle beaches, surfing competitions, rock jumping…the list goes on.
Driving a car in Oahu’s North Shore is by far the easiest way to explore the sights if your accommodation is nowhere near the North Shore. I say this because from Waikiki to the North Shore in a car and no traffic will take you at least 45 minutes. But with traffic, that ride can easily stretch out to 1.5 hours especially if you’re going past Haleiwa and into the heart of North Shore, Oahu (where all the famous beaches are).
From Waikiki, The Bus will take you 2 to 3 hours at least especially if there’s traffic. The only time the bus is convenient is if you’re staying in the North Shore and need a way to go up and down Kamehameha Highway (HI 83) every once in a while to get to the store, beach, Haleiwa, etc.
Read the guide: Oahu Car Rentals: Budget, Transportation, And How To Save
Although “beach” is the first thing to come to mind when I think of the North Shore, the tours and activities in this area aren’t all water-related. Inland are some of Oahu’s best farms and the Dillingham Airfield allows for some daredevil activities. There’s just so much to do here and almost all of them are family and kid-friendly.
- Diving with sharks: What a rush this can be! Your captains will take you out to sea and you’ll get a front row seat to these beautiful sea creatures.
- Skydiving: While I’m too chicken to try this out myself, I’ve heard excellent feedback about skydiving in the North Shore. Dillingham Airfield is tucked away between the mountains and sea near Kaena Point. While you’re up there, you’ll get the entire panoramic view of the North Shore.
- Guided sightseeing tours: If you’re in the mood for some laidback tours with a personal tour guide, then Oahu’s North Shore is pretty perfect. Many of Oahu’s local tour guides will split their tours into sections, and the North Shore is a major one.
- Surfing lessons: This is the surfing mecca of Hawaii. So it makes sense that learning to surf here is one of the coolest things to do in the North Shore of Oahu.
Going to the beach is one of the best things to do in North Shore, Oahu. The beaches are beautiful, turtles are easy to spot, the snorkeling spots are stunning, and there are plenty of things to eat along the way.
- Waimea Bay: One of the most famous beaches in Oahu. This beach is high on the list of things to do in the North Shore. Besides the gorgeous view, there’s rock jumping for older kids (or kids at heart), bouldering, and sometimes dolphins hang out to rest in the bay.
- Sunset Beach: A very long stretch of beach with gorgeous sand and an even better view.
- Laniakea Beach: Not to be confused with any beach near the Turtle Bay Resort, looking for turtles at this “Turtle Beach” is one of the most popular things to do in the North Shore of Oahu.
It’s important to note that the North Shore can get dangerous during the winter as the surf swells come in. Any other time is fine with late summer being the flattest. But if you’re coming to see the pro surfing competitions or go whale watching, come on over!
Find sea turtles
Laniakea Beach in Oahu’s North Shore may be the most famous beach to see turtles, but it’s not the only one. It’s not uncommon to see a turtle popping its head up to take a breath as you stroll along the beach. And stumbling on one while snorkeling is even better. Here are a few places in the North Shore of Oahu where I’ve had luck seeing turtles:
- Anahulu River: This river flows out to the ocean in Haleiwa Town and the turtles swim up river to rest in the calm water. You can see these guys either on a stand up paddleboard (SUP) tour or rent a board from one of the many vendors near the river.
- Papailoa Beach: Accessible through a tiny neighborhood access road, this beach has several turtles swimming up and down along the shore to feed.
- Aweoweo Beach: I personally really like this small beach park, although it’s more suited for local residents as beach goers will bring their own pop-up tents and BBQs.
Read the guide: Turtles In Hawaii: Swim, Snorkel, See
The North Shore hikes don’t get as much attention as the Honolulu hikes such as Diamond Head or Koko Head, but that’s probably because there are so many other things to do in the North Shore. The best part is that most of the hikes in the North Shore have gorgeous ocean views – something that those forested hikes don’t have.
Here are some of my favorite hikes to get you started:
- Ehukai Pillbox Trail: This is a short but challenging hike with an amazing panoramic view of Sunset Beach and beyond. Highly recommended if you plan to be near Sunset Beach or Ehukai Beach (Pipeline).
- Kaena Point Trail (from Mokuleia): One of my favorite no-nonsense hikes in Oahu that’s flat with coastal views. There’s a chance you’ll see Hawaiian monk seals on the way and whales breaching or spouting during whale watch season.
- Kealia Trail: A relatively easy switchback that starts at the Dillingham Airfield. The views all the way up are spectacular and there’s even a picnic bench when you get to the top.
One of the very best things to do in the North Shore of Oahu is to go snorkeling. A little past Waimea Bay is the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, which prohibits fishing so there’s plenty of marine life to see.
- Shark’s Cove: By far, one of the most popular snorkeling and diving spots in the North Shore of Oahu. The variety and amount of fish you’ll see here is amazing! Recommended for intermediate snorkelers and up.
- Three Tables: Right next door to Shark’s Cove and is great for younger kids for exploring tide pools or snorkeling in shallow waters depending on how high the tide is.
- Kuilima Cove: Located in the Turtle Bay Resort, this protected cove is perfect for beginner snorkelers and children.
The biggest attractions of Oahu’s North Shore are probably its beaches, but after a few hours in the sun, you’ll be looking for more things to do in the North Shore. Give your skin a break and head to these North Shore attractions that draw a crowd.
- Haleiwa Town: Stop here for a few hours for a meal and to browse the boutique shops and surf stores. I prefer to come here for a late lunch and walk off the meal before I head back.
- Old Waialua Sugar Mill (Waialua Estate Coffee & Chocolate): A big souvenir shop that offers a free tour of their coffee and chocolate processing. You’ll get to taste some of their unique and delicious products, too!
- Waimea Valley: This is more of a botanical garden + outdoor museum of the thriving Hawaiian village that used to exist here. The walk up Waimea Valley ends at Waimea Falls where you can have a supervised swim in the pool.
Eat and drink
Make sure you give yourself a self-guided food tour when you’re in the North Shore. Many of the restaurants, bakeries, and snack shops here are small, local businesses. You probably won’t be finding these anywhere else in the state!
- Ted’s Bakery: A very well-known bakery just past Sunset Beach heading north. They have a lunch menu here, but Ted’s is most famous for their pies – particularly their chocolate haupia pie!
- Paalaa Kai Bakery: A very local bakery with that mom ‘n’ pop feel to it. I rarely see tourists here, but they have a great selection of pastries. Their most popular item is their Snow Puffy – flaky on the outside, creamy on the inside, topped with chocolate and powdered sugar.
- Kono’s North Shore: I adore Kono’s kalua pig sandwiches. Their pork is slow-roasted for 12 hours and tastes amazing!
- Aji Limo Truck: Right across of Shark’s Cove, this lunch wagon has some of the best poke on the island.
During the winter swells, the North Shore of Oahu turns into a surfing mecca. Big waves hit the shores and surfers come out to test their skills against the giant waves. It’s a sight that you have to see for yourself if you get the chance.
One thing I highly suggest is that you bring binoculars. You can see the surfers from the beach, but with binoculars you’ll be able to see their faces, actions, and maneuvers from shore.
- Vans Triple Crown of Surfing: This is actually 4 surfing competitions (1 qualifying and 3 contests) held sometime between October thru December.
- Volcom Pipe Pro: Usually held in late January thru early February at Ehukai Beach (Pipeline).
- Da Hui Backdoor Shootout: The Da Hui is more of a local competition where homegrown pro surfers come to compete in surfing, body boards and body surfing.
I love shopping at small, local, boutique shops. They’re one-of-a-kind and it’s fun to meet people who are so passionate about what they do. Luckily, the North Shore of Oahu has plenty of these stores to keep you busy.
- Haleiwa Store Lots: This boutique shop hub is a small collection of shops: food, jewelry, and fashion. The most famous store is Matsumoto’s Shave Ice in the center.
- North Shore Marketplace: A cute shopping center with restaurants and unique souvenir shops. One of my favorite restaurants, Kono’s North Shore is here.
- North Shore Soap Factory: If you’re near the old Waialua sugar mill, don’t miss the North Shore Soap Factory. You can see them make the soap through a large glass window and the different scents are wonderful.
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