Get to Know Oahu’s North Shore
Many visitors fly into and out of Honolulu without seeing much of Oahu beyond Waikiki Beach. But venture up north and find your own kind of tropical paradise with laid-back local vibe that's as awesome as the famed Banzai Pipeline.
Hawaii has some of the most-visited islands in the world, and of the six major islands, Oahu welcomes the most visitors, especially to the south side of the island's famous Waikiki Beach and the city of Honolulu. The south side is great and has everything you could want on vacation in Hawaii, but for those looking for a bit more of an authentic Hawaii experience, the North Shore on Oahu is popular with travelers who are looking for a more laid-back and local vibe. The North Shore is rich with beautiful beaches and state parks, and, well, if you're a surfer, it’s kind of the place to be.
What To See And Experience
Ehukai Beach Park
Surfers flock to Ehukai Beach Park for not only the view of the famous Banzai Pipeline, but to catch some of the best surf on this side of the world. For any experienced surfer, it’s a dream, for those less-experienced ocean swimmers, the beach can be more of a place to view from afar as the waves and tides are a bit unforgiving during the winter. In summer time, the ocean lets up a bit and is more accommodating for the average swimmer but the beaches are usually crowded for the epic surf contests constantly going on, which can make for a pretty fun afternoon.
The nearby town of Haleiwa is an interesting mix of history and modern day. With general stores alongside contemporary boutiques and galleries, it makes for a fun day of strolling. Within the town, the Lilluokalani Protestant Church is a landmark that should be seen, as it was founded by the missionaries in the 1830’s and provides a unique look back the history of the island. Haleiwa Alii Beach Park, the closest beach to Haleiwa also has larger waves during the winter, but in the summer time, the ocean feels more like a calm lake and is perfect for family swimming. The beach is known for BBQ’s, volleyball and fun group activities.
Kaena Point State Recreation Area
For a non-beach experience, Kaena Point State Recreation Area is a popular hiking spot. The barren spot lacks shade and fresh water, so it’s important to plan accordingly. It’s hot, there are no man-made amenities nearby and the hike is along a mostly flat dirt road about three miles long. Hawaiians believed the souls of the dead met with their family gods here, at the end of the trail, and if judged worthy to enter the afterlife, leapt off into eternal darkness. Regardless of the legends and traditions, the hike isn’t as dark and scary as the tale, but it can be hot, so bring water.
Mokuleia Beach Park
For those looking for complete solitude, Mokuleia Beach Park can basically offer that experience. The beach is famous for being used as the set for the TV show Lost as the remote beach on the northwest point of the island is about 10 miles from the closest store or public restroom. It’s possible to spend the entire day there and not see another living soul, similar to being stranded on a deserted island, but with an exit plan.
Sunset Beach, a beach known for the famous puka shells that adorn so many necks around the world, is a great spot for snorkeling and a fun place to hang during the summer as the area is filled with food trucks selling everything from shaved ice to local Hawaiian lunch plates. On the drive out to Sunset Beach, some choose to stop at Turtle Bay, known for it’s crescent-shaped beach which is protected by a massive sea wall. Here it’s possible to hear the crashing sounds of the northern swell all while being protected in the cool and calming waters of the bay.
And for one of the most popular beach strips on the North Shore, Waimea Bay is typically filled with people during the summer and parking can be an issue, but there’s obviously a reason the Beach Boys mentioned it in their song, “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and locals and tourists do tend to agree. Nearby, Waimea Valley Park is an ecological treasure. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is currently working to conserve and restore the natural habitat. The 1,800 acres of gardens includes a botanical collection with more than 5,000 species of tropical flora, including a plethora of Polynesian plants.
Where To Eat
The North Shore might be considered to be a bit sleepier than the other side of the island but that doesn’t mean that the options on what to see and what to eat are limited. A growth in restaurants recently has made the North Shore more popular with locals and those choosing to vacation there.
Good Mexican Food and Margs
Just because you are in Hawaii, doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in some great Mexican food, and Cholo’s Home-style Mexican is just the place to do that. The doors open at 9am, so this spot is not only known for having on point traditional Mexican cuisine at affordable prices, but also for their breakfast burritos, a great way to start the morning before hitting the waves. Once out of the water, their margaritas, which are made with locally sourced fruit, are not to be missed.
Traditional and Tropical
For the more traditional seafood cuisine, Haleiwa Joe’s Seafood Grill is a nice place to enjoy the open-air lanai while watching the surfers and sipping on a mai tai. The fresh seafood restaurant has everything from coconut shrimp to sandwiches and fresh fish specials. If you are looking for the best burger on the island, Kua Aina Sandwhich, first opened in 1975 as a burger shack, is now considered an island institution. And for dessert, Ted’s Bakery, best known for Ted’s famous chocolate haupia pie (layered coconut and chocolate puddings topped with whipped cream), is the place to indulge.
Welcome to the North Shore
Each of the Hawaiian Islands is unique and has qualities that are special to each visitor. Oahu’s North Shore might be surfer territory, but it’s laid back and chill atmosphere is welcoming to pretty much anyone, as long as you don’t get in the way of the perfect waves. Summertime in the North Shore plays host to more travelers than locals as the ocean makes itself more available to the average beachgoer.