If you’re traveling to Oahu, you’ll most likely start your adventure in Honolulu. But to really experience the laid-back culture of Hawaii, you must head to the North Shore!
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A surfer’s paradise, the North Shore of Oahu runs roughly from Kuhuku in the east to Kaena Point, west of Haleiwa. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to surf, you’ll find some of the best waves on the North Shore (and plenty of surfing instructors to teach you).
For the rest of us, there’s still plenty to see and do on this part of Oahu. Food trucks, scenic hikes and quiet beaches are all plentiful.
Getting Around the North Shore
After flying into Honolulu, hands down you’ll want to rent a car to get to the North Shore. Buses are cheap and do run around the island, but it will take you significantly longer to get from point A to point B.
We decided to drive around the windward side of Oahu first (through Kailua) on our way to the North Shore, stopping at the Valley of the Temples along the way. It’s not as direct as driving straight north to Haleiwa, but much more scenic. Expect traffic, but consider it part of the experience as you drive along the ocean!
Where to Stay on the North Shore
Turtle Bay Resort | There are very few hotels on the North Shore, largely in part to a strong push back from locals against tourism development. One of the only traditional hotel options you’ll find is at Turtle Bay, an upscale resort with two 18-hole golf courses, tons of outdoor activities for families, and the perfect location on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.
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Airbnb | For the more budget-minded traveler, options for accommodations will be more along the lines of private rentals and hostels. I’m not saying you have to sacrifice quality here, but booking well in advance will ensure you have decent options. We rented a private room in an adorable bungalow near Sunset Beach and our host couldn’t have been nicer, sending us tons of recommendations and hidden spots to check out.
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What to See & Do on the North Shore
Byodo-In Temple | While on your way up north, it’s worth stopping in Kaneohe to see the beautiful Byodo-In Temple. The large temple, modeled after an ancient one in Japan, sits at the very back of the Valley of the Temples cemetery. Its a peaceful place to stop and take in the beauty of the grounds.
North Shore Fruit Stands | Somewhere between Laie and Turtle Bay you’ll find a few roadside fruit stands filled with fresh pineapples, mangoes and coconuts (I can’t for the life of me remember exactly where they were, but you can’t miss them!). Sure you’ll probably pay way more than you should for a pineapple, but who cares! My only issue…the coconut was terrible! How do people drink this stuff? Did I just get a bad one? I need answers…
Laniakea (“Sea Turtle”) Beach | This beach is just north of Hale’iwa and is supposed to give you the best chance of finding a sea turtle. We didn’t get so lucky on our visit. Our Airbnb host pointed us to a quieter location nearby: take Papailoa Road just south of the beach off Kamehameha Highway. Towards the end of the road, there are a few parking stalls and an access path between the homes that leads down to the beach. You’ll still have a good shot at seeing the sea turtles, but with fewer people and less trouble parking.
Waimea Falls | We didn’t make it to Waimea Valley unfortunately, but deep within the botanical garden there is a waterfall that you can swim under. Not quite untouched nature, but for a waterfall that’s fairly easy to access, I’d say it’s worth it!
Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau | Another hidden spot our Airbnb host told us about, this religious site near Pupukea just looks like a pile of rocks, but was likely once used as a sacrificial temple. But it wasn’t the eerie history that brought us there; it was the trail leading out towards the ocean. Follow the paved path, which then turns into a dirt trail, and finally ends at a pillbox bunker on the hill. Atop the pillbox, enjoy 180 degree views of the North Shore.
Waimea Bay | Across the highway from Waimea Valley is one of the North Shore’s most popular beaches at Waimea Bay. It’s a popular site for surfing competitions, but it’s wide sandy beach is also perfect for picnicking on the beach with some local snacks from the nearby Foodland. If you can’t find parking at the beach (it’s very limited!), park across the street at Waimea Valley.
Ziplining at ClimbWorks Keana Farms | We made a return trip to the North Shore to visit ClimbWorks Keana Farms and it was definitely worth the drive! The ziplining course had just opened when we visited and the staff was so much fun! We zipped 7 lines (they now have 8) over a working tropical farm and even got to try some of the apple bananas along the way. 🙂 With the course being so new, they use some of the best systems so you can enjoy the ride (upside down if you wish!) while your guides do most of the work. Worth noting though, riders must be atleast 7 years old and 85 lbs, so you might need to leave the kids at home for this one.
Where to Eat on the North Shore
Kahuku Grill | We stopped in here for burgers and coconut shrimp after ziplining, and it couldn’t have tasted any better. Don’t mind the chicken friends that dine with you on the outside patio, they’ll stay away as long as you don’t share. 🙂
ChadLou’s | This coffeeshop is actually located in Kaneohe, but I thought it was worth a mention if you’ll be heading that way. It’s a little off the beaten path, but has a great assortment of treats and some amazing iced coffee that tastes oh so good on a hot Hawaiian morning.
Banzai Sushi Bar | A nice little sushi spot in Haleiwa, Banzai delivers a good selection of super fresh sashimi, maki and poke with a chill vibe and outdoor floor seating.
Ted’s Bakery | We didn’t make it to Ted’s Bakery, but I just had to add it to the list after hearing so many people swoon over it. Apparently they are famous for their chocolate pie, and I can’t believe we missed it considering that’s Matt’s most favorite thing in the whole world. Ted’s serves up breakfast and traditional Hawaiian plate lunches as well, so there’s no excuse for not fitting it into the itinerary.
Haleiwa Bowls | While the masses were lining up at Matsumoto Shave Ice, we hit up Haleiwa Bowls across the street from some fresh and delicious acai bowls.
Food Trucks & Roadside Stands | Just east of Turtle Bay in Kahuku, there is literally a “food court” of food trucks and makeshift roadside stands ready to serve you. And since there aren’t too many restaurants in the area, you better believe it’s the place to go for some awesome grub. Try Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, one of the most famous, though with the shrimping business being so big here, you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Know of any other North Shore hidden gems? Let me know in the comments below!
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