North Shore Oahu
Experience the Best of the "Country"

The north shore of Oahu is a must do because it has miles of beautiful uncrowded beaches big surf in the winter, great places to eat and a laid back surfer lifestyle with a small town friendly vibe.

Located about an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki it might as well be worlds away. Once here you'll finally feel like you're on an island and begin to relax and go with the flow.

Highlights and General Information

big wave surfer sunset beach

Location & Getting There

The "north shore" is located on well, the north shore of Oahu. It takes about 1-1.5 hours to get there depending on if you are taking the faster route of H1 to H2 or driving up the windward coast on Hwy 83.

The north shore is big and spans all the way from Haleiwa Town to just beyond Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku.

Without traffic it would probably take 15 minutes to drive through the entire area. However, unless you're doing this at 5:00 in the morning the reality is that it will probably take 2-3 times that amount of time.


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The commute time also depends on the time of year. Summer, Christmas time, Triple Crown contest days and rumors of huge surf are the worst. A car or a tour are the best ways to get up there and explore.

The bus is the worst way to get up there. It will take about 2 hours just to reach the north shore and it won't stop at most of the highlights except for Haleiwa town. Most of the main attractions outside of Haleiwa are too far apart to try to walk to once you've arrived.

What's worse is that it'll probably be another hour before the next bus comes along. With that said either bus #52 or #55 will get you there. Check The Bus website for exact schedules.

 

Haleiwa

haleiwa oahu

Haleiwa is a funky little town on the north shore filled with eclectic little shops carrying everything from modern and vintage surf memorabilia to the latest island and surfer fashions.

You'll also find places to buy surf inspired art, decorations and jewelry made out of shells and pearls. Tthere are surf shops selling surfboards & equipment.

haleiwa oahu surfboards

There are excellent restaurants to choose from. The cuisine ranges from fish tacos and ahi to sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken with island-style cole slaw on the side.

Skip down to the north shore Oahu restaurants and eats section in order to learn more about some of my favorites there.

haleiwa oahu store


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Turtle Beach (Laniakea)

Next up on the north shore once leaving Haleiwa is "turtle beach" also known as Laniakea or "Lani's".

It is about a few minutes drive outside of Haleiwa heading toward Waimea Bay on the left hand side. You will pass a little ranch on the right and the FIRST stretch of ocean that you see to your left is the turtle beach.

They call it that because it is a popular place for turtles to nest and rest in the sun after being in the ocean.

turtle beach oahu

There are also 1-2 "turtle experts" on hand to answer questions. Expect the turtles to be roped off by police tape.

This ensures that people don't disturb them or feed them as this may interrupt their natural habits. I've seen people giving them french fries before so please don't do that.

NOTE: Accessibility has changed. Traffic congestion became so bad from people crossing the road to get a peek that residents complained.

As a result the little makeshift parking lot that was across the street is now barricaded. Determined people now have to park about a block or 2 down the road (towards Waimea) and walk back along the side of the highway.

Others will try to park on the private road adjacent to the area and walk back. Just be safe and don't risk getting a ticket whichever way you choose to check it out.


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Waimea Bay

Next up about 5 minutes down the road is the famous Waimea Bay, home to the big wave Eddie Aikau surf contest on north shore. Waimea is Hawaiian for "Red Water".

Gentle as a lake during the summer with locals and tourists alike leaping off of the 25 ft jump rock at the far end of the bay but raging like a lion during the winter Waimea Bay is a place of extremes. Wave face heights can get as big as 40-60ft tall in the wintertime.

waimea bay oahu

When it is flat and calm it the most serene and beautiful beach on the north shore in my opinion. One can swim through crystal clear waters or lay on the huge expanse of beach above.

I've gone swimming out to the point and it's like being in an episode of National Geographic.

waimea bay cliff jumping

I remember the rays of the sun penetrating and beaming straight down into the dark crevices which were probably at least 40-50 ft deep that I could see.


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Waimea Waterfall & Waimea Valley

Continuing with our north shore tour is Waimea Valley. Across the highway from Waimea Bay it is a nature preserve and botanical garden with a beautiful 45 ft waterfall at the end.

Filled with approximately 35 different gardens and plant exhibits and offering tours, arts and crafts and cultural activities to participate in Waimea Valley is definitely worth a visit.

waimea waterfall oahu

Approximately 0.75 miles to the waterfall the path is paved and it's a comfortable, leisurely stroll that one can take in normal walking shoes and easily push a baby stroller or wheelchair through.

It is very tropical and jungle like in feel but it is manicured with signs explaining what you are viewing and there are benches, duck ponds, foot bridges and meandering side paths along the way.

There is also a running creak throughout the valley stemming from the waterfall.


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North Shore Oahu: Pipeline

Next up on the north shore is the world famous Banzai Pipeline surf break or Pipeline for short.

It is known as one of the most treacherous breaks in the world particularly because of the reef underneath which causes the wave to break as a steep, hollow wave often allowing riders to get "barreled".

It's only 2.5-3 ft deep. Photographers with large telephoto lenses like papparazzi and gazers line the shoreline in order to watch those brave enough to risk their lives on this fast wave.

Every year there is a famous contest known as the Pipeline Masters in which pros compete for the prestigious title and it is also part of the famous Triple Crown surf series.

pipeline oahu

To find it use Sunset Beach elementary as your landmark which is located down the road from Foodland grocery store and the fire station.

Across Kamehameha highway (Kam Hwy) is a little beach park. There is a lifeguard stand at the Ehukai surf break.

Walk to the left of that beach park and lifeguard stand. That is where you will find Pipeline.


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Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is another jewel in the crown of beaches on the north shore.

With a stretch of beach that spans as far as the eye can see Sunset beach is truly one of the prettiest beaches on the north shore of Oahu AND you can actually see the sunset here, hence the name.

With calm, pretty, clear waters in the summer and huge monster-size waves in the winter it is truly a marvel. The photo of the surfer at the top of this page was taken at Sunset Beach.

sunset beach oahu beach

You will know you're at Sunset because after you leave Pipeline it will be the next big open spanse of ocean that you see to your left.

It sits right on the road and cars are parked right in front. There is an additional parking lot and bathroom facility across the street.


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Shrimp Farms on The North Shore Oahu

The shrimp farms of Kahuku are not to be missed. Lining the edge of Kamehameha Highway about 7 minutes or so past Sunset Beach and a few minutes past Turtle Bay Resort there are a variety of trucks offering up shrimp cooked in various flavors. T

he most famous style and flavor is the garlic shrimp cooked in a butter sauce and served with a couple of scoops of rice and mac salad on the side. Yummmmmy!

garlic shrimp oahu

The average price range right now is about $12-13 for a dozen or so shrimp. The most popular one is Giovanni's shrimp truck and the second most popular seems to be Romy's or Fumi's but the former is my favorite.

The line can be long but moves quickly. Also in that little area are other concession area are little funky island clothing shops and a place to get smoothies. It's quite the booming little city now.


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North Shore Oahu: Snorkeling

The most well-known spot on the north shore of Oahu for snorkeling is Shark's Cove in the summertime. Let me stress that-SUMMERTIME ONLY!!!

If you try to go during the winter time from September/October through the spring when the waves are big you will be in trouble.

The waves are splashing and crashing over the volcanic rocks surrounding the area and it would be akin to trying to jump into a washing machine.

sharks cove oahu

When the water is calm however it is beautiful and the snorkeling is world-class. The other well-known spot on the island for snorkeling is Hanauma Bay but for the north shore Shark's Cove is definitely the place to go. Many scuba divers also frequent the area.

sharks cove oahu turtle

I suggest going early in peak summer months because it can get crowded. The setting is beautiful as it is surrounded by natural volcanic rock walls and the Waianae coastal mountain range provides a backdrop in the distance.

It is easy to identify Shark's Cove because it is next to the fire department and across the street from Foodland grocery store both of which are just past Waimea Bay.

Another landmark is the stop light that is right there about 50m away. There is snorkel gear and fins available for rent across the street at the little store. Shark's Cove grill next to that is a good place to eat.


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North Shore Oahu: Surf Contests

surfing competitions oahu

While there are lots of surf contest on the north shore of Oahu the 3 main and most well-known ones are:

The Pipeline Masters, The Triple Crown of Surfing and the Eddie Aikau big wave contest at Waimea also known as "The Eddie".

Each contest has its own holding period which means a period of time such as 2 weeks during which the contest can run.

Contest sponsors wait for the best conditions such as size, wind direction and swell under which to hold the contest. When things look like they're good (or they're almost out of time and have no choice but to go ahead) they run the contest.

Pipeline Masters

The Pipeline Masters is a test of bravery and courage in many ways. While it's not like the Eddie Aikau where men ride giant waves as big as mountains The Pipeline Masters contest is dangerous.

It is a very steep, hollow, fast wave that breaks in just over 2.5 feet underwater. The reef underneath is very prominent and sharp with daggar-like cones that could easily kill you if you were to hit it the wrong way.

pipeline

Those who can successfully surf and win Pipe earn instant admiration and respect in the surfing community and go down in history. It's kind of like winning a grammy or an Oscar.

Even if a professional surfer doesn't win the world championship title he can still earn almost as much respect or more if he is crowned Pipeline Master.

It is located across Kamehameha Highway from Sunset Beach Elementary school. There is a lifeguard stand at Ehukai Beach Park. Walk down to the left a little ways and you'll see Pipeline.


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Triple Crown of Surfing

surfing competitions north shore

Another big surf contest during contest season on the north shore of Oahu is the Triple Crown of Surfing. This includes battling it out at 3 well-known surf breaks on the north shore- Haleiwa, Sunset and Pipeline.

Points are racked up at each spot and the surfer with the most number of points or wins is crowned champion.

Each spot is surfed one at a time in the order stated above and oftentimes the world champion is crowned during this period of time as well based upon how many total overall points he has.

The Triple Crown is held at the end of the year in Hawaii when the surf is big and all of the pros are in town. It's incredible to see the best in the sport performing amazing feats on big waves.


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The Eddie Aikau Contest

quicksilver eddie aikau

Held at Waimea Bay when the conditions are just right during the winter "holding" period from December through January it is known as one of the most famous and fascinating surf contests in the world and on the north shore of Oahu.

Named after legendary Hawaiian big wave surfer Eddie Aikau rules mandate that the waves be at least 20 ft high (approx 40 ft faces) before the contest can be held.

Professional surfers and surfing legends fly in from around the world once getting the call that "The Eddie" is on.


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North Shore Oahu: Restaurants

I definitely have some food favorites for eating on the north shore but the 2 main classics are Matsumoto's for shave ice in Haleiwa and Giovanni's shrimp truck at the edge of the shrimp farms in Kahuku.

grassskirtgrill

Haleiwa

Grass Skirt Grill
Haleiwa Joe's (for dinner)
Matsumoto's Shave Ice
The Beet Box Cafe (vegetarian)
Cafe Haleiwa (for breakfast)

 

teds bakery

Sunset Beach Area

Shark's Cove Grill
Ted's Bakery

 

giovannis shrimp truck

Kahuku

Giovanni's Shrimp


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North Shore Oahu-Off The Beaten Track


View North Shore Off Beaten Track in a larger map

Wanna get off the beaten track on the north shore? Try some of these suggestions below.

You can easily incorporate a drive through Mokuleia and Waialua on your trip to the north shore if you like. It just depends if you're spending a lot of time doing one or more activities.


Hiking-Kaena Point

kaena mokuleia

First up is the drive to the end of the road at Mokuleia. If you drive past or through Haleiwa you'll have the opportunity to take a back road that will eventually run out.

If the road continued you would be able to drive completely around the island and wind up on the west side.

When people ask me "what's over there" and point to the corner edge of the map I tell them that's Kaena Point. Kaena Point is a great hike to do and you can approach it from either the north shore or the west side.

You can learn more about it here.


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Mokuleia

mokuleia beach smaller

This beach goes on for miles and miles and you could walk for hours along this stretch of coastline until you ended up at Kaena point at the halfway mark.

Keep going past that and you'll be on the west side.

This beach is as empty as it looks. Long favored by fisherman, campers and the television show Lost in the past I think it's worth a drive through this area.


 

Waialua

waialua sugar mill

The other off the beaten track excursion to explore on the north shore is the area of Waialua also just past Haleiwa.

There's the Old Waialua Sugar mill which houses a company that makes handmade soaps as well as surfboard shapers and a few shops.

Good place to get some souvenirs and take in a bit of history. Very peaceful and relaxing as its located in a wide open country field.


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Hotels on The North Shore of Oahu

Turtle Bay Resort

turtle bay oahu

On the north shore there is only 1 hotel, the 883 acre Turtle Bay Resort.

Nestled on a little peninsula about 5 minutes past Sunset Beach it offers spectacular views, peace and quiet and probably more of what you had in mind when you booked a vacation to Hawaii in the first place.

With 443 rooms,2 pools, 2 golf courses, beachfront cottages, 10 tennis courts, horseback riding and hiking trails it is beautiful place to stay. Read more here. .

PRICING & AVAILABILITY


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Tours

Ok, so that was a lot of information. If you're adventurous rent a car for the day, get an early start and go for it.

If you'd rather be guided and/or shown the ropes and then cut loose to enjoy on your own then I would suggest The Surf Bus ALL-DAY Adventure.

They pick you up and take you to the north shore and give you a debriefing if you will.

They will point out all of the things I just told you about and then you're free to enjoy how you would like to spend your time.

north shore oahu surfer dude

You have your choice of activities such as using snorkel equipment or boogie boards or you can take a surf lesson or stand up paddleboard lesson.

If you prefer to lounge on the beach you can do that too or go to the waterfall at Waimea.

Bikes are available for your use as well. It's up to you how active or inactive you want to be.

I've met the owners of the company, a husband and wife team who are really nice and involved hands-on.

north shore oahu sharks cove sunset

OR... if you prefer you can include the north shore as part of your circle island tour where you get to drive through most of it and make an official stop for 15 minutes at Sunset Beach.

Tour & Shuttle Options

The Surf Bus ALL-DAY Adventure(shuttle sort of)

North Shore Adventure

North Shore Snorkel & Waterfall Safari

Circle Island, Waterfall & Shrimp Truck Tour

Pearl Harbor & North Shore Sightseeing Private Charter

 


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