The North Shore of Oahu is by far my favorite place on the island. Quite possibly, my favorite place in the world. I spent a majority of my childhood growing up on these beaches, so I might be slightly bias, but anyone who visits this charming surf town, is sure to fall in love too.
Over the years, it’s transformed into a bustling tourist destination, popular for it’s local art galleries, food trucks and lifestyle boutiques. But the spirit and soul of this rustic countryside still radiates throughout the sugarcane fields and Wai’anae mountain range. The North Shore is home to the best lineup of big wave surfing beaches, local cuisine, and a rich history of the plantation era.
Let me share a piece of my childhood heart with you.
WHAT TO DO
The North Shore is the ultimate adventurer’s playground, offering everything from sky diving and surfing to hiking and snorkeling. Whether you are looking to relax with a book on the beach or hike to a birds-eye view of the Pacific coastline, there are activities for everyone on both land and sea.
Jump Rock, Waimea Bay: Waimea Bay is one of the most famous big wave surfing beaches in the world, home to competitions like The Eddie. During the summer months, this beach is perfect for swimming and sunbathing with its almost entirely reef-free ocean floor and stretch of golden shoreline. Adrenaline junkies and spectators alike gather around this 25 foot Jump Rock for hours of viewing entertainment.
Pro Tip: Parking is limited, so arrive early. If you can’t find a spot, park at the top of the hill along the road and walk down.
Snorkel, Shark’s Cove: Don’t be alarmed! Here at this lava-rock beach, you’ll find schools of topical fish and sea turtles rather than sharks! This cove got its name from how the sharp coral reef resembles a shark’s teeth when seen from above. Glistening tide pools, underwater caves and tunnels make this popular among snorkelers and scuba divers. The best time to experience the diverse marine life is during the summer months, when swells are generally calmer. Rental gear available at Sharks Coves Rental across the street.
Watch Surfers, Banzai Pipeline: This is one of the most famous and dangerous surfing spots in the world, with waves reaching up to 30 feet during the winter months. It’s not the best place to swim, but watching experienced surfers catch barreling waves from the shore is quite the spectacle.
Shop, Haleiwa Town: This little town has turned into a bustling hotspot lined with art galleries, surf shops, and trendy boutiques. This is the best spot to find unique pieces of local art and souvenirs to bring back home. Grab a freshly roasted cup of coffee, cool down with some shave ice, or fuel up on the local cuisine from a selection of food trucks.
Tour, Dole Plantation: This family-friendly spot is popular among tourist, so if you don’t like crowds this might not be for you. But those who visit are rewarded with acres of pineapple fields, educational tours on the historical plantation era, and the world’s largest maze. Enjoy all of the activities this spot has to offer while cooling off with some Dole Whip, a satisfying pineapple soft serve.
Paddle Board, Haleiwa River: Right next to Haleiwa’s Rainbow Bridge is a cool little surf shop called Tropical Rush that rents out kayaks and SUP boards to paddle up the jungle-like Anahulu River. You’re guaranteed to see a few honu (sea turtles), get in a solid workout, and catch some baby waves where the river meets the ocean. Cool off after with a complimentary shaved ice and snap a photo next their instagram-worthy photo wall.
Hike, ‘Ehukai Pillboxes: This short and easy trail leads up to a stellar panoramic view of the North Shore’s Seven Mile Miracle. Climb on top of the pillbox for a bird-eye view of the surf break, or step inside for a colorful public gallery of graffiti art.
Bike, Kamehameha Highway: Rent a couple of cruisers to coast through Haleiwa town while you take in the sights and taste the salty ocean air. North Shore Bike Rentals offers a variety of bikes and great customers service.
WHERE TO EAT
The North Shore boast a solid roundup of food options, offering both new and old takes on local favorites. If you only have time for one meal here, make sure it’s at one of the infamous Shrimp Trucks, followed by a Shave Ice for dessert. Those are thee two quintessential North Shore food staples that you can’t miss! However with Haleiwa’s growing popularity, the culinary scene has definitely made a name for itself, serving up cuisine as good as the views that go with it. Get ready for a few memorable flavor bombs!
FOR THE AUTHENTIC
Shrimp Trucks: Succulent shrimps covered in melting lemon butter and chunks of sizzling garlic makes for the best post-beach plate lunch you can get on this side of the island. The lines can be long, but the wait is worth it! There are several shrimp trucks scattered along the North Shore, but Giovanni’s and Romy’s Kahuku are favorites by far.
Best Bite: Shrimp Scampi, this is the dish that put them on the map!
Tip: Most trucks only accept cash.
Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill: “Pupus” are like Spanish Tapas, small plates of seriously delicious food. This modern casual restaurant serves up tasty cocktails and a mix of local, Asian and American cuisine. The menu is expansive, but the best way to enjoy a meal here is to order a few options off of the pupus menu.
Best Bites: Boca-Rota, Six Little Piggies, and Bo’s Big Nachos.
Storto’s Deli & Sandwich Shoppe: This local eatery makes the best submarine sandwiches on the North Shore. A bold statement I fully stand behind. Served on made-daily freshly baked bread and drizzled with their secret recipe of papaya dressing, this is the perfect pit stop for a grab and go lunch on your way to the beach.
Best Bite: The Waimea.
Ted’s Bakery: Escape the tourist traps and follow the locals here. Serving the Sunset Beach area since the 1950s, this family-owned bakeshop became known for their signature cream pies, cakes and pastries, featuring the classic flavors of Hawaii like lilikoi, guava and haupia. Over the years, they’ve expanded their menu offering with some solid, no non-sense local favorite plate lunches. What this place lacks in visual aesthetic, it makes up for in flavor and authenticity.
Best Bites: Chicken Katsu Plate Lunch and Chantilly Cake (for dessert).
FOR THE ‘GRAM
Shave Ice: Going to Hawaii without having shave ice, is like going to Italy and not eating pasta. This iconic sweet treat made its way to popularity in the 1940s through Japanese grocery stores like the infamous Matsumoto’s on the North Shore. Being one of the early pioneers, it’s no wonder crowds of people line up around the block to cool off with these cones on a hot day.
Best Bite: My personal favorite combination of syrup flavors is Blue Hawaii Vanilla + Li Hing Mui + Lychee, complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the base and covered in a Snow Cap (sweetened condensed milk).
Haleiwa Bowls: If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be an acai bowl. But not just ANY acai bowl, a Haleiwa Bowls acai bowl. They use the freshest fruits, organic granola, locally sourced coconuts and Hawaiian honey to build the most Instagram-worthy pieces of edible art. Everything from their tropical outdoor patio to their walk-up shabby-chic shack is a total VIBE.
Best Bite: The Hapa Bowl.
The Beetbox Cafe: When you stomach inevitably needs a break from all of the richly glutenous local food, reset your palette at this casual 100% vegetarian eatery. Their menu has something for everyone, from avocado toast and acai bowls to colorful renditions of meaty favorites, made completely from plants.
Best Bites: The Mc Jegger Muffin, Hello Burger, and Burrito Babe.
Kahuku Farms: This place is the definition of Farm to Table. Fresh, sustainable ingredients are harvested just steps away from where you can enjoy the fruits of their labor at their outdoor Farm Café. Make sure to buy a jar of their lilikoi butter to enjoy later!
Best Bites: Grilled Veggie Panini and Plantation Ice Tea.
Last but not least – no beach trip is complete without some good tunes! Check out this curated Spotify playlist to inspire your North Shore adventures.
The sun is shining, the waves are crashing and the beach is calling your name. Now go enjoy all of the beauty and adventure that the North Shore of Oahu has to offer!
Aloha Always, Ashley