Hawaii is home to some of the most famous waves in the world, and the north shore of Oahu is ground zero for surfing in Hawaii. The legendary surf breaks from Haleiwa to Kahuku have created a “scene” that’s a world away from Honolulu, and whether you’ll be on island during a big surf competition, just want to see the locals catching a wave, or you’re going during the summer when it’s totally flat, you don’t want to miss seeing Oahu’s famed north shore.
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Haleiwa is the main town on the north shore and most visitors drive the area between Haleiwa and Kahuku/Laie making stops in between.
So here’s a rundown on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay (if you decide you’re interested in more than a quick day visit):
Things to Do in Haleiwa & North Shore Oahu
Shopping in Haleiwa: Haleiwa is probably one of the cutest towns in Hawaii. It’s picturesque, walkable, and full of cute shops and restaurants. Most of the shops in Haleiwa don’t open until 10 AM, so plan to circle back later in the day if you’re getting an early start cruising around. I especially love Guava Shop and Clark Little’s Gallery.
See Turtles at Laniakea Beach: A few miles from Haleiwa you’ll come to Laniakea Beach, which is a great spot to see honu (green Hawaiian sea turtles). There’s a bit of parking across the street, but you’ll probably have to park along the road. Plan to spend 20-30 minutes here admiring the turtles (but don’t get too close!).
Cliff Dive at Waimea Bay: Waimea Bay is one of the most famous beaches in Hawaii. It’s a gorgeous swimming and snorkeling (and rock jumping) spot in the summer, but it’s one of the biggest surfable waves in Hawaii in the winter. When the surf’s breaking, there’s nothing like watching the surfers here, but expect a huge crowd and a long walk from your car.
Hike to Waimea Falls: If you’d like to see a waterfall, Waimea Falls is pretty convenient. Park at Waimea Valley and it’s a one mile hike down a leisurely path through a botanical garden to the falls. There are also usually some cultural activities and educational workshops going on. $20 for adults and $12 for children. Closed on Mondays.
Snorkeling at Sharks Cove: At Pupukea Beach Park, this protected cove is an excellent snorkeling spot in the summer. There’s limited parking so arrive early and bring your own gear (there’s nowhere to rent nearby).
Watch the Surfers at Sunset Beach: This is probably the most famous beach on the north shore. It’s golden, wide, and beautiful. The Banzai Pipeline surf break is offshore along this stretch of beach. Expect it to be packed in the winter as it’s one of Oahu’s best surf sites (and home to the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition).
Do the Sunset Pillbox Hike: It’s impressive to see from the shore, but to get a true appreciation, you’ll need a little perspective. The Ehukai/Sunset Pillbox hike is short (it only takes about 30 minutes), but the views are great! Right behind the Sunset Elementary School, you’ll find the trailhead.
Go Diving with Sharks: Feeling adventurous? Start your day off swimming with sharks! Make reservations in advance here to go out cage diving with a variety of sharks. You’ll learn about the biology, physiology and behavior of sharks, how to safely interact with them and also current research efforts to help save these misunderstood animals.
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center: There are plenty of different ticket packages you can buy to the PCC, but I recommend booking the Ali’i Luau Package. It’s about $122/adult and includes admission to the six island villages (starting at noon), the dinner buffet and show plus seating at “Ha: Breath of Life.” This is pretty much the basic package that includes the villages, dinner buffet, and the big luau show (Ha: Breath of Life). From there you can do add ons that include things like a flower lei greeting, prime rib and crab leg options on the buffet, preferred seating, private tours around the villages, etc. The highest tier package is about $243/person. Take a look at the options and see if any of it is worth the money to you, but if you’re on a budget, you’ll get a great value out of the Ali’i Luau Package. If you’re not interested in doing the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center (there’s no alcohol offered and that is a factor for some), it is possible to just purchase general admission to the park (to explore the six island villages) for about $65/adult and $52/child. The villages are open from 12-6.
Where to Stay on Oahu’s North Shore
Turtle Bay Resort: If the noise and crowds of Waikiki aren’t your thing, escape to Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore. It’s isolated location ensures a quiet and peaceful vacation but the resort offers plenty of amenities. It’s in the heart of Oahu’s north shore with it’s famous surf breaks, food trucks, and snorkeling spots. It’s also conveniently located for getting to Haleiwa, the Polynesian Culture Center, and Kualoa Ranch and it’s only about 45 minutes from Waikiki. Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Haleiwa & North Shore Restaurants
Haleiwa Bowls: I could eat these every day. Just a little stand in Haleiwa on the north shore, you can add toppings to customize your acai bowl. They also make smoothies and cold pressed juice.
Kono’s: The best hearty breakfast joint in Haleiwa. It’s a counter service restaurant (also open for lunch and dinner) that does local flavors and dishes with an organic/trendy twist. They also have great milk shakes.
Matsumoto Shave Ice: The most iconic place in Hawaii to get shave ice.
WowWow Lemonade: I’m not sure if this is the only fresh made lemonade on the island (I’m guessing not), but it’s my favorite and I wanted to include it on this list! There’s a location in Haleiwa and Wahiawa. My favorite is the lavender blackberry lemonade!
Haleiwa Beach House: Located on the water, this is the go to spot in Haleiwa for a nice (ish) lunch or dinner. They do fish very well and there’s a large bar upstairs that’s partly open air.
Beet Box Café: This vegetarian spot has a lot of options that are also vegan and gluten free and they use mostly organic and local ingredients. There’s also a location in Kailua.
Sunrise Shack: Probably the most famous acai bowl spot in Hawaii. This tiny shack across from Sunset Beach isn’t easily missed. In addition to avocado toast, they also do bullet proof coffee. I hate to say it but due to the size of this place, if you have an allergy, they often aren’t able to accommodate as a lot is premade.
Ted’s Bakery: This efficient bakery on the north shore has a whole bunch of goodies, but they’re most famous for their chocolate haupia (coconut) pie.
Seven Brothers: Local burger joint with locations in Kahuku and Laie. They’re famous for the burgers (locally inspired, fresh ingredients) but they also feature yummy fish and shrimp plates.
Giovanni’s: Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the north shore is easily the most popular food truck in the area (and there are a lot of them!). Try the shrimp scampi.
Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp: Another go to shrimp truck on the north shore. They have quite a few more options/variations than Giovanni’s as well as sides.
Hukilau Café: Made famous by the movie “50 First Dates,” this restaurant isn’t actually on the water, but they do serve up Hawaiian/American comfort food. Great for breakfast and plate lunch.
Papa Ole’s: Local joint serving island favorites for breakfast, plus plate lunches. Cash only.