We were lucky enough to spend a year and a half living in Honolulu and absolutely fell in love with the island of Oahu. Our weekdays were spent living in the city and surfing in front of Waikiki beach but we couldn’t wait for the weekend to explore the other parts of the island.
We spent countless Saturday nights on the North Shore; sleeping in a house we rented on Airbnb along Seven Mile Beach, or camped out near Ka’ena Point. Whether we were skydiving, snorkeling with sharks, attempting to surf the massive waves, or just lounging on the beach eating poke and drinking Big Swell IPAs, some of our best memories of Hawaii were on the North Shore.
So we’ve compiled our list of all of our favorite activities on Oahu’s famous North Shore and hope you fall in love with it too!
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- The Best Things to do on the North Shore of Oahu
- 1. Watch Pro Surfers at Banzai Pipeline
- 2. Surf at Chun’s Reef
- 3. Body Surf at Waimea Bay
- 4. Cool Off with Shave Ice from Matsumoto’s
- 5. Dive with Sharks
- 6. Hike to Ka’ena Point or Camp on the Beach
- 7. Go Skydiving
- 8. Go Shopping in Haleiwa
- 9. See Sea Turtles at Laniakea Beach (AKA ‘Turtle Beach’)
- 10. Snorkel at Sharks Cove
- 11. Eat Garlic Shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
- 12. Watch the Sunset on Sunset Beach
Tips for visiting the North Shore
- Stay overnight! Even though the North Shore is only a short distance from Honolulu, it takes longer to get there and explore than you might expect. We recommend booking an Airbnb on the stretch of beach between Sharks Cove and Velzyland Beach (often called Seven Mile Beach).
- Stores and restaurants are few and far between on the North Shore. Buy some extra snacks and beer at the Malama Market in Haleiwa or the Foodland near Sharks Cove. That way if you decide to stop at a beach along your drive, you’ll be well stocked!
When to visit the North Shore
Most people equate the North Shore with epic surf breaks and incredible surfers. But that totally depends on the time of year you visit. The surf season on the North Shore runs from October to April with the biggest swells typically occurring from December through February. So if you visit in the summer months of May to August, you may be surprised to find that the ocean is as flat as a swimming pool.
If you want to see pro surfers carving up massive waves, plan on visiting in the winter. But it’s probably a good idea to stay out of the water unless you are very experienced. On the other hand, if you prefer swimming or snorkeling you’ll probably enjoy summer on the North Shore when the waves are more manageable.
Accommodations tend to be cheaper in the summer months due to fewer surfers on the North Shore.
The Best Things to do on the North Shore of Oahu
1. Watch Pro Surfers at Banzai Pipeline
Oahu’s North Shore is synonymous with surfing and the epicenter of the sport is at Banzai Pipeline.
Pipeline is one of the most photographed waves in the world due to its consistency, iconic shape, and close proximity to the shore. But unfortunately, Pipeline breaks hard and heavy over a razor sharp reef so it’s best to leave the surfing up to the pro surfers.
Show up at Pipeline on any given day when there is a decent swell and the ocean will be full of talented surfers. Volcom owns the beach house that sits directly in front of Pipeline so you may even spot a Volcom-sponsored pro surfer or two showing off.
2. Surf at Chun’s Reef
Oahu has surf breaks for all skill levels and you can find great beginner breaks along Waikiki beach. But the surf on the North Shore is a different story. It can be pretty intimidating and dangerous for all but the most skilled surfers. The breaks at Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay tend to be aggressive and should not be attempted unless you have years of practice on a surfboard.
Chun’s Reef is the one break on the North Shore that is easily accessible and caters to moderate skill levels. As the name implies, it is a reef break so you’ll still want to know what you’re doing before you head out. If you have some experience surfing reef breaks, simply rent a board in Haleiwa and paddle out.
If you’re a total beginner you can also sign up for surf lessons in Haleiwa. They will likely take you to Puaena Point in Haleiwa Beach Park where the waves are just big enough to get you up on a board.
3. Body Surf at Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay is internationally famous for the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Surf Competition. Often referred to as simply “The Eddie”, this epic surf competition only occurs when conditions align perfectly to create the massive 30 to 40 foot tall waves.
Eddie Aikau was a lifeguard at Waimea Bay and saved over 500 lives while also pioneering the sport of big wave surfing. “Eddie would go” is a common phrase you’ll hear around Oahu that refers to Eddie’s fearlessness when it came to paddling into huge surf.
But the waves at Waimea Bay rarely reach those heights. And when the water is calm you’ll find an impressive beach break which lends itself perfectly to body surfing. Just remember that this can be a rather dangerous sport with the wave aggressively pounding down onto the sand. You should only attempt it if you’re a strong swimmer and have some experience body surfing.
Make sure to follow all the instructions of the lifeguards at Waimea Bay and keep a close eye on your kids as there can be surprisingly large sneaker waves that can catch you off guard if you’re not keeping an eye out!
4. Cool Off with Shave Ice from Matsumoto’s
No trip to the North Shore of Oahu is complete without a stop at Matsumoto’s for a gigantic bowl of the best shave ice in Hawaii. And yes, in Hawaii it’s pronounced “shave ice”, not “shaved ice”. Strange, we know.
Matsumoto’s was opened back in 1951 by Mamoru and Helen Matsumoto as a small grocery store. They made shave ice made with homemade syrup and over time it became legendary on Oahu. They remained in the same quirky, semi-dilapidated building until just a few years ago when it was replaced by a modern strip mall.
The new location lacks some of the charm of the old one, but the shave ice remains just as delicious! Make sure you order it with ice cream and condensed milk. And pick up a cute branded souvenir while you’re there.
5. Dive with Sharks
One of the coolest things you can do on the North Shore of Oahu is to go cage diving with sharks! What’s great about this experience is you are 100% guaranteed to see sharks. And 100% guaranteed not to get eaten by one.
While chumming the water to attract sharks is illegal in Hawaii, these shark cages have been strategically placed along old crabbing routes. When crabbing boats would pull up their crab traps they would throw back dead fish that got entangled in the traps. This resulted in a daily fish buffet for hungry sharks and they are now trained to congregate in this area whenever they hear motorboats approaching.
As soon as your boat pulls up to the shark cages you can expect the sharks to start swarming. Grab your mask and snorkel and dive in! Don’t worry, the cage is more for show than to protect you from any real danger. Most of the sharks are harmless Galapagos and Sandbar sharks. But if you’re lucky you might also spot a Tiger or Hammerhead shark!
You can book your tour here: Shark diving on the North Shore.
6. Hike to Ka’ena Point or Camp on the Beach
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds in Haleiwa town, head over to Ka’ena Point. You’ll find it on the Northwestern corner of Oahu, at the very end of Farrington Highway. Park where the pavement ends and walk out the old dirt road. There are several small, remote beaches along the way. If you’re simply looking to have a little piece of paradise all to yourself, you’ve come to the right place!
If you continue along the road you’ll come to a fenced in area with a gate. This is to protect the seabirds and monk seals from dogs and other hostile critters. Pass through and continue hiking out to the point where you’ll find the remnants of the old lighthouse and a few lazy monk seals. You can actually continue the hike past Ka’ena point and around the western (leeward) side of the island to Keawaula Beach, but keep in mind that you’ll have to hike all the way back to your car. There is no shade or potable water along the hike so bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
While it’s illegal to camp on the beaches on Oahu, one of the best kept secrets is that you can fish in the ocean all night. So if you buy a cheap fishing pole and toss a line in the water before you pitch your tent, you’re not technically camping, just fishing! You’ll likely see a few locals doing the same thing while you’re out there.
One of our absolute favorite things to do in Hawaii is to camp out at the end of Farrington Highway. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be bothered by anyone if you choose to spend a night on the beach there, even if you don’t have the requisite fishing pole
7. Go Skydiving
If you’re still itching for more adrenaline after body boarding and diving with sharks, why not try skydiving? There are few places in the world that offer a more scenic skydiving experience than Oahu’s North Shore. There are three skydiving operators to choose from: Pacific Skydiving, Skydive Hawaii, and Oahu Parachute Center.
All three are located at Dillingham Airfield in Waialua and they are all similar in offering and safety rating. We went with Skydive Hawaii and had an awesome experience! The 14,000′ tandem skydive gives you a full 60 seconds of free fall and is the highest jump you can make without supplemental oxygen.
- Make a reservation in advance to save money and shorten your waiting time at the airport.
- Afternoon jumps are occasionally canceled if the weather gets too windy or cloudy so make sure you go first thing in the morning.
8. Go Shopping in Haleiwa
Haleiwa is the quintessential beach town with a unique assortment of surf shops, bakeries, art galleries, and food trucks. It has managed to remain small while providing all of the amenities you could want on the North Shore. We also found that the surf shops in Haleiwa had considerably cheaper prices than in Waikiki.
Give yourself an hour or two to wander through the shops and then stop to grab lunch and shave ice for dessert. Some of our favorite stores in Haleiwa include San Lorenzo, Barnfield’s Raging Isle Surf Shop, Hawaiian Island Creations (HIC), and North Shore Surf Shop.
And if you’re in Haleiwa for dinner, you have to try the pupus at Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill. The Big Bo’s Nachos and the Dynamite Shrimp are both amazing!
9. See Sea Turtles at Laniakea Beach (AKA ‘Turtle Beach’)
As soon as you leave Haleiwa and head east, you’ll almost certainly encounter a massive traffic jam. It’s caused by loads of tourists trying to maneuver their way into the limited parking spaces surrounding Laniakea beach on a one-lane highway.
The beach itself is not impressive, but the abundant seaweed growing on the offshore rock shelf makes Laniakea beach a favorite spot for Hawaiian green sea turtles. There is almost always at least one massive turtle lounging on the beach, seemingly oblivious to the hordes of tourists snapping photos.
Remember that under Hawaii state law it is illegal to chase, hunt, handle, injure, or harass sea turtles. So feel free to snap as many photos as you like but give them plenty of space.
10. Snorkel at Sharks Cove
About halfway between Waimea Bay and Banzai Pipeline you’ll find a small, protected bay called Sharks Cove. This is an ideal place for snorkeling during the summer months when the North Shore sea is calm and inviting. The bay at Sharks Cove is about 8-15 feet deep and you’ll find an abundance of coral and sea life. But, as with most snorkeling spots on Oahu, it can get busy so go early to beat the crowds.
There isn’t anywhere to rent snorkeling gear around Sharks Cove so you’ll need to either bring your own from home or rent gear in Haleiwa. And after you’re done snorkeling you can head across the road to the delicious Sharks Cove Grill for a smoothie and grilled skewers!
11. Eat Garlic Shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck first began serving garlic shrimp back in 1993 and as word of their greasy, garlicky, scrumptious shrimp spread, a cult following quickly amassed. They started selling their signature dish out of a mobile truck that roamed the North Shore and then eventually settled on a fixed location way out in Kahuku.
Unfortunately Kahuku is quite far from everything else on Oahu which required a real pilgrimage to get a taste of their legendary garlic shrimp. Thankfully, a year later Giovanni’s opened a second location in Haleiwa so it’s much easier to get your shrimp fix.
Giovanni’s has been featured by The Travel Channel, Saveur Magazine, and loads of other foodie publications. If you’re on Oahu’s North Shore don’t miss the opportunity to see what all the hype is about!
12. Watch the Sunset on Sunset Beach
Hawaii sunsets are on another sunset level entirely. I can’t explain why, but they are just better then every other sunset in the world. And due to the shape and orientation of the island of Oahu, almost the entire “North Shore” area (from Haleiwa to Kawela Bay) actually faces west. Confusing, right?
So pick up a six pack of Big Swell IPA and some ahi poke in Haleiwa, head to Sunset Beach or any of the other beautiful beaches lining the North Shore, and enjoy one of the best sunsets in the world!
Looking for more details on what to see and do on Oahu? Check out our favorite books!
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