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Planning a trip to Oahu, Hawaii? Don’t spend your whole time in Waikiki. Sure it’s a must visit place on Oahu but you’ll find a different vibe and lots of fun activities on the North Shore.
To me this area retains the essence of vintage Hawaii. Think surfers riding the big breaks, beaches lined with swaying palm trees and pineapple smoothies, served inside a pineapple – with cocktail umbrella of course!
Here’s our guide to Oahu’s North Shore – you’ll find activities and where to eat plus more. We stayed at Turtle Bay Resort on this trip but you’ll find some other suggestions later in the article
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What's in this article
10 best things to do North Shore Oahu
Known for its outdoor and natural attractions, the North Shore is also rich in food and cultural experiences. To enjoy your time here fully, we suggest spending 3 to 4 days on the North Shore.
Don’t worry if you only have a short time in Oahu, you can easily visit the North Shore on a day trip or Circle Island Tour but just be warned, this small taste will have you wanting more!
Check out all the fun activities on the North Shore below.
Admire surfers riding the huge breaks
Nothing says Hawaii more to me than surfing. The North Shore is one of the best places to surf in the world and where you find some of the biggest breaks. Home to many surf competitions, you can watch the athletes and locals take their thrilling rides from the beaches in this region.
We headed to the famous Banzai Pipeline to admire the skills (and some spills) of the surfers. This huge wave is a 7 second ride that has claimed lives and sent hundreds to hospital so you need to be a very strong surfer and swimmer to attempt these waves.
I can’t think of a more exciting free attraction than this. All you need to do is find a spot on the beach and enjoy the show. Other beaches on the North Shore for watching pro level surfing – Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach.
Tip – weather conditions mean that the breaks are at their most impressive during the winter months from December through to March.
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
One of America’s top attractions according to TripAdvisor, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a must do when visiting Oahu. The center showcases the culture of 8 Polynesian island nations in exciting dance and cultural presentations. Learn how to juggle poi at the Aotearoa village, how to collect coconuts in Samoa and local drumming techniques in Tahiti.
Make sure to stay for the award winning luau – the kulua pork roast is delicious! Later on, the evening show Hā: Breath of Life, is a feast for the senses with fire dances and storytelling set across the beautiful islands of Polynesia.
The center is fun for all ages and has a thoughtful program for families. Pick up a ‘passport’ at the ticket office and visit all the villages to collect stamps. Kids show their completed passport at the gift shop to receive a free gift. Our kids loved getting a (temporary) tattoo in Fiji and watching the Maori haka dance.
Visiting the PCC easily fills a half day however your ticket is valid for 3 days should you wish to revisit this popular attraction – click here for more information
Try Matsumoto Shave Ice
People wait in lines stretching down the street wanting to try this iconic Hawaiian sweet treat. And it’s worth the wait on a typically warm day in Hawaii.
Sweet fruit syrups are poured over bowls of shaved ice – the more colors of the rainbow the better according to our kids but you’re really just supposed to choose three. You eat it all up with a spoon before it melts.
Matsumoto’s has been serving shave ice since 1951 and it’s known as one of the best versions on the island. Try the Matsumoto combination with lemon, pineapple and coconut.
Swoon over stunning sunsets
Sunsets on Oahu are legendary and the North Shore is one of the best places to see them. As the sun slowly slips under the horizon, the sky changes from what seems like hundreds of different hues of orange, pink and yellow.
Being in the tropics, sunsets are early at around 6.00 -7.00 pm and the perfect time for a pre-dinner cocktail. We recommend The Point Sunset & Pool Bar at Turtle Bay Resort where you can relax to the sounds of traditional Hawaiian music on some days of the week.
If you’re happiest sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand then the best places to watch the sunset on the North Shore are Sunset Beach (of course!) and Shark’s Cove.
Although, you won’t be disappointed wherever you catch the last rays of the days in this part of the world.
Go horse back riding on the beach
What could be more romantic than a horseback ride along the beach. With the sea breezes in your hair you can sit back and relax as your trusty steed carries you along some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
I was so sad we missed this experience in Hawaii but some friends did a one hour ride and loved every minute.
For more details on beach horseback riding on the North Shore click here
Swim at a waterfall
If you have always dreamed of swimming under a waterfall, then Waimea Valley on Oahu’s North Shore is the place to go. You take a gentle one mile walk through lush tropical rainforest to get to the 45 foot Wailele waterfall, passing by cultural displays and activities along the way.
As you stroll along the paved main path you can take little detours to discover Hawaii’an culture. We had some fun learning to play some traditional game including a local version of bowling.
Waimea Valley Park also plays an important role in preserving endangered plant life native to Hawaii so make sure to enjoy some of the 41 themed gardens within the park.
When you reach the waterfall at the end of the trail you can take a dip in the pool that the waterfall drops into. Life vests are provided and the cost is included in your admission. Note – Swimming depends on conditions and can be canceled at short notice.
There are changing rooms and showers at the falls so you can get back into dry clothes before you head back down the path.
Waimea Valley [Waimea Valley Road, Haleiwa, Hawaii 96712] is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 7 days a week except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Check the Waimea Valley website for ticket prices
Eat all the shrimp at Giovanni’s food truck
It wouldn’t be a trip to the North Shore without a plate of shrimp from Giovanni’s. Now at 2 locations on the North Shore, Giovanni’s is an Oahu institution known for its fresh shrimp dishes.
You’ll need to choose from garlic, lemon butter and hot and spicy sauces for your shrimp. It comes served with two scoops of rice and hot sauce if you need it. We managed to try them all and they were delicious proving that the simple things are often the best.
If you’re traveling with kids or aren’t overly hungry there are half sized portions. You can also get a giant hotdog if you don’t like or are allergic to shrimp.
Look for Giovanni’s white food truck covered in graffiti in both Haleiwa and Kahuku.
66-472 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712
56-505 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731, USA
Explore Haleiwa surf town
Haleiwa is only a one hour drive from Waikiki but it feels like it is whole other world away. The town developed from a center for sugar cane production to become on of the surfing capitals of the world.
This is the place to rent surf gear, browse its cute boutiques and soak up the relaxed vibe. There are lots of eateries in Haleiwa too for when you get hungry.
If you feel like a beachside picnic, Haleiwa beach park has a lovely lawn with tables close to the marina. There is a small strip of beach so you’re just steps from that sparkling blue water.
Hone your skills or learn how to surf
No doubt watching the locals catch a few waves inspire you to jump on a board. The best beaches for beginner or intermediate surfing on the North Shore are:
- Puaena Point (Haleiwa Beach Park)
- Kawela Bay
- Chun’s Reef
Expect smaller waves especially closer to shore at these locations. Regardless of the weather always check the surf forecast before heading out.
Didn’t bring your gear? No worries. There are several places where you can rent boards and wetsuits in Haleiwa.
If you’d like some tuition there are some excellent surf schools in the area that will help get you started. This surf school takes small groups and while it’s not guaranteed, the chances are you’ll stand up on the board and catch a wave during your 2 hour lesson.
Watch the sea turtles
Honu is the Hawaiian name for these ancient and beautiful creatures who have swum the seas for over 100 million years, predating the dinosaurs.
The islands of Hawaii are home to seven species of sea turtle, all of which are either threatened or endangered. So it’s a privilege to see them in their natural habitat.
Laniakea Beach is the most popular place to see Hawaiian sea turtles on the North Shore and as a result the beach can be packed with tourists. You could also try Haleiwa beach as the turtles like to swim in the channels and inlets near the coast.
Tip – according to locals, the best time to see turtles on the beach is from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Please respect the sea turtles. Stay well away (2 yards / 2 meter at least) and do not touch or disturb them. Apart from being completely unethical, this is also illegal and attracts fines of over $20,000.
Fly over the rainforest
In the mood for some adventure? It doesn’t get more thrilling than ziplining over tropical rainforest with the beautiful North Shore beaches as your backdrop.
Just a short drive from Haleiwa and Turtle Bay, this zipline tour is over 3 hours of adrenaline pumping fun. Make your way down from the top of the mountain at Keana farms via a series of zip lines, rappels, sky bridges and scenic boardwalks. Along the way you’ll learn about the working farm and its papaya and banana crops.
This activity is suitable for families with kids aged 7 and over.
Relax on the beach
Of course you need to schedule in some beach time for pure relaxation. The wide sandy North Shore beaches are the perfect place to go if you want to splash in Hawaii’s tropical ocean waters or simply watch the waves roll in.
Where to stay on the North Shore Oahu
We stayed at Turtle Bay Resort, the main accommodation in this part of the island. With several swimming pools, 7 onsite restaurants and a secluded beach front, the resort is a luxury escape that you don’t need to leave unless you want to.
The resort caters well for both couples and families with adults only and kids pools and a wide variety of activities.
Our double queen room was a good size for our family of four. We appreciated the separate dressing room and luggage storage area. Our large balcony or lanai was the perfect place to relax watch the sunset.
Other accommodation options on the North Shore
This brand new beach front cottage sleeps four in an idyllic location on Malaekahana Bay. Imagine waking up to the sound of the roaring ocean at your doorstep. Pure bliss if you ask me.
If you want to stay close to the Polynesian Cultural Center the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore is right next door.
Where to eat on the North Shore
Famous for food trucks, the North Shore is the place to go for fresh, fun food on the go. From tiny pineapple stalls to large truck parks featuring cuisine from around the world, there is a relaxed eatery waiting for you.
Some local favorites:
- North Shore Tacos in Pupukea – best fish tacos
- Haleiwa Bowls Truck – acai sorbet topped with tropical fruits – yum!
- Pupukea Grill – poke bowl heaven
Note – most of the food trucks close by 6pm so they are best for a quick lunch
If you want more elegant and refined dining options then eat at one of the restaurants at Turtle Bay. We enjoyed the crab cakes and poke bowl at Roy’s Beach House and while we didn’t try it, the seafood menu at Pa‘akai had my mouth watering.
We also noted there were several sit down eateries, snack bars and food stalls at the Polynesian Cultural Center. You can access many of these without entering the park so it’s a good option if you are in the area. Don’t forget, you can join their luau feast every day except Sunday, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
Self catering options include a decent sized supermarkets – Foodland Pūpūkea – and the Thursday afternoon Haleiwa Farmers Market.
How to get around the North Shore
Do you need a car to explore the North Shore? Yes you do – unless you want to take short trips. Then you can take an Uber. But for flexibility and longer journeys beyond Hulawei or Turtle Bay you should rent a car while you are on the North Shore.
There are a few car rental places in that part of the island but we found it easier and cheaper to pick one up at Honolulu airport and return it there. We use RentalCars.com to search for the best deals on our travels and found a good deal with Thrifty on there.
Be aware that although there are only short distances between towns and attractions on the North Shore, there is really only one road. So when there is a surfing competition happening then you may find travel times slow and parking hard to find.
Note – if you are traveling with kids it is not always easy to rent car seats and we certainly found that when booking this trip. We took our trusty BubbleBum inflatable booster seats with us and they saved the day.
Have you visited Oahu’s North Shore? What was your favorite experience in this gorgeous part of Hawaii?
Disclaimer – We visited the Polynesian Cultural Center on a media rate. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own. Untold Morsels assists our readers with carefully chosen product and services recommendations that help make travel easier and more fun. If you click through and make a purchase on many of these items we may earn a commission. All opinions are our own – please read our disclosure page for more information.