Oahu’s North Shore is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki in the south – I think that’s why we loved it so much. The laid-back beach vibes are much more our environment than the busy city life.
The way of life up there is a bit different. There is a deep engrained love of the ocean, simple life, and everyone is relaxed and friendly. And in the greatest kind of way, there is no sense of urgency to get anything done. Our kind of place.
The North Shore is known for its world class waves, surf shops, art galleries, rustic beachy stores and great places to eat. Time moves pretty slowly up there, so it’s great to take a couple of days to chill out, kick back, and take in all the great things the North Shore has to offer.
You know you have almost made it to the North Shore when you start driving through all the pineapple fields and can smell the fresh salty air. Discovering Hawaii was such a wicked experience, and we hope you enjoy it just as much as we did. To make the most of your time, here is our list of the best things to do while you are in Oahu’s North Shore.
Things to Do on The North Shore of Oahu
1. Walk around Haleiwa Town
The first stop when heading to the North Shore is Haleiwa Town. It is much more than just a cool little surf town. It is bursting at the seams with art and culture. We couldn’t believe how many art galleries were located in such a small town. It was awesome to walk around and check out what creations the local artists had on show. The beach and ocean themes present throughout the art was right up our street.
Haleiwa also offers a wide variety of shopping. As you would expect in the surfing capital of the world, there are just as many surf shops as there are art galleries. It also has a wide range of boutique shops, full of locally made and handcrafted goods. From swimsuits to home décor, there is a little something for everybody in Haleiwa.
To top it off there are numerous great places to stop for dinner or even just a post-surf snack. We mention some of our favourites later in this blog so keep reading!
2. Have a beach day at Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay is famous for its big wave surfing. In winter they get hit with huge swells that see waves of over 25ft. It is amazing to see the locals paddle in to these waves and risk their lives for an epic thrill.
In the summer months Waimea is a much calmer and relaxed place to be. It is a great beach to swim and snorkel at, and with loads of turtles in the water you may even come face to face with one of those grumpy looking dudes. Waimea is also famous for cliff jumping off Jump Rock. It is a rock just off to the left of the beach that you can climb up and cliff jump into the ocean.
There is plenty of fun to be had at Waimea Bay regardless of the season.
3. See Turtles at Turtle Beach
This one is very aptly named. Although the official name is Laniakea Beach, it is commonly known as turtle beach for good reason. The turtles come up on the beach to have a nice relaxing day in the sun. I think they’ve got the right idea. As they are there to bake in the sun, the best time to see them is the middle of the day. That being said, they can be unpredictable and have been spotted throughout the day. We went in December and had some average weather, so unfortunately we didn’t see any turtles on the beach itself, but we were lucky enough to snap this guy from the air at sunrise one morning.
Hopefully you guys will fair better and get to see loads of turtles soaking up some rays. There are park rangers situated at the end of the beach who will let you know what turtles have come up for a sun tan session that day. They are really friendly and will be more than happy to answer all your turtle related questions. They also know all the turtles by name, so you know you’re in good hands.
4. Watch surfers at Banzai Pipeline
The North Shore of Oahu is known for having some of the best waves in the world. The final event of the pro surf tour (World Surfing League) is held at Banzai Pipeline every year. When the conditions are right, Pipeline has huge, spitting barrels, that surfers from all over the world travel to. It’s easy to spend hours watching surfers pull in to these crazy waves and catch huge air.
Pipeline is also a beautiful stretch of coastline so it’s another good spot to spend a few hours on the beach and watch the world go by. Keep an eye out for some of the local seals who like to beach themselves on the waters edge and spend a few hours in the sun.
We were lucky enough to catch the first day of the Pipeline Masters this past year, and it was an awesome vibe around town. The place was much busier than usual, which obviously has its downsides, but it also created an electric atmosphere on the beach and was a great experience. If you head to the North Shore of Oahu in winter, try and get there mid-December to catch some of the Pipeline Masters.
5. Keep an eye out for pro surfers
With some of the best waves in the world, it’s easy to see why the North Shore produces so many world class surfers. Multiple World Champion, John John Florence lives right by the beach at Pipeline, as well as my favourite surfer Jamie O’Brien.
These guys both call the North Shore home, so keep an eye out and you might just see them getting barrelled at Pipeline or queuing up for their morning coffee.
6. Swim with sharks
This is one for the thrill seekers out there. The North Shore is a great place to go cage-less shark diving. This gives you the chance to swim freely in the ocean with sharks. We booked our shark dive with One Ocean Diving who had a great reputation. They have a 100% safety record and guarantee you will see at least one shark or they will offer you a full refund. The tour costs $150 USD per person, which we think is great value for money compared to other adventure tours. The most common sharks to see are Sandbar and Galapagos sharks. Tiger sharks are also seen about once a month.
Unfortunately, the weather in Hawaii can be quite fickle and our shark dive was cancelled. As we only had 3 days in Oahu we didn’t have the time to reschedule our trip. Gutted is an understatement. We know we will be back one day soon to swim with these beautiful animals and hope you guys can fill us in on your adventures when you go.
Due to the dodgy weather we recommend booking a shark dive at the start of your trip as this gives you the chance to reschedule for a later date if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
7. Have a coffee at The Sunrise Shack
The Sunrise Shack was started by three Hawaiian brothers who had a passion for creating delicious and healthy food. It is known for its Bullet coffee. It is blended with coconut oil, MCT oil and grass-fed butter. They claim the blend of healthy fats promotes long lasting energy, mental alertness and most importantly good vibes. They also offer a range of Acai bowls, cold pressed juices and healthy bites. A great post surf snack.
It is located just before Sunset Beach and is painted bright yellow so it is hard to miss. We were drawn in by the tiny, picturesque shack!
8. Eat All The Good Stuff
Teddy’s Bigger Burgers
Food, glorious food! Like most places we visit, we like to make sure we get our fill of delicious food. Our first night on the North Shore we headed out with empty stomachs and stumbled across Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. You can’t go to the United States and not get yourself a big dirty burger.
Teddy’s was awesome as you get to choose which size burger you want. They go from Big (1/3 lb), Bigger (6 oz) to Biggest (1/2 lb). We went for the bigger size and found that 6oz was enough to satisfy our hunger. But it’s always great to have the option to really indulge yourself. We split The Bacado Burger and the Volcano Burger and were not left disappointed. We left with full belly’s and big smiles on our faces.
We had breakfast at Ted’s Bakery after waking up for sunrise to shoot some photos at Pipeline. If you want to eat here be prepared to wait in line. We did arrive at peak breakfast time (around 8.30 am) and we had to wait for about 20 minutes before we made it to the counter. There’s plenty to look at as you stand in line and it gives you the chance to decide what you are going to have. Always best to go with another person and split a few things.
They serve lots of bakery classics such as donuts, croissants and brownies, but they also have lots of breakfast sandwiches and meals on offer to cater to every taste. While not the healthiest option, it is extremely delicious. Grab a coffee from the Sunrise Shack on the way to Ted’s so you have something to sip on while you wait.
Matsumotos Shaved Ice
Located in the heart of Haleiwa is Matsumotos. The one and only place to have shaved ice on the North Shore. There are loads of other places that sell shaved ice but we were assured that this was the place to go. The multi-coloured shaved ice is a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach. It is the perfect snack to help beat the midday heat.
For those wanting to beat the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and skip out on the touristy resorts and chain restaurants, we would highly recommend a trip up to the North Shore of Oahu. The slow pace of life, beautiful scenery and friendly locals all make for a brilliant trip. Enjoy the pristine beaches and beautiful wildlife without the throng of people that can often be found on Waikiki’s beaches. We loved the chilled out surf vibe up there and found it fitted perfectly with the way we love to travel. There is definitely no shortage of awesome things to do on the North Shore of Oahu.