A vacation to Oahu, Hawaii, is incomplete without spending at least 1-2 days exploring the North Shore. In fact, this section of the island is famous for its world-renowned waves in the winter months, attracting pro surfers from all over the world. It’s also a popular spot for snorkeling and sunbathing in the summertime! You may even have already heard of certain North Shore attractions, like the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, or even Shark’s Cove.
Located just over an hour from Waikiki by car, the North Shore makes a leisurely road trip from Honolulu. However, you may not have time to visit all seven miles of sandy beaches during your Hawaii vacation. With this in mind, we’ll review the best beaches on the North Shore of Oahu, detailing the top activities at each location and other tips for visiting. Hopefully, this travel guide will help you choose the ultimate North Shore beach (or beaches!) to see on your trip to Hawaii! We also include a North Shore beaches map at the end of this guide.
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The best North Shore beaches on Oahu
1. Waimea Bay Beach Park
Waimea Bay Beach Park is one of the best Oahu beaches to visit, no matter the time of year. Thanks to its clear blue-green water, it’s extremely popular as a family-friendly swimming and snorkeling spot in the summer months. Additionally, in the winter, surfers flock to this beach due to the large waves found here. Waimea Bay is also the site of “The Eddie,” a big wave surfing tournament named for famous local lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau.
This iconic North Shore spot is well-maintained and equipped with picnic tables, public restrooms and showers, and a lifeguard tower. If visiting Waimea Bay Beach is at the top of your list, we suggest planning to arrive early in the morning. This way, you can secure a free parking spot in the lot next to the beach. However, if you sleep in, you can find additional street parking along Kamehameha Highway or paid parking at Waimea Valley Park (a short walk away).
2. Sunset Beach Park
Sunset Beach Park is next to Ehukai Beach and spans over two miles to Sunset Point. This North Shore attraction features soft beige sand and is ideal for sunbathing, swimming (depending on conditions in the summertime), and watching surfers catch a wave. It has become an important surfing location in the winter, even serving as one of the three venues for The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing since 1983.
Based on the name, you may be able to guess that this North Shore beach is a top place on Oahu to watch the sunset. Therefore, we recommend packing a picnic and enjoying the end of the day at Sunset Beach. If you’d like to try a local snack while you’re there, don’t miss the Sunrise Shack. This adorable café offers coffee, tea, and papaya bowls and is undoubtedly one of the island’s most instagrammable places.
3. Laniakea Beach
If you’re in search of a place where you can observe Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, you can’t miss Laniakea Beach (also called Turtle Beach)! One of my best Oahu travel tips is to arrive between 11 a.m.-1 p.m, particularly during the summer months, for your best chance of spotting these animals. However, it’s important to remember that touching or harassing these sea turtles is illegal. In fact, Hawaiʻi’s Division of Aquatic Resources suggests that visitors maintain a distance of at least 10 feet (3 meters) from all turtles. If you have any questions or doubts, please approach the Honu Guardian volunteers who are stationed here to keep the turtles safe.
Parking for this small beach is located directly across the street and is free. Note that traffic on the North Shore tends to get backed up along Kamehameha Highway, so it’s always better to arrive earlier rather than later. Additionally, please avoid walking on the slippery rocks while making your way along the coast!
4. Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove is a section of Pupukea Beach Park and a favorite among tourists on the North Shore for snorkeling in the summer months. Snorkelers have the chance to see a vast range of marine life in these tide pools. For example, you may observe butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, sea turtles, eels, and more. However, you’ll notice that sharks are not on this list! Thankfully, the name “Shark’s Cove” comes from the shape of the reef in this area, which resembles a shark from an aerial view.
Remember that during the winter, the swell rises, making the ocean unsafe for snorkeling. By contrast, Shark’s Cove bustles with tourists when the water is calm during the summertime. Therefore, we suggest arriving early in the morning to secure a parking spot if you know you want to visit this beach! Additionally, remember not to leave any valuables in your car as rental cars and tourists are easy to spot. It’s always better to take the proper precautions than to have to deal with a break-in during your Hawaii vacation.
5. Ehukai Beach Park (Banzai Pipeline)
This beach, also known as the Banzai Pipeline (or Pipeline/Pipe for locals), is likely the most famous surf destination on the North Shore. It also typically hosts the finale of the Vans of the Triple Crown of Surfing, called The Billabong Pipeline Masters. You can find perfect barrel waves here in the winter months, landing Ehukai Beach Park among the best surf-watching locations in the world. However, it’s best to leave the actual surfing here to the professionals! In fact, the waves at the Pipeline break in shallow water just above a sharp reef, making it a hazardous surf spot.
When the ocean is calmer during the summer months, Ehukai is a popular Oahu beach for swimming and sunbathing. It also offers picnic tables, public bathrooms and showers, a lifeguard stand, and free parking. While you’re in the area, we also suggest checking out the nearby Ehukai Pillbox Hike for an incredible view of the beach from above.
6. Three Tables Beach
Less than half a mile from Shark’s Cove, you’ll find Three Tables Beach, which forms part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District. It’s another of the island’s top snorkeling and diving spots during the warmer months, especially May to September. The best thing about Three Tables is that it’s great for people of all ages. Plus, if you don’t feel like snorkeling, you can relax on the sandy beach!
Those who choose to venture into the water can expect to encounter marine life such as goatfish, surgeonfish, grouper, cornetfish, parrotfish, wrasse, and sea cucumbers. Plus, if you’re lucky, you may even spot Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles! If you’re wondering how this beach got its name, it’s thanks to three sections of the reef in this area that become visible during low tide and look like tables.
Pro tip: We always suggest keeping some cash on hand for your visit to the North Shore. For example, sometimes local mom-and-pop shops don’t accept cards. Moreover, you may cash for food trucks, parking at the beach, or other small purchases.
7. Kuilima Cove (Turtle Bay Beach)
Kuilima Cove is a sheltered inlet protected from large waves, making it ideal for beginner-level snorkelers and families traveling with small children. Although this beach is connected to a resort (Turtle Bay Resort), you don’t have to be a guest to visit, and parking is free! Kuilima Cove is particularly convenient, thanks to its nearby amenities. For example, you can rent your snorkeling gear as well as lounge chairs, cabanas, and umbrellas from the Sand Bar. Additionally, you can order takeout food and drinks from Roy’s Beach House if you get hungry.
If you decide to go snorkeling here, you can observe marine life like butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, damselfish, and maybe even green sea turtles in the deepest sandy areas. With this in mind, this beach is a fun place to try out your new GoPro! Note that many people call Laniakea Beach “turtle beach” as a nickname. Meanwhile, Kuilima Cove (Turtle Bay Beach) is part of Turtle Bay Resort.
8. Mokuleia Beach Park
Mokuleia Beach Park is a hidden gem located just off Farrington Highway and three miles from the Kaena Point Trail. In the Hawaiian language, “mokule’ia” translates to “district of abundance.” You may actually recognize this secluded beach, as it was the primary filming location for Season 1 of the TV series Lost.
Mokuleia Beach features a shallow reef, providing good conditions for snorkeling in the summer months. Additionally, the soft beige-white sand is ideal for relaxing and sunbathing. Nonetheless, this spot is most popular among windsurfers and kitesurfers throughout the year. Note that visitors should avoid entering the water during the winter due to strong swells. You can find picnic tables, restroom facilities, and ample parking here; however, there is no lifeguard on duty.
9. Haleiwa Alii Beach Park & Haleiwa Beach Park
Both Haleʻiwa Aliʻi Beach Park and Haleʻiwa Beach Park are located next to one another in Haleiwa Town, a popular North Shore community. During the winter months, the waves at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park can reach over 25 feet. Therefore, it becomes a top spot for surfers on the North Shore. In fact, this sandy beach is best known for hosting the first event in the Triple Crown of Surfing competition: The Hawaiian Pro. While it’s possible to swim here in the summertime, Haleiwa Alii has a rocky bottom. So, it’s probably better for activities like surfing, kayaking, fishing, and diving.
Along Kamehameha Highway, you’ll find the nearby Haleiwa Beach Park. Since you can find calmer waves here, it’s a top location for beginner surfers and surfing lessons. This family-friendly park has picnic tables, public bathrooms, showers, and plenty of shade. Although we don’t recommend swimming here due to the rocks and coral, Haleiwa Beach is an ideal spot for kayaking, paddleboarding, and boogie boarding. You can also snorkel here–sometimes, you can even spot green sea turtles! However, we prefer Shark’s Cove or Three Tables for this activity.
10. Chun’s Reef Beach
You’ll find Chun’s Reef off Kamehameha Highway, a long beach with fine white sand, just three miles from Haleiwa. Note that Chun’s isn’t a particularly good beach for swimming. However, it’s undoubtedly one of the most famous North Shore surf spots! In particular, Chun’s Reef Beach is a top location for surfing lessons and excellent for beginners and advanced surfers. However, it used to be a hidden surfing gem in the 1960s! The name “Chun’s Reef” dates back to this era, when a Kawailoa resident, John Chun, would bring his children here to surf.
Where to stay on the North Shore
Are you looking for the best hotels on the North Shore? Here are our top three recommendations. We’ve included options for every budget, ranging from luxury travelers to those backpacking through Hawaii.
Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay Resort is the most upscale option you’ll find on the North Shore, with a beachfront location and two championship 18-hole golf courses. Plus, each of its hotel rooms, suites, Beach Cottages, and Ocean Villas features incredible ocean views.
This resort is ideal for families traveling with children or even a group of adults looking for a more luxurious option near the famous surfing beaches in this Oahu region. For example, Turtle Bay is just 5.5 miles from the Banzai Pipeline. Additionally, you may recognize this property from the 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall!
Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore
The Courtyard by Marriot Oahu North Shore is located in Laie, Hawaii, a mere 350 feet from the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s also a short drive (20-30 minutes) to top North Shore beaches, such as Sunset Beach, the Pipeline, and Waimea Bay. Each of its 144 guest rooms features free high-speed WiFi, flat-panel TVs, and plush bedding.
Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village
Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village is a budget-friendly hostel located in Haleiwa and across the street from Three Tables Beach. They offer a range of accommodations, including dorm beds, private beach studios, and entire cabins. If you plan to spend most of your time on the North Shore surfing, Backpackers is a perfect option. Just remember: this property is one of the few affordable options on the North Shore. So, it gets booked up pretty far in advance!
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