A vacation to Oahu, Hawaii, is incomplete without exploring the renowned North Shore, known for its world-famous winter waves and summer snorkeling spots like the Banzai Pipeline and Shark’s Cove. Just an hour from Waikiki, it offers a scenic road trip from Honolulu.
Drawing on my firsthand experience, I’ve curated the ten best beaches on Oahu’s North Shore, providing activities and insider tips to help you choose the ultimate beach during your trip. I’ve also included 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 my favorite Oahu beaches, offering clear blue-green water ideal for swimming and snorkeling in summer, while winter attracts surfers with large waves. It’s also the site of “The Eddie” big wave surfing tournament!
This iconic North Shore spot features picnic tables, restrooms, showers, and a lifeguard tower. Arrive early for free parking or consider street parking on Kamehameha Highway or paid parking at Waimea Valley Park if you sleep in (costing approximately $10-25 per vehicle).
2. Sunset Beach Park
Sunset Beach Park, adjacent to Ehukai Beach, stretches two miles to Sunset Point. It boasts soft beige sand, perfect for sunbathing and summer swimming (depending on conditions). A key winter surfing spot, it’s hosted The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing since 1983.
As the name suggests, it’s an ideal place to watch the sunset on Oahu, making it a great spot for a picnic. For local snacks, check out the Sunrise Shack across the street, a charming café known for its coffee, tea, and papaya bowls, and one of the island’s most instagrammable places.
3. Laniakea Beach
Visit Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach) for a chance to observe Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. Arrive between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for the best viewing, especially in summer. Remember not to touch or harass the turtles and to stay at least 10 feet away, as it’s illegal to disturb them.
Honu Guardian volunteers are available for questions. Free parking is across the street, but you’ll want to arrive earlier rather than later to avoid traffic on Kamehameha Highway. Additionally, please avoid walking on the slippery rocks while making your way along the coast!
4. Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove, part of Pupukea Beach Park, is a popular North Shore spot for summer snorkeling, offering a chance to spot diverse marine life. Despite its name, you won’t find sharks here! Instead, it’s named for the reef’s shark-like shape from above.
Winter brings unsafe conditions for snorkeling, but in summer, the cove is bustling with tourists. Therefore, we suggest arriving early in the morning to secure a parking spot! Moreover, be cautious about leaving valuables in your car to prevent break-ins during your Hawaii vacation.
5. Ehukai Beach Park (Banzai Pipeline)
Known as the Banzai Pipeline (or Pipeline/Pipe for locals), this North Shore beach is famed as a top surf destination, hosting the Vans Triple Crown finale. Ehukai Beach Park boasts perfect barrel waves in the winter, ranking among the world’s best surf-watching spots for professionals.
In summer, it’s popular for swimming and sunbathing. Located across from Sunset Beach Elementary School, it offers amenities like picnic tables, bathrooms, showers, a lifeguard stand, and free parking. Don’t miss the nearby Ehukai Pillbox Hike for a stunning view of the beach from above!
6. Three Tables Beach
Three Tables Beach, less than half a mile from Shark’s Cove, is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District. It’s a top snorkeling and diving spot during warmer months, especially from May to September. Or, if you don’t want to snorkel, opt for relaxing on the beach!
Encounter marine life like goatfish, surgeonfish, grouper, cornetfish, parrotfish, and sea cucumbers. Lucky visitors may even spot Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles! If you’re wondering how this beach got its name, you can see three sections of reef here that resemble tables during low tide.
Pro tip: Keep cash on hand on the North Shore, as some local shops may not accept cards, and you may need it for food trucks, beach parking, or small purchases.
7. Kuilima Cove (Turtle Bay Beach)
Kuilima Cove, an inlet connected to Turtle Bay Resort, is perfect for beginner snorkelers and an excellent activity for kids in Oahu. Despite being part of a resort, non-guests can visit with free parking. Convenient amenities include snorkeling gear rental, lounge chairs, cabanas, and umbrellas!
Hungry? Order takeout from Roy’s Beach House! Snorkel to spot butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, damselfish, and maybe green sea turtles in the sandy areas. It’s an ideal spot to test your new GoPro.
Note: Laniakea Beach is nicknamed “turtle beach,” while Kuilima Cove (Turtle Bay Beach) is part of Turtle Bay Resort.
8. Mokuleia Beach Park
Mokuleia Beach Park, located off Farrington Highway and three miles from the Kaena Point Trail, is a hidden gem known as the primary filming location for Season 1 of Lost. The beach features a shallow reef, ideal for summer snorkeling, and soft beige-white sand for sunbathing.
Popular year-round among windsurfers and kitesurfers, it’s advised to avoid water entry in winter due to strong swells. Amenities include picnic tables, restrooms, and ample parking; however, no lifeguard is on duty.
9. Haleiwa Alii Beach Park & Haleiwa Beach Park
Haleʻiwa Aliʻi Beach Park and Haleʻiwa Beach Park, located in Haleiwa Town on the North Shore, are adjacent to each other. In winter, waves at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park can exceed 25 feet, attracting surfers for The Hawaiian Pro, the first event in the Triple Crown of Surfing.
Due to its rocky bottom, this beach is more suitable for activities like surfing, kayaking, fishing, and diving. By comparison, Haleiwa Beach Park has calmer waves, making it ideal for beginner surfers and lessons. This family-friendly park offers picnic tables, bathrooms, showers, and shade.
While not recommended for swimming due to rocks and coral, it’s suitable 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 prime spot for surfing lessons, catering to both beginners and advanced surfers. In the 1960s, it was a hidden gem, earning its name from John Chun, a Kawailoa resident who brought 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 premier upscale choice on the North Shore, offering beachfront luxury, golf courses, and stunning ocean views. It’s also near all of the most famous surfing beaches, including the Banzai Pipeline. You may recognize this hotel from 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.
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. Just remember: this property is one of the few affordable options on the North Shore. So, it gets booked up pretty far in advance!
Need more Hawaii travel tips? Check out these travel guides!
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This article was first published in January 2022 and has since been updated.