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15 Best Things to Do on the North Shore of Oahu

Oahu’s North Shore runs from Kaʻena Point to Kahuku along the island’s north coast and features over 7 miles of sandy beaches. This region is best known for massive waves, surfing competitions, snorkeling spots, and stunning beaches, drawing in thousands of annual visitors.

I firmly believe that no Hawaiian vacation is truly complete without dedicating a few days to exploring the unique charm of this coastal area. For example, before my visit, I knew I had to see the famous Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay in person. 

So, to help you plan an epic Hawaii trip, I’ll divulge the 15 best things to do on the North Shore of Oahu. Discover the best beaches, hiking trails, places to eat, and snorkeling spots. However, I’ve also included hidden gems that I wish I had known about during my first trip!

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission when you purchase a product or book a stay through these links at no extra cost to you.

The best things to do on the North Shore

1. Hit the beach at Waimea Bay Beach Park.

View of Waimea Bay Beach Park, showing clear water and rock formations.Waimea Bay Beach Park is one of the most beautiful beaches on the North Shore. Enjoy snorkeling, swimming, boogie boarding, or surfing in the clear blue-green waters with white sandy surroundings—perfect for photos.

The park provides convenient public bathrooms and outdoor showers to rinse off and avoid tracking sand. Although it’s one of the best surf spots on the island in the winter, it’s ideal for swimming and snorkeling on the North Shore during the summer months.

During the high season, you’ll want to arrive early to snag nearby parking; otherwise, additional parking is available across the street for $10-20. 

Pro tip: Having cash on hand is always a good idea. You may need it for beach parking, meals from food trucks, or other purchases.

2. Hike the Waimea Valley Trail.

Waimea Falls waterfall at the Waimea Valley Trail.The Waimea Valley Trail is a 1.9-mile paved hike leading to the 45-foot Waimea Falls. It’s an easy, family-friendly trek, and there’s a shuttle available if you prefer not to walk. The entrance fee is around $20 per adult or $12 per child, contributing to Waimea Falls area upkeep.

Pass through botanical gardens and a Hawaiian cultural site on your way to the falls, with detours for cultural activities. Waimea Valley boasts 5000+ tropical plants, including Wiliwili trees and Hibiscus Hybrids.

Another big draw to visit is that you can go swimming in the falls when a lifeguard is on duty! Lifeguards assess swimming conditions at 9 a.m. daily, and if you decide to swim, a free life vest is required.


3. Observe the sea turtles at Laniakea Beach.

Turtle basking at Laniakea Beach on Oahu's North Shore.One of the best North Shore activities is to visit Laniakea Beach (also called Turtle Beach) to see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. The best time is lunchtime (11 a.m.-1 p.m.), especially in summer, or sometimes at sunset. 

Remember, it’s illegal to touch or harass the turtles; keep a minimum distance of 10 feet (3 meters) as advised by Hawaiʻi’s Division of Aquatic Resources. Honu Guardian volunteers are stationed here to educate and ensure the turtles’ safety—feel free to ask them questions.

Pro tip: check out the Malama na Honu website to see photos of the turtles who make basking appearances on the beach! 

4. Hike the Ehukai Pillbox trail.

The view from the Ehukai Pillbox Hike, showing the neighborhood below and the Banzai Pipeline from above.The Ehukai Pillbox Hike, also called Sunset Pillbox Hike, is a 2.3-mile moderate trail leading to two World War II-era pillboxes. Although steep at times, the summit provides stunning views of the North Shore. Plus, it’s one of the best places to watch the sunset on Oahu!

Commencing behind Sunset Elementary School, the hike provides views of Banzai Pipeline and the coastline from the top! It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the first pillbox or 1.5 hours to reach both pillboxes and return.

The trail can be slippery and muddy in the rain; so, it’s advisable to choose a dry day and wear sturdy hiking shoes for traction. Additionally, to avoid crowds during high season, start your ascent early in the morning or evening, when parking is more accessible.

Read More: Things to Know Before Visiting Oahu

5. Watch the waves and surfers at Banzai Pipeline.

Surfer catching a wave at the famous Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.Visiting the Banzai Pipeline (also known as Ehukai Beach Park) is one of the best things to do on the North Shore if you enjoy watching surfing and big swells. Known for perfect barreling waves, it attracts elite surfers worldwide, especially in December.

However, due to its challenging and dangerous waves, “the Pipe” is recommended for professional surfers only. For beginners and intermediates, consider Chun’s Reef, a popular spot with North Shore surfing schools and instructors.

6. Sunbathe at Sunset Beach.

Rainbow over Sunset Beach at the North Shore in Oahu.Sunset Beach is one of the top North Shore beaches to visit, stretching for two miles along the coast. It features soft beige sand, making this spot ideal for relaxing, sunbathing, and watching the surfers catch waves.

In fact, Sunset Beach comes alive as a big wave surfing destination during the winter months (November through February). Moreover, it’s one of three surf breaks in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

As you may have guessed from the name, another popular activity at Sunset Beach is to watch the sunset over the ocean! Grab some Ahi Poke and other supplies at Foodland if you want to make your experience a dreamy picnic.

7. Grab a smoothie at the instagrammable Sunrise Shack.

Woman in yellow dress walking in front of the yellow Sunrise Shack restaurant across from Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore.Directly across the street from Sunset Beach, you’ll find The Sunrise Shack. This vibrant food stand offers a selection of healthy foods, including smoothies, smoothie bowls, juices, bullet coffee, and other organic snacks.

If you’re having a hard time choosing what to order, my favorite is the Tropical Bowl, followed by the Jungle Matcha Bowl. Make sure to add on the delicious macadamia nut butter!

Look Here: 60+ Quotes About Hawaii

8. Go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove.

View of the rocks and water at Shark's Cove on the North Shore of Oahu.Shark’s Cove, part of Pupukea Beach Park, is one of the best snorkeling spots on the North Shore. Snorkelers can observe an array of marine life here, including butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, sea turtles, and eels.

Contrary to its name, there are no actual sharks; it’s named for the reef’s shark-like shape when viewed from above. Ideal for snorkeling or swimming, visit during the calm summer months (April-October), avoiding the winter swell with unsafe conditions.

Given its popularity, arrive early in the morning during summer to secure parking and enjoy a less crowded snorkeling experience. Or, if you’d prefer to snorkel with a guide, check out this Full-Day Circle Island Tour or this North Shore Oahu Snorkeling Tour.

Pro tip: We strongly recommend wearing water shoes at this snorkeling location, so make sure you include them in your Hawaii packing list!


9. Take a photo at the Haleiwa surfer sign.

Woman posing for a picture in front of the Haleiwa surfer sign in Haleiwa Town, Oahu.While driving from Honolulu to the North Shore, don’t miss the charming town of Haleiwa. As you do, look out for the iconic and Instagrammable Haleiwa surfer signs created by artist Carole Beller in 1996.

These signs, located at 62-330 Kamehameha Hwy (surfer girl) and 62-400 Joseph P. Leong Hwy (surfer boy), have become popular photo spots on the North Shore. Both are on the side of the highway, so take all of the proper precautions when taking photos!

Read More: Best Instagram Spots in Oahu

10. Try the island’s best açai bowls.

Açai bowl with coconut shavings and bananas in front of Haleiwa Bowls kiosk in Haleiwa Town, Oahu.If you plan to explore Haleiwa Town during your trip to the North Shore, don’t miss Haleiwa Bowls! Located along Kamehameha Highway, this cute kiosk serves the best açai bowls on the island, ranking it among the best places to eat in Oahu

Haleiwa Bowls offers affordable menu items, like custom açai bowls, smoothies, cold-brew coffee, and tea. For a small fee, you can even add extra toppings, including an assortment of fruit as well as bee pollen, hemp seeds, almond butter, coconut, honey, and more.

Visit on a weekday if possible to avoid weekend crowds during the high season! Conveniently, there’s a small parking lot directly behind the kiosk for easy access.

11. Eat at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.

Garlic shrimp on top of fluffy white rice on plate in front of Giovanni's Shrimp Truck.One of my favorite things to do on the North Shore is grabbing lunch at the food trucks in Haleiwa Town. This dining establishment is another North Shore institution, receiving customers from all over the world.

It may even be the most famous place to eat (especially for visitors) in Haleiwa. The most popular menu item is the Shrimp Scampi, which comes with 12 jumbo shrimp marinated in olive oil, garlic, and lemon butter. 

Given Giovanni’s popularity, expect a 30-minute wait in line to place your order, followed by an additional 15-minute wait for freshly prepared food. To skip the line, consider arriving at Giovanni’s when it opens at 10:30 a.m.

Pro tip: Grab a handful of napkins once your order is ready because the garlic shrimp is messy to eat!

12. Sample Matsumoto’s famous shave ice.

Pink, blue, and yellow shave ice from Matsumoto's Shave Ice in Haleiwa Town, Oahu, Hawaii.If you want to try authentic Hawaiian cuisine on your trip to the North Shore, head over to Matsumoto’s for shave ice. For those who haven’t tried this dessert before, it’s essentially ice flavored with syrup. Moreover, you can choose to top it off with ice cream, azuki beans, or condensed milk.

Despite the long lines at Matsumoto’s, they typically move quickly. Indulge in tropical flavors such as guava, lilikoi, papaya, lychee, mango, and coconut. Or, opt for flavor combinations like the “Hawaiian,” featuring Pineapple, Coconut, and Banana.

We always recommend adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to make your dessert exceptionally tasty! Check the full menu ahead of your visit here.

13. Enjoy the scenic drive along Kamehameha Highway.

Bird's eye view of cars driving down Kamehameha Highway as the road winds along Oahu's coast.Kamehameha Highway is the main road running along the North Coast, making it one of the best places to road trip on Oahu. With one lane in each direction, be prepared for potential traffic, especially during the high season, like peak travel months in June and July.

For first-time visitors to Oahu, dedicate at least one full day to explore the North Coast along Kamehameha Highway. Popular spots along Kamehameha Highway include Haleiwa Town, Laniakea Beach, Waimea Bay, Shark’s Cove, the Banzai Pipeline, and Sunset Beach. 

Moreover, this scenic road continues past the North Shore onto Oahu’s windward side. So, if you have time, we highly recommend extending your drive down the east coast. If you do, don’t miss the Polynesian Cultural Center!

14. Hike Kaʻena Point.

Man walking along dirt road at Ka'ena Point Trail from Farrington Highway.Ka’ena Point State Park is the westernmost point of land on Oahu, and hiking is the only way to visit. There are two trailheads: one in the Mokuleia Section (north coast of Oahu) and the other in the Keawa’ula Section (west side of Oahu).

Since we’re focused on seeing the North Shore, we recommend the Ka’ena Point via Farrington Highway Trail. This five-mile trek provides beautiful views along the North Shore and is suitable for all skill levels.

Be aware that the trail can be hot with little shade, so bring water and sunscreen. Additionally, restrooms are not available on this particular route, so plan accordingly.

Read More: 20 Free Things to Do in Oahu

15. Take a surfing lesson.

Surf board in the sand in front of Sunset Beach on the North Shore of OahuExplore the renowned surfing mecca of the North Shore by taking a surfing lesson while in the area. Oahu, surpassing Maui and Kauai, is the ultimate Hawaiian island for surfing, offering world-famous waves and a rich surf culture.

Consider Uncle Bryan’s Surf Academy for surf lessons, available at Haleiwa Beach Park in the winter and Chun’s Reef in the summer. Whether you’re a beginner or aiming to enhance your skills, this academy guarantees a safe and authentic introduction to the sport.

Where to stay on the North Shore

View of Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore in Oahu, showing beach and people lining itAre you in search of the coziest hotels on the North Shore? We’ve compiled our top three suggestions, catering to a wide range of budgets, from luxury travelers to more budget-conscious individuals.

Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort stands out as the most luxurious choice available on the North Shore. Ideal for families or adults looking for proximity to famous Oahu surfing spots, it’s just 5.5 miles from the Banzai Pipeline. Plus, this hotel was featured in the 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Book your stay at Turtle Bay Resort!

Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore

The Courtyard by Marriot Oahu North Shore is just steps from the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii. It’s also a short 20-30 minute drive to popular North Shore beaches.

Book your stay at the Courtyard North Shore!

Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village

Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village is an economical hostel situated in Haleiwa, right across from Three Tables Beach. Keep in mind it’s one of the few affordable options and books up fast, so early reservations are advised.

Book your stay at Backpackers!

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Unleash your sense of adventure on Oahu's North Shore, a haven for surfers, nature lovers, and foodies. From legendary waves and scenic hikes to mouthwatering shrimp trucks and iconic shave ice, discover the best things to do on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii | things to do in north shore honolulu | things to do north shore hawaii | things to do north shore oahu | what to do in north shore oahu

This article was first published in September 2021 and has since been updated.

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