Surf is king on Oahu's North Shore, where summertime’s mostly placid snorkeling spots and beginner surf breaks are transformed into pounding ragers come winter. Then, perfect crests and barrels topping 35 feet combine for a not-to-be-missed spectacle often used in world-class surfing competitions.
The North Shore is best known for the so-called "Seven Mile Miracle" of bays and surf breaks between Sunset Beach and Haleiwa, including the famous Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay. But the land area extends north of Laie (home of the Polynesian Cultural Center) in the east all the way to the albatross and monk seal refuge of Kaena Point on Oahu's westernmost tip. In between, travelers will find a respite from hectic Honolulu: roadside trucks serving heaping portions of garlic shrimp; acai smoothie cottages; scenic waterfall hikes; scattered stretches of white sand; and the charming clapboard shops, surf boutiques and restaurants of downtown Haleiwa.
Experience the North Shore with a surfing lesson, a snorkel session at Waimea Bay, a dune buggy adventure or a sunset helicopter tour. Visitors can also choose a trip that hits the highlights, with stops at the Waimea Valley waterfalls, a luau and Haleiwa.
Insider's Tip: Some tours will satisfy a sweet tooth at the North Shore's Matsumoto Shave Ice, a family-owned shack in Haleiwa widely regarded as the best spot for Hawaii's favorite frozen treat.
The North Shore lies roughly between Kaena and Kahuku points on Oahu. Despite its laid-back surfer vibe (this is the haunt of surfer-songwriter Jack Johnson, after all), the North Shore is no secret. During particularly spectacular surf, Route 83, the only two-lane thoroughfare along the North Shore's waterfront can back up with traffic. Fortunately, a wealth of tour options provide transport from Waikiki hotels and take the parking hassle out of the equation.