Surfing is king on Oahu’s North Shore, where summer’s placid snorkeling spots are transformed into pounding 40-foot (12-meter) waves come winter. On land you’ll find a peaceful respite from hectic Honolulu, with scenic waterfall hikes, sleepy farms selling tropical fruit, and food trucks doling out garlic shrimp.
There are a number of options for exploring the North Shore. Head to the water for a surfing or stand-up paddle board lesson, a sunset catamaran cruise, or a shark cage diving excursion. On land, tour the area’s rich farms, hike to Waimea Valley Falls, explore the fields and jungles of Kualoa Ranch, or see the island from above on a helicopter tour. While many tours leave from nearby Waikiki, it’s also possible to visit the North Shore on a day trip from Honolulu. Some full-day excursions include visits to Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay State Park, or the Dole Plantation.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Only expert surfers should attempt to ride the North Shore’s massive winter waves.
- Parking can be difficult to find, especially during the winter surf season.
- Bring sun protection, comfortable shoes, and plenty of water.
How to Get There
Oahu’s North Shore stretches for more than seven miles (11 kilometers) and is located 30 miles (48 kilometers) from downtown Honolulu. During winter, the one-way road along the North Shore’s “seven-mile miracle” of popular surf beaches can back up for hours, so it’s best to visit on a tour to avoid the hassle of driving and parking.
When to Get There
The North Shore’s summer and winter seasons each have their benefits. In summer, seas are calm and you can to take beginner surf lessons, go kayaking, or enjoy some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling. Winter is the busiest time to visit, when expert surfers hit the waves and other visitors stick to the safety of land. If you opt for a winter visit, it’s best to arrive early (before 9am) to score a parking spot.
Must-See North Shore Spots
Don’t miss the historic Haleiwa Beach town, with its clapboard shops, surf boutiques, and restaurants. The Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay are some of the most famous North Shore beaches, while Turtle Beach offers a chance to see sunbathing Hawaiian green sea turtles.