The drive alone to North Shore Oahu is enough to make nature enthusiasts (or anyone with an appreciation for landscapes) go weak at the knees. Which is why we’re taking you through the valleys of North Shore’s country, past the acres of sweet smelling tropical pineapples, along miles of its postcard worthy beaches, and to some popular landmarks and stop offs at notorious eateries and shopping spots.
This day is sure to ignite in you a desire for the simple, local lifestyle filled with unspoiled beach days, water activities, and a wind-down type of evening in a sleepy little town. And for the avid surfer, we’ll take you to world-renowned surf breaks such as Pipeline and Waimea Bay, not to mention give you a look into the life of a north shore local. This side of Oahu truly epitomizes the country culture, and we’ve narrowed down the sights and adventures that are well worth your time.
This sweet little café is a perfect place to fuel up for a day full of adventure. Offering a Mexican style breakfast menu with Huevos Rancheros, fresh tortillas, and the likes, we also like this restaurant for it’s classic spuds and awesome omelets. Reasonably priced and located at the beginning of Old Haleiwa town stretch, it’s a perfect first stop for this Journey. Haleiwa Café is cozy, warm, and books up fast on the weekends, but they also offer outdoor seating set away from the main restaurant. This is always a great option as it gives you a chance to visit with the local geckos and become friendly with the other guests.
North Shore Market Place
This outdoor shopping market has surf shops, bikini boutiques, jewelry stores with precious shells and pearls, art galleries, and much more. It is a favorite daytime spot for anyone on the North Shore, as it harbors much of the side’s activity. Raging Isle is my favorite shop within the market place due to its variety of women’s clothing. You’re guaranteed to find a few outfits that catch your eye, not to mention the local surf magazine for pleasure reading on the beach.
Surf N Sea
We like to deem this shop a landmark because of its history in Haleiwa. Opening in 1965, this waterman shop has been specializing in ocean activities since its inception. Making a cameo appearance in the famous movie North Shore, this rickety 2-story shop is a great introduction to the culture and lifestyle of the North Shore locals. With plenty merchandise to browse through and sure to entertain anyone, we like to recommend Surf N Sea as an interesting place to pause and take a look around.
Laniakea Beach (Lani’s)
Although many people make a beach day out of this particular stretch of sand, we don’t recommend it for that activity. Instead, we suggest you park in the dirt lot adjacent to the ocean and head down to the right hand portion of the beach. Here, you are more than likely to spot giant green sea turtles basking in the sun, and although it’s not entirely safe, you are currently allowed to snorkel along-side them. However, if you walk south of this spot, past the lifeguard tower, you are just as guaranteed to swim with turtles in these waters, and with less of a crowd.
Home to one of the heaviest breaks in Hawaii, Waimea Bay is known for its unsafe swimming conditions during the winter months (am I enticing you yet?) So we only recommend this beach if you’re visiting during the summer, or if you’re not planning to swim. For the thrill seekers, there is a rock you can climb up and jump off, which is totally safe, as long as you attempt it during a calm day. On an ideal afternoon, Waimea Bay is filled with local families, vacationers, sunbathers, body boarders and body surfers, and the all-around classic beach crowd. We love this place best on one of these days, with the sun shining down and the waters enticing you for a swim.
No North Shore adventure is complete without some snorkeling. And despite the crowd, Shark’s Cove still places as one of the top beaches for underwater sightseeing. And there are plenty places to rent snorkel gear if you forgot to bring your own, so don’t worry about remembering to pack your flippers, because the surf shops out here have got you covered. Even though the name of this snorkel spot has a somewhat intimidating reference, the wildlife you’ll see here is sure to exhilarate you. Hands down favorite fish to see underwater is the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (try say that one ten times!) because of its unique characteristics and colors, and I just think it’s an incredibly cute fish (if that’s possible). You’ll also see schools of maninis, angel fish, various types of trigger fish, parrot fish, turtles, and much more.
It’s about that time for some lunch, and Pupukea Grill is known for its awesomely good local grinds and classic favorites. Seriously one of the best places to eat on the North Shore, this lunch truck offers window ordering and pick up, with outdoor seating that is sheltered from the occasional rain cloud. It’s decorated with surf posters and magazine cut-outs, but don’t look twice if you happen to see the real face of someone on those pictures. This grill is a gathering place for local surfers, and it’s been known to have some popular names frequent its tables.
We recommend this spot mostly as a landmark, and less as a spot for swimming, snorkeling, or other water activities. Pipeline is the most well-known surf break in the world, hosting surf contests that bring people from around the world to get a piece of the action. It’s why North Shore is so popular, not to disclude the other seven miles of miracle surf breaks both north and south of Pipeline. If you visit this break on a firing day, be sure to bring your camera, you just may be able to sell a killer shot to one of the surf magazines!
Just as its name implies, this beach is a great spot for watching the sunset, and is very popular among the North Shore locals. Like all spots here in the wintertime, it is not ideal for swimming, but we do recommend it for sunset picnics with wine, or pleasant evening beach walks. When calm, this beach is great for underwater shell hunting, snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing, and has a large stretch of sand to spread your towel out on. Make sure you don’t post up too close to a local though, because they might bite. Nah nah, this is a great beach and a world-class surf destination, and we thoroughly enjoy visiting Sunset.
Opal Thai Food
This small eatery humbly began as a food truck on the North Shore and has now become one of the most popular Thai restaurants on the island, and for good reason. Opal himself greets his guests, takes their order, and many times, cooks their food! Family owned and operated, Opal has refined the classic pad thai, green curry, and tom kha soup. Just make sure you specify your spice preference, because their “Thai hot” will have you gulping water quicker than Opal’s son can refill it! We also love this restaurant because it’s BYOB, with no corkage fee.
One of the only bars on the North Shore, Cholo’s is a Mexican Restaurant with a lively nightlife…ending around 10:00pm. But despite not being able to party the night away here, you will definitely find a good margarita, draft beer, some free chips and salsa, and a casual Mexican restaurant feel that isn’t found anywhere else on the island. Although we don’t highly recommend it for the food, the bar scene is fun and you are sure to meet a weathered sea dog or a fun group of folks that are good for conversation.