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Guide to North Shore Oahu

Updated on September 25, 2021
Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay

North Shore

Surfing was born in Hawaii, and soon it found followers that weren't satisfied to ride the waves of Waikiki. Big wave surfing was born, a sport that to this day challenges an elite crowd of wave worshippers, and cost a few of them their life, year after year. Living by the motto " the ultimate price for the ultimate thrill " they still challenge natures fury. Surf is measured in feet of the back side of the wave, which counts twice for the front. This system is unique for Hawaii, simply because, well, they are just bigger around here. A drop from a 15 foot wave is like jumping from a 5 story building with 2.5 inches of fiberglass under your feet.

Surfing on the North shore has taken a life of its own however. The surfers have their own lingo, their own hand signals, and since corporate America realized the marketing potential behind those few daredevils, it has its own brands of clothes, too. Now everyone wants to be a surfer, especially the many visitors.

But the North Shore is not just surfing. You can find great hiking, quaint Haleiwa town, lots of activities and more peace and quiet than you would have ever expected on Oahu. The north still has few residents compared to the south, and this translates into a much more relaxed vibe everywhere.

As fast as they appear in winter, the surfers seem to vanish with the waves in early spring. Come summer the water is flat like a lake, and swimming and snorkeling along the North Shore is a true joy. Spend your vacation at the Kawela Bay Beachfront Homes or at any of the other great vacation homes on the North Shore.


Home of the surfer crowd during the busy winter month, Haleiwa falls into a slumber for most of the year. Except for tourists in their rent-a-cars and the occasional tour bus on its way through, not much happens around here.

The town however is well worth a visit at any given time, because it has a nice collection of galleries that sell flower dresses, furniture from Indonesia and Bali, art galleries which sell local marine art, surf shops and coffee places. If you stay in one of the nice B&B's on the North Shore, this is the place for relaxed breakfast, and a stroll down the dusty main street. Too bad no one stopped KFC, Chevron and Mc D.'s before they decided to put their ugly anytown USA buildings along an otherwise picturesque street. If you want to stay close to Haleiwa, check out Ulu Wehi B&Bi and Treetops Rental.

Since winter is the busy time here, consider renting a vacation home on the beach during the summer - chances are you won't miss 15 foot waves when you snorkel, and the prices go down significantly.

Haleiwa ( "the Home of the Frigate Birds") is the most important town along the North Shore. In 1832 the first missionaries established a small village, where the river Anahulu flows into the ocean. Today it’s colorful main street houses look like a Hollywood setting for a country movie and its small town flair is special. The best things to buy in ‘surfer city’ are beachwear and surf boards. The variety and the prices are really good. It is also a traditional "must" to have a shaved ice at Matsumoto’s General Store", who’s excellent product was recognized nationally. To eat it local style, get the ice cream with the beans on the bottom.

Continuing along the North Shore you come by the old sugar mill, and the road takes you to some of the most deserted beaches along the Mokuleia coast line. The water is clear, and chances are except for some fishermen you will be alone. There are also YMCA campgrounds out here, and a skydiving school.


The North Shore boasts some of Oahu's finest beaches

Kawela Bay

Kawela is a secluded bay with white sand beaches and close proximity to the Turtle Bay Hilton Resort. A variety of great vacation homes can be found here, along with plenty of room for those long beach walks. If you like apartments, the Estates at Turtle Bay are just around the corner as part of the resort.

Sunset Beach

This beach is unbeatable. It is beautiful, clean, miles long, it has the nicest waves, and, of course, an awesome sunset. Even as a non surfer it is fascinating just to sit on the sand and observe the power of the ocean. At the beginning of the beach, you can watch the surfers enjoying their thrilling challenge. During the winter months, a lot of professional surf competitions are held there. During the summer, though, the situation is very different. The water is calm and the beaches are safe for swimming. The ultimate is renting a beachfront home on Sunset, or stay at one of the local B&Bs.

Famous surfer spots, like Kimmieland, Gas Chambers, Pipeline and Ehukai Beach, are also part of Sunset Beach.

Pupukea Beach Park

Shark’s Cove is a snorkeler’s and scuba diver’s paradise, during the calm summer months. It is almost better than Hanauma Bay. The reef offers interesting tubes, ledges and arches to explore. At the mouth of the cove the ocean is 20 feet deep, and outside the cove 45. Due to its clear waters the visibility is excellent.

From November to April the sea is rough and makes therefore all activities extremely hazardous!

Waimea Bay

Coming from Sunset Beach, you will cross a small bridge and then have the choice to turn either left into Waimea Falls Park, or right into Waimea Beach Park. Both are worth seeing. The beach is a closed bay with a wide sandy beach. It is very popular for swimming during the summer months.

Mokuleia and Kaena Point

Heading west towards Kaena Point you will experience deserted beaches, splendid views and a lot of ancient Hawaiian spirit. Mokuleia Beach is not very convenient for swimming because of its rocky surface, but the offers brilliant views of the North Shore. After Mokuleia beach the paved road ends, and the Oahu’s wildest spot is all yours. After 2.5 miles walking you will reach Kaena Point, a needle-like peninsula that points west toward the setting sun. This spectacular finger of lava also pointed the way for the ancient Hawaiian souls of the dead who took a flying leap into the spirit world. From Kaena point both shores, the North Shore and West Shore are visible. Shortly offshore some low, jagged rocks are constantly pounded by waves. It is said that one of the rocks was pulled over by the demigod Maui to bring the islands closer together.


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