Diving with sharks off Haleiwa coast. Watching Hawaiian green sea turtles on Laniakea Beach. Swimming at the base of Waimea Falls. Cliff jumping into Waimea Bay.
The things to do on North Shore Oahu are simply amazing!
In the early 2000s, we could really enjoy a peaceful, quiet stroll on Waikiki’s spectacular beaches!
Fast forward to our most recent trip, and welcome to the post-Covid travel craze! Crowds everywhere.
The one time we really felt transported back to the peace and quiet of the early 2000s was when we spent a couple of days on the North Shore of Oahu.
Those two days were the best days of our vacation!
And if you are an experienced or professional surfer, the main reason you are visiting Oahu is to surf the massive waves of the world-famous Banzai Pipeline.
Even if you are not, don’t despair – watching the surfers from the beach is almost as satisfying!
Join me on a virtual exploration of Oahu’s North Shore!
From fun-filled adventure activities to just lazing on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world to admiring spectacular sunsets from the best vantage points, the North Shore of Oahu is truly stunning!
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North Shore Oahu
North Shore Oahu spans from Kaena Point to Kahuku Point, as you can see from the map below, 17 miles of coastline for surfing, snorkeling and diving!
If you are staying in Waikiki, you are roughly an hour from most spots on the North Shore.
Oahu’s North Shore is far enough to lure only destination-specific tourists, just those who want to enjoy what the North Shore offers.
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
North Shore Oahu Map
The North Shore Oahu map below shows the locations of the best things to do on the North Shore of Oahu described in this detailed guide.
Directions to North Shore Oahu
The simplest, and most convenient, way to get to the North Shore is by car, either with a rental car or a ride share like Uber or Lyft.
We chose the coastal route which is more scenic. You drive along the east coast of Oahu on the H-3, Kahekili, and Kamehameha highways, passing by Kaneohe Bay, Chinaman’s Hat, and Kualoa Ranch.
The alternative, the freeway route, is faster. You drive through Central Oahu on the H-1 and H-2 highways, passing by Pearl Harbor, Aloha Stadium, and Dole Plantation.
Taking the Bus to North Shore Oahu
If time is important on your vacation, I definitely would not recommend the bus.
But it sure is affordable: $3.00 per ride or $7.50 for a day pass.
Head to the Ala Moana Center near Waikiki and take bus #52 or #55.
Check here for the latest schedules and fares.
Day Trip to North Shore Oahu: Best 2023 Tours
If you have limited time, a tour is your best option and will offer you the convenience of a designed package and transportation.
Here are some of the 5-star rated, highly popular, North Shore of Oahu tours:
On one of our first trips to Oahu, we took the Small Group North Shore Circle Island Tour which gave us a wonderful flavor of North Shore.
We were lucky to have a very knowledgeable tour guide, native to the island, who shared some wonderful personal insights.
Best Things to Do on North Shore Oahu
Any North Shore Oahu bucket list must include the Banzai Pipeline (especially, in winter) and cage diving with sharks!
If you are vacationing with family and small kids, Waimea Valley Falls is a must-visit destination. Your kids will love the Polynesian Cultural Center. If your kids like snorkeling, try the Pupukea tide pools.
With teenage kids, you have so many fun things to do on the North Shore of Oahu: biking the North Shore Bike Path, ziplining, hiking on the Kaena Point Trail and the Ehukai Pillbox Trail, snorkeling at Shark’s Cove, and so on.
Want laid-back free things to do on the North Shore? Relax on beautiful Mokuleia Beach, enjoy a romantic sunset on Sunset Beach, and explore Haleiwa town and its local art galleries.
If you are a foodie, you must try the shrimp trucks. Enjoy traditional Hawaiian Poke bowl, acai bowls and shave ice.
There are things to do on the North Shore of Oahu for everyone!
1. Surf the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore
The waves on the Banzai Pipeline (Ehukai Beach) are to die for!
Professional surfers across the world come here during winter to compete in international tournaments.
If you’re not a professional surfer, not to worry! Just watching the action from the safety of the beach is pure joy, and is one of the best free things to do on the North Shore of Oahu!
The dazzling grace of professional surfers as they conquer towering, 25+ feet, waves is truly stunning!
Planning your Oahu itinerary? Read our guide to the best Oahu tours and excursions, from shark cage diving to snorkeling with turtles and kayaking to the Mokes!
2. Dive with Sharks
While surfing on the Banzai Pipeline is not for everyone, diving with sharks is something most people can do and one of the best fun things to do on the North Shore of Oahu!
With today’s modern technology, boats are outfitted with polyglass and steel cages that can be lowered into the water, from which you can safely have close encounters with sharks, even great white sharks!
Most shark tours leave from Haleiwa Harbor on Oahu’s North Shore, and head out to the open ocean.
Experienced tour boat captains know where to find sharks, even pelagic (deep open ocean) sharks, the big ones!
We took our teenage kids on North Shore Shark Adventures’ Oahu Shark Dive tour, they just loved it!
Learn all about swimming and cage diving with sharks in Oahu.
3. Swim in Waimea Valley Falls
If you are vacationing in Oahu with your family and small kids, you will love Waimea Falls!
The hike to Waimea Valley Falls is a breeze, even for families with small kids, and is one of our best easy Oahu hikes. You are walking on a well-maintained, paved path through a beautiful botanical garden.
Waimea Falls (also known as Waihi Falls) is a roaring 45-foot tall waterfall amidst lush rainforest vegetation.
Best of all, the base is a natural pool, and one of the few places in Oahu where you can legally swim at the waterfall!
A lifeguard is stationed on duty, and life jackets are provided. A changing room and other facilities are available near the pool.
Please note that Waimea Valley has an entrance fee, for details and how to save money, check out our tips on visiting Waimea Valley.
4. Hike the Ehukai Pillbox Trail on North Shore Oahu
The Ehukai Pillbox Trail is a ridge hike to two pillboxes (World War II remnants of military observation posts).
By design, these pillboxes offer spectacular views of the surrounding ocean and coastline.
If you hike this in winter, you are in for a treat, especially on surfing tournament days: you will get a panoramic view of the Banzai Pipeline and the professional surfers performing their magic on towering waves!
Not winter? Then hike the Ehukai Pillbox trail in the evening.
The Ehukai Pillbox Trail’s pillboxes are among the best vantage points for watching spectacular sunsets on Oahu’s North Shore coastline.
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
5. Stroll through Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens
In the mood to enjoy nature? Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens is your answer!
For plant-lovers, Waimea Valley is heaven: 5000 types of plants from all over the world, arranged along themes (for example, Polynesian, medicinal, food).
Don’t miss the giant lily pads (Victoria Amazonica) as you enter the park: one of the best spots for an Instagram selfie!
Overwhelmed? Our quick guide to the highlights in Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens is a must-read.
And don’t forget to explore the ancient temples and structures as well. After all, Waimea Valley is an archaeological site.
Note: Waimea Valley has an entrance fee, and for details and options to save some money, please check here for tips on how to plan your visit.
6. Enjoy Tao Luau: One of the Best Luaus on North Shore Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu doesn’t match Waikiki’s ritzy food scene.
But toss in flame throwers and sparkling Polynesian culture, and, presto!
You get Toa Luau, one of the best Hawaiian luaus on Oahu, a cultural and culinary experience that you don’t want to miss!
Toa Luau, held at Waimea Valley, is the only Oahu luau to be held in a beautiful botanical garden.
We took a package tour Toa Luau at Waimea Valley that let us enjoy everything that Waimea Valley has to offer: the waterfalls and the swimming, the botanical gardens, the historical structures and to top it all off: Toa Luau!
>> Check pricing and availability on this highly popular, 5-star rated tour Toa Luau at Waimea Valley that includes the admission fee!
7. Admire the Sunset on Sunset Beach, North Shore Oahu
Are you a vacationing couple? Strolling down Sunset Beach at sunset is one of the most romantic things to do on the North Shore of Oahu!
Pretty much every night we spent on the North Shore of Oahu, we found ourselves heading towards the Sunset Beach Park!
There is nothing more relaxing on a vacation than strolling down a sandy beach, admiring the incredible colors of a picture-perfect orange globe, gently drifting below the waters of the Pacific Ocean!
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
8. Zipline Over Oahu’s North Shore
As if diving with sharks and surfing the Banzai Pipeline aren’t enough, the longest zip lines on Oahu are on the North Shore.
I highly recommend this very popular, well-liked, Zipline Tour On Oahu’s North Shore tour that packages an ATV ride, rappels, sky bridges and, of course, 8 amazing zip lines over Oahu’s North Shore.
This is not just for your teenage kids, you too will love the exhilarating experience and stunning views!
9. Learn to Surf on North Shore Oahu
Envious of the graceful professional surfers on the Banzai Pipeline?
While the towering waves and strong currents of the Ehukai Beach can be deadly for the inexperienced surfer, North Shore provides several spots where a beginner can safely learn to surf.
Surfing can be a fun family activity, especially for those with teenage kids. If you want to learn surfing or are a beginner, I strongly recommend taking surfing lessons.
My kids took surf lessons on the North Shore of Oahu where they received instruction from experienced guides, and in almost no time they were riding waves on their own.
I was a complete novice, but still managed to pick up good basic surfing skills to hone on our next trip. All in all, great fun for everyone!
10. Watch Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles on Laniakea Beach
One of the unlucky few who missed seeing Hawaiian green sea turtles while snorkeling?
Never fear, Laniakea Beach on the North Shore of Oahu usually has tons of them, basking in the sun!
You may even find expert biologists and conservationists around who can tell you the names, ages and history of many of them.
An excellent place for an outing with the family and kids to learn more about one of Hawaii’s most iconic sea creatures, and, unfortunately, also deeply endangered.
11. Explore Charming Haleiwa
If you are spending some time on the North Shore of Oahu, Haleiwa will be your hub.
This charming small coastal town is centrally located, and a perfect spot for getting a bite in between activities.
While Haleiwa is a convenient spot to rent equipment for snorkeling, surfing and other activities, you can also browse local art galleries and admire the architecture of the older buildings from late 1800s and early 1900s.
12. Immerse Yourself in Polynesian Culture
Wonder how ancient people (as early as 400 C.E.) managed to populate these remote Hawaiian islands?
Native Hawaiians were a sea-faring people originally from Polynesia (islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean) who reached the islands in primitive canoes.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is the perfect place to expose your kids to this fascinating aspect of Hawaii, and learn more about the indigenous people of Pacific Islands like Tahiti and Tonga.
The cultural center is experiential, your kids can learn to make a lei, perform the hula dance, throw a spear, and catch fish without nets!
Our kids had a ball! If you are vacationing with your family (and even otherwise), make sure you spend some time at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
See if you can stay towards late evening for the Alii Luau and enjoy a scrumptious buffet along with an incredible performance from 100+ artists.
Read all about the Polynesian Cultural Center in our best things to do in Oahu.
13. Taste Garlic Shrimp from North Shore Oahu’s Food Trucks
If you love garlic, this one is for you! Hawaiian garlic shrimp is an iconic staple of Hawaiian cuisine.
This popular local dish is made from fresh shrimp coated with flour and spicy paprika cayenne, pan-fried, mixed with a rich garlic butter sauce and served over rice.
Visit the food trucks scattered all over the North Shore of Oahu for the best, authentic, mouth-watering garlic shrimp.
We chose to stop at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, a fixture among shrimp trucks on the North Shore, close to Haleiwa, and loved the spicy flavor of their garlic shrimp.
14. Snorkel Shark’s Cove
If you’re visiting Oahu, snorkeling is surely on your bucket list. The underwater world of stunning coral reefs and amazing tropical fish is so different, you must experience it!
Unfortunately, the best snorkeling spots around Waikiki like the popular Hanauma Bay tend to be overcrowded, with the hassle of reservations and parking.
Enter Shark’s Cove, just south of Pupukea Beach Park, on the North Shore of Oahu: a sheltered cove with calm, crystal clear waters and excellent underwater visibility – ideal snorkeling conditions!
Note that while you might still spot a small reef shark (after all you’re in the ocean), the name Shark’s Cove comes from the shape of the cove when seen from above.
15. Learn About Hawaii’s Pineapple Industry: The Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation (yes, the Dole here is the same as the canned Dole fruit you see in your grocery store) is another popular stop for most tourists, especially for families with kids.
From humble beginnings as a local fruit stand to one of the top attractions on the island of Oahu is no small feat!
Apart from the yummy Dole Whip, your kids will love the Pineapple Garden Maze, the largest maze in the world, spanning over three acres and 14,000 colorful plants.
Our favorite activity was the tour through the eight gardens at the plantation ranging from coffee plants to fragrant flowers.
The Dole Plantation is included with most popular tours like these highly rated ones:
16. Browse Haleiwa Farms and Farmer’s Market
Wonder where exotic fruit like noni, papaya and breadfruit you see on the grocery shelves come from? Some come from the fertile soil of the North Shore.
Local farms near Haleiwa and the North Shore export apples, bananas, breadfruit, coconuts, noni, papayas and pineapples to the mainland.
We tasted some local fruit from the Haleiwa Farmer’s Market including ripe pineapples, and they tasted so much better than the fruit that ripens on the grocery shelves.
We also bought some local fruit jam and coffee powder as souvenirs.
17. Indulge in Some Local Desserts
Need to cool off after a hot, summer day? Try shave ice!
Shave ice is shaved ice flavored with sweet syrup and topped with ice cream or azuki beans (homemade Japanese red beans boiled in sugar) or mochi balls.
Flavors can be as plain as vanilla or as exotic as pickled mango!
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is a local favorite, but tends to have long lines.
Health-conscious? Acai bowls may be your best option.
These are popular smoothies smothered with superfoods like nuts, fruits, and seeds available all over the North Shore of Oahu.
18. Go Cliff Jumping into Waimea Bay
Feeling adventurous? Jumping off a cliff into Waimea Bay might do the trick!
As beaches go, Waimea Bay beach is just stunning, a golden stretch of sand and crystal clear waters!
Add in some rocky cliffs, and you have the right recipe for an adventurous swim in the calm waters of a picturesque bay.
Make sure someone takes a photo of you jumping off the cliff to post to your Instagram account.
19. Sunbathe on Mokuleia Beach
Want to make your friends envious of your tan? Spend some time sunbathing on Mokuleia Beach.
Even otherwise, this beach is one of the quieter, more secluded, beaches on the North Shore.
Bring a book and laze under an umbrella, or stroll along the sand and take in another of those spectacular North Shore sunsets.
20. Hike Kaena Point
Yearning for a quiet, secluded hiking trail? Maybe a weekday, early morning hike to Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of the island of Oahu, might just fit the bill.
The Kaena Point Hike is an excellent choice to bond with the family, and keep the kids engaged with “who can spot a monk seal, spinner dolphin or even a humpback whale (in the winter months) first?”
Learn all about the Kaena Point Trail Hike here.
21. Explore the Pupukea Tide Pools (near Shark’s Cove)
The Pupukea Tide Pools are natural pools formed by volcanic rock.
Smaller kids will love exploring the tide pools, which are calmer and shallower ocean water, but still teeming with marine life.
They will find colorful sea urchins and varieties of small tropical fish.
Teach them to spot the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, Hawaii’s state fish!
22. Bike the Oahu North Shore Bike Path
Want some exercise while enjoying your vacation?
The North Shore Bike Path from Waimea Bay to Sunset Beach offers stunning ocean views that can be admired while biking with the family!
Bike rentals are available all along the north shore.
If you prefer e-bikes, E-Bike Rentals will deliver your e-bikes anywhere on the North Shore and pick them up when you’re done, without a delivery fee!
23. Sample a Poke Bowl
Eating a Hawaiian Poke bowl is one of my best things to do on the North Shore!
What I love about Hawaii is the fun and delicious food that you can eat without feeling guilty, because it is healthy as well!
Hawaiian Poke bowl is just what the doctor ordered, healthy fish marinated in a blend of sesame oil, soy sauce, green onions and spices.
Traditionally, the Poke bowl consists of ahi tuna or octopus meat, but now other meat like salmon is equally popular.
Some of the best Poke bowls I’ve tried in Hawaii have been on the North Shore of Oahu!
North Shore Oahu Hotels
Turtle Bay Resort is a luxury resort on Oahu’s North Shore that makes the perfect base from which to explore. Located on the beach, it is home to five outdoor swimming pools and great onsite restaurants.
The Courtyard by Marriott North Shore offers a lovely outdoor pool and an onsite restaurant. Located near the beach, the hotel offers comfortably furnished rooms and paid parking.
This renovated condo in the Turtle Bay area is located walking distance from beaches and restaurants. The condo offers one bedroom plus a loft and 2.5 baths. Enjoy the sea breeze on the lanai and cook in the full kitchen.
This spacious North Shore condo features 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, and is perfect for a family. The condo is fully air-conditioned and just a 10-minute walk from Turtle Bay, beaches, and restaurants.
Things to Do on North Shore Oahu: FAQ
What is the North Shore Oahu known for?
North Shore Oahu is world-famous for surfing on the Banzai Pipeline (Ehukai Beach), where professional and experienced surfers ride thrilling, massive 40+ feet waves in winter and many international competitions are held here.
Is North Shore Oahu worth visiting?
Absolutely! Apart from the surfing (or watching the professional surfers) on the Banzai Pipeline, you can swim and cage dive with sharks in the open ocean waters, enjoy nature in Waimea Valley and have fun with the kids at the Polynesian Cultural Center!
What are the best North Shore Oahu hikes?
Thinking about hiking on Oahu’s North Shore? The three best Oahu hikes on the North Shore are the Ehukai Pillbox Trail hike (one of the best Oahu sunset hikes), the Waimea Valley Falls Trail hike (one of the best easy Oahu hikes) and the Kaena Point Trail hike (one of the best Oahu sunrise hikes).
What the best free things to do on North Shore Oahu?
The 3 best free things to do on the North Shore of Oahu are: watch the surfing action on the Banzai Pipeline, enjoy a romantic stroll at sunset on Sunset Beach, and explore the charming town of Haleiwa.
Best Oahu Tours
Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?
Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!
The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.
Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!
Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.
A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu advennture for your bucket list.
We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.
Renting a Car in Oahu
If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu on your vacation, you should get a rental car.
Oahu’s popular attractions are spread over the island: the windward coast, the North Shore, and Ko Olina are great places to explore beyond Waikiki (or the greater Honolulu area).
While Oahu does have public transport options that are better than the other islands, a car offers a lot more flexibility and time savings.
We always use Discover Cars to book Oahu car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle
If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!
This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!
Where to Stay in Oahu
Honolulu (Waikiki in particular) offers a large number of hotels and resorts, along with shopping and dining options. Most visitors to Oahu choose to base in Honolulu at least for a part of their stay.
While many of the large chains have a presence if you are looking to use your memberships, Honolulu also has several unique boutiques to consider.
Want more room to spread out or looking to stay elsewhere on Oahu? You will find VRBO listings all over the island!
On previous trips to Oahu, we have stayed in VRBO rentals in Waikiki as well as on the North Shore and the east coast and we’ve found the choice and quality great.
More Oahu Travel Inspiration
Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!
Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.
Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!
More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.
Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.
We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!
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