Updated October 2023
Running along the top of Hawaii’s most-visited island is the North Shore of Oahu, a legendary area for surfing. But as I discovered on a recent visit, this part of the island is also so much more.
The North Shore offers something for everyone, no matter the time of year. In the winter, high surf takes over, while the summer brings calmer waters. Epic hikes, standout cuisine, and unbelievable views are just a few of the draws for visitors. There are plenty of active adventures to be had for those seeking a little adrenaline.
It is important to practice responsible tourism when visiting this part of the island. Too many visitors can put a strain on the local environment and residents. Please be mindful of your surroundings and respect the North Shore beaches, wildlife, and community.
With that reminder out of the way, here’s a list of my favorite North Shore Oahu things to do.
Planning a Trip to Oahu? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Oahu:
- Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, for the best luxury resort
- Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, for the best Waikiki resort
- Turtle Bay Resort, for the best North Shore resort
- Moana Surfrider Resort and Spa, for the best luxury Waikiki hotel
- The Royal Hawaiian, for the best classic Waikiki hotel
If you’re taking a family trip, don’t miss my toddler-friendly travel guide to Oahu!
Want to Explore Several Sights and Ticketed Experiences on Oahu?
Consider booking a Go City All-Inclusive Pass that includes 40+ Attractions!
The Best Things to Do on The North Shore of Oahu
1. Soak in the Scenery on Kamehameha Highway
Kamehameha is one of the main highways on Oahu. It starts at Nimitz Highway near Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base, located in Honolulu. The highway stretches out to the North Shore. As you drive along it, you can take in some of the prettiest views the island has to offer.
2. Hike the Waimea Valley Trail to Waimea Falls
Waimea Valley is a sacred historical site that is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Within the valley, you’ll find a trail to Waimea Falls, a 45-foot waterfall. Hiking to the falls is about 3.5 miles along a mostly flat, paved ground, making it doable for many.
Travel Tip: Waimea Valley is included in the Go City All-Inclusive Pass which gets you access to 40+ Oahu attractions.
3. Enjoy the Softest Sand at Sunset Beach
If you’re looking for a beach where you can sit and watch the sunset, Sunset Beach is it. True to its name, the sunsets at this beach are among the top on the Hawaiian islands. If you’re up for leaving the sand, this is a great snorkeling location in the summer.
In the winter, Sunset Beach is a perfect place to watch big-wave surfers as it is a popular surfing spot. And of course, keep an eye out for sea turtles here!
4. Watch the Surfers at Banzai Pipeline
The barreling waves at this iconic surf reef break give Boanzai Pipeline its name and make it an epic place to watch surfers at the top of their sport. Here, massive waves break in a very shallow reef, giving the tubular waves some unique characteristics.
5. Grab a Bite at a North Shore Food Truck
There are many amazing food trucks on this island. If you can, try one! Some of my personal favorites include North Shore Tacos Truck, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Sunrise Shack, Fumis Kahuku Shrimp, Pupukea Grill Truck, and Matsumoto’s for shave ice.
Don’t have a car and want to get a tour of the top Oahu attractions including Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, the surfing beaches of the North Shore, and time to explore Haleiwa town? This is the best all-inclusive full-day tour on the island.
6. Spend the Afternoon at Waimea Bay Beach Park
An ideal location for all sorts of water-based recreation (depending on the time of year), Waimea Bay Beach Park is the perfect place to while away an afternoon.
Waves can reach 30 feet in the winter, but in the summer, things settle down, opening up opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. It is a popular beach on the north side of Oahu, but absolutely worth a visit.
7. Hike up to Ehukai PillBox for Incredible Views
If you have half an hour to kill, take this 2-mile roundtrip Ehukai PillBox hike for beautiful views of the North Shore coastline. While it’s not long, it can be challenging, taking hikers up a steep hill. Rest assured that the end result is worth the effort!
8. Don’t Miss a Smoothie at Sunrise Shack
The tropical concoctions at Sunrise Shack make this smoothie spot a must-visit. Sample a Blue Dream Bowl, featuring Blue majik spirulina, or an I Lava U Smoothie, which highlights banana, strawberry, and honey.
9. Hike to Ka’ena Point
Ka’ena Point is said to be the place where the souls of ancient Hawaiians would enter the spirit world. It’s a destination that’s only reachable by hiking, and two trailheads lead to the sacred spot. The trek is a hot one, but on the way, you’ll enjoy stunning shoreline views.
10. Visit the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens
Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens is home to more than 5,000 tropical and subtropical plants, including those native to Hawaii and endangered species from around the world. It also features more than 52 themed gardens highlighting locales such as Central and South America, Fiji, and Guam.
Travel Tip: If you don’t have a car, consider booking this full-day, Oahu Grand Circle island tour that takes you into the Waimea Valley.
11. Eat Delicious Food in Haleiwa
Haleiwa is home to some stellar cuisine. Restaurants from my list that shouldn’t be missed include Haleiwa Bowls (a snack shop with colorful smoothies and smoothie bowls) and Beet Box Café, a healthy spot serving breakfast and lunch options like sandwiches, salads, and acai bowls.
12. Play an Epic Round of Golf at Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay combines an award-winning golf setting with stunning scenic views. The resort offers two 18-hole courses: the Arnold Palmer Course and the George Fazio Course. Both are suitable for golfers of all skill levels, guaranteeing an enjoyable experience.
13. Get Your Adventure on Oahu’s Longest Zipline
Adventurous travelers can get their adrenaline fill at CLIMB Works Keana Farms, a three-hour guided zipline tour. Oahu’s longest ziplines range from 500 to almost half a mile long. They offer educational content and stunning ocean and mountain views. Book the zipline tour here.
14. Go Snorkeling in Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove has been ranked by Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the “Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World”. It is an area you should not miss
You’ll discover marine wildlife teeming in this rocky bay, which is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, and there’s ample opportunity for tide pooling nearby, too.
Adventure Further: Feeling like you want to venture out deeper and dive with the sharks themselves? Try one of the most unique experiences on the island where you go on a cage dive! This is one of the highest-rated experiences on the island.
15. Visit the Jurassic Park-Famous Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is a private nature reserve in Hollywood known as the “Hawaii Backlot.” It has been a filming location for over 200 movies and TV shows since the 1950s, including Jurassic Park.
There are so many ways to experience this private nature reserve, from ziplining to biking to UTV touring. You’ll want to consider booking a tour in advance like the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour, the Jungle Expedition Tour (most popular), or the horseback walking tour through the ranch.
If you’re visiting Oahu with your family, be sure to check out my
toddler-friendly travel guide!
Frequently Asked Questions about the North Shore
Is North Shore Oahu Worth visiting?
The North Shore of Oahu is a must-see destination. I had an amazing time there with my husband and toddler as it is family-friendly.
Beautiful scenery, excellent food, and a diverse list of things to do are some of the hallmarks of a visit to this part of Oahu. I would recommend going mid-week to avoid crowds and have empty, beautiful beaches.
How Far is the North Shore to Waikiki?
The North Shore is only about 45 minutes to an hour from Waikiki by car (depending on where exactly you’re visiting), making it easy to explore on a day trip if you’re staying near Hawaii’s most famous beach. I recommend booking a car with Discover Cars for a car rental.
Where Should I Stay on the North Shore?
There are two great North Shore Oahu hotels I recommend:
Turtle Bay Resort is a great option for those seeking luxury accommodations. Guests can choose between ocean-view guestrooms, luxury suites, or oceanfront bungalows. The resort offers a range of activities for guests including horseback riding and helicopter adventures. Book the best rates here.
For a more affordable lodging choice, I’d check out Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore. This accommodation is located close to the beach. It’s also a short drive away from many popular attractions and activities on the North Shore. Book the best rates here.
What is the Best Time of Year for North Shore Oahu?
Planning to visit Oahu’s beaches? Know that surf is very high in the winter months between November and March, making it popular for surfing competitions. This can be dangerous for inexperienced swimmers. You can use this website to browse current weather, public safety alerts, and conditions at Oahu’s beaches before visiting.
Summer is very calm. Many people consider the months of April, May, September, and October to be the best for low surf and fewer crowds.
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1. Book Your Flights
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Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
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4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: