There are so many things to do in the North Shore that you’ll regret not leaving crowded Waikiki sooner. The North Shore beaches put Waikiki to shame, the Haleiwa restaurants are some of the best on the island not to mention it’s the best place to snorkel, surf and spot turtles. This guide shares the best North Shore activities and the unmissable attractions that make this area so unforgettable. We’ll also cover the best foodie stops, how to get there and even where to stay if you can’t bear to leave this incredible area.
HOW TO GET TO NORTH SHORE, OAHU
Before we get into the best things to do on North Shore, you’re probably gonna need to know how to get there. The best part is it is only a mere one hours drive from Waikiki so there is no excuse not to make time for 1 (or all 17) of the items on our guide.
Bus to North Shore
It is possible to take public transport from Waikiki to North Shore. However, it takes double the time of driving. You can either take the Number 52 bus which departs from the Ala Moana Centre and travels to Haleiwa via the centre of Oahu. Alternatively, the Number 55 bus also departs from the Ala Moana Center, but offers a more scenic journey as it goes via the east coast to Haleiwa. Both journeys take 1.5-2 hours depending on traffic. For tickets & timetables visit the bus website.
Book a Tour to North Shore
A great option if you don’t fancy a roadtrip (or the lengthy bus journey) is to book a tour. There are several tours run by local guides from Waikiki to North Shore, many of which include North Shore activities such as the Dole Plantation and Kualoa Ranch in the ticket price.
Rent a Car to North Shore
For us, to make the most of your Oahu itinerary we would recommend hiring a car for your time on the island. From Waikiki, head West then exit onto H-2 North. You then take exit 8 to Wahiawa and continue to Kamehameha Highway then onwards to Haleiwa (the “capital” of North Shore”.
WHERE TO STAY ON NORTH SHORE
With so many things to do on North Shore, we don’t blame you for wanting to stay around for a while. If you’re backpacking Hawaii (like we were) North Shore is one of the cheaper areas to stay on Oahu. Our guide to the best budget accommodation in Hawaii has several suggestions for those looking to stay in paradise without the pricetag. We recommend Haleiwa as your base, as its considered the capital of North Shore and is a great hub with restaurants, galleries and a short distance from the majority of North Shore activities.
If searching for cheap accommodation on North Shore, we recommend using Airbnb as you will have access to kitchen facilities to keep your costs low.
If you have longer on Oahu and want to travel slower and embrace the local culture more, house sitting is the perfect budget alternative to your typical tourist resort. We have used websites such as Trusted Housesitters where you pay a one of fee and can house sit all over the world. With our referral you will also get 25% off the joining fee!
We also recommend Workaway, as this is how we managed to afford one month in Hawaii. Not only is it a great alternative to hotels as you receive FREE accommodation, but it is the best way to receive an authentic insight into local life on the North Shore of Oahu as you stay with local people instead of just other travellers.
We will warn, there is tough competition for hosts in Hawaii but with out Workaway profile tips, you’re dream host could only be a few clicks away!
THINGS TO DO IN HALEIWA, NORTH SHORE
Let’s start our guide of North Shore activities in the main hub – Haleiwa. Although it can be tempting to spend all your time on the North Shore beaches, we recommend taking a leisurely stroll around the town and enjoy some of the amazing things to do in Haleiwa first.
Haleiwa is a quaint beach town around 15 minutes from Turtle Bay and approximately one hours drive from Waikiki. It is essentially the capital of North Shore and a visit here provides a far more authentic insight into island life in comparison to Waikiki.
We could have easily spent all day here, but these are our favourite four things to do in Haleiwa including where to try the famous shave ice, learn about surfing and the most instagrammable spot on the North Shore.
Shop ’til you drop
Shopping in Haleiwa is one of the most unique things to do on Oahu as it’s home to many galleries, artisan gift shops and souvenir stores that are far more authentic than the tat served up in Waikiki. If you happen to be looking for things to do in Haleiwa on a Thursday then Haleiwa Farmers Market is the best place to be for a traditional taste of Hawaii. If you’re visiting the North Shore on a Saturday, Waialua farmers market is equally as inviting with local produce, delicious samples and traditional trinkets.
Try Shave Ice
One of the most famous things to do on North Shore is to try the legendary shave ice and Haleiwa is the place to do it. There are two “go to” places in Haleiwa for shave ice – Matsumoto’s or Aoki’s across the road. They are not difficult to find as the queue down the street is a definite give away. Matsumoto’s is considered one of the best places to eat on Oahu for their pineapple & coconut shave ice combo as it’s such as refreshing treat and devouring some in the sunshine is one of our favourite things to do in Haleiwa.
Pose With The North Shore Angel Wings
There are so many photo opportunities in Haleiwa but posing at the Global Angel Wings is one of the best and its meaning is why they’ve made it on our North Shore activities list. Created by Artist Collete Miller, the wings represent love, peace, kindness and what you bring to earth.
They truly encapsulate the magic of the North Shore and the Aloha spirit – a definite photo opportunity not to be missed. Note however, posing here is one of the more popular things to do in Haleiwa there was even a wee queue during our visit!
THE BEST NORTH SHORE BEACHES
There’s no denying one of the main reasons anyone ventures to this neck of the woods, is for the North Shore Beaches. In the Summer, from May until September the North Shore beaches are some of the best in the world for snorkelling, swimming and deep sea diving. Like all things to do on North Shore, there is a beach to suit everyone, the only issue will be having enough time to see them all so we have picked a few of our favourites and things to do nearby.
Watch the Surfers at Banzai Pipeline
From October until April the North Shore Beaches are packed with professional surfers, braving the 40ft waves at Waimea Bay, Pipeline and Sunset Beach. Even if you’re not brave enough to try, watching the surfers are one of the most popular things to do on North Shore.
One of the most famous spots to watch the professionals is Banzai Pipeline. It is one of the most photographed waves in the world due to its proximity to the shore and you’ll likely recognise it from the iconic shape.
Kitesurf or Camp at Mokuleia Beach Park
Once you’ve ticked off all the things to do in Haleiwa, when you exit turn left (heading West) and this will lead to one of the best North Shore Beaches called Mokuleia.
Mokuleia is a 38.5 acre beach park, with many picnic tables, a large parking area and even a camp site where you can rent a cabin or bring your own tent. If you are looking for budget accommodation in Hawaii, camping is epic. We LOVED camping at Bellows Beach Park and and so wished we had time to do it at Mokuleia beach. It is a great, affordable solution to accommodation on North Shore and it can be booked easily online. Don’t forget your camping essentials so you’re ready for an unforgettable night under the stars!
If a sleepover on the sand is not your thing, Mokuleia is one of the best North Shore beaches for kite surfing. Kite surfing is not only one of the most fun things to do at North Shore but one of the most fun to watch also! If you’re a beginner, head to the East end of the beach as it’s easier and safer with a sandy bottom compared to the opposite end which many professionals and locals launch from.
Watch The Sunset & Surfers at Waimea Bay Beach Park
If instead, you turn right when leaving Haleiwa you will come across Waimea Bay Beach Park. It is famous for cliff jumping and surfing at Banzai Pipeline. This is one of the most famous North Shore beaches for crazy high waves in Winter, so if you are not a professional, we advise sticking to the spectator spots.
Waimea Bay Beach Park is also home to Sunset Beach – famous for, well sunset. Head here around 6-7pm and watch the sky transform from into candyfloss clouds as another day ends on beautiful North Shore.
Spot a Turtle at Laniakea Beach
One of the most exciting things to do at North Shore is witness turtles in their natural habitat. Laniakea Beach is known as Turtle Beach as it’s one of the best North Shore beaches to spot these majestic sea creatures in the wild. However, it has actually become a safety hazard due to crowding.
This is because the parking used to be opposite the beach, it became incredibly dangerous with crowds of people crossing the busy road to view the turtles. So much so, they banned parking their altogether.
If you are still determined to visit, which will likely be worth it as turtles visit all year round then you will have to park further down the coast and walk up.
Watch The Turtles at Ali’i Beach Park
Alternatively, visit Ali’i Beach Park or Haleiwa Beach Park (where surfers go to Pua’ena Point) and you will see turtles without the crowds. Ali’i Beach Park, particularly on the Kaena Point side is one of the best north shore beaches according to the Hona Guardians (turtle guardians) who educate visitors about these charming creatures.
We were recommended the best time to see the sea turtles is around lunch time – any time between 11am and 1pm. Please stick to the rules and advice of the Hona guardians and be a responsible traveller – do not use flash photography or get within 10 metres of a turtle. It is in fact illegal (not to mention unethical) to touch a sea turtle, so keep the selfie sticks away and just enjoy their presence peacefully from afar without causing distress. Unless one of your things to do on North Shore is get a $10k fine.
Snorkel at Sharks Cove
Do not be fooled by the title, you will not find Sharks in Sharks Cove. Pupukea Beach is one of the best North shore beaches for snorkelling thanks to the shark-shaped bay of Shark’s Cove. These waters are home to a huge array of marine life including those majestic turtles!
It is also one of the most popular North Shore beaches for diving as there are many lava tubes and caves to explore, however please note there is no lifeguard on duty so please snorkel safely and only dive if experienced in the strong Oahu current!
As a tip, the Aji Limo truck aka the best place to eat on Oahu, is across the road from Shark’s Cove – the perfect spot for a post-snorkel snack.
Snorkel at Other North Shore Beaches
Our photo above is from Shark’s Cove on a week day in January, so if you arrive to large crowds, it’s understandable you may be looking for a more peaceful snorkel spot. There are two other North Shore beaches which are perfect for beginners to enjoy the marine life of Oahu.
Kuilima Cove – this is one of the more secluded North Shore beaches, located near the popular Turtle Bay Resort. If you’re looking for the best things to do on the North Shore, snorkelling here should be top of your list. Although you’ll see more colourful coral than fish, it is one of the few places where the waves are calm on Oahu – perfect for beginners and families.
Three Tables Marine Sanctuary – If you do want to see plenty fish and even turtles, Three Tables is where you need to go. It is also a great spot for another of the most popular North Shore activities – scuba diving. It is actually within walking distance of Shark’s Cove so you can easily experience both in the same day as they’re only 5 minute walk apart.
Swim with Sharks (Mano)
If you were disappointed in that previous admission that there are no sharks at Sharks Cove then book yourself into one of the craziest things to do on North Shore – swim with sharks.
There are so many tours to choose from, whether you’re brave enough to get amongst them in the water or learn about these fascinating creatures from the comfort of a boat tour. Either way, you are likely to also witness dolphins, turtles and if you’re visiting the North Shore in Winter – humpback whales!
If there’s one thing that get’s our hearts racing (more than the idea of swimming with sharks) it’s the idea of a good bargain! This 2 hour tour will take you on a scenic boat ride out onto the stunning sea before the adrenaline seekers can head in to the shark cave for 20 minutes with these majestic creatures.
Those not braving the cage can stay onboard the boat and watch for dolphins, turtles and whales as well as the sought after sighting of the sharks! This is the best tour and price we could find!
THINGS TO DO ON NORTH SHORE
Visit The Dole Pineapple Plantation
There are not many places where you can take a train ride, get lost in a maze and indulge in all things pineapple all in one day, but that’s why The Dole Pineapple Plantation should be your first stop of things to do on North shore, Oahu.
The Dole pineapple plantation is unmissable as fields filled with thousands of pineapple plants line the road of the North Shore. One of the many crazy pineapple facts we learned during our visit is that every single one is hand planted and apparently, each Dole pineapple plantation worker can plant nearly 10,000 crowns A DAY!
If you think making it out of the gift shop is hard (you will be overwhelmed with pineapple memorabilia) the Dole plantation maze is even more of a challenge, as it’s the largest in the world. Created from over 14,000 pineapple plants, the Dole Plantation maze stretches over 3 acres.
It took us around 40 minutes to complete (Darren’s 6ft 5 height did come in handy to peek over the hedges). If you make it out of the Dole plantation maze, the pineapple express train tour is equally entertaining and one of the best things to do on the North Shore to learn the fascinating history of the island’s pineapple fame!
Complete your Dole pineapple plantation experience with the world famous dole whip. Ashamedly I admit, I couldn’t stand pineapple prior to my time in Oahu but after my visit, I was immediately converted. You cannot leave the North Shore without a sample, it was one of our favourite foods to eat during our visit to Oahu.
If you’d rather sit back and have a professional guide drive you, by booking here you will join a scenic 120 mile round trip including entry to the Dole Plantation, Byodo-In temple and Kualoa Ranch Legends and Legacy Tour (where Jurassic Park & Lost were filmed) – all for a bargain price! This includes transport & guide!
Dine at the North Shore Food Trucks
Although we would happily eat dole whip for breakfast, lunch and dinner we would also recommend a bite to eat at one of the North Shore food trucks. Eating is always a favourite thing to do on the North Shore and there is no denying the food trucks are unmissable – both for flavour and because there are so many, they are literally unmissable.
They serve everything from Tacos to Thai food so visiting the North Shore and not sampling a food truck treat would be like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.
There’s probably an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t pick a favourite, but ever the rebels, we did. Aji Limo truck wins hands down for food and looks and was one of our favourite places to eat on Oahu. There is a large seating area with shade and epic views over the ocean, paired with delicious fresh food. We would return to Oahu for this food truck alone, the food is that good!
Wander Through a Film Set at Kualoa Ranch
One of the guaranteed things to do on North Shore is squeal “Woah, this looks so like Jurassic Park” as you drive past Kualoa Ranch. Well, that’s because it is!
You might also recognise the luscious green scenery of Kualoa Ranch from the classic movies such as Jurassic Park or Pearl Harbor but it’s also been used as the location for TV shows such as Lost and Hawaii Five-O.
You can enjoy the Movie Set tour via Jurassic jeep or even explore on horseback amongst many other tour options. It is one of the best things to do on North Shore for adrenaline seekers and movie fans alike and with over 4000 acres to explore, it’ll keep you busy for an hour or two!
Learn, Dance & Dine at The Polynesian Cultural Center
Allow a whole day in your Oahu itinerary for the Polynesian Cultural Center, as it is one of the most memorable things to do on North Shore Oahu. Opening in 1963 and spanning an amazing 42 acres, the Polynesian Cultural Centre shares the fascinating history of Polynesian Culture through interactive activities, drama and dance.
Voted Oahu’s number 1 paid attraction, it even features an IMAX theatre and a traditional Luau in the evening. A Luau is one of the most exciting things to do in North Shore Oahu and one of the most memorable dining experiences we’ve ever had. The food is usually served buffet style with the centrepiece being a kulua pork roast accompanied by traditional singing, Hula dancing, fire performers and more.
Following the Luau we watched the Hā: Breath of Life show which was incredible. The talented performers combined storytelling with fire dancing and singing that left us amazed.
The entrance fee varies depending on what you want to be included – the Luau, transport from Waikiki and evening show are all optional extras. If you book in advance online you can receive a further discount or book as part of a North Shore tour may also work out cheaper.
Swim in a Waterfall at Waimea Falls Park
For the more active sorts, there are numerous hikes on Oahu which you will LOVE. Specifically, one of the best things to do on North Shore Oahu is the hiking trail in Waimea Falls Park.
Home to over 300 species of tropical plants, this easy one-mile hike ends with a beautiful 50ft waterfall and is the perfect North Shore activity to tire out shave ice fuelled children (or boyfriend, in my case). Although there are over 40 themed gardens and cultural displays providing hours of fascination, the highlight of the Waimea Falls hike is the fact you can actually take a refreshing dip in the waterfalls!
The cost of admission to Waimea Falls park includes life jacket hire for the falls meaning it’s the perfect North Shore activity for all the family. There are even changing rooms and toilets at the falls to save you walking back soggy. The Waimea Falls Park is open 9 am – 5pm, 7 days a week so it’s a perfect thing to do on North Shore regardless of when you visit.
Visit Byodo-In Temple
Although technically this isn’t one of the things to do on North Shore, you will pass this beautiful place on your way there or on your way home so it’s definitely worth adding to your Oahu itinerary.
Byodo-In Temple is a small scale replica of the Japanese Byodo-in Temple which is over 500 years old. It is an ideal location for those seeking serenity from the bustle of Waikiki or a chance to reflect after your busy North Shore experience. It costs $5 per person to enter and as a non-practising Buddhist temple it welcomes people from all walks of life and faiths.
It was originally built in the late 1960s to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. Fast forward to today, it has been used as a film set with episodes of Hawaii Five-O and Lost being filmed there.
Hopefully you are now inspired by the many things to do on North Shore and even have an idea where to stay and eat. We have only just scratched the surface of things to do in Haleiwa and the North Shore activities, so hopefully one day we can return and top up this list – or let us know in the comments below if there are any ideas we’ve missed!