Life is simpler in Oahu. It’s hard to explain how, but when you visit, you’ll understand. Suddenly, your daily life stresses just won’t seem all that important. And you won’t worry so much about your uncertain future.
Rather, the only life-altering decisions you’ll make will look more like: Should I really house all these tempting pig sliders before I go swimming with sharks today?
After all, the relaxed Pacific lifestyle in Oahu is about living in the moment. It’s about saying yes to adventures that, perhaps, you’d never imagined yourself doing. Adventures that, when just entertained, blow your mind—like snorkeling with turtles bigger than you and hiking through otherworldly lava formations.
And it’s about taking in the inimitable beauty of it all while doing it.
So, let’s talk about your next trip to Oahu.
You deserve to have a break on one of the most stunning coastlines the country has to offer. And the North Shore of Oahu is an easily navigable stretch full of culture, outdoor activities and phenomenal food.
We’ve narrowed down the only tough decisions for you, so you can spend your time enjoying these recommendations instead of, again, thinking too much.
Best Things to Do on the North Shore, Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu has something for everyone. From Shark’s Cove to Turtle Beach, there are countless opportunities to jump in the ocean and explore the abundant marine life.
But, don’t worry if you’re not a swimmer, there are plenty of other Hawaiian cultural activities and food spots lined up for the land lovers among you.
First of all, you need to try snorkeling when you visit the North Shore. Not only because the ocean, especially off the coast of Oahu, is full of wonder, but also because snorkeling is a humbling experience.
Think about it for a second.
We live our whole lives on land thinking that this is it, but the ocean is so much bigger than all of this. The ocean is teeming with so much life and undiscovered riches that don’t compare to anything we have here on land.
If you want to see the underwater realm up close and personal, dive under the waves with an introductory scuba course. No experience is necessary with many of the diving outfits along the coast of the North Shore. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the gigantic turtles and other marine life.
But, what’s the best place for your under-the-sea moment?
Easy answer: Shark’s Cove!
There’s a reason avid divers rate Shark’s Cove as one of the top places in the world for shore diving. This area has some of the best underwater rock formations and marine life.
Shark’s Cove is situated off of a lava-rock beach part of Pupukea Beach Park. The lava has formed underwater caves and tunnels about 15 to 45 feet below the surface of the water. Whether you’re a novice or a professional diver, it’s an exciting site.
While you may see sharks (harmless white-tipped reef sharks), there’s something more. Because to adventurers like you, reef sharks are nothing, right? (Admittedly, that’s not the truth for all of us.)
Legend has it that this cove got its name from the outline of a reef outside the cove that looks like a shark from above.
Alright, that’s pretty cool.
And you’ll for sure spot tropical fish and likely some sea turtles, too.
But if breathing out of a metal tank underwater isn’t your idea of fun, then head to the surface for some phenomenal snorkeling. Shark’s Cove isn’t just for divers. You can explore its veritable wonderland of marine life and lava formations from the surface, too.
Swim with Sharks
In Hawaii, sharks are a central tenet of the culture; that’s why they’re featured in so many legends throughout the Pacific. In fact, Hawaiians revere sharks and honor them as ancestral familial gods.
And if you want to swim with more than just reef sharks, you can get your adrenaline fix exchanging smiles with the pivotal players in Hawaiian culture.
Many companies in the region offer shark diving tours, both from a boat deck and underwater. And most companies guarantee shark sightings off the North Shore. So, if you’re willing to gear up and dive into a cave surrounded by them, there’s a good chance you’ll see one.
You’ll have a snorkel, so breathing won’t be an issue. But you may lose your breath when you see one of these predators up close. Just try to stay calm and take in that amazing, unforgettable moment.
Feel like staying dry while exploring the ocean? Jump into a kayak tour, or rent your own! From some lazy river kayaking to traversing the countless bays around the coast, you’re sure to have a magical experience. When making your plans, remember that you’ll best enjoy the open bays in the spring and summer months when the water is calmer.
Also, I recommend you consider the Anahulu River in Haleiwa for some laid-back paddling. There’s minimal skill required, but you’re almost sure to catch sight of some turtles working their way upriver for a meal. Do you prefer open water? I suggest you head north to Waimea Bay. It offers some great kayaking, too.
Kayak rental companies are located throughout the northern coast of the island. You’ll definitely find all the gear you need. I am particularly fond of Beachtime’s ability to deliver kayaks to wherever you want to paddle. Because why strap your gear to a car when you can have it delivered to you?
Let’s start with a personal realization.
I’m not sure about you, but for me, hiking is all about the personal experience. The peaceful quietness of the trail is perfect for some personal reflection. I thought long and hard about the busy lives we live compared to the locals in Oahu. They don’t let themselves get caught up on the little details. Each day is a good day, and a day worth living.
Now, that’s something I can get behind.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of North Shore Oahu, you already know hiking is an absolute must-do. Otherworldly lava formations, dense forests, and breathtaking ocean views surround the island. It’s really just one Photoshop away from being Isla Nublar from Jurassic Park.
Our top recommendation for hiking in Oahu is the Kealia Trail, which is a 7.6-mile moderately-trafficked trail just west of Haleiwa near Dillingham airfield. With a fair amount of elevation gain, you’ll be working your way through the Kuaokala Forest Reserve. This area offers awe-inspiring views of the ocean and the occasional glider plane cruising by overhead.
I recommend the Ehukai Pillbox Hike for those of you who love history. Start near Sunset Beach for some immediate uphill hiking that is sure to get the blood flowing. Your reward at the top is an uninterrupted view of North Shore Oahu and a WWII bunker to explore!
Finally, our last tip for a hike along this magnificent coast is the Kaunala Trail located above Pupukea. Here, you’ll see what a true Hawaiian forest looks like as you wind through the brush and ridges of the Ko’olau Foothills.
This trail eventually leads up to the Ko’olau mountain range a little further south. The stunning views will blow you away, trust me.
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
Oahu is rich with culture and history. And look, Moana can teach you a lot, but you need to see this stuff for yourself. If improvisational adventure isn’t your forte, and you’d prefer a more structured introduction to the region, consider visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). The PCC gathers several quintessential North Shore Oahu activities into a single 42-acre area that is ripe with adventure.
Additionally, the PCC allows you to explore the details of many different Polynesian countries and their fascinating culture, activities and histories. Here are a few distinct areas to check out:
- Hawaii Center
- Tapa Weaving
- Hula Lessons
- Ancient Hawaiian Games
- Food Tastings
- Aotearoa Center
- Maori Culture
- Ancient crafting techniques
- Food preparation traditions
- Fiji Center
- Make coconut oil
- Explore a 6-story temple
- Samoa Center
- Learn how to twirl a fire knife
- Cook bananas
- Husk coconuts
- Tahiti Center
- Try coconut bread
- Pole fishing
- Practice spear throwing
- Tonga Center
- Paddle an outrigger canoe
- Dance while sitting
- Learn local games
You can experience all of these traditional activities by visiting the PCC. If you want to see a traditional Hawaiian luau, this is the place where you’ll check that off your list.
Visit Haleiwa Town
We mentioned Haleiwa several times, and we recommend you stick around and enjoy everything this little town has to offer. The town is full unique shops and boutiques and is bristling with fantastic places that serve up some amazing food. You’ll pick up on the town’s relaxed, surfer vibe straight away, and you won’t be able to help yourself but to unwind and chill like the locals.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably pretty hungry. I know I was. Lucky for you, there’s no shortage of food here.
Best Restaurants in North Shore Oahu
Name a culture where food isn’t important. It’s challenging, right? Even though the locals in Oahu may seem relaxed, don’t let that fool you. They love good food, and food is something they take seriously.
As you can imagine, the coast is full of fantastic, fresh seafood restaurants. We’ve narrowed down the field for you to include our top recommendations. It includes everything from fancier dine-in grills to grab-n-go food trucks in the area. Even the pickiest eaters will find something they like here.
Haleiwa Beach House
The Haleiwa Beach House is one of the newer additions to the culinary scene of the area. It has taken off as a definite favorite among locals and visitors alike. Featuring a seafood-heavy menu (surprise, surprise) the restaurant puts a new twist on many classic dishes and also boasts two well-stocked bars with many craft beers and delicious drink concoctions.
I mean, beer and seafood, how can you say no?
The Beach House is also directly across from Ali’i Beach. So, you get seafood, beer, and a view. Now that’s paradise!
Uncle Bo’s in Haleiwa
Although not necessarily unique to North Shore Oahu, (the original location is in Honolulu) Uncle Bo’s is an excellent restaurant that offers many of the area’s classics. If that wasn’t enough, take a squint at their dangerously delicious appetizer (known as a pupu) menu, including walnut shrimp wraps, ceviche and pig sliders.
And yes, the pig sliders are as delicious as they sound.
However, I recommend you save some room for the actual meal! The main menu also includes a long fresh fish menu in addition to several surf n’ turf combinations.
If you’re looking for good eats on North Shore Oahu, but not feeling the restaurant scene, don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Head on over to one of the many shrimp trucks along the coast and satisfy your seafood craze with a bucket of shrimp. These trucks are just perfect after a long day of kayaking and snorkeling, and you typically won’t have to look far to find one!
If you’re looking to narrow the field of truck options, take our advice and head over to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. The garlic shrimp is to die for. You won’t leave this place feeling hungry.
Alright, but we all know the answer to life is some delicious pie. If you’re craving something sweet, check out Ted’s pies! The bakery produces a staggeringly long list of pies, cakes, and other baked treats. Deciding what to order will be the hardest part of your trip. I’m not kidding.
From chocolate peanut butter crème pie to coconut cake and cinnamon rolls, there is absolutely no chance that you’ll leave here disappointed.
The sweets aren’t all this establishment has to offer either. The menu is balanced out by a hearty selection of burgers, sandwiches, and other lunch options to make sure you can get a tasty meal during your stop!
Are you looking for some delicious food outside of Haleiwa, and want a taste of the classic American diner fare? Then head on over to Seven Brothers in Laie. This laid back counter-serve restaurant features several variations of the classic burger. And every single one of them is simply mouthwatering.
Pesto burgers, teriyaki burgers, and classics are all rounded off with several fry variations and a shake. You’ll have a filling meal and the energy to keep up your adventuring!
If you’re on the hunt for something a little more upscale, Lei Lei’s restaurant and bar at the Turtle Bay Resort may be the spot for you. The menu includes a wide selection of fresh fish, but also an impressive meat and poultry section that is rounded off with a few wonderful pasta combinations.
In addition to several bars and restaurants, the Turtle Bay Resort also has comfortable accommodations if you’re looking for a North Shore Oahu hotel.
Let’s talk about accommodations.
Best North Shore Oahu Hotels
The North Shore Oahu is lucky to have mostly dodged the influx of chain hotels. You’d be hard put to find the usual names such as Holiday Inn and Ramada in this region. And, that’s a good thing.
We’ve picked a few unique options in the region to cover those looking for a little pampering, and also some great choices for the budget traveler. No matter your price range, you can bet that there’s a place where you can relax after your North Shore Oahu activities.
Turtle Bay Resort
As mentioned, the hotel boasts a private beach for guests, which means that there are ocean views from almost every room in the resort. Still not sold? The resort has two golf courses and offers almost every activity you can think of—kayaking, snorkeling, horseback riding, walking trails, and tennis.
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive trip to Northern Oahu where the food, activities, and accommodation are seamlessly blended into one total package, this is the place for you.
You just have to check in and let them take care of the rest. However, all of this luxury does come at a price. Depending on what you want, it can be the perfect hideaway for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii.
If you’re traveling with friends or family, the vacation rentals along Oahu’s Northern Coast are solid choices. Get familiar with websites like Airbnb such as Vrbo. They’ll help track down the most comfortable and convenient place for whatever floats your boat. From cabins right on the beach to small townhouses, you’ll have no problem finding the right place.
Another awesome resource to get you started on the hunt for your dream location is Hawai’i Beach Homes. This property management company puts together vacation rentals from all over the island. Their easy-to-use search function lets you focus exclusively on the northern part of the island.
The stretch of coast between Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach is prime territory as far as we’re concerned. However, keep an eye on Haleiwa if you want to snag a rental near some of the restaurants mentioned above.
If you’re a kickass solo traveler, there are also plenty of options for you too. Loads of homes and vacation rental properties offer single and shared rooms. This could be ideal if you’re beach-or town-hopping along the coast. It’s not as cheap as your standard hostel. But, this option definitely saves more than a few dollars from the more expensive resort scene.
There are several listings right in Haleiwa starting as cheap as $35 a night. Some of these are right next to river kayaking, turtle watching, and some of the best restaurants.
So, there you have it. You might not want to fill yourself with pig sliders in case you’ll need the energy to swim away from sharks — but you’ve got a whole plethora of other options. But you’ll be fine. You already know where to find the best restaurants and hotels when you need to sleep off your food coma.
Have fun and stay safe, eh? Mahalo!
What are your plans for the North Shore of Oahu? Let us know in the comments!