Beaches of North Shore, Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is often referred to as the surf mecca of the world, hosting big wave surf competitions during the winter months from November through February with swells that can meet or exceed 30 feet (9 meters) high, at times proving even too dangerous for the most experienced surfers. This is the time of year when tourists flock to Oahu, hoping to see the monstrous waves and bear witness to the Big Wave surfing contests that have made Hawaii and Oahu’s North Shore famous.
The ocean is calmer during the summer months from May through October. The 7-mile stretch of beach that is the North Shore of Oahu is comprised of various lush, palm-tree lined, white sand beaches that are each geographically unique and appealing is their own unique way. There are a variety of activity options for families and both young and old alike. Paradise has never looked so good!
Haleiwa, Hawaiian for House of the Frigate Bird, is the entrance into surfers paradise as well as the largest community and settlement of the North Shore of Oahu. Old plantation-style buildings still line the streets of Haleiwa, giving it that quaint town feeling. Once you pass the iconic wood-carved Haleiwa sign, complete with a surfer in tow, you are suddenly swept into a community that lives on “Hawaiian Time” and that is known world-wide for its pristine natural beauty.
Haleiwa Beach Park
Haleiwa Beach Park is located north of Haleiwa Town, and is a great spot for kayakers, canoes, surfers, and stand-up-paddlers (SUP). It features a great view of Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of Oahu, and makes a great scenic stop. There is a grassy area fronting the beach, making a perfect location for a picnic or a quick break. Swimming conditions and snorkeling conditions aren’t ideal due to the rocky and shallow ocean bottom, and murky conditions due to water runoff from the harbor and river.
Amenities at Haleiwa Beach Park include parking, bathroom facilities with outdoor showers, a lifeguard and picnic areas, making it a convenient option for families. A bus stop is also located close by, making it a great option for those taking The Bus. Beach activities include fishing, surfing, bodyboarding, and fishing. There is ample parking during the weekdays (weekends can prove to be more difficult, as Haleiwa Beach Park is a favorite of many locals to host family celebrations and get-togethers).
Alii Beach Park
Allii Beach, Hawaiian for Royal Beach, is located close to Haleiwa Beach Park, and is a popular area for swimming and surfing. In the south side of the bay, where swimming is recommended, as this portion of the bay is protected and safe. It is also a popular surfing spot, with huge waves, setting the backdrop for various episodes of Baywatch Hawaii. There are strong undercurrents and tidal changes, as well as sharp coral and jagged rocks, making for dangerous conditions for the inexperienced.
Amenities at Alii Beach Park include parking as well as a lifeguard. A bus stop is also located close by, making it a great option for those taking The Bus. Beach activities include swimming, fishing, surfing, bodyboarding, and fishing.
Mokuleia Beach is a 6-mile (9-kilometer) long beach with various spots for snorkeling, fishing and surfing. It is fairly remote and runs along Farrington Highway past Waialua and out to Ka’ena Point. You can rent a cabin or pitch your own tent in the 38.5-acre beach park. If you head out west from the beach, you will find popular surf spots including Park Rights and Day Star. When the south winds come through, it is ideal for kite and wind surfing.
Be careful in winter as the strong currents are considered to be quite dangerous. In summer, the water is calm and the shallow reef is perfect for snorkeling, swimming and spearfishing. However it is possible to do all ocean activities all year round. It’s name, Mokuleia, means District of Abundance for a reason!
Amenities at Mokuleia Beach include parking and picnic areas. Beach activities include fishing, surfing, snorkeling, and wind surfing. Camp Mokuleia is located close by and includes restrooms, as well as various options for accommodations, making it a great location for families looking to escape the beaten path!
Some beaches are known for their surf. Others for their reef or sandy beach. Few can boast that their main attraction is green sea turtles, or honu, basking in the sun. Hawaiian for Wide Sky, many people visit Laniakea Beach on a daily basis, and the turtles have grown accustomed to their presence and allow themselves to be photographed and recorded. Tourists are encouraged to stay behind the red rope that marks a ‘no-go’ zone placed by turtle conservationists. Please do not sit on or touch the turtles, as there are heavy fines if you are caught.
There are no amenities located at Laniakea Beach, and parking can be a headache. Parking can be very difficult to find, as the State of Hawaii recently installed barriers, blocking access to previously available parking. Break-ins are quite common, so if you do find parking, do not leave anything in the car (this includes under the seat or in the glove compartment, as those are often the first place burglars will check). Beach activities include swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, and fishing.
Surfers are able to access other surf spots from Laniakea Beach, including Himalayas and Hultins, however the beach is small and rocky with a strong rip current on the west.
Chuns Reef is a hidden gem, often bypassed by tourists. Watch for cars parked alongside the road, and you’ll see the beach peeking through the lush greenery, as well as its rolling waves. This white, sandy beach is the perfect place to take in the gorgeous views. The rocky shore can make swimming difficult, but there are areas that are suitable for swimming. Snorkeling is another option, but only in the rare event that the ocean is calm.
Named after John Chun, a resident of the North Shore whose children frequented the beach often, it was given the nickname Chuns Reef. Long, choppy waves are perfect for longboarders, while the summertime brings calmer conditions.
There are no amenities located at Chuns Reef, and parking can only be located on the side of the road, so beware of passing cars. Beach activities include swimming, surfing, longboarding, and fishing.
Sunset Beach is a 2-mile (3-kilometer) long white sand beach with stunning sunset views that never cease to impress. It is a favorite of world-renowned surfers, locals and tourists alike. Various International surf contests are held at this world famous surfing spot such as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational.
Known as Paumalu in Hawaiian, Sunset Beach has certain spots that are safe for swimming so just take note of where they are located. The waters are calmer for snorkeling and swimming during the summer months, from May through October. Beware of the notorious “Sunset Rip”, a strong rip current. If you are an inexperienced surfer, don’t go out on your own as the waves can suddenly change, with coral formations that can cause injuries in the event that you are pulled under. If you visit Sunset Beach between the months of June and September, also beware of an increase in stinging limu, a floating brown seaweed that can cause skin irritation.
Amenities at Sunset Beach include parking, bathroom facilities (across the street) with an outdoor shower, lifeguards and picnic areas, making it a convenient option for families. A bus stop is also located close by, making it a great option for those taking The Bus. Please always keep an eye on any young children, even if the waves are calm. Often you can find tidepools, which may be a safer option for young children and inexperienced swimmers to search for seashells and enjoy the vast beauty that surrounds. Or build a sand-castle of epic proportions! Beach activities include swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, and fishing.
World-famous Ehukai Beach, more commonly known as Banzai Pipeline, is known for the formation of huge, hollow tubes of thick water that are a professional surfers dream. Hawaiian for Sea Spray, don’t be fooled by the grace of its waves, as Banzai Pipeline is also one of the most dangerous surfing spots in the world, with the surf breaking above a jagged cavernous reef. This unique surf reef break attracts various contests, including the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing from November through December.
Due to the reef break, Banzai Pipeline has been known to inflict many serious injuries. Only the most experienced surfers should consider this amazing reef break. Otherwise, take a seat on the beach and watch in awe! Better to be safe than sorry.
Amenities at Banzai Pipeline include parking, bathroom facilities with outdoor showers, picnic areas, and camping. Beach activities include surfing, bodyboarding, and fishing.
Take the breathtaking scenic drive along Haleiwa’s famed North Shore, and you’ll come to Waimea Bay, located at the mouth of Waimea River. Hawaiian for Red Water, Waimea Bay is a gem in itself. Waimea Bay played a major role in the development of Big Wave surfing when a dare-devil group of surfers conquered the massive waves for the first time in 1957.
One of the busiest beaches year-round, Waimea Bay is never short on visitors due to its pristine location and deep-rooted surf history. You’ll definitely catch a wave and probably a glimpse of famous surfers too, as they tend to flock to the area to participate in surf competitions during the winter months. The Quiksilver in Memory of Hawaiian hero and big wave surf legend Eddie Aikau is held here annually between December 1 and the last day of February, and requires a full 8-hour day of waves with minimum 40 foot (12.2 meters) faces.
During the summer months, the water is more calm, resembling a gorgeous turquoise bay, and making it the perfect location to soak in the sun’s rays while floating peacefully in its warm waters. “The Rock”, as it has been nicknamed, is visible from the beach and is a favorite “jumping” spot of tourists and locals alike, but it not recommended. Snorkelers can explore Waimea Bay on both ends of the beach. On the left side near the “Rock” there are some coral formations and fish, but be aware that the currents can be strong. On the right side of the bay, you may also snorkel, but stay towards the rock wall if conditions allow (do not attempt if the waves are surging, as this could cause injury). This part of the beach is much deeper and the currents are also strong, so beware.
Amenities at Waimea Bay includes parking, bathroom facilities with outdoor showers, lifeguards and picnic areas, making it a convenient option for families. Beach activities include swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, fishing and snorkeling. The parking lot is fairly small, so waiting for parking can be tedious, especially on the weekends. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, keep in mind that Waimea Bay may not be the best fit for you. There is street parking available, but can prove to be dangerous, as it’s off of the main road.
Turtle Bay Beach
Turtle Bay Beach is ideal for those who aren’t in North Oahu just for the surf. Named after the green sea turtles, or honu in Hawaiian, that once inhabited and who would lay their eggs on its beaches, Turtle Bay is a serene location to relax beachside. While the beach here is sandy, swimming conditions are less than ideal and there is no lifeguard on duty. Ironwood trees line the coast, so it does make a great location for a beachside picnic.
You don’t just have to stay by the water however, you can pop up to Turtle Bay Resort and lounge in the bar and café with some cocktails and ono (delicious) meals. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, Turtle Bay Resort has every activity imaginable from golf, hiking, horseback riding, shopping to live music. There is something for everyone!
If you have younger children, or are looking for the closest beach where swimming conditions are better, head to neighboring Bayview Beach which offers easier access and is more protected from high surf due to its off-shore reef.
Amenities at Turtle Bay Beach include parking and picnic areas. Turtle Bay Resort is located close by and has restrooms, along with various dining options.