The North Shore in the island of Oahu is where country living meets tropical island scenery. Best known as the surfing mecca of the world, the neighborhood offers an extraordinary panorama of turquoise waters swelling with huge waves. The North Shore is located between Ka’ena Point and Kahuku Point. It is this location facing the strong North Pacific waters that has given rise to North Shore’s surfing reputation. However, it is also known among tourists as a place to go to for great food outside Honolulu. If you’re planning a trip to Oahu, the North Shore is one place you’d never want to miss.
Things you should know about the North Shore
The world’s best surfers fill over seven miles of the North Shore beaches, specially during the winter months, when they are most likely to see their perfect wave. It is home to the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay, where the most formidable waves fit only for advanced surfers can be found. It’s no wonder that three of the world’s biggest surfing competitions, particularly the Triple Crown of Surfing, are held here.
Not only that, the diverse landscape of lush greenery, constantly rolling sea, and rock formations make the North Shore a perfect spot for filming, something which the creators of ABC’s Lost had to their advantage. Much of the TV series has been filmed on this part of Oahu, particularly on Turtle Bay. It was also the location of films such as "Blue Crush," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," and its namesake, "North Shore." The setting of the animated movie "Surf’s Up" was also modeled after the North Shore.
The North Shore is the planet's most popular surf destination. The community on the North Shore is growing quickly, but compared to Honolulu, it is still very laid back.
All of the Hawaiian Islands are filled with tradition and history, including the birth of waveriding. Today roughly three-quarters of Hawaii’s population resides on Oahu and is a mix of many cultures, including Caucasian, Asian and other mixed backgrounds. There is less than 1 percent pure Hawaiians left in the region.
The North Shore has a mellow nightlife with some restaurants in the small town of Haleiwa. This can be a pretty busy area from early to mid-winter with the Triple Crown going on, so expect crowds and traffic jams.
Hawaii has a tropical, mid-ocean climate. It experiences very warm summers, which is the dry season extending from late spring through early fall with occasional trade-wind showers. The rainier winter season is from October to March, with strong trades, cold fronts and Kona winds. Hurricanes sometimes get close, but are rarely able to reach the islands.
You’ll be skinning it year-round in Hawaii. Sometimes on cool windy mornings people will wear thermal tops or spring suits. Water temps in the winter months hover around the low to mid-70s. Taking surfboards to Hawaii can be an expensive move these days. Besides the fact that you will probably break a couple, airlines are charging more than ever. It is no longer per bag; they will open your board bag and count each board, charging you for each one. Whether you get boards there or bring your own, count on needing a bit more size than usual. For the North Shore, generally bigger is better.
The North Shore is filled with hazards. The primary hazard here is the huge, powerful surf. There are strong currents, giant cleanup sets and quickly changing conditions.
The surf can jump from head-high to double overhead in less than an hour, catching many people off guard. Make sure you know your limits. If you have any doubts, it’s best not to paddle out. Some of the locals here can have short fuses, too. So, watch for crowds and don’t bring any attitude. Other than that, there are occasional sharks, jellyfish and scattered sea urchins.
Beaches the North Shore boasts of
In the winter months, the waters along North Shore rise to form gigantic waves. From October to February, some waves go even higher than 20 feet, which is why the beaches there are not advisable for novice surfers. During the summer season, however, the formidable ocean amazingly transforms into a state of total calmness, sometimes even having a glassy quality almost devoid of breaks. From May to September, North Shore beaches entice visitors to fish or simply take a dip.See our section on North Shore Beaches
Located between Kawela Bay and the Turtle Bay Hotel, Turtle Bay got its name because sea turtles used to be abundant and lay eggs in this northeastern tip of Oahu. Although they no longer thrive there nowadays, a lucky beach bum may catch a glimpse of their heads peeking out from the water sometimes. Turtle Bay is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and fishing, because its location protects the beach from large waves. Its sloped shoreline is also a great place for strolling or simply lazing around on the sand.
The beach extends two miles from Ehukai Beach to Sunset Point. However, the wave breaks have subdivided the area into popular surf spots, such as Pupukea, Back Doors, Off-the-Wall, Log Cabins, and Cloudbreak. The whole stretch is hailed as one of the world’s longest of rideable surf spots. Right on Pupukea Beach Park is Shark’s Cove, which is popular among divers. It is a large tide pool nestled in the rocky shoreline, and underneath the water are caves going from 15 to 45 feet in depth--all waiting to be explored by those who want adrenaline-pumping adventures.
Waimea Beach is where the more adventurous surfers find their “papa nui” (or big papa), as the beach is popular for its winter waves. It is the venue for the big-wave surfing competition, Quicksilver Eddie Aikau Invitational, for which 20-foot waves are the mandatory minimum. Its shore breaks are said to be among the world’s most dangerous, although the water becomes calm enough in the summer that it becomes wonderful for snorkeling and fishing.
Ehukai Beach is where you’ll find the world-famous Banzai Pipeline, which is actually not a place, but a wave break curling into a tube of monstrous proportions. However, the name given to it by the locals stuck, giving birth to a new definition of “Banzai Pipeline” as “the most notable surf spot on the North Shore,” if not in the world. The word ehukai is Hawaiian for “red-tinged water,” describing the effect created by the sunlight as it hits the sprays from the breaking waves.
Hale’iwa is the North Shore’s is one of the largest communities and the gateway to the region. The town is about an hour drive from Waikiki, and the first you would see of the northern neighborhood. The laid-back lifestyle of the community is one of the things— that the surfing crowd loves the most.
What other things do they find endearing about this rustic town? For starters, it is credited for making the best hamburgers in all of Hawaii. What locals and tourists alike are referring to is the Kua Aina Sandwich Shop. It is also the one place where rainbows are eaten. These, of course, refer to “shaved ice,” a dessert that is often referred to by tourists as a “Hawaiian snowcone,” although it is more than that. The rainbow consists of vanilla, strawberry, and pineapple syrups poured over shaved ice, on which you may also have ice cream, mochi balls, and azuki beans.
Hale’iwa is the North Shore’s gastronomic, social, and arts center. Many art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques line its roads, along with a great number of shops selling surf boards and accessories. The town also serves as a reminder of Oahu’s plantation days, as remnants of plantation era infrastructure can still be found there.
North Shore Marketplace (Hale’iwa)
Still in Hale’iwa, it is the North Shore Marketplace’s architecture that makes it deserving of being mentioned as a separate point of interest. It displays the influence of Hawaii’s colorful cultural tapestry, resulting from the waves of international migrants who came to Oahu from various countries since the 1800s. They came to Hawaii to work in the pineapple plantations.
You must head off to Dole Plantation, which is just a 10-minute drive away from Hale’iwa Town. It has one the World’s largest mazes, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. You can spend countless hours losing yourself in its 1.7-mile paths that converge and diverge. Once you’re done, cool down with the DoleWhip, a frozen treat. Learn how Jim Dole created his pineapple legacy in this place.
Polynesian Cultural Center (Laie)
This is one place you shouldn’t leave out of your itinerary when you come to the North Shore. Considered one of the top tourist spots in the whole Hawaiian archipelago, the 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center boasts of its villages and exhibits depicting the way of life for Hawaii’s early settlers, including those from Aotearoa, Fiji, Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga, and the Easter Island. You can go into one of the canoe tours at the lagoon, or watch Coral Reef Adventure at the IMAX Theater. There are plenty of things to enjoy at the PCC: the Canoe Pageant held every 2:30 in the afternoon, the award-winning Ali’i Luau that will have you going back in time during ancient Hawaiian rulers as you enjoy Hawaiian cuisine, and the Horizons night show as a perfect end to a touristy day. Be awed by more than a hundred dancers performing the Samoan fire knife dance. If you want to book in advance, you may call 1-800-367-7060.
Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau State Monument
At a hilltop, overlooking Waimea Bay and the valley, lies the ruins of the Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau, which is now a Hawaiian state monument. The 2-acre heiau (religious temple) is one of the largest on Oahu. The heiau is usually constructed to pay homage to gods of peace and fertility, but when the situation calls for it, it may be re-dedicated to gods of war. When Capt. George Vancouver docked his ship, the HMS Daedalus, off Waimea, it is believed that three of his crew members were offered at the Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau as human sacrifices.