A Local’s Guide to North Shore O‘ahu

The possibilities are endless along this paradisiacal stretch of O‘ahu, where the waves inspire and the sunsets are always epic.

Text by
Beau Flemister
Images by
Jenny Sathngam

Roughly 30 miles from the busy streets of Honolulu is the stunning, raw coastline of O‘ahu’s North Shore. While this coastal area is set to a perpetual soundtrack of thunderous surf in the wintertime, there is plenty to do, see, eat, and partake in here during the off-season summer months. From horseback riding to skydiving, shark diving to strolls on vacant shores—the North Shore has an adventure for everyone.

Not long after Schofield Barracks, where Kamehameha Highway forks, there is a sign pointing you toward “North Shore.” You can follow that sign—or you can go your own way along Kaukonahua Road, better known as “Snake Road,” toward Waialua, where you’ll want to stop at Pa‘ala‘a Kai Bakery for the signature snow puffy pastries.

Next, hit the beach. Though Waialua is a quiet, red dirt-streaked plantation town, a little west of its high school is the splendor of Mokulē‘ia, a beachfront community hugging Crozier Drive. Find a public access path (marked by a blue sign), walk down the sandy shore parallel to Crozier, and let the cool Pacific Ocean lick at your toes.

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, hop on a horse with the Hawaii Polo Club or Happy Trails and ride along routes that snake through the gorgeous Wai‘anae Mountain Range.

Or keep driving west to where Farrington Highway ends, park, and walk the few miles to Ka‘ena Point. Raw and serene, this tip of the island is where the west and the north shores kiss. It is also a leina a ka ‘uhane, or a leaping place, where, according to Hawaiian lore, souls of the dead jumped into the afterlife. Around the point, be on the lookout for brilliant wildlife such as the pterodactyl-like Laysan albatross and Hawaiian monk seals with their pups. (Keep a respectable distance, of course.)

If Waialua is a little too remote for you, head to the town of Hale‘iwa. Start with a cup of joe at Coffee Gallery, get breakfast at Café Haleiwa or Waialua Bakery, or order an açai bowl at Crispy Grindz Pastelaria, a Brazilian-owned food truck whose açai is a deep, unadulterated purple.

While you’re near Ali‘i Beach Park, you may want to try something new and book a shark tour—sans cage!—with One Ocean Diving at Hale‘iwa Harbor. For this truly unforgettable experience, Juan Oliphant or Ocean Ramsey (Google her TEDx talk) takes you two miles offshore, educates you about these apex predators, and then hops in the water with you to swim with Galapagos and reef sharks, along with the occasional hammerhead.

Back in town, stop at Number 808, a design-forward yet casual boutique carefully curated by North Shore local Cappy Esguerra, who mixes local surf lifestyle brands like Quality Peoples and Mikoh with harder-to-find mainland U.S. brands like Saturdays and Uzi NYC. Afterward, take a quick look at the line at Matsumoto Shave Ice. If it’s snaking out the door, Aloha General Store is your less-crowded shave ice backup plan.

At mealtime, make your way to Kua ‘Aina for a burger that sticks to the ribs. For healthier fare, head to Farm to Barn, a café and juicery located at the site of the former Red Barn Farmstand.

If you are determined to head to North Shore proper, or what local surfers refer to as “Upside” (north of Waimea Bay), then drive nearly as far north as you can on Kamehameha Highway, toward Sunset Beach, and decide between two equally appealing options: grabbing an energy-boosting bulletproof coffee, the craze that blends hot coffee with butter and Brain Octane oil and sends the body into ketosis, at cozy roadside stand The Sunrise Shack or getting breakfast sandwiches at Ted’s Bakery, a true North Shore institution. There’s no wrong answer.

For a beach with nary a soul in sight, check out the vast and golden Ke Iki Beach, off limits to swimmers during its giant and treacherous winter swells but a treat for swimming and snorkeling in the calm summer season.

Continuing north on Kamehameha Highway, stop in at Roy’s Beach House at Turtle Bay for a mai tai at its outdoor beach bar. Then, head back to Sunset Beach to watch the ocean reflect the final rays of the sun as it dips behind Mokulē‘ia, while surfers catch their last waves, and the North Shore quietly dims.