This week marks legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku’s 125th birthday. Duke singlehandedly brought the world’s attention to the new sport of surfing in the early 1900s. Part man, part myth, Duke was also an Olympic swimmer, actor, and businessman—but his biggest gift was sharing the joy he found catching waves on his 16-foot wooden surfboard. Whether you’re an experienced surfer, a novice looking for lessons, or a landlubber happily watching from your beach chair, make like Duke and plan a surf getaway to the North Shore of Oahu. Planning your getaway is easy and convenient, with Island Air offering daily direct flights to Honolulu for as low as $59. You can even bundle your tickets with a rental car, so you can get out of the airport quickly and hit the road for the north shore. You can drive across Oahu in as little as an hour, so you’ll be at the beach in no time.
Oahu’s North Shore—stretching from Ka’ena Point to Kahuku Point— is where you’ll find the perfect surfing waves you probably associate with Hawaii. The big, glassy waves of this legendary surf mecca attract the best surfers in the world for competitions between November and February. The North Shore’s waves get much smaller and more gentle from May to September – making it the perfect spot for beginners, experts, and everyone in between. ABC’s hit TV show Lost was filmed almost entirely on Oahu, so TV buffs and anyone who appreciates stunning natural scenery will find plenty to love about the North Shore too. Below are some can’t miss destinations to soak in the sun, sand and surf of Oahu’s legendary beach culture.
Haleiwa is your gateway to the North Shore’s best beaches and surf spots. With a leisurely island pace and a friendly local vibe, those looking for a less tourist-y Hawaiian vacation destination will love Haleiwa. The stretch of surf between Haleiwa and Turtle Bay is the best surfing in America, hands down. Professional surfers also rank Haleiwa as among the best surf spots in the world, because of its perfectly formed coral reefs and sandbars that bring on consistently big waves. While part of the fun of exploring Haleiwa is walking around and finding your own favorite spots, here are a few great options to get you started:
Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park
With a small protected area perfect for swimming, and another great stretch for surfing, Ali’i is one of Haleiwa’s best beaches. It was also a main site of filming for the show Baywatch. Just make sure to pay attention to signage about reefs and current.
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
Cool off after your beach day with a famous shave ice from Matsumoto’s. This is a local institution that’s been around since 1951—so you know it’s going to be good. In fact, the shop serves over 1,000 shave ices daily! Located just a short walk from Ali’i Beach Park on Kamehameha Highway, Matsumoto’s has all the flavors you could think of, plus some you probably wouldn’t. Pickled mango, anyone? You can’t go wrong with the classic rainbow, too: stripes of strawberry, pineapple and lemon make this the most refreshing treat in Haleiwa.
North Shore Marketplace
Need a break from the sun? Head to the North Shore Marketplace for boutique shopping, art galleries, and great eateries. Among the many options worth checking out here is Polynesian Treasures, where you’ll find a wide selection of authentic souvinirs to take home with you. The North Shore is free from chain stores, malls, and big box shopping, so prepare to find more unique goods at the North Shore Marketplace, with many shops highlighting Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage.
Kua Aina Sandwich Shop
After you’ve worked up your appetite from shopping, head to Kua Aina Sandwich Shop for the best burgers in Haleiwa. This is a low key, local joint boasting good prices and flavorful toppings. For a Hawaiian twist, try the pineapple burger!
You’ll want to head to Puaena Point for beginner friendly surf rentals and lessons. Located directly north of the parking lot at Haleiwa Beach Park, this area can get crowded on weekends, but it’s a great spot for long breaking, gentle waves for beginners. You’ll see a few options for surfboard rentals. Among them, the aptly named North Shore Surf Shop is a popular choice.
Heading North from Haleiwa
The Kamehameha Highway extends north from Haleiwa and takes you through other popular spots on the North Shore. Here are a few more can’t miss destinations along the way.
Famous for bringing big wave surfing to popularity in the 1950s, Waimea Bay is now home to some of the world’s top surfing competitions. The Quiksilver competition is held during massive swells, not on a particular date, but when “the bay calls the day.” If you’re lucky enough to be visiting while this takes place, you’ll see world class surfers fearlessly tackling waves that are a minimum of 20-feet high! There’s plenty of beach here to just sunbathe and enjoy the view from afar, too. In the summer the waves are much calmer and this becomes a good swimming beach.
Not far from the beach is Waimea Valley, a world class botanical garden and nonprofit nature preserve spanning 1,875 acres. The highlight here is definitely the Waimea Waterfall, a short leisurely hike from the visitors center. The waterfall is 45 feet high and a popular site for cliff jumping and swimming. These falls also made a few appearances on the show Lost.
About 7 miles north of Haleiwa is another famous surfing beach for its epic waves during the winter season. Not surprisingly, Sunset Beach is also famous for its sunsets. It’s a great calm spot in the summer months for swimming and snorkeling. Not to mention the photo opportunities.
The Pipeline is famous as the site of several major surf competitions, and it’s easy to see why. The giant 20 foot+ waves curl around surfers as though they’re riding inside a pipe made entirely of coursing water. Not for the feint of heart, but watching these surfers paddle fearlessly into such awe inspiring waves is a site you’ll never forget.
Polynesian Culture Center
Considered one of the top tourist destinations in all of Hawaii, you’ve got to check out the Polynesian Cultural Center while you’re in the North Shore. Located in the town of Laie, about 20 minutes up the coast from Haleiwa, you’ll find this 42-acre living museum and theme park based on the island’s Polynesian history. This is a great family friendly spot with tons of different activities, from Polynesian shows and luaus to cultural activities like spear throwing and canoeing.
Turtle Bay Resort
Unless you’re renting a house (there are great options on Airbnb) or staying elsewhere in Oahu, you’ll want to check into the Turtle Bay Resort— the only hotel on Oahu’s North Shore. This newly renovated resort boasts amazing amenities and a ton of activities, from beach yoga to horseback riding, golfing to snorkeling with sea turtles. There’s a variety of acommodation options here, from private villas to rooms, so be sure to check rates and availability.