Oahu’s North Shore is world-renowned as one of the most relaxed and adventurous places in the world. From surfing to shopping there seems to be something for everyone in this tropical paradise. It’s notoriety has jumped in recent decades as the North Shore has appeared in numerous entertainment pieces. What was once a relatively unknown plot of beach has become one of Hawaii’s hot spots for tourism.
Unlike Waikiki, Oahu’s biggest city, the North Shore still retains the traditional charm it was made famous by. Sure, there are a few more hotels and restaurants, but the laid-back attitude and adventure of this place remains unshaken.
We planned a trip to the North Shore unsure if it was worth all of the hype, and were not disappointed.
We spent a week in North Shore Oahu during a crazy rain storm (even for Hawaii!). We were hardly able to do half of the things we wanted to do, but that didn’t stop us from loving every minute of it. The North Shore is so incredible! We’re already planning a trip back (with hopefully better weather) because there are so many things to do in North Shore Oahu.
Here are just a few you could choose from!
Top Things to do in North Shore Oahu:
1. Shark Cage Diving
If you’re afraid of sharks and the idea of cage diving terrifies you, believe me when I say I know how you feel. I was terrified, too, and even had to practice Lamaze breathing to get myself into the cage. I was so happy I did, though!
Native Galapagos sharks are attracted to the hum of boat motors, not animal chum, after being trained to approach fishing boats who have thrown discarded fish and crab back into the ocean for decades. Galapagos sharks have no interest in humans and are incredibly safe to be around, making this an adventure of a lifetime.
Not only do you have the incredible opportunity to see sharks up close in a safe, friendly way, the boat ride out is also very scenic. Travelers have a good chance of seeing dolphins and whales (depending on the time of year) and, of course, beautiful scenery!
Take this opportunity to talk to the tour guides about life on the North Shore. Some are natives and some have chosen Oahu as their home after decades of adventuring. Any tour operator will love Hawaii and will have some great insight into daily life and the best places to go. Ask about good restaurants, Instagram photo spots, local shops, etc. They’ll love your interest!
2. Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation
Though more inland than the other activities, the Dole Pineapple Plantation is still considered part of Oahu’s North Shore and you must go.
Visitors enter the Dole Plantation through a massive gift shop of everything possible: pineapple t-shirts and candy, of course, but also trivets, coloring books, keychains, hats, magnets, stuffed toys, jewelry, chair covers, pillows, etc. It sounds awful, but it’s actually hilarious and so fun!
Beyond the gift shop you can watch a pineapple cutting demonstration, eat a famous Dole Whip Sundae, and go outside for a Dole plantation maze, pineapple growing farm, train ride through the plantation, etc. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon!
The Dole Plantation seems to have popped up everywhere, but don’t be scared off by the prospect of overcrowding. Because it’s a bit out of the way it’s definitely not as overrun as the media makes it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, there are still tons of people milling around, but the plantation is pretty big so it’s easy to get around.
It’s even kind of fun to be one of those silly tourists who geeks out at cute, local stuff! There are no judgments at the Dole Plantation!
3. Photo op at the North Shore Angel Wings
Artist Colette Miller’s Global Angel Wings art project has come to the North Shore! Recently a pair of her painted angel wings has flown to the small coastal town of Haleiwa.
Miller says the angel wings represent love, peace, kindness, compassion, hope, the visitor’s inner angel, and the good we can bring to the earth.
Sounds to perfectly encompass all of the love and joy found on Hawaii, so you may as well internalize the attributes as much as possible with this interactive artwork!
The angel wings are a great spot to snap an Instagram pic at the North Shore to show everyone back home just how at peace you are in this beautiful place. It never seemed busy as we drove around Haleiwa, so don’t worry about having to wait around for long. Even if you do, it’s worth it!
4. Hiking Kaena Point State Park
On the eastern tip of Oahu’s North Shore is Kaena Point State Park. If you’re interested in getting away from other people and enjoying the more rustic, natural side of North Shore, Oahu then this is a great place to go.
The Kaena Point State Park hike is one of the most beautiful on Oahu! Not only does the area include this gorgeous and easy (but long) hike, It’s also home to a group of local off-roaders. Take a few minutes to watch the monster Jeeps ride just beyond the Kaena Point hike parking lot, or join in if you have your own Jeep and want to feel local!
The other cool things about the park is the terrain. Hawaii is home to a lot of diverse landscapes, and you can see a few of them on Oahu. At Kaena Point State Park you’ll find the rocky coast which meets the lush foothills. The rocks have been smoothed by centuries of pounding water and make for a really interesting coastal walk.
Take some time away from the traditional (and wonderful) white sand beaches to enjoy the wilder side of the North Shore!
Related: Off-Roading Kaena Point State Park
5. North Shore Camping
Beach camping in Hawaii is kind of iconic, isn’t it? And all is not lost if you don’t have your own vintage VW van! Malaekahana Beach Campground has you covered.
With spots available for tents and small and large plantation houses to rent by the night any kind of camper will be satisfied. Each site has it’s own fire pit, access to the beach, outdoor showers, and a camping store for essentials.
Hawaii is the perfect place to get close to nature, and there’s no better way to do it than by waking up on the sand while North Shore camping.
This is one of the most iconic things to do in North Shore for a reason! Trust the adventurers who have gone before you.
6. North Shore Surfing
If you’re a surfing enthusiast you’ll definitely want to try your hand at surfing in North Shore!
In the wintertime North Shore Oahu is home to some of the largest swells in the world. Pipelines and giant waves attract world-class surfers from every corner of the globe.
If you aren’t a seasoned surfer you can easily book a surfing lesson on the North Shore. Local coaches can be found through your hotel, AirBnB Experiences, etc. and will supply you with a starter and meet you on the beach. Lessons last for around an hour, but don’t expect to become an expert. After an hour with a patient coach you could be popping up on your knees, but be prepared to take a few classes before you’re comfortable getting up completely.
But, hey, even if you only have time in your vacation for one class you could still say you’ve surfed the famed North Shore! You may want to look into beginning in the off-season, though, as winter winds kick up waves that could be dangerous for beginners.
If you’re more interested in watching North Shore surfing there are plenty of opportunities to do that, too. North Shore Surf competitions take place in winter during the biggest swell season, but you can also view surfers off of most beaches.
And don’t worry, winter brings new wind and water patterns to the North Shore but doesn’t change the temperature. Hawaii is a temperate climate, so you’ll still have the perfect lounging weather Hawaii is known for.
7. Visit North Shore Turtle Beach
One of the best things to do in North Shore Oahu is look for native sea turtles!
Locals have differing opinions, but one of the best place to see turtles on the North Shore is on Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach (not to be confused with the North Shore resort Turtle Bay).
There are some things you need to know before setting off, though: First, it is illegal to touch or get too close to the turtles. They are endangered! Feel free to watch them, but give them space! Second, this beach is so well known for watching turtles that it gets pretty crowded. By afternoon tourists swarm the beach and parking is limited.
According to the Hona Guardians (volunteers who stay at the beach with information on how to safely interact with the turtles) the best time to see the sea turtles in around lunch time, between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. There is a small parking lot for Laniakea Beach across the street from the beach (on the mountain side), but no crosswalk so be careful crossing the road!
Sea Turtles can be found in many different places around Oahu and the rest of Hawaii, so you could be lucky enough to stumble on a few sunbathing wherever you go. Just remember to treat the ocean and it’s inhabitants with care and respect. Don’t litter the beach and give the turtles their space. One reason the North Shore is as incredible as it is is because locals have been treating the water with respect for generations. Conscientious traveling is the only way this ecosystem will survive for future generations.
8. Eat Butter Garlic Shrimp From a Food Truck
When driving the coastal road of the North Shore you’ll find tons of food trucks advertising one thing: SHRIMP. Yeah. It’s that popular.
The most famous dish is butter garlic shrimp, which draws a line at the most famous food trucks. You’ll likely hear other tourists visiting Laniakea Beach or the tidepools discussing their plans for butter garlic shrimp plate dinners and start craving your own.
I’m not going to say which food truck is better than any other, the most important thing is that you just go to one. And consider calling ahead to order your shrimp plates- it took us 30 minutes just to get to the payment counter and another 20 to wait for our meals!
If you’re a foodie or enjoy seafood this must be on your list of things to do in North Shore! Opting for the food trucks vs. traditional restaurants is a great way to have a more local experience and eat some incredible food. Win Win!
Be warned that lots of food trucks have long lines that stretch into direct sunlight. Waiting around is not for the faint of heart. It’s also quite expensive, as you can imagine fresh shrimp would be. Don’t let that scare you off. When so much of the things to do in North Shore are free, this is something that is worth paying for!
9. Go to a Polynesian Cultural Center Luau
Yes, it’s a fabricated luau which isn’t as great as an authentic family luau, but what are the odds you’ll find a local family luau while you’re on the North Shore?
The Polynesian Cultural Center luau is also a bit pricey. Luau costs $120-$250 depending on your luau package, but the North Shore PCC is also more than dinner and a show. It’s like a living museum of different Polynesian cultures, and it’s the only place we know of that present these histories in such a stimulating and fun way.
During your meal you’ll get authentic Hawaiian food and see hula, fire dancers, singing, and other traditional entertainment. You are also welcome to come early or stay after your appointed luau time to experience the rest of the center.
Tour the acreage which features 6 different Polynesian islands and learn what makes them each unique and special. There are plenty of demonstrations in each location, which keep old and young interested! Plus the grounds are really picturesque, so walking from one land to the other is a dream.
Luau prices also include a daily showing of Ha: Breath of Life, an incredible live production that chronicles life on a Polynesian island.
The PCC is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and mostly employed by students from the nearby BYU-Hawaii campus. You’ll meet performers from the islands being featured, which is a huge plus!
10. Cliff Dive Waimea Falls
Remember when I said Oahu is home to many different landscapes? Here’s another one! To see the lush side of Hawaii make a stop at Waimea Valley. It’s home to an easy, gorgeous botanical walk/ hike that leads to a huge waterfall. You can swim at the base of the waterfall and even cliff dive off the top of it (or just watch those who do!)
Waimea Falls is run by Waimea Valley, a non-profit that is committed to preserving the land and Hawaiian culture. Entrance to Waimea Valley costs $8 for children and $16 for adults 12+.
11. Swim or Snorkel Sharks Cove Tide Pool
Snorkeling is one of the most iconic things to do in North Shore, and here’s a great spot for it.
Sharks Cove, aka Pupukea Tide Pool, is a great spot for all ages to enjoy snorkeling! It’s easy to access off the highway and home to fun Pacific fish. Wear good shoes to get into Sharks Cove because large lava rocks cover the area, then don your snorkel gear to catch a glimpse of Nemo or Dory.
Even if you don’t snorkel, come to Sharks Cove just to relax! Watching the waves periodically crash over the tide pool’s rock wall is really incredible! You can easily forget any worries and become mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the powerful water entering the calm pool.
It’s poetic, y’all.
12. Go swimming!
Hawaii has a lot of different types of coast line from lava rock, black sand, green sand, grassy, etc. The most iconic view of Hawaii is of people running into the clear, blue water from beautiful white sandy beach, and you can easily find those across the coast of the North Shore!
When you’re done surfing, shark diving, sightseeing, and eating your heart out why not just lay down on a towel and enjoy the sunshine in the most calm and easy way possible?
It’s easy to find soft sandy beach on the North Shore. Follow the main road around the coast and pull over at one of the many public street parking lots across from beaches. There aren’t many dedicated lots right beside the beach, but locals are used to seeing people walk across traffic towards the water.
Be sure to be careful, though! And bring sunscreen. That sun… Wow.
I hope you enjoy your visit to North Shore Oahu! As you can see there are plenty of things to do. You’ll have fun at any of these spots and be planning your next trip as soon as you’re home!
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