Top 10 Places to Visit in North Shore O'ahu
Favorite Places on the North Shore
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Enjoy scenic back-country O'ahu
The North Shore of O'ahu, known around the world as the home of the Banzai Pipeline and Big Wave surfing matches, is one of the loveliest scenic drives in Hawai'i. On this stunning island named O'ahu, 'the gathering place', almost a million people live in relative harmony. Visitors come to see world-famous Honolulu and Waikiki, but the real show-stopper is north of all that. Whether you're a kama'aina (native-born) or here for just a short time, carve a day out of your schedule to relax and unwind on the North Shore. All you need are shorts, T-shirt, a bathing suit and towel, rubber slippers, sunscreen, camera, a bottle of water, and a change of clothes so you can stay for the night show at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Don't worry about packing a lunch. You'll find plenty of stops along the way to taste the local food.
The quickest route to the North Shore from Honolulu is to take Likelike Highway (Route 63) which starts in Kalihi Valley. You'll pass through the Wilson Tunnel and the Ko'olau mountains over to the windward side of the island in about 10 minutes. As you emerge from the tunnel, a beautiful panoramic vista opens up as you look down on the coastal towns of Kane'ohe and Kailua. It'll be tempting to continue a few miles straight toward the ocean, but remember where you're headed..North Shore..North Shore. So follow the signs that say "North Shore" or "La'ie" and you'll be fine.
Even in the 21st Century, there is only one main highway around the island. Kamehameha Highway is well-paved and an easy drive as it winds around the northern part of O'ahu. Don't let the word "highway" fool you. This is a Hawaiian highway, meaning it's still a two-lane road in many places, but a little wider than normal. Relax and be prepared for stops as cars may slow down to turn in front of you, and others may decide at the last minute to veer off and make a beach stop. In certain areas, cars may be parked along the side of the highway when beach parking lots are full.
These are some of the sights you'll be blessed with on your trip to the North Shore.
- Polynesian Cultural Center
- Malaekahana and Goat Island
- Waimea Valley
- Ka'ena Point
North Shore O'ahu Video Tour of Beaches
1. Beaches – Stunning beaches and gorgeous shorelines help to make the North Shore one of the most beautiful areas in Hawai'i. You'll be in awe of the year-round perfection of nature here. The major beach parks you'll encounter are: Kualoa, Kahana, Punaluu, Kokololio, La'ie, Hukilau, Malaekahana State Park, Turtle Bay, Kawela Bay, Sunset, Ehukai (home to Banzai Pipeline), Sharks Cove, Waimea Bay, Turtle Beach aka Laniakea, Hale'iwa and Mokuleia. Parking space is in short supply in some areas, but most have bathroom facilities. Not all have lifeguards on duty, so be aware of ocean conditions. If you want to eat at the beach, stop & buy something before you stop. There aren't any concession stands at the beaches, but there are often stores nearby. Please take your trash with you when you leave. Be sure to put on sunscreen before spending a lot of time outdoors. The Hawaiian sun packs a punch. Unless you're on the North Shore during the big wave season of November to April, you'll be amazed at how often these stunning beaches are unpopulated during weekdays.
2. La'ie – Nestled between Hau'ula and Kahuku, Laʻie is known as Hawaiʻi's gathering place for Mormons. Settled in 1865, the remote and windy place called "Laʻie" was bought by the Latter Day Saint (Mormon) Church back then. Laʻie is now a must-see for many visitors to Hawaiʻi. The Mormon Temple in Laʻie, built in 1919, was the first Latter Day Saint temple erected beyond the mainland U.S when Hawaiʻi was still a territory. The Temple Visitors Center is open to non-members daily from 9am to 8pm. The BYU-Hawaiʻi campus is perched right beside the temple. The university is next-door to the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaiʻi's #1 paid visitor attraction. This small rural area has been developed into quite a center for tourism and education.
3. Polynesian Cultural Center – Nicknamed "PCC", Hawai'i’s renowned visitor attraction gracefully covers 42 acres. In 1963 the Mormon Church opened PCC so that Brigham Young University (BYU) Hawai'i students could be given part-time jobs demonstrating their island cultures to visitors. At PCC you'll spend time in seven villages like those found in the Polynesian islands of Fiji, old Hawai'i, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tahiti and the Marquesas. According to tour guides at PCC, about 70% of PCC workers attend BYU Hawai'i. They provide a day-long cultural immersion with their traditional Polynesian languages, arts and crafts, music and dance. But many also work the concession stands, provide security, janitorial and parking services. Other popular things to do at PCC are canoe rides, Imax Theatre, a daily afternoon parade of canoes, a delicious luau and one of the most authentic Polynesian night shows you'll ever see.
4. Malaekahana and Goat Island – Known as a pu’uhonua (sanctuary) in ancient Hawai'i, this was a place where lawbreakers could be guaranteed safety and refuge. Spanning more than 30 acres of beach frontage, Malaekahana has onsite security, campsites and rental camping yurts. There are picnic tables and bathrooms with hot water outdoor showers . How many times have you been able to take a hot shower at the beach? The bay at Malaekahana is a water enthusiast's dream. Goat Island is only 600 feet offshore, and is also referred to as the Moku Auia Seabird Sanctuary. Numerous seabird species call this tiny island their home. When the tide is low you can make the trek to Goat Island, but be sure to wear a watch. When high tide comes in, it'll be a swim to shore if you've stayed too long. Yikes!
5. Kahuku – This is just a little blip of a town, but one with plenty of heart. You can ride horses at several area stables. Drive slowly and look for posted signs, or stop at a store and ask the locals. Roadside vendors offer freshly picked fruits and vegetables. This Kahuku stretch is known for shrimp farms. Choose from a bevy of lunch trucks situated on Kamehameha Highway selling shrimp combo plates. If you’re in Kahuku during football season, you'll have fun attending a football game at Kahuku High. Kahuku's Red Raiders have extremely loyal fans and high school football is important to island life where many games are televised on local TV.
6. Waimea Valley– Native Hawaiians have considered this 1800 acre valley sacred ground for over 700 years. You can indulge yourself for a whole day (or week!) here. Must-sees are old Hawaiian cultural sites, countless species of tropical/subtropical plants, rare and native birds that can be spotted in accessible areas, cultural activities, and walking tours. You can swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall. There are staff on duty at the waterfall to watch swimmers, and you can rent water gear and life vests. There is a nominal entrance fee to get into the park and to ride the shuttle in the valley. A small snack bar is available and there's a gift shop selling souvenirs too. Be sure to have a camera with you. For bird-watchers, bring your binoculars.
7. Hale'iwa- Only in Hawai'i can you find a little back-country surfing town. One long narrow street without sidewalks slices through Hale'iwa. Yet this remote surfing village is host to one of surfing's largest competitions, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing held annually in November. Be sure to visit the Surf Museum, browse several art galleries that highlight local artists, and wander through boutiques and souvenir shops. Don’t leave this sleepy little town without dropping in at Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. If you can't make up your mind on what to order, my favorite is a rainbow (blue, red, yellow) with sweetened condensed milk on top and ice cream and azuki beans on the bottom. You won't regret it.
8. Waialua – Waialua was a sugar plantation and mill in its former life, and today is a serene stop on the bustling North Shore. Inland and away from the beaches, you'll see families together in the park that is the center of life here. A nice place to savor a plate lunch under a shady tree, read a book or put a blanket down and take an afternoon nap.
Make time to visit the North Shore Soap Factory located in the old Waialua Sugar Mill. It's definitely worth a stop.
9. Mokuleia – Meandering through Waialua heading towards the end of the road known as Ka'ena Point, you'll travel through Mokuleia. Although it's popular with windsurfers, Mokuleia Beach has no lifeguards on duty. Rip currents can be dangerous to anyone not well acquainted with the ocean here. You'll probably see a lot of locals fishing in this area. The Hawai'i Polo Club are the home team at the Mokuleia Polo Field and hosts competitors from South America and Europe. Starting in late April and continuing through October, this area celebrates polo season. Dillingham Airfield is primarily used by the military, and also for gliding, skydiving and flying charter groups.
10. Ka'ena Point – Congratulations! You've made it to the westernmost tip of land on O'ahu. That means that you've gone around the northern tip of O'ahu and have veered off to the west. The road stops here and vehicles can't go any further. You can take some nice photos from this place.
If you want to continue by foot, there is a hiking trail leading to Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, a scenic protected area that is home to native plants and seabirds. Whales are often seen offshore during the winter months.
The weather is usually sunny, hot, and windy – I'd recommend everyone wear a hat, have sunscreen and plenty of water. Your hike could take 1 to 3 hours depending on your pace. Don't approach too close to the ocean if you are not familiar with the area; hazardous ocean conditions include high waves that can break onshore and strong currents.
Everyone should experience O'ahu's North Shore! Spend an adventurous day (or more!) meandering along this golden coast exploring O'ahu's hidden backroads. O'ahu is not a very large island, but it has a good highway system and an excellent bus system. Travel time from the downtown Honolulu area to North Shore is an hour's drive by car, or about two hours on a bus because you'll stop at lots of interesting little bus stops along the way.
Map of North Shore, Oahu
© 2012 Stephanie Launiu
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