10 Must-See Places on O'ahu's North Shore

Updated on April 17, 2018
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Stephanie Launiu is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle and cultural writer. She has a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies. She lives on O'ahu.

The North Shore of O'ahu will take your breath away.
The North Shore of O'ahu will take your breath away. | Source

The North Shore of O'ahu, known around the world as the home of the Banzai Pipeline and big wave surfing competitions, is one of the loveliest scenic drives in Hawai'i. Though most visitors come to the island to see world-famous Honolulu and Waikiki, 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 (or two) out of your schedule to relax and unwind on the North Shore. Its scenic back-country is sure to take your breath away.

Top Ten Sights on O'ahu's North Shore

  1. Stunning white sand beaches
  2. The Mormon Temple of La'ie
  3. The Polynesian Cultural Center
  4. Malaekahana and Goat Island
  5. The country town of Kahuku
  6. Waimea Valley and its Native Hawaiian cultural sites
  7. The surfing town of Hale'iwa
  8. Waialua, the town with a sugar plantation history
  9. Mokulē'ia, popular with kite- and wind-surfers
  10. Ka'ena Point, the westernmost tip of O'ahu

Continue scrolling for details and pictures of each location. At the end of this article, you will also find information on accommodation and driving on the North Shore, as well as a suggested two-day itinerary for visiting the area and my favorite travel guide for O'ahu. Enjoy!

An aerial view of the highway to the windward side of O'ahu with Kane'ohe and the blue Pacific Ocean beyond.
An aerial view of the highway to the windward side of O'ahu with Kane'ohe and the blue Pacific Ocean beyond. | Source
High Surf at Waimea Bay, January 2018
High Surf at Waimea Bay, January 2018 | Source

1. Stunning White Sand Beaches

Stunning beaches and gorgeous coastlines 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
  • Mokuleia.

Parking is in short supply in some areas, but most of these parks have bathroom facilities. Not all have lifeguards on duty, however, so be aware of ocean conditions.

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 empty on weekdays.

Insider Tip: If you want to eat at the beach, buy something before you stop. There aren't any concession stands at the beaches, but there are often stores nearby.

Note: Be sure to put on sunscreen before spending a lot of time outdoors. The Hawaiian sun packs a punch. Also, please help keep these beaches beautiful by taking your trash with you when you leave.

Kualoa Beach Park is a serene rest-stop with picnic tables and bathrooms. You will have a full view of Mokoli'i, also known as Chinaman's Hat, an offshore islet.
Kualoa Beach Park is a serene rest-stop with picnic tables and bathrooms. You will have a full view of Mokoli'i, also known as Chinaman's Hat, an offshore islet. | Source
Ehukai Beach Park is home to the Banzai Pipeline and some of the world's biggest surf waves from November through March.
Ehukai Beach Park is home to the Banzai Pipeline and some of the world's biggest surf waves from November through March. | Source

2. The Mormon Temple in La'ie

Nestled between Hau'ula and Kahuku, La'ie is known as Hawai'i's Mormon gathering place. Settled in 1865, this remote and windy place was bought by the Latter Day Saint (a.k.a. Mormon) Church. La'ie is now a must-see for many visitors to Hawai'i. The Mormon temple there, built in 1919, was the first Latter Day Saint temple erected beyond the mainland U.S when Hawai'i was still a territory. It is sometimes called the La'ie Hawai'i Temple or the LDS Church.

The Temple Visitors Center is open to the general public daily from 9 am to 8 pm.

The Brigham Young University-Hawai'i campus is perched right beside the temple. The university is also next-door to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This small, rural area has been developed into quite a center for tourism and education.

The La'ie Temple, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.
The La'ie Temple, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. | Source
View opposite the Mormon Temple in La'ie, Hawai'i
View opposite the Mormon Temple in La'ie, Hawai'i | Source

3. Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC)

Nicknamed the "PCC," the Polynesian Cultural Center is Hawai'i's most popular paid attraction. In 1963, the Mormon Church opened the 42-acre PCC so that Brigham Young University's (BYU) Hawai'i students could work part-time jobs demonstrating their island cultures to visitors. Over the past 50 years, thousands of students have been educated at BYU-Hawai'i, and 70% of current PCC workers attend the university.

At the PCC, you'll spend time in seven villages like those found in the Polynesian islands of Fiji, ancient Hawai'i, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tahiti and the Marquesas. The villages provide a day-long cultural immersion with their traditional Polynesian languages, arts and crafts, music and dance. Visitors move from village to village, and featured shows in each village are timed so that you can visit all seven in a day. Other popular things to do at the PCC are canoe rides, Imax Theatre, a daily afternoon Parade of Canoes, a delicious lu'au and one of the most authentic Polynesian night shows you'll ever see.

If your schedule doesn't allow you the time to spend a whole day at the PCC, you can visit the admission-free Hukilau Marketplace with its array of Polynesian-themed restaurants and specialty shops.

The Parade of Canoes takes place every afternoon at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  Tongan dancers perform on a floating canoe in this photo.
The Parade of Canoes takes place every afternoon at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Tongan dancers perform on a floating canoe in this photo. | Source
Enjoy lunch or dinner at Hukilau Marketplace, and then shop, shop, shop.
Enjoy lunch or dinner at Hukilau Marketplace, and then shop, shop, shop.

4. Malaekahana and Goat Island

In ancient Hawai'i, Malaekahana and the area surrounding it was known as a pu’uhonua or sanctuary. It was a place where those who had broken the law could find safety, refuge, and time for recovery before returning to society.

Spanning more than 30 acres of beachfront, the Malaekahana State Recreation Area is a wooded park on Malaekahana Bay. 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? There are also campsites for tent camping.

The nearby Malaekahana Beach Campground is privately operated. Campground accommodations include areas for tent camping, vehicle camping, and plantation-style beach cabins. You can also rent surfboards, paddleboards and kayaks. The bay at Malaekahana is a water enthusiast's dream. It's ideal for swimming, bodysurfing and shore fishing.

Goat Island, also known as Moku'auia Island, is only 600 feet offshore and is a seabird sanctuary. Numerous seabird species call this tiny islet 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!

Malaekahana State Recreation Area with Goat Island in the distance
Malaekahana State Recreation Area with Goat Island in the distance

The Trek to Goat Island/Moku'auia Sanctuary

5. The Country Town of Kahuku

Kahuku is just a little blip of a town, but it has plenty of heart. You can saddle up and go horseback riding at several local stables. Drive slowly and look for posted signs, or stop at a store and ask the locals.

In addition to the freshly picked fruits and vegetables offered by roadside farmers, the Kahuku stretch is known for shrimp farms. Choose from a bevy of lunch trucks situated on Kamehameha Highway selling shrimp combo plates. Don't forget to try the 'Coconut Shrimp'. It's divine.

If you’re in Kahuku between September and December, you'll have fun attending a football game at Kahuku High. Kahuku's Red Raiders have extremely loyal fans for life and a voraciously active alumni association. In many parts of Hawai'i, high school football is important to island life; many games are televised on local TV and stadiums fill up quickly.

An unlikely neighbor to the quiet country life in Kahuku is the Turtle Bay Resort. An exclusive resort on 850 acres of gorgeous oceanfront property, it has been an iconic landmark on the North Shore since 1972. In addition to more than 400 rooms, beach cottages and ocean villas, the resort also has a championship golf course, restaurants, spas, and access to all types of island tours and ocean sports. The most special feature of Turtle Bay? Every room has an ocean view. And yes, sea turtles come ashore regularly.

Try the Coconut Shrimp. You won't regret it.
Try the Coconut Shrimp. You won't regret it.
Turtles really do come ashore at Turtle Bay.
Turtles really do come ashore at Turtle Bay. | Source

6. Waimea Valley

Native Hawaiians have considered this 1,875-acre valley sacred ground for over 700 years. During ancient times, Waimea Valley belonged to the priestly class, and for centuries it was cared for by their descendants. In recent times, the City and County of Honolulu and the Audubon Society cared for the botanical gardens, but in 2006, the Trust for Public Land helped to convey ownership back into the hands of Native Hawaiians. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its non-profit, Hi'ipaka LLC, now steward the valley's unique physical and cultural resources.

There is an entrance fee to get into the valley that includes a guided Botanical Garden Tour and a guided Cultural Tour. There is also a nominal fee for a one-way or roundtrip shuttle bus ride from the entrance to Waimea Falls deeper into the valley. You are free to walk around the paths and view the sights at your own pace, making it easy to experience the beauty of Waimea Valley. There are often cultural demonstrations, Native Hawaiian artisans, and hula performances at different points in the valley.

The world-class botanical gardens contain over 5,000 different types of plants from all over the world. Culturally significant sites include the restored Hale o Lono heiau (an agricultural temple).

Be sure to have a camera with you. Bird-watchers should bring their binoculars, and swimmers should bring their suits for a dip in the pool at the base of Waimea Falls. There are staff on duty to watch swimmers, and you can rent water gear and life vests.

There is no other place in Hawai'i like Waimea Valley. It is a popular venue for weddings and other special events. Don't miss a visit to this beautiful place the next time you are on O'ahu!

Waimea Falls. Visitors are welcome to take a dip at the foot of the waterfall while in Waimea Valley.
Waimea Falls. Visitors are welcome to take a dip at the foot of the waterfall while in Waimea Valley. | Source
Cultural activities and special events make Waimea Valley a fascinating stop on the North Shore.
Cultural activities and special events make Waimea Valley a fascinating stop on the North Shore. | Source

7. Hale'iwa

Only in Hawai'i can you find a little back-country surfing town like Hale'iwa. If you've been to Hale'iwa before, you may or may not like the 2.0 version. It's still the "town that surfing built," but it's a bit gentrified now. A few years ago there was a restoration of the town to upgrade its appearance and bring it into the 21st century. The North Shore Master Plan included the commercial redevelopment of Hale'iwa.

Though it has changed considerably, it's still a fun place to spend a few hours. The old surfing town without sidewalks now has sidewalks, newly repainted storefronts, paved parking lots, a courtyard outside of Matsumoto Shave Ice instead of the dusty lot everybody would park in, and tons of new businesses. So that means more shopping!

The old favorites like Hale'iwa Joe's are still there, and the sought-after lunch trucks are in the same place. My new favorite lunch (or dinner) place is Killer Tacos. They have outstanding food and generous portions. Matsumoto Shave Ice got a facelift inside and out, and it's competitor, Aoki Shave Ice, now sports long lines just like Matsumoto does. That must mean more people are coming to Hale'iwa than ever before. So maybe the redevelopment plan is working after all.

While in town, be sure to visit the Surf Museum, browse the art galleries that highlight local artists, and wander through boutiques and souvenir shops. I guarantee you won't leave Hale'iwa without buying something. There are too many intriguing shops and handcrafted items.

Regardless of recent changes, the soul of Hale'iwa has always been surfing and big waves, and this remote village hosts one of surfing's largest competitions, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, each year in November.

Surf shop with Bob Marley mural. All of the old buildings in Hale'iwa have been spruced up and newly repainted.
Surf shop with Bob Marley mural. All of the old buildings in Hale'iwa have been spruced up and newly repainted. | Source
View of Hale'iwa Harbor From the Water
View of Hale'iwa Harbor From the Water | Source

8. Waialua

Once upon a time, Waialua was a town built around a sugar plantation and mill. Today, it's a serene stop on the bustling North Shore. Inland and away from the beaches, you'll see families together in the community park that is the center of life here. It's 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.

Waialua is an old sugar mill town at the northernmost tip of O'ahu.
Waialua is an old sugar mill town at the northernmost tip of O'ahu. | Source

North Shore Soap Factory

9. Mokulē'ia

Meandering through Waialua heading towards the end of the road known as Ka'ena Point, you'll travel through Mokulē'ia.

Although it's popular with windsurfers and local fishermen, Mokulē'ia Beach has no lifeguards on duty. This is especially important to remember in winter when rip currents abound. These can be dangerous to anyone not well acquainted with the ocean here, so take extra caution.

The Hawai'i Polo Club is the home team at the Mokulē'ia Polo Field and hosts competing teams from all over the world. Starting in late April and continuing through October, this area celebrates polo season.

Dillingham Airfield is primarily used by the military, but it is also a good spot for gliding, skydiving and flying charter groups.

Mokulē'ia Beach is popular with windsurfers.
Mokulē'ia Beach is popular with windsurfers. | Source
Hawai'i Polo Club, Mokulē'ia
Hawai'i Polo Club, Mokulē'ia

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 spot.

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 and sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Your hike could take one to three hours depending on your pace.

Note: Don't walk too close to the ocean if you are not familiar with the area. Hazardous ocean conditions include strong currents and high waves that can break onshore.

Ka'ena Point State Park at end of road
Ka'ena Point State Park at end of road

Favorite Places on the North Shore

What's your favorite place on Oahu's North Shore?

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How to See O'ahu's North Shore in Two Days

After reading through this article, you may come to the conclusion that there is just too much to see in a single day. In all honesty, you'd be right. If your schedule allows, take two days to visit the North Shore.

I'd recommend starting out early and making your way up the coastline on the windward side of the island (Kailua, Kaneohe and all the sights along the way). The Polynesian Cultural Center in La'ie opens up at noon, so if you time it right, you can make it to La'ie and still have about six hours to experience the Polynesian villages before dinner and the Night Show. If you stay for the Night Show, you'll get out at about 9 pm.

Day two on your North Shore tour can take you past the Pipeline beaches, and still allow you plenty of time to visit Waimea Valley, Hale'iwa, Waialua and Ka'ena Point.

Did You Know?

O'ahu may be the third largest Hawaiian island, but it has the biggest population by far. It is also the most popular tourist destination in Hawai'i.

Driving on O'ahu's North Shore

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. Just 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, but 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 frequent stops as cars slow down to turn in front of you, and others decide at the last minute to veer off and make a beach stop. In certain areas, cars may even be parked along the side of the highway when beach parking lots are full.

Accommodation on the North Shore of O'ahu

For overnight accommodations on the North Shore, there are numerous Bed and Breakfasts, vacation rentals, a Courtyard by Marriott in La'ie, and the Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku.

What to Pack for a Trip to O'ahu's North Shore

All you need are shorts, a T-shirt, a bathing suit and towel, rubber slippers, sunscreen, a 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.

Fodor's Is the Best Guide I've Seen for O'ahu

Even though we all love our cellphones and internet access, there’s nothing like a full-color travel guide that you can take along with you on the road. I love Fodor’s Guidebooks. Whenever I travel to a new city or state that I am unfamiliar with, I look for the Fodor’s guide for that location. Fodor is known for hiring local writers when they are putting together a guide, and it shows in their detailed descriptions of Honolulu and North Shore attractions. I also like their rating system for restaurants, stores, and shopping. The guide also includes many color photos and maps. If you’re anything like me, your Fodor’s O'ahu travel guide will be dog-eared and marked up before long. A sign of an informed traveler.

Wherever you are on the North Shore, look to the horizon at sunset. You'll be amazed.
Wherever you are on the North Shore, look to the horizon at sunset. You'll be amazed. | Source

North Shore O'ahu Drone Tour

Top 10 Places to Go on the North Shore of O'ahu

show route and directions
A markerKualoa Regional Park -
Kualoa Regional Park, 49-479 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA
get directions

B markerThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -
55-600 Naniloa Loop, Laie, HI 96762, USA
get directions

C markerPolynesian Cultural Center -
55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762, USA
get directions

D markerMalaekahana -
Malaekahana Beach Campground, 56-335 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96731, USA
get directions

E markerKahuku -
Kahuku, HI 96731, USA
get directions

F markerWaimea Valley -
59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
get directions

G markerHale'iwa -
Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
get directions

H markerWaialua -
Waialua, HI 96791, USA
get directions

I markerMokulē'ia -
Mokuleia, HI 96791, USA
get directions

J markerKa'ena Point -
Kaena Point State Park, Waialua, HI 96791, USA
get directions

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Stephanie Launiu

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    • traveleze profile image

      Lee John 3 years ago from Preston

      Hey Hawaiian Scribe.

      Great Hub! I have voted up :) Id love to visit Hawaii one day! Please check out my travel hubs on places i have traveled, and your feedback would be appreciated :)

      Kind Regards,

      Lee

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      Yes, the turtle was in the Turtle Bay area, but since theyʻre a protected species now, theyʻre all over the place. Iʻm glad you enjoyed the hub and hope you get to visit again sometime. Aloha, Stephanie

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Hawaiian Scribe, I just loved this hub. I think North Shore Oahu is an amazing place. I have been to Hawaii once, and it was to this location that I went. The thing is, I was young and didn't know a lot about travel, and wish I had had this hub at the time to help! That said, it was a remarkable place and I had a great time. I look forward to reading more of your hubs, as Hawaii is a place I would love to learn more about. Thanks for sharing, and I truly loved the turtle. I wondered if they came ashore in the turtle bay area! Wonderful!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      @rose-the planner

      I agree, off the beaten track travel is way more fun. I'm glad you've experienced the North Shore, and mahalo for commenting on this hub. Aloha, Stephanie

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      I have been to Hawaii a couple of times and you're right, North Shore, Oahu is amazing. I enjoy the tourist areas when I travel but like off the beaten track better. Thanks for sharing!

    • livewirez profile image

      Romel Tarroza 5 years ago from Pearl of the Orient Sea

      North Shore Oahu have beautiful places. Hopefully someday I will be able to visit some of them... Thanks for this nice information...

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      @KawikaChann: I'm glad you enjoyed this hub and that you're heading in the direction of Hawai'i nei. A hui hou, Stephanie

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      Thanks so much for sharing my hub. Goat Island can be a bit scary if you stay too long, but the one good thing is that you can know exactly when high tide will be so set an alarm & you'll be fine. I hope you get a chance to visit someday. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Teresa Schultz profile image

      Teresa Schultz 5 years ago from East London, in South Africa

      Goat Island sounds interesting - it most intrigues me of the lot because of my fear of being stuck on the island at high tide! And one should face one's fears. Lovely photos, and great information - well done. Voting up, interesting, useful, and sharing with my HubPages followers.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 5 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Aloha,

      Howzit sista, thanks for a good read and beautiful pics. After almost 10 years away from home, this transplanted pineapple is finally heading back home to stay this summer. I don't know what island yet, but das me... I jus pull tent pegs and drag my family along...lol. Eh, we live by faith... voted you up/beautiful/following. Peace. Kawika.

    • drmiddlebrook profile image

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hi Hawaiian Scribe. I love your Hubs, and I love Hawaii too. My two leading characters (in my first novel) visited Hawaii, and your beautiful home helped the books heroine and hero fall even more deeply in love. What a wonderful world you live in.

    • benisan85745 profile image

      Ka'imi'loa 5 years ago from Tucson, AZ.

      Hands down...Matsumoto's, lrg ice cream Ling Hing Mui with Beans, wop yo jaw, good article Auntie, i'll be following you

      me ke aloha

      ka'imi'loa

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      @bdegiulio: I do hope your 20th anniversary is spent on the North Shore!

      @Angela Brummer: Yes, Angela, you need to visit Hawaii soon. I've shared your articles also, and thanks for commenting on this North Shore hub. Aloha!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great Hub. Brings back memories of our honeymoon 19 years ago. We loved the North Shore. It's hard not to love Hawaii. Thanks for sharing.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Oh how beautiful! I have to go!

      This article has been shared on Stumble, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Reddit and my hub following.

      Via: http://angelabrummer.hubpages.com/hub/Hubber-Alert

      If you can share mine: Margarita pedicure and Corn hole, It would be appreciated. And feel free to contact the others and the list to share article sharing!

    working