Top 10 Places to Visit in North Shore O'ahu

Updated on August 3, 2016
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Stephanie Launiu is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle & cultural writer. She has a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies. She lives on 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.

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

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.

  • Beaches
  • La'ie
  • Polynesian Cultural Center
  • Malaekahana and Goat Island
  • Kahuku
  • Waimea Valley
  • Hale'iwa
  • Waialua
  • Mokuleia
  • Ka'ena Point

North Shore O'ahu Video Tour of Beaches

Turtles really do come ashore at Turtle Bay.
Turtles really do come ashore at Turtle Bay. | Source

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.

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

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.

The Parade of Canoes takes place every afternoon at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  Tahitian dancers perform on a floating canoe in this photo.
The Parade of Canoes takes place every afternoon at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Tahitian dancers perform on a floating canoe in this photo. | Source
"Ha, Breath of Life" is a fantastic nightshow at the Polynesian Cultural Center in La'ie
"Ha, Breath of Life" is a fantastic nightshow at the Polynesian Cultural Center in La'ie | Source

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.

Waimea Falls
Waimea Falls | Source
Orchids grow profusely on trees in the moist Waimea Valley.
Orchids grow profusely on trees in the moist Waimea Valley. | Source

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.

Matsumoto Shave Ice
Matsumoto Shave Ice | Source

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.

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

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.

Mokuleia Beach is popular with windsurfers.
Mokuleia Beach is popular with windsurfers. | Source

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.

Ka'ena Point
Ka'ena Point | Source
Da Bus is O'ahu's public bus system that is one of the best in the country.
Da Bus is O'ahu's public bus system that is one of the best in the country. | Source

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

show route and directions
A markerPolynesian Cultural Center -
55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762, USA
get directions

B markerMatsumoto Shave Ice, Haleiwa -
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
get directions

C markerWaimea Valley Park -
59-864 Kamehameha Highway, Waimea Valley
get directions

Right across from Waimea Bay Beach Park

© 2012 Stephanie Launiu

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  • traveleze profile image

    Lee John 2 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,


  • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

    Stephanie Launiu 3 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 3 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

    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 4 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

    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

    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


    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 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


  • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

    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.


    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!