Everything you need to know about the North Shore.
Feature Photo: HTA / Tor Johnson
- Haleiwa means “house of the iwa (great frigatebird)”
- Waimea means “reddish water”
- The biggest waves happen between the winter months of November and February.
- Known as the “seven mile miracle” for it’s seven mile stretch of beaches with world class waves.
- Above Waimea Valley stands Oahu’s largest heiau (stone temple), covering almost 2 acres; it’s now a state historic site.
- The fish pond in Haleiwa, called Loko Ea, is between 400 to 500 years old.
- Matsumoto Shave Ice, established in 1951, is still the most popular snack spot for tourists and locals alike.
An hour’s drive from the bustling streets of Waikiki is the North Shore of Oahu. Here’s how to say the towns you’ll be visiting: Haleiwa (hah-lay-ee-vah) is the main attraction, although you’ll probably drive to or at least past Waimea (why-may-ah) Bay, stop for lunch at a food truck in Pupukea (poo-poo-kay-ah) or head further down the road to the shrimp trucks of Kahuku (kah-hoo-koo).
Referred to as “the country,” here the trade winds blow and the sun shines on a more relaxed and slow style of life. It’s home to some of the most famous surf spots in the world, thanks to the northerly winter swells that bring surf chasers from all over and, when conditions are right, see renowned surf competitions like the Pipeline Masters and Eddie Aikau Invitational.
Haleiwa town welcomes visitors with shops, restaurants and more food trucks than you could possibly try in one trip. Keep your eyes out for some local favorites like No. 7 or Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. For those looking to get active, surf lessons are easy to find, and the Ehukai Pillbox hike offers an aerial view of miles of white sand beaches and turquoise water. Whether visiting for the day or staying at Turtle Bay Resort, the only full-service hotel in the area, take advantage of the area’s incredible beauty. Walk through the botanical garden and cultural locations that showcase early Hawaiian life in Waimea (“reddish water”) Valley or snorkel at the world-class dive area known as Sharks Cove. After your day in the sun, partake in the classic North Shore dining ritual of enjoying poke from Foodland (a local grocery store) on the beach.
Before Western contact, the North Shore was a major population center, with fish ponds, taro fields and Oahu’s largest rock temple. Up until the late 1960s, the modern North Shore contained mostly small beach houses and farms, and was only accessible by a small, two-lane road. Then surfing entered the mainstream. In the 1970s and ’80s, surf magazines shared the location of its incredible waves and surf competitions gained popularity, turning North Shore into a hot spot for both surfers and curious spectators. Thanks to local efforts, the “7-mile miracle” has remained largely undeveloped: There’s only one full-service hotel, Turtle Bay Resort, between Oahu’s northwest tip of Kaena Point and the northeast town of Laie, which has the more modest Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore. Those who visit the North Shore today can still enjoy its slow, laidback country lifestyle and natural beauty.
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North Shore's Annual Events
JANUARY: See some of the island’s top watermen in the Da Hui Backdoor Shoot. In memory of Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Hawaiian waterman, four-man teams will compete in a variety of sports including bodyboarding, shortboard surfing, longboarding and more.
MARCH: Stretch out your legs and join the Loko Ea 8K/15K Run & Walk, which takes you through a scenic beach route through historic Haleiwa and Puaene Point’s private grounds.
APRIL: Give back to nature for Earth Day by volunteering at Waimea Valley and then checking out various arts and crafts, food, hula performances and Hawaiian games.
JULY: Looking for artistic inspiration? Make sure to stop by the annual Haleiwa Arts Festival showcasing and celebrating visual, performance and cultural arts from nearly 150 local artists.
If you’re on this side of the island during Fourth of July, there is a spectacular fireworks show accompanied with live musical performances at Turtle Bay Resort. Also in Haleiwa town, the North Shore Chamber of Commerce is hosting an annual fireworks festival with vintage car shows, live musical entertainment, hula, bounce houses, food eating contests, face painting and of course, evening fireworks at 8 p.m.
AUGUST: There’s no better place to honor and celebrate the ocean than on the beach! The annual North Shore Ocean Fest makes this possible for locals and visitors. Enjoy an afternoon full of ocean education, activities, music, food and more.
OCTOBER: Stop by the HIC Pro Sunset Beach and be amazed as surfers catch some of the biggest waves of the year and compete for top titles. Another surf championship include the Annual North Shore Menehune Surf Championships, which take place mid October at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park.
While Hawaii may not have as dramatic changes in season, you can still celebrate fall at the annual Kuilima Farm Fall Festival at Turtle Bay Resort. Ride a tractor, explore a pumpkin patch and let the kids enjoy activities like face painting, crafts and live entertainment.
NOVEMBER: There’s nothing like watching over 80 military units march in the annual Wahiawa Lions Veteran’s Day Parade. Be sure to stop by the parade and honor the veterans.
In honor of Arbor Day, you can pick up a free plant at Waimea Valley. The Makahiki Festival, or Hawaiian New Year, will often take place around the same weekend, with festivities like Te Moana Nui games, keiki games, live music, hula performances and more.
DECEMBER: If you’re vacationing on Oahu in December, January or February, make sure to check out the annual Eddie Aikau Big Wave Challenge. With only the best surfers from around the world competing, the contest only runs if the waves consistently reach 20-feet.
Hawaii’s Christmas has its own unique charm, albeit without the cold weather and snow. Say “Mele Kalikimaka” to marching bands, parade horses, beauty clubs and car clubs, which will make their way through the annual Christmas Parade in downtown Haleiwa.
Celebrate the new year at Turtle Bay Resort’s annual New Year’s Eve Soirée. The open-air lobby bar will be filled with live music and entertainment, including Cirque du Soleil-style performers and fire knife dancers. You can also order tasty dishes, fun cocktails and wines, too. Hauoli Makahiki Hou!
*Things change, so please check in with the organizers of these events to make sure they are still happening.