NORTH SHORE OAHU
You’re going to the North Shore – here’s what you need to know.
Famed since the 1960s for its barreling surf and massive waves in winter, the largely rural North Shore of Oahu holds plenty of other attractions for those who’ve never touched a surfboard.
Waimea Valley, a botanical garden and cultural preserve, allows swimming under its 45-foot waterfall. The area’s primary lodgings are on the 880-acre Turtle Bay Resort, which includes 5 miles of shoreline with several beaches, two 18-hole championship golf courses, an 18-hole family putting course, and miles of backcountry for horseback riding.
The town of Haleiwa boasts surf shops, craft and clothing boutiques, restaurants and food trucks, a farmers market and the legendary Matsumoto Shave Ice. To the west, the restored buildings of the former Waialua Sugar Mill host more vendors of unique and handmade goods; a scenic 2.5-mile trail to scenic Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve begins in Mokule‘ia.
History: In 1899, long before the monster waves of Waimea Bay enticed throngs of mainland transplants to seek their own endless summer, Benjamin Dillingham opened a luxury hotel on a strip of land between the beach and the Anahulu River. He named his hotel Haleiwa, the house (hale) of the great frigatebird (‘iwa), whose long, slender black wings and forked tail feathers can be easily spotted in the bright blue skies. Dillingham wanted to create a destination that would subsidize his 56-mile railroad that transported sugar from the North Shore, including from his Waialua Sugar Mill, to Honolulu. His plan worked: Visitors happily took the 3-hour rail journey to his resort with a 9-hole oceanfront golf course, tennis courts and 14 guest rooms with private baths; eventually, a thriving town named Haleiwa arose around it. Of course, native Hawaiians have long treasured the area, with its fertile soil for growing taro and sweet potato, and its reefs teeming with fish, seaweed and other staples of traditional Hawaiian cuisine.
In the early 1800s, the land around Waimea Bay belonged to the highest-ranking priest (kahuna nui) on the island, Hewahewa, whose bones may lie hidden in Waimea Valley. The largest temple (heiau) on the island, Pu‘u O Mahuka, is thought to have been built in the 1600s and still overlooks the bay from a bluff 300 feet above the ocean.
Photo: HTA / Tor Johnson
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North Shore's Annual Events
Due to Covid times, please check in with the organizers of these events to make sure they are still happening.
JANUARY: See some of the island’s top watermen in the Da Hui Backdoor Shoot. In memory of Duke, four-man-teams compete in a variety of sports including bodyboarding, shortboard surfing, longboarding and more.
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.
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.
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.
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.