Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

With its world-famous beaches, epic waves, historic sites, and stunning natural landscapes, it’s no wonder the North Shore of Oahu is one of Hawaii’s top destinations. If you’re wondering what there is to see and do in this legendary Hawaiian region, we’ve got the inside scoop on all the must-visit attractions, hidden gems, adventures, and more that await you on the North Shore.

If you’re short on time, here are some quick highlights of what to do on the North Shore: relax on beaches like Sunset, Pipeline, or Waimea Bay; snorkel at Shark’s Cove; take an epic food tour of Haleiwa and the surrounding area; go on a waterfall hike like Manoa Falls Trail; witness winter waves and surf competitions; or learn about Hawaiian history and culture at places like Waimea Valley and Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument.

In this comprehensive guide created for anyone looking to fully experience the magic of the North Shore, we’ll provide details on the best beaches, snorkeling spots, must-see landmarks, adventure tours, seasonal events, dining hotspots, hidden local favorites, and more that you won’t want to miss.

Best Beaches on the North Shore

Sunset Beach

Known for its epic waves, Sunset Beach is considered one of the top surfing destinations in Hawaii and around the world. Located on Oahu’s famed North Shore, this stunning stretch of sand comes alive in the winter months when swells can reach heights over 30 feet, drawing pro surfers and spectators from far and wide.

But there’s more to Sunset than surfing – its powerful waves also make it a popular spot for bodysurfing and bodyboarding. On calmer days, swimming and sunbathing are pleasant too. And with its postcard backdrop of tropical foliage and the stunning Turtle Bay Resort, Sunset is highly photogenic.

While surfing here is for experts only when the waves are pumping, beginners can take lessons and surf the smaller summer swells.

Sunset Beach has played host to major surf competitions like the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, making it hallowed ground in the surfing world. Visit in November and December to catch daredevils charging down walls of water in the prestigious Pipe Masters event.

The beach park has restrooms, showers, and food trucks to refuel after an action-packed day playing in the ocean.

Bonzai Pipeline

Situated just north of Sunset, the legendary Banzai Pipeline, or simply “Pipe,” is known for having one of the most critical, dangerous waves in the world, barreling over an extremely shallow reef. When the winter swells arrive, the world’s best big wave surfers flock here to challenge themselves on these thundering blue beasts rising up to 25 feet high before crashing onto the razor-sharp coral and volcanic rock below the surface.

This lethal wave may be strictly for the pros, but Pipe draws huge crowds to watch in awe from the beach as surfers drop into the vertical faces and disappear inside the gaping tunnels. The daredevil maneuver is known as getting tubed, and Pipe tubes are some of the biggest, longest, most spit-you-out brutal that exist.

The wave breaks incredibly fast, giving surfers only seconds to position themselves as tons of ocean charges behind them. Epic wipeouts are commonplace.

Each winter Pipe hosts the prestigious Billabong Pipe Masters surf competition, part of the World Surf League’s World Championship Tour. The heart-stopping action draws thousands to this world-famous beach on Oahu’s legendary North Shore to see the planet’s best surfers compete on one of Mother Nature’s greatest aquatic creations.

Waimea Bay

Dramatic Waimea Bay may flaunt one of the most picturesque backdrops on Oahu’s famed North Shore, with cascading waterfalls tumbling down green cliffs into a sparkling turquoise bay, but make no mistake – the shorebreak here is one monster force of nature.

In the winter when epic swells roll in, waves stacked up to 50 feet explode onto the sand, making Waimea home to some of the biggest rideable waves on Earth.

While usually reserved for the elite of the big wave surfing world, on smaller swell days the powerful waves at Waimea can still reach 15 to 20 feet faces, drawing experienced surfers. The winter months also host bodyboarding and bodysurfing as huge walls of whitewash crash onto shore.

Summertime brings in calmer waters, perfect for swimming and snorkeling amidst vibrant coral reefs and tropical fish. Jumping off the cliffs into the deeper water offshore is also popular.

One of the main gathering spots on the North Shore, Waimea Bay has lifeguards, restrooms, outdoor showers, and food trucks. Thousands gather on the black sand beach during big wave competitions in the winter and to watch daredevil cliff divers launch themselves into the ocean.

The bay offers spectacular sunsets year-round. November through April brings epic surf, but use caution, as the pounding shorebreak has caused injuries.

Top Snorkeling Destinations

Shark’s Cove

Located on Oahu’s North Shore, Shark’s Cove is considered one of the top snorkeling spots in Hawaii. Protected by a reef, the calm, clear waters offer incredible visibility to see a colorful array of tropical fish and sea turtles. An awesome spot for both beginner and advanced snorkelers alike!

Some of the amazing sea creatures you might spot while snorkeling at Shark’s Cove include green sea turtles, eels, parrotfish, wrasses, and more. It’s not uncommon to see endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles munching on seaweed or napping in the cove.

One of the best parts about Shark’s Cove is the variety of marine wildlife in one area, making it a snorkeler’s paradise.

Although it’s called “Shark’s Cove,” you likely won’t encounter any sharks here as the reef keeps them out. The name comes from ancient Hawaiian tradition, not actual shark sightings. So don’t let that deter you from experiencing some epic underwater views!

Three Tables

Another favorite North Shore snorkel spot is Three Tables, featuring three large flat lava rock formations that the area is named after. Three Tables has an outer reef that breaks the large winter swells, allowing for calmer waters to snorkel in year-round.

Three Tables is less crowded than Shark’s Cove and offers amazing marine life encounters. Vibrant schools of fish like tangs, butterflyfish, and triggerfish congregate around the lava rocks. Endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles are also frequent visitors munching on the plentiful seaweed.

On the outer reef, you might even spot larger animals like manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks, and monk seals. So be sure to venture out further when conditions allow for maximum snorkeling excitement and unique sightings!

Historic and Cultural Sites to Visit

Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley, located on Oahu’s famous North Shore near Haleiwa, is one of the most culturally significant historic sites in Hawaii. Spanning 1,800 acres, this nature park contains ancient Hawaiian archaeological sites like the Hale O Lono heiau (temple) and the Kūka‘ō‘ō Heiau, which pays tribute to the summit of the Ko‘olau mountain range overlooking the valley.

In addition to ancient temples and ruins, Waimea Valley houses one of the most intact collections of pre-contact artifacts in the Pacific at the Pu‘u Nana (Rainbow Falls) Cultural Center. Here you’ll find interactive exhibits with original carvings, tools, weapons, adornments and art.

The Cultural Center also hosts daily activities like poi pounding, native medicinal gardens, and classes on lei making or hula dance.

Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument

The Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument in Waimea Bay contains one of the oldest religious sites and temples in all of Hawaii, dating back to the 1500s. This sacred ground sits on a hill called Pu’u o Mahuka, meaning “hill of escape”, overlooking Waimea Bay and the legendary big wave surf spot.

Three heiau (temples) stand here among the ruins: Mailekini Heiau, Kawaihāpai Heiau and ‘Ohiahumehume Heiau. The largest is Mailekini Heiau, standing 88 x 240 feet in size, once the residence of O‘ahu royalty and filled with wood and thatch structures, carvings, and images of the gods.

Sadly, the site was destroyed in the 19th century but the stone foundation and walls endure along with sweeping ocean views. Definitely a must-see for history buffs!

Haleiwa Town

The historic plantation town of Hale‘iwa on Oahu’s North Shore blends old Hawaii culture and charm with trendy art galleries, boutiques and cafes. Founded by Chinese businessman Benjamin Dillingham in 1899, many of the early 20th century structures still stand today like the North Shore Surf & Cultural Museum and the Haleiwa Hotel, the first hotel on the North Shore built in 1906.

Be sure to see the iconic Rainbow Bridge over the Anahulu River, one of Hawaii’s most photographed landmarks. And check out galleries filled with local art, handmade crafts and jewelry in shops housed inside plantation-era buildings.

Grab a shave ice, picnic on the beach or catch a surf competition in this laidback surfer town with rich history.

Best Hikes and Waterfall Trails

Manoa Falls Trail

The Manoa Falls Trail is a moderately difficult 2.6 miles round trip hike through lush vegetation leading to the majestic 100-foot Manoa Falls. The trailhead is conveniently located just minutes from downtown Honolulu. Along the way, keep an eye out for striking bamboo groves and tropical plants.

Be prepared to get muddy as the trail can get slippery. Pack a swimsuit if you want to take a dip in the pool beneath the picturesque waterfall. This popular hike is a must-do for first-timers to experience Oahu’s stunning inland scenery.

Likeke Falls Trail

For a peaceful trail to a hidden waterfall, tackle the Likeke Falls Trail near Hau’ula on the eastern side of the island. It’s an easy 1.5 mile hike through guava trees and mountain apple groves. The trail is seldom crowded so is perfect for a tranquil nature walk.

At the turnaround point, you’ll be rewarded by the 30-foot tiered Likeke Falls cascading into a natural pool that is an idyllic setting for a picnic. Pack your camera as the lush surrounds provide excellent photo ops. This out-of-the-way trail showcases Oahu’s laidback beauty at its finest.

Ehukai Pillbox Hike

The Ehukai Pillbox Hike is considered one of the top Oahu hikes for its epic views. Located on the southeast coast near the famous Banzai Pipeline surf break, this moderately difficult 2-mile out-and-back trail takes you up to two World War II era military lookouts offering breathtaking vistas.

Gaze out over the expansive Pacific Ocean watching surfers tackle the big waves that roll into Pipeline. Looking inland, dramatic mountain peaks jut out in jagged glory. Sunset is the ultimate time to tackle this trail when the sky ignites in a colorful show.

Just remember to wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for strong trade winds at the exposed lookouts.

Seasonal Surf Competitions and Events

Vans Triple Crown of Surfing

The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is one of the most prestigious professional surfing competitions held annually on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii between November and December. Consisting of three events – the Hawaiian Pro, the Vans World Cup of Surfing, and the Billabong Pipeline Masters – the Vans Triple Crown attracts the world’s best surfers to battle it out in the epic waves of the North Shore.

The Hawaiian Pro kicks things off at the infamous Banzai Pipeline. This dangerous and shallow reef break consistently offers up some of the heaviest barrels in the world, thrilling both spectators and surfers alike.

Up next is the Vans World Cup of Surfing at the high-performance wave of Sunset Beach. With multiple take-off points creating shifting peaks, surfers must combine skill and strategy to catch the best waves. Finally, the competition concludes at the Banzai Pipeline for the Billabong Pipeline Masters.

With over $1 million in prize money up for grabs, the Vans Triple Crown title is considered one of the most prestigious accomplishments in professional surfing. Past winners include legendary Hawaiian surfers Andy Irons and John John Florence.

The heated rivalry between the world’s best surfers, death-defying wipeouts, and camaraderie amongst competitors make the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing a can’t miss event for sports fans visiting Oahu.

Billabong Pipe Masters

Marking the pinnacle of the Vans Triple Crown competition is the Billabong Pipeline Masters held at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore. As the final event of the World Surf League Championship Tour, the Pipeline Masters brings together the top 34 ranked professional surfers in incredible conditions to battle for the ultimate prize – the world title.

Epic waves and the dangerous shallow reef have made the Banzai Pipeline renowned amongst surfers. Drawing big wave specialists and thrill seekers, it is known for massive, glassy barrels that break in extremely shallow water just above sharp coral heads.

This wave truly separates the best from the rest. Nine-time world champion Kelly Slater regards the Pipeline as the pinnacle for any aspiring world champion. Past winners of the Pipe Masters include legends like Mark Occhilupo, Andy Irons, and John John Florence.

In addition to the action in the water, the beach scene surrounding the Billabong Pipeline Masters is almost like a surf festival. Thousands of passionate surf fans gather to witness surfing’s gladiators put it all on the line for glory.

Food trucks, sponsor exhibitions, autograph signings from top pros and a celebratory awards party create an incredible atmosphere and highlight just why this prestigious event is a must-see for anyone visiting Oahu.

Adventure Tours and Activities

North Shore Shark Adventures

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, go on a shark cage diving tour with North Shore Shark Adventures! Get up close and personal with Galapagos and sandbar sharks in their natural environment. Their knowledgeable guides will share fascinating facts about these awe-inspiring creatures as you observe them underwater.

Tours run daily and last 2-3 hours. An unforgettable North Shore thrill!

Surf Lessons

With waves that can tower up to 50 feet high in the winter, the North Shore is known as the surfing capital of the world. Rent a board and wetsuit and take a lesson from one of the experienced local surf schools like Surf North Shore or Hans Hedemann Surf School.

Learn proper paddling, popping up, and wave positioning from seasoned instructors. Group and private lessons available for all ages and skill levels. Hang ten on those epic North Shore waves!

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Paddle through the stunning blue waters of the North Shore on a stand up paddleboard (SUP) tour. Rentals and tours available from shops like Turtle Bay Resort and SupPuppy. Take a relaxing paddle along sandy beaches with views of lush mountains and turquoise bays.

More advanced paddlers can ride waves or take an downwind tour from Haleiwa to Waimea. SUP is a peaceful way to experience the area’s natural splendor above and below the water’s surface.

Foodie Hotspots and Hidden Gems

Haleiwa Bowls

Craving a refreshing, locally-sourced meal after a morning spent surfing the North Shore’s legendary breaks? Look no further than Haleiwa Bowls, a laidback hole-in-the-wall known for its delicious poke bowls overflowing with the catch of the day.

This unassuming joint, tucked away on a side street just a 5-minute walk from Haleiwa Harbor, has been serving up super-fresh seafood sourced from North Shore fishermen since 2005. Their mouthwatering poke creations, featuring cubed raw tuna or octopus marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, seaweed, and Hawaiian chiles, are a can’t-miss.

Or try one of their signature fruit bowls, heaped with mango, papaya, and banana, for the perfect post-beach pick-me-up. No wonder locals and tourists alike flock here for a taste of authentic Hawaii!

Matsumoto Shave Ice

On sweltering North Shore afternoons, nothing refreshes quite like a towering mound of fluffy shaved ice from Matsumoto Shave Ice. Tucked away in a tiny storefront along Kamehameha Highway, this family-owned shave ice stand has been serving up rainbow-hued mounds of icy goodness since 1951.

Their signature product – made by shaving giant blocks of ice into feather-light flakes – is the stuff of legend here on O’ahu’s North Shore. Beyond the melt-in-your-mouth texture, what really sets Matsumoto’s treats apart are the homemade fruit syrups made from island-fresh guava, lilikoi (passionfruit), lychee, and more.

Feeling decadent? Top off your shave ice with a dollop of azuki bean paste or ice cream! No beach day is complete without a stop at this North Shore institution.

Ted’s Bakery

Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth after an action-packed day hitting the North Shore waves? Join the queue snaking out the door at Ted’s Bakery, a humble hole-in-the wall bakery renowned across O’ahu for its mouthwatering chocolate haupia pie.

Nestled just off the highway in Sunset Beach, Ted’s offers the perfect pitstop for recharging after a long day hanging ten. Their display case overflows with over-the-top dessert creations, from towering cream puffs to rich chocolate brownies, but the unanimous favorite is Ted’s chocolate haupia pie.

This decadent treat layers a chocolate crust, silky haupia (Hawaiian coconut) custard, fresh whipped cream – and plenty of chocolate shavings, of course! One bite of this famous North Shore dessert explains the constant crowds clamoring for a slice of Ted’s heaven.


With its stunning scenery, rich Hawaiian culture, epic waves, mouhwatering cuisine, and endless adventures, the North Shore of Oahu offers an incredibly diverse array of attractions and activities appealing to all interests and ages.

From relaxing on pristine beaches, snorkeling in clear waters, appreciating historic sites, hiking to jaw-dropping waterfalls, witnessing world-class surfing, taking a food tour, or embarking on ocean adventures, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy in this Hawaiian paradise by the sea.

We hope our insider’s guide gives you a comprehensive overview of the very best things to do on the North Shore. Now start planning your Hawaiian vacation in paradise!

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts