I’m fresh of my solo trip to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was my third time visiting the island, which is something I rarely do. I typically prefer to explore new destinations, but there is something about Hawaii that has me hooked. Part of it is the fact that it is so easy to travel there, no passport is needed and your phone works just like it would anywhere else in the U.S., which is a plus especially when traveling alone.
Another perk to returning to a destination I’m familiar with is knowing exactly what places I could skip – like Waikiki – and where I wanted to explore – the North Shore. If you’re planning a trip to Oahu and wondering what to see and do, below is my first timer’s guide to Oahu’s North Shore.
There are a few different options for reaching the North Shore from Oahu’s capital city of Honolulu, which is where you’ll fly in.
Option 1: Straight up the middle. This is the least scenic route, but it is the fastest. If time is an issue, take Interstate H1 West to HI-99 North and you’ll be at the North Shore in about 30 minutes.
Option 2: The scenic route. My preferred route to reaching Oahu’s North Shore is via HI-83 along the island’s east coast. The views are unbeatable, with lush mountains to the left and teal waters to your right. There are also plenty of picture-perfect spots to stop along the way! This is the route I took and loved every minute. So much so that a drive that should have only taken an hour, took me nearly 3!
WHERE TO STAY
Waikiki: This is the most popular and populated area in Oahu. It’s where you’ll find high rise hotels, condos, chain restaurants and high-end stores. But in my opinion, you don’t need more than a day here. While it does have some must see attractions such as the Diamond Head Crater and Pearl Harbor, I just prefer the slower pace, local eateries, untouched beaches and nature beauty that the North Shore provides.
I ended up staying in Waikiki this trip because I booked everything so last minute and there weren’t many options available on the North Shore. But I rented a car on my second day so that I could spend the majority of my time exploring the beautiful island away from the city.
Travel tip: If you do end up staying in Waikiki, the best way to reach your rental or hotel is with a shared shuttle bus. Roberts Hawaii offers rides for $16 each way ($32 round trip). For an extra $15 they’ll even greet you with a fresh Lei!
Airbnb: Your best bet for staying on the North Shore is with an Airbnb rental. Rent a private room, a mountain cottage or an entire beachfront bungalow. There is a wide variety (depending on availability) to choose from at every price point. In my opinion, this is the way to go. You’ll have ample privacy, a dedicated host to answer any questions, and many come with bikes and beach gear such as chairs and boogie boards to use throughout your stay.
North Shore Hotel: If hotels are more your thing, there are a few options along the North Shore. The most popular is the Turtle Bay Resort. Located on the northeastern tip of the island, guests enjoy beachfront views, an onsite golf course, multiple pools as well as a quiet beach that offers up excellent snorkeling. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a sea turtle! Other hotel options include the Inn at Schofield or the Courtyard Marriott, which is about 15 minutes away from Turtle Bay.
Let’s be honest, the main reason you visit Hawaii is for the amazing beaches! While there are several options on the east, west and south side of the island, Oahu’s North Shore beaches are really something special.
Turtle Bay: This is a relatively small beach located in a cove so the waves are minimal, making it great for snorkeling and splashing around with the little ones.
Sunset Beach: This beach, along with pipeline, are popular among surfers. The beach is expansive and the waves are epic. There is plenty of sand for lounging as well as food trucks for snacking, but swim here at your own risk as the current is strong.
Shark’s Cove: This beach was my absolute favorite! It was also my first time visiting it despite it being my 3rd time on the island. When you first lay eyes on Shark’s Cove, your jaw will drop. The vibrant turquoise waters swirling around the rocky query is just stunning and the shallow, jewel toned pool to the left will make you want to jump right in! At first glance, it doesn’t look like there’s a place to lounge, but over to the left is a sandy area perfect for sunning yourself, whale watching or devouring a helping of garlic shrimp or fish tacos from one of the surrounding food truck.
Travel tip: Don’t forget your water shoes, water-camera, mask and goggles! This beach offers up some of the BEST snorkeling I’ve ever seen!
Waimea Bay: If you’re looking for a thrill, Waimea Bay has you covered. In addition to an expansive shore and great snorkeling, there is also a huge boulder to the left of the bay that you can jump off. I conquered my fears and took the plunge on my first trip. When I attempted a second jump, fear took over and I stood at the top for over 30 minutes before I built up the courage to jump again. That was enough for me, but it is fun to watch other brave beach goers take the leap! Would you try it?
Mokuleia Beach: If you’re looking for total seclusion, head to Mokuleia beach. The beach seems to stretch as far as the eye can see and with little else around, you can spend an entire day without interacting with another soul if you choose. You’ll want to be sure to pack some snacks because there aren’t any options nearby.
Kaema Point: Not far beyond Mokuleia Beach, you’ll reach the end of the road and find yourself at Kaema Point. It is as far west as you can go along the north shore and it is well worth the trip. There are stunning views of the coastline, and the rocky beach is perfect for collecting sea shells or listening to the waves crash against the shore.
Sound like a lot? This isn’t even the full list! But don’t get overwhelmed, just pick your favorite and enjoy!
Food truck fever! In addition to its postcard-worthy beaches, Oahu’s North Shore is also known for its food trucks! They are scattered throughout the North Shore, typically near the more popular beaches, but there is also a cluster of them along HI 83 about 15 minutes before you hit Turtle Bay.
Here, you’ll find Thai, fro-yo, grilled shrimp from Giovanni’s, lobster tacos, fresh juices, fruit stands, Korean bbq, shave ice and more! You want it, they’ve got it! I devoured an açaí fruit bowl from Ono Yo and it hit the spot.
Travel Tip: Many of the trucks are cash only so be sure to have some green on hand so you can sample all the goodness!
THINGS TO DO
Most first time visitors to Oahu spend a majority of their trip in Honolulu thinking, it’s the biggest city on the island so there must be a lot to do there! While there are plenty of activities to keep you busy in Honolulu and Waikiki, if you really want to have some fun, head up to the North Shore!
Horseback riding: Ever wanted to ride horses on the beach? There’s no better place to do it than in Hawaii at sunset. Both Hawaii Polo Trail Rides and the Gunstock Ranch offer tours along the North Shore.
Whale watching: One of the most breathtaking experiences I had during my trip was watching whales in their natural habitat. I spotted them while relaxing on the beach at Shark’s Cove. If you venture there, be sure to keep an eye out for these majestic creatures.
Paddle boarding: If surfing is not your thing, but you still want to have some fun on the water, consider giving paddle boarding a try. Tropical Rush is located in the heart of the North Shore and offers paddle board rentals 7 days a week from 9am to 7pm. I have yet to give this a try, but I’ve decided that my next trip will be spent learning how to surf and paddle board!
Zip lining: For a fun tree top adventure, try zip lining with Climb Works. Not only will you get to experience the longest zip lines on Oahu, you’ll also get to ride ATVs, walk along sky bridges, tour Keana Farms and gain a deeper understanding about Hawaii’s history and farming industry. The tour lasts 3 hours, costs $169 per person and is offered to everyone age 7 and up.
Waimea Valley: Across from Waimea Bay is the beautiful Waimea Valley. Walk through the nature park, snap photos of the peacocks and cool off with a swim in the Waimea Falls. This valley is considered a national treasure and is a must see if you’re on the North Shore.
North Shore Marketplace: When visiting the North Shore, don’t miss spending some time in its colorful shopping district. Here you’ll find cute boutiques, jewelry stores, souvenir shops, restaurants and the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice, not to be missed!
Macadamia nut farm: One of Hawaii’s many delicacies are its macadamia nuts. If you’re curious about how they’re grown and harvested, why not take a tour of a macadamia nut farm? Tropical Farms is actually located on Oahu’s east side, but you’ll pass it on your way to the North Shore if you take the HI 83 route. Tours are offered twice a day and include samples. It’s a fun way to get a taste of Hawaii!
Helicopter tours: For a bird’s eye view of the North Shore, book a helicopter tour! Based in Turtle Bay, Paradise Copters offers four types of North Shore tours ranging from $190 to $350. If you want to end your trip with a bang, this is the way to do it!
I hope this guide gives you some ideas for planning your first North Shore adventure! What would be at the top of your list to see and do on your first visit? Have you already visited the North Shore? What were some of your favorite activities? Share your comments below!