Taking a day trip to the North Shore is one of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii!
Oahu’s North Shore is home to world famous surf breaks, the island’s the best acai bowls, breathtaking beaches, and so many hidden gems.
If you’re planning a day trip to the North Shore of Oahu, you’ve come to the right place! I recently visited Hawaii for the ffith time and spent several magical days exploring the North Shore.
This one-day Oahu North Shore itinerary is chock full of adventure so you can make the most of your time in Hawaii. It is also flexible and customizable—I include several additional North Shore activities you can swap out based on your interest.
So whether you’re a surfer looking to catch Oahu’s best wave, a thrill-seeker ready to freedive with sharks, or someone who just want to relax on the most serene beach, this North Shore Oahu itinerary is for you!
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One Day of Adventures on Oahu’s North Shore
Sipping on a delicious iced “Rainbow Tea” at Raised by the Waves on the edge of Oahu’s North Shore
Scenic Drive to the North Shore
There are two ways you can drive to the North Shore from other parts of Oahu.
First, you can drive along Highway 2 through lush mountains, passing the famous Dole Plantation and farmland along the way. 45 minutes after leaving Honolulu, you’ll hit the Pacific ocean in Haleiwa, the North Shore’s most iconic town.
Alternatively, you can drive along the island’s windward coast, north of Kailua, hitting the eastern edge of the North Shore at Kahuku. Along the way, you’ll pass Kualoa Ranch, where Jurassic Park was filmed. This route takes just over an hour from Honolulu.
Both routes are gorgeous, so you may opt to drive on way in the morning, and drive back to Honolulu the other way in the evening. Of course, you’d have to leave before the sun sets if you want to see it all!
Best stops along Highway 2 toward the North Shore
Best stops along the windward side toward the North Shore
★ Kailua coffeeshops and farmers markets (depending on day) for a drink before your drive
★ Byodo-In Temple, which is a stunning replica of a Japanese temple (highly recommended)
★ Raised By The Waves for drinks and food once you arrive at the start of the North Shore
Not sure which way you want to drive on your day trip to the North Shore? Keep reading—your preferred North Shore activities will help you figure out which drive makes most sense.
Snorkeling with sharks, a thrilling start to any Oahu North Shore day trip
Freediving with Sharks (Optional)
Why not start of your day on the North Shore with a once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling experience?
Believe it or not, shark diving is one of the most popular things to do on Oahu’s North Shore. You can go cage shark diving, or freediving, just a few minutes off the coast.
Diving cage free with sharks here ended up being the highlight of my entire Hawaii trip, and if you’ve read my full article on the topic, you know that I can wait to do it again.
If you decide to take part in this thrilling experience, I recommend booking a 7am tour to start off your North Shore day trip, which will leave plenty of time for more adventures.
Trying to figure out which shark tour to book? Read my guide comparing the best Oahu shark dive tours!
All of the North Shore’s shark tours leave from Haleiwa on the western side of the North Shore. So, if you plan to start your day with a shark tour, I recommend driving to the North Shore via Highway 2, which hits the North Shore right at Haleiwa.
Delicious acai bowl from Haleʻiwa Bowls on Oahu’s North Shore
Eat the Best Acai Bowl You’ll Ever Have
After an exhilarating swim with the ocean’s apex predator, it is time for a treat!
Within walking distance of the Haleiwa boat harbor you’ll find Haleʻiwa Bowls, an unassuming acai bowl shop with the best acai I’ve ever tasted.
To be honest, before I had an acai bowl at Haleʻiwa Bowls, I wasn’t a big fan of acai. But now I can’t stop craving it!
My favorite is their Mana Bowl without the honey and coconut, but with peanut butter on it. It is heavenly!
They have plenty of other bowls, such as their bright blue Blue Majik Bowl made with spirulina and their Local Bowl, which has a ton of yummy toppings including poi.
Haleʻiwa Bowls is also a great place to get a smoothie or coffee if you’re in need of some caffeine after your early morning drive!
Whatever you do, don’t miss this place!
Sharks Cove, a must-visit spot on any Oahu North Shore itinerary
Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove (Pūpūkea Beach Park)
Next, its time to head to one of the best snorkeling spots on the island—Shark’s cove! Teeming with tropical fish (not sharks), this cove is almost fully surrounded by rock formations, which protect the shallow pools from the waves on most days.
While most of the cove is just a few feet deep, other areas are several meters deep, making it a great place for people of all ages and experience levels.
The size of the waves, time of day, and weather do play a part in how good the snorkeling will be. For the best snorkeling experience, head to Shark’s Cove in the morning on a day with milder waves.
You can check surf forecasts for the North Shore online. If its a bad day for surfing, its likely a good day for snorkeling!
Out of all the snorkel spots I visited on Oahu, including Hamauma Bay, Electric Beach, Lanikai Beach, and others, Sharks Cove was my favorite. It was so much fun swimming through the maze-like rock formations in the shallower pools and diving deep beside vibrant coral in the deeper areas.
Also, keep in mind that parking can be limited near Shark’s Cove. The earlier you arrive, the better chance you will have to snag a spot easily. If you don’t mind walking, there are other beaches with parking just a few blocks down the road.
Trying Vegan Kalua pork at The Cosmic Kitchen in Haleiwa
Lunch + Shopping
When you get hungry, you’re in for a treat! There are so many great lunch options on Oahu’s North Shore.
If you want something to eat nearby Shark’s Cove, you can walk across the street and order something from a food truck or visit the iconic Sunrise Shack for a colorful smoothie bowl.
Alternatively, head into Haleiwa town for a hearty lunch and some shopping to get you through the heat of the day! Some of the best lunch spots in Haleiwa, Hawaii include:
★ Farm To Barn Cafe & Juicery: Darling spot for fresh, filling food
★ The Cosmic Kitchen: Hole-in-the-wall North Shore vegan restaurant with jackfruit kalua pork
★ Poke for the People: Casual Hawaiian poke restaurant (vegan options!)
★ Surf N Salsa: Highly rated Mexican food truck on the North Shore
★ The Beet Box Cafe: Chain vegetarian restaurant with several locations on Oahu
★ Haleiwa Joe’s: Popular eatery with a view of the marina
If you want to do a little shopping after lunch, you’ll be delighted to find several cute stores such as Coco’s Trading Post Haleiwa, Guava Shop, Green Gypsy Thrift Shop, and more.
Oahu travel tip: Looking to save money or time by packing a lunch? Check out the abundant healthy (vegan-friendly) grab-and-go options at Down to Earth. This local health food store has several locations on the island and its a great place to get food for a North Shore day trip or even your flight home! I’m a huge fan of their tofu musubis.
Stunning ʻEhukai Beach, the perfect spot to watch surfers ride the famous Banzai Pipeline
Afternoon at the Beach
Head to the beach for the rest of your day on the North Shore of Oahu. Nothing beats relaxing in tropical paradise as the waves lap at the shore!
There are dozens of gorgeous North Shore beaches to choose from. Here are some of my top recommendations:
★ Waimea Bay Beach: Beautiful white sand beach with famous cliff jumping spot and large waves
★ Puaʻena Point Beach Park: Beautiful hidden cove with small beach and great surfing
★ ʻEhukai Beach: Long sandy beach with the North Shore’s most iconic surf break, the Banzai Pipeline
★ Turtle Beach: A popular snorkeling spot with calmer water, located inside Turtle Bay Resort
★ Laniakea Beach: One of the best places to see turtles on the beach
Keep in mind that many North Shore beaches have large waves, especially in the winter months, and that the conditions vary day by day. While a beach might be safe for swimming on one day, it could be dangerous on another.
Bonfire and sunset at Puaʻena Point Beach Park—the perfect ending to an Oahu North Shore day trip
Sunset and Dinner
If you want to spend a full day on Oahu’s North Shore, don’t miss sunset at the beach!
Despite the name, most North Shore beaches actually face west (or northwest), making it an incredible place for sunsets. Puaʻena Point Beach Park is a particularly excellent sunset spot, along with Sunset Beach.
Of course, you might prefer to drive back toward Honolulu before sunset so you can take in more of the islands beauty along the drive. Either way, you’ll need to find somewhere to eat dinner.
Haleiwa Joe’s is a popular spot for dinner. The North Shore location is situated right beside the marina, so you can watch the sunset while dining if you wish. The other location, Haleiwa Joe’s Haiku Gardens, is perhaps even more beautiful, overlooking lush gardens and mountain landscapes. This location is in Kaneohe, just outside of Kailua, and is right along the way back from Oahu North Shore if you drive on the windward side.
Since Haleiwa Joe’s does not yet have ample vegan options, I skipped it on my recent Oahu trip. However, both restaurant locations are so gorgeous, I considered going just for a drink!
Vegans can fill up their bellies after a fun North Shore day at Maharaja’s Foods in Wahiawa (casual but yummy vegan Indian food), Tane Vegan Izakaya in Honolulu (elevated vegan sushi!) or Peace Cafe (wholesome Asian-inspired vegan food) in Honolulu.
Powerful Pacific waves on a fall day at Oahu’s North Shore (Waimea Bay Beach)
Other Fun Activities for a North Shore Day Trip
Perhaps swimming with sharks isn’t your thing. Or maybe you want to do a different adventure on your North Shore day trip. Whatever your plans are, there are plenty of North Shore activities that can easily be added into your itinerary.
I couldn’t make an Oahu North Shore itinerary without mentioning surfing! No matter your skill level, there are an abundance of surfing lessons to choose from in Hawaii.
If you’re looking for a private surfing lesson, book this one, which is led by a big wave surfer with a lifetime of experience in the water. This beginner-friendly customizable surf lesson gets you a one-on-one experience with an incredible surfer at either Punaena Point or Chun’s Reef.
If you’re open to a group surfing lesson, check out this highly-rated small group surf lesson in Haleiwa. Depending on the season, the lessons take place at Kahalewai Place or Chun’s Reef.
Hiking is another popular activity on Oahu, including on the North Shore.
The most well known North Shore hike is the short jaunt to Waimea Falls. If you’re hoping to add a quick hike into your North Shore itinerary, this is a great one as it is under a mile and just off the main road. Depending on the time of year and weather, you can bathe in the water beneath this gorgeous waterfall. I recommend checking AllTrails to check conditions. During drier months there may be no water running down the falls!
If you’re open to a slightly longer hike to a breathtaking viewpoint, check out the ‘Ehukai Pillbox Trail. This 2.3 mile trail takes you to a pillbox overlooking Sunset Beach and the famous Banzai Pipeline. While the views are not as spectacular as those at the Lanikai Pillbox Trail in Kailua, this fun pillbox hike is still worth doing if you have extra time on your North Shore day!
Polynesian Cultural Center
If you’re looking for an engaging activity with kids, head to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. This gorgeous 42 acre park was designed to showcase the vibrancy of the Pacific Islands. As you wander through the park, you can immerse in Polynesian culture at each distinct “village”. Then, stay for a luau or dinner show.
Interested in the Polynesian Culture Center but want to do something a little different? Check out this after hours nighttime paddle board at the Polynesian Cultural Center. You’ll learn about the rich history of the Hawaiian islands while paddling through a glowing lagoon.
Rum enthusiast or not, a visit to Kō Hana Distillers is a fun addition to a day on the North Shore. During the hour long tour you’ll taste several rums, as well as fresh sugar cane juice made right in front of you. You’ll tour the distillery and the barrel room, and compare different sugar cane plants. You’ll even get to taste other products made with Ko Hana’s rum, including local rum-infused chocolate. Ko Hana’s distillery is located on the way to (or from) the North Shore, so be sure to plan your day accordingly and book your rum tour ahead of time.
The Dole Plantation is one of the most popular destinations in Hawaii, particularly for families. If you love all things pineapple, this pineapple theme park is the place to go! Take a ride on the pineapple express, indulge in Dole Whip, wander through the pineapple garden maze, and tour the facilities. Since the Dole Plantation is located between the North Shore and Honolulu, I recommend stopping on your way to Haleiwa.
North Shore Day Trip Itinerary FAQs
How far is the North Shore from Waikiki?
The main town of Haleiwa on the North Shore is about 55 minutes from Waikiki, Honolulu.
Do you need a rental car to get to the North Shore of Oahu?
Driving your own rental car is certainly the easiest (and perhaps cheapest) way to get to Oahu’s North Shore. Use DiscoverCars to find the best rate during your trip, and if you’re not planning to rent a car for your whole trip, remember than you can rent it just for a day or two!
If you can’t rent a car, you can reach the North Shore via Oahu’s public transportation system (called TheBus), or on a guided tour.
Is it safe to swim on the North Shore of Hawaii?
Even if you are an experienced swimmer, it can be dangerous to swim on Oahu’s North Shore, depending on the day and specific beach. In general, the waves are larger in the winter months, but vary day by day.
Popular snorkeling spots like Shark’s Cove and Turtle Beach tend to be safer for swimming as compared to beaches known for surfing. Regardless of when or where you go, swim with caution, listen to local lifeguards, and avoid going in the water alone.
Other Oahu, Hawaii Travel Guides
★ 21 Oahu Hidden Gems and Secret Spots
★ Hawaii Packing List for Females
★ How to Visit the Mermaid Caves in Oahu
★ Oahu Byodo-In Temple Travel Guide
★ 21 Best Things to do in Kailua, Oahu
★ How to Visit the China Walls in Oahu
★ What to Know BEFORE Swimming with Sharks in Oahu
★ How to Visit Halona Beach Cove, Oahu
★ How to Hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail at Sunrise
★ 5 Best Oahu Shark Dive Tours
Essential Hawaii Resources
Traveleing to Hawaii soon? There are a lot of travel companies out there, but some are better than others. After five unforgettable trips to Hawaii, here are some of my favorite websites and resources for planning once-in-a-lifetime vacations.
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