North Shore Oahu... Big Surf, Beautiful Beaches!
The image that "north shore" conjures for most... this one coming from the 2009 Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Surf Contest at Waimea Bay!
Oahu's North Shore, as in many of Hawaii’s coastal areas, offers access to beaches by simply pulling off to the side of the road. So a lot of detailed instructions aren’t really necessary. When our friends come over for the first time, and we can’t go with them, we simply give them a cheap map (it's hard to get lost when you're driving in a circle) and describe some of the spots they might want to stop at. As we would expect, they might hit one or two of the spots we suggest but the experience is more to wander onto a spot that attracts you, stop the car and simply enjoy all of what the beach offers… maybe for the entire day!
Depending upon when you’re in the islands, you’ll see one of two faces of the famous North Shore on Oahu… one with some of the smoothest and clearest waters you could imagine and the other, an ocean with the awesome beauty and wonder that can come only by witnessing some of the largest waves in the world!
A mid-size day at the Banzai Pipeline offers excitement for surfers and spectator as well with spectacular rides... and equally spectacular wipe-outs!
Regardless of when you're on the North Shore, you’ll probably enjoy the quaint community that reflects the “plantation town” atmosphere created when thousands of migrant workers came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane and pineapple fields. But don’t let the “little town” image fool you because most weekends are witness to a steady stream of cars full of folks wanting to get out to the wonderful beaches here!
Our favorite route to the North Shore is starting from the windward side of the island traveling “counter-clockwise,” if you will, around the island. This route places the ocean to your right as you drive along the windward coast making for the best view and ease of pulling off the road when you come across beaches you like… and be prepared for there will be many!
Most local folks consider North Shore to be that stretch of coast just past Kahuku Village, a quarter-mile stretch of the road with a few stores, all the way to Mokuleia, the end of the road at the northwest side of the island.
Just before coming to Kahuku, you’ll be in the community called Laie (La-ee’-ay) the home of Brigham Young University-Hawaii and its student employment program, the Polynesian Cultural Center. Take a quick spin up to Laie Point as you’ll appreciate seeing these large near-shore rock formations and views of the windward coast.
As you continue about a mile or two you’ll come into Kahuku Village, the home of Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. When you see the sign, jam on your brakes and pull over for some great shrimp scampi ala roadside! Some years ago, commercial prawn growing was started in the area (you’ll see ponds alongside of the road for this purpose.) Then, the company started selling the prawns, cooked or raw, out of a roadside stand. When sales at the shrimp stand soon outpaced the volume and frequency of the harvests, the company started to include shrimps brought in from other sources and offered them for sale, too.
As it turned out, nobody seemed to care about where the shrimp came from as much as they enjoyed getting a plate of shrimp alongside the road. Eventually, others caught on to the shrimp craze and opened up for similar business in the area.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck was one, if not the first, of many more to come.
Since we don’t get out to the North Shore too often, we usually stick with Giovanni’s despite the many shrimp vendors that are in the area. And you’ll notice, too, there's always a significantly larger number of folks waiting in line at Giovanni's as opposed to any other shrimp stand.
When you’ve finished your shrimp it’s off to the famous Northshore... actually you’re kind of there, already. Starting with the well-off-the-road beach for the surf spot, Velzyland, you’ll be passing by beaches of a number of well-known surf spots in this order… Backyards, Log Cabins, Sunset Beach, Rocky Point, Banzai Pipeline, Back Doors, Pupukea (near this beach park is located one of the most popular diving areas on Oahu, Three Tables), Waimea Bay, Laniakea (popular spot for spotting green sea turtles), and Chun’s Reef.
As mentioned earlier, it’s hard to know when you’re at any of these places except for Waimea Bay, Pupukea Beach Park, and Sunset Beach. But, unless you’re looking for specific surf breaks, it doesn’t really matter for all of these beaches are exactly what most of us envision a tropical paradise to be. You will love Oahu's North Shore!
Waimea Bay is best enjoyed on weekdays, when the crowds are lighter, and there's not much of a line...
to jump off the rock that sits off the beach!
Should you visit the North Shore during the summer or spring, you’ll find it hard to believe that these tranquil beaches are the site for the legendary waves that arrive every winter. Try to visit the area during the week, however, as weekends can get pretty congested with the weekend warriors and the tourists all flocking out there. During the big-surf seasons, the whole area is bumper to bumper on weekdays as well as on the weekends. The only difference is when the surf's really up people are pulling off the road (often not even completely) to catch a glimpse of the monster surf
When the waters are calm, Green Sea Turtles (Honu) come on to bask on the sand at Laniakea Beach. When this happens, bunches of tourists will pull over (sometimes busloads) and charge out to the beach to check out the turtles.
Eventually, you’ll come into the town of Haleiwa, the town that seems to have remained unchanged from the days of migrant workers, picture brides, and square-rigged sailing ships. Here at Alii Beach, across the parking lot for Haleiwa harbor, is the surf spot, Haleiwa (now doesn’t that stand to reason?) which still sports the lifeguard station built as the main set for Baywatch Hawaii.
Our favorite spots to eat in Haleiwa are: Kua Aina Burgers, they serve these thick, juicy, quality burgers that are meals in themselves; Jameson’s by The Sea – a nice spot to get a sit-down meal with an across-the-road view of Haleiwa’s beautiful sunset; Haleiwa Joe’s-Good steak and seafood and close-to the-ocean dining; while Cholos Restaurant and Rosie’s Cantina both serve up good Mexican.
As everyone knows, more than the restaurants, Haleiwa is known for its great Shaved Ice, one of the icons of life here in Hawaii. And the most well-known in all the world comes, of course, from Matsumoto Store! Well, yes, but the line that always greets us makes number two so very attractive and that's none other than Aoki's! Actually, I think Aoki's is just as good--maybe not as finely shaved as Matsumoto's but well worth the the shorter wait!
In the late afternoon, Haleiwa Town slows down to the pace you would expect in a place like this and everyone pauses...
to experience another northshore sunset.
After you’ve filled your stomach and quenched your thirst, if there’s still daylight, you can choose either to head back into town via Wahiawa (if you’re still hungry, stop at Maui Mike’s Chicken on the main road through Wahiawa Town for some great rotisserie chicken!) If you've got more daylight ahead of you you might want to stay along the coast and proceed on to Mokuleia, the last beach area before the paved road ends and Kaena Point State Parkbegins. Actually this is not a park as much as it is a beautifully remote beach.
There used to be a dirt road going clear around Kaena Point, this western-most tip of the island, but the road was washed out by waves years ago and never repaired. To the credit, or blessed oversight of the city, the road has never been repaired and the only way to get around the point to the west side is to walk the approximately two mile terrain. The walk is well worth it as you’ll experience the sense of peace that that comes where access is limited. After rounding the point, you’ll have crossed from Oahu's north shore to its west shore finding yourself in the vicinity of Yokohama Bay, one of our favorite fishing spots for Kayak Fishing!
If you've got some time to spend around the north shore here are a few things to do in Northshore Oahu...
• Visit the Waialua Sugar Mill where an eclectic group of merchants and artisans (including surfboard shapers) have come to call home. It's also a great place to get some real made-in-Hawaii soap and other bath & body products at the North Shore Soap Factory right in the historical sugar mill!
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