How to Spend a Day on the North Shore of Oahu (when you have a car)

You’re staying in Waikiki, but have heard nothing but the best about the North Shore. You’ve rented a vehicle, and set your alarm for the break of dawn because you want to beat the traffic and get a head start on your day in the country. That said, you want to make the most of your 12-16 hours on the most fabled side of the island. To make sure you do, we have provided the perfect itinerary. Let’s get to it.

Your Full-Day Itinerary To Driving, Exploring, Experiencing, and Enjoying the North Shore of Oahu

Wake Up and GO (1 hr)

Corral the crew, because you want to beat the Waikiki to the North Shore traffic. More importantly, there’s so much to fit in during your day, that you’ll want to pull into Haleiwa Town before the rest of the visitors show up.

Breakfast in Haleiwa Town (1 hr)

Treat yourself to a proper North Shore breakfast. Breakers and Kono’s, both of which are located in The North Shore Marketplace, are great for an early breakfast in Haleiwa Town. Cafe Haleiwa is also a popular spot. If you don’t have a big appetite upon arrival, simply grab a latte and pastry at either Coffee Gallery or Waialua Bakery & Juice Bar.

Morning Intermission at Ali’i Beach Park (1 hr)

After filling your bellies and caffeinating, you’ve got some time to kill before the shops in Haleiwa open up. Head on over to Ali’i Beach Park, which is home to the first leg of the VANS Triple Crown of Surfing. If in the late autumn or winter months, you’ll enjoy watching surfers carve their signatures into the large open faces of the waves. During calm spring and summer days you may even hop in for a morning swim. Take some time to explore the adjacent Haleiwa Boat Harbor as well, where can check out the fishing and touring boats, and spot large porcupine fish (Kokala) and small packs of Moorish Idol swimming along the harbor’s edge.

Hit the Boutique Shops in Haleiwa (1.5 hrs)

At 10 AM, most of the shops in Haleiwa Town open for business. Galleries such as Waimea Blue and Polynesian Treasures, welcome you browse and discover local artisan items to bring back home. If you’re looking for contemporary island fashions be sure to pop into Number 808 or Mahina Boutique, and grab something for the kids while you’re at it at Growing Keiki. Then there’s the surf shops that Haleiwa is so well known for, with the famous Surf n’ Sea Haleiwa being the top pick, even for those who have never ridden a wave.

Grab Some Shave Ice…not Matsumoto’s (30 min)

How to Spend a Day on the North Shore of Oahu
image: @marcus_ocean

With shopping bags in tow, and the early afternoon sun beating down on the town, it’s time for some refreshing shave ice. There’s nary a better place in the world to get it, as some of the best shave ice spots in the world are located right here. Now we hate to break it to you – but Matsumoto’s is not one of them. However, this is good news, because it saves you from standing in that 30-minute to one-hour lineup. So where should you go? Those who like traditional shave ice are best served by hitting Aoki’s which is across the road from Matsumoto’s. If you have a more distinguished palate, we urge to visit options that lean towards the more gourmet side of things, namely Kaimana Shave Ice. Kaimana’s has the best tasting shave ice on the North Shore, and they also have the best outdoor seating (towards the back of the shop). Kula Shave Ice is also fantastic, and are best known for imaginative recipes that incorporate locally sourced superfood ingredients.

Go See Some Sea Turtles (1 hr)

How to Spend a Day on the North Shore of Oahu
image: marcus_ocean

If this is your first time on the North Shore this is a “must-do” activity. However, we do suggest skipping Laniakea Beach (aka “Turtle Beach”) as it’s to sea turtle spotting what Matsumoto’s is to shave ice. That said, if you’re pressed for time, it is a pretty much guaranteed place to spot honu basking on the sand. Otherwise, explore these other North Shore beaches to see sea turtles relaxing under the soothing rays of the sun.

Jump Off a Rock at Waimea Bay (1 hr)

How to Spend a Day on the North Shore of Oahu
image: marcus_ocean

Feeling adventurous? In the spring, summer, and early autumn months, the more daring among you should head over to Jump Rock at world famous Waimea Bay, and do exactly what the name “Jump Rock” suggests. If leaping off of a volcanic outcropping isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll still enjoy the scenery at this legendary big wave attraction.

Lunch at Shark’s Cove Food Trucks (1 hr)

How to Spend a Day on the North Shore of Oahu

You’ll have worked up an appetite at this point. You’re in luck, because just up the hill to the northeast of Waimea Bay is Shark’s Cove. While it may be best known as a snorkeling destination, it is also where you’ll find one of the best food truck collectives on the island. Plus, the popular Sunrise Shack just opened up their third Oahu location here.

Visit World Famous Banzai Pipeline (15 min)

You can’t visit the North Shore for the first, second, third or umpteenth time without stopping at Banzai Pipeline. If it’s the late autumn and winter you may stumble upon what Ehukai Beach Park (home to Pipeline) is best known for – giant, unraveling, saltwater-spitting barrels that make or break one’s status as a legitimate big wave charger.

Snorkel at Kaunala Beach (1 hr)

How to Spend a Day on the North Shore of Oahu - Kaunala

As we mentioned above, we encourage you to skip snorkeling at the overcrowded Shark’s Cove and instead bring your goggles to Kaunala Beach. This hidden and uncrowded beach is one of the very few spots where you can swim year-round without having to worry about being dragged out to sea. The outer reef mitigates the current, and prevents harsh waves from slamming the shore. The inner reef is teeming with all sorts of tropical fish, sea turtles, and from time to time, spotted rays. The path to Kaunala is hidden within a residential area and a lush grove, so follow these detailed directions.

Snack on Some Shrimp at Kahuku Roadside Food Court (1 hr)

We hope your appetite has kicked in again, because now you’re heading off to the Kahuku Roadside Food Court, which is the best food truck/stand collective in all of Hawaii (other islands included). This is where you’ll find world famous (we use that expression a lot, we know) shrimp trucks along with a carnival-esque variety of foods that range from funnel cakes and chilled coconuts to tacos and waffles on a stick.

Catch the Sunset at Sunset Beach (30 min)

How to Spend a Day on the North Shore Oahu

About an hour before the sun begins to descend, turn around and head back down Kamehameha Highway towards Sunset Beach. Feel free to grab a slice of pie at Ted’s Bakery so that you have something to enjoy while you watch the show. What show? The name of this beach provides your not-so-subtle hint. In addition to the sloping sand and sky providing the perfect canvas for golden hour, it’s home to the most photographed palm tree in the world.

Have a Late Dinner at Haleiwa Beach House (2 hrs)

With your North Shore sunset in the books, it’s time for some added relaxation at one of the best beachfront establishments on Oahu – Haleiwa Beach House. Be sure to order everyone (of age) a round of the Kauwela (tequila, cream of coconut, mint, sweet and sour, and pureed lilikoi).

Head Back to Your Accommodations (1 hr)

Will full bellies and a lifetime of memories, it’s time to head back to Waikiki (or Ko Olina).

Did you get to see all that the North Shore has to offer? Most certainly not. But that’s OK. Next time, spend a night away from Waikiki at one of the beach rentals found throughout Pupukea. It can be hard to book one on a whim, but check to see if there are reservations available at Ke Iki Beach Bungalows. They should be able to squeeze your party in for one or two nights. This will give you more time to explore and enjoy the North Shore. After all, some things are best left to your own discovery!


  1. Teresa Borczyk says:

    I love your description of how to spend a day at the North shore.
    What is your recommendation to rent a car with all expenses or take a bus.
    How much is the bus for the trip?
    Can you also email these descriptions and do you have any recommendations for the craters. Which will be the best experience in one in life time adventure.

    • Aloha Teresa! Please excuse the seriously delayed reply. Totally missed this one 🙁 Mahalo for your kind words about the agenda. Honestly, the most carefree way to go is to Uber in the AM from Waikiki (around $60-70 at 6:30 or 7 AM) then spend the day exploring the North Shore by bus, bike, and/or foot. It’s hard to get an Uber back to Waikiki after 4 PM, but the evening bus ride is pretty mellow if you are riding with a companion.

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