We’ve answered the questions about how to spend a day on the North Shore of Oahu if you have access to a vehicle, and if you don’t. There are definite crossovers with each itinerary, and if visitors follow either one they will have an unforgettable time. However, there is a unique sect of the global population that looks to the North Shore for more than shave ice and sea turtle spotting. There are those who consider this side of the island to be holy ground, and the legends that ride its waves to be more royal than anyone at Buckingham Palace. If you count yourself amongst this tribe, then you are seeking more than the typical sightseeing experiences. That’s said, you don’t want to simply GPS your way from Waikiki to Ali’i Beach Park, paddle out at, ride a few, and call it a day. Instead, you demand an immersive experience that speaks to your appreciation for surf culture in Hawaii, while still fulfilling your constitutional right to enjoy a vacation. Here is the only itinerary you’ll ever need.
A Surfer’s One-Day Itinerary To Exploring and Experiencing the North Shore of Oahu
Coffee at Surfers Coffee (1 hr)
It just so happens that the best coffee shop on the entire island of Oahu is a surf-themed cafe, and is located on the outskirts of the North Shore in Wahiawa. We know it’s tempting to pass through the rundown town when heading north from Waikiki, but it’s absolutely worth a stop at Surfers Coffee. While there are a fair share of cafes that exploit surf culture, Surfers Coffee is legitimate. The expansive cafe houses a collection of vintage surfboards along with surf art and photography on its walls. A further look around at the crowd and you can tell that there’s definitely a lot of salt in the building. But beyond the theme, patronage, and decor, this is a great place to fuel up on espresso and calories to carry you through the day. They also offer unlimited WiFi so you can hop online and check the most up to date surf reports for some of the iconic surf spots that you’re about to see. And if you hang around long enough, you can pop into Santo Loco (two doors down) which is a funky boutique surf shop with a cool collection of boards, gear, and accessories.
Waialua Sugar Mill – A Surfboard Shaper Paradise (1 hr)
As you head over the pineapple hump from Wahiawa you run into Waialua, an historic industrial-agricultural town with a distinguishing landmark – the Old Waialua Sugar Mill. Instead of mounds of pure cane sugar, visitors now find an eclectic group of coffee growers, soap makers, chocolatiers, and more importantly for the sake of this article – a collective of the world’s top surfboard shapers. If names like Pyzel and Arakawa ring a bell, then this is where you want to begin your day on the North Shore.
Surf n Sea Haleiwa (1 hr)
It’s time to head over to Haleiwa and Pupukea to begin exploring the 7-mile miracle. But before hitting the water, drop in on the best surf shop on the this side of the island. Surf n’ Sea is a landmark in its own right, which is made obvious from the moment you step in and look upward. Slotted into the rafters of the old yellow building is an impressive classic quiver, all telling a tale of the varying waves and characters of the North Shore. On the shop floor itself you’ll discover the deepest inventory of modern surfboards, surf-brand clothing, slippers, swimsuits, and accessories on Oahu. If you didn’t bring a board along on your trek, you can rent one here, along with a roof rack and whatever else you need prior to paddling out. Don’t forget to add a few bars of surf wax to your purchase at Surf n Sea.
Surf Spots for Intermediates (for as long as you want)
Most visiting surfers searching for information about how to spend a day on the North Shore self-identify as an intermediate level surfer. It’s important to differentiate from the more advanced, as during the autumn, winter, and even late spring, most of the area’s surf spots are best left to those with intimate relationships with them. That said, during the late spring and summer the north coast is far kinder, and offers plenty of waves to be enjoyed by those of varying skills. The following are iconic surf spots that you might want to check out:
The No.1 rule to follow when surfing the North Shore
As mentioned, some of the North Shore’s top surf spots are best enjoyed from the shore during the autumn and winter. In the late spring and summer, they often don’t “turn on” at all, and you may not be able to catch a wave. These breaks include Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, and Sunset Beach, although the latter may offer intermediates a smidgen of surf in the off-season. If you’re here in the autumn/winter you’ll get to see local warriors (Jamie O’Brien, John John and Nathan Florence, Koa Rothman, the Ho ohana, and more) along with your favorite traveling pros in the water. If you’ve arrived in the spring/summer you can enjoy the natural beauty of these legendary breaks and paddle around for the sake of it. Who knows, you may even catch a few mellow rides in the process.
Refuel at The Sunrise Shack (1 hr)
If you follow some of Hawaii’s best podcasts then you may know the Smith Bros. They have joined forces with fellow pro surfer Koa Rothman to open The Sunrise Shack, which has grown from a little roadside coffee hut to a franchise that is now found in England and Japan with more locations to come. Despite the meteoric growth in popularity, it remains to be a humble spot that is frequented by local and visiting surfers alike. Come to the original location across from Sunset Beach to refuel over bullet coffee, superfood fruit bowls, and good vibes.
Sunset Surf at Sunset Beach
As the day winds down we encourage you head back across Kamehameha for an evening paddle out at Sunset Beach, just before the sun sets on the North Pacific horizon. Even if the waves are unruly you can sit on the outside (and be mindful of the current) and enjoy the the approach of golden hour while bobbing up and down in the sea. There’s a lot of mana at this special place, and by escaping the crowds on shore you’ll soak it up and forever remember the moment.
Evening Grinds and Drinks at Breakers in Haleiwa
The best surfer bar and grill on Oahu is found in Haleiwa’s North Shore Marketplace. Breakers is owned and operated by Momentum Generation alumni Benji Weatherley, and the decor and vibe speaks to this fact. The walls and ceiling are adorned by old surfboards that have been donated by local pros, along with posters commemorating Triple Crown contests from years long gone. Their breakfast menu may be the most celebrated, but dinnertime grinds are perfect for post-surf refreshment. The walk-up bar is welcoming too, should you want to pull up a stool and talk story with a few locals. Breakers is an après-surf spot to be enjoyed while your board shorts and bikinis dry for the ride back to Waikiki.
Did you get to see all that the North Shore has to offer? Did you get to paddle out at all of the famed breaks that you dreamed of surfing? Probably not, but that’s OK. Next time, spend a night away from Waikiki at one of the beach rentals found throughout Pupukea. Check to see if there are reservations available at Ke Iki Beach Bungalows. Even during busy season they may be able to squeeze you in for one or two nights. Otherwise Turtle Bay Resort is an option, where there is a fairly consistent right-hander that breaks along the northernmost point of the property. A night’s stay will give you more time to explore and discover the North Shore’s other breaks, surf shops, and surf-art galleries without having to look at your watch.