There’s no place like the North Shore of Oahu. The seven mile miracle wraps up everything that our guide to authentic Hawaii experiences is all about. We have created guides for how to spend a day on the North Shore with or without a car and have dedicated the same for visiting surfers. But what makes the North Shore so special, is also what makes it vulnerable to overbearing tourists who forget to pack respect with their luggage before boarding flights to HNL. The good news, is that you’re not one of them.
Instead, you have taken the time to research “what not to do in Oahu” when venturing over to this side of the island. Mahalo for doing so; we honestly appreciate it. Moreover, by heeding everything below you’ll honor the aina and kama’aina while fitting right in. Some of the items on this list are for the sake of the locals while others are more for your benefit. Let’s review!
10 Things to AVOID Doing on the North Shore Oahu so that You Respect and Fit in with the Locals (and have FUN)
1. Turtle Beach
Pulling off of Kamehameha Highway at Laniakea (Turtle Beach) is one way to giveaway your status as a new arrival and aggravate local drivers. Activity kiosks over in Waikiki are to blame for what has created Turtle Traffic, and the last thing you want to do is contribute to the chaos. We understand the desire to see the honu resting on the shore, but does standing in a circle with dozens of camera totting tourists to glare at a single sea turtle (who is just trying to get some rest) really sound fun? It’s not. If you spend enough time exploring the secluded beaches on the North Shore on your own you’ll see your fair share of turtles and other beautiful creatures. Enjoy them (from 10-feet away) and skip the Turtle Beach madness.
2. Driving Like Your Kids DON’T Live Here
The rural roads that run parallel to Kamehameha Highway between Shark’s Cove and Sunset Beach are riddled with hand-painted signs. Some display inspirational words, while others are instructional. The latter demand that visitors with rented vehicles follow the most important rule of all:
“DRIVE LIKE YOUR KIDS LIVE HERE”
If anyone avoids following this rule, they must be prepared to face some North Shore justice.
3. Parking Like You DO Live Here
Drive like your kids live here, but park like you don’t. The seemingly vacant patches of sand and gravel found along Ke Iki, Ke Waena, Ke Nui Road are best left to local residents and their guests. This isn’t an enforced rule, per se, but it’s best to stick to designated lots at Shark’s Cove, Ehukai Beach Park, and Sunset Beach. During surf competition season parking lot spots are scarce, so do yourself and the community a favor by taking TheBus from Waikiki. In fact, most visitors prefer to spend the day on the North Shore without the burden of a vehicle.
If you check out this list of the best shave ice in the world, you’ll find Matsumoto’s, but not for the reason you think. While they get credit for being one of the island’s originals, the once iconic shop has become little more than a TikTok trap. The shave ice is subpar when compared to most others in the 96712 zip code because staff is more focused on selling t-shirts, stickers, and keychains. Save yourself from the 1-hour lineup and head over to nearby Kaimana or Aoki’s instead; where the locals go.
5. Snorkeling the Western Reef at Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove is both one of the best and worst places to snorkel on Oahu. The western side of the attraction is giant tide pool that has been stepped on more than cigarette butts that riddle the sidewalks of Chinatown. And it looks about the same, thanks to the hundreds of daily tourists who relieve bodily fluids in the same water that they dip their snorkels into. If you’re in the shallow end of Shark’s Cove, get out and save yourself from staph infection.
The “real” Shark’s Cove is located on the eastern side of the inlet. This deeper section is exposed to the open ocean which keeps the water fresh and lets in all sorts of healthy sea life. This is where locals snorkel and scuba, and where you’ll fit in and have the most fun.
6. Climbing Palm Trees
We know it’s tempting to shimmy up the leaning palm trees along the North Shore. However, what makes for a beautiful Instagram moment adds wear and tear to the natural vegetation. For example, the famous crooked palm tree at Sunset Beach is at risk of being torn from its roots. This is due to an influx of tourists who hang from it, climb it, and walk along it, despite the warning sign that has been posted on its trunk. The trees need to be protected not just for their sake, but so that they can serve their purpose in helping to prevent beach erosion. The latter is an issue that has been plaguing the North Shore for the last two decades.
7. Sitting on the Sand Dunes in Front of Homes
When visitors plop their towels down on the sand dunes that are directly in front of beachfront homes they contribute to erosion. This erosion compromises the foundation of the properties. It may seems like a small thing, but it happens 365 days a year and the impact is real. In 2022 this home slid into the ocean. We’re not too concerned about the multi-million dollar new developments that have replaced local households that couldn’t keep up with property taxes. It’s the ones that remain that we’re looking out for. Please keep at least 20-feet away from the sandy slopes that front vulnerable homes.
8. Shouting at Jamie O’Brien’s House
Jamie…not so psyched
The side effect of having one of the best Hawaii vlogs and podcasts is that subscribers feel entitled to meet you and snap selfies together. That’s what’s happened to once pro-surfer Jamie O’Brien who is now the face of neon soft top surfboards and cans of Red Bull. If you see JOB on the street or on the sand, by all means accost him for an Insta-shaka. That’s his price to pay for YouTube celebrity. However, when it comes to his home along Ke Nui Road please give the man some space. On any given day excited fans can be seen and heard screaming from the dirt path to his visible lanai with the hope that he will come out (or down) to say “Aloha”. It ain’t gonna happen, and nor should it. Leave him alone when behind their fence. Beyond that; fair game!
9. Making Eye Contact with Sean Penn
He can be seen shopping at Foodland in Pupukea. He can be spotted having breakfast at Breaker’s in Haleiwa. He can be found waiting for his Seven Brother’s order at the Shark’s Cove food trucks. He can be seen everywhere on the North Shore, but it doesn’t imply that he wants to be approached.
Sean Penn is one of the most gifted thespians of his generation, but it should come as no surprise that he’s reclusive. He doesn’t care that you’re a big fan and he certainly doesn’t want to pose for pictures. Penn has a home on the North Shore because he appreciates its quiet ebb and flow. Locals respect his privacy, and you should too.
10. Forgetting to Bring ALOHA
Could we end with anything else? Give ALOHA and get ALOHA. In fact, you’ll get it back tenfold.
We hope we didn’t make it sound like the North Shore isn’t accommodating to visitors. It absolutely is. We simply wanted to impart the importance of protecting what separates this side of the island from the resort communities of Waikiki and Ko Olina. Honor the unspoken rules above and you’ll fit in just fine.
Do you have any other questions about what it’s like on the North Shore? Leave a comment below and we’ll get right back to you.