After living in Seattle, WA for 3.5 years and traveling internationally for half a year, I’ve been back on the island of O’ahu since December, so it’s about time I wrote a blog post on my own home island! Every day I receive inquiries from my guests on how they can visit O’ahu’s prized North Shore (or as Aussies adorably call it, “the North Island”, even though it’s all on the same island.) ;-), so I figured I would compile a list of our favorite gems on the North Shore, from beaches to hiking to kombucha and all the delicious eateries in between.
My Chinese Grandmother’s family was born and raised in Hale’iwa on O’ahu’s North Shore, working in the pineapple plantations in the 20’s, so I definitely feel a spiritual connection with this place. While Waikiki and downtown Honolulu have transformed over the years, becoming tourist magnets and concrete jungles filled with tall skyscrapers and shops only the wealthy few can afford, Hale’iwa remains relatively unaltered, standing still in time. With the regulation of “no building taller than a palm tree”, even McDonald’s and Starbucks (the only two chains I can think of in the area), are decorated in the same style as the buildings that surround it. There is something special about the North Shore that can only be experienced. As soon as you exit the H2 freeway and enter Hale’iwa town, you turn off the AC, open the windows, and immediately sense the vibe change to slower-paced, friendly, and laid-back. Even the air smells fresher and more fragrant. There is virtually no honking, far more smiles, and lots of chickens. Nobody seems to be in a hurry here, and there’s an interesting mixture of locals coexisting with tourists experiencing this place for the first time.
Many of my guests ask me, “what do you do on your day off as a local?” so here I will share with you how I like to experience the perfect day on O’ahu’s North Shore!
1) Fuel up and wake up at Coffee Gallery, located inside the North Shore Marketplace (free parking).
This adorable joint serves up local coffee, chai and specialty lattes along with delicious home made pastries and goodies! While you’re here, browse SoHa Living for Hawaii-made products to take home as souvenirs (much better than the made-in-China tchotchkes from the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet.)
2) Walk to the other side of the shops to enjoy a brekkie burrito at Kono’s. My favorite is The Chun’s, filled with local kalua pork, bacon, scrambled eggs and potatoes.
TIP: try all their spicy sauces, made in Boulder, CO specifically for Kono’s. Grab a seat outside on the picnic benches, but don’t feed the chickens, no matter how cute their little fluffy yellow baby chicks are.
3) Walk half a block down the road to Waialua Bakery for locally sourced baked goods between $1 – $4 and delicious sandwiches using ingredients from their garden. This is the perfect place to grab a sandwich to take to the beach, as after you pass Hale’iwa and get into Waimea, there are no food options besides the occasional food truck along side the road.
TIP: They accept cash only. And you’ll probably see a few of these guys gecko-ing around:
4) Visit a Hei’au, an ancient Hawaiian temple or sacred sight. From Kamehameha Highway, turn right just before the Foodland and go up the winding road for about 3 minutes before you see this sign on the right:
TIP: Don’t leave any valuables in the car. Walk the short loop to see aerial views of Waimea Bay.
5) Hike Ehukai Pillboxes. Park (for free) at Sunset Elementary School, just across the street from Ehukai Beach. This is an easy hike that takes around one hour round trip, plus a bit of time at the top to take jumping and yoga photos. 😉
TIP: Wear mosquito repellant, and bring hiking shoes you don’t mind getting muddy!
Once you get to the pillbox (it only takes around 25 minutes to ascend), you can take some fun photos:
You can continue on to a long trail system that goes through a beautiful pine tree forest, but be careful because it’s very easy to get lost in there and quickly become disoriented! Leave some breadcrumbs. 😉
Other hiking option: Ka’ena Point (entry from the Mokule’ia side). This flat 5.5-mile round trip hike is easy and scenic, but can be very muddy after heavy rains. The trail ends at an Albatross sanctuary, so if you visit in the month of February, you will be lucky enough to see these large, beautiful black and white birds nesting and doing their mating dance!
Albatross live their entire lives at sea, but only once a year in the month of February, come to land to mate and lay eggs. Their mating ritual is a beautiful dance, consisting of raising their necks up and down, walking slowly whilst bobbing their heads, clapping their bills and dancing around each other. They will do this for hours until they decide that the partner they selected is their chosen one. They will then find a good bush and make babies! The 5.5-mile round trip hike to Ka’ena Point from the Mokuleia (North Shore) side is on easy flat terrain. During our hike in February, we saw three monk seals, several whales, Albatross mating dances, protective Mamma albatrosses, and their newborn fluffy babies!
During summertime, Ka’ena Point is also a great place to go mountain biking!
You will very likely see a Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach! Monk Seals will dive hundreds of feet deep into the ocean to catch fish, so they become exhausted and need to rest and sun themselves to warm up on the beach. They do a very good job of blending in with the sand and the rocks, because we didn’t even notice them when we first went down! We immediately retreated back up towards the top to give them their space and to not make them feel threatened. Hawaiian monk seals are highly endangered species, so if you do see one in the wild, please give it plenty of space and do not touch them.
6) After emerging from the hike looking like a mud warrior, take a refreshing dip at Sunset Beach.
In the wintertime during high wave season (November – February), check out Waimea Bay and Pipeline for the big wave surf contests!
Or head to Laniakea Beach (known to locals as “Lani’s” or “Turtle Traffic”), as this can sometimes be a place to spot honu, the Hawaiian word for sea turtle, and therefore the traffic can get backed up because of tourists stopping to take photos. Hawaiians believe that sea turtles are a symbol of good luck in the form of a guardian spirit.
7) Head back into town for supper at Banzai Sushi inside the North Shore Marketplace.
TIP: Go for happy hour (Monday – Thursday 3 – 5 PM)
Other notable eateries great for either lunch or supper:
Food Trucks have started to make a grand appearance since the beloved Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck became famous. You can find rows of food trucks serving anything from Thai food to tacos to acai bowls along the main road in Hale’iwa.
V Land Tacos – You can’t beat the price here, but the flavors are even more outstanding. $2.50 for a small taco, or $5.50 for the larger size.
TIP: Order the fish tacos (fish of the day depends on season, but we got opah in March!)
Beet Box Café – Excellent for vegans and vegetarians, or folks who are looking for honest, healthy, quality-sourced ingredients.
TIP: Their smoothies and acai bowls are outstanding!
Bring your own reusable hydro flask (or other trendy beverage bottle) to Celestial Natural Foods and fill up on Sky Kombucha on tap.
Take a photo next to the colorful angel wings street art, located across the street from Surf ‘N Sea, which is your next stop to rent stand up paddle boards to cruise on the Anahulu River. You might even see a turtle!
Stay for the sunset and call it a day!
I hope this provides you with some local suggestions to add to your next North Shore adventure day!