A trip to Oahu is truly not complete without a visit to the majestic North Shore. This region is best known for its world-class massive waves, surfing competitions, great snorkeling spots, delectable shrimp trucks, and stunning beaches.
If you’ve committed to spending a whole day out there, then you are doing Oahu correctly!
Looking for the best things to do on the North Shore of Oahu? Our 1-day itinerary of the North Shore will help you have one of the best days of your Hawaii vacation!
This full-day tour showcases the natural beauty, delicious food, and fresh produce of Oahu’s stunning North Shore, featuring stops at beaches, food truck stands, a mac nut farm, a coffee farm, the world-famous Dole farm, and much more.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more for any of your purchases, but the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep the content coming to you. Thanks!
How To Get To Oahu
Honolulu International Airport (HNL), the one that you’re most likely flying into, is conveniently located in Honolulu. The HNL airport is about 20 minutes away from Waikiki and about 45 minutes away from Haleiwa (a town on the North Shore).
There are plenty of ways to get to and from the airport upon arrival or departure. If you’re staying in Waikiki:
- You could rent a car right from the airport.
- We like renting with Hertz because their free Gold Rewards Membership allows you to skip the counter entirely and go right to your assigned rental car. This is so valuable in Hawaii, where almost everyone else flying in also needs a rental car–rental car lines get long.
- You can get to downtown Waikiki via The Bus route #20.
- You could also take a taxi or rideshare to your hotel for a relatively low fare.
We usually stay outside of Waikiki if we can help it because we like other parts of the island so much more. Hotels and resorts in the Waikiki area typically charge an arm and a leg for resort fees and parking, which I am not a fan of.
By staying outside of Waikiki, we’re able to rent a car for the entirety of our trip because we’re usually able to park our car wherever we want–free of charge!
If you are staying in the Waikiki area, you can either get a car only for the days you plan on doing this North Shore day trip, or opt for a North Shore guided tour offered by various tour operators.
Here are a couple of tours you could opt for:
How To Get Around Oahu
Waikiki / Honolulu area
If you’re happy staying in the Waikiki / Honolulu area for the majority of your trip, then a car rental is not needed. There are plenty of great public transportation options that make it easy to travel around the main areas of Oahu, like the bustling downtown area and popular tourist attractions.
There’s an excellent local bus system called TheBus, that mostly services Honolulu and Waikiki, but has lines extending out to just about every major town on the island.
Catching a ride on The Bus is very straightforward. Just stand in front of the bus stop, and wait to be picked up. Once onboard, make sure to pay attention to each stop, as you’ll have to pull the stop cord to request a stop.
Fares are reasonable and transfers are allowed. For more information, check out TheBus’ website for info on departure times, system maps, ticket prices, and more.
Ridesharing services, like Uber and Lyft, are now available in Hawaii as well. These may be cheaper than hailing a taxi, so make sure to download your preferred service to your phone and compare prices.
If you plan on walking or biking as your main form of transportation, this is best in the Waikiki and Honolulu areas. These areas are very pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and you’ll find plenty of restaurants, attractions, tours, and other exciting sights just by exploring on foot or bike.
The rest of the island
Those looking to explore past what Waikiki offers and do as the locals will prefer to rent a car.
Renting a car is the most popular option for travelers visiting Oahu. Because the island is spread out with lots and lots of things to do in many of the island’s neighborhoods, you can see a ton more with a car rental.
If you plan on exploring parts of the island outside of Waikiki, a car is absolutely necessary and you will not regret the decision of renting one. Even if you are staying in Waikiki, without a car, you’ll be pretty much confined to that area.
That will make for one heck of a mediocre vacation in Hawaii because the best parts of Oahu are outside of the Honolulu area!
Driving in Oahu is easy and straightforward, though traffic can sometimes be an issue during the busy months of the tourist season and during rush hour on weekdays.
Be aware that speed limits in Oahu are generally lower than those in the continental United States and are strictly enforced.
You can rent cars directly at the airport. Many rental car companies require drivers to be 25 years of age or older.
We typically like to rent from Hertz. With their free-to-join Hertz Gold Membership program, you’ll get counter-free pickup (great for skipping those long Hawaii airport lines), and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive.
When To Start Your North Shore Day Trip
If you’re staying in the Waikiki area, it’ll take you about 45 min to 1 hour to get to your first few stops in this itinerary.
If you do this North Shore day trip on a weekday, the initial drive to get to the North Shore will be on the longer side compared to taking the day trip on a weekend. This is because, just like in any other city, there is rush hour traffic as locals make their way to work in the morning.
I recommend departing for your day trip no later than 8:30 am to maximize your time in the North Shore.
Another little benefit of this is that you’ll be able to arrive at Dole Plantation just as they open, avoiding all the lines and mayhem you might encounter if you were to show up later.
10 Stops For The Perfect North Shore Day Trip
Here are all the stops that we recommend on a trip to the North Shore!
1. Green World Coffee Farm
Green World Coffee Farm is a small local coffee farm consisting of 7 acres of land with approximately 3,000 arabica coffee trees. Green World Coffee buys green beans from local farms across Hawaii such as Maui, Molokai, Kauai as well as Waialua, which is located on the North Shore of Oahu.
In addition to a large gift shop selling everything from coffee, tea, and other local merchandise, they also offer a full menu of drinks that can be purchased off the espresso bar.
At the gift shop, there are free coffee and tea tastings! Personally, the chocolate mint tea was unique and delicious! And because they roast their coffee daily, you know you’ll be tasting fresh beans whether you buy beans to take home or order a drink.
After you pick up your drinks and gifts, head out back to the little coffee farm area to enjoy a few moments outdoors before heading back in your car for your next stop.
2. Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation, located just a few minutes from the previous stop on the North Shore of Oahu, is a fun stop for the entire family. Established by James Dole in 1899, the company now ships 170 different food products to over 90 countries.
If you’re traveling with children, you may want to consider doing the Pineapple Express Train Tour and the Pineapple Garden Maze. The Plantation Garden Tour provides visitors with a pleasant stroll through cute little pineapple plants on display.
While you’re strolling through the gardens, be sure to stop to read the informational displays and presentations, where you’ll learn all about the history of the pineapple.
After you’re done exploring the outdoor grounds, head into the plantation country store where you’ll find a huge (and I mean huge) variety of Dole Plantation gifts, local snacks, and gifts. Sure it’s touristy, but still a lot of fun to look through.
In the cafeteria area, you can find foods and refreshments to enjoy including their iconic Dole Whip. And if you’re looking to bring an actual pineapple home, they have those for sale too!
Pro Tip: Parking gets crazy here, so try to arrive around 9:30 am when they open. You’ll get the shortest lines at all the attractions–gift shop, train rides, maze, etc.
3. Haleiwa Town
Located about 1 hour from Waikiki (15 minutes away from Dole Plantation) is Haleiwa. Along with the North Shore of Oahu, this area is known as the surfing capital of the world!
Historically, Haleiwa is an old community dating back to the 1900’s contributing to the sugar plantation industry.
Once you pass Haleiwa’s iconic sign with the surfer, you’ll find a bunch of cool surf shops, boutiques, art galleries, and local food joints housed in plantation-era buildings.
Once you drive in, you will be able to tell that Haleiwa is the social and artistic hub of the North Shore. You’ll find lots of food trucks, shave ice joints, and acai/smoothie shops, and lots of people sitting around enjoying them!
Take a stroll around the various plazas that make up Haleiwa for an hour or two, including the old Waialua Sugar Mill. The sugar mill features local crafts, products, and services in a unique, old-Hawaii setting.
Shops include the North Shore Soap Factory, Charley Walker’s All Surf Glassing, Haleiwa Surfboard Company, Old Sugar Mill Brand Coffee & Chocolate, the weekly Saturday morning Farmers’ Market, and more.
You may want to get Matsumoto’s Shave Ice now, but if you’d like to get some real food in your belly first, you can always come back later in the day for it!
4. Haleʻiwa Bowls
Acai bowls are such a refreshing treat after a beach day or during a hot and sunny day out in the North Shore.
Haleʻiwa Bowls serves up some of the most delicious and beautiful acai bowls and smoothies on the North Shore of Oahu. If you’ve been looking for an antioxidant fix in Hawaii, this is the place to get it!
We ordered a large Local Bowl to share and were pleasantly surprised to find poi in our bowl! With the almond butter we added, our acai bowl was extra nutrient-packed and filling.
What I love about Haleʻiwa Bowls is that they use real, straight-up acai (as opposed to an acai blended base with other fruits). It’s also the perfect amount of frozen, which is really important because Hawaii is so hot all the time!
Not feeling acai right now? No problem. A great alternative further down the road is Sunrise Shack, located about 7 miles east of Haleʻiwa Bowls. If you’re not feeling up for acai in the morning, you’ll have a second chance later!
5. Get lunch at Poke For The People
Time for lunch! While there are tons and tons of great options in the North Shore, I would highly recommend Poke For The People. While writing this now, I am drooling and dreaming about the freshness of the fish…
We ordered a 2-item bowl with the shoyu ahi and the daily special, creamy garlic marlin. The quality of the fish was perfection. The sides that came with our poke bowl also complimented the fish so well!
Personally speaking, Poke For The People has made it on our top 3 best poke spots we’ve had on the entire island! Don’t miss this one!
6. North Shore Macadamia Nut Company
Can you really go to Hawaii and not eat a whole bunch of macadamia nuts? The best place to get mac nuts to snack on (or to bring home as gifts) is straight from the source!
The North Shore Macadamia Nut Company has been a working macadamia nut farm in Waialua since 1972. I love stopping here for mac nuts gifts when I’m in the North Shore–this last time around, we left with 6 bags total to bring back to our family/friends back home.
You have to know that these aren’t just the regular boring macadamia nuts you find in your local Walmart or Target. We’re talking about all kinds of great flavors, including coffee-flavored, cinnamon-flavored, lilikoi-flavored, coconut-roasted, and more.
The best part? They have free samples so you’ll know exactly what kind of deliciousness you’re going to get before even buying.
7. Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach)
The next stop is Laniakea Beach, otherwise known as “Turtle Beach”. This is a great spot to warm your toes in the golden sands and–with a bit of luck–spot some green sea turtles basking in the sun!
If you haven’t been able to guess it, the beach is named for the large sea turtles that frequently sun themselves on the sand. For decades, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles have frequented Laniakea Beach more than any other spot on Oahu, which is why this beach has taken on the name “Turtle Beach”.
If you get lucky, you may even see a few for yourself. Also at the beach will be a group of volunteers that serve to provide information about the turtles and make sure tourists are viewing from a distance.
I cannot stress this enough, please respect the laws and the turtles and admire them from afar. It is prohibited by federal law to touch, provoke, or even get too close to the turtles.
Pro Tip: Parking can get really bad here, so be prepared to hunt for nearby parking along the main road and walk to the beach.
8. Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley is a hidden gem of an area that’s chock-full of authentic Hawaiian history, culture, nature, and tradition. The main highlight at the end of the road? A beautiful waterfall that you can actually swim in!
Because we didn’t do much research before deciding to visit, we didn’t know what to expect at Waimea Valley. We had never really done attractions on Oahu that had admission fees, but we were so pleasantly surprised by what Waimea Valley had in store for us!
On top of being a beautifully manicured botanical garden, there was so much education and history surrounding us. We learned about the significance of the valley and the gods that Hawaiians believed in, and the way that they lived.
If you’d like a more enriching experience, consider taking the guided botanical or cultural tour, beginning at 12:30 pm and 1 pm respectively.
Getting to the waterfall does take a bit of effort. The walk up the waterfall is a paved path through the botanical gardens and historical sites. The walk is 0.75-mile (1200 meters) one way or 1.5-mile (2400 meters) round trip. There’s a shuttle option as well.
If you’re up for a quick adventure, consider taking a dip in the waterfall! This was probably the most fun part of Waimea Valley because of how refreshing the water was!
While swimming at the waterfall is totally allowed, the status of swimming changes throughout the day depending on the weather. All guests who would like to experience a swim at the falls are required to wear a life vest, which is included in your admission fee.
9. Snorkel or beach at Waimea Beach
Waimea Bay Beach Park is one of the most beautiful beaches on the North Shore. It’s also a perfect place to visit with the whole family after your adventures in Waimea Valley.
In the summer, Waimea Beach offers visitors a beautiful white sand beach to lounge on and picturesque waters to swim in. During winter, it’s one of the world’s most historical surf breaks!
During the summer months, visitors can do all sorts of things, including snorkeling, swimming, boogie boarding, or even surfing.
Looking to snorkel during your beach time too? Waimea Bay is a wonderful place to do that. While the waters here are rough in winter, Waimea Bay can be as calm as a swimming pool on summer days, meaning lots of great snorkeling opportunities.
In fact, the bay is part of the Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District, which means that the amount of fishing is limited, protecting the local aquatic life.
There are no snorkel rentals available at Waimea Bay, so if you want to snorkel, you must bring your own snorkeling set.
Alternative Beaches: Sunset Beach or Shark’s Cove
If you’re traveling in the wintertime, head to Sunset Beach to catch some of the best surfers carving some truly impressive waves.
Sunset Beach is one of the three surf breaks where the famed Triple Crown Surfing Contest is held over the course of the winter months. The other two surf spots where this contest takes place are Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach.
In the summertime, however, the surf really flattens out to almost nothing, making it a really family-friendly beach to swim and snorkel in.
If you want to get some more snorkeling in, head to the rocky areas on the outskirts of the beach area. Don’t go out too far because currents can be strong in some areas. In these areas, the visibility varies with how calm it is. The depths over the rock and coral are about 8-15 feet.
But above all, visit Sunset Beach for its namesake–offering some of the most breathtaking sunsets in all of Hawaii!
Another north shore beach is Shark’s Cove, part of Pupukea Beach Park, one of the best snorkeling spots on the North Shore. This area is so teeming with life that it’s even been rated by Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the “Top 12 Shore Dives in the World”.
Snorkelers will be able to see a large variety of marine life here, including butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, eels, and even sea turtles!
On the south side of Shark’s Cove are the Pupukea tide pools, a great place to explore and take the little ones.
10. Sunrise Shack
While driving down the main road, Sunrise Shack is unmissable. It’s literally a bright yellow food truck off the side of the road in the North Shore. Sunrise Shack is just south of Shark’s Cove and just a 1-minute drive from Sunset Beach Park.
Yes, these acai bowls are as great as everyone says! There will likely be a line, but it’ll be so worth the wait!
Other stops in the North Shore to consider:
- Go cage diving with sharks
- Go skydiving (we went with Skydive Hawaii a few years back and it was great)
- Do the Ehukai Pillbox Hike
- Eat a bunch of garlic shrimp – Jenny’s Shrimp, Big Wave Shrimp, and Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp are all good!
Visiting in the wintertime? Don’t miss the following stops:
- Head to Banzai Pipeline to watch professional surfers tackle the infamous Pipeline wave
- Surf at Chun’s Reef
Oahu North Shore Day Trip: Essential Packing List
Bring a lightweight jacket.
The weather is quite variable depending on what part of the island you’re on. Depending on when you go, one side of the island can be sunny while the other side sees fog and rain.
Nights sometimes get cold, as do hiking summits. And the last time we visited, it was both windy and sporadically windy for 1-2 days!
To best be prepared for all types of elements, go with a lightweight rain jacket to cover all your bases.
Sunscreen is a must.
Even if you don’t normally wear sunscreen outdoors, I implore you to wear sunscreen, especially during your first few days in Hawaii. If you do burn easily make sure to also pack some aloe vera gel.
Even if it’s overcast and cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors.
If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs. Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy online:
- Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen – SPF 40 Kids Clear Sport
- Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen- SPF 35 Clear Zinc Sport Unscented
- Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen
- Babo Botanicals Zinc Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
- All Good Sport Face & Body Sunscreen Lotion
Don’t forget the bug spray.
When you are packing for Hawaii in general, you may want to consider getting some travel-sized mosquito repellent. While mosquitos don’t hang around Waikiki, they can be found in the more lush tropical settings of the island.
While mosquitos exist year-round, the peak season for mosquito activity is during the warmer months, running from March through early November.
Repellent may not be as necessary on Oahu compared to some of the other less developed islands, but it’s good to have it just in case. Just remember to pack it in your checked luggage so it doesn’t get taken away at the airport!
As an alternative to using mosquito repellent, you can also wear long-sleeved tops and loose linen pants.
Bring hiking boots / water shoes if you plan to do outdoor activities.
If you have one that serves as both, even better. Having some sort of protection from the many rocky shores as well as decent traction on muddy trails and wet rocks on hikes is very crucial for outdoor adventures in Hawaii.
A waterproof phone case to capture all the fun.
If you plan on doing a bunch of adventurous activities (ziplining, skydiving, kayaking, paddling, ATV-ing) and/or want some underwater footage when surfing or snorkeling, you should definitely go with the waterproof GoPro.
Too expensive? The next best thing is a waterproof phone housing!
While most new phones are waterproof to some extent these days, they aren’t meant to stay submerged for prolonged periods of time without protection. With an actual heavy-duty waterproof phone case, you’ll have peace of mind bringing your phone with you when participating in water activities.
On our last trips to Hawaii, we forgot to bring our waterproof phone cases and our GoPro camera. We totally missed out on a bunch of awesome underwater photo ops during two snorkeling trips!
These phone cases provide excellent waterproof performance housing for underwater photos and videos. They’ve been tested more than a thousand times, and the case enables you to dive to 50ft/15m of depth in water for 60 minutes without leaks.
A sand-free beach mat.
There are actually beach mats that are quick-drying, waterproof, and sand-proof, making setting up on the beach super, super easy.
This beach mat is all those things, plus it has sand anchor pockets and 6 ground stakes so that your beach mat is wind-resistant even when you’re not laying on it!
Your own snorkeling set.
Bringing your own snorkeling set is pretty freeing. It means you can choose to snorkel anytime you want without having to track down a rental shop to rent gear. This is important because not all beaches have rental shacks nearby.
In addition, you’ll have the comfort of knowing the snorkel and mask haven’t been used by a million other people.
Seavenger, one of the best snorkel gear makers in the game, sells a Hanalei Anti-Fog 4-Piece Snorkeling Set that’s really loved by both kids and adults.
I recently upgraded to the WildHorn Outfitter’s Seaview 180° V2. Because I tend to get anxious/nervous in the water, I wanted something that would truly make my snorkeling life easier. This full-face snorkeling mask does just that.
All the problems I used to face while snorkeling–water leaking into my mouth, limited google view, foggy goggles mid snorkel–completely gone!
It’s a bit pricier than other basic snorkel masks out there, but let me tell you this thing was a game-changer for me. Being able to breathe normally through my nose underwater made this mask completely worth every penny!
Where To Stay In Oahu
Staying in Honolulu/Waikiki can be a good idea for first-timers, as it puts you close to plenty of introductory things to do, places to eat and shop, and tourist attractions.
While it is convenient and close to a lot of restaurants, bars, and shopping, there are some drawbacks.
First off, because of how compact and populated this area is, street parking is hard to come by.
Do note that a lot of the hotels and resorts here charge both resort fees and parking fees. These fees range anywhere from $20-50 per night for parking and $15-35 per night for the resort fee.
So if you’ve found a hotel you like, be sure to check for these ‘hidden’ fees!
Many hours of research later–here are a few hotels that I’ve found to be the most budget-friendly in the Waikiki area, after accounting for all the added fees:
- Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Waikiki – no resort fee!
- Aqua Oasis – affordable, even with both parking and resort fees factored in.
- Polynesian Residences Waikiki Beach – affordable resort fee and parking fees.
If you’d rather get off the beaten path a little, I would actually recommend staying in a VRBO vacation rental or hotel on any part of the island other than Waikiki. While Waikiki is beautiful and convenient, it is also very developed, meaning it’ll have more of an impersonal city feel.
Other parts of Oahu are way more scenic!
My favorite part of the island to stay is in Kailua, located on the East Shore. Lanikai Beach, named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, is located on the Eastern part of the island, too.
Best lodging/transportation combination: Rent a car + rent a vacation home/private room in a neighborhood with driveway parking or street parking outside of Waikiki. Free parking = more money to spend on other parts of your vacation!
And that about wraps up our list of things to do on a North Shore day trip. Are there any must-do activities that I left out? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more Oahu travel tips? Read more: