Let’s take a road trip for the day. These recommendations are based on driving from Waikiki Beach across the island of Oahu to the North Shore. The times are up to you but Go Hawaii recommends traveling on a weekday when it’s not so busy. The earlier you head over, the more time you have for shopping, eating, and fun under the Hawaiian sun.
TIP: Download the Shaka Guide App for their Legendary North Shore Loop (8-10 hours)
If you want to make the most of this Shaka Guide tour — start early. Whether you dip in and out of the app for tips or use it as an actual tour guide in your car, it’s a valuable resource to own. I opted for the latter. It didn’t always work with my rental car’s radio due to technical problems. But, if it had worked, it would have been so worth it to have heard more about the stops while on the drive.
I did advance the locations on the North Shore Legendary Loop. After learning about Leonard’s malasadas, I knew that would be a good place to stop. This app can be overwhelming, so read ahead of time and plan out what you want to see, and do the things that are important to you. It has many suggestions of places to go, and if you are particular like me, you won’t get to see them all. The tour guides are downloadable. So they’re on your phone for a future trip. Mahalo!
If you’re looking for advice on how to treat Hawaii’s culture respectfully, please review the Maʻemaʻe Toolkit that the Hawaii Tourism Authority created regarding proper terminology as well. Another initiative is Big Island’s Pono Pledge. The Shaka Guide’s app requests you accept this before you can use it, to encourage tourists to treat Oahu with reverence.
My North Shore Road Trip
This Oahu itinerary focuses on what to do if you have a day to spend touring the island, starting from the south and making your way over to the North Shore. It takes about an hour to traverse the 40 miles to Banzai Pipeline from Waikiki Beach. Come take a drive with me, and experience some of Hawaii’s finest establishments on the way.
The scenic views on the road trip to the North Shore are within itself a reason why there are guides and apps made to assist tourists while they drive it. It’s safe and practical during these times when social distancing has become sort of the new norm. I felt at ease in my car as I listened to local stations glancing out my window at the rows and rows of fresh produce grown under the blue skies. I took a wrong turn before my intended first stop and accidentally found a Leonard’s Bakery Mobile off of H-1 near the Pearlridge Center (you are welcome). It was my lucky day. I stopped and said, “I could be upset that I took the wrong turn, but there’s NO LINE at this truck.”
Leonard’s Bakery is an Oahu institution specializing in Portuguese fried donuts, malasadas. The line at the original shop in Waikiki wrapped around the building, and I was planning to go the next day to wait it out. The Shaka Guide said the line moves quickly, so I was confident. That being said, I happily accepted the no-line mobile option. Thank you, for the gift and the heavenly warm sugary pocket of goodness whoever sent it to me from the universe. As soon as the hot malasada touched my lips — I knew I had met my match. It was probably the best thing I’d eaten in a while because yes, it was hot indeed. Baked to order. It’s fresh and let’s not talk about how the woman wouldn’t let me order just one. I had to order three to purchase on a card. And, I gladly did.
When I got back on the H-1 to head to the H-2, I stopped off at the Dole Plantation, and let’s say if you are there during peak season, get ready to hunt for parking. Pick a lane and wait for the person who is leaving and follow them. Get it.
Dole Plantation is a fun experience and one that should be seen. It has the largest pineapple maze in the world. A train navigates you through the grounds — they are that big. Also, the refreshments are fresh and delicious. You will want to try a Dole Whip with fresh pineapple.
TIP: Browse the gift shop. There are so many interesting items. Even if you don’t buy something, there’s an artisan making native crafts and interesting cultural things to see. It’s a fun educational experience!
North Shore Soap Factory
What is it? Why is it there? The sugar mill dates back, way back. It’s almost a century old. The old sugar mill has been refurbished into the North Shore Soap Shop Factory. It has local charm, organic products, and friendly people. They provide tours of their facility and give details about their product. In addition, they have historical artifacts in their store to view, so it feels like you’re visiting a museum.
Waimea Valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s also a culturally significant location. Locals call it The Valley of the Priests because of its religious importance. Look out for pohaku (stones) paying homage to Kuúla, the fishing god. The waterfall at Waimea Valley is a must-see. This green and pleasant landscape is full of native flora, and is educational and extremely low-key.
The North Shore is renowned for its waves, and you will enjoy the best surfing conditions in the winter. The winter season is from November through May. It’s important to have fun but also remember to be safe.
If you are lucky enough to be in Hawaii when the surf is up, it is truly a sight to behold. Remember to check the weather to confirm what’s what. There is no shortage of sights that will provide you with a good forecast for waves.
Here are three beaches to check out to see some big wave action:
Banzai Pipeline or Ehukai Beach
Banzai Pipeline gets its name from the surfers who ride the barreling waves that curl like a pipe. Every year, prestigious events take place here. However, you can see surfers testing their skills against the pipe all throughout the winter when the waves are up. People come from all over the world to see these surfers in action. The pipe is smokin’ with surfers looking to win the competitions. It takes incredible skill to surf these waves and it is truly a sight to behold.
TIP: The surfer’s name Banzai Pipeline is not on the map and won’t be easy to find because there aren’t any signs that mark it. Look for Ehukai Beach instead, and remember unless you’re a highly-skilled surfer, this area is a no-swim zone. It’s a great place to savor a surfer’s paradise. Bear in mind that parking is limited even during the summer months. Park on the street and respect the property. It’s best to check the weather forecast before your road trip.
As the name suggests, Sunset Beach is not only a great place for surfers to catch a wave, but it offers a scenic end to a day too. Originally called Paumalü, which means “taken by surprise” in Hawaiian, legend has it that it’s named after a woman attacked by a shark as a punishment for disrespecting the reef. It’s a two-mile stretch of khaki-colored sand.
Waimea Bay is a white sand beach that looks beautiful from far away. But, during the winter months, the shore break can be fierce. Be sure to check the signage and stay safe. A good place to get a view of Waimea Bay is Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau, a state landmark. Thrill-seekers are advised to take a 20-foot cliff dive from the rocks. Only do so if you see other people jumping in.
TIP: There’s additional parking across the street at Waimea Valley.
For more safety tips and advice, drop by HIOceanSafety.com. Some wildlife in Hawaii is endangered. Be sure to know the state laws. There are viewing guidelines, and it’s our responsibility to ensure the environment is respected.
This is a stop you can make at the beginning or end of the road trip to the North Shore. I chose to have dinner and explore Haleiwa Town before heading back to Waikiki Beach. Haleiwa Joe’s does not take reservations and is not open for lunch. They open at 4:30 pm, and the line outside starts at 4:00 pm during high season. The Mahi (dolphinfish) was so fresh it fell off the fork, and the service was timely. It’s worth the buzz. I’d try to go on a weekday to eliminate even more of a wait if possible.
If the wait is too long or you want to eat lunch during your road trip to the North Shore, Kua’aina is another option that won’t disappoint. Want a burger in Hawaii? Open since 1975, it’s the oldest running food establishment in Haleiwa.
A third option if you want to have a picnic at the beach is to pick up some local favorites. By the way, spending the afternoon at the beach relaxing is a pretty good way to do it. So here are three options for your plan.
- Huli Huli Chicken — Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken serves it, and so do others around town.
- Poke — you can get this diced raw fish dish at the local supermarkets — amazing!
- Fresh fruit (hi vegans!) — Kuilima Farm Stand across from Kawela Bay sells the likes of coconut and star fruit.
- Last but certainly not least is shaved ice, and the local legend is Matsumoto’s. Somehow, the ice cream they put on the bottom (yes, this is how you must get it) makes for some magical combination of ice and ice cream that is worth the inevitable line you will have to deal with.
The road trip to the North Shore was eventful and certainly one I’d like to repeat. I didn’t do half of the things I’d like to, and each stop took me longer than the average person. Why? I take too many photos. If you’re a slow road-tripper like me, then plan to break up your drive and take multiple trips. The shopping and sightseeing could be one day, and the beaches could be another. I will have everlasting memories of driving up to and back from the North Shore; the first glance of the ocean as you pass the pineapple fields is a happy place. The mountains, the ocean, it is all part of the journey.