We’ve assembled the perfect day trip to Oahu’s North Shore. It will take you to the very best surfing in the world with some of most accessible viewing spots. If you’re looking for a chance to see all the north shore has to offer, look no further.
We suggest you take this day trip during the winter months, as that is when the North Shore really gets big. From the world famous Pipe Masters at the Banzai Pipeline to the mind blowing waves that roll in at Waimea , the North Shore of Oahu will fascinate you with the shear strength and force of what mother nature can produce. We’ll take you from spot to spot, and make sure you get fed along the way.
First some Things to Remember before you head up there.
- Stay out of the water if you are not an experienced surfer, the water can often be too dangerous even for many locals
- Don’t forget your camera. The spots we mention below have some of the best viewing locations in the world as the surf can be only a few hundred feet off shore.
- Check events dates in our Triple Crown of Surfing section which usually lasts from early November to late December. Also check the surf report at Surf News Network. If you see over 8 foot face reports for Oahu North Shore, you can guarantee the event will be held.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car! If you’re in a rental, you probably have a target on your car. Do us a favor and don’t leave things in your car.
Getting Up There
OK, let’s get you up there. First off, the earlier you get up there the better. When the surf is big, surfers are out, and tourists are not far behind. With only two lanes to get you around, some days there can be gridlock on the north shore.
The most direct way to get there from Waikiki is to head up H1 to H2 and should be about a 45 drive (an hour and a half if you take our suggestion below). You’ll take it until the freeway ends and head past Schofield Barracks. When you get to the Y in the road, head right towards Hale’iwa/North Shore. You’ll pass the Dole Plantation and the new coffee farms that have taken over the pineapple fields.
Finally you’ll get down to the entrance into Hale’iwa. We suggest passing Hale’iwa, and all the other surf sports and head all the way down to Sunset. You may think we’re crazy to take you past all the good spots, but if you hang in there you’ll appreciate the progression we take you through.
If you have a lot of time and you want to see the whole island, then take the Pali to Kamehameha Highway, and follow it all the way up the east side of the Island and you’ll be right where we need you. (You can check our Oahu Temples Day Trip to see the the route, and find some more spots to stop at along the way. This route will take you about 2 hours without stops, but it will be worth the extra time.
OK, so you’ve made it to Sunset Beach Park. You’ve made it to a very versatile surf break. During the summer this area is great for snorkeling, however it is transformed to a majestic wave machine in the winter. Parking is right in front of the beach, towards the back by the bathrooms, or down the road. Lot’s of area to find a spot.
Once you find parking, the surf break is toward the right of the lifeguard tower if you’re looking out at the ocean from the beach. There’s plenty of room on the beach to spread out (as long as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing isn’t going on).
You’ve made it to the surf break called Sunset which is one of the most well known surfing spots in the world. Waves here are good at 5 feet up to 25 feet. It’s one of the last spots you can surf, aside from Waimea, when the waves get that big.
The wave is a perfect wave for regular footed surfers as it usually breaks to the right (your left while your watching.)
On any given day you’ll see some of the best surfers in the world taking their stabs at Sunset. It’s a great location to surf and to watch. Plus if you get hungry you can head down to Ted’s Bakery for some lunch or breakfast.
Once you’ve had enough of Sunset we suggest you hop in the car and head down to Ehukai Beach Park home of the famous Banzai Pipeline (aka Pipeline, aka Pipe.) You head towards Hale’iwa from Sunset and if it’s in the winter, you’ll know you’re getting close because cars will begin to line the road.
Ehukai is right across from Sunset Elementary School (where you don’t want to park). You may get lucky and find parking right at the park, but with the lot only holding 20 or 30 cars, just park on the road and walk it. Again, don’t leave valuables in the car.
Walking up to the beach you’ll see the lifeguard tower which is a good indicator of what break you’ll be looking for. Straight in front of the tower is the sandbar where you’ll see a lot of the groms (Keiki, or younger surfers) playing and practicing for their chance at Pipe. To the left, when looking out at the ocean, you’ll see the unmistakable shape of Pipeline. The beautiful barrels only a hundred yards off the shore.
The beach is pretty much gone by winter time whereas in the summer months the beach is about 3 times the size. The ocean, just brings in that much water during these winter months with waves pushing the sand further and further up the beach.
The Banzai Pipeline forms such a beautiful and consistent barrel due to the shallow reef underneath. At times the reef is a mere 2 tor 4 feet underneath the surfers that challenge the massive waves. It’s an extremely dangerous spot that only the best in the world surf at.
Looking out at the wave, Pipeline shoots to your right (surfers left) and to the right of the consistent peak is Backdoor. Further down, toward the rocks is Off The Wall, another packed spot. This one normally closes out, but can be a fast fun ride that you’ll see bodyboarders slicing up the wave.
If you grab a a sandwich and a few tasty beverages, you could spend your whole day watching at just this one spot.
Well, if you didn’t spend the whole day at Pipeline, we’ll take you on to the next great spot. Waimea, home of the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational this surf spot only breaks when wave faces reach 15 feet or better (usually takes some solid 20 footers to move it.)
You may know this break from the good ole’ Beach Boys Song Surfin U.S.A, or maybe from some of the amazing photos like our recent Waimea Surf Session. No matter how you know the break it will stick with you once you see it in person.
First things first, this spot will only be breaking if they’re calling for 20 foot faces. You’ll want to check the report or ask around and see if it’s breaking, if it is, most people on the north shore will know. If you’ve found out it is then theres the next step.
Getting there from Pipeline you drive again towards Hale’iwa. You’ll start to come upon Shark’s Cove, a few lunch spots, and Safeway (with a Starbucks). Our suggestion is to park somewhere at sharks cove or just up the road past the fire department. There’s a few good spots to park at the beach there. You can also try your luck at the Waimea Bay Beach Park parking lot, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.
Once you’ve found your spot, you can walk on the water (makai) side of the road on the walkway that will take you straight to the bay. If it’s breaking, the closest spot to watch it is from the road overlooking the bay on this side. Don’t walk out on the rocks thought, rogue waves can easily wash far up on the rocks and sweep you out to see.
Waimea Bay breaking is an amazing sight to see, if you get the chance, arrange your North Shore trip around it.
Once you’ve finished up with Waimea, you’ll head back towards Hale’iwa and along the way you may run into a good spot to watch surfers from. Laniakea Beach which most known as a spot to spot giant sea turtles playing in the surf and sunning themselves on the beach, can be a great spot to watch all kinds of surfers.
Parking isn’t too bad on the mountain (mauka) side of the road. This one will probably be a quick in and out as the surf is a couple hundred yards off the beach and isn’t all that spectacular of a wave. This spot may be best for a drive by watching.
Hale’iwa at Ali’i Beach Park
Finally, we’re taking you to Hale’iwa, the last surf watching destination on the North Shore that we think you must stop and see. From Laniakea you’ll follow the traffic back towards Hale’iwa and when you see the sign, a nice old wooden one welcoming you, take a right.
You’ll head past a large open field on your right, past Hale’iwa Beach Park, past Surf n’ Sea, across a bridge where, once over the bridge, take a right after Hale’iwa Joe’s. You follow this road to Hale’iwa Ali’i Beach Park which is just past the harbor. We should note that you may want to stop at Surf n’ Sea to get some of those random surf shirts and trinkets to bring back to your jealous friends.
Finally at the park, you may need to park on the road because of the limited parking, and if the surf is up, there will be cars everywhere.
It’s also the home break for many of the worlds best surfers. They most likely grew up surfing the inner breaks and then slowly graduated to the outer breaks. From the beach you’ll have a great vantage point for all of it.
Some of you may also recognize the lifeguard tower and the building right next to it from the First Hawaii Five-0 episode. The new remake that is.
Again, this is another beach that you could spend hours at just watching the surf. But, we know by this time you’re probably hungry as ever. So let’s get to the grinds!
There are numerous choices in and around the North Shore area for you to pick up dinner. One of the more popular local spots is Cholo’s. Cholo’s is a Mexican eatery that offers up great food and drink, a perfect way to finish you day.
To get there, head back towards the intersection just after the bridge and instead of going back over the bridge, head right. You’ll pass Motsumoto’s a famous shave ice spot, plus many other local favorites. Once you get towards the end of that road, you’ll see the North Shore Marketplace with a Quiksilver in it among others. Head in there, find parking and walk to the back where you’ll see Cholo’s.
Put your name in and either grab a margarita at the bar, or snoop around one of the many shops.
It’s finally time to head back to town. Hopefully you were able to catch a bunch of surf action and fill up on some good food. Head out of town and follow the signs towards Honolulu. You can go the back way, which is taking a left out of the Cholos parking lot and then you’ll just follow the same route you took in. Back past Dole, the Barracks, H2, H1 and back where ever you were staying.