Drive about an hour north from Honolulu and you’ll reach Oahu‘s surfing Mecca known as the North Shore. This seven-mile stretch of some of the world’s best surf beaches includes the fabled Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay. I’m not a very good surfer, but that doesn’t matter. This is my happy place on the island of Oahu.
Something happens as soon as I start to cruise the two-lane “highway” that hugs the coast. I’m relaxed, smiling, and excited about what lies ahead: Laid-back vibes, no-frills food, and nonstop beach-hopping. I recommend at least a weekend for exploring the North Shore. These are the beaches and eateries you have to visit when you go.
Breakfast burritos at Kono’s
Grab a coffee from Coffee Gallery to start the morning. Back on the road, when you see a sign with surfing pig, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Kono’s. In the morning this place usually got a line out the door. Most people are waiting for their chance to dig in to the breakfast burritos. They are big and meaty. And delicious. Order the Haleiwa and thank me later; it’s stuffed with Kono’s famous Kalua Pork, which has been roasted for 15 hours. If you plan to move to the North Shore (I contemplate it every time I’m here), you might consider joining Kono’s Tattoo Crew. Benefits of being in this gang are simple: Get a tattoo of “Kono the surfing pig” and you get 25 percent off for life.
Morning Beach: Banzai Pipeline
If the surf is up, expect a difficult time finding a parking space at the Banzai Pipeline. This is one of the most popular spots to practice tube-riding on the famous barrel waves. I love coming here to just be a spectator; generations of families have been coming to surf Banzai for years, and seeing the camaraderie among members of the Hawaiian surf community is really cool.
Lunch at Giovanni’s Shrimp
I’d estimate there are at least a dozen food trucks selling locally caught shrimp along Kamehameha Highway. I have tried many of them and none of them is bad, but if you really want a taste of the best, trust me and head to Giovanni’s. Once you get there, order the garlic shrimp scampi for US$13 (cash only) and you’ll be served a paper plate with a mound of white shrimp and two scoops of scrumptious sticky rice. Both the shrimp and the rice are doused in the most divine garlic and butter sauce. There are two locations of Giovanni’s Shrimp trucks, one on the North Shore and another in Haleiwa. I prefer the scenery at the Kamehameha Highway location.
Afternoon Beach: Pupukea Beach
This rocky beach is also known as Shark’s Cove, and it’s a gorgeous spot for snorkeling. The rocks create many shallow tide pools, so pack your snorkel (and aqua shoes) to search for marine life and fish. Stick around at Pupukea for the sunset; the rocks create some of the most beautiful silhouetted scenes as the sun sinks into the horizon.
Breakfast at Ted’s Bakery
Ted’s is something of an institution on the North Shore. The bakery has a loyal following of locals and visitors alike who come often to eat the famous pies. Believe the hype. Ted’s Chocolate Haupia Pie is a Hawaiian specialty with rich chocolate, cream, and coconut. It’s so decadent, you think you might need to stop at one slice. But no, you should order another! When you go back for seconds, order the Pineapple Cheese pie. It’s perfection. Take this one to go and hit the beach.
Viewfinder Tip: If you buy two or more pounds of poke at Foodland you get a discount, so come hungry.
Morning Beach: Sunset Beach
Ted’s is right across the street from Sunset Beach, so you and your pie don’t have to go far to hit the surf. Sunset Beach is another famous surf beach and its wide stretch of white sand is straight out of a postcard. This is one of the beaches that hosts the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, so expect big waves in the winter and more manageable surf during the rest of the year. This beach also is home to my favorite palm tree on the North Shore. Yes, I have a favorite tree. It’s a giant palm that juts out crookedly across the beach. You can’t miss it!
Lunch at Foodland
You may be asking, “Courtney, why are you sending me to the local supermarket for lunch?” Well, it’s no secret to locals that the supermarket chain named Foodland is home to some of the most delicious poke in the Hawaiian islands. I come here at least once a day when I’m in Hawaii for poke by the pound. If you aren’t familiar with poke, it comprises chunks of raw ahi tuna served in different sauces such as mayo, soy, or oyster sauce. It’s highly addicting, and after having sampled all of the various flavors of poke, I can tell you my favorites are the Limu, the “Secret,” and the Spicy Tuna.
Afternoon Beach: Makaleha Beach
Drive west on Farrington Highway away from Haleiwa and in about 10 minutes you’ll reach a dirt path with a blue sign that says, “public right of way to the beach.” For a while I was calling this “Driftwood Beach” because of the gorgeous pieces of giant driftwood strewn along it. After further inspection on Google Maps, I’ve discovered the real name is Makaleha Beach. It’s adjacent to the Hawaii Polo Club and if you’re lucky you might spot horses grazing along the trail. There are no lifeguards on duty at this beach and it’s usually secluded except for a few local fishermen or sunbathers.
After long days of beaching and eating, crash at the Courtyard Marriott North Shore, which opened in June 2015. Just opposite the beach and centrally located right next to the Polynesian Cultural Center, it’s an affordable and cozy place to call home on the North Shore.
What are your favorite beaches and restaurants on Oahu and why?