North Shore Oahu Travel Guide - Best North Shore Beaches

July 23, 2018

North Shore Oahu Travel Guide - Best North Shore Beaches

Aloha, E komo mai
Greetings, and Welcome!

There are a lot of reasons why we love the North Shore at Foterra: the beaches and hikes make for great photo missions, the relaxed vibe, the fresh food. It’s also where we (founders, Morgan and Josh) got married! We’ve created a four part travel guide so that you can get the most of your trip to one of of Oahu’s gems. Eat. Explore. And be prepared to fall a little bit in love with this place.

RULE # 1: USE SUNSCREEN. Like, on Day 1. Now. Don’t forget to use it. Don’t purposely NOT use it to get an early “base” tan to build upon; base tans are a myth started by Big Aloe to create a market for crispy consumers desperately seeking relief. You will fry yourself and ruin your week. Get the back of your legs. Get your shoulders. Let someone else get your back (don’t ask your friend who is naturally tan and doesn’t burn. They don’t understand that you apply sunscreen like you spread mayonnaise on a sandwich: generously and with no dry bites.) Put it on multiple times per day. Don’t be a lobster. Also, you’re too old to treat your skin like that.

Looking for the best reef safe sunscreen? Check out this handy guide! 

Reef Safe Sunscreen in Hawaii

**fun fact: those with a propensity to develop freckles and moles can sometimes grow benign wart-like lumps called barnacles on areas of damaged skin, so if you want to have skin like a real mermaid, by all means, apply that SPF 0.

RULE # 2: Don’t leave stuff lying around in your cars - this is bait for a break in. Especially don’t leave tour books lying around. Even if you are hapless and not-street-savvy as Kimmy Schmidt, don’t let potential thieves know that; she may be unbreakable, your car locks are not. Put everything in your trunk.

Rule # 3: Lock your rental house and bungalows when you’re gone. You may think because you are in a fantastically beautiful place that nobody would dare wander in your house and take your goods….but you’d be wrong. Everyone knows which places are the rental spots. And remember, all beaches are public so anyone may come wandering up when you ain’t lookin’. Just a tip.

*Try not to be in a rush driving. It’s frustrating sometimes, as drivers here can be overly nice and disrupt the flow of traffic. Plus, there’s a lot of people on this island and a lot of them head up to da country (North Shore) on the weekends, so expect to creep rather than speed along the closer you get to Haleiwa. If people are nice to you while driving (let you merge etc), feel free to flash your best shaka!

Hawaiian Shaka

*Be careful out there. During the summer months, the waves are minimal to nonexistent on the North Shore and you can safely enjoy some nice swimming and snorkeling. That being said, if you are hanging around the water's edge, especially on rocks or in tide pools, keep your eyes on the ocean. You never know. Rogue waves happen, injuries happen. Watch out for your buddies in the water. Don’t snorkel, dive, or hike alone. Got it, city slickers?

Snorkeling and Swimming

If you can look at your map and find a beach and not have to trespass on private property to get there, go for it. I’ll list some favorites below, but feel free to use your Google Maps on your phone and explore. We like to use the satellite feature to look at the rock/reef structure in the water beyond the beach to see where we may want to snorkel. Also look for clear water on the map, free from the freshwater from the rivers which will look brown.

There is a place to rent snorkels and fins just south of Ke’iki Beach, right across the street from Shark’s Cove. If you walked to Foodland, you went too far. Sorry, I cannot find the name of the place online, but it’s there next to Shark’s Cove Grille. You can also rent from Surf N’ Sea in Haleiwa town or if you are staying at a hotel in town, you can have gear delivered to you through this website:

Hawaii Beach Time Outdoor Gear Delivery

MASK: Make sure the mask fits by holding the mask up to your face without strapping the strap around the back of your head. Suck in through your nose. If you have a good seal, the mask stays on, and if you don’t feel any pain from the mask pushing against your forehead above your nose, you are good to go! You may want to grab some anti-fog….though you can also use dilute baby shampoo as well. And believe it or not spit works well as a defogger in a pinch! 

SNORKEL: Make sure you can breath easily and that there’s a good attachment to your mask’s head strap.

FINS: Put your mask and snorkel on FIRST. Then go in the water, situate yourself, start breathing through your snorkel, sit down or float when you are clear of obstacles, and put on your fins in the water. It’s difficult and sometimes dangerous to put on your fins first, then navigate sand and the rocks looking like a drunken penguin. Plus, you’ll get all sorts of sand up in your fins. Plus, you’ll clearly identify as someone who does not know what they’re doing.

North Shore Oahu Map
Ke’iki Beach - Good chilling and swimming. There’s not much reef to snorkel, but some fish hang around the lava rock structure on the south point of the beach.

Heading South and west of Ke’iki...
Shark’s Cove - This is one of the premier snorkeling spots on Oahu. It’s part of a marine conservation area, so no fishing, thus lots of fish to see. There are two snorkeling options:
1) A semi-circle of a rock forms a giant protected tide pool. It’s nice to swim around here to get used to your mask and snorkel, plus there’s lots of little fish hanging out. The water isn’t too deep, so if your not super comfortable in the water, this is a great place to get used to being in the ocean.
2) If you are looking at the big tide pool, just to the right is a more open area leading out to the ocean. There’s really nice snorkeling here - big rocks, reef, and fish (and sometimes turtles.) There are some really beautiful rock structures if you keep heading out to the ocean along the rocks to the right. You can swim all the way back to Ke’iki beach if you want! This place is worth a good long swim.

Three Tables - Great chillin’, nice snorkeling. Three tables refers to the three table-like rock structures in the water beyond the beach. This is also part of the marine conservation district, so there are lots of fish, especially around the structures.

Waimea Bay - Great chillin’, snorkeling, and rock jumping. This is maybe THE classic North Shore beach: just a beautiful, sparkling bay. Parking can be a pain in the tiny lot, but you may get lucky. If not, you can also try to park in the church parking lot on the north side of the bay or in the Waimea Valley Parking lot, though both will have a fee. This is a wonderful place to plop down with a cooler and hang for hours. Jump off the rock with all the kids - maybe about a 20 foot jump (but note that it’s not super deep...maybe 10 feet or so.) To the south, on the other side of the rock, are some pretty cool structures to snorkel around. Believe it or not, if the conditions are just right, this is where the hugest waves on the island can happen in the winter - 40+ foot faces.

Waimea Bay

Laniakea Beach, or “Turtle Beach” - This is where the sea turtles, “honu”, are always hanging out. There will be conservation folks around to make sure you and other tourists don’t get too close these glorious creatures, but definitely go check it out. You can snorkel here, too, and they’ll likely be some in the water. Parking is ridiculous here and this is a major source of traffic on the North Shore. It’s been alleviated somewhat with an ugly concrete barrier to prevent a ton of people from parking here and blocking traffic. Either park before the barrier on the side of the road, or after, and walk to the beach….notice the rocks along the north part of the beach almost look like big turtle shells - I like to think the turtles like this place for camouflage.

Papailoa Beach, or “Lost Beach” - A great beach for sunset strolls. Just south of Lanikea beach look for Papailoa Road, cruise down this super cool (though pricey) neighborhood until you find the parking area for the beach access. Head to beach and make a left. A bit of a walk down is where the Lost folks set up their camp. This is a beautiful spot with big rock structures. Turtles also like to hang way to left on the point - but that’s a longish stroll. Beautiful.

Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park - This nice grassy park and relaxing beach is a great place to watch the sunset after dinner in Haleiwa. This is also a great place to paddle board (SUP). If you have a hammock, there are plenty of palm trees to string them up. You might even spot a turtle or two.

Mokuleia Beach - This is a long stretch of beach that makes up the northwest shore of oahu. We like the spot just beyond Dillingham Airfield (look on Google Maps). There’s some cool structure to swim around if the water visibility is good. Its rugged out here, no facilities, although you can cruise to the official Mokuleia Beach Park to use the potty (this particular section of the beach isn’t as good for swimming/snorkeling, so its better to use as a pit stop before going elsewhere). You’ll have gliders and skydivers over your head all day while you’re here.

Heading North and East of Ke’iki Beach...
Ehukai Beach Park - This is a great spot for chillin’ and swimming. In the winter, this is the home of the legendary surf break called “Banzai Pipeline,” or “Pipe,” for those in the know. In the summer, though, it’s just another serene beach park to relax in.

Sunset Beach Park - Much like Ehukai, this is a world famous surf spot, which becomes a lovely place to hang to be in the summer when the water is calm.

Sunset Beach Park Oahu
Kawela Bay - This is a bit of a hidden gem, an interesting spot to check out. If you Google Map “Kawela Camp Rd” and see where it intersects Kamehameha Hwy (the main drag), you want to park around here on the side of the road. There’s also a fruit stand there. Then, you pretty much just trespass any way you can and head through the “jungle” out to the bay. There won’t be many, if any, people there. Some Lost scenes were filmed in these woods - maybe you’ll find a huge banyan you can hide in when the polar bear attacks. We found some okay snorkeling at the left mouth of the bay.

Kuilima Cove Resort at Turtle Bay - There is public parking here in the resort and anyone can go snorkel. It’s a protected little cove that has a lot of fish and a nice rock structure to check out.

La’ie Beach Park - This is a prime spot to chill and take in the nice ocean views. The beach is technically on the east side of the island, but I love this spot. It offers a great view of the Ko’olau mountains southward down the east side while you swim. Locals call this place “Pounders,” as the waves often pound against the rock structure on the south point of the beach. It can be a good spot to body surf, although it might take a bit of luck in the summer when the swells are low. 

Pounders North Shore Oahu

Now that we have the beaches covered, we will move on to the land with some of the best hikes the North Shore has to offer. Stay tuned for part two of our North Shore Travel Guide

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