They are a little hidden away. But if you are in the know, and you want to see places that many travelers to Hawaii miss completely, you will be able to experience world class beaches and surf spots second to none. And all of this is only 1-2 hours from Honolulu, depending on how you want to drive it.
As you travel north through the island, you’ll pass pineapple plantations, sugar cane fields, hills, valleys and towns, and in the near distance you will see the North Shore of Oahu, rimmed with blue ocean and wide stretches of sandy beach.
First stop, the historic town of Haleiwa. Home to Haleiwa Beach Park and Ali’i Beach Park, these are among the very few beaches on the North Shore that are usually good for swimming in both summer and winter. If you are lucky, you’ll catch a menehune surf contest! There is a lot to do in Haleiwa, but we are going to the beach! So keep heading up Highway 83, (Kamehameha Hwy), cross the Anahulu Bridge heading northeast, and you are off to he next awesome destination.
Laniakea and Chun‘s Reef are the next most popular stops. These beaches are not great for swimming but are great for surfing…and for a good show.
Back on Kam Hwy, you’ll see a bridge that crosses over the Waimea River delta. To your right is Waimea Falls Park and to your left is legendary Waimea Bay. In case it needs any further description beyond its name, this bay, at the right time of year, boasts the biggest waves consistently anywhere in the world, it is home to a mean shorebreak of 30 footers and is a popular spot to get some sun, (if you are lucky to have a dry day), and surf, (pros only)! Waimea is a popular spot in the summer, crowded and fun, if you like that sort of thing. But in the winter, if you are not a strong swimmer, it is even recommended that you stay off the beach, as a monster wave could sneak up on you much further up the beach than you’d ever expect.
Next is KeWaena Beach, (home to popular breaks Log Cabins and Off the Wall).
The following beaches, Three Tables Beach, (named for 3 flat sections of reef visible at low tide), Shark’s Cove and Pupukea, are all exceptional spots for snorkeling and scuba diving in the summer. Pupukea Beach Park is a Marine Life Conservation District…simply put, the water and beach are protected. Nothing must be taken or destroyed. Nothing.
Keep heading northeast and keep an eye out on the shore to the left. Look out for Ke Nui Road which runs parallel to Kam Hwy…Ehukai Beach is what you are looking for and Ke Nui Road is the only access road. Another major surf spot, and if you look just about 100 yards to the left of Ehukai Beach and see nearly perfectly formed tubes, you are looking at Pipeline. Helmets are a good idea here if you plan to take it on, and unless you are among the best surfers in the world, just stay onshore, have a seat in the soft, deep sand, and enjoy the fantastic display of man and nature. Ehukai is also home to Gas Chambers, a lesser surf break, but a North Shore break nonetheless. Thus, still very significant.
Next is Sunset Beach. A great place to swim, (summer), and surf but be very careful. Most North Shore beaches are very steep and the water gets deep very quickly or is deceivingly shallow. Don’t let the shallow water fool you, as a wave many times higher than it is deep could come upon you without warning, and the sea floor could be lined with coral. In fact, some of the largest breaks on the North Shore come down on a reef shelf.
When in Hawaii or in open water anywhere in the world, it is always important to remember the number one rule: never turn your back on the ocean.
Velzyland is another spectator-only beach, unless you want to take on the dangerous surf. But take heart. The calm waters of Turtle Bay, (Kuilima Cove), are just up the road and you can almost be assured of a safe dip in the sea. In fact, Kuilima Cove and Haleiwa’s beaches are the only consistently winter-safe beaches for swimming.
The relentless pounding of the enormous surf on the North Shore has created gorgeous, deep, wide and steep sloped beaches to enjoy. There are so many others along the way that I have not mentioned – but I can’t give them all away. If you are fortunate enough to make the trip, make sure you make a few stops at the seemingly unmarked beaches. Make your way through the bushes and you might just be awestruck at the beauty you will find.
Driving from Honolulu to the North Shore:
Head West on H1
Follow signs for H1/H2
Take H2 North toward Wahiawa
This becomes Hwy 99 (Kamehameha Hwy)
At Haleiwa, Kam Hwy becomes Hwy 83
Keep the ocean to your left.