Pack your bags—it’s time for an epic drive along Oahu’s iconic North Shore.

By Kait Hanson
May 08, 2019
A campervan along Sunset Beach, Oahu
Onfokus/Getty Images

The world-famous beaches on Oahu’s North Shore are reason enough to visit, but add epic snorkeling, charming coastal towns, and can’t-miss food trucks, restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques, and your reasons runneth over.

Winter may be big-wave season here, but this postcard-perfect coastline is prime for adventure all year. Here’s how to take the perfect North Shore road trip.

Stop 1: Sample Local Flavors in Wahiawa

From Honolulu, head north on the H2 toward the North Shore, and fuel up with local brew at Green World Farms in Wahiawa, a working coffee farm that serves rich blends and fresh pastries.

Less than a mile from Green World is one of Oahu’s most visited attractions, Dole Plantation, where visitors can weave through the world’s largest outdoor maze (aptly shaped like a pineapple) before grabbing a cup of world-famous Dole Whip. This pineapple pit-stop is open from 9:30 - 5:30 daily, but gets pretty crowded so knock it out early, if you can.

Related: The Perfect Weekend on Oahu

Stop 2: Explore Waialua

Turn right out of Dole Plantation and enjoy the view as the North Shore coastline comes into view. Take in the towering Norfolk pines and rows of pineapple and coffee plots before driving over the hill into Waialua, an old sugar mill town that’s now mostly residential, save for a handful of worthy swing-ins.

Key stops in Waialua include Paalaa Kai Bakery for a snow puffie, a flaky pastry filled with cold custard and topped with powdered sugar, and Waialua Sugar Mill, now home to several local businesses, for tours, samples, and souvenirs from vendors.

HPphoto/Getty Images

Stop 3: Stroll Through Charming Hale’iwa

Driving into historic Haleiwa town (pronounced “hah-lay-EE-wah”) is a bit like stepping back in time; plantation-style architecture dominates with its bright colors, simple design, and rustic charm. Park for free behind the Haleiwa Store Lots (marked with bright blue “P” signs) to fully enjoy this pedestrian-friendly stopover. Mom-and-pop businesses abound in this quintessential beach town, but don’t miss:

Number 808: A vintage shop named after the beloved area code that spans the entire state
Clark Little Gallery: Famed shorebreak photographer Clark Little’s slice of photographic paradise
Guava Shop: A beach-forward boutique offering women’s clothing, house wares, and locally-made accessories
Haleiwa Bowls: An acai bowl hot-spot and local favorite. Must-try: Blue Majik Bowl
Beet Box Cafe: A vegetarian food mecca that features everything from donuts to hot sandwiches and breakfast is served all day. Must Try: Mexicali Blues or Bangkok Babe Burger
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice: An iconic spot for shave ice, a Hawaiian specialty dessert, where the winding line is worth the wait. Must Try: Adding a scoop of ice cream under your ice with condensed milk drizzled on top
Haleiwa Beach House: A seaside sit-down serving up fresh fish and locally inspired cuisine. Must Try: Fish and chips

Food trucks are a North Shore staple, and Haleiwa is where these delicious lunch wagons will begin cropping up along the road, many in designated food truck alcoves. Some offer outdoor seating for guests to enjoy their food, so don’t be afraid to saddle up in the sun and enjoy a plate of garlic shrimp or fish tacos.

Stop 4: Take a Hike

When the time comes to stretch your legs, these two short but gratifying hikes, further up Kamehameha Highway along Oahu’s North Shore, should be on your pit-stop list.

Waimea Falls: Hikers of all skill levels can enjoy Waimea Falls, a botanical park located across the street from renowned Waimea Bay. Around 2 miles out and back, the tropical flora and fauna of Oahu surround a simple walking trail that leads to Waimea Falls, a 30-foot waterfall, and a run-off pool below that offers visitors the opportunity to cool off and take a dip. Admission is $17 for adults, with discounted admission for seniors, children, and military. Be sure to keep an eye open for peacocks that roam the grounds.

Ehukai Pillbox: The Ehukai Pillbox Hike is a short, uphill walk marked by historic World War II bunkers that were once used to scan for enemy attacks. The hike’s entrance is located across the street from Sunset Beach, and a muddy trail with a few built-in stairs leads to captivating views of the famed Banzai Pipeline where surfing champions like Kelly Slater hit the waves each winter.

Sunset Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu
zhuzhu/Getty Images

Stop 5: Hit the Beach

Head for Waimea Bay, Three Table’s, or Sunset Beach to soak up some sun and views of cerulean water. Parking will seem intimidating at first, but don't give up. Underwater enthusiasts should grab their gear and hit Shark’s Cove for prime snorkeling and views of Oahu's beautiful sea life like sea turtles and butterfly fish. Hit up the Aji Limo food truck adjacent to Shark’s Cove for a Hawaiian specialty: poké bowls.

Sunset at Turtle Bay
s_gibson/Getty Images

Stop 6: Catch the Sunset with a Cocktail

End the day by parking your car at Turtle Bay Resort. You might recognize the scenery, as it’s been the setting for over 150 different television shows and movies, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Head straight to the pool bar and order up a Monkey’s Lunch, equal parts Bailey’s and Kahlua blended with a whole banana and ice, making sure to grab a table with ocean views for Mother Nature’s nightly watercolor session in the sky.

Beach time? Check. Hikes? Double check. Local food that doesn’t cost a fortune? Triple check. The North Shore of Oahu offers something for every type of traveler, so whether you’re seeking sun and sand or an epic adventure, the open road awaits.