The North Shore of Oahu is home to some of the most famous and beautiful beaches in the world. About an hour’s drive from Honolulu, the North Shore is also more relaxed and less congested than Hawaii’s biggest city. It truly has a hang-loose island vibe to it. Spend a week or even a day there and you will feel like you’ve gotten away from the madding crowd and done something special. Most special of all are these three dream North Shore beaches eminently worth visiting:
Waimea Bay is the locals’ beach where native Hawaiians and longtime residents go to catch some rays in summer and roll around in the warm and gorgeous turquoise waters. It is, as its name says, a small bay, with the sand forming a lovely curving shape along the water. To the left as you look out towards the Pacific, there is a bulky rock formation tall enough and big enough to jump off safely into the surf. For many travelers the rock jump at Waimea has become an item on their bucket list, an experience they must have at least once.
There are picnic tables and a grassy area with restrooms and outdoor showers. Parking is tight. Likely you will find a spot for your car on the Kamehameha Highway that runs alongside the beach. Very close by is Waimea Valley with its botanical gardens full of rare and exotic tropical plants. Follow a pathway up through the gardens and in less than a mile you will reach a waterfall and fresh water pond where you can swim.
Except perhaps for Waimea Bay, the Banzai Pipeline is the most storied surfing spot in the world. Also one of the most dangerous. This is not a place for swimming because the surf can be big and rough here, even in summer. Like all the beaches on the North Shore, indeed all of Hawaii, strong currents and riptides can overwhelm you in places if you’re not careful. Waves can knock you off your feet even when you’re just noodling your toes in the surf.
That being said, the Pipeline—or simply “the Pipe,” as surfers call it—is one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth to see the power of Mother Nature in all her oceanic glory. Spread out your towel, kick back and enjoy the show as surfers test their skills and cojones on waves that can rise as tall as three-story buildings in winter.
Banzai’s formal name is Ehukai Beach. Parking is, of course, at a premium; park on the Kam Highway and walk in. Food trucks are often set up there to satisfy your cravings for shave ice and shrimp plates.
Sunset Beach is the third in this trio of glorious North Shore beaches that have inspired songs by Jimmy Buffett, the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and others. All are close to each other as well, with Sunset right next to Ehukai. It, too, is a world-class surfing spot, serving as one leg in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing held every year in November and December. Banzai is another site in the competition.
Unlike Banzai, however, you can swim at Sunset and feel good about it. Check that: you will feel very good about it. The ocean is Cezanne blue, the sands are white and gleaming and heck, there’s even parking! Well, there is never enough of that as one would like on the North Shore, but because Sunset is long—seven miles—there are more places to find spots here. After beaching it all day head down to nearby Haleiwa Town for dinner and drinks. On the way you may even see a Hawaiian green turtle lounging on the beach by the road enjoying the sun.