Our favorite part of Oahu is the famed North Shore. It is the perfect compliment to the hustle and bustle of urban Waikiki! From fun food trucks to awesome activities, and an adorable town (Haleiwa), the North Shore has enough things to do that you could fill an entire Hawaiian vacation there. That being said, we suggest visiting the North Shore at least once while you are in Oahu. Check out our favorite day trip activities to the North Shore for inspiration! Each of these activities should fit into about half a day (we suggest picking two activities for your time on the North Shore so you have a morning and an afternoon activity).
Check Out Haleiwa, the best town on the North Shore
Haleiwa is the main town on the North Shore. This awesome town offers plenty of surf stores, food trucks, and souvenir shops. Make sure to park in the center of town (we suggest the parking lot where the Patagonia store is), and wander through a variety of name brand stores such as Volcom, plus the many mom-and-pop shops scattered around town.
Unless your afternoon plans include the Polynesian Cultural Center, we suggest eating lunch in Haleiwa. Our favorite options are either Beach House or Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. Our go-to place in Haleiwa for lunch is Beach House, since it is a great water-front option. While it may be a bit of a wait for a table (around 20 minutes), it is worth it! Teriyaki Beef plates and Kalua Pork sandwiches are awesome, plus the restaurant offers a whole list of different Hawaiian-inspired menu options. We also loved the restaurant’s beach-front view and cool breezes!
We also love stopping at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (Haleiwa location) for a low-key lunch. Giovanni’s is famous for its garlic shrimp lunch plates. Giovanni’s is parked next to a few other food trucks (including a shaved ice truck and a crêpe truck as of January 2020), making it a great place to stop where the whole family can find something they like. Picnic tables are available to eat your meal at once you have ordered from the food trucks!
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
Located on the Eastern side of the North Shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a fun way to learn about Polynesian culture and Polynesian Islands. Island Villages throughout the Center offer shows and activities about different Island groups in Polynesia. These Island Villages represent several regions including: Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa, Tonga, and Fiji.
Each Village’s show teaches elements of that region’s culture, including traditional dances, and historical aspects of daily life (such as how to start a fire, climb a coconut tree, or make coconut milk). Plus, you can get involved in several hands-on activities, such as ukelele lessons, canoe rides, and weaving tutorials.
Since reopening after COVID-19, the Cultural Center adjusted their hours and now opens at 12:45 p.m., making it an afternoon-only activity. However, the Hukilau Marketplace opens at 11:00, and is a great place for lunch before you enter the park. The Marketplace offers a large restaurant, several cute Food Trucks, and some fun Hawaiian souvenir stores, so make sure to budget some time to look around here! The Hukilau Marketplace is located between the parking lot and the main entrance to the Island Villages.
While the activities in the Island Villages will fill your afternoon, the Center also offers some evening extensions. Evening options include luaus, buffets, and the grand evening show called the “Ha Breath of Life” Show. Be sure to plan your whole day before buying tickets, since evening activities can be packaged with Island Village tickets. For more information about the Polynesian Cultural Center, check out their website.
Kayak on the Anahulu River in Haleiwa
This is probably our favorite activity on the North Shore! Located in the heart of Haleiwa is the Anahulu River. This calm waterway is perfect for kayaking! You can rent single kayaks, double kayaks, and paddleboards from Surf N Sea, a surf store located on the beach. From the store, paddle into the bay, and then take a U turn around the sand bar to start up the river. While on the river, you get to cross under Haleiwa’s landmark bridge and paddle past several fields and waterfront homes. Plus, you possibly get to see some sea turtles (at certain times of the year)!
Depending on the water levels, you can usually paddle up to the third bridge (at certain water levels, you can get past the bridge, but the river rocks are very shallow, so we don’t suggest it). In all, this should take about an hour to paddle up and back. However, we suggest floating back downriver (even if it takes a little longer, the peaceful journey is worth it). Plus, its easier to see sea turtles if you are stirring the water with your paddle!
Ask the employees at Surf N Sea for specific suggestions about how far to go up-river. You can check out more information about rental rates here.
Horseback Ride on the North Shore
If your family has ever wanted to horseback ride, we would highly suggest riding while on the North Shore! The Turtle Bay Stables offer private and group trail rides along the ocean and under massive banyan trees. The views are spectacular, and our guide was nice enough to take pictures of our family throughout the ride. Be sure to schedule this a few weeks before your trip, since they can book out.
We suggest picking either an early morning or late afternoon ride so that it is not as hot (plus, it allows you to have the other half of the day free to explore other parts of the North Shore)! Also make sure to wear jeans/long pants and closed toed shoes because of the saddle and being around the horses.
Hike the North Shore’s Waimea Valley
Located just past Haleiwa is Waimea Valley. For our family, we loved seeing the botanical gardens and the waterfall. The best part of Waimea Valley is the hiking trail: a fully paved ¾ mile trail (each way) that leads from the parking lot to the waterfall. The trail is stroller friendly (although it may be a little difficult for wheelchair accessibility due to some steep hills).
For those who cannot walk to the falls, you can upgrade your ticket to utilize the golf cart shuttle system. Once you reach the waterfall, go for a swim! (Lifejackets are provided and required to be worn, swimming permitted based on the weather/water levels.) Here is the map of the botanical gardens (located around the hiking path). You can purchase tickets in-person or online in advance.
See the Dole Pineapple Plantation on the North Shore
Dole Plantation is located about 10 minutes away from Haleiwa. While it isn’t the top of our must-do list for the North Shore, it’s a classic stop. Plus, Dole offers some family-friendly options including a huge (3 acre) hedge maze (considered the “World’s Largest Maze” when it was finished in 2008), and the 20-minute long Pineapple Express Train Tour. Additionally, a store and Grill restaurant offer plenty of pineapple-inspired merchandise and food. Dole opens at 9:00 a.m. with attractions opening at 9:30. If you do go, try to get there right at the Plantation’s opening, and get in line for the train first (if you go at mid-day, the train line can be 2+ hours long…). This can be a fun early morning stop for families during your day on the North Shore!