A perfect day on O'ahu’s North Shore
You’ve enjoyed city delights in Waikiki and Honolulu – now it’s time to escape to Oʻahu’s North Shore. From sunrise yoga salutations and sips of Hawaiian coffee in charming Haleʻiwa to experiencing a sunset at a sacred heiau (ancient stone temple), a day trip to this laid-back surf haven will have you throwing your worries to the wind.
Morning: sunrise salutations, sharks, and a coastal trek
Hit the road early, cruising into the North Shore just in time for a sunrise yoga session at Turtle Bay Resort. Here, amid the warm tropical breezes, channel your inner yogi and allow the island’s aloha spirit to infuse every breath. Strike your best yoga pose, and sense all stress ebbing away with the tide.
Fully glowing and emanating inner bliss, head down the Kamehameha Hwy to charming Haleʻiwa Town. A tiny enclave that’s home to surfers and friendly laid-back locals, Haleʻiwa features a main street dotted with eclectic cafes, shops, art galleries and boutiques. Stop at the North Shore Marketplace (northshoremarketplacehawaii.com) where, nestled in the corner of this cluster of plantation-style storefronts, is the Coffee Gallery. Order from a menu of scratch-made pastries featuring local fruits, like liliko‘i (passion fruit) and mango muffins or banana chocolate chip bread, as well as the extensive coffee options, beans for which are harvested from all over Hawaii and roasted onsite.
Head west down the main street of Kamehameha Hwy to reach Farrington Hwy, where a right turn will deliver you to coast-hugging Ka‘ena Point Trail. More of a hearty (and flat) nature walk than a grueling mountain trek, this trail’s scenic, ocean-swept views and unique wildlife offer ample eye candy en route – keep your eyes out for nesting Laysan Albatrosses and wedge-tailed Shearwaters, as well as Hawaiian monk seals.
Head out early, as the trail’s name speaks for itself: in Hawaiian, kaʻena means 'the heat.' The often sizzling temperatures and no-shade nature of this 5-mile roundtrip trek will definitely make you sweat. The pinnacle of the trail – Ka‘ena Point – is said to be named after a brother of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, and ancient lore speaks of this sacred spot as the leina a ka ‘uhane (jumping-off place), where departing souls came to leap into the spirit world. Standing here, amid the volcanic crags and coastal beauty, you can almost hear the ancestral whispers wafting across the waters.
Afternoon: mobile manna, glittering bays, and botanical treasures
After such a jam-packed morning, you’ll have worked up an appetite. Whether you are jonesing for a world-famous poke bowl (cubed raw fish, seasoned with sauces), a refreshing acai smoothie or a classic mixed plate lunch, grabbing your ono grinds (good food) to go from any of the area’s myriad food trucks will make for a perfect picnic. Try The Elephant Truck (808elephant.com), a local vendor offering taste-bud-thrilling Thai delights like panang curry and Ganesha pad Thai. And for dessert? A generous slab of something sweet from Ted’s Bakery, a North Shore institution since 1956 – good luck choosing among the house-made flavors including chocolate macadamia nut cream, strawberry guava and coconut haupia.
Once you’ve grabbed your grub, take your edible treasures to enjoy under the sun at Waimea Bay. Spend a moment to recoup from the busy morning. Swim in the sparkling blue waters, jump off iconic Waimea Rock, or, for climbing enthusiasts, try your hand at scrambling up the cluster of onsite crags.
When you’ve had your fill of sunshine and sand, head right across the street to Waimea Valley, where a 1875-acre botanical wonderland awaits. One of the last remaining ahupua‘a (ancient Hawaiian land divisions) on the entire island, this ‘Valley of the Priests’ is considered to be deeply sacred. Daily offerings here include world-class botanical gardens – where a smooth, paved path (1.5 miles round trip) leads you to a 45ft waterfall – as well as numerous cultural activities like hula demonstrations, crafts, storytelling and guided educational tours.
Evening: hilltop sunsets and seaside feasts
Head just up the hill toward Pupukea to catch a spectacular sunset at Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site. The largest heiau on the island, Puʻu o Mahuka is translated as 'Hill of Escape.' According to Hawaiian lore, it is from this point that Pele leaped to neighboring Moloka‘i. It is also apparent that the upper platform found here functioned as a heiau luakini (sacrificial temple). From this historic perch overlooking Waimea Bay, say aloha to the evening while enjoying an unmatched panoramic view of the world-famous Seven Mile Miracle stretch.
Beneath a bright blanket of starlight, make your way back down the hill to Kamehameha Hwy. Head west to Haleiwa Joe's Seafood Grill, where you can wine and dine on the freshest fish (think: steamed opah or pesto crusted salmon) alongside locals who also know where the best fare is found.
Have more time? Try these North Shore activities
This is the surfing capital of the world, so why not catch some waves? Located in the same strip of Haleʻiwa Harbor, Surf 'n' Sea is a local outfitter that offers daily surf lessons onsite. With every bit of equipment provided, all that’s required of you is to show up ready to shred.
Located in the heart of Haleʻiwa at the small boat harbor, Hawaii Shark Encounters (hawaiisharkencounters.com) offers visitors a rare opportunity to swim with the (big) fishes, but all within the safety of a steel cage. Led by knowledgeable, local guides, swimmers can enjoy up-close encounters with Galapagos, sandbar and tiger sharks, while learning interesting facts about the species. Safe and eco-friendly, with protection of you and the sharks as the utmost priority, this excursion offers thrills and a unique insight into the true nature of these often misunderstood creatures.
If you're looking to get up out of the water – like way, way up – how about soaring through the Hawaiian skies, flying above the tropical clouds at speeds of 120mph? Located right at Dillingham Airfield on Farrington Hwy, Skydive Hawaii (skydivehawaii.com) promises the most exciting and fun island excursion you’ll experience yet, as well as one heck of a story to share when you arrive back home. Splurge for the video experience and take home a souvenir live action flick of your smiling – and screaming – mug to remember your flight. And don’t forget to enjoy every moment of those million dollar views of the North Shore’s pristine coastline and crystal waters as you cruise descend.
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