Travelogue: North Shore, Oahu

When we visited Oahu for the first time, two years ago, we fell in love its North Shore and vowed to come back for a longer stay. For this visit, we rented a house for five nights, just beyond Pupukea Beach Park and it did not disappoint.

Much of what we did was repeat the things we most enjoyed on our previous visit, but there was some pleasure in feeling like we were returning to a familiar place—we felt very little pressure to see and do everything. Here’s how we spent the time instead…

Our favorite stretch of the North Shore had been a snorkeling spot called Shark’s Cove (Pupukea Beach Park), and so I used that to search available rentals on AirBnB. We happened to find a place just steps from the cove, with a view that looked out to the ocean. I recall pulling up and stepping out of the car, getting that first impression of the setting, and literally exclaiming “Wow.” There’s only one resort that I know of on the North Shore—Turtle Bay—so home and apartment rentals are the way most visitors go. It’s also commonly visited as a daytrip from Waikiki, and you definitely notice the ebb and flow of people if you’re driving the main road.

Shark’s Cove sits between the big wave surf spots of Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline—its giant winter swells coming about in part due to the way the currents meet the reef, swell refraction. As one walks carefully over very sharp and brittle rocks to get to the water, its wild to think about the risk one takes in wipeout around these reefs. In the summer, however, you can explore with water shoes. Hudson went nuts looking in every crevice for crabs. I definitely felt the rubber of my sandals getting stuck on points now and then as we followed after.

We spent that first night watching the colors of sky change and the sun went below the horizon. In the dimming light, the lava rocks look otherworldly—like something from space.

Every morning we’d set off the same way, and head to the cove for snorkeling. It’s definitely a rare treat to find such good spots directly offshore at a popular area. Indeed, some entry-points along the rocks can grow crowded by the afternoon, but the water never felt so. In fact I was sometimes grateful for fellow snorkelers as I rounded the point and looked out into the blue.

There are little tidepools around the edges of the deeper cove that are great for small kids, and we spent plenty of time in those, just looking at sea snails and passing fish. But this time we also got to go out as a family, with Skyler riding atop a boogie board she could peek off of every now and then.

She was so cool about it—wanting to put her head in the water and even swim off the board by herself (always with a floatie, of course).

Hudson really showed his strengths as a swimmer on this trip. He was in the water as often as possible, diving down and surfacing again, always with a new discovery. If you didn’t spot him immediately, you just had to look down. We have an easy-clearing snorkel for kids, and that certainly helps.

He loved going down and carefully picking up a sea cucumber or urchin on occasion to show to Skyler—we were mindful that he never touched the coral. Skyler kept asking if she could kiss things. “I kiss it? I kiss it?”

The best discovery was whenever we’d come across a green sea turtle. They crossed our paths many times, and every time is as exciting as the last. They’re just incredible!

There’s a bike path that stretches along much of the North Shore—between Pupukea and Sunset Beach—and our hosts had bikes for us to borrow.

We rode them back to the permanent installation of food trucks—shrimp plates, tacos, thai food, and the like—that sits directly opposite Shark’s Cove. And a grocery store with a Coffee Bean next door. We picked up some items and rode back home before repeating the exact same combination of activities in the afternoon:

Snorkeling in the cove followed by dinner at the food trucks across the street. This time we just walked across the street.

After dark, they showed a surfing movie on one of the walls and the kids ran around behind the projector until it was time for shave ice.

In the mornings we’d stay close to the porch for breakfast. I did my best to pick up the kind of coconut shavings I’d need to emulate the pittaya and Açai bowls served around the island.

The kids counted geckos (some which paid us visits inside) and look for centipedes; Aron and I spotted two large pods of dolphins swimming offshore.

There were safe places to jump from the rocks into the water around Shark’s Cove, and Hudson and Aron had fun doing that together for the first time. He’s such an adventurous little kid. Aron later recalled that Hudson jumped in and asked Aron to throw him the GoPro so he could take a video of daddy’s jump. They also climbed around finding the caves in the lava tubes. One could see free-divers descending and swimming through with their extra long fins.

On a few occasions we drove into Haleiwa, the main town on the North Shore. Though the traffic got thick at times, it’s a beautiful drive as you look out over Waimea Bay.

We finally tried the famed Matsumoto’s shave ice, waiting a mere 30 minutes in line. I know its blasphemy, but I didn’t really think it was anything particularly special. Granted, shave ice is not my dessert of choice (I’d take a smoothie bowl over it any day), but I thought the spot past Turtle Bay as you head to the Windward coast was better. This came up in the comments on the Waikiki post and there are a couple of recommendations for spots that use real juices and nectars for their syrups. That’s what I’d like to try!

Speaking of smoothie bowls, there were two great stops we tried in Haleiwa. First, pictured, is Haleiwa Bowls. They use an Açai base and had a ton of wonderful topping options. They also serve juices and smoothies. The other is an outpost of Lanikai Juice, which has a huge menu—most exciting of which to me is the Pittaya bowl. It was definitely my favorite of the trip.

Part of the reason for the slow traffic between our area and Haleiwa is a beach frequented by turtles—cars stop along the side of the road as pedestrians dart across to see. We stopped on one occasion and counted at least six eating algae just offshore. Volunteers are nearby to keep them from being hassled and to answer any questions. One woman was so nice as to give Hudson a coloring book about sea turtles, both in Hawaiian and English.

We decided to stay in Haleiwa that evening for dinner. If you were willing to accept a little sun in your eyes, you could easily snag a front row table across from Ali’i beach at The Beach House—so we did just that! Aron and I ordered four or five starters to share and everything was wonderful. There was also a small grass plot just in front of our table where the kids could run about for a bit until it arrived.

When we stood up to leave I realized I had two wet circles on my shirt from my bathingsuit, which was  a bit embarrassing, but it was so nice to just stop where the day took us, when it took us there.

Though every morning started at Shark’s Cove, we would often relocate for the afternoon. Three Tables Beach, so-named because of the flat table-like coral formations in the water in front the beach—is a nice, sandy cove with good snorkeling offshore around the coral. It too is part of a marine conservation district. The currents are a bit more exposed here, but not so much that we couldn’t still head out with the kids. It’s so awesome when you can find a sandy beach with good snorkeling.

Plus, we found it nice to spend part of the day sitting back with beach chairs in the sand.

We also returned to the aptly named Sunset beach. Here, some gratuitous shots of us running in and out of the water. Something about the sky here is magical!

It must be an incredible sight to see 30-foot (and higher) swells along this shore.

With the wind whipping, it’s a little chilly after you get out—but I think they’d agree it was worth it.

Whenever possible, we’d stop along the roads to look around. Red Barn Farmstand, a cooperative farmstand shared by Holoholo general store and Twin Bridge Farms, carried local products and provisions. I brought home some Lilikoi (passionfruit) jam that I’ve been carefully rationing since.

I’ve also been told that, next time, we need to visit Kuhuku Farms—you can take tours or visit the cafe. I now see in retrospect that my beloved jam is made by Kuhuku!

Indulge me: more sunset photos. Can you have too many from Hawaii? (Don’t answer.)

We felt so lucky to be residents off this shore for a few days—it’s such a beautiful place!

There are definitely plenty of things to do that we overlooked on this trip, slowing down and letting the big question be which beach to head to. We caught a few more of these stops perhaps on our last visit—Ted’s Roadside Eatery, Turtle Bay, Kuhuku Shrimp, for example—but I’d love to hear anything else we missed. I always read back through the comments when planning a trip, and I gather that others do, too!

Have you been? What would you recommend? 

Previously: Waikiki, Next stop: Aulani

P.S. More posts on Oahu. Also, Maui and Kauai.










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