Live like a Local… on the North Shore, Hawaii!

While the summer is still with us for a tiny bit, we like to use the time to daydream about being a local in one of our dream destinations of all times, beautiful Hawaii…  

Words Posy Dixon, images John Hook

The North Shore is one of the world’s most famous surf spots. Loosely comprised of 12 miles of the NW coast of Oahu, Hawaii, the shoreline stretches from small-town Haleiwa in the west to Kuilima Bay in the east. It may be crowded, but nothing can take away from the North Shore’s unique history and culture, which has allowed it to stand the test of time against the insane march of tourism. The area is known for fierce localism with gangs such as «Da Hui», taking on the influx of «Haole» (white) surfers, but most of this is myth and as long as you’re respectful of both the locals and the ocean, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Visit in the summer months for a quieter vibe, mill pond waters and long empty beaches, or choose winter and get involved with the surf circus as people flock to ride the winter swell. Either way you’ll be rewarded with soft air, clean water, delicious fresh fruit and seafood, and although it seems naff to say it, it really is true, a warm Aloha from the Hawaiian Isles.


The North Shore is all about surf, and even if you’re not a surfer yourself, there’s still a lot to enjoy as a spectator. In the winter months the swell hits hard, creating world famous breaks at Sunset Beach, Pipeline and the mighty Waimea Bay. Though unless you’re pretty shit hot, these are probably best left to the professionals. As a visitor stick your head into the Haleiwa Surf ‘n Sea shop for a surf-spot map. It’s also a good place to hire boards or pick up a lesson or two. Do treat the ocean with utmost respect, the rip tides are strong and the surf is temperamental so only go in where you feel confident and obey the lifeguards and flags. They are there for a reason.

For beachside entertainment check out the stream of international surf events that take over the area from the end of November to mid December, the Triple Crown comps being the cream of the crop.

The daddy of all happenings, however, is the Eddie Aikau memorial, a competition held in honour of Eddie, prolific waterman and Waimea bay’s first ever lifeguard who drowned in 1978 while trying to save a stranded boat. The Eddie holding period spans early December to late Feburary and the invitiational comp is only held at Waimea when swell reaches a clean 25 foot and above. As a result the event generally only occurs a few times a decade, if you’re lucky enough to catch it you’ll join thousands on the beach to watch the jaw-dropping show.

Eating and drinking

Surfing makes you hungry, and Americans like food, hence eateries play a much bigger role on the North Shore than drinking establishiments. First up for a healthy breakfast – grab a wheatgrass, banana, papaya and coconut smoothie from the Waialua Bakery in Haleiwa which should set you up for the day.

For the midday meal you have to get involved in the Hawaiian tradition of a plate lunch. This comes in a styrofoam compartmentalized box and will feature one hunk of meat or fish, one scoop of rice, and a scoop of potato salad, a carb overload that will easily feed you for lunch and dinner. Ted’s Bakery down at Sunset is a good spot to try one of these, and pick up a legendary cream pie while you’re there.

Another relatively new (but cherished) addition to the area is the Impossible Pizza Truck that docks up on the Kamehimeaha freeway just west of Foodland. Sold by the slice, or the pizza, the loaded bases are cooked fresh to demand, ring in your order ahead or be prepared to wait for the goods. Other local specialities include garlic shrimp at Giovannues Shrimp Truck at the entry to Kahuku, and the multi-coloured sweet surprise that is Shave Ice. Queue up outside Matsumotos in Haleiwa for the real deal.


The North Shore’s not exactly a shopping mecca, unless you’re after surf gear or Hawaiiana tack. The town of Haleiwa is awash with surf shops, art dealers (mostly selling photo-real dolphin scenes) and the odd hippy clothing store. Surf n’ Sea and the Quiksilver shop are both worth popping your head into, as is the Patagonia shop in the North Shore Market Place.

Every Saturday morning from 8am you can visit the North Shore Farmers’ Market located in the car park of Sunset Beach elementary school. It’s turned into quite a tourist destination over recent years but it’s worth going to pick up local Pupukea Garden greens, cherry tomatoes and papaya seed dressing. There’s also some nice local jewellery on sale and a lady that sells bad-ass bannana cake.


Despite incessant buiding and property development on the North Shore, there are still a few patches of unspoilt land that remind you of what this area really is, «the countryside». If you want to get away from the madness hike to Kaena Point, the far western tip of the island, where you can spy on the nesting albatross and watch for breaching wales.

If you want to learn a bit about Hawaiian culture while avoiding the really touristy stuff check out Waimea Valley. The 1875-acre valley is traditionally sacred to Hawaiian culture. Visit with a picnic, get lost and educate yourself about Hawaiian culture, or simply soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a swim in the waterfall at the end, Other activites to try include the awesome bowls at the Banzi skate park and renting a bike for your visit, there’s a five mile bike path ideal for avoiding slow buses and traffic jams. A final tip for those lacking aquatic confidence, if the swell is up but you fancy a swim, the coved beach at the Turtle Bay Hotel resort is open to the public, and provides a sweet respite for a leisurely paddle.


If you’re planning a lengthy stay on the North Shore it’s worth trying to rent room off a local, to avoid tourist prices and enjoy the pleasure of staying with someone who knows the ropes. Check out options on Craigslist, or once you’ve landed try the notice board at the Foodland supermarket, where rooms are often advertised.

The only hostel on the North Shore is the Backpackers Plantation Village. Dirt cheap dorm rooms and self-contained huts in a relaxed and friendly surroundings, just be prepared for the occasional cockroach!

For those who like their creature comforts the Turtle Bay Hotel resort, although a little sterile, does offer beachside villas that are surprisingly good value if you pack them full of friends.

Rough spend

Room – 15€ – 85€ /night
Beer – 3€
Bike hire – 15€ day
Average meal – 10 €
Board Rental –5€ hour

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.