Since the 1950s, the spectacular surf breaks along Oahu’s North Shore have been attracting surfers from all over the world, as well as local experts. A surf community has grown up around the popular culture, headquartered in historic Haleiwa. Growing numbers of surfers, windsurfers, kite surfers and stand-up paddlers seek out wave action from Mokuleia and Waimea to Sunset Beach and Kahuku. Vast fields of pineapple and open views of the Waianae Mountain Range are all part of the area’s charm.
Oahu’s North Shore is the mecca of big-wave surfing, but the coastline also has a kinder, gentler side, when the giant surf isn’t pounding the shore. From Kualoa Regional Park, Kamehameha Highway (Highway 83) hugs the Windward coast, taking travelers through the sleepy, old beach towns of Kaaawa, Punaluu, Hauula, Laie and Kahuku, before reaching Sunset Beach, home of some of the world’s largest surfable waves.
This drive begins in Kaneohe, a bedroom community centered around placid Kaneohe Bay, with calm, shallow waters favored by sailboat enthusiasts. Drivers who follow Kamehameha Highway through Kaneohe can visit its malls and pick up refreshments for the North Shore drive. This route passes Heeia State Park and Ulumau Village, with views of the shoreline and an ancient fishpond. Kahekili Highway bypasses Kaneohe and reconnects with Kamehameha Highway at Kahaluu. A favorite stop along this route is Byodo-In Temple, an exact replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan. Admission is charged.
Several community beach parks are interspersed along this coastline, including Kahana Bay Beach Park and Malaekahana State Recreation Area. On weekdays, the parks are quiet spots to have roadside picnics or take snapshots, while on weekends, local folks pack the parks, coming from all over the island to set up camp, barbecue, fish and swim with family and friends.
From November through March, Oahu’s North Shore booms with giant surf created by storms as far away as Alaska, and the roadside from Sunset Beach to Haleiwa Alii Beach Park is lined with cars filled with spectators who have come to watch the world’s best big-wave surfers. While the winter surf is off limits for most of us, there are still plenty of options year-round for visitors who enjoy the active life.
To fully experience the culture of the North Shore, be sure to visit the various shopping centers in Haleiwa, the heartbeat of the North Shore community. The shops and restaurants offer great gifts and delicious fare, Stroll among the plantation-era buildings and find treasures to take home for family and friends.
Historic Haleiwa is always the culmination of any North Shore trip. At Haleiwa’s 80-year-old landmark bridge, which crosses Anahulu Stream, stop for a few photos, maybe with the harbor and adjoining beach in the background. There are some memorable sunsets to be seen on the North Shore, especially at this harbor. Haleiwa Town was originally home to ancient Hawaiian communities that once lived along Anahulu Stream, and Hawaiian royalty came here to vacation in the summer months, relaxing on the beaches and enjoying the cooler trade winds, as folks still do today.
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