Jumping Rock at Waimea Bay aerial view

Waimea Bay, a big-surf spot in the winter, is an excellent swimming beach in the summer. (Photo: Getty Images)


Surfs Up: Road Trip from Waikiki to Oahu’s North Shore

Waikiki hosts the bulk of visitors to Oahu — and for good reason, with its stellar hotels, endless variety of restaurants and world-famous beach. But Waikiki isn’t the end of the story. If you hop in a car and head north on an Oahu road trip, you’ll discover a totally different island vibe.

Here’s where to go and what to see, and as always, check for closures or travel restrictions before planning your trip.

Start in Waikiki

aerial shot of Kalanianaole Highway
Test your road warrior skills on Kalanianaole Highway. (Photo: Getty Images)

Enjoy the drive along H-1 to Kalanianaole Highway along the stunning South Shore. Passing through Hawaii Kai, fuel up with a malasada, a Portuguese-style donut, at Leonard’s Malasadamobile. What to order? A haupia-filled malasada puff (coconut custard). Expert tip: Grab a lot of napkins. These gooey bad boys require it.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is just past the town of Hawaii Kai (check that the nature preserve is currently open to visitors before you go). The protected marine conservation area is great for snorkeling and is teeming with all manner of fish. It’s also teeming with people, so arrive early. Really early (it’s open at 6 a.m.). Note: The bay is closed every Tuesday.

If hiking is more your scene, head to the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail. The two-mile round trip rewards you with panoramic views of the coast and a circa-1909 lighthouse, and December to March, you’re likely to spot whales spouting offshore. Bring binoculars if you have them.

Kailua and Lanikai Beaches

Kayaks on Lanikai Beach
Take a paddle around Lanikai Beach. (Photo: Getty Images)

Oahu’s windward side has exquisite sandy beaches. Kailua Beach offers three miles of crescent-shaped shore and is a popular place for kiteboarding and windsurfing. You can rent kayaks easily, or just lounge on the beach in vacation glory.

Nearby Lanikai doesn’t have facilities like Kailua Beach does, but it is equally stunning. If you’re hungry, pop into local landmark Buzz’s Original Steak House. It opened in 1962 and hasn’t changed its Tiki vibe (or super-strong mai tais) much since then.

Up to Laie

Lights glow at dusk at the Polynesian Cultureal Center
Learn about island traditions at the Polynesian Cultural Center. (Photo: Getty Images)

Heading north up Highway 83, you’ll come to the sleepy town of Laie. Take a quick spin past the Laie Hawaii Temple, a Church of Latter Day Saints’ temple. An architectural gem, it was built using crushed lava rock and coral and was dedicated in 1919. It’s not open to the public, though there is a welcome center.

The Polynesian Cultural Center shares the customs of Oceania as visitors go through a series of villages and interact with people from six island nations. The canoe pageant, held daily, is quite a spectacle, with dancers performing on platform canoes in a lagoon.

Kahuku Shrimp Trucks

Once a main hub for Oahu’s sugar industry, Kahuku is now famous for its shrimp trucks. The best known are Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck and Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp.

While locals can argue their favorite, it’s hard to go wrong no matter which one you try: They all offer locally farmed shrimp dripping with garlic or butter and served with white rice. You’ll be up-to-your-elbows messy — and so well fed.

North Shore Beaches

Shark's Cove in Oahu
Find treasures in tide pools at Shark’s Cove. (Photo: Getty Images)

In winter months, the ocean pounds the beaches on Oahu’s North Shore, drawing pro-level surfers from all around the world to test their mettle at Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline. Watching these athletes, or simply watching the crashing surf, is nothing short of mesmerizing.

In the summer months, the waters surrounding the North Shore take a (gentle) turn, becoming very calm, and that’s a good time to explore the tide pools at Shark’s Cove. Waimea Bay, another big-surf spot in the winter, is an excellent swimming beach in the summer.

Coming along Highway 83, swing by Turtle Beach, where green sea turtles often snooze on the golden sands. Remember, these are an endangered species, so no touching.

Shopping and Dining in Haleiwa Town

Haleiwa is a former plantation town that now offers boutiques, surf shops and plenty of restaurants. It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs and to get a shave ice at Matsumoto’s. Say yes to the condensed milk and azuki beans, which give a creaminess and chewiness to the snowy ices.

And Back from the North Shore to Waikiki

Instead of reversing course along the windward side, head down the middle of the island, down Route 99 to the H-2 South to H-1, for a speedy trip back to glittering Waikiki.