One Perfect Day on Oahu’s North Shore

One Perfect Day on Oahu's North Shore

The laid back vibe of Oahu’s North Shore lures people away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, and other busier parts of the island.  While here, engage with friendly locals, enjoy delicious food trucks, and explore some of nature’s most incredible scenery.  We had a blast enjoying one perfect day exploring the North Shore and share our experience in this article.

The first thing we did on our North Shore day was secure our rental car from Enterprise on site at Aulani, the resort we stayed at while on Oahu.  I joined the queue in front of the car rental desk at 7:40 am for an 8:00 am opening time and was the fourth party in line.  We wanted to get an early start due to a full day of plans.  Also, we wanted to be sure to secure parking at our first stop.  

At 8:20 am we had our keys in hand and hopped into our Jeep for the day.  I have to share a pic of the license plate on our rental car.  Hawaii definitely wins for the prettiest US license plate!

Below are the stops along the route:

STOP 1:  Waimea Valley & Waterfall

MAP MARKER:  Red

ENTRANCE FEE (2024):  $25 adult (13+)/$15 child (4-12 years) additional discounted rates for seniors, students with ID, and Hawaii residents

PARKING FEE:  Free

ON SITE AMENITIES:  Visitor’s Center, cafe, store, and restrooms

DISTANCE FROM VISITOR’S CENTER TO FALLS:  0.75 miles 

This was the first stop of the day and we arrived at just about 9:25 am.  The upper lot was full but the lower lot had several spots available.  If you plan to arrive by 9:30 am, you should be able to get a parking spot here.  If you arrive later, Waimea Valley and Falls will continually get busy and parking more difficult.  Also the later in the day you arrive the more likely you will be sharing the experience with the big bus tours.  

The Visitor’s Center; you can see the upper parking lot in this photo

The Waimea Valley is a significant cultural and historical site which also features abundant botanical gardens and Waimea Falls.  From the Visitor’s Center, which has a gift shop, bar, cafe, and restrooms, it is about .75 miles and takes about 30 minutes to walk to the waterfall.  The walk is easy on a paved walkway and is accessible all the way to the falls.

As soon as we arrived at Waimea Valley, rain showers started to fall, typical of the rainforest!  We attempted to wait the rain out and grabbed some drinks from the cafe.  I had a delicious cold brew while the rest of the crew had various versions of Hawaiian lemonades. 

Enjoying Hawaiian lemonade before our visit to the falls

When we finished our drinks, the rain was still falling and it would continue to fall for our whole visit.  We just decided to head out as we would be getting wet in the waterfall anyway!  The rain was light and refreshing to walk in.

The walk through the valley to the falls takes you past beautiful native Hawaiian flora.  Seriously, the flowers and plants were some of the most exquisite I had ever seen! 

A massive monkey pod tree is located at the very beginning of the path by the pay booth.  Along the way you pass Hibiscus, Birds of Paradise, Heliconia, and many other flower varieties.

Some of the exquisite flowers you’ll see in Waimea Valley

You can stop along the way to check out the cultural and historical sites:

  • Hale o Lono – a site dedicated to the Hawaiian god, Lono.  It is believed to have been constructed in the 15th century.
  • Ku’ula Shrine – dedicated to the fishing god to ensure a prosperous catch.
  • Kauhale Kahiko – constructed with natural materials such as grass and wood, this collection of homes represent a traditional living site for a chief or a priest.

Once we arrived at Waimea Falls, we dropped our bags under a tarp where Skylar stayed, she opted to not swim in the falls.  If you don’t have someone to stay with your belongings you can check them into a bin for a $10 fee.  

Everyone must wear a life jacket and they will be handed out, the pool the falls plunge into is about 30 feet deep.  We scrambled over the rocks and into the falls – how exhilarating!  We had a blast swimming here and spent about 30 minutes in the falls.

Waimea Falls

Braden and Ava

The falls were a lot of fun to swim in

PRO TIPS FOR VISITING WAIMEA FALLS: 1.) Shoes – we recommend wearing water sneakers as they are comfortable to walk in on the path to the falls as well as great for gripping the rocks you need to climb on to enter the pool of the falls. 2.) Bags – if you don’t have someone to stay with your belongings you can check your belongings into a bin for a $10 fee. 3.) Accessibility – the path is paved so accessible for all. 4.) Conditions – the waterfall conditions change daily and can affect the ability to safely swim in the falls.  To ensure the falls are good to go for your visit, call (808) 638-7766 for daily swimming status.

STOP 2:  Shark’s Cove

MAP MARKER:  Blue

ENTRANCE FEE:  Free

PARKING FEE:   Free

AMENITIES:  Restrooms and outdoor shower station

Shark’s Cove is situated about 1 mile to the east of Waimea Valley’s entrance off Hwy 83. We found parking along the side of the road. 

The beauty of this cove is breathtaking.  Picture large volcanic rocks tumbling down into the water – these are what you climb down to get to the cove.  

The volcanic rocks are strewn throughout the water creating a haven for marine life.  It is warm and shallow and not only beautiful but wonderful for small children.  It’s take-your-breath-away gorgeous.

The warm, shallow waters are great for snorkeling

We decided we were done swimming for the day and changed into dry clothes in the car.  The restrooms here were pretty bad so we figured the car was a better place to change!

There are several other great beaches to visit on the North Shore.  Ehukai Beach has the Banzai Pipeline which is famous for surfing, especially in the winter months.  Waimea Bay Beach is another great spot for surfing in the winter.  In the summer, however, it is a great place to swim and snorkel its calm waters and sunbathe on the large stretch of golden sand.

STOP 3:  Food Trucks in Haleiwa

MAP MARKER:  Orange

At this point we were starving!  I read that Surf N Salsa was excellent and I can never pass up Mexican food!  There is a small parking lot on site but if you can’t find parking here, continue up the road until you find parking.  It’s an easy walk back down to the food truck pod on a small sidewalk along the side of the road.

In this food truck pod is Surf N Salsa, Korean BBQ, a burger truck, and Big Wave Shrimp.  All have picnic tables so your group can pick and choose where they want to order food from and all converge to eat together.  My nephew, Drake, wanted Korean BBQ, while the rest of us tried Surf N Salsa.  I have to say Surf N Salsa was the best Mexican food I have ever had! 

Food trucks – options for everyone!

In between bites we all shared how amazing our food was.  If you love Mexican food, put Surf N Salsa food truck on your list!  The salsa verde was incredible.

Our food from Surf N Salsa was outstanding!

We walked around the corner to get shaved ice from Kaimana. 

An after lunch treat

As I ordered shaved ice for Ava and Drake I saw “cold brew” on the menu.  Not one to pass up a cold brew coffee, I promptly ordered it.  Well it was cold brew shaved ice

My cold brew…shaved ice!

I have to admit it was pretty darn tasty!  We were full from such great eats, on to the last stop of the day!

STOP 4:  Haleiwa Shopping

MAP MARKER:  Green

After lunch, we headed to North Shore Marketplace, just down the road, a great shopping complex. 

North Shore Marketplace, Haleiwa

The marketplace consists of shops and galleries with local artists featuring their wares.  After shopping for souvenirs and grabbing a delicious actual (!) cold brew coffee at the Coffee Gallery, we headed back to Aulani.  

It was a 20 mile drive back to Aulani, which took us about an hour.  We passed the Dole Plantation and could see endless rows of pineapple growing.  We have been enjoying Dole Whips (pineapple soft serve) back at our resort, so thank you to the pineapple for the deliciously flavored treats!

A day spent on Oahu’s North Shore is the perfect escape.  You will see amazing Hawaiian flora, have a refreshing swim in a waterfall, swim and snorkel in some of Oahu’s best beaches, enjoy fabulous shopping, and dine on some of the best eats around!

Read more!

While on Oahu, a visit to Pearl Harbor is also a must.  For planning information and our experience, check out our guide, Visiting Pearl Harbor – Helpful Information for Your Visit.

Oahu’s most visited site, Diamond Head Crater, is a must for a leg burning hike with the most incredible views at the top!  Read all about planning information as well as our experience:  Hiking Diamond Head Crater in Oahu, Hawaii.

For our full, one-week itinerary (perfect for first-timers!), check out One Week in Oahu – Daily Guide and Itinerary.

Check out our full review of Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa, in this article.

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