The Perfect Time to Visit! The world-famous North Shore of Oahu, known for its huge winter swells, iconic surfing beaches and laid-back culture, had an “admission price” for visitors in the form of overcrowding pre-Covid-19. As you read this story now, you are in the fortunate position to be visiting our island at a time where the North Shore can be experienced in a way that turns back time by fifty years.
“While it hasn’t been good for our local economy, the slower pace on the North Shore is ideal for those lucky enough to be visiting now,” says Howard Green, owner of North Shore Marketplace, a collection of over 20 retail and dining establishments in downtown Hale‘iwa. “Locals treasure the North Shore. During the shutdown many businesses were able to survive because locals took advantage of the lack of tourists to reacquaint themselves with this enchanted area.”
The This Week staff highly recommends you spend some quality time exploring the charm, beauty and history of Hale‘iwa Town and the North Shore.
Read on for recommendations of places to stop along your journey, in chronological order if you make your way from the West Side to Windward Oahu in a complete circuit. (And our first suggestion is that you do just that-drive the entire coastline from Hale‘iwa Town to Kane‘ohe-or vice versa-and not retrace your steps. You’ll miss too much).
As you come into Hale‘iwa Town, turn off the highway bypass on to Kamehameha Highway to check out historic downtown Hale‘iwa. This will have the best collection of souvenir shops, art galleries and retail outlets on your trip, although you will encounter numerous quality shops along the way.
A great place to park and walk the town is North Shore
Marketplace. The eclectic mix of galleries, restaurants and stores offers a shopping experience like no other on O‘ahu, and it’s centrally located in town for easy walking.
Stop in to say hello to Andre Cooper at Aloha General Store, where you can get the highest rated shave ice the North Shore has to offer. “We also have a large selection of Dave’s Ice Cream, the best ice cream on the island, and a huge selection of fun souvenirs in all price ranges,” says Cooper. Some of the most surprising store items include aloha print dog collars, stained glass art and coconut peanut butter. Cooper has a few suggestions when it comes to fun and unusual gifts to take home—Hawaiian Christmas ornaments, Hawaiian vintage metal signs and Hawaiian jewelry.
While shopping North Shore Marketplace and the surrounding area, you can choose from several different eateries offering seafood, sushi, Mexican and gelato.
Closer to the entrance to Halei‘wa Town, walk up to the window at the colorful Big Wave Shrimp food truck and you’ll see Kawita Stacy ready to cook up a tasty plate of fresh isle shrimp.
Born and raised in Thailand, the mecca of street food, Stacy simply likes cooking. She’s been in the kitchen since her teens with her father at the helm. “My father taught me how to cook outstanding food since I was a teenager,” says Stacy. “I wanted to start a food business so I could cook delicious food for people.”
Big Wave Shrimp opened in 2005. Their Crunchy Shrimp plate was featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network TV program, “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,” and is included in the website’s “Guy’s Top Eats in the Aloha State.” It’s made with large butterflied shrimp dipped in tempura batter and coated in panko before being pan-fried. Customers get 10 pieces served with rice, veggies and a sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce.
Other favorites are the Garlic Shrimp and Lemon Peppered Shrimp. Each plate comes with a heaping dose of aloha and wishes for a healthy, wealthy and happy long life. “I’m always happy to welcome and greet customers who are kind to visit and trust us, and share conversation,” says Stacy. “People trust us by eating our food, so we do our best everyday.”
Stacy says she eats the Spicy Shrimp because it’s her favorite. “It’s so yummy and broke da mouth! But every menu item is delicious.”
When you’re done exploring Hale‘iwa Town, head north on Kamehameha Highway a couple miles to Laniakea Beach, better known as “Turtle Beach”. Laniakea Beach is home to a huge population of “honu”, or sea turtles. The ample amount of visitors parking on the side of the two-lane highway and crossing it to get to the shore caused massive back-ups pre-Covid, and weekend traffic could hold cars up for up to an hour.
As of late, you can find a parking spot fairly easily and visit the beach and its occupants without costing you an hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic. On the beach, there are often volunteers that devote their time roping off safe distance viewing areas, and answering questions that visitors may have about the sea turtles.
Bidding aloha to the turtles, you’ll head up the highway a couple more miles to a stretch of beaches that are “ground zero” for the professional surfing community from December to March every year. The first beach is Waimea Bay, home to the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, which only takes place when the waves crest at heights of 25 feet minimum for an entire day. When the necessary conditions are forecast, the invitation only field of contestants are given 24 hours notice to make their way to Waimea, where “The Bay Makes The Day,” as the contest slogan goes. Have you seen bumper stickers that say, “Eddie Would Go”? Be sure to Google “Eddie Aikau” while you enjoy this amazing beach.