A Local’s 10 Free Things To Do on North Shore Oahu
Living on Oahu for two glorious years was a highlight of my life. Oahu is rich with things to do. But our favorite weekends involved the free things to do on the North Shore of Oahu. As locals, we played hard on the weekend.
Here are the best free things to do on Oahu’s North Shore.
- Waimea Bay with Cliff Jumping and Bodyboarding
- The Lost Beach: Sea Turtles Without the Crowds
- Shark’s Cove Snorkeling
- Watch Big Surf and Pro Surfers
- ‘Ehukai Pillbox Hike
- Ma’akua Ridge Trail (Papali Trail)
- Hunt for Petroglyphs at Ke Iki Beach Park
- Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument
- Explore the Surf Town of Haleiwa
- Watch the Sunset and a Blowhole
Filling your day with free activities on the North Shore is not hard to do. The North Shore is a place of adventure in the great, tropical Hawaiian outdoors. Get sand between your toes, jump off cliffs, climb to the top of a mountain, and find solitude with sea turtles.
Pick your favorite things from our list and set off for the North Shore during your stay on Oahu. I am also sharing our favorite things to do on the way to the North Shore and budget-friendly things to do.
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Table of Contents
Free Things to Do on the North Shore of Oahu
North Shore is our favorite part of Oahu and the reason we go back whenever we can. While Waikiki can make you feel broke, the North Shore has a lot to offer for free.
We would spend our beach days on the North Shore. That says a lot as we lived in Ko Olina with its four turquoise water, white-sand beach lagoons. It is a drive to the North Shore if you are staying on the town side of Oahu, which is Honolulu to Ko Olina.
The North Shore is a 52-minute drive (33-miles) from Waikiki or 45-minutes from central Honolulu. From the Honolulu International Airport, the North Shore is a 40-minute drive (26-miles). The resort area of Ko Olina, which has Disney’s Aulani Resort, is a 40-minute drive (30-miles).
Due to the distance, we recommend you make a day out of visiting the North Shore or stay for a night or two during your Oahu vacation. See our Best 5-day Oahu Itinerary for places to stay and more things to do in the North Shore.
To save money on food, we would stop at Malama Market in Haleiwa or Foodland Pupukea across from Shark’s Cove. Pick up some snacks, beer, and other essentials before hitting the beach or going on a hike for the day.
You won’t get bored or go broke with these 10 things to do for free on the North Shore.
1. Waimea Bay with Cliff Jumping and Bodyboarding
Waimea Bay is Erica and my favorite beach on Oahu. There is so much to do here.
The bay has a church tower overlooking the north side and cliffs on the south side, making for a cozy beach spot to spend the day.
The cliffs (10 to 15 feet) on the south side of the bay are ideal for cliff jumping. You will find the local kids lined up to jump. The water is deep and crystal clear.
Waimea Bay is home to a big wave competition during the winter. If the waves are over 50-feet, the officials will open The Eddie surf competition. But during the summer, the waves are ideal for bodyboarding.
Enjoy a day at the beach at this picture-perfect bay on the North Shore.
2. The Lost Beach
We call it the Lost Beach as they filmed the show Lost here. This is where their plane crashed and they set up camp. When we lived there, we would visit the beach and walk around the show’s set as they left it up during filming. Since everyone drives right past this beach, the crew wasn’t worried about people stealing the set. Another reason we call it the Lost Beach.
The actual name of the beach is Papa’lloa Beach. It is laden with Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.
Avoid the crowds and the parking jam around Laniakea Beach (aka, Turtle Beach). The most Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles we have ever seen are along this beach. They are also in the water making for great snorkeling.
The beach is on a residential street. Look for parking on the left and the beach access on the right. You will see signs from neighbors warning of car break-ins. Be smart and don’t leave things in your car. But also, respect the area and the neighbors as this is a place of tranquility. That is why the turtles like it here.
3. Shark’s Cove Snorkeling
The North Shore coastline feels like a swimming pool during the spring, summer, and fall. If you visit during the winter, you won’t believe this area is so good for snorkeling as the waves originating from the Bering Sea hit the North Shore hard.
Shark’s Cove is the best snorkeling on the North Shore. Scuba Diving Magazine ranked Shark’s Cove as one of the “Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World.” And you can swim and snorkel it for free.
Shark’s Cove is part of Pupukea Beach Park.
Bring your own snorkel equipment or rent it across the street. You can also just enjoy a swim in the cove as the rocks, coral heads, tide pools, and the beach makes Shark’s Cove a great beach-day.
On a summer weekend, come between 9 and 10:00 am to find parking and a place to sit in the cove.
October through April is the North Shore’s surf season, with waves peaking between December and February. This makes the summer months the best time to snorkel Shark’s Cove.
4. Famous Surf Beaches
North Shore is famous for its big wave surfing. I was not a surfer when I lived on Oahu but I enjoyed visiting the famous surf beaches.
If you are visiting Oahu from December to February, you may be lucky enough to be there when Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is called. This is a big wave competition at Sunset Beach, Bonzai Pipeline (‘Ehukai Beach Park), and Alii Beach Park.
If the surf is up, go check out one of these beaches to watch the waves and the pro surfers in the water. Volcom owns a house on Bonzai Pipeline so you have a good chance of seeing the pros.
If you are there during the summer, the beaches are ideal for sunbathing and swimming. They are large, white-sand beaches with good public facilities. Alii Beach Park is also known for having sea turtles on it.
5. ‘Ehukai Pillbox Hike
Located near Haleiwa, the ‘Ehukai Pillbox Hike is a moderate, 2.1-mile hike (30-minutes to the top) to a WWII pillbox.
The hike is also known as the Sunset Pillbox Hike as this hike is best to do at sunset. Sit on the roof of the pillbox to watch the sun go down. If you are staying the night on the North Shore (we recommend it) then do this before dinner.
I’d call it a family-friendly hike for children over 6-years-old. It does get slippery after a rain and gets busy at the pillbox junctions. Locals have put up ropes to help with the slipperier, steeper sections.
6. Ma’akua Ridge Trail (Papali Trail)
Our second favorite hike on the North Shore is the Ma’akua Ridge Trail. This is an easier, less strenuous hike than the ‘Ehukai Pillbox Hike. The 2.8-mile hike is great for families but does take two to three hours to complete.
It is relatively flat and is a loop making it nice for running. The trail will take you through a forest and provide ridge top views of the North Shore coast.
7. Hunt for Petroglyphs at Ke Iki Beach Park
Hunting, not seeing, is the right term for finding these ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs. Located next to Shark’s Cove, Ke Iki Beach Park has petroglyphs etched into the sandstone under the beach.
After a big swell, the waves can sweep all the sand off of the beach. This makes for an ideal time to go hunting for Petroglyphs. If you are on the North Shore during the winter, go look for some petroglyphs.
You may get lucky during the summer so if you stop at Shark’s Cove then walk 6-minutes over to Ke Iki Beach to take a look.
8. Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument
The largest heiau, Hawaiian temple, on Oahu can be found at the North Shore’s Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument. The historical temple dates back to pre-contact days. On its hilltop, it gives commanding views of Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley.
For Hawaiian culture, this is the place to go on the North Shore. And is free compared to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
9. Haleiwa Town
The North Shore is all about keeping the country country. Haleiwa has preserved its country, surfer vibe through the decades of Oahu development. Haleiwa is our favorite town on Oahu for the charm, surfer and yogi vibes, and the free things to do in it.
We enjoy walking through the art galleries, checking out the surf shops, and walking across the Rainbow Bridge. The town is cute and walkable with young kids.
For cheap things to do in Haleiwa, check out our budget list below.
10. Watch the Sunset and a Blowhole
Every night we stay at the Turtle Bay Resort, we end up at the blowhole. With benches, live music, and a blowhole for entertainment, it is the ideal place to watch the sunset on the North Shore.
The best part is you don’t have to stay at Turtle Bay Resort to enjoy the sunset here. Turtle Bay’s coastline is public access, as are all beaches in Hawaii. Follow the public access signs into the resort, the blowhole is on the left or south side of the resort past the pool.
The blowhole provided endless entertainment for our toddler Henry. It might not be as dramatic during the summer when the surf is calmer but even without the blowhole, the location is ideal to watch the sunset fall into the bay with live music thanks to Turtle Bay Resort.
Our Favorite Things to Do on a Budget in the North Shore
The North Shore has plenty of free activities to keep you busy. I can’t help but share these budget-friendly activities to consider when you are visiting the North Shore. They are worth every penny.
1. Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley is the best spot to swim under a waterfall on Oahu. A 1.5-mile paved hike ends at Waimea Falls where you can don a life-preserver and swim safely under a waterfall. It is a thrill.
The reliable stream makes this an all-year activity while some Oahu waterfalls dry up during the summer.
Waimea Valley and its stream empty into Waimea Bay. If you visit Waimea Bay, we recommend going across the street to tour Waimea Valley. Waimea Valley is owned and operated by a Native Hawaiian governing entity, a non-profit.
To keep the gardens and cultural events open and to conserve the land, they charge $18.85 for adults and less for seniors, students, and children.
Local Hawaiians sell their arts and crafts and food is for sale in the pavilions.
Check out the Haleiwa Farmers Market on Tuesdays starting at 2:00 pm. It is located in the Pikake Pavilion in Waimea Valley. Grab a late lunch after a day at Waimea Bay beach.
2. Cheap Eats: Shave Ice
No trip to Haleiwa is complete without having some shave ice. Visit the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice, Kaimana Shave Ice, or Malia’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.
Matsumoto charges $3.00 for a small or $3.50 for a large, pick your three flavors. It is a good deal. Throwdown a dollar for azuki beans (sweetened red beans) for a more traditional shave ice experience.
3. SUP in Haleiwa
Standup paddleboarding in Haleiwa is a great way to experience the surf town without surfing. Our favorite place to go was up the Anahulu Stream. Rent a SUP to paddle under the Rainbow Bridge and up the calm waters of Anahulu Stream.
This is an ideal way to paddle alongside sea turtles who like to enjoy the stream.
4. Cheap Eats: Shrimp Trucks
The North Shore is the place to go for shrimp trucks. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is in central Haleiwa in a food truck park. Come when they open at 10:00 am to avoid the line or be ready to wait for 30 to 45-minutes.
For no line but more of a drive, check out the local’s favorite shrimp shack – Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp. Romy grows their own shrimp in freshwater pools in Kahuku, north of the Turtle Bay Resort. These are the freshest shrimp on the island.
Things to Do on the Way to North Shore
The drive to the North Shore is a trip in itself. Consider stopping at one of these locations on the way.
1. Dole Plantation
This place totally comes off as a tourist trap. More of a theme park than a historical tour but we always had fun at the Dole Plantation.
Explore the world’s largest maze or take a ride on the train through pineapple fields. We would go for the Dole Whip as it used to be the only place it was sold on Oahu. Now it is everywhere but the Dole Plantation is still a fun place to learn about pineapples and let the kids run around.
2. Green World Coffee Farm Roasting Tour
Leave early for a full day of free activities in the North Shore. On the way up, stop for coffee with the locals at Green World Coffee Farm.
Green World Coffee Farm offers free daily tours starting at 6:00 am. Watch them roast coffee and try some free samples. Their cafe is worth a stop for coffee and pastries.
3. Ko Hana Distillers
If you are looking for more adult fun on the drive to the North Shore, then take a tour of Ko Hana Distillers – Hawaiian Agricore Rum.
Ko Hana distills rum from local sugar cane. They also have a pizzeria so you can get merry on rum with some food in your stomach.
Tours and tastings are $25.
Free on the North Shore
The North Shore is our main stop when we head back to Oahu. Our son Henry loves to run around and play in the water, making the free things to do on the North Shore our go-to list.
Oahu is expensive, opt for these free things to make the most of your time on Oahu and in the North Shore.
Head to our Hawaii Recommendations to plan your perfect trip to Oahu. We share our favorite activities, things to pack, and itineraries.
I'm the co-founder, with my wife Erica, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I have a thing for photographing pineapples and learning to surf.
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