Hawaii has a special place in many people’s hearts. It is a little slice of paradise. While I grew up going to Kauai regularly, once I caught the “surfing bug”, I fell in love with the North Shore of Oahu and discovered all its hidden gems and outrageous adventures.
From the famously wave-rich North Shore, to the lush, wet, mountain-filled east side, to the hipster, active south side; and the local Hawaiian, desert-like west side, Oahu’s got it all. I think the North and East sides of Oahu are the best because of the amount of outdoor adventure there is.
Surf The North Shore and check out Haleiwa
Any surfer has heard the tales of the epic waves on the North Shore. Let your surf dreams come true and spend time surfing the fun reefs on “the 7-mile miracle”.
If you’re an intermediate surfer, you’ll probably be spending your days surfing Chun’s, Haleiwa, and maybe even Sunset Beach. Very experienced surfers will love the stretch of beach from Off the Wall to Pipeline as well as Velzyland and Rockpile.
The North Shore’s waves are famous for a reason but be warned, if you visit in the wintertime when the waves are more consistent, you will often have to sit on the sidelines on the big swells that hammer the reefs.
Haleiwa is one of the first surf towns without even meaning to be and though it is a bit touristy nowadays, there are some cool restaurants and shops like Island Vintage Coffee (where you HAVE to try the Breakfast Plate), Haleiwa Bowls (solid Acai bowls), endless surf shops, and the Coffee Gallery (local, small batch coffee shop with good WifFi).
Poke bowls are a local staple in Hawaii and are always the way to go for lunch or dinner my opinion. Foodland has good poke bowls that are cheaper than most restaurants and food trucks and is our go-to spot for groceries.
Camp and surf at Malaekahana State Recreation Area
On our last two trips to Oahu, Malaekahana has been our primary base camp for our adventures.
The campground has everything you need for tent camping including hammock trees, a dishwashing station, bathrooms and (cold) showers, picnic tables, and a huge grassy area to play in.
Not only is the campground very close to the Island’s best adventures, but the beach at Malaekahana is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world with perfectly teal water over coral reef, smooth white sand contrasting with lime green trees and brush on the shore, and views of gorgeous green mountains to the south.
The beach is perfect for kids to play and swim in and there is a fun little surf break on the outer reef, directly in front of the campground. Be sure to wade across the channel one day and explore the miniature island surrounded by the ocean.
Hike Olomana Ridge (AKA the Three Peaks)
The three peaks of Olomana make for one of the most radical and beautiful hikes in the world.
This renowned hike includes hand-over-hand scrambling, downclimbing, rope assist, and epic views.
The hike is known to be dangerous past the first peak, however, if you are an experienced hiker, it’s nothing to worry about. The second and third peaks are the most fun to get to with all the scrambling and are worth the effort to get to them.
If you’ve got a thing with heights, the first peak isn’t exposed (but is the steepest peak) and is still worth the trek. Get directions and a hiking beta here.
Watch surfers at Pipeline
Pipeline, the world’s most photogenic wave, nature’s greatest show, one of the world’s heaviest waves to surf, the perfect wave to surf.
When Pipeline is “working” it’s an entertaining show filled with wipeouts, barrels, and cheers from the beach.
When the waves are too big to surf yourself and the pros are all surfing, this is the perfect activity.
If you happen to be visiting in February or December, you might be lucky to see two of the most renowned surf contests in the world, Pipe Pro and Pipe Masters.
Hike Ehukai Pillbox
Much like the popular Lanikai Pillbox hike, this hike gives you amazing views of the ocean below, however, this hike has half the crowds and twice the views.
This hike gives you insane views of the “7-mile miracle” AKA the North Shore.
The trail is a bit steep and strenuous but only takes 30 minutes to reach the top which has an epic photo op of the pillbox with a peace sign on it over the long stretch of coastline from Pipeline to Velzyland. Click here to read the details on hiking to Ehukai Pillbox.
Trail run from Turtle Bay to Kawela Bay
This is a beautiful run that includes very picturesque, calm beaches and lush forests with roots spread over the forest floor. From Turtle Bay to Kawela Bay there is a nice network of trails in a Banyan forest and along the beach that can be explored however which way you like.
If you run to Kawela Bay, starting and ending at Turtle Bay, it’s about 3 miles. Trails are well marked with signs and distances but feel free to explore other trails. Be sure to check out the bunker at the point jutting out to sea between Kawela Bay and Turtle Bay.
Cliff jumps at Waimea Bay
This is the ultimate adventure when the surf’s down. Note: Do NOT try this when there are waves in the bay.
This radical cliff jump isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a solid 20-30 foot jump off a large lava-formed rock into a relatively shallow but sandy bottom. It’s a bit scary but the adrenaline rush is worth it. Usually, there’s a crowd of locals jumping in when the surf is flat, take note of where they aim to land.
Hike to Maunawili Falls
Let me start by saying this muddy hike will destroy your hiking boots/tennis shoes, HOWEVER, the pretty waterfall that’s super fun to jump into is worth a little bit of mud.
Due to the mud, I highly recommend you skip on the close-toed shoes and tackle this one barefoot or with sandals. Also, do yourself a favor and don’t hike it after the rain.
Drive and explore the scenic Windward (East) Side
The east side has more adventures than you could ever fit into a blog post, but to start, try these adventures: hike the Lanikai Pillboxes (you know, the ones I mentioned earlier) at sunrise and while you’re at it, hang out at the picturesque beach afterward. Don’t miss the incredible views of Makapu’u Beach, a turquoise blue bodyboard break perfectly framed by a curving shoreline and steep green mountains.
The beach can be seen (and photographed) best from a viewpoint just south of the beach. If you’re into the hipster restaurant scene, then head into Kailua and enjoy delicious food and drinks. My favorite part of the east side is Highway 83 from Waikane to Laie. The mountains on that stretch seem so untouched and I’m sure there are dozens of hiking trails to be found. The beaches here are also the most untouched on the island.
Hike the Keālia Trail (or Mountain Bike if you’re hardcore)
Finally, there is a semi-secret hike on the west of Haleiwa called Keālia Trail, a switchbacking trail with constantly beautiful views of the northwest coast while being immersed in the forest.
The Keālia Trail ends at the old water tank just past the picnic table, making a 4-mile roundtrip hike, however, the trails go on deep into the mountains, free for you to roam.
If you mountain bike, this is a great trail network to explore via bike, however, I’d recommend downloading the Trailforks app and climbing the mountain via a different trail because mountain biking the Keālia Trail is HARD.
Comment your favorite adventure in Oahu in the comment section below or let us know if you have any questions!