Winter on Oahu’s North Shore
One of the best things about visiting Oahu in the winter is the surf -- especially in December. This is the month where pro surfers descend on the island’s north shore to revel in the massive waves. If you’re headed to this side of the island -- and we highly suggest you do (...and that you let us guide you there) -- here are seven things you should know.
1. Expect Traffic
Surfer Crossing | Photo by Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Faris
The normally sleepy beach towns on the North Shore, turn into vibrant surf communities in the winter months. In addition to the influx of pros, you have surfers from all over the world that want to test their skills on Oahu's swells. Not only that, the holidays are one of the island’s busiest tourism seasons. All of this means more traffic on the one-lane highway that takes you through the North Shore. Don’t worry though, if you’ve downloaded Shaka Guide’s Legendary North Shore Loop or Grand Circle Island Tour we’ll keep you entertained the entire trip.
Once you've made it to the North Shore, you might want to consider renting a bike (or bringing one with you if you have) -- it will be easier for you to get around this way!
2. Parking is Limited
In addition to traffic, you need to account for parking. Many North Shore beaches have free, public parking lots, but these usually fill up early. You’ll most likely need to find nearby street parking. Be mindful of signs and oncoming traffic.
3. Respect the Signs
Speaking of signs, look out for these as you’re exploring. Good surf means big waves and big waves mean dangerous conditions. At many beaches -- ahem, Pipeline, Haleiwa and Sunset -- there will probably be no swimming pointers. Those are there for a reason and that’s your safety. Not all beaches on the north shore are no swim zones during these months. If you’re looking to take a dip, check out Kuilima Cove (located at Turtle Bay Resort).
In addition to water safety, be mindful of animal safety. If you’re visiting Laniakea Beach, which is a popular hang-out spot for sea turtles, respect the animals' space and the posted markers. Sea turtles are protected here in Hawaii and getting too close will result in a fine.
4. Leave the Surfing to the Pros
Riding the waves | Photo by Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
Or, at least those with experience. The North Shore during the winter is not the place to try surfing for the first time. Many of these beaches are very dangerous for even seasoned surfers. If you’re looking for beginner spots, here are some suggestions.
RELATED: Banzai Pipeline: Expert Surfers Only
5. Pack Sunscreen
Sunblock and Healthy Skin | Photo by chezbeate
Hawaii has two seasons -- summer and winter. And by winter, we mean there’s some more rain and it’s a few degrees cooler. Think high seventies and low eighties, compared to the mid to high eighties you get in the summer. You certainly won’t experience the bone-chilling cold that you get in other parts of the country, in fact the sun is still really strong. We recommend you pack your normal beach essentials, like sunscreen, and it's best if it's reef safe! You’ll also want to bring a light jacket or sweater for the evenings or a rainy day (but you might not even need it).
6. Arrive Hungry
Lunch spots | Photo by Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
From Oahu’s famed Kahuku shrimp trucks to kalua pork that’s been slow roasted for 12 hours, you’ll be hard pressed to find better lunch spots than on this side of the island. There are so many eateries, it would be impossible for us to choose just one! Here’s a list of some of our top recommendations (in no particular order):
- Any of the Kahuku Shrimp Trucks
- Haleiwa Joe's
- The Sunrise Shack
- Banzai Bowls
- The Beat Box Cafe
- Big Wave Shrimp
- Uncle Bo’s
- North Shore Tacos
- Haleiwa Bowls
7. Save Room for Dessert
Dole whip on the Dole plantation | Photo by Ava W. @avacado823
After you’ve enjoyed some ono (good) eats, make sure you save room for dessert -- you’ll thank us later.
Matsumoto Shave Ice is one of Oahu’s top spots for, you guessed it, shave ice. Frozen water is transformed into a tropical dessert using syrups in flavors like lilikoi (passionfruit), coconut, and mango (these are just three of over 30 flavors to choose from). Top your shave ice with some condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, or even mochi! If shave ice isn’t your thing, head to Ted’s Bakery for its famous chocolate and haupia (coconut) cream pie. While you’re on the North Shore, you’re just a few minutes from the Dole Plantation. Stop by for a pineapple-flavored soft-serve. We told you you’d thank us!
OK, so you’re ready to pack up the car and start your road trip to the North Shore, but have you considered who’s going to get you there? Shaka Guide has two self-guided audio tours to that visit all the major North Shore stops and give you the freedom to explore at your own pace! You can sit and watch surfers for hours or skip the beach all together. You choose.
When you're in Hawaii remember that the beaches and marine life are fragile. Please show your aloha by wearing reef safe sunscreen, respecting the animals - don't get too close or touch them EVER - and by leaving the beach better than you found it. For more on how to be a safe and responsible traveler when you visit Hawaii, click here.
SHAKA GUIDE'S OAHU TOURS: Grand Circle Island Tour, Legendary North Shore Loop, East Oahu Shoreline Drive, Honolulu's Backyard Rainforest Tour, Heart of Waikiki Walking Tour, Historic Downtown Honolulu Walking Tour