The North Shore is what you expect to experience when you go to Hawaii. It’s very quiet and slow paced, full of Aloha vibes, and happy locals who won’t be furious that another stupid tourist is asking for directions. After a couple trips across the ocean, if you only have 5 days on Oahu, here’s how I’d do it:
Day 1 – Hit the beach!
The beaches on the North Shore of Oahu are out of this world and they literally have something for everyone.
Haley’s unofficial guide to North Shore beaches
Best place to surf: Banzai Pipeline
Best place to snorkel: Shark’s Cove *** DO NOT BE DECEIVED AND DRIVE ALL THE WAY DOWN TO HANAUMA BAY ***
Best beach to relax: Sunset Beach
Best beach for kids: Turtle Bay
Feeling adventurous? Cliff jump at Waimea Bay Beach Park
Day 2 – Polynesian Cultural Center
Ohhhh the PCC. This is like, one of the THE best kept secrets on Oahu. It has awesome shopping, great entertainment, incredible food, and really teaches you about the history of not only Hawaii, but 5 other Polynesian islands as well — Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti.
The island experiences at the PCC open at noon, but the Hukilau Marketplace shopping center (free!) just outside the PCC opens at 11am.
My very favorite activities at the PCC villages include learning the hula in Hawaii, twirling poi balls in Aotearoa (New Zealand), sampling the Tahitian coconut bread, the Tongan drum show, and the Samoan tree climbers!
They also have an amazingly colorful and vibrant canoe pageant every day at 2:30pm in which traditional dancers and performers float through the center on double-hulled canoes. The whole PCC basically shuts down to watch the pageant, so you really can’t miss it.
Even if you aren’t Mormon, I also highly recommend taking the free shuttle from the PCC over to the Mormon Temple grounds. It’s often called the Taj Mahal of the Pacific and it is stunning. The white stone against the tropical green backdrop — it’s breathtaking. The grounds are immaculate and free to walk around. They also have a great (and free!) tourists’ center where you can learn more about the history of the temple itself.
After all the villages close, don’t run off and assume your day is over. There are three traditional island dining options right on site at the PCC and they are all delicious, but the Ali’i Luau buffet is an incredible experience.If the menu doesn’t make your mouth water, just go for the ambiance. There are traditional dancers, a beautiful procession of the royal court, and presentation of the imu (pig cooked in all day underground), all set in a gorgeous cave of waterfalls and gardens.
But if you can only make it to the PCC for one thing, make sure it’s the “Hā: Breath of Life” evening show. This show is a truly remarkable performance of Polynesian dance, music and FIRE telling the story of birth, death, love, family, triumph and tragedy in the cultures of Polynesia.
Day 3 – Outdoor Adventure Day
First thing in the morning, head over to Keana Farms and go Ziplining with CLIMB Works! (Make sure you’ve already made a reservation, walk-in options are limited) The views are stunning and unlike anything else you’ll see while on-island. The guides also give a really great history of the island and its local farming and agriculture (who knew?!).
If heights aren’t your thing, consider Horseback riding with Gunstock Ranch. It’s another gorgeous way to see a different side of the island.
Grab lunch (and Christmas gifts for all your neighbors and family members) at the Kahuhu Farm Cafe. You might be sad that you’re only just now going here on day 3, because it is so good I literally wanted to go back every day we were there. Mike was incredibly skeptical when I told him about it (it does sound kind of hippie-ish, what with it only being vegetarian pizzas, paninis and salads), but he was beyond impressed once we started eating. All of the produce is grown right on site and I still dream about it. I have one jar of their Kahuku Vanilla Caramel left in my fridge that I am still slowly savoring.
In the afternoon, work off the grilled caramel banana bread (yes — it is as divine as it sounds) by hiking in to the heart of Oahu. The La’ie Falls Trail (about 6 miles roundtrip, best for intermediate to advanced hikers) has stunning pine forests, gorgeous views of the ocean and a magnificent waterfall at the end. Permits for this hike is available at Hawaii Reserves, Inc. in the La’ie Shopping Center.
If you have really little ones, the Waimea Valley Falls hike is more of an uphill nature walked on a paved path. It’s only about 1 1/2 miles roundtrip but winds through their botanical gardens and also ends at a waterfall.
Day 4 – Haleiwa & Choose your own adventure
Haleiwa is such a fun little town. I loved it when I first went with some girlfriends years ago, but when Mike and I went last fall they’d since added so many fun food trucks and shopping options. On top of shopping, the town itself has an equipment rental shop almost on every corner. You can rent bikes! You can rent surf boards or body boards! You can rent standing paddle boards! You can rent kayaks! You can probably rent puppies! (okay, don’t get your hopes up, that might not be true) Pick your poison in Haleiwa and find a great food truck for lunch.
After that, find your favorite beach on the North Shore (see Day 1) and settle in. I recommend leaving at least one afternoon free in case the weather is bad or you want to go back to the beach, snorkeling, etc.
After relaxing that afternoon, head back to the PCC for a Lunar Legends Lagoon Tour through North Shore Explorers — a magical 90 minute nighttime view of the PCC from a glowing stand-up paddle board or glow kayak! It was without a doubt one of the most fun things I did when I was there and it was an experience you won’t get anywhere else!
Day 5 – Honolulu
If you go to Oahu, I guess you should spend at least a little bit of time in Honolulu. But the only two things I’d recommend – Pearl Harbor and the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. Don’t even bother with Waikiki. It probably used to be lovely in like the 50s, but now it’s just crowded, full of tourists, and IMO, pretty dirty.