Known by surfers around the world as the "7-Mile Miracle," the Kamehameha Highway snakes along Oahu's north shore, Hawaii's answer to the vintage two-lane highways of yesteryear. Perfect for a day trip, the road winds past hidden coves, volcanic shores, and Pacific pipelines that inspire surfers' dreams. The north shore's notoriously enormous waves roll in from November through April, while calmer seas of summer and fall make for perfect swimming and snorkeling. From east to west, here are a few Oahu beaches not to miss.
Slow down for this peaceful pocket beach just west of Turtle Bay, distinguished by a tiny volcanic islet a short way offshore. A lava shelf along the shoreline makes Waialee a perfect place for tide pool exploration. When the tide is right, the rocky stretch also blocks the surf, creating a calm swimming area. While away a few hours under the shade of the ironwood trees — a few local fishermen will likely be your only company.
Big surf dreams are made all along the north shore but none more so than at Ehukai Beach, home to the Banzai Pipeline, one of the world's most sought-after barrel waves. Golden sand and the emerald-blue Pacific make Ehukai Beach one of Oahu's most beautiful. When the Pipeline swells, an epic man-versus-nature spectacle unfolds, but summertime's calmer seas encourage a day of chilled-out beach bliss.
Along with Ehukai, Waimea Bay ranks among the north shore's most sought-after surf breaks. The Bay is best known for hosting "The Eddie" surfing competition in honor of Eddie Aikau, where the pros attempt to catch Waimea's legendary 30-foot waves. The Oahu beach is also a popular fishing spot for locals, and thrill-seekers scale the cliff-like boulder to plunge into the Pacific.
Tucked between two limestone points, this sheltered inlet is a great north shore snorkeling spot — calm water, volcanic rock, and coral flats create a safe haven for an abundance of colorful fish while endangered monk seals can sometimes be seen basking on the cove's west side. Though the beach is part of Turtle Bay Resort, Kuilima Cove is open to the public. The resort's Sand Bar Shop rents loungers, cabanas and snorkeling gear, and beachgoers can grab lunch and drinks from the takeout window at Roy's Beach House.
Windswept and secluded, Mokuleia Beach may just make you feel like you've been shipwrecked on a deserted island — in fact, its castaway atmosphere was featured in the TV series Lost. Mokule'ia marks the beginning of the end of north shore civilization. From here, it's about 3 miles to the start of the Kaena Point trail, a rugged dirt pathway overlooking the Pacific that leads to Oahu's westernmost tip.
Located in hip Haleiwa Town, just west of the small boat harbor, Haleiwa Alii Beach Park is a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. Wide, grassy areas perfect for picnicking or tossing a Frisbee fill the 19-acre park, while a stretch of sand on the eastern side of the beach near the lifeguard stand offers the best swimming. Watersports enthusiasts will want to stop by Surf 'n' Sea, the historic town's classic surf shop, which offers paddleboard rentals and kayak tours. Leave time to stroll along the main drag to browse shops and galleries, or grab a bite at the Beet Box Cafe, a north shore favorite.
Beginner surfers rejoice at Chun's, where the waves break further out and send gentler swells rolling toward the sand — and plenty of nearby outfits offer lessons. Not looking to hang ten? Relax on the wide, palm-lined beach with views of the Waianae mountain range. On the far western end, a series of tide pools and a small reef make for fun beachcombing and snorkeling — honu, Hawaiian green sea turtles, choose this area for their homes.
A trio of flat coral reef formations an easy swim from shore gives Three Tables Beach its distinctive name. One of the better snorkeling areas on the island, a kaleidoscope of marine creatures make their home among the rocky terraces. Pick up lunch from one of the food trucks down the road and dine on the long swath of white shore. Find Shark's Cove short distance east: what the beach lacks in the way of sand, it makes up for with its prolific reef and teeming tide pools.