Oahu Itinerary: Road Trip to the North Shore

Let’s take a road trip for the day. These recommendations are based on driving from Waikiki Beach across the island of Oahu to the North Shore. The times are up to you but Go Hawaii recommends traveling on a weekday when it’s not so busy. The earlier you head over, the more time you have for shopping, eating, and fun under the Hawaiian sun.

TIP:  Download the Shaka Guide App for their Legendary North Shore Loop (8-10 hours)

If you want to make the most of this Shaka Guide tour — start early. Whether you dip in and out of the app for tips or use it as an actual tour guide in your car, it’s a valuable resource to own. I opted for the latter. It didn’t always work with my rental car’s radio due to technical problems. But, if it had worked, it would have been so worth it to have heard more about the stops while on the drive.

I did advance the locations on the North Shore Legendary Loop. After learning about Leonard’s malasadas, I knew that would be a good place to stop. This app can be overwhelming, so read ahead of time and plan out what you want to see, and do the things that are important to you. It has many suggestions of places to go, and if you are particular like me, you won’t get to see them all. The tour guides are downloadable. So they’re on your phone for a future trip. Mahalo!  

If you’re looking for advice on how to treat Hawaii’s culture respectfully, please review the Maʻemaʻe Toolkit that the Hawaii Tourism Authority created regarding proper terminology as well. Another initiative is Big Island’s Pono Pledge. The Shaka Guide’s app requests you accept this before you can use it, to encourage tourists to treat Oahu with reverence.

My North Shore Road Trip

This Oahu itinerary focuses on what to do if you have a day to spend touring the island, starting from the south and making your way over to the North Shore. It takes about an hour to traverse the 40 miles to Banzai Pipeline from Waikiki Beach. Come take a drive with me, and experience some of Hawaii’s finest establishments on the way. 

Activities

The scenic views on the road trip to the North Shore are within itself a reason why there are guides and apps made to assist tourists while they drive it. It’s safe and practical during these times when social distancing has become sort of the new norm. I felt at ease in my car as I listened to local stations glancing out my window at the rows and rows of fresh produce grown under the blue skies. I took a wrong turn before my intended first stop and accidentally found a Leonard’s Bakery Mobile off of H-1 near the Pearlridge Center (you are welcome). It was my lucky day. I stopped and said, “I could be upset that I took the wrong turn, but there’s NO LINE at this truck.” 

Leonard’s Bakery is an Oahu institution specializing in Portuguese fried donuts, malasadas. The line at the original shop in Waikiki wrapped around the building, and I was planning to go the next day to wait it out. The Shaka Guide said the line moves quickly, so I was confident. That being said, I happily accepted the no-line mobile option. Thank you, for the gift and the heavenly warm sugary pocket of goodness whoever sent it to me from the universe. As soon as the hot malasada touched my lips — I knew I had met my match. It was probably the best thing I’d eaten in a while because yes, it was hot indeed. Baked to order. It’s fresh and let’s not talk about how the woman wouldn’t let me order just one. I had to order three to purchase on a card. And, I gladly did. 

Dole Plantation

When I got back on the H-1 to head to the H-2, I stopped off at the Dole Plantation, and let’s say if you are there during peak season, get ready to hunt for parking. Pick a lane and wait for the person who is leaving and follow them. Get it. 

Dole Plantation is a fun experience and one that should be seen. It has the largest pineapple maze in the world. A train navigates you through the grounds — they are that big. Also, the refreshments are fresh and delicious. You will want to try a Dole Whip with fresh pineapple. 

TIP: Browse the gift shop. There are so many interesting items. Even if you don’t buy something, there’s an artisan making native crafts and interesting cultural things to see. It’s a fun educational experience! 

North Shore Soap Factory

What is it? Why is it there? The sugar mill dates back, way back. It’s almost a century old. The old sugar mill has been refurbished into the North Shore Soap Shop Factory. It has local charm, organic products, and friendly people. They provide tours of their facility and give details about their product. In addition, they have historical artifacts in their store to view, so it feels like you’re visiting a museum.

Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s also a culturally significant location. Locals call it The Valley of the Priests because of its religious importance. Look out for pohaku (stones) paying homage to Kuúla, the fishing god. The waterfall at Waimea Valley is a must-see. This green and pleasant landscape is full of native flora, and is educational and extremely low-key. 

Beaches

The North Shore is renowned for its waves, and you will enjoy the best surfing conditions in the winter. The winter season is from November through May. It’s important to have fun but also remember to be safe.

If you are lucky enough to be in Hawaii when the surf is up, it is truly a sight to behold. Remember to check the weather to confirm what’s what. There is no shortage of sights that will provide you with a good forecast for waves.

Here are three beaches to check out to see some big wave action: 

Banzai Pipeline or Ehukai Beach

Banzai Pipeline gets its name from the surfers who ride the barreling waves that curl like a pipe. Every year, prestigious events take place here. However, you can see surfers testing their skills against the pipe all throughout the winter when the waves are up. People come from all over the world to see these surfers in action. The pipe is smokin’ with surfers looking to win the competitions. It takes incredible skill to surf these waves and it is truly a sight to behold.

TIP: The surfer’s name Banzai Pipeline is not on the map and won’t be easy to find because there aren’t any signs that mark it. Look for Ehukai Beach instead, and remember unless you’re a highly-skilled surfer, this area is a no-swim zone. It’s a great place to savor a surfer’s paradise. Bear in mind that parking is limited even during the summer months. Park on the street and respect the property. It’s best to check the weather forecast before your road trip.

Sunset Beach

As the name suggests, Sunset Beach is not only a great place for surfers to catch a wave, but it offers a scenic end to a day too. Originally called Paumalü, which means “taken by surprise” in Hawaiian, legend has it that it’s named after a woman attacked by a shark as a punishment for disrespecting the reef. It’s a two-mile stretch of khaki-colored sand. 

Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay is a white sand beach that looks beautiful from far away. But, during the winter months, the shore break can be fierce. Be sure to check the signage and stay safe. A good place to get a view of Waimea Bay is Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau, a state landmark. Thrill-seekers are advised to take a 20-foot cliff dive from the rocks. Only do so if you see other people jumping in.

TIP: There’s additional parking across the street at Waimea Valley.

For more safety tips and advice, drop by HIOceanSafety.com. Some wildlife in Hawaii is endangered. Be sure to know the state laws. There are viewing guidelines, and it’s our responsibility to ensure the environment is respected. 

Haleiwa Town

This is a stop you can make at the beginning or end of the road trip to the North Shore. I chose to have dinner and explore Haleiwa Town before heading back to Waikiki Beach. Haleiwa Joe’s does not take reservations and is not open for lunch. They open at 4:30 pm, and the line outside starts at 4:00 pm during high season. The Mahi (dolphinfish) was so fresh it fell off the fork, and the service was timely. It’s worth the buzz. I’d try to go on a weekday to eliminate even more of a wait if possible. 

Alternative Options

If the wait is too long or you want to eat lunch during your road trip to the North Shore, Kua’aina is another option that won’t disappoint. Want a burger in Hawaii? Open since 1975, it’s the oldest running food establishment in Haleiwa. 

A third option if you want to have a picnic at the beach is to pick up some local favorites. By the way, spending the afternoon at the beach relaxing is a pretty good way to do it. So here are three options for your plan. 

  • Huli Huli Chicken — Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken serves it, and so do others around town. 
  • Poke — you can get this diced raw fish dish at the local supermarkets — amazing! 
  • Fresh fruit (hi vegans!) — Kuilima Farm Stand across from Kawela Bay sells the likes of coconut and star fruit. 
  • Last but certainly not least is shaved ice, and the local legend is Matsumoto’s. Somehow, the ice cream they put on the bottom (yes, this is how you must get it) makes for some magical combination of ice and ice cream that is worth the inevitable line you will have to deal with.

The road trip to the North Shore was eventful and certainly one I’d like to repeat. I didn’t do half of the things I’d like to, and each stop took me longer than the average person. Why? I take too many photos. If you’re a slow road-tripper like me, then plan to break up your drive and take multiple trips. The shopping and sightseeing could be one day, and the beaches could be another. I will have everlasting memories of driving up to and back from the North Shore; the first glance of the ocean as you pass the pineapple fields is a happy place. The mountains, the ocean, it is all part of the journey.

Interested in other road trip suggestions? Check out this guide to planning a Puerto Rican road trip!

What I Know Now About Solo Travel During the Holidays

“Ma’am, would you mind switching seats with my wife?” ‘Wait, what? I am a window- seat traveler through and through — was he talking to me?’ “Sir, I’m so sorry. No. I really enjoy the window seat.”

As I boarded a long flight to Hawaii from St. Paul, Minnesota, my second flight of the day, I had my first encounter with a fellow traveler. It wasn’t particularly a positive one. Yet it reminded me how fortunate I felt to be traveling solo during the holidays. I took a deep breath, put my earbuds in, and took a long glare out the window. 

Photo of the flight wing

Solo travel is a meaningful experience. It can be something different and more meaningful to those who do it. For those who travel more often, it becomes more natural. As of late, COVID variants, holidays, and other societal protocols have created some not so “normal” feelings for many travelers. During my recent trip to Hawaii, I noticed some solo travel peculiarities that left me feeling borderline awkward at times. This piece is written for those who travel solo and are single, married, straight, LGBTQ+, white, black, green, blue, and you get my point. Here is what I know now about solo travel during the holidays. 

Tips for Those Who Solo Travel During the Holidays

1. Speak Up

If you decided to solo travel during the holidays and have begun to feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why? Is this a situation that could be mitigated or made to be less awkward if the other party or company involved did better? Ask questions. Once you have your answer, then speak up. If this means waiting a few days to think it over, wait. If it means saying no to “Can I get a window seat?”, say no. 

In my situation, the airline moved my seat a few times and reticketed me. The airline staff who gave me a different ticket as I boarded told me she moved me to accommodate someone else. I asked her if it was a window because that was all I cared about. She said yes. Then I boarded and received the seat of someone who really wanted the seat, too, AND it was a married couple. If it had been a two-hour flight, I would have switched. 

Since this flight was about six hours, I wanted my window seat and should not have felt bad about saying no. But, in the end, it did feel mildly awkward during the flight as the husband was texting Delta (from what I could see and hear). His wife was sitting across the aisle instead of next to him at the window. They were talking about Delta for the first couple of hours. It didn’t feel good to be moved in the first place, and then fly and feel like a “solo traveler.” Do I regret saying no? No. Did I speak up and call Delta when I got home from the trip? Yes. Solo travel is personal, and these points can be modified if needed. This is based on my experience.

2. Be Comfortable

Seize the journey and all that comes with it. If you’ve decided to solo travel during a holiday outside of peak season, then it might not be the rush we all know and loathe. If the panic and chaos come crashing in on you at the airport as it did for me, remain calm. There are some things that are out of your control. Canceled and delayed flights are two of them. Remember that you are in control of yourself and what you say or don’t say. This is your chance to speak up and take control of YOU. Solo travel is easy because you control yourself. So, remember that, and don’t let naysayers get you down. 

Here are a few things I encountered after my arrival to Hawaii that made me feel slightly awkward. Looking back, hey, it’s about the journey and learning how to be more comfortable with yourself. It’s not about others — it’s about your experience. Sometimes eating as a party of one can get interesting — and awkward — if you let a naysayer make it that way.

Do your research and look up the place ahead of time. Book the table ahead through OpenTable or whatever reservation provider they have so you don’t have to wait. Make sure the restaurant knows you are a party of ONE (say it with confidence and pride). Booking in advance will guarantee you have a spot even if they are behind. You might have to wait just a bit but you will get a meal and a seat in a reasonable amount of time. Remember if it’s peak season, reservations are important. . Be prepared — be comfortable! 

Since it’s the holidays and families and couples are out everywhere, remain calm and stay centered. You are there for you and at the very least, remember your table conversation won’t be about any topic that you don’t want it to be. HIGH FIVE to YOU.

3. Talk to the Locals

Solo travel during the holidays can be great, but there are some caveats. When it comes to touring the town and going out during holiday and COVID-times, it’s important to remain safe. Locals know which areas are the best and quite frankly, solo travel means you have the day or night to do what you want when you want. Ask around about the safety guidelines and be sure to follow them. For example, before I realized how important reservations were for a party of ONE, my Uber driver Bradner gave me some local hangouts to try since I was striking out with some of the more popular places. 

Bradner, if you ever read this, thank you for the conversation and for mentioning LuLu’s Waikiki. It’s got such a great view and he was right — I didn’t have to wait. The food was casual, quick, and convenient for a solo traveler. Plus, the evening that I went online to look for LuLu’s I rediscovered OpenTable, and my dining experience quickly changed. I had used OpenTable before but didn’t realize how necessary this was over the holidays and for a party of one. In the US, OpenTable was a good option to book reservations.

Uber drivers, tour operators, concierges, and restaurant staff are gems. Talk to them!

4. Accomplish Your Goals

Who doesn’t like taking a walk on Waikiki Beach or going for a stroll in Waimea Valley to see the botanical gardens? Before you head to a location, you might hear lists and lists of things to do and see before you go. Since you are a solo traveler, some things will take a bit more time to do and some won’t. It depends on who you are and what you are doing. For example, I enjoy road trips and driving. Plus, I like seeing places from the sea and from the land. I made these my two top priorities and went from there. I went whale watching and toured Pearl Harbor which were both really important to me. 

Naysayers might get in your way while this is happening. Just let them say what they say and you do you. At the end of the day, a robust list of goals that is half accomplished is better than no list at all. If your plan is to lay out all day and become a golden Cleopatra, then do it. If you are staying at a place with a pool and/or are close to the beach make sure you get to that towel vendor early and get your spot, Cleo. The line starts super early over the holiday season and families of five or more are there super early. YOU have got this!

5. Be Confident

The holidays are special to everyone for different reasons. Christmas Eve was the last time I saw Tata so for me, the holiday means more to me than it ever did. Solo travel means more too. It’s not a sign of being alone but rather a symbol of strength.

This year I decided to solo travel during the holidays. I had arrived in Honolulu the evening before. Many places were closed on Christmas Eve, so I went to the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian Resort to have a meal. It wasn’t preplanned, and I did not have a reservation. It was on this evening where the very core of what I was celebrating was challenged (at first). I circled the bar and saw no seats available. Then, I went to the host and said “party of one.” I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic, the holiday, or if they were in the weeds (in over their heads), but I sat at the table without any interaction for about 10 minutes. 

I know I was on Hawaii time but… when you are a party of one on Christmas Eve and everyone else is either 1) with a group of kids, 2) holding up a pair of glasses to cheers, or 3) need I say more? My point is that confidence goes a long way even if you begin to feel lonely due to the nature of the day, moment, or all of the above times fifty (squared). 

How did this evening progress? I walked over to the bartender (a local) and asked him if he could find me a seat at the bar. As luck would have it, one became free and I ordered my Kir Royal and dinner at the bar with the locals. 

Wrap Up

Solo travel is rewarding, and not everyone does it. If you are a brave soul that ventures out over the holidays (any holiday) to celebrate — be confident. I had to write about this experience because I know the holidays can be hard on many of us and I sat there that evening thinking about how many other solo travelers or those who were at home felt like they didn’t belong. For those long 10 minutes that I waited, I felt that way too. 

I lived abroad, traveled while doing so, and have solo traveled since moving home. People can have opinions but you must make the experience yours. It’s about the journey, not the final destination. The world might be adjusting to new norms as far as the pandemic is concerned. This will be ever-changing for the travel industry. However, it’s a great opportunity for solo travelers during the holidays and all the time. There is less mental and physical baggage and more time for YOU! Bon Voyage!

Interested in learning more about other traveler’s experiences in solo travel around the holidays? Check out Leesa Truesdell’s Oahu itinerary and road trip to the north shore.

Meet Marcos González the Picture Perfect Traveler

Marcos González and I have a lot in common. We’ve made reverse journeys across the Pond. While away from our home countries, we have lost loved ones. I founded Dreams Abroad while teaching in Spain. In my latest interview, I speak with Marcos, a traveler who swapped the North Coast of Spain for the West Coast of the States.

“Come home to paradise, come to Asturias.” This is the slogan of the principality’s tourist board. A green and pleasant land, this is northwest Spain. A rugged coast and majestic mountain range crown Asturias. The fare is of the hearty variety, made to satisfy the appetites of those accustomed to working outdoors. It’s Marcos González’s native terrain and while pandemic-enforced absence makes the heart grow fonder, he has embraced a new life in California as a hospitality professional.

You come from Asturias, land of fabada asturiana and sidra. What dish or drink do you miss most from your home?

I miss many, but mackerel is one of my favorite ones! Undeniably, I do love cabracho cake too. It’s like a paté made with rockfish and it’s delicious. I am lucky to be from a country and a location with a rich, delicious, and varied gastronomy.

“If somebody is planning a Spanish road trip, what are the unmissable things to see and do in Asturias?”

First, they need to hire me as a guide… kidding! Asturias is small but you will be surprised by the number of beautiful places that we have. Definitely, Oviedo is a must. Covadonga, Llanes, Somiedo… everywhere there is something beautiful to visit, from waterfalls, lakes, castles, caves, and beaches.

Which country have you enjoyed exploring the most?

I must say that I have loved exploring all of them, but I think France is my number one! I love France. As I used to live in Andorra, I was in France all the time! 

“On your Instagram page, you describe yourself as a traveler, explorer, adventurer. Where was the first place you traveled to both in and outside of Spain?”

Good question… the first time that I went out of Spain was to Ireland. I loved it. In Spain… I would say Barcelona, I think it was the first city out of Asturias that I visited as a traveler.

What has been your favorite individual adventure?

I would say my trip to Hawaii. It was somewhere that I went by myself as a traveler and I had so much fun! Visiting Hawaii was a beautiful experience full of adventure. Kauai conquered my heart!

“You work in hospitality. How did your accommodation react to the pandemic?”

Now I am a food and beverage manager, but I was a hotel manager in the past. We have followed all the protocols and we have been open and busy all the time. I haven’t taken any vacations since March 2020 and it doesn’t seem that I am traveling any time soon. Despite there being a pandemic, I have been working more than ever. I just wished that certain guests could have been more understanding and easier with us. Some people have been extremely rude and aggressive toward us during all this time, forgetting that we are doing our job and putting our lives at risk.

“How much does being based in California (where over a quarter of the population speaks Spanish as a primary language) help you with adjusting to your relocation?”

Well, it’s nice to be able to speak my language. Nonetheless, I am fluent in English, so I don’t mind speaking one or the other language. I have lived in the UK and even in Ireland before, so the language is not a problem for me. The problem is for the poor Californians who have to understand my accent!

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the hospitality industry?

I love the industry. My advice is to be ambitious and enjoy what you do. You should take advantage of the industry to live in different countries as I did. 

“Which one photo that you have taken do you like looking at and why?”

There is a photo with my dog in Asturias that I love. First, because I love my dog and Asturias. Second, I took it when I started getting interested in the photography world.

“When will you return to Asturias to see your family?”

I don’t have plans yet. I am vaccinated and they are too, but I think that it’s risky. With everything that has been going on, I won’t put my family at risk. I can wait until I feel it’s safe. Sometimes, deciding not to visit someone is the greatest proof of love, don’t you think so?

While Marcos is committed to securing residency in the United States for work purposes, his heart remains in Spain. Marcos looks forward to the day he can fly back to Asturias to reunite with his family. In the meantime, Marcos is traveling locally around California. He particularly likes visiting beaches and national parks such as Big Sur and Bodie State Historic Park.

Planning to explore north of California? If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest is famous for, it’s their coffee culture. Check out our guide to find the best coffee in Portland, Oregon.

Spirit of Aloha

During my college winter break, I was invited to go to Hawaii with my best friend and her family. It would be a week and a half of beautiful blue oceans, volcano hiking, and wildlife I’d only seen in photos. Immediately, I jumped on the opportunity (but honestly, who wouldn’t). The plan was set. We’d stay on the big island, Hawai’i, for five days. Afterwards, we’d head over to Maui for the final three days of our trip.

ALOHA picture

An Introduction to Hilo Culture

While I was staying in Hilo, the largest city on Hawai’i, there was one message that hit home for me: “the spirit of aloha.” Aloha means a lot more than a greeting/goodbye to the Hawaiian people. It is as much as a way of life as “Hakuna Matata” is for Lion King’s Timon and Pumba. The owner of Hilo Ocean Adventures, a local who has lived in Hawai’i all his life, told me that the word, “aloha,” translates to “breathe.” Aloha represents the community spirit and the fact that humanity not only survives, but thrives, if they work together.

hawaii beach

The locals take this to heart. While we were packing our luggage into our rental car, a couple stopped their jog to help us load our bags. They went from being completely focused on their run to organizing eight suitcases into an already-cramped minivan. Then to top everything off, the couple recommended a delicious Asian Fusion restaurant since they had heard our stomachs rumbling. That was the first of many encounters that truly showed off “the spirit of aloha.”

The Spirit of Aloha

Weirdly enough, a lot of the encounters that showed me just how nice locals in Hawai’i happened on the road. Normally, people are at their worst while they’re driving. They shout, curse, and generally have no regard for others on the road (I’m dragging myself too – road rage might as well have been my middle name). But Hawaiians are on a different level when it comes to driving, especially those who subscribe to Hilo culture.

My best friend’s parents made some crazy maneuvers while trying to get to our destinations in Hilo. I know for a fact if we were anywhere else we wouldn’t have been able to do it. At one point, while driving to Rainbow Falls, we had to make a U-turn into a swarm of oncoming traffic. Instead of passing us, as most folks would, the drivers stopped and let us complete our U-turn. Wow. Everyone in the car was shocked that we made it.

traveling hawaii

The friendliness didn’t stop there; when we were snorkeling, locals would point us towards the best places to see rainbow fish. They wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their favorite restaurants and favorite sights. If we hadn’t gotten directions from a local biker on the road, I would never have been able to experience the black sand beaches. Plus, due to the recommendation of the Hilo Ocean Adventures owner, I got to swim side by side with sea turtles (my second favorite animal). Overall, Hawaiians seemed ecstatic to show people their city. However, they expect their lands and customs to be respected in return for their hospitality. This was nothing, especially when considering the friendliness of the locals and great sights.

A Pristine View Comes With Responsibility

The spirit of aloha also includes nature and wildlife as a part of the community. Though they were happy to show us the best places to swim, the locals were also surprisingly stern about making as little impact as possible on nature. There are signs on every beach warning tourists against littering. Almost all the restaurants we went to used paper straws. Whenever we went snorkeling, there was always someone keeping an eye out to make sure no one messed with the marine life inappropriately.

sea turtle in hawaii

The spirit of aloha is, fundamentally, about seeing yourself as part of a bigger picture. It means taking a step back, breathing deeply, and looking at the situation from a place of calm and loving awareness. Though I wasn’t there for long, the Hawaiian people taught me to extend a hand of friendliness to strangers, because you might help them more than you could expect. It taught me to take care of the Earth because we need it more than we realize.

Aloha,

Zoe

Interested in learning more about planning your next trip to Hawai’i? Check out this Oahu itinerary and road trip to the north shore