The North Shore of Oahu is arguably the most sought after area of the entire island. With pristine surf beaches, mist shrouded mountain trails, and a fresh foodie scene, there is something for everyone. While there are many unforgettable things to do in Oahu, spending a day in the cute north shore town of Haleiwa is a must. Keep reading to discover 8 of the best things to do in Haleiwa!

8 Bucket List Things to do in Haleiwa

History of Haleiwa

Hawaiians first settled and established villages in Waialua around 1100 A.D. The fertile land and natural springs were ideal for growing taro, sweet potatoes and other crops.

However, Haleiwa Town (pronounced Ha-lay-ee-vah) was first put on the map as a tourist destination in 1898 when the Hale’iwa Hotel was constructed.

In Hawaiian, ‘Hale’ means house and ‘iwa’ refers to the local frigate bird, so ‘Haleiwa’ translates to ‘house of the frigate bird’.

The hotel owner, Benjamin Dillingham, also had a hand in developing the sugar freight railway line with a passenger train leading from Honolulu to Waialua.

The two-hour journey aboard the Haleiwa Limited brought passengers to the front door of the hotel.

He continued to grow the area by building a sugar mill and developing an extensive sugar farm that thrived for nearly 100 years until production ended in 1996.

A weekend in “the country” at Haleiwa Hotel became a popular destination for Honolulu’s affluent residents. For $10, guests could enjoy a round-trip train ticket, an overnight stay at the hotel, a tour of the Waialua sugar mill, and a carriage ride to tour the pineapple plantations at Wahiawa.

Haleiwa began to grow as immigrant laborers from the sugar companies began opening their own businesses. These included food markets, tailor and barber shops, restaurants, and other hotels to name a few.

As new businesses are built, the state has set up architectural guidelines requiring the design to reflect the plantation-style architecture of the early years of Haleiwa’s sugar industry.

As a result, walking down the charming streets of Haleiwa feels as if you’ve taken a step back in time to a small town in the country.

Over a century later, Haleiwa Town is still a popular tourist destination and still holds much of the original charm.

8 Fun Things to do in Haleiwa

1. Check out the surf shops at Old Town Haleiwa

Over the years this laid back hipster town has made its mark as the surfing capital of the world.

As you walk down the streets of Old Town Haleiwa, you’ll notice surf shops lining the small two-lane Kamehameha Highway that runs right through the center of town.

During surf competitions it’s also common to see pro surfers strolling the streets as well.

Surf N Sea is one of our favorite spots to pop into. There is so much merchandise crammed into the store, it’s a little bit of a sensory overload!

Be sure to check out the specialty Hurley line that is only sold in this store. They have done a collaboration with Hurley to sell merchandise that has “Haleiwa” printed on it using the signature “H” logo from Hurley.

A few other popular surf shops are the North Shore Surf Shop, T&C Surf Designs, and Pakaloha Bikinis.

In addition to the surf shops, you can find everything from kitschy souvenirs, to high end decor, specialty shops, island clothing boutiques, and more.

If you’re looking for specialty gifts and souvenirs, check out Happy Haleiwa, North Shore Goodies, and Bubble Shack Hawaii.

The Aloha General Store also has a little bit of everything, including shave ice and an ice cream counter.

The Clark Little Gallery is another spot worth checking out. Clark Little grew up surfing some of the biggest waves on the North Shore and is now an award winning shorebreak photographer.

Step into his gallery to admire or purchase his incredible work. You can also find gifts for any surf fan like phone cases featuring his photos or signature socks.

It is also worth stopping in at the Haleiwa Surf Museum. This small museum opened in 1993 and boasts an impressive collection of surf boards and memorabilia originating from the early 1900s until today. Entrance is free.

At the top of Rainbow Bridge, you can find Colette Miller’s Global ‘Angel Wings’ mural, a popular Instagram photo spot.

These ‘Angel Wings’ murals can be found on 6 different continents and is a reminder that we are all angels of the earth. While you’re there you can browse through the Rainbow Bridge Gift Shop for some souvenirs.

2. Surf or paddle board at the beach

Haleiwa is part of Hawaii’s Seven Mile Miracle, the most concentrated stretch of surf breaks in the world. One of the best things to do in Haleiwa is spend the afternoon surfing or playing at one of the local beaches.

Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park

Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park is a great family beach just south of the boat harbor.

You’ll find picnic tables under sprawling monkeypod trees, clean restrooms, and even a recreation center, the John K Kalili Surf Center. This is where many of the local kids learn to surf.

The Reef Hawaiian Pro is also held annually at Haleiwa Ali’i Beach. This beach is also the filming location for the tv series “Baywatch: Hawaii”.

Haleiwa Beach Park

The Haleiwa Beach Park is located just a little north of the Ali’i Beach Park and boat harbor. This is also a great beach for families.

The waves at Waialua Bay are calm even in the winter months, making it a great spot for kids to boogie board or learn to surf.

You can rent a surf board in town or even take a lesson. The North Shore Surf Girls are a female owned and operated company that offers surf lessons at Haleiwa Beach Park.

The beach is in close proximity to town where you can grab a poke bowl from the Haleiwa Beach House or an Acai Bowl from Banzai Bowl and have a picnic down by the water. There are also picnic tables at the adjacent park.

Pua’ena Point Beach Park

Pua’ena Point Beach Park is just a little farther north and is where the more experienced surfers go for bigger waves. There are smaller waves for the beginners closer to shore, and larger breaks a little further out.

The beach itself is beautiful with a grove of palm trees lining the small cove. You can even find a tree swing on the shore. This is also a great beach to spot sea turtles as they are drawn to the rocky bay.

You can watch the turtles sunbathing and nibbling on algae without the crowds that are found at the nearby Laniakea Beach.

This is also one of our favorite spots to watch the sunset. Surfing under a vibrant creamsicle sky is the best way to end the day at Haleiwa!

3. Jump from Rainbow Bridge

The historic Rainbow Bridge spans across the Anahulu River and is one of the most iconic structures in Haleiwa.

It was constructed in 1921 to replace the old wooden bridge and marks the northern entrance of Old Haleiwa Town.

You’ll see plenty of local kids and tourists alike jumping off the bridge into the water below.

It’s a fun way to cool off and get an adrenaline rush, but just use caution when jumping.

4. Paddle up the Anahulu River

One of the most popular things to do in Haleiwa and one of our favorite things to do on the North Shore is paddle up the Anahulu River.

Paddle board and kayak rentals are available at several locations nearby.

Surf N Sea Shop, Sea & Board Sports Hawaii, or Tropical Rush are all located in Old Town Haleiwa. You can also take a guided paddle board tour.

The Anahulu River empties into Wailua Bay near the southern end of Haleiwa Beach Park where you can launch your paddle board or kayak.

You’ll paddle under Rainbow Bridge then continue about a mile upstream. You’ll also be sharing the waterway with countless sea turtles that are found swimming upstream to feed on the river bottom grass.

5. Get shave ice at Matusmoto’s

Matsumoto’s is arguably the most popular place to get shave ice on the entire island.

In 1951 Matsumoto’s started out as a small grocery store but soon gained popularity when they started serving shave ice drenched in homemade syrup.

While the original building is no longer there, the new building opens up to this cute courtyard where you can find a bench to enjoy your shave ice.

Our favorite is the Pina Colada snowcapped (with condensed milk on top) and ice cream on the bottom.

Their shave ice is also reasonably priced, only $3.50 for a large that includes 3 flavors. You’ll often find a line snaking out the door, but it’s worth the wait!

You can also get shave ice at Aoki’s Shave Ice or Anahulu’s Shave Ice by Rainbow Bridge.

6. Experience the local food scene

There is no shortage of delicious places to eat in Haleiwa! Surf N Salsa came highly recommended, but we were hesitant to try it and always opted for restaurants offering more authentic Hawaiian dishes.

However, this last visit we finally made a stop, and holy moly those were the best burritos! We ordered the California Burrito, Chicken Chimichangas, and the Surf N Turf Burrito, with a side of freshly cooked tortilla chips and salsa. Everything was absolutely amazing and the burritos were ginormous! But don’t worry, if you’re craving the ocean they have mouthwatering fish and shrimp tacos as well.

You can find Surf N Salsa in a cute little food truck lot nestled in the trees. The outdoor seating offers picnic tables under strings of lights and even a little stage where live music is often performed. Delicious food and a great ambiance, definitely a winning combination!

Other great places to eat in Haleiwa:

  • Haleiwa Bowls: The best place to go for a fresh Acai Bowl. Features five different bowls served with fresh tropical fruit and local honey.
  • Haleiwa Beach House: This beachside restaurant has outdoor seating with incredible views. Try the Thai Fried Chicken with Papaya Salad or Kalua Pork Sandwich with Garlic Fries.
  • Kono’s Northshore: Known for their ‘Breakfast Bombers’ breakfast burritos. They also serve up delicious sandwiches like the Triple Crown with ham, bacon, guava BBQ sauce, cheese, slaw, and pulled pork that has been simmering for 12 hours.
  • Farm to Barn Cafe: For fresh and healthy dishes using locally grown ingredients. Great for breakfast or brunch, try the Ulu Waffle or Humble Bowl. They also sell fresh produce.
  • Poke for the People: Serving the freshest poke bowls around.
  • Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken: The best place to get traditional Hawaiian-style huli huli chicken. This juicy chicken is rotisserie roasted over Hawaiian Kiawe smoked wood making it irresistible!
  • Haleiwa Joes: Haleiwa Joe’s is a popular joint that stands where the historic Haleiwa Hotel once stood. The ambiance is great with open-air seating, ocean views, and live music on select days. There is often a long wait and they do not take reservations, but you can walk around the gardens while you wait. Their most popular dish is the prime rib, but be sure to order the luau crab dip and li hing strawberry lemonade as well. The dishes are a little pricey but the portions are large and the service is friendly.

7. Visit the North Shore Macadamia Nut Farm

This small family-run farm is the only working Macadamia nut farm in Oahu. They have been in business since 1972 and sell fresh macadamia nuts grown nearby on their 2-acre farm.

In addition to the traditional macadamia nut, they also offer a wide variety of flavors such as Caramel Roasted, Cinnamon Roasted, and Coconut Roasted. Guests are free to sample the nuts as well as the fresh ground coffee.

The small open-air store also sells a variety of other specialty products and gifts. The stand is located across from Haleiwa Beach Park.

For more farm-fresh local produce, check out the Haleiwa Farmer’s Market and Waialua Farmer’s Market.

8. Take a Historic Haleiwa Walking Tour

Haleiwa has been designated as a historic, cultural, and scenic district. Although neither the Hale’iwa Hotel or the railroad still exist, 30 original historic buildings can still be found in town.

A few of those historic buildings include the Haleiwa Gym, Bolosan Grocery, Fujita Hotel (now Celestial Natural Foods), Waialua Courthouse, and the Haleiwa Shingon Mission.

The visitor center offers a 90-minute walking tour to visit some of these historic sites.

Tours are led by local docents who share a wealth of information about Haleiwa’s past. Tours are $10 per person and must be reserved in advance.

We hope this guide has helped you plan the best things to do in Haleiwa, one of the cutest towns on Oahu’s North Shore!

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