The gateway to the seemingly endless stretch of beaches and waves of the North Shore is the cultural hub of O’ahu’s surf scene.
Hale’iwa got its start as a tourist spot with the building of the Hale’iwa Hotel in 1898. The hotel is gone, but many of the small town’s buildings have the same look they’ve had for over 100 years of laid-back living. Unlike Waikiki with its high-rises, you’ll find that Hale’iwa has small shops ready to serve the practical needs of surfers and surf-watchers.
Start with a visit to the North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum, also known as Hale’iwa Surf Museum. See surfing photographs and memorabilia, boards from the 1930s and old posters advertising surfing competitions. Watch a video and chat with the curator to find out what’s happening in and around town. Nearby, find gear for snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding or kayaking in one of Hale’iwa’s several surf shops.
Picnic at Hale’iwa Ali’i Beach and watch the makai (ocean-facing) side of the park to see youngsters learning to surf. Then look over your shoulder at the Kalili Surf Center; if you were a Baywatch Hawaii fan, you might recognize the headquarters for the brave and beautiful lifeguards. In July, enjoy the ArtFest with visual and performance art and numerous kids’ activities.
Walk along the shore and look for giant sea turtles. They often nest here and return to the same spot year after year. Remember that they are protected in Hawaii; it is against the law to ride, feed, or even touch a sea turtle. You can still enjoy watching them.
For an old-fashioned experience, rent a paddleboard or outrigger canoe similar to those used in Hawaii for more than 2,000 years. Paddle up the Anahulu River, going under the Rainbow Bridge. Soon you’ll be in lush tropical jungle.
While you’re in Hale’iwa, be sure to sample a North Shore favorite: shave ice. This dessert has a shaved ice texture that absorbs flavor; a variety of local syrup choices including lychee, lilikoi or guava; and ice cream or bean paste at the bottom of a cone, with sweetened condensed milk on top. It’s not a typical snow cone.
Hale’iwa is about an hour’s drive north of Honolulu. Some would say it’s right next to Paradise.