In Hawaii, there’s never a shortage of the sunshine necessary for ocean exploration. As winter approaches, Oahu’s North Shore becomes a world-class destination for surfers and spectators alike. One particular stretch of coastline, known as the “Seven-Mile Miracle,” is home to some of Hawaii’s can’t-miss beaches, where surf history has been made—including some of the biggest waves ever ridden in the shallowest waters. By far, the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture is to flock to these beaches from October to February. But how do you choose when there are dozens of options? It’s all located 60 minutes from “town,” or the city of Honolulu, and the easiest way to get there is to head north. Once you hit the sign reading, “You are now entering the historic Haleiwa Town,” keep on the one-way road until you reach Sunset Beach.
Alii Beach Park, Haleiwa
Ringed in by charming restored wooden storefronts, Haleiwa Town is the perfect place to get a jump start on your morning before heading to the beach. Arrive early, and you’ll spot surfers already in the lineup at Alii Beach Park. Named after the ancient Hawaiian ali‘i (chiefs) who invented he’e nalu—the sport of surfing—this white sand beach is a favorite among locals who like to drop into a bowled-up right wave and ride down toward the inside section known as the “toilet bowl.”
Famous for the turtles that congregate in the shoreline, Laniakea or “Lani’s” is one of the longest right-breaking waves on the North Shore. Known for its consistency, Lani’s breaks on almost any given day, but won’t really get going unless there is a clean six-to-eight-foot north swell. The beach itself is great for ocean exploration and checking out the surf from afar.
There’s nothing more Hawaiian than loading the car up with your barbecue and having a party on the beach. Waimea (known in Hawaiian to mean “red water”) Bay is the perfect place to do it. Considered to be the birthplace of big-wave surfing, Waimea Bay is home to a historic Hawaiian heiau (temple), surf break, tide pools, and expansive beach where you can see dozens of daredevils jumping off the infamous “rock” into the crystal clear waters below.
Three Tables Beach
A half-mile past Waimea Bay, this small and cozy beach is prime for family outings and ocean exploration. Named for the three table-like sections of reef poking out of the water, this beach boasts all kinds of exotic sea critters you can view from the surface, or from the tide pools nearby—but be on the lookout, as there are no lifeguards on duty.
You’ll be out of breath by the time you’re done snorkeling this diver’s haven, but the view from below is worth it. This rocky little bay forms part of Pupukea Beach Park, and while it has no actual “beach,” there are the Pupukea tide pools, which are great for wading and relaxing while the rest of your crew is still exploring.
Banzai Pipeline, Ehukai Beach Park
By far the most famous of beaches in Hawaii (and in the world), thousands gather here to watch surfers take off at Pipeline, or “Pipe,” during the Pipeline Masters Surf Contest. During the winter months, surfers take advantage of the four picture-perfect waves offered here, including “Pipe,” “Backdoor” (the right of Pipe), “Second Reef” (when wave size increases to 12 feet), and “Third Reef” (when wave size increases to more than 20 feet). It’s located on Ke Nui Road across the street from Sunset Beach Elementary School, and parking can get tricky, so arrive early.
End: Sunset Beach
Sunset Beach is not only one of the best places to sit and watch the sun set into the horizon after you’ve had a long one, but it’s also known for offering all the ocean exploration you can handle—it just depends what time of the year you go. During the summer months, enjoy one of Oahu’s longest beaches, running two miles long—and in the winter months, be wary of the monster-sized waves rolling into shore.