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Boots On The Ground: Seven Miles of Paradise, North Shore Oahu

by Team Zero Grid January 17, 2017 14 Comments

Have you ever wondered what a place is really like, beyond what the travel guides tell you? Our Boots on the Ground reports give you real stories from travelers around the world. Below, Jake Fishman, author of the travel blog The Goldfish Escapades, tells all about a life-long favorite destination, the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii:

I cannot tell you how many times I overlooked this moment until my dad said this to me walking out of the plane to the baggage claim: “Jake, take a look at everyone walking in the opposite direction. Look at how sad they look going home, appreciate that you are walking in this direction." Having a family vacation home on the North Shore of Oahu has allowed me to make this area my second home and realize that it is one of my favorite places in the world to visit. 

The North Shore of Oahu, also known as the 7 Miles of Paradise, is the mecca of surfing around the world. During the winter months, hundreds of professional surfers live there to prove themselves and compete in some of the most prestigious surf competitions on the world circuit.

Traveling to the North Shore of Oahu has become a tri-annual ritual for me, as the surf, nature, and kind people separate it from most other places I have been in the world. The general public usually thinks about the busy beaches of Waikiki and the endless hotels and gift shops of the South Shore of the island, but if you want to escape the large Disney hotel pools and ABC stores and instead immerse yourself in nature, countryside, and a laid-back lifestyle, the North side of the Island is for you.

North Shore Cloudy Day

Walking outside the air conditioned airport, the moist and humid air slammed us in the face – we were here. In that moment, our ride pulled up to our bags, it was uncle Chuck! Uncle Chuck is the caretaker of my family’s vacation house and manages it for other guests that we rent it out to. With his permanently tanned body and goofy smile, he greeted us with a big Aloha.

The only airport on Oahu is on the South Side in the city of Honolulu, so getting to the North Shore will take you about an hour. If you do not want to spend the money on a rental car, you have two options. You can hitchhike, which is legal, or take the public bus, which will take you about twice the time of a normal car.

North Shore Surfers Truck

Riding on the back of the pick-up truck, which is also legal in Hawaii, and passing the pineapple and coffee fields, we were finally on the countryside. “Keep the Country Country,” the main slogan for this side of the island, is embedded within the lifestyle and culture of those who inhabit the area. Everyone knows everyone here - As uncle Chuck honked at almost every car and surfer walking along the highway, the more I felt like I was finally home. After a surf check, food run, and jibber jabber with the locals, we arrived at my house and turned on the vacation mode button.

North Shore Sundown Beach

Surfing on the North Shore

North Shore Surfers

Surfing is the most popular activity on the North Shore, as people travel from the ends of the earth to surf the warm and powerful waters this area has to offer. The skill level of these surf breaks range from beginner to advance, but most are classified as advanced.

If you are a beginner, go to Pua’ena Point located before the town of Halewia. There, you can rent surfboards and even sign up for a surf lesson with different surf schools. If you are a skilled surfer who is coming for a surf trip, don’t waste hundreds of dollars shipping your boards over, risking them breaking along the way. From my years of coming to this side of the island, I have met local Mike Harris, whose sole job is to find you your ideal board. Ask around and give him a call and he will have a quiver of boards ready for you to check out!


Food – How to Eat for Cheap

I have tried all the different routes and have discovered that buying food at the grocery store is pretty much as expensive as eating out every day. Unless you shop on the South Side of the Island and go to Costco, you are better off just trying the plethora of food trucks that surround the North Shore.

The normal price of a typical meal at a food truck runs around $8-15 USD. My favorite (and the cheapest) meal is a $6.99 poke bowl at the local grocery store Foodland. Hawaii is famous for their freshly caught fish, so despite the simplicity of a rice and chopped raw fish bowl, you will be hooked by the reel the second the fish melts in your mouth. Acai Bowls are pretty popular in this area – for the most bang for your buck, go to Banzai Bowls at Sunset Beach for a large serving of your favorite fruit.



Accommodation on the North Shore can be tough to find during the peak season, but with enough research you have a multitude of options. There are services like Airbnb and VRBO in the area, but if you want to go a really cheap route, I suggest looking into Backpackers Hawaii. This hostel is walking distance from the main grocery store and bus stop and is perfect for anyone looking to meet other fellow travelers.

If you are trying to stay on the North Shore for more than a month, I suggest looking into Waihuena Farm, which offers free accommodation (a tent or yurt) and meals in exchange for work on the farm. You could also camp on the beach. No one really bothers you!


Hiking Around The North Shore

One of my favorite destinations is the small island of Chinaman's Hat, nestled on the east side of the island, about a 25 minute drive from the North Shore. Legend has it that a large Chinese man lives beneath the island, and the only thing protruding out of the water is the large hat that he wears. Despite many people visiting this attraction, very few actually make the excursion to the island. Being around a hundred yards away from the shore, the only way to access the island is either swim or paddle there.

I packed my DSLR, drone, and all my lenses and ventured to the water with a stand up paddle board. With the wind blowing and the crystal blue waters beneath me, all I could think about was the thousands of dollars worth of equipment I could potentially lose. Get on your knees, paddle slow and don’t think about it - with singing enough cheerful songs, I made it to the island dry.


North Shore Chinaman's Hat

North Shore Chinaman's Hat Aerial View

What To Do In North Shore Oahu

You can reach the summit of the island by following the small trail along the ridge. I would only recommend this trail to people who have high fitness levels and who aren’t afraid of heights. Standing on top of the summit, you feel like you are on top of the world! I was able to get some amazing drone footage, until my drone malfunctioned and crashed into the ocean.

My heart sank – but how mad could I really be when having such a beautiful place to myself? Despite the death of my drone, I was still happy to have made it to the top of the island with only me and my best friends.

Jake Fishman Ukulele Sunset

Even though the North Shore of Oahu is unlike the normal travel destinations that most people initially want to go to, the beauty and the laidback culture that this area preserves will change the way you look at your own life and the energies you want to surround yourself with.


Jake's tips for North Shore Oahu

    Best of the known tourist spots to visit?
    Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline, Halewia, Waimea Valley, Turtle Beach
    Best obscure place(s) to visit?
    North Shore Pill Box, Turtle Bay blow hole, Sharks Cove
    Cost per day to live on the cheap - lodging, meals, transit?
    $60-$90: $7-$13 per meal, $40-$80 per night, $5-$10 Transit
    Unique local food you must try?
    Fresh poke, acai bowls, and spam musubi
    One thing to be sure to pack for this location?
    Bathing suit
    Best Spots to get work done?
    Haleiwa Town at a café
    Internet Speeds? - Ubiquity of Wifi?
    Wifi and 4G at most locations: Banzai Pipeline is a dead zone
    Best area to find accommodations in?
    Not a lot of hotels, but a plethora or Airbnb and VRBO rentals. A few hostels
    Cost of a local beer/wine? (store & restaurant)
    One handle of vodka is around $21.00
    One thing you wish you had known prior to arriving?
    Bring goggles and less clothing, you pretty much live in your boardshorts and tanktop
    Typical price of a meal? (Sit down & Street Cart (if available))
    There are a lot of food trucks in the area that range from $8-$15 per meal. Restaurants are also around that price. My favorite and cheapest meal is ordering a poke bowl from the local foodstore “Foodland” for $6.99.
    Since the grocery store is super expensive because everything has to be imported onto that side of the island, eating out can be cheaper if you plan it right. I usually always get a poke bowl a day, since the fish is caught fresh every day. Acai bowls are super refreshing and are a daily meal for me, despite the hefty $11 price tag of just mixed fruit and granola.
    The one thing that most surprised you about this location?
    The price of living here is pretty expensive since it is the Mecca of the surfing world.
    Preferred means of transportation around town?
    Rental Car, hitchhiking, or bus. Riding in the back of a pickup truck and hitchhiking is LEGAL here
    Best place to people watch?
    Banzai Pipeline: This beach is where you will find the best surfers in the world during the winter season. For this reason, it is one of the most popular to beaches to sunbathe and watch the surf.
    Best time/months of year to visit?
    For surfing and partying: Winter season (November – February)
    Hospitals and/or Medical Clinic nearby?
    Closest hospital is on the East Side of the Island about 20 minutes away
    How far from the nearest airport?
    Nearest airport is Honolulu International Airport, which is about 40 minutes away
    Currency or Currencies accepted?
    Language(s) Spoken
    English, Portuguese (a heavy influence), and Japanese (from all the tourists)
    Popular local activities/events?
    Popular activities: Surfing, snorkeling,diving.
    Regular Events: Surfer Bar and Breakers Restaurant hold weekly open mics and events
    Local Language’s words for “Hello”, “Thank You” and “Goodbye”
    Aloha: Hello
              Mahalo: Thank you
              Uncle: Like a mutual friend, kind of like “he’s my bro”
      Town: When staying on the North Shore of Oahu, when people say they are going to town or live in town, that means the South Side of the island in Honolulu. Even though the nearest town is Haleiwa, no one will call it town.
    Share and describe your favorite photo you took from the trip
    The beach that I live on is world-renowned for its sunsets, which is why it is called Sunset Beach. Once 5pm hits, every parking spot to the beach is filled, as everyone awaits the world's best free show. Our Balcony is the perfect lookout for the sunset, so I try to grab at least one picture per day of the sunset. One evening we weren’t really paying attention to the sunset until the whole sky turned red and orange. Knowing that time wasn’t on my side, I bolted to my camera and adjusted the setting as quick as I could to get the shot. After, I put the camera down I forgot about looking through the photos. A few days later, I was going through the photos on my computer and couldn’t believe what I saw. I got one of my favorite sunset pictures of all time.
    One tip to meet locals or get an authentic experience
    One of the best tips I would give someone coming here is to just be super open and friendly. A lot of the Hawaiian locals are large and intimidating looking people, but inside are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. Go to the Sunset Beach parking lot at sunset and have a conversation one of the many regulars that come for sunset. They will run your ear with a plethora of stories and legendary tales. If you are looking to meet more travelers, then get a room at the Back Packers Inn. That place is always teeming with travelers who want to all want to hangout and explore.
    Tip(s) to respect local culture
    Since surfing is THE thing on the North Shore, surf etiquette is essential to respecting local culture. Don’t drop in on any surfers, be friendly out in the water, be giving when it comes to waves, and most importantly know your surfing limits and your ability.
    One way to push your comfort zone
    One way to push your comfort zone is to take a bike and travel the 8 miles of paradise that the North Shore has to offer. Stop at each beach and have a conversation with someone. Try a food truck along the way and eat something you wouldn’t normally get. If you are feeling really adventurous take the public bus around the island! You will really see the best and worst parts of the island.
    Easy side jobs to acquire
    Working in the food industry is one of the more popular and easiest jobs you can get. Ask a local food truck, a smoothie place, or a restaurant for work. If you are trying to only stay for a few months, contact the farm mentioned in the article and work on the farm for free in exchange for housing (tent or yurt) and meals! The farm is across the street from the famous Pipeline Beach so it is not far off the main drag. The Backpackers Inn is also a great place for work that I have heard exchanges maid services for free stay and compensation.
    Do you stay active / work out on the go? If so, how?
    The North Shore is one of the most active places I have been too. Every person lives an active lifestyle by either surfing, swimming, hiking, or diving. The town is up early and goes to sleep when it hits dark. A great way to stay active is to research the different yoga classes in the area. The North Shore is saturated with yoga instructors – so pick a class that is right for you!

      Spinning Fire North Shore Oahu Beach Night

      Jake Fishman is the voice behind The Goldfish Escapades. His adventures have taken him around America's highways in his big red bus, overseas to the Middle East, and even as far as Australia.

      Follow his adventures at


      Team Zero Grid
      Team Zero Grid


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