What To Do In Haleiwa For The Best Memories!


Haleiwa town (translation: ‘house of the frigate bird’) is a small but major town located on the North Shore of Oahu.

My memories of Haleiwa…

Haleiwa before its makeover

As a teenager, my sister and I along with our close friends would frequently visit Haleiwa.

The main reason was to stop and grab a cone of shaved ice from Matsumoto’s Shave Ice on the way back home after a long day of hanging out at the beach.

The cold shaved ice along with the sweet syrups tasted so good and it was a nice close to our beach day before driving all the way back home to Aiea.

There were many flavored syrups that you could choose from and if I recall correctly, you were able to choose up to three. I always went for two: banana and vanilla.

Oh how I loved the taste of both of those as they mixed at the bottom of the paper cone.

I would always get the extra add on of the scoop of vanilla ice cream but if I could afford it that day, I would throw in the azuki beans!

Haleiwa as it is today is not what I remember during that time in my life.

It was a small town that was lined with super old buildings and everything looked run-down.

2008 Haleiwa Makeover

Luckily in 2008 Haleiwa did a major makeover of the town and its new look and feel has attracted so many more visitors.

There now is a mixture of old buildings that have been gutted and internally refurbished with new buildings built in between or along side of the old buildings built with a style that nicely merges the two.

Haleiwa town feels so much more inviting and although there are many cute boutiques and lots of places to eat, it still very much has the surfer vibe as it always had.

If you are looking to visit the North Shore of Oahu and have a day to spend in Haleiwa, below are some things I would recommend for visitors:

Fun things to do in Haleiwa

Rent a Standup Paddle Board (SUP) or Kayak

When driving through Haleiwa you will get to a point that you will have to cross a narrow white bridge.

Immediately after you cross the bridge, you will see a yellow and brown building on your left

To your right, you will see a green and white building both with surfboards, surf apparel, and other items set up outside.

I don’t recommend one over the other since they are both equally good so I’ll leave that choice up to you.

You will be able to transport your SUP or kayak easily as both have good water access.

Standup Paddle Boarding is tricky

Standup paddle boarding (SUP) can be tricky if you don’t have good balance.

SUPing is one of those things that looks a lot easier that it is. It requires coordination and core strength.

I am certainly not trying to scare or discourage anyone from trying it but I just wanted to give you folks the heads up.

It becomes a bit more challenging if its windy or if there are waves.

With that said, if you want to try SUPing this is probably the best place on island to try it out.

I commonly see people end up on their knees when they’ve determined that standing up is too challenging and that is totally cool.

The ‘Anahulu River is good for Standup Paddle Boarding and Kayaking

The ‘Anahulu River is calm which is the ideal condition if you are a beginner.

Kayaking is fun especially if you are on the two person kayak.

It will feel a little clunky at first since both paddlers will have to figure out a paddling rhythm that meshes well together.

The thick plastic material of a kayak will give you a good sense of protection, meaning that if you are heading straight toward the side of the river and bang the edge, you’ll just laugh and use the paddle to push away and get back on track.

Also, as long as both paddlers are situated and centered in their seats, the kayak won’t flip over.

I always know what to do in Haleiwa and one of those being renting a standup paddle board.
The Anahulu River in Haleiwa is perfect for kayaking. This river is also really good for standup padding.
Mouth of the ‘Anahulu River
Rainbow Bridge is the landmark for Haleiwa. Local kids love jumping off the bridge.
Rainbow Bridge
The Anahulu River is calm but it can get windy around some of the turns.
The water of the ‘Anahulu River is calm
Haleiwa Surf N Sea is a great place to get all the things you need for the beach.
Surf N Sea
Tropical Rush in Haleiwa rents out Standup paddle boards and kayaks.
Tropical Rush

Rent a Bicycle

If you’re not interested in going into the water, I recommend renting a bicycle.

There are some surf shops in Haleiwa town that will have bicycles for rent.

I don’t have a solid recommendation as to where to rent from since they are all pretty much the same.

There is a bit of traffic going through Haleiwa so just be on alert and be mindful of the cars around.

Rent a bike to get around Haleiwa town. Just be careful of the traffic.
Bicycle Rentals at the North Shore Surf Shop

A quick adventure

One random summer day in 2017, my sister and I decided to take a drive to the North Shore.

With no plans in mind we seen bicycles for rent and decided to pull over and go on a little Haleiwa bicycle adventure.

I ended up renting from bicycles from Tropical Rush and biked to Killer Tacos which is at the beginning of Haleiwa to grab lunch.

We aimlessly wandered with our bicycles toward Waialua and turned back when we though we gone far enough.

On the way back, we headed to Haleiwa Harbor and Haleiwa Beach where we were lucky to see a resting turtle.

Rent a bike to get around Haleiwa town. My sister and I had a quick fun adventure.
Our Haleiwa Biking Adventures
What to do in Haleiwa with your friends... Eat some killer tacos!
Lunch at Killer Tacos
While renting a bike, we took a ride to the Haleiwa Boat Harbor.
Exploring Haleiwa Harbor
Its always nice to see turtles while in Haleiwa but please do not touch them.
Honu (Turtle) sighting

Take a Surf Lesson

If you want to take your water skills beyond standup paddle boarding and kayaking, I encourage you to take a surf lesson.

North Shore of Oahu which IS the surfing capital of the world so there’s no other place to learn.

Surfing is an ancient Hawaiian sport so if you want to do what the locals do, it doesn’t get any more local than surfing.

I do recommend contacting Surf N Sea for surf lessons.

Haleiwa Surf N Sea has been doing this for a long time and are experts at teaching proper techniques of surfing to people and groups of all levels.

Go to Haleiwa Surf N Sea if you want to take surfing lessons.
Surf Lessons sign outside of Surf N Sea

Head to Cholo’s for a Margarita

Try the Li Hing Mui blended margarita at Cholo’s in Haleiwa.

Li Hing Mui is a tangy plum powder that the locals love.

We sprinkle this sweet-sour power on lot of things such as pineapples, dehydrated mangoes, and gummy candies.

I know it seems weird but its a real local thing.

You can always stick to the traditional margarita if you aren’t the type to venture out of your personal food/taste zone.

Cholos in Haleiwa is a great place for Margaritas.
Front view of Cholo’s Restaurant

Eat an Acai Bowl

Acai bowls are another local fave.

The mixture of different textures and flavors makes these bowls of goodness so addicting.

The typical acai bowl that I’ve seen consists of frozen acai palm fruit that is pureed, granola, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, topped with honey.

There’s a lot of different add-ons that are available such as coconut shavings, chia seeds, coconut cream, chocolate, or peanut butter.

Go to any shop or stand that sells acai bowls and you’ll see what I mean.

There’s all sorts of combinations to choose from but if you don’t see the combo that you want listed in the menu, I’m sure it would be no problem for the company to accommodate your requests.

Haleiwa Bowls serves awesome acai bowls. Check them out while you are out in Haleiwa town.
Haleiwa Bowls

Go shopping

Haleiwa is lined with many cute boutiques, surf shops, and art galleries.

Most shops are locally owned, greatly outnumbering the amount of franchise businesses in the area.

Many of the surf shops have their own graphic designer so what you see in one store will likely not be in the other so if you see something you like, you may as well purchase it then and there.

From my recent visit to Haleiwa, the stores seem to sell items within the Hawaii theme but more specifically highlighting the North Shore surf vibes and all things North Shore.

North Shore Surf Shop has lots of cute local designs on many different kinds of items.
Inside the North Shore Surf Shop
North Shore Surf Shop has an awesome graphic designer. I want to hire him or her.
Original North Shore graphic designs
North Shore Surf Shop has cute little artwork representing Haleiwa.
Cute art and decorations with the North Shore theme
San Lorenzo in Haleiwa town has a cute colorful mural of different kinds of plants.
Loving the vibe in San Lorenzo Bikini
The Growing Keiki in Haleiwa town has cute clothes and things for children.
Clothes for Kids. Keiki means baby, child, or “the little one”
The Clark Little Gallery has some pretty amazing photos of the inside of North Shore waves.
Clark Little is the brother to the late big wave surfer: Brock Little
Happy Haleiwa is a cute little shop in Haleiwa town. Go check them out!
Always support local!
Cute apparel for Hawaii kids can be found throughout many shops in Haleiwa. Aren't these onesies the cutest!
Aren’t these so cute
The works of Haleiwa artists can be found in different shops throughout Haleiwa town.
Contemporary Hawaii Artists

Relax on the Beach

If you just want to relax and not in the mood to do anything physically taxing but still want to enjoy the water, that option is yours too.

At a bare minimum, all you really need is your swimwear and a towel.

If you want to be more comfortable, I would suggest bringing along some other things especially if you intend on staying out for a long period of time:

  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Beach Mat
  • Ice chest
    • Ice
    • Bottled Water
    • Fruits/Snacks
    • Food
Haleiwa Beach is perfect for little kids to play, swim, and relax on the sand.
Those two girls on the sand are my nieces. They’re so cute!

Shaved Ice from Matsumoto’s

Ahhh, how can I write an entire blog on what to do in Haleiwa without mentioning the famous Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice!

I intentionally saved this for last because if there is one thing that is a must-do of things to do in Haleiwa, it is to get shaved ice.

Matsumoto’s as it stands today has changed drastically from what I remember as a teenager. I remember a single standing brown store with the yellow sign hanging out front.

The infrastructure was obviously old and run down.

Inside the Old Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice Store

Inside was crowded with shelves filled with various items or snacks and various t-shirts displaying different prints that hung high from the ceiling.

Everything had a layer of dust on it probably because of the dust kick-up from the passing vehicles close to the store front entrance.

At the very back of the store, there was a counter with two shaved ice machine makers and a door that let the employees out back.

There were always about 4-5 high school aged workers crammed into a tiny area where they somehow managed to coordinate a system in order to produce each shaved ice order without getting in each others way.

Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice was always a crowd favorite

Matsumoto’s has always been the most popular place to get shaved ice in Haleiwa.

Although the store sold other items, the shaved ice was undeniably the money maker.

For many years they operated by having the customers form a single file line going through the middle of the store.

Customers would proceed to the outside of the store to eat their shaved ice by either sitting on the brown benches that were in front or move off to the side of the building to indulge in their sweet pile of ice happiness.

With folks spilling the tops of their shaved ice, there was also a sticky residue that coated the top of the sidewalk.

Because of the sugar in the syrups, there were always and abundance of bees.

Inside the original Matsumoto's Shaved Ice store. Its so different nowdays.
This is how I remember it!
Image by @wheretonext77 via https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g60647-d545650-i25461624-Matsumoto_Shave_Ice-Haleiwa_Oahu_Hawaii.html
The original Matsumoto Shaved Ice building before it was gutted and extended.
The original Matsumoto’s store
Image by Kathy Eng via https://www.pinterest.com/pin/175147872978343845/
The menu inside of the original Matsumoto Shaved Ice shop.
What the menu used to look like
Image by Lindsey Johnson via https://cafejohnsonia.com/2011/05/matsumoto-shave-ice.html

This is what Matsumoto’s looks like today.

They have kept the structure of the original store but have extended the back to serve as the designed area in order to accommodate the shaved ice sales.

The line gets long so make sure to pack plenty of patience before heading over there.

The updated and new version of the Matsumoto's Shaved Ice building.
Patiently waiting people

The original store has been gutted and refurbished and is now the current retail store.

What the inside of the original Matsumoto's Shaved Ice building looks like in 2021.
Matsumoto’s Retail Store