Bonzai Pipeline, Hawaii

The North Shore's Best Swells

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Oahu's North Shore is famous among the surfing set, so it's no wonder the surfing pros come here to show off their skills and the mesmerized fans flock to watch safely from the shore. The Bonzai Pipeline is one of those beaches known for its waves, which can be both awe-inspiring and treacherous. During the winter, the oceans churn and the waves curl up to 30 feet high before they hammer into the sandy shores. Bonzai is a wild place during those months, when the surfing frenzy reaches its peak. But the waters do settle down in the summer so that even mere mortals can dip in a toe unafraid. One thing that doesn't change with the season is the surfing culture -- the vibe here is laid-back, and so are the hotels, restaurants and people. While surfing is certainly the preferred hobby around Bonzai Pipepline, there is plenty for non-surfers to get stoked about, too. The beaches all along Ohau's North Shore are great for sunbathing, people watching and relaxing. Pupukea Beach Park is a great spot for snorkeling and cave diving, while Waimea Beach Park is the perfect place to take the kids swimming (in the summer, when the surf is calm). And bring your binoculars because the surfers aren't the only wild things out to sea. Between December and April, visitors can hope to catch a peek of the magnificent humpback whales passing through on their migration from Alaska.

Getting There
Nearest Major International Airport: Visitors can fly into Honolulu International Airport, which is on Oahu's South Shore. It's about 30 miles to the North Shore.

Ground Transportation: The best bet is to rent a car from any of the island's rental agencies, which are mostly clustered around the airport. This gives you the freedom to travel on your own timetable and the chance to take in some of that scenery that makes Oahu so popular. Buses and taxis are also readily available for travel around the island.

Timing
Diehard surfers flock to Oahu's North Shore from October to April, when the waves are at their wildest (and deadliest). This coincides with Hawaii's high season, so expect the crowds and hotel prices to reach their peaks. The churning waves settle down in the summer, and so do the prices.

Lodging
Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village might be the quintessential surfers' crash pad, with its no-frills dormitory setting and laid-back atmosphere. The Keiki Beach Bungalows is another great choice for surfers looking for a simple place to crash at night. The 1-room bed and breakfast Santa's by the Sea is private and convenient and great for an escape. Finally, if cutting corners is not your idea of a vacation, check out Turtle Bay Resort, the most luxurious hideaway on the North Shore. This upscale spot is ideal for families and travelers looking to treat themselves. Amenities include golf, a full spa, fun for the little ones and lots of restaurants.

Cuisine
Eat like a surfer, and fill up after hitting the waves at the infamous Café Haleiwa. This popular spot serves up pancakes dripping in pineapple sauce, overstuffed omelets, home fries and another local specialty -- piping hot coffee. When it's time for lunch, pop into Kua Aina Sandwich to fill your belly with gigantic burgers topped with cheese, bacon and pineapple; fish sandwiches with homemade tartar sauce; and a heaping plate of fries. Finish off the day with dinner at Haleiwa Joe's. The prime rib or seafood specials are sure to give you the fuel you need for another long day on the beach.

Travel Tips
The red flags on the beach are there for a good reason and shouldn't be ignored or taken lightly. Bonzai's crashing waves might be among the biggest and best, but they have also been known to break collarbones and worse. Amateurs are best off keeping their feet planted in the sand while they admire the tricks and turns of the pros careening down the pipeline, especially in the winter.

While You're There
Kids craving some theme park action have a trio of choices on Oahu. Waimea Falls Park is the most authentically Hawaiian of the group, with archaeological sites, cliff diving, hula performances and the option to explore the jungle by foot, mountain bike or kayak. At Sea Life Park children can visit with dolphins, whales, sea lions and penguins. Finally, the thrill-seekers among the young set will dig the dozens of twisting slides at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park.

Check out surfing memorabilia, including antique surfboards, and watch some classic surf films at the North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum.

To Fake That You've Been There
Invite your friends over to watch "North Shore" or "Blue Crush" and conveniently leave your surfboard wax out on the coffee table. Be sure to sprinkle phrases like "dude" and "what a Barney" (referring to someone who's not a good surfer) into the conversation.

Linking for a Better Vacation
For more information, visit the Oahu Visitors Bureau.