The Haleiwa Hotel in 1903 / Melvin Vaniman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Haleiwa Hotel in 1903 / Melvin Vaniman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Haleiwa Hotel: The Original Resort for Hawaiian Monarchy

Shaka Guide

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Drive past Dole Plantation and the fields of pineapple and coffee until you get to the small surf town of Haleiwa. This tiny town is the gateway to Hawaii's surfing city, the North Shore. With beautiful waves, turtles, snorkeling spots and gorgeous beaches, it's no wonder why Haleiwa and the North Shore attracts so visitors from all around the world!

More than a century ago, before it became the capital of surfing in Hawaii, Haleiwa was just undeveloped land in the middle of nowhere. There were no buildings or roads and the closest town to this area was Waialua, a small plantation town made up of sugar plantation workers who worked at the busy Waialua Sugar Mill, which still stands today. In fact, it wasn't until Oahu's first major hotel was built that finally put Haleiwa on the map and created one of the earliest tourist destinations in Hawaii.

The Haleiwa Hotel

In 1898, Benjamin Dillingham, owner of the Oahu Railway & Land Company (OR&L), built a railroad line that ran from Honolulu to Haleiwa. At the end of the line, he built The Haleiwa Hotel - a grand Victorian hotel with 14 suites all with the added luxury of both hot and cold water, which was a feat in those days considering how far removed Haleiwa was. Guests could play golf and tennis, go fishing, canoe, ride a glass-bottomed boat, tour the Waialua Sugar Mill, and could even take a carriage ride to Wahiawa and back. A two-day excursion from Honolulu to Haleiwa, plus a night at The Haleiwa Hotel cost $10 (about $300 today). The hotel was a huge success and rivaled many of the grand hotels being built in Europe and the U.S. at the same time.

Many people believe that The Moana Hotel in Waikiki was Oahu's first destination resort; but in reality, The Haleiwa Hotel opened its doors in 1899, beating The Moana Hotel by a whole year. The name Haleiwa means "house (hale) of the frigate bird (iwa)" and although the hotel closed its doors in 1943, the name Haleiwa stuck and many of the surrounding businesses had already adopted it, literally placing Haleiwa on the map of Oahu and making it one of Hawaii's top tourist destinations.

Head to the restaurant Haleiwa Joe's if you want to see where The Haleiwa Hotel once stood. Located on the apex of Haleiwa Town, the Anahulu River, and the Haleiwa Boat Harbor, it's no wonder why this hotel was such a huge success back in the day. The beautiful view the patrons of The Haleiwa Hotel woke up to must have overshadowed the one we see today.


A historic Waialua building near the old sugar mill. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Faris


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One of the activities that guests of The Haleiwa Hotel could sign up for was to tour the Waialua Sugar Mill. The sugar industry was a booming industry back then as tourism was only just barely beginning to fluorish. You can still visit the small town of Waialua today and it truly is an off-the-beaten-path experience.

What is now called the Old Waialua Sugar Mill has been turned into souvenir store and coffee and chocolate farm. The store offers free 15-minute tours that give you a little background history of the sugar mill and the farm's coffee and chocolate process.

Only a few small businesses dot the town that caters to travelers looking for a non-touristy alternative for visitors to the North Shore. One of the more popular attractions is the North Shore Soap Factory where you can take a tour and see how soap is made by hand. The factory uses locally-sourced materials and scents and you can even customize your own soap bars by stamping them with fun Hawaiian designs!

Show them your Shaka Guide app and they'll give you a free stick of organic lip balm with a $10 purchase. Download the Grand Circle Island Tour to get started!

A Hotel For Royalty

The Haleiwa Hotel was a favorite spot for Hawaii's monarchs, too. Queen Liliʻuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, built a vacation home up here, which was one of her favorite places to stay. Her private chapel still operates as a church today and it even features a unique clock that she donated. If you have a chance, visit the Liliʻuokalani Protestant Church (marked by its unique stone arch) and take a look at the clock's face which substitutes the 12 letters of her name for the numbers: L-i-l-i-u-o-k-a-l-a-n-i.

RELATED: Haleiwa Travel Guide

Haleiwa Town Today

The train line is long gone now and so are The Haleiwa Hotel and the Hawaiian monarchy, but the tourism industry is alive and well. Today, Haleiwa Town has many charming boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants, and it serves as a base camp for North Shore surfers when they aren’t hitting the waves. During the winter, Haleiwa becomes especially popular due to the big waves that swell in. The shores get busy as surfing competitions bring in professional surfers and spectators line the sand as they cheer and groan with each surf attempt.

RELATED: Why Are The Waves So Big On The North Shore

The iconic Haleiwa sign. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Faris

Even if you're not into surfing, there are a lot of things to do. In fact, with Anahulu River and Haleiwa Boat Harbor in the vicinity, Haleiwa is the main hub of all ocean activities on the North Shore. In addition to learning how to surf, you can kayak, stand-up paddle board, scuba dive, go fishing, see turtles, or even dive with sharks!

As for food, there are a variety of options. One place you need to check out is Matsumoto Shave Ice. You can recognize it by the line of people outside the store, waiting for their rainbow-colored treat. Check out our Haleiwa Travel Guide to learn more. 

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Interested in Haleiwa? It's a stop on our Legendary North Shore Loop Tour!

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