The busiest island in Hawaii, Ohau’s beaches are some of the finest in the tropical island’s chain despite the relatively large population of locals and tourists they must be shared with. While some sandy gems are purely for surfing, home to some of the biggest waves in the world, others are calmer and perfect for both swimming and snorkeling, especially during the summer months. In this post, discover some of the best beaches in Oahu!
Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
This list of the best beaches in Oahu covers the finest I discovered during my time on the island, both in Honolulu as well as outside the city. Feel free to pick and choose the ones that best fit into your Honolulu and Oahu itinerary. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Some Oahu beaches have facilities (showers, toilets etc.) and many have lifeguards but not all.
- Beaches inside official state or county parks may have opening hours so have a look at the signs before entering.
- Be very cautious of swimming in most Oahu beaches. Strong currents and high surf, especially during winter months and on the windward coast, can cause unsafe and even fatal conditions.
Map of the Best Oahu Beaches
This map outlines all the beaches mentioned in this article. Click on the image to open in Google Maps.
Best Honolulu Beaches
Though you should definitely get out of the big city while you visit Oahu, Honolulu nonetheless does deserve at least one full day of fun in the sun.
Love it or hate it, it’s difficult to visit Honolulu without paying a visit to Waikiki Beach – one of the most famous beaches in the world. In an effort to “escape the city”, Waikiki was frequented by Hawaiian royalty in the old days, but when the Royals weren’t around, it was primarily a farming area. Things started to change in 1901 with the opening of the first hotel and Waikiki never looked back, for better or for worse. Waikiki Beach is magnificent if you somehow manage to ignore the high rises and block out the noise, a beautiful strip of sand and azure waters that are a haven for swimmers, beach volleyball hotshots, and surfers. But the fact that all the action in town converges on Waikiki might also be a plus. There’s never a dull moment! For the “quietest” spot, head east to the Queen’s Beach section of Waikiki. Full facilities, including lifeguards.
Ala Moana Beach Park
The locals’ alternative to busy Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana is a pretty crescent of sand that’s part of a much larger park. Apart from the beach, you’ll find here recreational areas, picnic facilities, and even tennis courts. What’s nice about Ala Moana Beach is that just a few hundred meters away, tourists are busy in search of a few free square meters of sand in Waikiki and that you can hang out with the locals albeit they themselves are probably “mainland transplants”. When you’ve had enough of the beach, the trendy Ala Moana shopping center is just a few minutes away on foot. Full facilities and lifeguards.
Best Oahu South Coast Beaches
Close to the big city and even reachable by bus, Oahu’s southeast beaches are the perfect getaway-for-the-day from Honolulu or the first stops on a road trip up the windward coast.
Spectacular Hanauma Bay has to rank among the prettiest bays in the world, certainly when it comes to the tropical ones. The bay is hidden from the outside world thanks to towering cliffs, and its sheltered waters are teeming with life thanks to a pristine coral reef. Hanauma Bay was the playground of the ancient royal family and was off limits to the public for many years due to its delicate marine ecosystem. The good news is that you can now visit and snorkel in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Marine Park ($7.50), but you’ll have to watch an educational film prior to marching down so that others can enjoy this gem for years to come. Hanauma doesn’t have the making of a “quick stop” so only make it down to the beach if you intend to snorkel. Otherwise, you can admire its beauty from the scenic lookout. Full facilities including lifeguards, snorkeling gear rental and dive center.
Officially known as Halona Cove, this dream of beach hides right beneath the coastal highway and it can easily be overlooked if you skip the visit to the adjacent Halona Blowhole. There isn’t much beach space for you to spread your towel on and the swimming is a bit rough, but isn’t this beach a real beauty? No facilities or lifeguards.
Like others to follow on this list of the best beaches in Oahu, Sandy Beach is more for relaxing and for treating your eyes to a pretty sight, and less for swimming, unless you’re an experienced body surfer. This beautiful patch of blinding golden sand is notorious for waves breaking close to shore. So grab a plate of delicious shrimp from the food truck which is almost always parked out front, kick back, relax, and watch the “pros” riding and crashing! Full facilities including a picnic area and lifeguards.
Best Oahu East Coast Beaches
Oahu’s windward coast is a reminder of how beautiful the island really is and how life may have looked like in the pre-development days. This side of Oahu is blessed with dozens of fine beaches for you to choose from.
Often too rough for swimmers but a haven for bodysurfers, Makapuu’s appeal is its magnificent setting. A pocket of sand only a few meters in length, the beach is tucked between rocky Makapu’u Point and high sea cliffs. To catch the best view of the beach, go for a short but memorable hike to Makapu’u Point and its lighthouse, or view the beach from the Makapu’u Lookout on the coastal highway. Full facilities including lifeguards.
Not to be missed, Waimanalo Beach is the longest uninterrupted white-sand beach on the island. Visitors are treated to miles and miles of soft white sand that meet the bluest of waters. There’s plenty of room for everyone and plenty of shade thanks to ironwood trees acting as a buffer between this natural gem and the coastal road. Waimanalo is great for both swimming (when the ocean is calm) and bodysurfing, but you’ll have just as much fun chilling on the beach and admiring the view. Full facilities including picnic areas and lifeguards.
Looking like something out of the South Pacific, Lanikai Beach is certainly worthy of its name, which means “heavenly ocean” in Hawaiian. So white is the sand and so blue is the water, that you really must devote a few hours to fully enjoy this tropical beach. Lanikai and its more famous sister down the road – Waimea Beach – are fronted by a calm lagoon which attracts kayakers as well as beach goers of all age groups. To reach the beach, park somewhere in the residential area and find a path leading to the beach between the row of mansions, that are sadly responsible for the erosion that Lanikai has seen over recent years. No facilities or lifeguards.
Kualoa Regional Park
Kualoa is not the best place for swimming, but its grassy area, its close proximity to the eroded pali (cliff) – the signature feature of the windward coast, and the gorgeous coastal views, all make this a worthwhile stop. Come here to stretch your legs on the drive up the windward coast, relax, and maybe even have picnic lunch on the grass, with a view! No facilities or lifeguards.
Mālaekahana State Recreation Area
Malaekahana Beach splashes onto the grounds of a large park where you can also camp, making this beach ideal for those looking to get off the grid for a day or two. The beach is hardly ever crowded and you can even walk across the lagoon to the small bird sanctuary of Goat Island. But when the surf is up, do stick to dry land. Full facilities, no lifeguards.
Best Oahu North Shore Beaches
The north shore beaches of Oahu are among the best surfing beaches in the world, with winter waves reaching epic proportions. But aside from riding a pipeline, the north shore beaches are beautifully wide and perfect for a summer swim or a long nap under the sun.
Ehukai Beach Park
Home to the world famous Banzai Pipeline, Ehukai Beach is notorious for its mammoth waves which crash close to shore during winter months. The beach attracts the world’s best surfers in a quest to catch the perfect wave but even if you’re not a pro surfer, the seemingly endless wide strip of soft golden sand meeting azure waters is a good enough reason to pay a visit. During the calmer summer months, swimming is totally possible at Ehukai, but if your visit coincides with a sunny winter day, chilling and falling asleep to the sounds of the crashing waves is just as perfect. Backing the beach, check out the row of dream mansions, some of which are owned by big surf brands who host the stars and their loyal fans. Full facilities including lifeguards.
Another legendary surfing hot spot on the north shore of Oahu, Waimea Bay plays host to a number of top surf competitions throughout the year. But beyond the surf, Waimea Bay offers a gorgeous backdrop for beach goers who aren’t looking to ride waves. Calmer summer months offer safe swimming conditions and the rocky outcrops of the bay are inviting for locals who practice their cliff jumping skills. When you’ve had enough of the beach, head inland and check out the botanical gardens and their waterfall, before wrapping up the day at Matsumoto’s – home to the best shave ice on the island. Full facilities including lifeguards.
Best Oahu West Coast Beaches
Oahu’s leeward coast is much less developed than the rest of the island. It is home to many native Hawaiians and a lot fewer haoles. The west coast is the drier side of the island, at times looking more like a desert rather than a tropical island. The few visitors who venture up this coast usually combine some beach time with a visit to the Kaneana (Makua) Cave.
A wide arch of golden sand, Makaha Beach Park is rarely crowded on weekdays and even during the weekend, you’ll enjoy mingling with the few local families who come to chill and cool off in its waters. Makaha Beach is good for both swimming and snorkeling during the calmer summer months, but during winter, venturing for a swim is often too dangerous and Makaha is best left for surfers. Full facilities including lifeguards, bring some shade.
By now you are familiar with some of the best beaches in Oahu so you can pick and choose the ones that best fit into your itinerary. Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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