Ohau’s beaches are some of the finest in Hawaii, despite its large population tourist numbers. While some sandy gems are purely for surfing, home to some of the biggest waves in the world, others are calmer and perfect for swimming and snorkeling, especially during the summer months. In this guide, 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. 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 Beaches In Oahu
This map features all the beaches mentioned in this guide to Oahu’s best beaches. Click on the image to open in Google Maps.
Best Honolulu Beaches
Though you should get out of the big city on your visit to Oahu, Honolulu deserves at least a day of fun in the sun.
Love it or hate it, you can’t visit Honolulu without visiting Waikiki Beach. In an effort to “escape the city”, Waikiki was frequented by Hawaiian royalty in the old days. When the Royals weren’t around, it was primarily a farming area. Things changed in 1901 with the opening of the first hotel, and Waikiki never looked back. Waikiki Beach is magnificent if you manage to ignore the high rises and block out the noise. It features a beautiful strip of sand and azure waters that are a haven for swimmers, beach volleyball hotshots, and surfers.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Ala Moana Beach Park is the locals’ alternative to busy Waikiki Beach. It has a pretty crescent of soft sand, 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 searching for a few free square meters of sand in Waikiki. You can also hang out with the locals, albeit they themselves are probably “mainland transplants”. When you’ve had enough, the trendy Ala Moana shopping center is just a few minutes away on foot.
Best Oahu South Coast Beaches
Close to the big city and reachable by bus, Oahu’s southeast beaches are the perfect escape 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. Thanks to towering cliffs, the bay is hidden from the outside world, and its sheltered waters are teeming with life. 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. You can now visit Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Marine Park and spend a few hours snorkeling and chilling on the beach.
Officially known as Halona Cove, this beach “hides“ beneath the coastal highway. It can easily be overlooked if you skip visiting the adjacent Halona Blowhole. There isn’t much beach space to spread your towel and the swimming is a bit rough, but isn’t this beach a real beauty?
Like others to follow on this list of the best beaches in Oahu, Sandy Beach is more for relaxing than for swimming. That is unless you’re an experienced bodysurfer. This beautiful patch of blinding golden sand is notorious for waves breaking near 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!
Best Oahu East Coast Beaches
Oahu’s windward coast is a reminder of how beautiful the island really is and what 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 long, the beach is tucked between rocky Makapu’u Point and high sea cliffs. To catch the best beach view, take a short hike to Makapu’u Point and its lighthouse, or view from the Makapu’u Lookout.
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 and shade, thanks to ironwoods acting as a buffer between the road and the sand. Waimanalo is great for swimming and bodysurfing, but you’ll have as much fun chilling on the beach and admiring the view.
Looking like a South Pacific beach, Lanikai Beach is certainly worthy of its name, which means “heavenly ocean” in Hawaiian. Its sand is so white and the water is so blue, that you really must devote a few hours to this tropical beach. Lanikai and its more famous sister down the road – Waimea Beach – are fronted by a calm lagoon that attracts kayakers and beachgoers.
Kualoa Regional Park
Kualoa is not the best place for swimming, but its grassy area, proximity to the eroded pali (cliff), and gorgeous coastal views all make this a worthwhile stop. Come here to stretch your legs on the drive up the windward coast, relax, and have a picnic lunch.
Mālaekahana State Recreation Area
Malaekahana Beach is part of a large park where you can also camp. This makes the 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.
Best Oahu North Shore Beaches
Oahu’s north shore beaches are among the best surfing beaches in the world, with winter waves reaching epic proportions. But apart from riding a pipeline, the beaches are beautifully wide and perfect for swimming or afternoon naps.
Ehukai Beach Park
Home to the world-famous Banzai Pipeline, Ehukai Beach is notorious for mammoth waves that crash close to shore during winter. The beach attracts the world’s best surfers in a quest to catch the perfect wave. Even if you’re not a surfer, the endless strip of soft sand is a good enough reason to visit. During summer, swimming is safe at Ehukai. But if you‘re visiting on a sunny winter day, relaxing to the sounds of crashing waves is just perfect.
Waimea Bay is another legendary north shore surfing hot spot, hosting several top surf competitions throughout the year. But beyond the surf, Waimea Bay offers a gorgeous backdrop for beachgoers not 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.
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 island’s drier side, at times looking more like a desert rather than a tropical island. The few visitors who venture up this coast usually combine beach time with a visit to the Kaneana (Makua) Cave.
A wide arch of golden sand, Makaha Beach Park is rarely crowded on weekdays. Even on weekends, you’ll enjoy mingling with local families who come to chill and cool off in its waters. Makaha Beach is good for swimming and snorkeling during the calmer summer months. During winter, venturing for a swim is often too dangerous, and Makaha is best left for surfers.
By now, you are familiar with some of the best beaches in Oahu. 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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