With 112 miles of coastline grouped into 69 beaches, each offering activities ranging from surf and snorkel to scuba and shark diving, it is easy to understand why few things in life top a day at the beach. By no means is the list below a complete list of every beach on Oahu. It's more of a list of the best beaches in Oahu and what makes them so great whether its a great snorkeling spot, perfect for swimming, uncrowded, or a surfing haven. Be sure to check out our beach safety page before heading out to get your tan on.
Best For: Swimming, People Watching, Learning to Surf, Tours from the Beach
Where else to start about Oahu beaches than with THE Waikiki Beach, a sprawling sandy mecca backed by glittering high-rises, perfect sandstone sidewalks, and limitless shopping. Waikiki beach is what draws visitors to the island, and often its all they see. This beach is far from the natural sandy oasis found in Hawaii. Once a swampland, the area was drained via the Ala Wai Canal, sand was trucked in and voilà . . . Waikiki was born.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Best For: Swimming, Picnics/BBQ's
Just west of Waikiki, set behind the Ala Moana Shopping Center is a little oasis known as Ala Moana beach park. Ala Moana beach shares the same gentle characteristics of Waikiki, but without the crowds and with tons of free parking. Ala Moana has great swimming conditions; two protected coves, a less crowded sandy beach.
Best For: Body Boarding, Picnics, Kite Flying
A beautiful drive east on the H1 from Waikiki will bring you to Sandy's. Well named, Sandy's beach is endowed with soft, golden sand that hugs a half mile stretch along the southeastern coast of Oahu. Water conditions at this beach are perfect for skilled body boarders, surfers, finning, and boogie boarders. As tempting as that water looks, Sandy's has an extremely strong shore break and therefore is not recommended for swimming or novice water sports enthusiasts. However, Sandy's is still a great beach for picnics, sun tanning, and watching the local talent. Behind the beach is a grassy park-like area that's often used for kite flying and as a landing strip for hang gliders and paragliders. Amenities at Sandy's beach include bathrooms, life guard towers, fresh water rinse stations, and plenty of free parking.
Best For: Body Boarding, Swimming (summer months only)
Makapuu is a smaller beach, hunkered inside a cove and surrounded by outcrops of volcanic rock. The beach is a favorite bodyboardig spot for advanced boarders. The waves are usually too rough for swimming or novice bodyboarders, especially during winter months. There is a bathroom and freshwater shower above the small parking lot, and one (often empty) lifeguard tower on the beach. The two islands offshore of Makapuu are now bird sanctuaries. The smaller one is Kaohikaipu (Black Rock) and the larger island is Manana, better known as Rabbit Island. A little known fact about Rabbit Island is that it was named due to the rabbit colony that once flourished there until the rabbits devoured the native fauna and began turning on themselves. Today, you will not find a rabbit on Rabbit Island, although you might find a baby monk seal during breeding season.
Best for: Swimming, Kayaking, Picnics
As you continue east, the beaches become more beautiful and the swimming conditions become safer. Waimanalo beach is a long sandy stretch of beach with calm waters and plenty of shade. Great for swimming, picnics, standup paddle boarding, camping, and sun tanning. You can also snorkel at Waimanalo, although there are better snorkel spots on Oahu like Sharks Cove or Hanauma Bay. Waimanalo has two parts; a park area and a camping area. The first area is the 'Waimanalo Beach Park' and is the first entrance you will pass as you head east on hwy 72. There is a small parking lot, bathrooms, and a large grassy area shaded by plenty of trees just behind the beach. To reach the camping area and other beach access point, continue on hwy 72 and turn right at the gated entrance of 'Waimanalo Bay Recreation Area.' There is a fair sized parking lot after you make a left at the fork. If you intend to camp, be sure to get a camping permit at a satellite city hall. Both beach areas of Waimanalo have lifeguards, restrooms, and freshwater showers.
Best For: Kiteboarding, Windsurfing, Kayaking, Swimming
Over two miles of the island's finest white sand line this gem of Oahu. With temperate waves most of the year, as well as steady trade winds, kite surfing here is world class. A fantastic spot for kayaking as well, a 3.5 acre limestone landmass known as Popoi'a Island is less than a mile away—though do remain on designated trails as the area is state bird sanctuary. Fantastic hikes are a short walk away, and the area is home to several historic points of interest, both Hawaii and military related. After a day of exhilarating or invigorating beach activity, depending on your style, the cozy town of Kailua offers a perfect mix of local eats and beach town charm. Numerous and diverse bed and breakfast options exist and the dining choices are equally copious, from Hawaiian to Middle-Eastern and many in between. Be sure to check out "A Cup of Tea" for a Victorian tea experience in the tropics. And the weekly farmer's markets are great too!
Best For: Swimming, Kayaking
Just around the bend from Kailua Beach is the beautiful Lanikai Beach, a mile long stretch of a perfect sandy oasis. Lanikai Beach is easily one of Oahu's best beaches with near perfect swimming conditions year round thanks to the protective offshore reefs. The sand is unbelievably soft and white, the waters are a clear hue of turquoise blue, and the view spanning the horizon is unbeatable. Offshore are two islands reserved as bird sanctuaries, commonly referred to as 'the Mokes.' Easily accessible by kayak, the island on the left has a small sandy beach that can usually be enjoyed in seclusion.
Waimea Beach, North Shore
Best For: Body Boarding, Surfing, Bouldering
Waimea Beach offers the perfect dichotomy: mammoth surf in winter, calm swimming conditions in summer. A filming location for the series Lost, a feature in the Beach Boys "Surfin' USA" and, when waves hit 20 feet, The Quicksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau, a surf contest felt around the world. Massive black rocks flank a white sand cove, offering a chance to get some bouldering and ocean leaps in between sunbathing and beach park BBQ’s. Across the street you will find the exotic 1,875-acre Waimea Falls Park. Formally an ancient Hawaiian farming ground and healing place for warriors damaged in battle, the area offers stunning hikes, 45 and 60 foot cliff dives, horseback riding, mountain biking and river kayaking. In addition, walking tours of lush botanical gardens and several Hawaiian cultural activities await all who enter the grounds.
Best For: Snorkeling, Scuba Diving
Named for the reef’s resemblance to a shark and not the creatures themselves, Shark’s Cove is a true North Shore wonder. Offering some of the island’s best snorkeling and scuba, it was named a top 12 world dive site by Scuba Diving Magazine, it also has the distinction of drawing less of a crowd than other prime sea life observation spots. A special point must me made: Shark’s Cove is indeed a cove, not a beach. The jagged lava rock that forms the cove is worth donning a pair of terra-capable shoes for, as the descent is both sharp and slippery. The area is a raw slice of Hawaii however, and comes highly recommended. The volcanic stuff that gives the area such an exotic feel on land extends below the water in the form of caves and lava tubes, offering refuge to numerous species of marine life and a thrilling experience to novice and seasoned scuba divers alike. With great local eats and shops directly across the street and place within the greater 80-acre Jurassic beach park that is Pupukea, a visit here tends to create memories that last.
Best For: Surfing, Watching Surfers
A two-mile undulating strip of beach that lends itself nicely to shell gathering and cloud watching, Sunset is part of the greater North Shores of Oahu, meaning it possesses year-round raw beauty and has winter season waves that only the most adept board masters dare to ride. The interesting thing about Sunset specifically is that it is not very specific. While a beach park in itself, this country shoreline region of placid summertime waters and turbulent winter swells is a common trait on this part of the island. What makes this beach shine is the meeting of wave and wind that combines to create a near perfect wave, inspiring such icons as Vans, O’Neill and Billabong to launch international surf competitions that draw beach-blanketing crowds. In addition, the place has undoubtedly been the subject of countless postcard images, so come play in paradise.
Best for: Surfing, Watching Surfers
The reputation of this beach might just top its massive waves. While not everyone will know it, anyone who knows beaches is familiar with Pipeline. Part of the Ehukai Beach Park, which is comprised of Pipeline, Ehukai and Banzai Beach, it takes some practice to distinguish were one beach ends and the next begins, as there are no signs or markers. In the spring/summer months, exactly which beach you are on is not important; this stretch of shoreline offers temperate, rolling waves, fine sand, and raw tropics in equal parts. Come winter though, the thick on-shore crowds and man-on-board insanity in the ocean make it clear that you’ve entered Pipe territory. The mass of the towering waves, often breaking 20 feet, cause the crest to curl forward, creating the iconic "tube" that everyone knows but only a percent of the global population experiences. Considered the most dangerous wave in the world, Pipeline in winter is a spectator’s sport. This is no consolation though, as the feeling of multi-story-high waves crashing on shore mere feet away is a true life experience.
Sometimes only a private island will do. Head up to the North Shores to Malaikahana Recreation Area, a 37-acre wooded beach park offering a highly recommended camping experience. Pitch a tent or stay in style at one of several thatched-roof yurts complete with full furnishings and electricity for about half the price of the seediest Honolulu hotel room. The park has warm- water showers, toilets that flush and security guards who patrol 24 hours a day, for just over $8 a night. With great turtle watching, some of the best fishing around and waves that fall pleasantly short of their big brothers along the northern coast, this place is a refuge. And in true Hawaii fashion, when your inner-adventurer stirs, secluded lands are never far away. About 600 feet off the coast and accessible by a 20 minute, low-tide walk is the volcanic product turned seabird sanctuary known as Mokuauia Island—though Goat Island is an acceptable substitute while your Hawaiian skills get up to par. Offering three beaches and a good chance of solitude, do enjoy great snorkeling, shallow tide pools and a trans-island hike roughly 20 minutes in length if taken at a leisurely pace—which as a rule, is the best way to move through paradise.
Ko Olina Lagoons
Best For: Lounging, Restaurant on the Beach, Swimming
Head west from Pearl Harbor and after miles of scorched-earth hills and limited cell phone reception, your gaze will dart seaside to the tropical oasis that is Ko'Olina Resort. Meaning "Place of Joy" the area is one of the most picturesque on the island, and while you can thank the bulldozers and community planners for such preplanned beauty, the place is merely the pursuit of perfection. From snorkeling in surf-protected reefs, to dolphin tours, luaus, turn-key wedding packages and boasting a championship golf course, this resort is worth your time. Where the marina park truly shines is as a self-contained Hawaii experience for families.
Parents can suntan, golf, or otherwise take it easy while their kids swim in tame waters year round—a less common occurrence on an island that hosts numerous international surfing competitions involving 20-something foot waves that rattle car windows. All tropical places possess a raw nature, the Lagoons offer control; come and recharge.
A quick note about Hawaii beaches. Many visitors tend to underestimate the power of the Hawaiian surf. Even in calm conditions, a large wave can form at random and crash onto the shore. Swimming conditions vary beach to beach and day to day, so always use your best judgement when swimming in the open ocean. Lastly, please keep our beaches clean. Always take everything off the beach that you brought with you, including any food wrappers or plastic bottles. Garbage cans can usually be found nearby. Mahalo!
Writing Contribution: Nick Blasquez