Best Beaches on Oahu
Oahu has a wide range of beaches spread throughout the entire island. From the bustling beaches in Waikiki with the city's skyline as your backdrop to the crystal clear waters of Hanauma Bay (and everything in between) you're sure to find the perfect beach for you.
Resort Area : Waikiki
Ala Moana (or "The Path to the Sea") Beach Park includes the almost mile long Mamala Bay along the Waikiki Coast on the south shore. The park is 76 acres of large grassy lawns, playgrounds, picnic areas, and swaying palm trees plus tennis courts, a music pavilion, lagoon, and yacht harbor.
Although swimming in the calm clear water is great, stay away from the boat channels on either side of the beach and look out for some sharp coral and rocks underfoot.
The beach was actually created in the 1930's by filling in a coral reef with sand, and there are black lava rocks offshore to somewhat protect the bay from extremely rough surf, but still allow large enough waves to ride. Surfing and bodyboarding are both very popular in this area, just west of the famous Waikiki beach.
The park gets very crowded, especially on the weekends, and there are lifeguards on duty as well as a large free parking lot plus metered street parking if the lot's full.
The beach is located at 1201 Ala Moana Blvd.
Resort Area : Turtle Bay
Ehukai Beach Park includes an acre of grass as well as Ehukai Beach and it also borders Banzai and Pipeline Beaches as part of one continual shoreline - the entire area oftentimes referred to as Ehukai Beach. The word stands for "Reddish Tinged Water," although the waters are actually a sparkling blue and wash up on the long, broad stretch of white sand.
The famous Banzai Pipeline here provides world-class surf conditions, with waves that can reach up to 25 feet or more, especially in winter.
"Banzai!" is a Japanese battle cry and was once yelled at a bodysurfer successfully riding the huge wave - the nickname then stuck as the beach's name.
An offshore shallow coral shelf converts rolling surf from the open ocean into steep crests that hit the reef and form perfect hollow waves. This famous pipeline has attracted wave riders for years and it still challenges even the most expert ones.
In calmer summer months, swimming across the sandbar can be fun (but watch out for stinging limu seaweed along the coastline). Lifeguards are on duty there and there are parking, picnic, restroom, and shower facilities available.
The beach park is located at 59-337 Ke-Nui Rd. near Pupukea, just off Kamehameha Hwy.
Resort Area : Hanauma
Hanauma Bay is a small pocket of golden sand, a broken sea wall within a volcanic crater that makes it Oahu's most popular snorkeling location.
It was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967 and, as such, its sealife cannot be touched or fed. Snorkelers and scuba divers relish this protected cove where there are tons of tropical colorful fish and a vivid coral reef.
There is a passage ("the slot") through the reef into deeper and more turbulent waters of the interior cove, and experienced divers can go out to the 70-foot depths at the mouth of the bay to see more coral, turtles and even sharks. Divers and snorkelers need to watch out for strong currents throughout the area, though.
The bay floor itself is actually the ancient volcano's crater, flooded when a wall collapsed and the ocean rushed in.
Other highlights of the beach are its shallow shoreline, large strip of sand for sunbathing, and beautiful views. Hiking trails follow the coastline along a ridge overlooking the bay and there are comfortable shady and picnic areas to eat. Swimming is generally calm within the curved bay protected by the reef, and there are restrooms, picnic tables, food available, and lifeguards on duty.
A new multi-million dollar Marine Education Center was also opened there a few years ago.
Follow Kalanianaole Hwy. east, approximately 10 miles from Waikiki, and the entrance to the preserve is on the right (at number 7455).
Resort Area : Hauula
Hauula Beach Park is located along the coastal highway just north of the town of Hauula. As with most Oahu beaches, it is more crowded on weekends, but is great for snorkeling and surfing and the park is large.
There is an offshore coral reef to protect this strip of coast from the open ocean, but the waves are still large enough to ride and it's also a fun place to swim. The floor of the shallow blue waters is particularly rocky, though, so it's not ideal for wading if you need to put your feet down too often.
The Maakua stream enters the sea along this coast and there can be deep holes in the sea floor where the stream waters push in. The narrow belt of sand curves just slightly and is backed by grass lawns and trees, with some trees scattered right along the water.
Colorful fish are plentiful along the reef, but rip currents are also present in the reef breaks at both ends of the beach.
The beach's namesake, the hau tree, was once ubiquitous in this area and although it's scarce now, there are still some around. They have a unique blossom cycle in summer when flowers will bloom, change colors dramatically (from bright yellow to dark red), and fall off the tree all in one day, over and over again for months.
The park has restrooms, picnic and camping facilities, a pavilion and a volleyball court.
It's located along Kamehameha Hwy., across the road from the ruins of the historic Lanakila Church.
Resort Area : Kaawa
This serene bay's curve of white sand gently slopes into the ocean as the lush Kualau Mountains rise in the background. An edge of pine, ironwood, and kamani trees surround the beach, offering shade between the aqua waters and jagged cliffs behind.
The soft beach cove has calm and shallow waters with a sandy bottom and gentle waves - ideal for swimming, bodyboarding, and snorkeling. (Watch out for stinging seaweed along the coast in the summer months.)
Kayakers love the wide channel that runs through the picturesque park and out to the bay.
There is no lifeguard on duty or restrooms, but the park offers picnic and camping facilities and scenic hiking trails through the thick jungle-like hills and green valleys.
Located at 52-222 Kamehameha Hwy. in Kahana.
Resort Area : Kailua
Kailua Beach is part of a 35-acre park that has a freshwater stream running through it, offering safe swimming in shallow pools along the way. The 2-mile beach sits at the foot of the steep, lush Koolaus mountain range, and several small offshore islands create a beautiful backdrop and idyllic tropical setting.
There are sandy dunes, palm trees, and tropical seabirds throughout the area, and the swimming, bodysurfing, and kayaking are excellent. It is also a world-class windsurfing destination, with lifeguards watching the waves.
There can be Portuguese Men-of-War and stinging limu (seaweed) in the water, but the panoramic views from the beach are incredible.
Water sports equipment is available to rent nearby, and there are picnic tables, barbecues, restrooms, a boat ramp, volleyball court, café, and free parking.
To get here, take Pali Hwy. (Hwy. 61) to Kailua, turn right on Kalaheo Ave. and the beach will be on your left after about a mile.
Resort Area : Ko Olina
The 640-acre Ko Olina Resort includes four lagoons along the rocky Waianae shoreline that were built to beautify the coast and make the waters more accessible. Soft white sand beaches border each of these lagoons (called Kolola, Hanu, Nai'a, and Ulua) and the area is surrounded by grassy lawns and shady picnic areas.
Rock barriers provide direct protection from the ocean and high surf and make the lagoons perfect tranquil swimming holes anytime of the year. Those rocks themselves can be slippery and dangerous, though, and there are strong currents in the channels that connect the lagoons to the ocean, but snorkeling can be fun around the boulders and lagoon entryways.
Lifeguards are present, two of the lagoons have restrooms, and there is plenty of parking. They are located off Farrington Hwy. (Hwy. 93) in Kapolei in Southwest Oahu.
Resort Area : Kaneohe
Kualoa Regional Park takes its name from the Hawaiian word for "long ancestral background" and this beautiful area of Oahu's Windward Coast does have a rich ancient history.
The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was originally a sacred spot where royal families trained their children to be chiefs. The small offshore islet of Mokolii (popularly referred to as Chinaman's Hat) is a seabird preserve with a small sandy beach of its own, and is close enough to swim to at low tide. Legend has it that it's actually the tip of the great dragon Mololii's tail, cut off by the goddess Hiiaka using spears of lightning, and that she used the rest of the large lizard's body to form Hakipuu road.
The 150-acre park itself has been refurbished in recent years and has broad green lawns and facilities for picnics and camping as well as lifeguards watching over the long, soft white sand beach.
It sits at the foot of the steep Koolau Ridge on Kaneohe Bay's north shore and its shallow clear blue waters are generally safe for swimming and snorkeling. There can be strong currents at times and stinging blue jellyfish or "Bluebottles". Lifeguards will usually post signs if they are swarming in the surrounding ocean. Their stings can be very painful and dangerous, so pay close attention to these warnings.
Most of the time, you can swim at this beach with peace of mind, surrounded by coconut trees in this classic tropical setting.
The park is located at 49-479 Kamehameha Hwy. (Hwy. 83) in Kualoa.
Resort Area : Lanikai
Lanikai Beach offers the best swimming water in Hawaii - clean and clear, beside a mile of powder soft sand, with coconut palms above offering shade. A sparkling blue lagoon formed by the wide offshore reef provides a huge calm pool for the sea turtles, tropical fish, and any human swimmers who want to join in.
Onshore winds make it great for water sports and it's a popular location to sail, windsurf, kayak, or go outrigger canoeing. The tropical ambiance is highlighted by two tiny offshore islands known as the Mokuluas which are also seabird sanctuaries.
The beach is part of a residential neighborhood and access is available only by public walkways, so it's a bit more secluded than some Oahu shores.
The Koolau mountain range blocks some of the sun later in the afternoon, and you need to watch out for jellyfish and stinging seaweed in the water during summer months, but overall, this beach will make you appreciate the name Lanikai, meaning "heavenly sea."
There are no facilities available nearby. Take the Pali Hwy. (Hwy. 61) through the Nuuanu Pali Tunnel to Kailua, where it turns into Kailua Rd. For parking, turn right on Kalaheo Ave. and drive along the coast for a couple miles. Turn left at the end of that street and follow Aalapapa Dr. around a loop. Park when it becomes Mokulua Dr. and walk down one of the public access walkways to the beach.
Resort Area : West Shore
Makaha is a Hawaiian word for "fierce" or "savage" and if you visit Oahu's west shore Makaha Beach during the winter, the name would seem appropriate as huge surf pounds the coastline.
In reality, though, the beach was named for the valley surrounding it, where long ago an infamous group of fierce bandits lived there and terrorized the village.
This beach has hosted many surfing championships over the years and is now the location of the Buffalo's Big Board Surf Classic where they use traditional old style Hawaiian wooden boards. Wave heights can reach as high as 30 feet at this superb surfing spot but in the summer, the small waves, powdery sand, and calm waters make it a safe and fun swimming, snorkeling, and diving location.
There are plenty of colorful tropical fish in the offshore channel and reef and a lifeguard is on duty on the northern end of the mile-long crescent shore.
There are restrooms and parking facilities at Makaha, located at 84-369 Farrington Hwy. (Hwy. 93).
Resort Area : East Shore
Makapuu Point (Hawaiian for "Bulging Eyes") is a projection of land marking Hawaii's easternmost tip, and Makapuu Beach Park lies along the shore just below. This 1,000-foot belt of golden sand is one of the most famous bodysurfing spots on the islands, and with stark black cliffs behind the sand and the Rabbit Island offshore, it's the classic tropical paradise location.
In winter months, strong currents and thunderous waves are dangerous for swimmers but ideal for experienced surfers.
Summer waters are much more calm, wonderful for diving, snorkeling, and swimming.
Restrooms, barbecues, and picnic tables are available, and lifeguards are on duty.
The beach is located at 41-095 Kalanianaole Hwy.
Resort Area : North Shore
Malaekahana is the idyllic Hawaiian beach, with scenery that channels the tropical beauty and secluded sacred atmosphere of ancient times. Calm green waters gently roll up to the large half-moon of white sand that curves for almost a mile along the coast, and tall trees sway with the ocean breeze above and provide shade.
Goat Island, just offshore and within wading distance, serves as a protected seabird sanctuary and a beautiful part of the ocean view from the coast. You can swim there, but do not disturb any of the wildlife, flora, or fauna.
Endangered green sea turtles also frequent the Malaekahana coastline and are protected by state and federal law. Enjoy watching the rare creatures, but don't approach them or interfere with their activity.
This north shore haven is popular for swimming, bodyboarding, and snorkeling, and is very quiet and private on weekdays.
The beach is part of a 37-acre park that includes restrooms, showers, barbecue grills, picnic tables, and parking. There are also tent camping sites, cabins, and a large pavilion for rent that can be reserved in advance. There are no lifeguards on duty and the park's facilities are not very close to the beach itself, though.
The park is along Kamehameha Hwy. (Hwy. 83) in Laie, about 2 miles north of the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Resort Area : Waianae Valley
Pokai is Hawaiiain for "Night of the Supreme One," and this beach is named after the legendary Hawaiian chief who reportedly brought the first coconut palm tree to Hawaii.
Unlike other Oahu west coast beaches that experience high surf in winter, this one is a calm bay that is well protected all year long. A gently sloping coral reef helps to guard the sandy beach and quiet waters and makes snorkeling very popular.
Swimming areas are marked by buoys and you need to watch out for boat and canoe traffic in the immediate vicinity. There are lifeguards on duty, picnic areas, barbecue grills, and restroom and shower facilities.
Waianae locals hold this area in high regard so enjoy the natural beauty, but also be respectful of the neighborhood and make sure to clean up after your day at the beach.
Located at 85-037 Waianae Valley Rd. off Farrington Hwy.
Resort Area : Kailua
Pounders Beach was once called Pahumoa Beach for a local fisherman who made sure to spread the bounty of daily catches among the elderly, but students at a nearby College renamed it in the 50's for its thunderous waves and the name has stuck ever since.
It's a popular weekend white sand beach on the shore of Laie Maloo Bay, almost 2,000 feet long and 100 feet wide.
The waves are great for bodysurfing and provide fabulous breaks. The shore is fronted by a shallow sandbar with an abrupt drop to deeper waters and strong currents near the surf line.
The break near the limestone cliffs is ideal for expert surfers (but not for swimming), and there is an old landing on the west side of the sand where swimming is usually safer - wide fringing reefs border the sides of the bay without blocking high surf.
Low sandy dunes, large ironwood trees, and the general park foliage line the outer edge of the beach, and private homes sit along the northern side.
There is a parking lot near where the Koloa Stream ends, and portable toilets available, but no lifeguards on duty. Park on Kamehameha Hwy. in Kailua.
Resort Area : North Shore
Pupukea Beach Park encompasses 80 acres of a Marine Life Conservation District, with Shark's Cove near the northern side and Three Tables beach at the other end. The name "Three Tables" refers to the three flat reef sections that can be seen offshore at low tide.
The shallow water around them is great for snorkeling, while the drop right outside of the reef offers excellent diving opportunities, including views of lava tubes, arches, tropical sealife, and the ledges themselves.
Summer is the best time to snorkel, dive, or swim here, although there can still be sudden surges of swell, and it becomes very dangerous in winter (pounding waves up to 50 feet high!).
There are tidepools in and around the cove (but incidentally, no sharks), and even that protected area is unsafe when the surf is large. There is no lifeguard on duty around this bay and no facilities nearby. You are not allowed to take anything out of this protected marine sanctuary - even small shells or grains of sand - but enjoy the beauty and natural atmosphere while you're there.
The park's small parking lot is right on Kamehameha Hwy. in Pupukea on Oahu's north shore.
Resort Area : Hanauma
Sandy (sometimes called Sandy's) Beach has the best waves on Oahu for experienced bodysurfers, who make the rides look easy. This beach can be treacherous, with extremely high surf, strong shorebreaks, and intense rip tide currents.
It can be a superb beach for swimming if the water is calm, but currents in front of Keawaakio Cove are always strong and waves can pound swimmers into the rocks where lava juts out around the point. Lifeguards work hard here, where swimmers are rescued more often than at any other beach on the island. Tourists who watch the surfers at their best can sometimes mistake this as a smoother spot than it really is. Pay attention to the lifeguard flag postings around the beach that mark the surf's levels each day (green is safe, yellow is caution, and red is very dangerous).
Restrooms and parking are available at Sandy's, located at 8808 Kalanianaole Hwy. - drive east past Hawaii Kai, Hanauma Bay, and along the coast.
Resort Area : North Shore
Oahu's Sunset Beach is one of the most popular and longest sand beaches on the island, running two miles long and 300 feet wide. It's a famous winter surfing location where international competitions are hosted each year and the incredible peaks can reach as high as 20 feet. With the pounding waves, surf season is a dangerous time to swim along this coast and the notorious "Sunset rip" offshore current has kept the lifeguards very busy over the years.
The ocean's waters are calm, clear, and beautiful during the summer months when swimming and snorkeling are safe next to the soft white sand and around the natural tidepools and reef. Lifeguards are on duty and will post flags to warn you about ocean conditions, and there is also a picnic area nearby.
Sunset Beach is located at 59-104 Kamehameha Hwy. in Paumalu.
Resort Area : Waikiki
Legendary Waikiki Beach is actually a series of smaller beaches that stretch across a mile and a half of coast, each small area with its own character - from Kuhio Beach outside the Sheraton Moana Surfrider which attracts sea turtles, to Grey's Beach in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, to Sans Souci or "dig me" beach in front of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.
Waikiki is Hawaiian for "Sprouting water" and the beach, which was actually created with imported sand from Molokai, fronts landmark hotels, open-air restaurants, and boutique shops. Millions of people visit this strip each year and the trendy area is always busy. It's an especially famous place to watch experienced surfers ride the waves.
The water is wonderful for swimming, surfing, boogie and bodysurfing, outrigger canoeing, and a variety of other water sports - diving, sailing, snorkeling, and fishing. You can rent equipment for almost any beach activity here, and there are bathrooms, showers, lifeguards, picnic facilities, and parking.
You can reach the beach from various spots along the strip (it runs from 2909 Kalakaua Ave. to 2005 Kalia Rd.), but the best place to park is at Kapiolani Park.
Resort Area : North Shore
Waimea Beach Park in North Oahu undergoes a drastic change of character with the seasons - placid, gentle waves in the summer roll up along the narrow sandy bay and thunderous, spectacular waves that reach up to 50 feet high pound the shore in the winter.
There is a huge rock on one side of the soft sandy bay that some people like to climb and dive off from, and the swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing in the summer are wonderful.
The beach's monster winter waves attract expert surfers and spectators and the large swells make swimming dangerous. There is also a strong riptide running out at the center of the bay and powerful shore breaks during high surf.
Lifeguards are on duty and there are bathroom, shower, and parking facilities in the park, located at 61-031 Kamehameha Hwy. (Hwy. 83).
Resort Area : Waianae
Oahu's Yokohama Bay is part of the secluded 853-acre Ka'ena Point State Park that wraps around the island's western point. The beach is sometimes also called Keawalua or Puau, but is best known locally as Yokohama for the Japanese immigrants from that city who came to fish along this shore and work in Hawaii's cane fields.
Watch surfers and dolphins in the turquoise waters from the curving sand coast backed by dunes and cliffs. With the calm surf, summer is the best time to swim, snorkel, and dive. With winter's high surf, this beach becomes a place for experienced surfers and bodyboarders only - swimming is unsafe over the rocky sea bottom when the waves are powerful and rip currents strong.
There are restrooms and one lifeguard station at the park entrance (but it does not have a view of the entire beach).
Various rare native plants and seabirds live in the rugged nature preserve and hiking trails lead to the western point overlooking the island's stunning north and south coastlines.
Located where Farrington Hwy. (Hwy. 93) ends in northwest Oahu.