Exploring Oahu’s Beaches: 7 Top Beaches You Need to Visit
Picture this: You’re in Waikiki Beach, laying on your beach towel soaking in the sun and scenery. There’s a light breeze that’s making the palm trees lazily sway to and fro, and the pleasant sound of small waves crashing on sand blends perfectly with the sound of Hawaiian music from a beach bar nearby.
This idyllic scene is what draws visitors to Hawaii, especially to Waikiki. It’s the stuff of movie scenes and Instagram glamour shots that tell visitors, “you can experience this, too.”
And you definitely can.
But Oahu is so much more than Waikiki Beach. After a day of hanging out at this world-famous beach, you’ll probably start to wonder, “what other beaches on the island can I visit?”
Given that Oahu has about 112 miles of coastline, you won’t run out of beaches to check out. However, not all beaches are created equal; there are a few that should be on your “must-see” list to satisfy your wanderlust and also experience a different vibe from different parts of the island.
Here are our 7 top beaches that should be on your list:
A beach that used to be a volcano until a part of it collapsed to the sea, creating a bay for some of the most fascinating marine life to thrive. That would be the perfect way to describe Hanauma Bay. And because of that, it’s been one of Hawaii’s most famous beaches. So much so that it has to close every Tuesday to give the bay a little bit of time to recuperate from visitors.
That said, the best time to visit would be Wednesday or Thursday. You have the benefit of a relatively “fresh” beach and you avoid the weekend crowd as well.
Entry fee is $12.00 per guest. Snorkeling gear and boogie boards are also available for rent at the concession stand right on the beach. Food and drinks are of course available, though we recommend bringing your own.
If you’re a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean (especially the fourth installment of the movie franchise) or Jurassic Park’s Fallen Kingdom, then Halona Beach Cove would be a familiar sight. Fans of classic movies would also recognize this beach as the scene of that famous kiss in the movie From Here to Eternity.
But even if you’re not a fan of any of the aforementioned movies, this beach should still be on your list for the sheer reason that it’s just a gorgeous beach. Take a look at the photos and we think you’ll agree.
As a bonus, you also get to visit Halona Blow Hole, a perennial sightseeing stop on many circle-island tours.
If you want maximum sunshine during your visit, it’s best to visit around morning to early afternoon. Otherwise, the sun will be blocked by the adjoining hillside.
A few things to note:
Park at the Halona Blow Hole parking lot. It may be full, but a short wait will reward you with a spot as most people who use the parking lot are there to check out the blow hole. As with Hanauma Bay, the cove can be a popular spot during the weekends so plan on visiting during weekdays.
Getting to the cove requires you to hike down through sharp rocks. It’s best to wear shoes or sandals to avoid injury.
There’s no lifeguard on duty at Halona Cove, and the currents can be very strong. Use caution and common sense when swimming.
Picturesque would be one way to describe this stunning beach just off Makapu’u Point and Lighthouse. This beach is the crowning scene—the grandest of all visual rewards after going through the twists and turns of Oahu’s south shore ocean scenery which includes Hanauma Bay and Halona Blow Hole, among others.
Makapu’u is also made special by Rabbit Island (also known by its Hawaiian name Manana), which dots the bay about three-quarters of a mile from shore.
Aside from the turquoise waters, beautiful white sand and green foliage enveloping the beach, this place is also popular among locals as a bodysurfing and boogie boarding hot spot. It’s not uncommon to see a crowd in the water waiting for the next wave to ride.
It’s also good for swimming, though be careful as strong undercurrents can pull you out to sea if you don’t pay attention. It’s recommended to follow the lifeguard on duty’s advisory as well.
If kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding is your thing, then Lanikai Beach is the perfect beach to visit. Consistently rated year in and year out as one of the world’s best beaches, Lanikai Beach boasts beautiful white sand beaches, clear-blue waters and peaceful waves. Calm waters also make this beach a great place to swim, and the two nearby islands—called Na Mokulua (separately called Moku Nui and Moku Iki)—make the area a popular spot for world-class professional photo shoots.
Kayak rentals are available from several outfits and some even deliver your kayak to you for free.
Parking can be problematic especially during the weekends as there’s no formal parking lot for the beach. It becomes harder to find parking during peak vacation seasons such as winter and summer, but if you’re OK with walking for about half a mile, parking at nearby Kailua Beach Park is available.
The beach is popular among locals and tourists alike, which means that in addition to parking problems, you can expect large crowds during peak seasons as well. Also note that there are no lifeguards on duty.
Technically, Waimea Bay is a North Shore beach. It’s right up there with Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach when it comes to ultra-popular surfing venues, and just like all North Shore beaches, Waimea has a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” type of personality: It’s calm and serene during the summer months—perfect for swimming and snorkeling, but the winter season brings in 30- to 60-foot waves.
If surfing is what you’re looking for, then you’re already familiar with Waimea Bay and its monstrous waves. During winter, the bay is where experienced surfers strut their skills to onlookers and bystanders who consider the beachside one of the perfect places to watch the action in the water.
The roadsides can get crowded especially when there’s a surfing competition going on, but during the summer months the bay becomes a haven for families to enjoy picnics and swimming because of the flat and calm waters.
One of the other distinct features of Waimea Bay is Waimea Rock, a rock formation that juts out from the beach and serves as an exhilarating jump point for thrill seekers and the crazy-brave. There is a sign from the City and County of Honolulu warning would-be jumpers that the rock poses a danger and a hazard for those who attempt to jump off it, so keep this in mind if you’re thinking about checking it out.
North Shore Beaches
Coming off the heels of Waimea Bay are North Shore Beaches—Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline to be more specific—that round out Oahu’s best surfing spots. But just like Waimea Bay, these beaches become swimming meccas during the summer months for both visitors and locals. It’s great for snorkeling due to the extensive coral formations found just off the beach.
You might even get lucky and see a sea turtle or two, though your chances greatly increase by going to Laniakea Beach (about 2 miles southwest of Waimea Bay).
If a little bit of solitude is what you’re looking for, then Yokohama Beach is probably your spot. This beach is perhaps one of the most unspoiled public beaches on the island, and for a good reason: It’s off the beaten path and requires at least an hourlong drive from Waikiki. But that doesn’t mean that the drive isn’t scenic; you’ll have a chance to see a different side—albeit quaint and bucolic in some areas—of local island living.
You’ll pass by communities such as Makaha and Waianae, see the dark-brown cliffs and hillsides of the Waianae Mountain Range that define this side of the island’s arid beauty, and finally arrive at Kaena Point State Park, the island’s westernmost point and where Yokohama Beach is located.
If it weren’t for the fact that there is no real “circle island” route around Oahu, this beach would have been far more popular as a tourist spot as such a route would certainly pass through here. Thankfully, this beach has been spared by the usual traffic of tour buses, rental cars and most of the local beachgoing crowd.
There will be a lifeguard on duty. However, there are no concession stands or places that sell any snacks nearby. The closest store is approximately 20 minutes from the park so plan accordingly. Also, because of the arid nature of Oahu’s west side, it can get quite hot with no real shade to spare you from the sun, especially during midday. It’s best to bring an umbrella if possible.