Whether you want to relax away on a sandy shoreline or hit the water for an unforgettable adventure, Oahu has a perfect beach for you. While it may be tempting to fill your itinerary with some of the island’s incredible sightseeing and activities, don’t forget to take time to simply enjoy its beautiful beaches.
We’ve rounded up our favorite Oahu beaches, from the crowded coast in Waikiki to the low-key hangouts along the North Shore. Get ready to explore Hawaii’s sand and surf with this list of best beaches in Oahu!
LANIKAI BEACH: ONE OF THE BEST BEACHES IN THE WORLD
Travel experts and top publications repeatedly rank Lanikai Beach as one of the world’s best beaches, and for good reason. The soft white sand beach and turquoise waters are straight out of a postcard, and the calm surf makes this a great place to swim with kids.
While many beachgoers are content laying on the sand or snorkeling along the reef, adventurers may want to set out to Mokulua Nui, a small island less than a mile from shore. Rent a kayak or SUP, or hire an expert guide to take you there.
Lanikai Beach is located in the town of Kailua. It’ll take about 40 minutes to get there from Waikiki. Go early on a weekday for the best chance of parking, and follow the designated pathways to access the beach. It’s a great beach, and definitely worth a visit.
WAIMEA BAY BEACH PARK: AMERICA’S BIG-WAVE SURF SPOT
Waimea Bay Beach Park is one of the best North Shore surfing beaches. The water here is rough in the winter months, when you can watch expert surfers take on waves that reach over 30 feet.
In the summer, the water here calms and families take over the shoreline. Brave souls of all ages jump from the 30-foot rock or tube from the Waimea River into the ocean.
Waimea Bay Beach Park is near the cute little town of Haleiwa, about 45 minutes from Honolulu. It may just be a quick stop if the water’s rough, but on calm days, bring your beach chair and umbrella and plan to stay a while – there’s a lot to do and see in this little piece of paradise.
SUNSET BEACH: PERFECT FOR WINTER SURFING
The name of Sunset Beach says it all: this is one of the best places to watch the sunset on Oahu. It’s also another hot spot for thrill-seeking surfers. Visit during the winter to see them catch towering waves.
Just like the other North Shore beaches, Sunset Beach becomes calm in the summer and is an excellent spot for swimming and snorkeling. You’ll likely see colorful fish and sea turtles swimming among the beach’s colorful reef.
Its Hawaiian place name is Paumalū, but you can look up “Sunset Beach State Park” to get the best directions to this beautiful location. It’s less than an hour from Honolulu and is convenient to Haleiwa Town.
HANAUMA BAY NATURE PRESERVE
Hanauma Bay offers unparalleled beauty and is truly one of the best beaches in Oahu. It’s a protected nature preserve that’s home to a diverse array of marine life, and it’s a must-do attraction for any visitor who loves snorkeling.
Hawaiian royalty once frequented Hanauma Bay for fishing and relaxing. Then tourism and overuse strained its valuable ecosystem, so in the 1990s measures were taken to restore and protect this historically and ecologically significant spot.
This means you’ll need to take a few extra steps before visiting Hanauma Bay.
- Make a reservation with the city in advance
- Pay an admission fee (kids under 12, military, and Kamaaina are free)
- Watch a nine-minute orientation video before entering the preserve
Visiting this incredible beach is worth the effort. The conservation strategy has allowed this to be one of the best spots for seeing Hawaii’s majestic marine life.
Hanauma Bay is near Hawaii Kai, about 30 minutes from Waikiki.
KAILUA BEACH PARK: BEST BEACH FOR WATER SPORTS
Kailua Beach Park is a lively spot, thanks to the many water sports available here. Kids love boogie boarding on the shore breaks, and it’s a popular spot for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, kitesurfing, and outrigger canoeing.
Anyone wanting to relax on the sand or swim in calm waters will also be happy at Kailua Beach. It’s repeatedly ranked as one of the country’s most beautiful beaches, though we think it’s also one of the most fun ones.
Kailua Beach Park is in Kailua, a peaceful residential area featuring great restaurants and boutique shopping. It will take you about 20 minutes to get here from Honolulu.
ALA MOANA BEACH PARK: IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR CALM WATERS
Ala Moana Beach Park is one of Oahu’s most popular beaches, but don’t let the crowds deter you from visiting. It’s located just up the road from Waikiki, and it’s a shallow, sandy beach protected by a reef, so it’s great for snorkeling or swimming.
There’s also a grassy area where families gather to BBQ and hang out. It’s also perfect if someone in your group loves to shop – they can spend an afternoon at the Ala Moana Shopping Center while any beach bums head to the scenic shoreline.
Ala Moana Beach Park is also home to Magic Island, which has a calm lagoon that’s perfect for swimming. There’s free parking at the park’s lot, or you can find a paid spot along the street.
WAIKIKI BEACH: MOST FAMOUS BEACH IN THE WORLD
Is there anywhere more iconic than Waikiki Beach? At this beach, you’ll find bright blue water, swaying palm trees, and endless sightseeing. If you’re not staying in this tourist hot spot, it’s worth venturing over here to experience its energy and culture.
There are several stretches of sand along Waikiki Beach, but you really can’t go wrong at any of them. Find a place to park, hit up some shops along the street, and then head over to the ocean’s edge, where you can swim, people-watch, or even take a surfing lesson.
EHUKAI BEACH PARK: KNOWN FOR THE BANZAI PIPELINE
Ehukai Beach Park starkly contrasts the calm blue waters of Waikiki. Travel to Oahu’s North Shore to stand steps away from a rough and mighty ocean.
Between October and April, waves at Ehukai Beach can reach over 30 feet high. The Banzai Pipeline is a dream for big-wave surfers, and watching them in person is unforgettable.
But if you visit in the summer months, you’ll be impressed by how calm the water here gets. Go on and jump in if conditions are good. Ehukai Beach Park is located in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore.
KAHANA BAY BEACH PARK: FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR A SHADY SPOT
If you’re looking for a secluded beach on Oahu, try visiting Kahana Bay Beach Park on a weekday. While there are better beaches for swimming and sightseeing, this is a fantastic spot to take in some peace and quiet while enjoying beautiful ocean views.
There are picnic tables in the shade, so bring lunch and relax for awhile. It’s best to visit when there hasn’t been any rain, as runoff can make the water murky.
Kahana Bay Beach Park is located on Oahu’s windward side, about an hour from Waikiki. There are campsites here that you can reserve in advance.
WAIMANALO BEACH: BEST BEACH FOR FAMILIES
You won’t believe how beautiful Waimanalo Beach is on a clear day. You’ll find vibrant blue water as far as the eye can see, and a vast stretch of sand that’s nearly empty on weekdays. Many visitors miss out on this beautiful beach, which is located in the small town of Waimanalo. It’s easy to pass by as you drive on to more popular destinations.
There are two connected areas of this beach, each with their own access. Waimanalo Beach Park is the southern area, with parking near the ballfields across from Nakini Street. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park is in a wooded area between McDonald’s and Bellow Air Force Base. You may see that park called Sherwoods.
Either location is gorgeous and will be a great place to spend a little time away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu.
MALAEKAHANA BEACH: IDEAL FOR BEACH CAMPING
Malaekahana Beach is miles away from most tourist spots, instead, you’ll find a laid-back local vibe here. You can kick back and relax here as you drive along the coast, or stay the night with a camping reservation.
If you’re outdoorsy, then camping on Oahu is an incredible way to experience the island’s beauty, and Malaekahana is one of the best camping beaches.
This fun and spacious beach is in Laie, home to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’ll take about an hour to get to Malaekahana Beachfrom Honolulu.
MAKAPU’U BEACH PARK: KNOWN FOR THE SURROUNDING BLACK CLIFFS
Many passersby stop at the Makapu’u Point Lookout to take in the beautiful sights of Oahu’s coastline. Dramatic black cliffs jut out into blue waters. The beach below will look inviting, but it rarely falls on the to-do lists of busy visitors.
But Makapu’u Beach is an incredible place to stop and spend some time, especially around sunrise when you can find a bench and relax during the most peaceful part of the day.
The swimming here isn’t great, so kids may get bored. But you can sit back, watch the locals bodyboard, and grab some unique photos at the base of Makapu’u Point.
You’ll find Makapu’u Beach Park about 30 minutes from Honolulu on Kalanianaole Highway. It can be one of your first stops if you’re taking a day trip along Oahu’s Eastern Coast.
DIAMOND HEAD BEACH PARK: FOR SPECTACULAR VIEWS
Diamond Head Beach Park is one of our favorite walking beaches. It’s a long, narrow stretch of sand with incredible views. Come in the morning for a serene atmosphere or in the evening to watch the sunset. Midday visitors may enjoy kicking back in the sand or hitting the water on calm days.
It will take about 10 minutes to drive to Diamond Head Beach Park from Waikiki, and parking is on Diamond Head Road. You’ll access the crater hike from a different parking lot, but you can easily take on both attractions in one day if you’re up for the adventure.
NANAKULI BEACH PARK: BEST BEACH FOR DIVING
Nanakuli Beach Park is a popular local hangout in Waianae. It’s called Kalaniana’ole Beach Park now, so you may hear it go by both names as you find your way here. It’s got a large grassy area with sports fields and a playground.
On calm days, it’s an excellent place for swimming and scuba diving, but it can be dangerous on rough winter days. This is also where you’ll find Mermaid Cave, though it’s best not to venture into these unpredictable underwater tunnels.
Nanakuli Beach Park is located about 45 minutes from Waikiki. It’s convenient to the Ko Olina Resort area, so vacationers staying there may like to explore the local vibe of this fun beach.
MAKUA BEACH: BEST CHANCE TO SEE MARINE LIFE
Oahu sightseers who travel to the far west reaches of the island will be rewarded with a serene and spacious spot. Few visitors reach Makua Beach, which is past Waianae in Ka’ena Point State Park.
Travelers who make it near the end of the road can walk along the half-mile stretch of Makua Beach. Surfers may be out in the water, and it’s typical to spot dolphins and sea turtles not far offshore.
It will take at least an hour to get to Makua Beach from Waikiki, maybe more if there’s traffic. But the journey is worth it to visit such an uncrowded and beautiful beach.
MOKULE’IA BEACH: BEST SNORKELING SPOT
If you’re looking for a secluded spot along Oahu’s North Shore, Mokule’ia Beach will be your best bet. This beautiful location features white sand and lots of shade, so it’s a great place to spend a little time away from the crowds.
Mokule’ia Beach is a great snorkeling area during the summer when the water is calm. All kinds of fish live in the reef near shore. In the winter, windsurfers flock to this beach to catch some air, and it’s an entertaining sport to watch.
Mokule’ia Beach is just outside Haleiwa, about an hour from Waikiki. You’ll find lots of parking at this beach, which is totally Instagram-worthy, even if it’s not the best for swimming.
HALONA BEACH COVE: OAHU’S BEST KEPT SECRET
There’s something alluring about finding a secret beach, and visiting Halona Beach Cove in Oahu will give you the sense of adventure you’re looking for.
You might recognize this spot from the famous scene in From Here to Eternity, when Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kiss in the sand as the waves crash over them.
Check out the sight of Halona Blowhole from afar and then hike down to the small cove. Just be sure to heed any warning signs as you venture here – the waters can get dangerous. Only swim if the water is calm, stay close to shore, and stay far away from any rocks.
Halona Beach Cove is about 20 minutes from Waikiki. Once you’re in the Halona Blowhole Lookout lot, find the trail down to the beach. It’ll take a few minutes to hike down, but you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable setting to enjoy, even if just for a little while.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO HAWAII
- YOUR HAWAII VACATION
- LUAU: 12 Absolute Best Luau in Oahu You’ve Got To See
- MAUI WATERFALLS: 18 Maui Waterfalls On The Road To Hana And Beyond
- OAHU WATERFALLS: 13 Spectacular Waterfall Hikes Oahu Has To Offer
- WAIKIKI: 24 Best Things To Do In Waikiki You’re Gonna Love
WHERE TO STAY IN OAHU
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