14 Top-Rated Beaches in the Honolulu Area

Written by Meagan Drillinger and Freddy Sherman
Updated May 3, 2023
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()

Author Meagan Drillinger visited the beaches of Honolulu in January of 2023.

Everyone loves a great beach town, and Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, may be one of the best in the world. Honolulu sits right on the coast of Oahu and has gorgeous beaches to the east and west of downtown.

Kahanamoku Beach
Kahanamoku Beach | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

You won't have to go far to find a great beach in the Honolulu area. Within half an hour's drive from the city are a massive amount of beaches to choose from, which will delight a variety of travelers. Whether you're a sun-worshiper, a snorkeler, or a hardcore surfer, you'll certainly find a beach in the Honolulu area.

The most popular beaches in Honolulu can be found along Waikiki's two-mile stretch of beach. But with a little extra legwork, visitors to Honolulu can find more remote and unspoiled beaches, like Kailua Beach, Lanikai, or the beach at the base of Diamond Head Crater.

Get ready to find your perfect patch of sand with our list of the best beaches in the Honolulu area.

1. Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach
Kailua Beach

While Kailua Beach Park is often considered to be one of the best beaches in the United States, its residential location means that it is far less crowded than some of the other beaches in Honolulu.

Just 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu, this locally beloved beach offers three miles of wide, unspeakably soft white sand, and some of the clearest water on the island. Because the beach is sheltered, it's a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.

Kailua Beach Park is the crown jewel of a 35-acre park, but you'll find other activities here as well, from hiking and volleyball to basketball and more. Facilities include a lifeguard station, restrooms, and outdoor showers.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kailua-Kona

2. Magic Island

Magic Island
Magic Island

This island is really a man-made peninsula near Waikiki, between Ala Moana Beach Park and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. Originally created to be a resort, the entire peninsula is now a park. There's a nice-sized, gently curving beach at the end of the peninsula, forming a small bay, protected by a man-made reef.

The sand is smooth and flat, and the waves are very calm due to the reef. There's also an unprotected beach on the opposite side of the yacht harbor, but the waves are usually gentle. The interior of the peninsula is a large park, with areas for barbecuing, hiking, and a few sets of restrooms. The beach is also popular for SUPs and kayaking.

3. Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach
Sandy Beach | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Sandy Beach is a wide, curving beach located in a residential neighborhood about 40 minutes from downtown Honolulu. Aside from the soft sand, Sandy Beach is a popular place for food trucks to park.

It's also a popular surfing beach, but the large waves (and strong riptides) that draw surfers can make it dangerous for swimmers. The waves break close to shore, and the beach is good for bodysurfing and bodyboarding. There are lifeguards on duty and a few sets of bathrooms and outdoor showers. Off the beach, there are some picnic areas with picnic tables.

Sandy Beach
Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach is a short drive from one of Honolulu's other popular beaches, Hanauma Bay. But what makes Sandy Beach slightly better is that you don't need a reservation to access it. So if you find Hanauma Bay to be too crowded (or inaccessible), we guarantee you'll enjoy yourself at Sandy Beach.

4. Waialae Beach

Waialae Beach
Waialae Beach

Waialae Beach Park is a compact, pristine beachfront park in the Kahala area, about 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu. This beach has coarse sand and a rocky shoreline, making some kind of footwear necessary for enjoying the water. There is a strip of white, soft sand at the top of the beach next to the tree line. It can be windy, and the area is popular with windsurfers, but the beach is protected by a reef, so the surf is calm.

The water is warm and bright blue, and you can also fish from the beach. It's very picturesque, and that makes the area a popular place for weddings. Beyond the sand are plenty of picnic areas and green space.

A stay at the Kahala Hotel & Resort puts you about a six-minute walk away. This large resort isn't new, but it's right on the beach and has its own dolphin lagoon.

5. Kahanamoku Beach

Kahanamoku Beach
Kahanamoku Beach

Waikiki Beach may be big and crowded, but it's still a great beach. Waikiki is more than two miles long, and it's made up of smaller, individual beaches. The widest part is an area known as Kahanamoku Beach (named for Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing). There's a beautiful, wide, white-sand beach on one side and a five-acre, man-made lagoon on the other.

The beach has gentle waves, and the lagoon has none at all, which makes it great for swimming and stand up paddleboarding. The area is bordered by tall, swaying palm trees. The beach can be crowded, but it's always possible to find your own spot.

Kahanamoku Beach is right in front of the vast Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, best known for its 10,000 square-foot "Super Pool" and the extravagant Paradise Pool, a multi-level aquatic playground with waterfalls and a waterslide. The resort also features a kids'-only pool and organized kids' activities, complimentary beach equipment, yoga and fitness classes, and a full-service spa.

6. Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is an idyllic, natural bay, formed in an ancient volcano cone. The draw here is more the bay than the beach, as it's a popular snorkeling spot. The gentle, clear water and abundance of marine life make it like swimming in a giant aquarium. It's a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park.

The beach is wide and flat and there are several areas of restrooms. There's a snack stand and a place to rent snorkeling gear. This beach has an admission charge and there's a charge for the shuttle from the parking area (it's a long walk). Hanauma Bay is about 30 minutes from Waikiki, and many resort hotels offer day trips, which include transportation and snorkeling gear.

The beach requires advanced reservations, and same-day reservations are not possible, so you will want to book in advance. As soon as you know your travel dates, you should try to get your access tickets to Hanauma Bay.

7. Ko Olina

Ko Olina
Ko Olina | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Only 30 minutes from Honolulu, this man-made beach resort development offers some beautiful, well-maintained beaches. The area is mainly filled with a few large resorts, but the beach is publicly accessible, with lifeguards, restrooms, and outdoor showers. You also have plenty of dining options as all the resorts have multiple restaurants.

The beach has smooth sand and is bright white with light blue water. The main beach lagoon is wide with a gentle curve. The surf here is extremely calm, and it's a good beach for kids and families.

Ko Olina
Ko Olina

The Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club is right at the center of the curving lagoon. The large resort has three outdoor pools (including an adults-only pool) and multiple dining options, as well as an on-site spa. There is a kids' club, so adults can have some alone time, and plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy. Property amenities also include outdoor fireplaces, a barbecue area, snack bars by the pool, a convenience store, and complimentary beach equipment.

Ko Olina is also where you'll find some of the most high-end resorts in Honolulu, like the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina or Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.

8. Sans Souci Beach

Sans Souci Beach
Sans Souci Beach | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Sans Souci Beach (also known as Kaimana Beach), at the far end of Waikiki, is usually not very crowded. It's mainly popular with locals but is a great place to escape the crowds farther down the beach.

Sans Souci is at the end of Waikiki Beach, across from Kapiolani Park, home of the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo. The compact beach is flat, with soft sand and a single lifeguard tower. The surf is gentle, although there is no protective reef here. The beach has restrooms and outdoor showers and there's a grassy park area behind the beach.

The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is right on the beach. The hotel offers the Japanese brand's understated luxury and dedication to guest satisfaction. Guest rooms feature private balconies, and guests can enjoy room service from the on-site restaurant, self-serve laundry, and bike rentals.

9. Diamond Head Beach Park

Diamond Head Beach Park
Diamond Head Beach Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

This area may be well-known for hiking and its views, but the beach in front of Diamond Head is usually quite peaceful and deserted. Diamond Head is the ancient volcano (it looks like a mountain) that towers above Waikiki Beach and is located at the end of it. The beach area is just past the end of Waikiki, past the Kapiolani Park area.

Besides the views, highlights of this narrow beach are the big waves, popular with surfers; the tidepools; and the Diamond Head Lighthouse. The lack of lifeguards and shallow reef makes swimming risky. The Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head is right at the base of the mountain, a few blocks from the beach. All the rooms have private lanais, and some have striking views of Diamond Head.

Diamond Head Beach Park
Diamond Head Beach Park

It's the perfect spot to take a dip after the hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater. The walk down to the beach is long and steep, but once you get down there, you'll feel like you're a whole world away from the tourist crowds at the top of the crater.

10. Ala Moana Beach Park

Ala Moana Beach Park
Ala Moana Beach Park

This popular beach is between Waikiki and the downtown area. The area may be better known for the huge shopping mall just across from the beach, but it's a beautiful, often uncrowded 100-acre beach park. The other draw here is the super-smooth surf, created by a 1,000-foot-long protective reef. It turns the area between the shoreline and the reef into a giant, shallow wading pool, great for small children.

This is a long, flat beach with coarse white sand. There are lifeguards and restroom facilities along the beach, with food concession stands at each end. The park has tennis and basketball courts and is surrounded by a walking/biking path.

The Prince Waikiki is a popular luxury resort hotel located across a lagoon from Ala Moana Beach and within a short walk to Ala Moana Center and the Kaka'ako area shops and restaurants. Hotel amenities include a pool with a view, hot tubs, spa services, a sun terrace, and on-site evening entertainment.

11. Makalei Beach

Makalei Beach
Makalei Beach

Makalei Beach Park has an uncrowded, compact, raw stretch of beach, next to Diamond Head Beach Park at the eastern end of Waikiki. It's not a good swimming beach as there's a reef right offshore.

Unlike some of the other Waikiki beaches, Makalei has plenty of shade from a big banyan tree and palm trees at the beach edge. Beyond the secluded beach (which is not very wide, especially at high tide) there's green space with picnic tables and benches. There is no lifeguard and no restrooms.

The Park Shore Waikiki hotel is also at the eastern end of Waikiki, near the Honolulu Aquarium and right next to the zoo. It's about a mile from Makalei Beach, offering views of the Ocean or the Diamond Head Crater. All guest rooms feature private lanai balconies, and the hotel pool has excellent views.

12. Pu'uloa Beach

Pu'uloa Beach
Pu'uloa Beach | american_rugbier / photo modified

Another city beach park, Pu'uloa Beach Park is to the west of the city, about 25 minutes from the airport. It's mainly a residential area, and the beach is normally deserted. There are several curved beaches (the area is also called Iroquois Beach), with a large stone jetty in the middle. The beaches are wide and flat, with coarse, tan sand. The water is usually calm, and it's a good beach for enjoying the sun or swimming.

Beyond the beach are picnic areas, barbecues, and a playground. Pu'uloa Beach has no lifeguards, but it does have restrooms.

13. Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach

Not far from Kailua Beach Park is another gorgeous stretch of beach that is also relatively less crowded. Lanikai Beach is backed by a residential neighborhood, and the lack of parking tends to keep crowds at bay. This is all to say that if you are looking for a pristine, quiet beach near busy Honolulu, Lanikai may be the one you're looking for.

The calm water makes it perfect for snorkeling and swimming. Sea turtles have been known to cruise these waters, so if you're snorkeling you may see a whole bunch of them. Just be sure to keep your distance. Hawaiian law says you need to give them at least 10 feet of space.

Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach| Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

A cool hiking trail can be found near Lanikai Beach, as well, which goes up the mountain to pillboxes that date back to World War II. The views from the top are sweeping over all of Lanikai and Kailua.

14. China Walls

China Walls
China Walls

This beach is definitely one of the most unique and non-traditional on Oahu. China Walls, located in the Hawaii Kai area of eastern Honolulu, is a sight to see and one of the bold reminders that Oahu is a volcanic island.

The beach here is made up of layers of lava flows, which reach 20,000 feet below the surface of the water and slowly slope up to the shores of Oahu. It's a must for anyone interested in the geological history of the Hawaiian islands and is very beautiful in a prehistoric way. The coastline here is raw and rugged and unlike any other slice of beach along the island.

The one downside to China Walls, though, is that the waves are rough, so swimming is not advised unless you're a strong swimmer. If you trust your chops, though, this is a popular spot to jump from the rocks into the water, which is 10 feet below the edge of the lava walls.

If you can time your visit for sunset you won't be disappointed. The sunsets all around Oahu are explosive, but China Walls is particularly beautiful. The lack of tourists may have something to do with that.

Map of Beaches in the Honolulu Area