12 Top-Rated Beaches on Oahu
Oahu may be the third largest of the Hawaiian islands by size, but it receives the most visitors by a huge margin. The island has 112 miles of beautiful coastline, offering a wide variety of beaches to enjoy. There are peaceful man-made lagoons, like Ko Olina (home to the Disney resort), and rugged, relatively undeveloped beaches, like Yokohama Bay with white sand and warm turquoise water.
Oahu's beaches are grouped into four areas, depending on their geographic location on the island. The famous North Shore has iconic surfing beaches, like Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach, home of the Banzai Pipeline. The South Shore is where Waikiki is located, as well as other famous leisure beaches. These huge, wide beaches are bordered with tall palm trees and luxury resort hotels. The Westside's beaches are referred to as Leeward Coast beaches, which means they are protected from the wind by the island. This is where you'll find peaceful beaches with gentle surf, like Ko Olina and Turtle Bay. On the Eastside, referred to as the Windward Coast, you'll find popular yet unspoiled beaches, like Waimanalo and Kualoa. Choose the perfect stretch of coast for your seaside activities with this list of the best beaches on Oahu:
1 Lanikai Beach
Oahu's best beach is Lanikai Beach because it delivers all the elements necessary for the perfect beach experience. It's isolated yet accessible, near the town of Kailua on the Windward Coast. It's in a residential neighborhood, which keeps the crowds away but can create parking problems. Lanikai also offers beachgoers the full range of water sports, both on top of and under the water. You can sail, windsurf, sea kayak, and snorkel. Kayakers can even paddle out to small uninhabited islands about a mile offshore. The water is warm, clear, and gentle (it's protected by an offshore reef), and the sand is white and very fine. Paradise Palms Bed and Breakfast is about a ten-minute drive from Lanikai in Kailua.
Although it may be the epicenter of Hawaii tourism and tourists, the entire Waikiki Beach still manages to deliver that ultimate Hawaiian beach experience. You have a few miles of bright, fluffy white-sand beaches bordered by tall, gently swaying palm trees with warm, clear, bright-blue water. Many parts of the beach are roped off for swimming and protected by jetties, so the waves are gentle. The beach is fronted by luxury hotels and resorts, with Kalakaua Avenue in front of them, lined with stores and luxury retailers. The Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk is part of a massive commercial and residential development across from the beach. Good amenities and suite accommodations make it great value.
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3 Hanauma Bay
Only 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu, this protected aquatic state park has very strict rules, ensuring its preservation and enjoyment for future generations. This idyllic bay, formed in a volcano cone, is like a giant aquarium. This is a very popular snorkeling spot (all visitors need to take a safety and environmental protection lecture before entering), and it really is like snorkeling in a giant aquarium. To control crowds, attendance is limited. There is an entry charge (well worth it for the experience) and a charge for a little shuttle (also worth it after you're tired from snorkeling all day) to take you up and down the hill from the parking area. Many package day trips to Hanauma Bay are available from all the Waikiki resorts, but a stay at The Kahala Hotel & Resort puts you about five miles away. This large luxury resort is right on the beach and has its own dolphin lagoon.
4 Turtle Bay
Also known as Kawela Bay, this is a protected bay, with wide white beaches, way up at the northeastern tip of Oahu. It got its name from the many Hawaiian green sea turtles that are found in the area. The gentle surf makes it great for swimming and snorkeling. The Turtle Bay Resort sits atop a peninsula, extending out into the sea, with Turtle Bay on one side. The views are spectacular, and the prices are reasonable, as the rooms and amenities are more mid-range than luxury. The resort is a little isolated, and a car is necessary for any off-property activities.
5 Waimea Bay
This is a famous surfing spot, but the beach here is always a great place to visit, even for non-surfers, and there's always something to see. The huge, monster waves only happen during the winter; the surf is almost gentle during the summer, making it great for swimming and even snorkeling. During the winter, the beach can see waves as high as 20 to 30 feet, some of the largest in the world. Waimea Bay has good facilities (public restrooms and outdoor showers) and is well-guarded with lifeguards. The sand is powder smooth, and the beach is quite wide. After a day of water sports, get a bite with the locals at one of the many food trucks that line the Kamehameha Highway around all the popular surf breaks (including Waimea).
6 Waimanalo Beach
This is a vast, four-mile-long beach on the Windward or east coast of the island. Windward means it faces the wind, unlike the beaches on the west coast, which are protected from the wind by the island itself. This is a typical Hawaiian beach, wide and flat, with good facilities along with picnic areas. The waves are small here, but it's popular for bodyboarding and bodysurfing. There are some small bed and breakfasts in the area, but Waikiki hotels, like the Prince Waikiki, are only a 15-minute drive away.
7 Ko Olina
Also on Oahu's Leeward Coast, the Ko Olina Resort and Marina has well-designed, man-made lagoons and clean, wonderfully maintained beaches, created for the large resorts here. Even if you're not a resort guest, it's a well-guarded, safe beach for families. There are a few areas of public facilities on the beach and a plethora of dining options at all the beachfront hotels. The luxury Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina is an incredible beachfront property here, in an awesome location. This is the perfect place for couples or families.
8 Yokohama Bay
Another Leeward Coast beach, in fact the last beach in that part of the coast, is Yokohama Bay. The Keawaula Beach area is the perfect spot to relax; the sandy bottom reflects the sunlight and turns the water a bright turquoise. Visually, it's one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii and great for photographers. The bright, sandy, gently curving beach around the bay is perfect for enjoying the Hawaiian sun while looking out for the occasional pod of dolphins swimming by. There's a nearby hiking trail that will take you up to a point overlooking the entire beach and bay, perfect for selfies.
9 Kailua Beach
Kailua Beach Park is only a mile up the road from Lanikai Beach and is constantly ranked as one of America's best beaches. You get three wide miles of white sandy beach, with warm, gentle greenish-blue water. The beach is part of a 35-acre park with all kinds of outdoor sports and recreation facilities. There are also businesses nearby in Kailua for dining or shopping, including Island Snow, President Obama's favorite place for Hawaiian shaved ice. If you want to stay in the area, you can opt for one of the many small guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts in the little town of Kailua.
10 Sunset Beach
This famous two-mile-long surfing beach is on the North Shore and also has dramatically different conditions depending on the season. In the winter, it has truly giant waves and is very dangerous for all but the best swimmers and professional surfers. In the summer, it's incredibly calm and gentle, perfect for families, swimming, and shoreline snorkeling. It also has beautiful clear water and white sandy beaches. The Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore delivers clean, comfortable accommodations and is right across the street from the beach. Rooms on the higher floors have nice ocean views, and the hotel adds to its value with free Wi-Fi and free breakfast.
11 Sandy Beach
This wide, large beach is famous for surfing and President Obama, as it's near the house he stays in on his Oahu visits. The beach is in a residential area, and there is always plenty of open space. It's ten minutes past Hanauma Bay, and about 40 minutes from Waikiki. The beach has soft sand, and there are basic facilities. Sandy Beach is also a popular spot for food trucks. This is a big surf spot, with typically strong waves, making it not a good beach for swimmers. The waves break very close to the shore, so it's popular with bodysurfers and bodyboarders.
12 Ehukai Beach
This North Shore beach is known for one thing, it's the home of the infamous Banzai Pipeline. The Pipeline is caused by huge, dangerous waves that form and break over a sharp reef just under the surface of the water. The powerful surf, combined with the physics of the reef, produces the enormous tunnels of water that are known as the Banzai Pipeline. It's one of the most dangerous places in the world to surf, which makes it a great beach to watch surfers. Every day, professional surfers come from all across the globe to tackle the enormous waves. If you want to stay close to the Pipeline, the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore is the best option, as it's almost right across the street from Ehukai Beach.