If you’re coming to Hawaii in pursuit of tropical waters and mind-blowing beaches, then look no further than the island of Oahu, home to the state’s capital (Honolulu).
There are literally countless plots of breathtaking waterfront to explore. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to visit them all. So we’ve created an Oahu beach guide for you, highlighting some of the top spots you may want to add to your itinerary.
Grab yourself a snack (we’ll wait). And settle down somewhere comfy. We’ve got 15 beaches to cover in this guide.
Oahu Beach Guide
Where: The northernmost section of Waikiki Beach. Right next to the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel and the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon.
Best For: Sunsets. And families looking for safe swimming water.
The sand is more coarse here, and there are a bit more rocks in the water. But this stretch of Waikiki Beach is right close by to the man-made lagoon at the Hilton, which offers nice calm waters for the little ones to play in, or for the well-balanced to try their hand at stand-up-paddle-board-yoga.
It’s also an extremely popular place to gather in the evening to take in the sunset.
Fort DeRussy Beach (Waikiki North)
Where: The northern section of Waikiki Beach, just south of Kahanamoku Beach.
Best For: An uncrowded beach experience in Waikiki.
There’s a beautiful, well manicured park behind this shockingly uncrowded, wide stretch of beach. Volleyball nets are set up and rearing to go. Aquatic rentals are aplenty.
Royal-Moana Beach (Waikiki Main)
Where: The Waikiki stretch of beach that runs from the Royal Hawaiian (northwest) to the Moana Surfrider (southeast).
Best For: The softest baby-powder sand in all the land. Also a great launching pad for whale watching tours or sunset cruises.
Situated in front of the pink landmark hotel. It’s a toss up if the draw to this beach is the insanely soft sand or the cutesy pink building backdrop and pastel umbrellas everywhere.
This slice of beach is mega crowded. Not exactly the beach to chose if you want solitude or serenity.
Ala Moana Beach
Where: Just north of Waikiki (in downtown Honolulu), near the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Best For: Inexperienced swimmers and families with small children.
The shallow water is protected here, making the sea exceptionally calm. Because of this, it’s a popular beach for locals to bring their kids. It’s also ideal for people like me who are timid swimming in Hawaii’s unpredictable currents.
Behind the beach is a large grassy area where you’ll find families BBQing under tents and canopies, and friends enjoying games of volleyball and Frisbee.
Where: In the North Shore, smack dab between the towns of Hale’iwa and Pupukea.
Best For: Turtle watching.
Too many slippery rocks to make this beach ideal for swimming. But if you want to see turtles, this is a great beach for that. We didn’t see any up on the shore, unfortunately, but we saw plenty swimming in front of us and poking their heads up out of the water to look around.
There is parking across the street, but not a ton. Aka it can fill up fast so come early in the morning. And crossing the road is a little sketchy, so move fast.
Where: The North Shore. On the outskirts of Pupukea.
Best For: Cliff jumping in the summer, and surfing 20-40 foot waves in the winter.
We visited during the summer months and were gifted with placid waves that were perfectly swim-able, even for the likes of me (the swimming impaired). There’s a giant rock to the left end of the beach that’s a popular cliff jumping spot.
It’s a whole different story in the winter. Visitors and locals alike flock here to watch the world’s best surfers break boards and break necks on unbelievably tall waves.
Where: In the North Shore town of Pupukea.
Best For: Snorkeling during the summer months.
Crystal clear water, plenty of tropical fish, and a few wild sea turtles make this a prime spot for snorkeling.
Across the road are the Pupukea food trucks. You most certainly don’t want to leave the North Shore without sampling some of the famous garlic shrimp.
Where: Look for Keiki Beach Bungalows on Google Maps (in Pupukea). The beach itself doesn’t seem to come up otherwise.
Best For: Having a beautiful HUGE beach all to yourself.
The first to be listed in the 3-way tie for my most favorite Oahu beach.
I learned of this beach from a comment on Instagram and decided to check it out. Definitely wasn’t disappointed. It’s long and wide, and because it doesn’t come up on Google Maps and there isn’t a sign directing you to the beach, it’s quite deserted. We saw maybe 2 other people during our whole time there.
Don’t underestimate the ocean’s power. While the waves were small, barely reaching above our knees, they were crazy strong and had us tossed around on the sand like seaweed.
Where: At Turtle Bay Resort in the North Shore.
Best For: Sunset drinks (or so we hear).
Don’t confuse Turtle Bay with Turtle Beach (like we did). You aren’t going to see more turtles here than any other beach in the North Shore. In fact, we didn’t even spot one here.
This is the beach adjacent to the luxury Turtle Bay Resort. The hotel that Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed at. Everyone said to come here at sunset for a drink with a view. The beach didn’t blow us away, though, so we didn’t end up staying long enough to see the sunset here.
Where: Laie Beach Park in the northeast.
Best For: Jumping in the ocean from a secret (and apparently illegal) trampoline built out on the water.
The super cool Pounder’s Beach trampoline has been removed a few times now by the state of Hawaii due to safety concerns. But people keep rebuilding it. Because of this, we can’t guarantee it will be there when you visit.
Where: In the classic beach town of Kailua, on the East Shore / Windward Side of the island.
Best For: Peaceful strolls along the beach, and playing in calm ocean waves.
Number two in the 3-way tie for my most favorite Oahu beach.
Kailua is an adorable place to stay if you are looking to get away from the city life of Waikiki and Honolulu. You won’t find any resorts here. But, rather, a good deal of vacation rentals and B&B’s.
The beach itself is surprisingly long (2.5 miles). So if you’re looking for a stretch of spacious sand to call your own, you just have to walk along the shore to the north a little bit. The crowds mostly stick to the south, close to the parking lot and showers.
Where: A few minutes south from Kailua Beach, in the town of Kailua.
Best For: Kayaking to the nearby offshore islands.
Lanikai Beach is incredibly close to Kailua Beach. Lanikai, however, does not have a parking lot. You either have to find an opening along one of the residential streets, or walk down from Kailua Beach Park.
While most sites rate this the number one Oahu beach, I found it to be a bit on the small and busy side to live up to such an almighty title. But still a truly beautiful (for lack of a better word) beach.
Where: On the East Shore/ Windward side of Oahu.
Best For: Experiencing that classic Hawaii-looking beach without the hoards of people.
The final pick in the 3-way tie for my most favorite Oahu beach.
At Waimanalo Beach you’ll find absolutely gorgeous sand backed by a thick forest and dramatic cliffs. The water here is impossibly blue and inviting. And, most surprisingly, it’s uncrowded! Although, I hear that isn’t always the case on weekends.
Where: On the South Shore of the island.
Best For: Watching experienced bodysurfers.
The pounding shore break is mesmerizing but all too powerful for anyone other than an ultra-experienced local to attempt to surf.
Your safest bet is to set up shop on the sand and people watch rather than try out the sport for yourself. Seriously.
When surfs not up and waves are calm this would be such a dreamy little swimming spot, though.
Where: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on the southeast coast.
Best For: Snorkeling among the fishies.
There are heaps of friendly fish at Hanauma Bay that will merrily swim circles around you without fear.
This is no hidden secret on Oahu, though. Expect large crowds of other snorkelers. And if you don’t arrive early enough, understand that the parking lot may already be at capacity.
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