The Best Beaches on Oahu
Around 112 miles of coastline fringe Oahu, including some of Hawaii’s best beaches, perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, and surfing. From rocky shores to sugar-silky stretches of sand, options abound for a day—or even a week—spent soaking up the sun and sea. Grab a towel and some reef-safe sunscreen (bereefsafe.com), then dive in!
Magic Island, Honolulu, HI 96814, USA
Less popular with tourists than Waikiki, but more popular with the locals, Ala Moana Beach Park is the location for citywide events like the Lantern Floating Memorial, Relay for Life, and occasional holiday fireworks displays. The park’s long strip of beach provides ample room for anyone to set up a beach umbrella and spread out a towel. Loads of people barbecue and make an entire day of the retreat from the city. I prefer to spend the evening walking out to Magic Island to look back at the Honolulu and Waikiki skyline while watching surfers test their boards in the gentle waves. Across the street from the park, shoppers will appreciate the Ala Moana Center Mall, where you can also find plenty of restaurants and dining establishments if you didn’t bring your grill.
If you’re looking for a great snorkel experience accessible to Waikiki, I found Hanauma Bay a great spot. Turtles and fish galore.
2877 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Some of the best snorkeling we did on Oahu didn’t cost a cent—including Sans Souci Beach, a walkable distance from the Waikiki hotels and close to the aquarium. But why pay to get into the aquarium when you can wade right into the water and see all kinds of colorful needlefish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, and more? This smallish, family-friendly beach is low-key and fairly quiet, considering its touristy location. Swim over by the rock wall for the greatest variety of fish and tiny black crabs. And don’t forget your underwater camera! (This is not a great picture, but at least you can see the aquatic diversity on display.)
Laniakea Beach, North Shore, HI 96712, USA
More commonly known as Turtle Beach, this Oahu North Shore cove often attracts honu, aka Chelonia mydas, the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles. These big, friendly giants can reach 400 pounds as adults and are herbivorous, feeding primarily on algae and seagrasses, abundant year-round in the warm, shallow waters. Summer’s gentle surf—swells averaging just two feet—increase your odds of quality turtle time. Cross the road carefully and keep at least six feet away from the endangered turtles as they sunbathe onshore (mind any “no-go” zones maintained by volunteers). Avoid swimming here: The currents and beach rocks make it challenging.
Kailua, HI 96734, USA
Lanikai Beach is no secret to the locals, or to tourists, as it is consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world, and it’s arguably the best beach on the island of Oahu. Chances are that if you’re visiting Hawaii then you’re probably on vacation which should make it easier to visit Lanikai during the week. This will increase your chances of finding a secluded spot to lounge in privacy. In fact this amazing beach is usually empty during the week (I would recommend avoiding this beach during peak tourist season or on the weekends). There is no parking, no public bathrooms, and no vendors of any kind within proximity to the beach so come prepared. Pack your sunblock, snacks, and drinks and lounge on this secluded, white-sand beach for the day. Enjoy doing nothing at all or read a book. Or you can fall in love like we did!
Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
Sunbathing—throwing down a towel, propping up a beach umbrella, and idly sifting sand through your toes—remains one of the greatest pleasures of visiting Hawaii. Lanikai beach on Oahu ranks as one of the world’s best, inspiring devotion with its fine sand and turquoise water. Kaanapali Beach on Maui exudes an air of luxury and the promise of cocktails after a day in the sun. To relax on the Big Island, bring sunglasses and a book to Kaunaoa Beach, but be warned—dazzling waters may distract you from your reading. And when the beaches get too crowded head for Papohaku Beach Park on Molokai, where there’s room for everybody on three miles of soft sand.
Honolulu, HI, USA
There’s a certain kind of peace that one feels when basking in the Waikiki sun. You go there, banana daiquiri on one hand, and a trusty old camera on the other. You capture the moment and say to yourself, “ahh...this is paradise.”
2259 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
A renowned group of Hawaiian watermen worked on the Waikiki beaches during the first half of the 20th century. These “Beachboys” shared their culture, aloha, and intimate knowledge of the ocean—and led the revival of traditional aquatic sports. Today Ted Bush and his Waikiki Beach Services keep this warm welcome alive, offering surf and SUP lessons along with outrigger rides. Tours paddle out to the surf break, then line up and catch some waves. Don’t worry: These nimble canoes rank among the safest vessels at sea; sit back and enjoy “the original Hawaiian roller coaster.” The company also rents umbrella sets in front of the Royal Hawaiian hotel ($50 plus tax; arrive when the desk opens at 7:45 a.m. if you have a strong preference about chaise lounge placement!).