Oahu’s 227 miles of coastline offer something for everyone, from families who want easy parking and full facilities, to nature types willing to hike in to a quieter piece of paradise. Of course, Oahu caters to surfers and those who simply enjoy the spectacle of surfing the waves off its epic north shore. It’s got beaches for snorkeling, and beaches where visitors can stay dry while seeing green sea turtles. Oahu offers all these things — and more. Here is our list of the best beaches on Oahu.
We love this beach for its name — why Sandy Beach’s sand is any different than the others on Oahu, we will never know. Locals love this beach for its big waves crashing right near shore, perfect for surfing or boogie boarding.
Although there are lifeguards stationed at Sandy Beach, the waves shouldn’t be tackled by absolute beginners. Beyond the waves, this spot is also a solid pick for beach goers who like to get away from the bigger crowds. Granted, this south shore spot isn’t entirely isolated, but it does attract fewer guests than most other beaches.
Hanauma Bay State Park
The beach along Hanauama Bay State Park opens to one of the island’s best nature preserves and snorkeling spots. The coral heads here are home to sea turtles, plus hundreds of species of fish, including angelfish, butterflyfish, surgeonfish and more.
Find this spot, nestled within a volcanic cone, 30 minutes by car east of Honolulu. Note that this state park charges an entry fee of $7.50.
You don’t need to hang 10 to appreciate Oahu’s north shore, home to its most famous surf breaks. You do, however, owe it to yourself to visit Sunset Beach, site of many wave-riding competitions, including the Vans World Cup of Surfing.
Visit in the winter to witness the big waves, the surfers and the crowd that loves to watch. Come summer, the beach quiets down and doubles as a locals’ favorite snorkel spot.
Clear water, caramel-color sand and a tall, smooth lava boulder perfect for cliff-jumping — what more could you ask for? There is no bad time of year to visit this north shore gem: Winter brings 40-foot waves that are pure magic to watch, but we prefer the beach in summer when the water is calm and glassy — much more inviting for a leisurely dip.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Families love beaches with facilities, and Ala Moana Beach Park’s got ’em. This 100-acre park includes a grove of palm trees offering shade and a grassy expanse with picnic tables. The beach itself, patrolled daily by lifeguards, is wide and flat, opening to a shallow bay that’s all sand, no rocks.
Parking is easy, ample and free. Plus, freshwater showers allow travelers to skip the trip back to the resort, and instead, head straight to the next event.
Lanikai Beach tops every list of the best beaches on Oahu, and many lists of best beaches in the world. It’s a favorite for its sugar-soft golden sand, flat sea conditions, clear water and view of two satellite islands on the horizon.
But accessing the beach can be tricky. Home developers have snatched up most of the real estate, so keep your eyes peeled for the alleyways allowing public access points. Do so, and you’ll see why this beach’s name translates to “Heavenly Sea.” Plus, keep in mind that if you’re up early — jetlag anyone? — this is a great spot to catch sunrise.
Kailua Beach Park
This 3-mile windward stretch of beach on Oahu’s eastern shore, a 30-minute drive across island from Honolulu, rates on par with neighboring Lanikai Beach: Both are beloved for their white sand and impossibly clear water.
The difference is that Kailua Beach Park packs in family-friendly amenities, including lifeguards, free parking, picnic tables, barbecue grills and freshwater showers. Because of all the extras at this park, this beach is popular with locals, especially on weekends. It’s also a favorite among windsurfers and kitesurfers for the steady breezes.
Laniakea Beach, aka Turtle Beach
This north shore beach is affectionately known as Turtle Beach for the behemoth green sea turtles regularly basking in the sun. They seem to favor this spot where their dark shells blend in with the smattering of black rocks.
We love that this Oahu beach is one of the few where visitors can regularly watch this species without even getting wet. Just remember that the turtles are wild animals, not tourist attractions; it is illegal to touch or harass these endangered reptiles. But photo taking is totally allowed — so snap away!
For extroverts and water sports lovers, there is perhaps no better beach on Oahu than Waikiki. Nor is there a beach more famous, known for its white sand and high-rise hotel backdrop — visiting Waikiki is definitely one of the best things to do on Oahu. We love that this beach serves as one centralized location for getting in the action on the Pacific’s gentle rolling waves, whether that be learning to surf, paddle board or even paddle an outrigger canoe — it’s all available here with private or group lessons.
What’s more, the action only heats up at sunset. Stay for a Mai tai at The Beach Bar at Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa. The prices aren’t cheap, but the rich atmosphere makes up for it. Linger to enjoy the live music and make the most of this open-air hotspot built beneath a banyan tree.
Halona Beach Cove
Not every traveler loves a crowd. Solitude-seekers are best served heading east of Honolulu, driving 30 minutes to Oahu’s southeast tip and a slice of golden sand nestled between lava rock walls. Beach goers will need to hike down to the beach where there are no lifeguards and no facilities. However, the scenery is spectacular. Many make a day of it, visiting the nearby blowhole. And, yes, this was the beach featured in the 1953 classic movie From Here to Eternity.