Named the best beach in the country by Dr. Beach, Kailua Beach Park on Oahu’s windward, or east side, is a sprawling stretch of sand where gentle aquamarine waves kiss the shoreline. Its pristine beauty, proximity to nearby Kailua town for food and drinks, water sports rentals, and on-site amenities (picnic tables, bathrooms, showers and lifeguards), make this a beach-goer’s paradise. Feeling adventurous? Rent a kayak from nearby Kailua Beach Adventures and paddle out to the Mokulea Islands, known as “the Mokes,” for a true deserted island experience.
Swimmers looking to take a dip in calm waters should head to Lanikai Beach. Thanks to an offshore reef, the waters remain mellow, making it an ideal spot for swimming or floating in the clear water, or spreading your towel on the sand for sun time along the mile-long coastal retreat. The best views of Lanikai Beach can be seen from the summit of the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, a two-mile out-and-back trail featuring old military bunkers. Work this hike in for sunrise (it gets pretty crowded and hot), before heading down to the beach to cool off.
Marked by powdery white sand and turquoise ocean backed by ironwood trees, Waimanalo Beach is a quintessential computer screensaver come to life. About 45 minutes outside Honolulu, these three miles of surf and sand provide the perfect landscape for picnics, swimming, sunbathing, and camping (with a permit). Grab food at Ai Love Nalo, a plant-based eatery (order the Coco-Bacon Super Salad), on your way into town, so there is no need to leave the shoreline until sunset.
Bodyboarders and bodysurfers seeking a thrill should pinpoint Makapuu Beach Park. Located just around the bend from Makapuu Point Lighthouse (visible from the shoreline) and backed by towering cliffs, sand lovers can enjoy the views at this beach, too. Start your day watching the sunrise from the paved Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail before heading down to the beach. Families with children may enjoy a visit to Sea Life Park, an educational sea life experience, that sits adjacent to the beach.
Locally known as “Sandy’s” and the best destination for body boarding and surfing thanks to a close shorebreak, this south shore beach sits under the watchful eye of lifeguards, though it’s recommended that inexperienced swimmers pick a more mellow beach. Food trucks line the entrance to this alcove, and parking can be limited, so arrive early or around lunchtime for the best chance at grabbing grub and a place to park.
No trip to Oahu is complete without lingering at iconic Waikiki Beach. Calm waters, catamaran charters and no shortage of hotel bars to dip into for a tropical libation draw thousands daily to enjoy this famed shoreline. Grab an affordable raft from any number of ABC Stores in Waikiki (they will inflate it for you for $1) and float straight into peaceful beachside oblivion.
Not many people pop into Pokai Bay, which might make it one of the better kept secrets of Oahu’s west side. Because the bay is surrounded by reef, the water stays flat, which makes Pokai Bay ideal for families with children and water sports like stand-up paddling and snorkeling. Before leaving the west side of the island, stop at Kane’ilio Point, a sacred spot where it is believed that spirits protected travelers. Marked by three grassy terraces, the Heiau (meaning temple) offers panoramic views of the coastline.
Water enthusiasts with a desire to spot wildlife should pack up and head toward Makaha Beach Park on Oahu’s west side with snorkel and dive gear in tow. With a strong shorebreak and rip currents, Makaha is only suitable for strong swimmers, and a sharp reef on the right side stands warning to all who enter. Leaving Makaha and heading back toward Waikiki, make sure to drive through Ko’Olina Resort and grab a Hibiscus Spritz cocktail, a refreshing blend of prosecco, Aperol and hibiscus grenadine, from the Waterman at Four Seasons Oahu.
Located across from the popular Waimea Falls hike and botanical gardens, Waimea Bay is the destination for big-wave surfing in the winter (waves up to 30 feet) and snorkeling, swimming, or floating in the summer. Highly-trained lifeguards stand watch for rogue surf 365 days per year, and a wide beach with surrounding picnic tables make this a perfect spot for families. The popularity of Waimea Bay puts free parking at a premium, so it’s not uncommon to see beachgoers walking along the highway to the entrance. Neighboring Shark’s Cove plays host to some of the best food trucks on the island, so order up a garlic shrimp plate and settle into the sand.
Known for big wave surfing in the winter months, Sunset Beach is a wide strand on Oahu’s North Shore that draws professional surfers like Kelly Slater and John John Florence to dominate wave competitions like Billabong Pipe Masters and Vans World Cup of Surfing annually. In the summer, calm waters welcome swimmers, and golden sands are perfect for an afternoon of sunbathing. Don’t miss strolling through historic Haleiwa town on the way in or out and grabbing a shave ice from Matsumoto’s.