Sunshine, palm trees, tropical cocktails in hand and the glorious beaches of Oahu at your finger tips. Pinch me! What more could you possibly want?
The only challenge in this dreamy paradise is choosing the absolute BEST beach to spend the day at. But don’t worry, that’s where I come in. I recently took a trip to Hawaii and made it my personal mission to find the best beaches on Oahu.
This mission took me to every corner of the island and exposed me to some beautiful beaches on Oahu.
The effort was worthwhile because vacation time is limited and spending a day on a beach in Hawaii is as perfect as it gets — I want you to know your options!
To that end, let’s hit the beach!
Tips for visiting the beaches on Oahu
You + sunscreen = best friends forever
- Did you know that the active ingredients in traditional sunscreen are toxic to reef systems and marine life? This is the reef-safe sunscreen I personally use when swimming or snorkeling with sea turtles.
- Not planning to swim? Then this is hands-down the BEST sunscreen in the world (I discovered it in France six years ago and now buy it in bulk).
Pack your snorkeling gear!
- I purchased this snorkeling mask prior to our trip and was very happy with it.
- These are the fins I have used the past 5+ years (I practically lived in them when we visited the Virgin Islands and would repurchase them in a heartbeat!).
- A rash guard is essential, especially if you run cold like me. I bought this one before our trip and put it to good use on several occasions. It’s highly reviewed on amazon — another perk.
Best Beaches Oahu, Hawai’i
Often regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in Oahu, Lanikai Beach is a sight to behold. The water is a picture-perfect clear turquoise color, healthy palm trees pepper the shore and the gold sand is as soft as they come.
Lanikai Beach feels like it’s straight out of a calendar photo — you have to see it to believe how perfect this Oahu beach is.
In short, this is exactly what people think about when they picture the quintessential island paradise, which is why Lanikai Beach is easily one of the best beaches on Oahu to spend the day.
During peak travel season this beautiful Oahu beach gets packed with sunbathers, swimmers, kayakers and snorkelers.
If you’re looking for solitude, I suggest catching sunrise at Lanikai Beach (it’s my favorite spot to catch sunrise on Oahu), you’re bound to spot dozens of professional photographers taking photos of clients as well. It’s that beautiful!
Lanikai Beach is located in Kailua which is a charming and small (but bustling!) town with a handful of coffee shops, great food options, and plenty of shops to explore.
Known for: Snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, kayaking. In fact, Lanikai Beach is one of the best swimming beaches on Oahu because there’s barely any waves — making it a great beach for families with children!
Location: East Oahu | Kailua, Hi
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Hanauma Bay State Park Beach is a world-renowned snorkeling spot and offers some of the most spectacular concentrations of fish in all of Hawaii! It’s also stunningly pretty beach on Oahu and the perfect spot to spend a day relaxing at the beach.
I spent two blissful hours reading on the beach and people watching while my husband snorkeled with sea turtles and massive schools of fish.
We saw a lot of families and children playing in the water, but swimming further out is discouraged due to strong currents (the two currents are marked by buoys). Lifeguards are on duty to ensure everyone is safe.
Hanauma Bay is managed by the State of Hawaii Parks & Recreation as a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District after overuse threatened the incredible biodiversity in the bay.
As such, visitors are required to pay admission ($12) and watch an informative film before descending downhill to Hanauma Bay.
Note: Golf carts run regularly back and forth between the top and bottom to ferry folks who prefer to ride rather than walk.
Due to the admission, some consider Hanauma Bay more difficult to access than most beaches on Oahu. However, based on firsthand experience, the admission goes to a great cause.
The bay is well managed and preserved. Our visit was so memorable, it was worth every penny and I would return in a heartbeat!
Location: Southeast Oahu | 7455 Kalanianaʻole Hwy, Honolulu, HI
Cost: $12 per person + $3 parking per vehicle
We can’t talk about the best beaches on Oahu without mentioning iconic Waikiki Beach!
Due to it’s close proximity to the heart of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach has no shortage of fun activities to do if you plan to spend your entire day on the most famous beach on Oahu.
You can spend hours people-watching the folks on the shore and the surfers in the water.
Waikiki Beach spans two sandy miles in an area dotted with great hotels and chock-full of restaurants, bars and cafes. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the shopping!
The beach itself is one of the most idyllic beaches in Oahu. Think golden sandy shoreline, bright palm trees, colorful beach chairs and umbrellas and a breathtaking view of Diamond Head looming in the background.
And since Waikiki Beach is so popular, it offers great amenities like clean restrooms and showers.
Tips for visiting Waikiki Beach
- Soak in the sun and then head into Dukes Bar (or any of the great Honolulu restaurants) for a refreshing piña colada or tropical drink of your choice! It’s rare to have bars and restaurants so close to a beach on Oahu.
- Waikiki Beach has some of the coarsest sand on the whole island so if you have sensitive feet you may want to bring some beach sandals or flip flops.
- Crowds are hard to avoid at Waikiki Beach (it’s the most famous beach on Oahu after all!). I suggest visiting during the weekdays if you can. The beach tends to start filling up around 11am most days.
Known for: Proximity to downtown Honolulu, stunning views, large crowds, surfing, swimming, sunsets, view of Diamond Head.
Location: South Oahu | Honolulu, HI
Sunset Beach is one the most visited beaches on Oahu’s famous North Shore and it’s not hard to see why. The beach is peppered with eager surfers any day of the week and you could easily spend half a day watching these skilled athletes tackle the waves.
The area is known for massive waves, especially during winter, so surfers can’t resist the temptation of this Oahu beach. The sea is calmer during the warmer summer months, just remember: When in doubt, don’t go out!
If you’re more into sunbathing and relaxing, this Oahu beach has you covered. Linger until sunset for a spectacular colorful display as the sun tucks into the horizon. They don’t call this Sunset Beach for nothing!
Tip: A parking lot is provided but it fills up quickly, however folks come and go quite frequently so if you hang around a few minutes you should be able to snag a spot. Restroom and showers are provided near the parking lot.
Known for: Surfing and being one of the best beaches for sunset on Oahu
Location: North Shore Oahu | Pupukea, HI
Waimea Bay Beach
Waimea Bay is best known for a 30-foot rock colloquially called “Da Big Rock” where you’ll find adrenaline enthusiasts eagerly diving into the water below most hours of the day.
If you’re in a more relaxed mood, I suggest bringing a good book, a colorful beach towel (here’s the best beach towel in the world) and enjoy the afternoon sunbathing and people-watching.
Thanks to Da Big Rock, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better people-watching beach on Oahu!
Note: Since the waves reach such massive heights during the winter months, I suggest avoiding swimming or snorkeling in this area unless you’re a very strong swimmer.
However, if you’re visiting Waimea Bay during the warmer summer months you’ll notice that the water is much more calm and tranquil.
Known for: Surfing
Location: SE Oahu | Waimanalo, HI
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Sandy Beach is a popular beach in Oahu for water sports such as surfing and body-boarding because of the massive waves that reach heights of 20-30 feet during the winter months. If you’re not a strong swimmer, make sure you stay ashore.
It’s also famous for being near the house President Obama stays at when he visits Oahu. The exact location beats me, but I can tell you that the beach is one of the best in Oahu because of the exapnsive sandy shoreline (thus the moniker).
The beach attracts surfers from all over Oahu, which is great for an adventurous day at the beach but not ideal if you’re more into swimming and snorkeling.
Beach access is easy and the parking area is large, plus there’s a ton of food trucks nearby and bathrooms/showers are provided.
Known for: Big waves, surfers, wide sandy shoreline
Location: SE Oahu | Honolulu, HI
Kailua Beach is located just one mile from one of the most popular beaches on Oahu (Lanikai Beach) and since it sits on the same world-famous coastline, you better believe it’s a great beach to spend the day.
The soft sandy shoreline leads directly into clear tourquoise water where the gentle and calm sea creates perfect conditions for swimming and snorkeling.
The amenities at this Oahu beach are endless! You can have a picnic, play volleyball, make BBQ or simply people watch. Similar to Lanikai Beach, this is great sunrise beach on Oahu and I highly recommend making the effort.
Chances are good you’ll find solitude while taking in a mesmerizing sunrise.
It’s a bit on the windier side and we noticed a lot of folk sailing, kite-surfing and surfing during our visit. Located in the charming town of Kailua, this is one of the more accessible and convenient beaches on the island.
Known for: Crystal waters, surfing, windsurfing, one of the best sunrise beaches on Oahu.
Location: SE Oahu | Kailua, HI
I traveled to Hawaii (safely) during COVID. Here is what is was like and my recommendation as to whether or not you should try it.
Kaiona Beach does not show up on a lot of people’s “best beaches in Oahu” lists, which is precisely why it’s on mine. This Oahu beach is mostly overlooked due to it’s location near residential homes (don’t worry all beaches in Hawaii are public) and limited parking options, but those who make it here will be rewarded.
Tall palms late in the day create dreamy shadows over the crystal blue, shallow waters. The beach itself is narrow and odds are you’ll have it to yourself or at the very least quite a bit less crowded than the more popular beaches on Oahu!
Known for: Tall palms, clear water, beautiful secluded beach in Oahu
Location: North Shore, Oahu
Kawela Bay (Turtle Bay)
One of the most stunning locales on the island, Turtle Bay is a secluded cove ripe for underwater exploration. This is one of the best snorkeling beaches on Oahu because of the sea turtles that frequent the area (thus earning the moniker “Turtle Bay”).
The water is calm, clear and gentle and the views are hard to beat. The spectacular surrounding palm trees make for a picture-perfect spot to soak in paradise — we couldn’t stop pinching ourselves!
Known for: Swimming, snorkeling, surfing (in winter)
Ala Moana Beach
Ala Moana Beach was the closest beach to our hotel and we considered ourselves pretty lucky to get to experience the mesmerizing sunsets over this (very) popular Oahu beach. This beach neighbors Waikiki Beach but you wouldn’t be able to guess that based on the lack of crowds and the number of locals that hang out and exercise here.
This is easily one of the best family friendly beaches in Oahu for one simple reason — it was designed exactly for that purpose! The shoreline and park (Ala Moana Beach Park) are man-made and offer a vast array of activities the whole family will enjoy.
Families can introduce young swimmers to the calm, warm and shallow waters or bike around the expansive paved biking and walking trails. Ala Moana Beach Park features picnic tables, shady trees, tennis courts, concessions stands and restrooms with showers.
For those looking for a nearby bite, try the Ala Moana mall right across the street from the park. Offering so many fun family-friendly activities, it’s not hard to see why Ala Moana Beach is beloved by both locals and tourists alike!
Known for: Families with young children, calm water, paddle boarding, swimming.
Location: Southern Oahu | Honolulu, HI
Best beaches on Oahu (Post Summary)
In sum, here are the BEST beaches on Oahu!
- Lanikai Beach
- Hanauma Bay
- Waikiki Beach
- Sunset Beach
- Kaiona Beach
- Sandy Beach
- Kailua Beach
- Waimea Beach
- Kahana Beach
- Ala Moana Beach
Map of the best beaches in O’ahu
Love Hawaii? You might enjoy these posts too!
- Top 10 Spots for Sea Turtles on Oahu
- Best things to Do on Oahu
- Where to find sea turtles Maui
- A Great Overall Guide to Oahu
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Until next time,