Oahu Beach Review
Makapu'u is a fantastic beach that is well-removed from the more crowded beaches as you get closer to Waikiki. Makapu'u Beach is in an alcove bordered by Makapu'u Light House, which is on a large rock hill stretching into the ocean, and has a backdrop of steep green mountains.
Pros: This beach is more of a locals spot, so it should not be very crowded. The scenery around Makapu'u Beach is amazing and really makes for a unique Oahu beach. Whether you are coming from Honolulu or the North Shore, the drive here is filled with stunning mountains and oceanside cliffs.
Cons: The waves here can get very large. Make sure you pay attention to the signs that will give warnings to keep out of the water.
Best Time to Go: Because of its location on the east side of Oahu, this is a great beach to view a sunrise.
Sandy Beach is a beach park along the southeastern shore of Oahu, located in Hawaii Kai. This is another beach that is primarily used by locals. It is set against the backdrop of Koko Crater, a long-extinct volcano.
Pros: Sandy Beach covers a large area and it is rarely difficult to find a place to sit. There are many events held on this beach, including the occasional surf competition. It is a great place to fire up a bbq with friends or fly a kite. The waves out here are great for surfing too. Because it is a beach park, there is a large grassy area that is perfect if you are looking to avoid the sand and have a picnic.
Cons: As I said earlier, this is a great location for surfing; however, this is also the SECOND MOST DANGEROUS BEACH in the Pacific and is aptly nicknamed "Break Neck Beach". The waves here can come out of nowhere and leave the unsuspecting person in a lot of trouble because the waves break right on the beach, hence the nickname. In addition, the undertow can be incredibly powerful even if you are only in water up to your shins. If you are not a very good swimmer and used to handling big waves and strong undertow, do not get in the water here. We have seen people's vacations ruined or far worse at this beach. Although finding a spot to sit here is not difficult, parking can be extremely difficult on the weekend.
Best Time to Go: If you are going on the weekend or a holiday, we strongly recommend that you arrive in the morning to avoid the difficulty of finding a parking spot.
Halona Beach Cove (From Here to Eternity Beach, Cockroach Cove)
Halona Beach Cove is located along the cliffside drive from the southern portion on to the eastern portion of Oahu. It's nickname, From Here to Eternity Beach, comes from the fact that this is the location from that iconic movie where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr filmed their passionate scene. It is known colloquially as Cockroach Cove, although I am unsure why as I have never seen a cockroach here myself.
Pros: This is a beautiful cove that is removed from some of the more frequently attended beaches. It is unique in that the cove is bordered on 3 sides by large rocky hills. At the beach, there are typically small to mid-sized waves.
Cons: The walk down to this beach can be a bit difficult as you have to walk down the rocks, so be careful not to fall over or twist your ankle. Also, the parking lot is very small so, during busier times, you will not be able to find parking anywhere near it. There have been gates installed to prevent people from walking out along the rocks that border the sides of the cove since we have lived there. The reason for this is people would jump off those rocks and not realize how strong the current is in this area. Many people have been injured or have died as a result. Always pay attention to signs and always respect the power of the ocean. I have had some close calls myself at some of these beaches.
Best Time to Go: Sunrise is a good time; however, the walk down to the cove in the dark can be precarious. Otherwise, the weekdays are typically better when it will be less busy.
Waikiki Beach is located in the heart of Honolulu and is lined with hotels and restaurants. Just off of the beach, you will find plenty of shopping and nightlife. It is located on the south shore of Oahu.
Pros: Waikiki Beach is a very safe place to swim as the waves are large, which makes it a fantastic place to learn how to surf or bodysurf. You can find places that rent boards along the beach. Also, the water remains shallow pretty far out. Waikiki Beach is home to an excellent restaurant called Duke's where you can get a juicy burger or a Mai Tai right off the beach. Duke's is open to the beach side, so you can just walk right up. Right behind Duke's is where you can catch the Na Hoku, a fantastic booze cruise that will take you out around Diamond Head Volcano. There are several booze cruises now, but the Na Hoku was always our favorite.
Cons: Waikiki Beach is the most crowded beach on Oahu. There are constantly tons of people here and it can often feel like the beach is a sea of people. If you limit your time exclusively to this beach and surrounding area, you can have a great time, but you will not experience what Hawaii actually is unless you venture out.
Best Time to Go: Waikiki covers a significant amount of space; however, as mentioned, there are so many people here that you will want to grab a spot early so you can get a spot you like.
Lanikai Beach is located next to the Town of Kailua on the east, or windward, side of Oahu. It is located in a strip of residential neighborhood that you can only access and exit by one road that runs just passed Kailua Beach.
Pros: There are two small islands several hundred yards off the shore here which makes for unique scenery. Additionally, it has some of the best sand (aside from the North Shore) and the bluest water, giving it a feel more like beaches in the Caribbean more so than any other beach on the island. If you are looking for warm tranquil water to just relax, this is the spot for you. There are virtually no waves here.
Cons: More people have discovered this beach in the last several years, so it has become fairly crowded. Because it is located in a small, residential neighborhood, parking can be very difficult at times.
Best Time to Go: Because of parking and the increasing crowds, earlier is better. Also, it is a great spot to catch a sunrise.
Kailua Beach is located just before Lanikai Beach, just on the edge of the Town of Kailua. There is a small river that bisects the beach and empties into the ocean.
Pros: The waves at Kailua Beach are small like its neighbor beach, Lanikai, making it a good option for swimming. Also, there is a place to rent kayaks so you can actually kayak out to a few small islands out in the ocean. There is also good restaurant right across the street from the beach.
Cons: This beach can get crowded and parking can be difficult.
Best Time to Go: Try to get here early to beat the crowds and inevitable struggle to find parking.
Sunset Beach is a famous beach located on the North Shore of Oahu and is known for the big wave surfing, especially during the winter months. The North Shore is the most authentically Hawaiian area of that island with not much more than residential homes lining the coastline.
Pros: Sunset Beach has perfect sand for laying out and is a huge surf beach in the winter. No matter what time of year you visit, it is perfect for enjoying a Hawaiian sunset. It is also home to the Volcom house.
Cons: This can become a pretty crowded beach and is often difficult to find parking.
Best Time to Go: Arrive very early, especially during the Winter months. The traffic heading to the North Shore at this time of the year can be horrible and you can find that a typical 1.5-hour trip from Waikiki can be a several hour long traffic jam.
Waimea Bay Beach
Waimea Bay Beach is another famous surf spot on the North Shore where you can go to experience big waves and big wave surf competitions. You can recognize the bay by the large rock out in the water that you will often find people sitting on top of.
Pros: If you are looking to see some massive waves, the winter months will often bring 30 to 40 foot waves here. It makes for a very unique experience as the waves are so large, you can feel the ground rumbling whenever they crash from well away from the shoreline. In addition, the large rock in the water allows for people to climb to the top and jump off into the water if you are looking for a bit of an adrenaline rush. The only thing is to ensure that a swell is coming in when you jump so the water is deep enough.
Cons: Because this is such an iconic beach, especially for surfing, you will often have large crowds here and the parking lot is far too small to accommodate all of the interest. As a result, you can often be driving around for a long time waiting for a spot to open up. Additionally, the large waves during the winter make swimming in this bay borderline suicidal. Sometimes, it may not look like the waves are anything significant; however, it could be in-between sets and you can quickly find a 30 to 40 foot wave heading your way. Even during the other seasons where the waves aren't massive, they are still pretty big and can change rapidly, also leading to strong undertows. Also, the water gets deep very quickly as you go out. Exercise a lot of caution if you go in the water here.
Best Time to Go: The best time to come here is early morning to ensure you get a parking spot. Otherwise, it is a fantastic place to be all day.
Waimanalo Beach Park stretches across the entire shoreline of the Town of Waimanalo and technically includes Makapu'u Beach. This is a vary local area and the style of beach varies significantly depending on what portion you are on. There are areas that are covered in grass where you will find local events and parties. In addition, you can see two small islands off the shore from some portions, including rabbit island (it is difficult to make out the rabbit, but once you see it, you will know you have it).
Pros: Some of the best scenery runs along this beach from small islands, to large mountains, to the light house atop a massive hill at the tip of Makapu'u Point. The beach is very diverse, so it can accommodate pretty much any type of beach environment you are looking for, including if you are looking to avoid the sand entirely and just have a BBQ on a nice sunny day. There is tons of parking along this long strip of coastline and plenty of space to accommodate everyone.
Cons: I should note that this is a very local spot. It does not mean that you should be particularly concerned if you are a tourist and want to check it out. However, it is worth noting that Waimanalo is one of the few almost exclusively Hawaiian areas left on Oahu on a chain of islands that were literally stolen from these people. As a result, be cool, be respectful, and do not come here acting like you own the place. You very well may have trouble if you do. Also, there can sometimes be swarms of box jellyfish along this beach; however, there will typically be signs during these times, so just pay attention.
Best Time to Go: Really, any time is a good time for this beach, but it is particularly beautiful during the sunrise.
Bellows Beach is just north of Waimanaolo Beach Park, but is very different in many ways. First off, Bellows is owned by the U.S. Air Force, so you will often find a lot of military personnel here relaxing. Also, there is a beautiful Pine Forest just behind the beach.
Pros: The pine forest at Bellows Beach really makes for a very unique aspect environment on Oahu. You can reserve lots in the pine forest portion for camping, which I would highly recommend. It is one of the few places on the island where you can camp in an environment that feels very much like more traditional camping areas on the mainland U.S. You will find many people doing the same, including building camp fires at night. In addition to camping on these lots, you can rent cabins on another section as well. The waves here are also never very large, so it makes it a good spot for swimming, learning to surf, or even fishing.
Cons: The cabins and lots are first come, first served, so if you are looking to reserve your spot, make sure to do it well in advance, especially if it is during a holiday.
Best Time to Go: Any time is a great time but, again, this side of the island is great for sunrises. Also, it is fairly removed from large light sources, so you can see the stars very well at night here.
Rabbit Island Beach Park
Technically part of Waimanalo Beach, this small beach is the best spot to view Rabbit Island beach. It is shallow with small waves and contains manny tide pools; beware the sea urchins. There is also a nice area for swimmers and body surfers or boarders.
Pros: This is nice spot for a more private beach experience since it is so small. Perfect for a small family to enjoy the day soaking up the sun, picnicking and swimming in the tidepools.
Cons: The beach has a small parking lot, but no restrooms.
Best Time to Go: For a parking spot and a relaxed beach vibe, arrive early. However many times this beach is still relatively empty on most afternoons.
Kualoa Regional Park
Kualoa Regional Park is located along the eastern coast of Oahu as you approach the North shore from that side where there is less tourism. The park is known colloquially as Chinaman's Hat after the island that is off the coast. The beach is unique in that it is situated around a pond, so the beach portion is a thin strip of land for a fairly large portion.
Pros: You will have a great view of Chinaman's Hat, which is technically called Mokoli'i Island, but you will understand very quickly when you see it. The beach is off of the more typical tourist track, so you can typically avoid large crowds here. Also, the grassy portion of the park is very large, so you can enjoy all sorts of activities, including sports. The waters here are very calm and great for swimming.
Cons: Kualoa Regional Park is a remote location as far as activities and entertainment. While this makes for a more peaceful environment, it will be a longer drive to get here, especially if you are heading from the Waikiki-area.
Best Time to Go: Sunrise is a very peaceful and beautiful time to come here and it can act as a good early morning stop on your way to the North Shore.
Ala Moana Beach
Ala Moana is a large beach park just across the street from Ala Moana Mall, the largest open air mall in the U.S. It is located between Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu.
Pros: Despite its location right near some of the highest population concentrations on the island, Ala Moana is rarely crowded and usually is occupied by residents. It is a great place to jog or bike along the water. Magic Island, which is a portion that juts out into the water is a great place to picnic or catch a sunset. The parking lot here is massive, so finding a spot is rarely, if ever, a problem. Also, the water here is tranquil, so it is a great place for swimming. Another aspect that I like, and this may just be unique to me, is that the planes taking off from Honolulu Airport will typically make a shallow ascent along the coastline toward this area before turning off and heading away from the island. It is not noisy and I find it to be very peaceful surrounded by Waikiki, Ala Moana Mall, and Downtown Honolulu in this beautiful oasis. Somehow, in a way, it reminds of Central Park in Manhattan in its escape from the constant hustle that is city life.
Cons: If you try to come here during rush hour in the morning or evening, you may end up sitting in a significant amount of traffic trying to get here.
Best Time to Go: Since most of the time, this is a great place to be, I will point out when you should not try to get here. Rush hour in the morning from around 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM and 4:30 PM to 6 PM in the afternoon.
Turtle Bay Beach
Turtle Bay Beach is part of the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. You can enjoy the beach as a guest of the resort. They also have a bar on the beach open to everyone and you can find access to the beach from there. The beach is very shallow with few waves so it is great for children and not-so-great swimmers.
Pros: This is a great beach for a quick stop to have a drink or pupus with your friends.
Cons: Since this beach is part of the resort, if you are not ordering from the restaurants you may not be welcome on the beach.
Best Time to Go: As a resort guest it is best to go early, especially during high tourist seasons.
Laniakea is a small beach on the North Shore nicknamed 'Turtle Beach' because of the high volume of Sea turtles that rest in the sand here. This beach is a wildlife protected area and you are not to disturb the turtles, or any other sea life on the beach.
Pros: It is a beautiful little beach and amazing to see the turtles. Makes for wonderful photos.
Cons: This beach is very small with large rocks scattered along the beach, so there is not much room to set up and relax on this beach. The parking lot is very small and always full. Even if you don't stop at this beach, you are sure to notice it for the traffic it creates on the highway.
Best Time to Go: It would be best to pop in whenever there is a turtle to admire, but not a great stop if you are looking for a real beach experience. The earlier in the day, the better; the traffic really picks up in the afternoon.
Bonus: While these aren't beaches, they are few points you'll definitely want to know about.
Although this is not a beach, China Walls is definitely worth mentioning as you can sit on the large rocks on the shore that are only a few feet above the waves. China Walls is located in Portlock right on Maunalua Bay.
Pros: This is a very relaxing location to sit and listen to the waves. It's location in residential Portlock means that it is easy to find parking along the street close by. You also have a stunning view of Diamond Head Volcano and a bit of Honolulu across the water.
Cons: You can jump in the water here, but that is the easy part. Getting back out can be pretty tough as you have to climb up the face of the rocks with swells coming in that can scrape you ride off the side. Also, you will want to stay vigilant on the rocks. Bigger waves have been known to come in and knock people over and, possibly, off the rocks as well.
Best Time to Go: Any time while there is a decent amount of light out, so you can navigate the rocks.
Like China Wall, Spitting Caves is not a beach, but a 70-foot cliff on the ocean. Spitting Caves is located at the tip of Portlock on the southeast portion of Oahu and is only a short drive past China Walls. There is a lava tube right inside the cove where, if the waves are breaking just right, the water will get "spit" back out, hence the name.
Pros: This is one of my favorite spots on the entire island. It is rarely crowded an offers plenty of rocks to sit on and view the water. Sometimes you can sight large sea turtles swimming around here. Also, similar to China Walls, Spitting Caves offers a great view of Diamond Head Volcano and parts of Oahu. Also, if you are the adrenaline junky type, people do jump off of this cliff. I'll just remind you this is a 70-foot cliff. If you want to jump off it, I would imagine you are enough of a risk-taker to understand the risks here.
Cons: You have to walk down a winding dirt path followed by rocks, so you have to watch your footing to avoid slipping. Also, closer to the water, people have slipped and fallen off before and died as a result. Also, the current has dragged people into the lava tube where they drowned in the past, so it is important that if you do jump, you are a strong swimmer and can read the current well.
Best Time to Go: My absolute favorite time to come here was on a clear night when you have a bright moon. The thousands of stars you can see combined with the sound of the waves and the view makes this one of the most peaceful places on the planet for me. However, I knew this area well, so I did not have any issue walking down the path at night.