10 Best Beaches on Oahu: Everything You Need to Know

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Oahu is known for its lush rainforests, stunning mountain ridges, and of course, stretches of white sandy beaches and turquoise water. But since the island is literally covered with gorgeous beaches, it can be challenging to know which ones are worth a visit if you have limited time.

I’ve taken on the challenging task of narrowing down the most stunning places to bask in the sun on the island (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it). So pack up your beach towel and slather on that sunscreen- here’s the 10 best beaches on Oahu.

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Pssst… are you looking for other things to do on Oahu? If so, check out our other posts about Oahu:


What You Should Know Before Visiting Beaches on Oahu

Actually, hold up- there are some things you should know about visiting the beaches on Oahu before we dive in (get it? beach pun!):

1. Follow the Leave No Trace principles.

Did you know that Oahu was formed three to four million years ago by two volcanoes, Waianae and Koolau, erupting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

Because of its unique formation, Oahu, as well as the other Hawaiian islands, are incredibly remote (2,400 miles away from the next closest land mass, California)- so remote, in fact, that they’re home to many species of animals and plantlife that are found literally nowhere else on the planet.

woman walking at Kailua Beach Park in Oahu

As such, it’s important that you care for and respect Hawai’i’s land and nature when you’re visiting- one of the easiest ways you can do so is to follow theLeave No Trace principles.

  • Dispose of waste properly: Be mindful to clean up after yourself on the beach, collecting all wrappers, bottles, and other waste and throwing it away properly. Trash left on the beach will eventually get swept into the ocean by the rising tide, which is how you get those sad YouTube videos of sea turtles with their heads stuck in plastic six-pack rings.
  • Respect wildlife: The creatures that call Hawai’i home, both above and under the sea, are wild animals and are not your selfie prop. Don’t chase, harass, or touch them and observe them from a reasonable distance.  Also, please don’t feed any wild animals, including fish- it’s shown to really mess up the natural ecosystem. 
  • Leave what you find: This goes hand-in-hand with the last point, but don’t touch anything and leave everything, including shells, where you found it- not only to protect the ocean flora and fauna, but also you.

    Did you know there are some snails, found in Hawai’i’s waters,  that have a harpoon-like tooth filled with deadly venom (yes, even to humans)? So unless you want to go out of this world due to death-by-snail, leave the things you see in the ocean alone.
Hawaiian sea turtle at Laniakea Beach on Oahu

2. Protect the coral reef.

Most Hawaiian beaches feature coral reefs, which are really important to so many facets of our world, from acting as a crucial part of the marine life ecosystem to providing protection to coastlines from storms and erosion. Due to really depressing reasons, like global warming, coral reefs around the world are dying, but, if you’re planning on getting in the water, you can do your part to preserve them!

Do not touch, kick, or stand on the coral- while coral may look like a rock, it’s a living creature, made up of millions of tiny microorganisms. Even simply touching coral can break off one of these microorganisms, which, in the best case scenario, will take years to grow back. Treat touching coral with the same severity as running over a puppy- it’s that serious, y’all.

Also, did you know your sunscreen can hurt the coral? Some chemicals found in common sunscreens can cause coral bleaching, damage the DNA of corals, and increase abnormal growth and deformities within reefs.

But, good news- there’s reef-safe sunscreen, like this one, which don’t include the nasty -enes and -ones chemicals (i.e., like Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, and Octocrylene, to name a few) to make sure to include on your Hawaii packing list.

Woman snorkeling at Waimea Bay Beach on Oahu

3. Be smart about swimming.

Oahu’s beaches are beautiful, but, at times, swimming in their surf can be dangerous, given their big waves and strong currents. In fact, approximately 40 people die from drowning in Hawai’i each year.

Given these risks, be sure to always go into the ocean with a buddy, heed safety and warning signs, and if you’re not a confident swimmer, consider renting a life vest or avoiding getting in the water all together (basking on the beach can be just as good!). 

10 Best Beaches on Oahu

Alright, now that we’ve covered global warming and killer snails, let’s talk about something decidedly more fun- the best beaches on Oahu! Hopefully, this is obvious but this list is completely subjective- every beach in Oahu is uniquely beautiful in its own way and worth exploring- these are just a mix of some popular spots, as well as a few hidden gems, that stand out to me as being particularly special.

1. Lanikai Beach

Location: Kailua (see it on a map)

Good for: Watching sunrise, kayaking, swimming

Facilities: No bathrooms or showers, but if you make the 5-minute walk to the Kailua Beach boat ramp, you’ll find some portapotties.

Why it’s worth a visit:  Lanikai, meaning “Heavenly Ocean” in Hawai’an, has been named one of the top 50 most beautiful beaches in the world by FlightNetwork- and it’s not hard to see why! It’s exactly what you think of when you think of a gorgeous Hawai’an beach- white powdery sand, electric blue water, and of course, the Mokulua islands off in the distance don’t hurt either.

While it’s certainly still popular with beachgoers, the beach’s location on the eastern side of the island and slightly confusing location (you’ll have to pass through non-descript alleyways between residential homes to reach its sands) allows Lanikai to fly slightly under-the-radar, with way less crowds than some other beaches closer to Honolulu.

For a really special treat, set that alarm clock early and head here for sunrise– I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Woman walking at Lanikai Beach on Oahu

2. Waimea Bay Beach Park

Location: Haleiwa (see it on a map)

Good for: Snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding, cliff jumping

Facilities: Yes, shower and bathroom facilities.

Why it’s worth a visit: Tucked away in a cove along the North Shore, Waimea Bay has soft sand and crystal clear turquoise water, encircled by a lush rainforest. In the summertime, the bay is incredibly calm, providing an excellent spot to snorkel and see brightly colored tropical fish and other marine life (in fact, when my husband, Justin and I visited, we were told that a few seals call this bay home).

In the wintertime, the dynamic here changes pretty drastically and the beach is known for something else entirely- big wave surfing! In fact, Waimea Bay is believed to be one of the first places where brave souls jumped on the board and faced waves reaching up to 30-feet in height- now, it’s one of the best places in the world to watch some of the best and bravest surfers catching waves. 

anthurium in front of Waimea Bay Beach on Oahu

3. Kailua Beach Park

Location: Kailua (see it on a map)

Good for: Watching sunrise, boogie boarding, swimming, kite surfing

Facilities: Yes, shower and bathroom facilities, in addition to picnic tables and grills

Why it’s worth a visit: Kailua is Lanikai Beach’s literal neighbor, so, given their proximity, perhaps it’s no surprise that Kailua is equally as stunning. Not only does it boast the same fine powdery sand and shockingly blue water as Lanikai, but it has the benefit of being considerably longer- 2.5 miles to be exact!

The waves are usually fairly calm here so it’s a fantastic spot for swimming, kayaking (you can even kayak to the nearby Mokulua Islands, which are approximately 2 miles away), or watching beachgoers wind-surf.

woman standing in the ocean at Kailua Beach Park on Oahu

4. Ka’a’wa Beach Park

Location: Ka’a’wa (see it on a map)

Good for: Escaping the crowds, snorkeling when the waves are calm, long walks with picturesque views

Facilities: Yes, restrooms are available.

Why it’s worth a visit: Ka’a’wa is a long and narrow beach- so narrow, in fact, it’s not really ideal for laying out to sunbathe. So what makes Ka’a’wa so special? While most beaches on Oahu are quite beautiful, Ka’a’wa may just take the cake, with shockingly blue waters and the jagged Ko’olau Mountains rising dramatically in the background, looking straight out of Jurassic Park.

Besides its unique views, Ka’a’wa’s waters offer a shallow reef, which can provide interesting snorkeling when the surf is calm. But, really, I’d recommend hitting this beach when you want to go for a lazy stroll, warm water lapping at your feet and beautiful green mountain ridges towering overhead.

woman walking at Ka'a'wa Beach Park on Oahu

5. Laniakea Beach

Location: Haleiwa (see it on a map)

Good for: sunset, turtle viewing, surfing

Facilities: No bathrooms or showers are available.

Why it’s worth a visit: Laniakea is yet another North Shore beach known not only for big wave surfing, but also for something else- sea turtles (or honu, in Hawaiian)! For decades, several Hawaiian green sea turtles have swam out of the ocean to bask on the warm sands of this beach on an almost daily basis, leading locals to call this “Turtle Beach”. 

What’s “basking”, you might be thinking? Why, I’m so glad you asked! Green sea turtles are the only species of turtles known to “bask”, meaning they lay on the beach as a means to raise their body temperatures, rest, and escape predators. Basking is actually not well-understood by scientists, but it’s speculated that Hawaiian sea turtles may exhibit this behavior due to how this species has been protected on the islands since the 1970s. 

When you visit this beach, head to the rocky part to the right and you’ll likely come across more than one turtle, which will be roped off (for protection) by the Malama na Honu organization, an awesome group of volunteers who act as turtle bodyguards, activists, and educators (seriously, these men and women are so knowledgeable about sea turtles- it’s really impressive!). Please be sure to stay 10 feet away from the turtles at all times- fun fact: touching the turtles is actually a U.S. federal offense!

To the left of the rocky area the turtles like to hang out in, there’s also a clear stretch of sand, called Chuns Reef, where surfers usually enter the water. Given that the turtles are the main attraction, this is a quiet spot to sit back and watch the surfers in action.

sea turtle at sunset at Laniakea Beach on Oahu

6. Waikiki Beach

Location: Honolulu (see it on a map)

Good for: boogie boarding, people watching, swimming, surfing

Facilities: Yes, shower and bathroom facilities 

Why it’s worth a visit: If you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Oahu with excellent proximity to a beach, no doubt you’ve considered Hawaii’s most famous beach, Waikiki. And while, yes, it’s famous and, yes, it’s touristy, Waikiki is those things for a reason! The famed beach stretches for two miles in downtown Honolulu, offering white sand, views of the Diamond Head volcano, and easy access to countless bars, shops, and restaurants.

Due to its prime location, Waikiki is always bustling with locals and tourists of all walks of life, so it’s a fantastic spot for people watching. Besides its convenient location and beautiful scenery, perhaps one of the reasons so many people flock to Waikiki is, in part, the diversity of water features it offers- from a calm swimming lagoon in front of the Ilikai Hotel and the Hilton Hawaiian Village to the waves perfect for boogie boarding on Queen’s Beach, the area just south of the Waikiki Wall.

The wall protrudes into the ocean and offers visitors both a higher vantage point to watch the action going on in the waters below and a stunning view of the Honolulu skyline. I’d recommend heading to Waikiki Wall shortly before sunset and grabbing a seat along the concrete edge, overlooking the ocean- I could sit here for hours watching boogie boarders excitedly catch waves and it’s a fantastic spot to watch the golden sun sink into the Pacific Ocean.

kids boogie boarding at Waikiki Beach on Oahu

7. Ehukai Beach Park

Location: Haleiwa (see it on a map)

Good for: sunset, watching big wave surfing (in the winter), swimming (in the summer)

Facilities: Yes, bathroom and shower facilities, plus picnic tables

Why it’s worth a visit: This small, 1.2-acre beach park has all of the standard beautiful features as other Hawaiian beaches- golden sand and clear azure water. But what makes Ehukai special is that it’s home to the world-famous Bonzai Pipeline, where hundreds of surfers, from all over the world, flock every year to catch its iconic 30-foot waves.

The waves here get their height and famous barrel shape when intense winter swells push against the beach’s extremely shallow reef. Thanks to this unique underwater topography, Ehukai is the home of the Billabong Pipeline Masters every December or January, where the world’s best surfers compete on some of the tallest- and most dangerous- waves on Earth. During the winter months, you can sit on Ehukai’s sand and see professional surfers, just 40 yards away, riding those epic waves.

Come summer, the water is calm so, while there will be no surfers in sight, it’s a wonderful place to enjoy Oahu’s warm waters and take in those beautiful North Shore sunsets.

Couple watching sunset at Ehukai Beach on Oahu
Pssst… while you’re in the area, you should also consider doing the Ehukai Pillbox Hike, a moderately challenging hike which provides stunning views over Oahu’s North Shore.

8. Makapu’u Beach

Location: Waimanalo Beach(see it on a map)

Good for: body boarding, epic views

Facilities: Yes, bathroom and shower facilities, plus picnic tables

Why it’s worth a visit: This beach boasts one of the most dramatic landscapes on the entire island, with black volcanic cliffs and lush green mountains surrounding its small cove. To the east of the beach, you can see the Makapu’u Lighthouse, towering on the black rocky cliffs above, which are even more visually striking against the turquoise water.

Beyond its unique scenery, Makapu’u provides some serious waves, perfect for body surfing or bodyboarding. For the best waves for this kind of activity, head to the right side of the beach, which offers the perfect shore breaks to ride.

View of Makapu'u Beach on Oahu
Tip: Another hiking recommendation! While you’re here, check out the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, which is just up the road from Makapu’u Beach, for one of the best easy hikes in Oahu!

9. Ko Olina Lagoon #4

Location: Kapolei (see it on a map)

Good for: families, swimming, sunset

Facilities: Yes, bathrooms and shower facilities

Why it’s worth a visit: This lagoon is the largest of four man-made bays along the western side of the island in the resort community of Ko Olina, comprised of upscale hotels, timeshares, and luxury hotels, like the Four Seasons or Marriot’s Ko Olina Beach Club. These lagoons are publicly accessible and each protected by breakwaters, making the waves here almost nonexistent.

So if you’re looking for a spot to let you or any children get acclimated to swimming in the ocean or snorkeling in open water, there’s few other spots on the island that will provide a more calm and protected environment than Lagoon #4.

And given its location in Ko Olina, you’ll conveniently be within walking distance to several bars and restaurants, so you can spend the entire day here. Make sure to stick around for sunset- it’s one of the best places on the island to see it!

Ko Olina Lagoon Beach on Oahu

10. Kahana Bay Beach Park

Location: Hauula (see it on a map)  

Good for: camping, epic views, picnics, kayaking

Facilities: Yes, bathroom and shower facilities, plus picnic tables

Why it’s worth a visit: Kahana Bay feels decidedly different from most other beaches in Oahu,  as it’s surrounded on three sides by the lush Ko’olau Mountains and thick groves of ironwood trees. The surf of this crescent-shaped bay is incredibly calm, but visitors tend to not swim here, as the water is murky from the Kahana Stream flowing into the bay.

Instead, it’s a great spot to take out a kayak or paddleboard to enjoy the mountain views or simply to sunbathe in a gorgeous setting without the crowds found in Honolulu or the North Shore. This is also a popular place for local families to camp on weekends- if you’re interested in pitching a tent, you’ll need to snag one of the limited permits, available here.

Kahana Bay Beach on Oahu

What to Bring with You to Beaches on Oahu

Now that you have ‘where to go’  nailed down, what should you make sure is on your packing list for Hawaii to make sure you have the best time exploring its beaches?

Mask and fins:

If you’re planning on snorkeling more than once or twice during your time on Oahu, it’s easier and cheaper to bring along your own mask and fins (if you’ve got the luggage real estate), as opposed to renting some on Oahu. Most beaches don’t have a snorkeling gear rental shop on site and nothing would be sadder than being ready to jump in the water and not having the right gear on hand. 

Justin and I each brought along this snorkeling set and it worked out great- the dry-top valve on the snorkel kept the water out when big waves rolled over us while we were swimming and the lower purge valve let me blow out any water in my snorkel from when I dove underwater. Plus the travel bag made it easy to schlep all of our snorkeling gear wherever we needed to carry it.

Man snorkeling at Waimea Bay Beach Park on Oahu

Reef safe sunscreen:

I touched on this above, so I won’t go into too much detail, but don’t get burnt and don’t kill coral reefs- instead, bring along reef safe sunscreen.

Wetsuit:

If you’re planning on frolicking in the waves, the water temperature in Oahu is fairly pleasant year round, ranging from 76°F (24.4°C) to 81°F (27.2°C). But if you’re anything like me (i.e., a complete baby when it comes to coldness), this may still feel pretty chilly. I had goosebumps every time I jumped in the water after about 10 minutes.

For our next trip to Maui in a couple of months, I’ll be bringing a wetsuit shirt to help keep me a bit warmer so I can enjoy the water a bit longer (something like this or this for women and this for men).

GoPro:

This little camera is perfect for capturing your memories above and below the water- not only is it waterproof (down to 33 feet), but it’s also small, incredibly lightweight, and versatile enough to capture both epic photos and your next TikTok.

Reusable water bottle:

Bring along plenty of water- between the hot Hawaiian sun and the tropical humidity, lounging on the beach can be more dehydrating than you’d think! To be kind to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international vacations to RV trips around the Pacific Northwest and, yup, even beaches on Oahu!

Best Time to Hit the Beaches on Oahu

Oahu is lovely to enjoy year round, but the best times to visit Oahu is from mid-April to early June or between September and mid-December. These periods of times are shoulder seasons, with warm and dry temperatures and a better chance of scoring better deals on airfare and accommodations.

While Oahu is a spectacular place to escape the winter chill in December and January (and one of my favorite places to relax at the beach on Christmas), these months tend to be the busiest and thus, most expensive time to visit.


Which beaches did you love in Oahu? Are there any hidden gems that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Woman walking into sunrise at Lanikai Beach on Oahu

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