how to beach in oahu

(originally published November 3, 2016)

Whenever I visit my sister in Hawaii, we tend to go to the same couple of beaches. On this seventh visit, I’m glad finally add a new one to the list! Here is how I would rank the beaches from best to worst (but let’s face it – even the ‘worst’ beach in Hawaii is still a good one. At least better than anything in NY/NJ)

Lanikai Beach

This might be one of the nicest (if not, THE nicest) beaches I’ve ever been to. It’s located on the east side of the island, about 30 minutes from Waikiki. For this reason, its not usually teeming with tourists like Waikiki is. It feels more secluded. Check out ‘A Day at Lanikai’ for some tips and things to do in the area.

Sand/Surf: the sand is super clean and soft. It’s also a lot finer than other beaches so you will probably accidentally bring a ton home with you. Waves are calm, so it’s great for swimming or just chilling in the water if you can’t swim well (like me). There are also little pockets of coral if you want to snorkel. All the while, you’ll enjoy the view of the Mokulua Islands

Rating: 10/10

Lanikai Pillboxes:Beach 154
Lanikai Beach

Kailua Beach

I’ve stopped here exactly two times before and both times were after a strenuous trip to the Mokulua Islands. Since we had to bring the kayaks back both times, I didn’t really have time to lay out and enjoy the beach. In 2021, I finally did! Kailua is Tiffany’s (sis) newest go-to beach since the pandemic has caused street parking to close off by Lanikai. It’s the next beach over from Lanikai, so it’s only a five minute drive. There’s also a free parking lot but you need to go early (by 8 am) in order to nab a spot. Since it’s a beach park, they have bathroom facilities.

Sand/Surf: Even though it’s just the next beach over, the sand, although soft, doesn’t feel as soft as Lanikai’s. The water is great for swimming since there isn’t much coral but there are days where it can be a bit rougher than Lanikai’s waves.

Rating: 9/10

Kailua Beach

Hanauma Bay

So this one is more of a snorkeling spot and it’s worth visiting but you have to go early. Once their lot is full (which is usually by 8 am), you won’t be able to get in. Plus, early morning is when you’ll get the highest visibility when snorkeling. The water gets murky when the tide starts come in, which is around 10:30 to 11 am. We tried to visit again July 2021 but due to Covid, you now have to reserve tickets and there are a limited amount of tickets. Check their website since the guidelines are always changing. For tips on visiting the bay, check out my post – Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Sand/Surf: Sand is a bit coarse. The waves are gentle in the morning but since this location is meant for snorkeling, there are reefs everywhere, so it’s not good for swimming.

Rating: 8/10

Hanauma Bay

Waikiki Beach

This is probably the most well-known beach of Hawaii. You get sun, sand, surf, and a view of Diamond Head. It can get pretty crowded since the area is dotted with resorts, shops, and bars. But even if crowds are not for you, it’s still definitely worth a visit. If you head to Duke Kahanamoku’s statue, there’s a live webcam there so you can have all your friends check out your surfing skills. Fun fact – Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love got married on this beach.

Sand/surf: The sand is a bit courser than other Hawaiian beaches. Waves are calm so it’s great for swimming. If there are thunderstorms, don’t worry too much – it usually clears up in an hour or so.

Rating: 8/10

View of Diamond Head on the left side of the beach
Man-made lagoon by Waikiki

Pu’uloa Beach (Ewa Beach)

Since this beach was about 10 minutes away from my sister’s home, we decided to check it out. It’s a neighborhood beach (similar to how we would have neighborhood parks), so you won’t find any tourists here. It’s also about an hour outside of town. You won’t really find peace and quiet though, as it is located next to a firing range. (*Update – since my latest visit in July 2021, which was a Monday, it was a lot more peaceful and very few people on the beach, which made it a super pleasant experience)

Sand/Surf: lots of debris in the sand. Look out for all of the tiny holes – you’ll see little crabs popping out from them from time to time. The water is rocky in some areas and waves are rough, so it’s not too great for swimming.

Rating: 5/10

Diamond Head in the distance

Ko’Olina Lagoon

This is actually a golf course/resort with a man-made lagoon. For parking, head to Ulua, Lagoon 4.

Sand/surf: Since it’s man-made, they probably imported the sand from somewhere else (not sure where), so it is rougher than most. Because the water is by a rocky area, the waves don’t really come in, so it’s a great place for non-swimmers.

Rating: 4/10

Sunset on my last night on the island

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