Oahu is the third largest island of the Hawaiian Islands, and by far the most visited. Honolulu, the Capital of Hawaii, is located on the Island of Oahu and sees many tourists year round. In addition to being the most populated island, it is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Hawaii. Well known Waikiki Beach is located just 30 minutes from the Honolulu Airport. Additionally, this is where you can find the famous Banzai Pipeline Surf Competition every December on the North Shore (cue the movie 'Blue Crush').
Nearly everywhere you go in Oahu will lead you to a beautiful beach. This list below comprises the Top 10 Must See Beaches in Oahu that you surely will not want to miss while visiting this beautiful island.
*** Keep in mind that the winter and summer months offer very different beach experiences. If you are visiting Hawaii in the Winter months (Nov-Feb), expect large waves, strong currents, and potentially dangerous outcomes if swimming in the open water. If visiting in the summer months (May-Aug), expect more calm waters, better swimming opportunities, and lighter surf. Spring and Fall can offer a little bit of both.
Top 10 Must See Beaches in Oahu - 2021
1. Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is located on the South Shore of Oahu, in the capital city of Honolulu. It is jut a short 30 minute drive from the airport and provides a majority of accommodations for the island. Waikiki Beach is famously known in Hawaii and provides excellent surfing for all skill levels. Here you'll find surf lessons, rentals, water excursions, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and just about any water activity you can think of. You'll also find a lot of PEOPLE. Waikiki beach is very crowded, so if you are looking for a more secluded experience, keep scrolling.
2. Ko Olina Lagoons
Ko Olina is located on the southwest side of Oahu. It features 4 beautiful man-made lagoons with a walking path connecting all of them. Ko Olina lagoons are a must-see when visiting Oahu. You may or may not know that the Pacific Ocean water surrounding the Hawaiian Islands can be very dangerous, with ripping currents, undertows, and unexpected rogue waves. These lagoons create a safe environment to swim, snorkel, and explore, especially if you are traveling with kids or babies. Arrive early to secure a parking spot!
3. Laniakea Beach
Laniakea Beach is THE beach to see the beloved, beautiful large sea turtles of Hawaii. There is actually another beach on Oahu called 'turtle beach,' but Laniakea Beach is for sure the best spot to see turtles. Located on the North Shore, about an hour from Honolulu. The best time to spot the sea turtles is between 11am-12pm when they come on shore to bask in the sun. However, you can spot turtles in the water, swimming alongside you, most of the daylight hours. My mom had an exhilarating experience at 9am here when a turtle approached her in the water! She said it was the highlight of the trip for her. Additionally, the beach is beautiful, not very crowded, and offers great snorkeling.
4. Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay is the most popular beach to visit on the North Shore of Oahu for two reasons:
In the summer months, the water is relatively calm, offering great swimming, snorkeling, rock jumping, and water activities
In the winter months, Waimea Bay offers some of the largest waves on the island, presenting a great best spot to see pro surfers riding the waves
Additionally, Waimea Falls Park is directly across the street. Here you can take a nice leisurely stroll through the gorgeous park to a waterfall, where you can swim for a $10 fee. The walk is flat and paved, so it's great to take kids/strollers on as well.
5. Shark's Cove
Shark's Cove is located on the North Shore, just a short distance east of Waimea Bay. Shark's Cove is one of the coolest spots to stop, offering amazing snorkeling with tropical fish all over, and cliff jumping. There is a large shallow area with protected water as well that is perfect for children. The open water can be rough in the winter, but in summer, it is fairly calm. You'll see many people cliff jumping as well as scuba diving lessons being held. The views are incredible and above the rocks are shaded areas to relax.
6. Banzai Pipeline
The Famous Banzai Pipeline is a surf reef break located on the North Shore of Oahu, off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea. This is where the Pipeline Surf Competition happens every December, when the winter brings in incredible swells and ginormous waves. If you stop by Banzai Pipeline in the summer months, you may be disappointed, as the water can be very calm and mild. I stopped by in July and it couldn't have been more calm. Still not advisable to swim, due to the shallow reef break, but the beach itself is beautiful with golden sand for miles.
7. Kailua Beach
Simply stunning, Kailua Beach is one of the top rated beaches in all of Oahu. Located on the southeast side of the island, Kailua offers golden sand beach with turquoise waters and a unique opportunity to kayak or paddle board to the island just off the coast. Kayak and paddle board rentals are available across the street. Kailua Beach Park is large, with plenty of space to set up for the day, even under shade. Offering two bathroom facilities, showers, and plenty of picnic tables. Arrive EARLY or you'll be searching for parking for hours.
8. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach, just south of Kailua Beach, on the southeast shore of Oahu is another top rated beach on the island. Lanakai Beach boasts beautiful, tropical waters overlooking two islands right off the coast and rugged cliffs to the right. Similarly to Kailua beach, you can rent kayaks or paddle boards and head out to these islands, where you'll be greeted with even more beauty! Lanikai beach has been voted the top beach in Hawaii numerous times and really has that "wow" factor. Be sure to arrive VERY early to secure street parking, or be prepared to walk a long distance to get here!
9. Makapu'u Beach/Waimanalo Tide Pools
Makapu'u Beach Park is a hidden gem located on the southeast side of Oahu. Most visitors will come to Makapu'u point and hike up to the lighthouse trail, but few actually stick around to see the magnificent Makapu'u Beach! This beautiful beach offers brilliant blue waters against a black rock backdrop. It's a more secluded beach and absolutely stunning at sunrise. Directly south of Makapu'u Beach Park are the Makapu'u Tide Pools (Waimanalo) which offer great swimming and snorkeling for the whole family. The tide pools are surrounded by lava rock, keeping the water protected. It is also shallow and offers great snorkeling.
10. Sandy Beach Park
Sandy Beach Park is located at the base of Koko Crater on the southeast side of Oahu. If you are visiting the Halona Blowhole, be sure to check out Sandy Beach. It is notoriously known for two things: strong shore breaks, and powdery sand. Sandy beach is very popular for surfers, body boarders, and offers a great scuba experience off shore. Not many visitors are familiar with this beach, so it is much less crowded. Don't let the super soft sand fool you - Sandy Beach can be rough, as the waves rip through due to the abrupt change in ocean floor bottom, dropping 8-10 feet. This creates fierce waves, strong currents, and potentially dangerous conditions for newbies. A lifeguard is always stationed here, but please swim and surf responsibly.
That's it folks! The Top 10 Must See Beaches in Oahu - I hope you are able to visit at least a few of these on your trip to Hawaii. Although there are plenty of beautiful beaches on Oahu, I truly loved these 10 the most and am confident you will as well.