A guide to visiting beaches around Oahu, Hawaii

There’s more than just Waikiki Beach in Oahu. And while this famous beach is definitely worth a visit while you’re there, it’s not exactly the hub of tropical serenity. With hordes of surfers in front of you and crowds of people browsing tourist shops behind you, it’s good for people-watching and the feeling of a big-city buzz. The beach is beautiful though, with its clear waters and white sand. Get there early to snag a spot under a banyan tree, or head to the south end of the beach (toward Diamond Head) for slightly less crowds. But don’t limit your beach time in Oahu to this skyscraper-lined beach. There are plenty of other beaches around the island where the only views around you are sand, water, and sky. Here’s our guide to a few of our favorites.

The less-crowded, south end of Waikiki Beach

WEST SIDE

Ko’Olina Lagoons: The Ko’Olina Lagoons were some of our favorite beaches in Oahu because of their calm waters. There are four crescent-shaped lagoons in the Ko’Olina area on the west side of the island. The lagoons feature rock levies that act as a buffer for the ocean’s waves. The water is crystal clear and calm as it could be, which means it’s perfect for floating with a drink in hand. Three of the four lagoons are located behind high-end resorts (Disney, Four Seasons, JW Marriott), but they are still accessible to the public. (Plus, you can get food and drinks from the resort’s restaurants/bars). The fourth is in Ko’Olina Beach Park. You can easily walk between lagoons.
Tip: Parking can be tricky. Each lagoon has its own lot, but they fill up quickly and street parking isn’t allowed. Get there early or come around late afternoon when the early-risers are leaving.

Ko’Olina Lagoon

NORTH SHORE

Waimea Bay Beach: After Waikiki, this might be the most well-known beach in Oahu. It’s on the popular North Shore of the island, an area most-associated with surfing. Waimea Bay is incredibly scenic (no tall buildings in site) and is calm enough for swimmers during the summer months (in the winter, surfers and large waves dominate). It’s most known for a big black rock that juts into the water, from which locals and tourists jump or cliff dive.
Tip: Just across the road from the beach is Waimea Valley, which has a botanical garden and a nice hike to a waterfall.

Waimea Bay Beach

Shark’s Cove: Between Waimea Bay Beach and Banzai Pipeline is Shark’s Cove, which isn’t exactly a beach but more of a snorkel spot. There is a small sandy area, but people go to Shark’s Cove for the snorkeling. When you enter the water, you’ll notice a rocky bottom made up of boulders. As you go deeper, the water gets deeper and the rocks get more cavernous. Coral growing on the rocks provides a haven for all sorts of sea life and colorful fish. In the deeper parts, you can swim between the boulders and through passageways, but make sure you are an experienced swimmer to do that.
Tip: Beware of the shallow parts and spiky coral. It is easy to skin your knee or scrape yourself if you’re trying to swim over rocks. Be careful not to step on any coral. It’s also advisable to enter the water without flippers and put them on once you’re out deep enough.

Banzai Pipeline: Banzai Pipeline is where the surfers go to conquer the waves, and where the tourists go to watch them wipe out. It’s a nice beach to plant yourself on during the winter months when the waves can swell to 30 feet and you want to observe the pros. During the summer months (when the waves are on the south shore of the island), the water is calm and the sand is welcoming (albeit a bit of a steep slope at some parts).
Tip: Banzai Pipeline is located on Kamehameha Highway, which is a nice road to drive to see many of the sights along the North Shore.

Banzai Pipeline

NORTHEAST SIDE

Hau’ula Beach: If you drive around the island on Kamehameha Highway east from the North Shore area, you’ll find the less-traveled part of the North Shore. There are plenty of beaches along this side of the island that aren’t as frequented by tourists. Not all of them have great swimming conditions, but some, like Hau’ula Beach, have an off-shore reef that can be snorkeled when the water is calm. Hau’ula also offers the chance to spot a rare monk seal–only 300 of which have been counted around Oahu. When we were there, we were lucky to see a mother monk seal resting on the beach after just weening her calf off.

A monk seal on Hau’ula Beach

Kahana Bay Beach: Another scenic Northeast side beach is Kahana Bay Beach Park. Locals like to camp on this beach, but otherwise it won’t be very crowded. It is located on the backside of Kualoa mountain range (the setting for many movies, like Jurassic Park), which makes for stunning mountain views from the beach.

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