11 Best Beaches in Oahu for Every Adventure

Oahu is known for its immaculate tropical beaches, and there are tons of ways to enjoy the Hawaiian sun at one of these amazing locations. Throughout the island, the differing conditions allow you to get endless adventures out of these beaches. 

So which side of Oahu has the best beaches?

West Oahu and the North Shore are known for huge waves in the wintertime which makes it a prime surfing spot in Hawaii, but the waves do tend to die down in the summer and make those beaches great for swimming. 

The South Coast is typically more crowded as it is closer to Honolulu and this is especially true during high season. In Hawaii, the most popular time to visit is mid-December to March and June to July, and traveling outside of this is important to avoiding crowds

The East side stays mostly calm and boasts picture-perfect views, but Portuguese Man-of-war are frequently seen in the waters on the east coast and washed up onshore. It also sees the most rain on the island and tends to get overcast more often.

When exploring this tropical climate and the waters surrounding it, reef-safe sunscreen is an eco-friendly travel essential for protecting your skin and the reef.  The chemicals used in commercial sunscreens are harmful to the marine ecosystems of the Hawaiian islands, so avoiding this is a crucial part of being a conscious traveler.

This guide will show you the best beaches for snorkeling, swimming, surfing, and beauty across all coasts of the island.

Oahu Travel

When To Visit

  • High season is mid-December to March (whale season!) and June to August
  • Weather is warm and pleasant year-round, and low season means less crowds and lower prices!

Where To Stay

Top Experiences

Most Beautiful Beaches in Oahu

Lanikai Beach

40 min from Honolulu, East Oahu

There’s no shortage of astounding beaches in Oahu, and Lanikai is one of the best. Where white sand meets crystal clear blue water, this is a must-see beach of Oahu. It’s iconic not only for its beauty but also because of the Mokulua islands (also called “the Mokes”) that can be seen offshore. 

Lanikai is known for its calm waters, perfect for sunbathing beachside or swimming. Many people also rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards to enjoy these conditions and explore the Mokes nearby. Getting there takes about 30-45 minutes kayaking from the beach. 

Overhead view of the most beautiful beach in Oahu, Lanikai Beach!
Pristine white sands line the East coast of Oahu

This is a great place to go for sunrise as it faces east. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can complete the Lanikai Pillbox hike for sunrise that overlooks the entire east side. After completing the (length and distance hike), trek down to the beach to cool off and reward yourself. 

There are no facilities at Lanikai, but you can head to Kailua Beach Park (less than a mile away) for showers and restrooms.

Waimanalo Beach

45 minutes from Honolulu, East Oahu

With a long 3-mile stretch of pristine white sand, Waimanalo Beach is the best beach in Oahu for families and large groups, as you’ll have plenty of space to set up a space on the beach. You’ll also see stunning blue water here with a view of the Mokes, accompanied by the Koolau mountain range that serves as a stunning backdrop to the beach. 

Expect relatively calm waters, though Waimanalo can get windy in the afternoons. Small waves will usually break at the shore, making it a favorite for body surfers. Nonetheless, this is a great place to relax or even get work done as I’ve done a few times in the past. There are plenty of shady spots and picnic tables to hang out at.

A long stretch of white sand makes up Waimanalo Beach
The beauty of Waimanalo is unmatched

Some travelers choose to kayak or stand-up paddleboard here as well. There are showers, restrooms, and lifeguard towers on site. The main parking lot fills up quickly, so arriving early is your best bet to grabbing a spot.

If you’re traveling to Hawaii on a budget, Kaneke’s nearby is one of the cheapest places to eat on the island. You can get 2 quarter-pound burgers and a drink here for $10.

Sunset Beach

1 hour from Honolulu, North Shore

As the name suggests, Sunset Beach is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Oahu, and as such, it’s a popular location for tourists to visit. During the wintertime, waves of up to 30 feet can be seen breaking here, making it another prime spot to watch surfers brave these monster waves. 

In the summer, waves remain moderate and swimming is possible if you’re a confident swimmer and you keep an eye on the water. Whether you get in the water or not, Sunset Beach is a must-visit beach in Oahu for the expansive white sands and unforgettable sunsets. 

Sunset Beach tends to get packed in the winter from the surfers, and of course during the sunset. Arriving earlier in the day and spending time at the beach should allow you to get a parking spot. Luckily, there are many amazing restaurants in Haleiwa to enjoy while on the North Shore. There are showers, restrooms, and lifeguards here, and with the miles of beach, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting a spot.

The sun sets on this iconic North Shore beach
An evening spent admiring the views at Sunset Beach will surely be unforgettable

Best Beaches in Oahu for Snorkeling

Electric Beach

35 minutes from Honolulu, West Oahu

Electric Beach is a super cool spot on the west side of Oahu that many tourists overlook, but it’s the best beach for snorkeling in Hawaii because of an interesting phenomenon. The beach is found across the road from a power plant, and the warm water that the plant emits attracts an abundance of marine wildlife to the area!

Here, you’re likely to see a variety of tropical fish, rays, octopuses, dolphins, and sharks. While they’re pretty frequent, Electric Beach is the best beach in Oahu to see turtles, known to the Hawaiians as Honu.

I’d recommend this beach for experienced swimmers as a shore entrance can be difficult, especially when conditions are a bit rough. It’s great for snorkeling, freediving, and scuba diving, but it’s become popular among locals, so the parking typically fills up very early. Theft is also common in this area, so make sure that if you park here, you leave nothing in sight as you go exploring. There are bathrooms and showers here so you can rinse off after a morning in the ocean.

Hanauma Bay

35 min from Honolulu, South Oahu

The stunning waters of Hanauma Bay in Oahu
This super popular snorkel spot is essential for your Oahu trip!

This is certainly one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. Hanauma Bay is mostly calm, allowing you to admire all of the beautiful reef fish, including the state fish, and my personal favorite in terms of titles: the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a or reef triggerfish. 

As a protected marine life conservation area, you’ll have to watch a mandatory safety video on safe snorkeling practices, making it a great way to have an ethical experience with wildlife in Hawaii. You can rent snorkel gear here, but it is rather pricy at $20 for a regular set or $40 for a premium set. 

Entry requires a reservation, and they only allow 1400 people to visit every day. Reservations can be made two days in advance starting at 7 am (which typically sells out fast, especially during high season). Parking is $3, but it is limited. With only 300 spots, arriving right at the opening is best. Hanauma Bay opens at 6:45 am and closes at 3:30 pm, with the last entry being at 1:30 pm. 

Getting a tour is a great way to avoid all of the stress of reservations and transportation. You can book a Hanauma Bay snorkeling tour here:

Shark’s Cove

1 hour from Honolulu, North Shore

Sharks Cove is a well-known snorkeling spot along the North Shore known for its colorful coral and various fish species. Despite the name, white-tipped reef sharks mostly hang out in deeper waters, away from the shallow snorkeling areas that most tourists explore.

A sea turtle seen while snorkeling in Hawaii
Honu can be found everywhere around the Hawaiian islands

Many tropical fish like butterfly fish, parrot fish, and damsel fish are abundant here and you may even catch a glimpse of an eel or a turtle here. You’ll likely see large waves between November and April, so the summertime is the best time to visit Sharks Cove. The entrance into the ocean is rocky and this spot is only recommended for experienced snorkelers. Water shoes are a good idea if you want to further protect your feet.  

There are showers and bathrooms here, but no lifeguards on duty. Parking is scarce here, especially on crowded days, so arriving around 8 or 9 am should help you guarantee a spot. 

Best Beaches in Oahu For Swimming

Makua Beach

1+ hour from Honolulu, West Oahu

My favorite of the many hidden beaches in Oahu, Makua Beach is a great place to go if you’re looking to get away from the crowds.

Surfing and boogie boarding conditions are exceptional in the winter, along with excellent visibility for snorkeling and diving. Wildlife sightings are possible here as well, and you may just catch a monk seal basking on the sand, humpback whales off in the distance, or spinner dolphins hanging around the coast. 

Being a much less-visited beach in Oahu, this beach is great at any time, and I’d recommend heading here for sunset as it faces west, and the Waianae mountains make for an excellent view. There are no facilities or rentals in the immediate area, so make sure you have all your gear on hand.

Golden hour on one of the best secret beaches in Oahu
Makua Beach is stunning and one of the hidden beaches in Oahu

Bellows Beach

30 minutes from Honolulu, East Oahu

Bellows Beach is an all-around great choice for stunning views and beach fun, with soft white sand and turquoise waters. There’s so much to do here with all of their amenities, including:

  • Multiple pavilions
  • Basketball courts
  • Beach volleyball areas
  • BBQ grills and picnic tables
  • Cultural classes

Additionally, there are restrooms and showers, and the swimming conditions are perfect as the water is calm and clear. 

The only caveat to Bellows is that you need a military ID to enter on the weekdays, but it is open to civilians from noon on Friday to midnight on Sunday. Like many of the other beaches, parking fills up pretty quickly on weekends and holidays, so it’s best to arrive early. Luckily, you can easily turn this beach visit into an all-day trip because of the amount of things to do there.

Makaha Beach

1 hour from Honolulu, West Oahu

With golden sands and a plethora of activities to enjoy, Makaha Beach is a popular leeward-side beach that’s great for swimming in the summertime when the waters are calm. During the winter, surfers and boogie boarders head to Makaha for its fantastic wave break.

Makaha Beach from above with the Waianae mountains behind
Hitting the waves at Makaha Beach is one of the best things to do on leeward side of Oahu

As Makaha is found on the driest part of the island, make sure you visit with plenty of water and sunscreen. There’s no shade at the beach either, so grabbing a beach umbrella is a great idea for this beach. 

While Makaha is one of the busiest spots on this side of the island, it only truly gets crowded on weekends and holidays when locals come to bask in the Hawaiian sun. There are restrooms, showers, and picnic tables at this beach park.

Best Beaches in Oahu for Surfing

Waikiki Beach

In Honolulu

Waikiki Beach is the most popular beach on the island and the place to go for surf lessons. The long, mellow wave breaks make it a perfect place to learn, along with a plethora of lessons available to book:

This beach is right in the heart of Honolulu, so you’ll likely see crowds here year-round enjoying the sun and views of Diamond Head. The beach is kept very clean, and there are facilities and places to eat close by. Dukes on the Beach is a great place to go after spending a day at Waikiki.

Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background
Head to Waikiki for some surf lessons!

‘Ehukai Beach Park (AKA Banzai Pipeline)

45 min-1 hour from Honolulu, North Shore

Huge waves attract the best of the best in surfing to ‘Ehukai Beach Park, which is also known as the Banzai Pipeline, during the wintertime. International contests are held here every year, and tons of spectators show up to watch the surfers catch some crazy waves. 

A surfer at the front of a massive wave
Waves here can reach up to 70 feet!

In peak surfing conditions, it’s advised not to enter the water if you’re not an advanced boogie boarder or surfer, as the riptide and massive swells can be dangerous. However, outside of this time, the beach gets much calmer in the summer and is a good option along Oahu’s North Shore.

There are public restrooms and showers available here. Per usual, it’s best to arrive early for parking to watch surfers in the winter as it fills up quickly and begins to spill onto the street.  

Laynie and her dog at Lanikai Beach
Luckily, most beaches in Oahu are dog-friendly, including Lanikai!

Now, you’re ready to get your Hawaii trip booked and start planning with the best Oahu beaches to go to. Enjoy your time experiencing the adventures of this tropical paradise!

Don’t forget to read up on my other Hawaii travel guides to have all you need for planning a trip to the Hawaiian islands.

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