The beaches on the south shore of Oahu are generally calm and safe for swimming. It is recommended that you always check conditions at a lifeguard station before entering the water. Even the calmest waters can sometimes become life threatening – especially when strong currents are present. Also, keep an eye out for box jellyfish that swarm beaches about 10 days after a full moon.
Waikiki – Waikiki Beach is the scenic beach that is most often associated with visions of Hawaii and usually pictured with Diamond Head in tourist brochures. It is where the Pacific shore meets Hawaii’s most luxurious resort hotels. The two-mile long beach is a playground for tourists. Its warm, calm waters are inviting for swimmers, and there are several sports equipment rental companies along the beach, that can provide kayaks, snorkels and surf boards. Also, you may be interested in a ride on the Atlantis submarine . We provide more detail on Waikiki here.
Ala Moana (1201 Ala Moana Boulevard) is a large “family” beach and recreational area. This is generally a safe beach for swimming, but there are dangerous rocks, sharp coral and strong currents near the reef area.
Hanauma Bay Nature Park (7455 Kalanina’ole Highway Southeast). This crescent shaped bay, created from the crater of an ancient volcano, is a marine life conservation area and underwater park. The cove features a large coral reef that is rich is sea life, and the protected waters make a great place to snorkel and scuba dive. Snorkel, mask and fin rentals are available at the beach. In addition to swimming and sun-bathing, the park offers several hiking trails along the coast and nearby ridges, all with spectacular views.
Sea Life Park north of Hanauma Bay and near Makapuu Point is an aquarium that has shows featuring dolphin, sea lions and penguins, as well as a number of programs that allow you (for an additional fee) to swim with their Dolphins, an activity that is always great fun for kids. See the official website of Sea Life Park for costs and other details on attending.
Sandy Beach Park (8800 Kalaniana’ole Highway). Sandy Beach is a popular beach with body surfers and body boarders from around the world. The beach is a great place to watch the pros, but lifeguards warn against trying this yourself. Sandy Beach has a mixed reputation. On some days it is great for swimming and on others it can be extremely dangerous. Exercise caution and common sense. According to an article in Honolulu’s Star Bulletin, this one of Hawaii’s most dangerous beaches and lifeguards make more rescues here than at any other beach on Oahu.
The North Shore is the place you go in winter to watch experienced and professional surfers contest nature and ride the “big surf”. The winter months can bring waves reaching a height of twenty-five feet or more. Swimming is popular in the summer months, but always check for safety conditions. Between June and September, keep an eye out for stinging Limu, a seaweed that grows off shore and can cause a burning, itching, rash. Signs are usually posted when the presence of Limu is known.
Sunset Beach (59-104 Kamehameha Highway) Sunset Beach is one of Hawaii’s premier surfing beaches. The highest waves, some over twenty feet, are experienced in the winter months. High surf and rip tides are common, so if you are not an expert swimmer, this may not be the place for you. If you are a expert, but unfamiliar with Hawaiian waters, always check with the lifeguards on local conditions before you enter the water.
Ehukai Beach Park (59-337 Ke-Nui Road) Home to the “Bonsai Pipeline,” Ehukai is a popular place for many surfing competitions. Spectators often line the sands in hopes of seeing a surfer “shoot” the Pipeline.
Waimea Beach Park (61-031 Kamehameha Highway) In the summer Waimea Bay can be a great place for swimming, but the winter months bring some of the highest, most dangerous and magnificent surf in the world. Even experienced and daring surfers approach these waves with caution.
Ali’i (Kings or Royal) Beach Park (66-167 Hale’iwa Road). This is a nice beach for swimming and snorkeling in the summer. Swimming is best in the small, protected bay to the south. Deeper waters around the break water have a strong current. The winter months bring high waves popular with surfers.
North Shore Note:
If you are heading to the North Shore to see the world famous surfing beaches we recommend that you stop at the Dole Plantation, which is about 40 minutes north of Waikiki . The Plantation boasts the world’s largest maze and is comprised of acres of Hawaiian plants leading to a garden area shaped like a pineapple. In addition, there is a two- mile long, small-gauge train tour focused on pineapple agriculture in Hawaii and the story of James Dole. Of course, you can buy almost any type of pineapple trinket imaginable, but it is a good place to stop for a refreshing drink and a place that travelers, especially kids, seem to like, as over one million tourists visit each year.
For more information, visit the Dole website .
From Waikiki, take H1 West to H2 North. Continue to Kamehameha Highway (99). Dole Plantation is located at 64-1550 Kamehameha Highway. Approximately a 40-minute drive from Waikiki.
You might also want to stop at M. Matsumoto shaved ice (On Oahu’s North Shore).
Matsumoto’s is an Oahu institution. It was opened as a small grocery store in 1951 and is now mainly a souvenir shop that is noted for its fine “shaved ice”. The shop came into its own when the surfer craze hit the north shore in the 60’s and Matsumoto’s shaved ice become something of an island institution. Matsumoto’s is place to stop if you are making a tour of the North Shore and its surfing locations. If you are not on a tour of the North Shore’s beaches, there is little reason to make a trip north just for Matsumoto’s – although the shaved ice is remarkably refreshing.
Matsumoto’s is located at 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy.
Haleiwa, Hawai’i 96712
(On Oahu’s North Shore)
The east shore is on Oahu’s windward side and is popular with wind surfers and sailing enthusiasts. It is also home to some of the Island’s finest swimming and snorkeling beaches. Keep a watch out for Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish, which can be found along all the east-shore beaches throughout the year due to the strong off-shore winds. The sting from these creatures can be very painful, or even life threatening to those allergic to their venom. Stay out of the water if life guards have posted signs warning of their presence. Contact the life guard on duty for first aid if you are stung.
Makapu’u Beach Park (41-095 Kalanianaole Hwy) This picturesque, crescent-shaped beach is located off of Oahu’s eastern-most tip, and is the most famous bodysurfing and body boarding site in Hawaii. Traditional surfboards are not allowed.
Kailua Beach Park (450 Kawailoa Rd) Named “Best American Beach,” in several surveys, Kailua is a perfect beach for sunbathers and water-sports enthusiasts alike. Its soft white sand beach and warm waters are protected by a live off-shore reef, which provides a safe place for swimming, while the constant trade-winds make this beach a wind surfers dream-come-true. Kayakers like it here because of the because of the proximity of two off-shore islets called the Mokuluas (about a mile 7/10 of a mile offshore).
The West Shore is where you’ll find the driest climate on Oahu. There are a number of beaches on the West Shore, but we do not recommend visiting them for a variety of reasons. Foremost is safety, as the beaches are dangerous in summer and treacherous in the winter, with waves that can range between 15 and 20 feet. If you are a professional surfer, you may want to try you skills here, but do so at your own risk. When visiting the beaches on this side of the island, always bring plenty of water to avoid the risk of dehydration.
Makaha (84-369 Farrington Highway – near Makaha) The best known beach on the West Shore is the beach frequented by professional surfers during the big waves of winter. Even during the summer, this is a dangerous piece of coastline so look, or enter at your own risk.
There are several sites that provide additional information on Oahu’s beaches.A description of the municipal beached provided by the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation can be found here.