Top beaches on Oahu for every activity

Finding the perfect paradise for every type of beachgoer

The Hawaiian island of Oahu has no shortage of breathtaking beaches. While Waikiki beach with its view of Diamond Head Crater is one of the most iconic, there are so many more beaches that cater to a certain demographic of beachgoer. For those that care to leave the sandy shores of Waikiki in search of a beach paradise that’s a little more personal, take a peek at a few options below.

Snorkeling: Hanauma Bay

Located in a volcanic ring on the windward side of the island, Hanauma Bay is a must stop for avid snorkelers and fish fanatics alike. The protected bay allows for smooth waters and ideal snorkeling. Take to the surf in search of Hawaii’s colorful state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, while kiddos will be pleased to know that Disney’s Nemo and Dory (clownfish and blue tang, respectively) can also be found swimming among Hanauma Bay’s coral reefs.

Best snorkeling hanauma bay

Looking down at Hanauma Bay from the parking lot

Viewfinder Tip: The parking lot fills up quickly and once it’s full, it’s closed. Get to Hanauma Bay early or book a roundtrip shuttle from Waikiki.

Gaining entrance to the park will cost you US$7.50 per person (kids under 12 are free) and your attention during a brief educational documentary on the park’s rules and regulations. BYOsnorkel set unless you want to shell out twenty dollars for a park rental. Guests are also allowed to bring a small cooler of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks to maintain sustenance throughout the day. Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays so that the reef and sea life has one day of undisturbed R&R.

Idyllic Hawaii: Lanikai Beach

Located in the laid back town of Kailua on the windward side of the island, Lanikai Beach is what most people would imagine when thinking of paradise. In fact, Lanikai literally translates to “heavenly sea” and that’s exactly what you’ll find on its stunning shores. The water is sapphire blue, the sand is powder white, and the surf is just right for novice bodyboarders and surfers alike.

Today on Lanikai – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Aside from being a selfie paradise, Lanikai is a great place for paddle boarding, kite boarding (thank you, trade winds), and kayaking. Local outfitters will rent out their wares as well as help get you in and out of the water. Regardless of how you spend your time on Lanikai, be sure to lather on the sunscreen and stay hydrated. There’s nothing that can dampen a vacation faster than a sunburn.

Wildlife spotting: Laniakea Beach

To spot a few resident sea turtles (known as “honu” in Hawaiian), look no further than Laniakea beach on the North Shore. Nicknamed “Turtle Beach, ” Laniakea is where these gentle giants come to feed, frolic, and soak up the sun. This is a great place to take the “look but don’t touch” approach to wildlife. Protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, it’s illegal to hunt, touch, or otherwise aggravate these creatures and being caught doing so could lead to a hefty fine.

Scouting for sea turtles on Laniakea beach! – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Adventure: Waimea Bay

Located a short drive from Laniakea Beach, Waimea Bay is a great spot for adventure seekers. The spring and summer months bring surf that’s perfect for boogie boarders while the fall and winter is reserved for skilled surfers and swimmers. In fact, if you’re visiting Waimea Bay during the winter months you might even catch The Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau surf competition. Regardless of when you visit, keep in mind that the current can get very strong and it’s advised to be aware of posted warning signs and heed the lifeguards on duty.

Amazing waves at Waimea bay today! – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Another fun feature of Waimea Bay is its famed jumping rock. Risk takers can climb the giant monolith at the east end of the bay and cliff dive off one of the rock’s many jumping points. Just make sure that the tide is high enough for safe jumping.

Surfing: Ehukai Beach Park

For the serious surfer, the North Shore reigns supreme. Ehukai Beach Park is home to the Banzai Pipeline, a surf reef break that results in some of the best surfing conditions on the island. In the winter months, professional surfers compete in the Pipeline Masters Surf Contest while spectators enjoy watching these sublime wave catchers ride each swell with seemingly ease.

In the summer months, the water stills and provides a great place for swimming and snorkeling. As with all beaches on the North Shore, check with the lifeguards to ensure the water and tide is safe for swimming.

Family fun: Ko’Olina lagoons

If you’re searching for a beach that the keikis will enjoy, look no further than Ko’Olina’s lagoons. While the four manmade lagoons are nestled in between resort and hotel properties, they are open to the public. The only challenge might be finding free parking.

The lagoons provide safety from the swelling tide, currents, and waves while still allowing children to enjoy the water. There are no big drop offs and most kiddos seem to like floating around the lagoons or grabbing their snorkel gear in search of small fish that can be found in the water. Parents will enjoy the clean restroom facilities and outdoor showers for rinsing off.

Catch the sunset: Sunset Beach

It’s all in the name. Aptly named Sunset Beach on the North Shore is the place to catch one of Oahu’s gorgeous visual nightcaps. Watch as the sky transforms from pale blue to fiery red, mystical pink, and florescent yellow.

Watching the skies change color at Sunset Beach

Watching the skies change color at Sunset Beach

You can watch the sun kiss the horizon goodnight with either your toes in the sand or while cooling off in the water. Either way, this will be a sunset that you won’t soon forget.

Which beach experience is your favorite?

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Captain And Clark

Chris Staudinger and Tawny Clark (also known as "Captain and Clark") have spent the majority of their relationship exploring this great big world. After meeting on Kilimanjaro, courting in South Korea, getting engaged at the Taj Mahal, and sealing the deal in the Cascade Mountains, the two decided it was time to add another explorer to the mix. Traveling the world with kiddo-in-tow might alter the way they navigate the globe, but they welcome the challenge with open suitcases.

Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube

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