In 2018, coastal scientist Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (better known as Dr. Beach) ranked Kapalua Bay on Maui as the best beach in the nation. In 2019 the honor went to O‘ahu’s Kailua Beach Park, with Duke Kahanamoku Beach coming in at #5. Rankings are helpful but with 112 miles of coastline, it’s easy to find just the right beach on O‘ahu. From dramatic rocky outcroppings to sublime, smooth-water bays, we have it all. Here are some of our favorites.
Ala Moana Regional Park
A favorite among locals, this beach offers a large wave-free lagoon, perfect for kiddies, swimming and stand-up paddling. Magic Island is at the Diamond Head end of the beach, offering 76 acres of shady spots for picnics, parking and walking trails. Outside the protective reef, surfers delight with the many breaks. Has restrooms and showers, plus a food concession.
For a walk on the wilder side, Diamond Head is a popular beach that stretches from rocky tidepools to stately beachfront homes to the east. To get to the beach, park just past the lighthouse (private) and hike down the paved trail. The waves here can be big, rough and windy — with strong currents. While not a great swimming beach, experienced surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers test their mettle on the big breakers. Take in the magnificent views from the road above, where local surfers have transformed the formerly barren lookout to a lush garden.
Always on the list among the world’s best beaches, Kailua Beach is one of the nicest, largest white-sand parcel found anywhere, perfect for walking at low tide. Take in the tangy sea breeze as kayakers, kite surfers, paddleboarders and swimmers revel in the clear water. Protected from big waves by an outside reef, it’s popular among families with children.
Not a “beach park” per se, but a Nature Preserve, this underwater marine preserve gives snorkelers a chance to mingle with hundreds of colorful finned friends. Dazzling butterfly fish, puffer fish, eels and hundreds of other species inhabit this reef system. An informative tour begins your visit, and you can rent snorkel equipment there or bring your own. Closed Tuesdays.
On the southwest corner of O‘ahu, these family-friendly lagoons are sculpted into the coast like four circular pools. Privately developed, but open to the public, these smooth-sand beaches with their pristine waters are a safe delight for children. Pleasant walkways connect the lagoons with surrounding high-end resorts, which offer many places to eat and explore.
Bellows Air Force Station Beach
A wonderful swimming beach on the east side near Waimanalo, this beach offers soft white sand and gentle waves. It’s also great for beachwalking and people-watching. Shady pine trees abound, offering shelter amid the cooling tradwinds. Bellows is a military training area, and is open to the public only on weekends.
Stretching across seven miles, from Kahuku Point to Ka‘ena Point, the North Shore has long been a destination for surf and sand. Professional surfers arrive from November through February to compete in the venerable Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. This is prime big-wave season, when spectators scan the ocean for big waves, surfers and humpback whales all along the Seven Mile Miracle, a stretch of world-famous beaches encompassing Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach.