There are many great beaches to choose from on Oahu. Here are our top 9 beaches on Oahu for families and visitors. Whether you want to relax and enjoy the sun, learn how to surf, snorkel or enjoy marine life, there is something for everyone. Growing up in Hawaii, I frequented all of these beaches. Fast forward to today, my own kids love these beaches.
Friendly reminder: all beaches in Hawaii are public. Even the Ko’Olina Lagoons (near Disney Aulani) and Waikiki beaches (behind the hotels) are accessible to all.
Table of Contents
1 - Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is Oahu’s most famous snorkel beach spot. The bay water is calm, making it great for swimming, snorkeling, and observing the hundreds of species of fish, coral, and other creatures. It is perfect for families and kids, as you can even see fish by just standing in the water. With a “No Fishing” policy at Hanauma Bay, fish are not afraid of snorkelers and may even swim right through your legs!
Located about 30 minutes from Waikiki, this is a great place to spend a day at the beach, snorkeling or playing on the sand. Lifeguards are on-duty, snorkel gear are available to rent at the beach, and a snack shop is located at the Visitor Center.
2 - Waikiki Beaches
Waikiki beach is probably the most famous and well known beach among visitors on Oahu. These beaches are walking distance from all of the hotels and rentals in Waikiki. Check out our top 4 below.
Kahanamoku and Hilton Lagoon
Kahanamoku Beach is near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort. This is a great place to relax, especially with kids. You find a large sandy beach and very calm waters. While you are here, check out the Hilton Lagoon.
Hilton Lagoon (officially named the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon) is an artificial salt-water lagoon with an island. It’s a great place for babies, toddlers, and kids to play. You can rent standup paddle boards, pedal boats, kayaks, and aqua cycles here. You do not need to be a hotel guest to access these amenities. Want to achieve a state of zen on your trip? They also have Standup Paddleboard Yoga classes.
Kuhio Beach, located near the Zoo at the Diamond Head side of Waikiki, is divided by two concrete walls that help block incoming waves from the ocean. Also known as “Walls,” these seawalls create an amazingly calm, sandy ocean pool for the kids to play in. Walk out without worrying about stepping on coral.
Queen’s Beach, located right next to the wall of Kuhio Beach, is a perfect spot for the older kids who want to enjoy some of the waves that break at shore, or swim out to test their skills at boogie boarding. Note: As you swim out, you will be floating above a lot of coral and scraped knees can be common, especially on those wipe outs.
3 - Ko’Olina Lagoons
Ko’Olina Resorts have four magical man-made crescent-shaped beach coves that attract visitors year-round. The water here is very calm, and perfect for the little kids. Located on the leeward (west) side of Oahu, you will find it sunny and dry.
If you find yourself staying at one of the amazing resorts here, parking will not be a problem for you. If you plan on making a day trip out here, make sure to arrive as early as possible as parking is limited. The largest public parking lot is located at Ko’Olina Lagoon 4, and fills up quickly. You can access all four lagoons by foot, as they have a nice paved walking path connecting them all.
4 - Ala Moana Beach Park / Magic Island
Ala Moana Beach is another popular beach among locals and tourists, located across from the Ala Moana Shopping Center. This is our personal favorite, and we make at least two trips to this beach every time we visit Oahu.
With a long sandy beach and calm waters, this beach is great for kids. In the mornings, you will find many locals paddle boarding during their morning routine. On the east end of Ala Moana Beach, you will find our favorite spot for kids, Magic Island. This is another human-made lagoon, boasting very calm water. It is a little walk from the parking lot, but we love the sandy beach, calm waters, and breathtaking views of Ala Moana and Diamond head.
5 - Lanikai Beach
Many describe Lanikai Beach as the “most beautiful” of all Oahu’s beaches. This beach has consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the world. The moment your feet touch the sand, you will swear this is the softest and finest sand you have experienced in your life. This is what you dreamed paradise would look like.
Located in Kailua, the entrance to this beach is in Lanikai’s residential neighborhood. Parking has become a challenge in Lanikai because of its popularity, with street parking on the residential streets. Once you find a parking spot (park legally as cars do get towed), it is fairly easy to find one of the six public beach access ways along Mokulua Drive.
6 - Kailua Beach
Located in Kailua on the east side of Oahu, this beach neighbors the famous Lanikai beach. Grab a to-go meal from one of the many local Kailua town eateries and relax on this more than two mile long beach. Perfect for families, this beach has bathroom facilities (many beaches do not have this), and picnic tables.
7 -Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay is one of the best North Shore beaches on Oahu. Known for its big 30 foot waves in the winter and picturesque calm beach in the summer, this is a must see for any visitor. You will also find a lot of kids playing around in the Waimea River that runs down from the Waimea Falls to the beach. Occasionally, the locals carve out a path that helps release the river water back into the ocean, creating a fun summer thing to do.
8 - Sunset Beach
Sunset Beach is another famous beach on the North Shore in Oahu. Similar to Waimea Bay, in the winter it becomes a surfing mecca with large waves. In the summer the waves calm down and flatten out. During the summertime, this is a very beautiful spot to bring the family and kids, for relaxation, beachcombing, snorkeling, and if you are lucky, see Hawaiian sea turtles. In the summer, sea turtles frequent the beaches on the North Shore (the Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to touch, capture, kill, or harass a sea turtle. Tourist have been fined!). And yes, it’s named “Sunset Beach” because it has breathtaking sunsets that easily rival some of the best sunsets in Hawaii!
9 - Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove is one of the most famous snorkel and dive beaches on Oahu’s North Shore. This small rocky bay boasts calm water and an impressive amount of sea life. We visit this spot with our kids every time we are back on Oahu. It is very rocky, so we do not recommend small kids swim here, however, wading out into the tide pools and observing the marine life is perfect for those little feet. Bring reef walkers!
The best time to visit is during the summer months as all North Shore beaches have large waves in the winter. Shark’s Cove has been rated by the Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the “Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World.”
What is a Portuguese Man-of-War?
Portuguese Man-of-War are jellyfish-like aquatic animals that sting. These aquatic animals are common in parts of Hawaii, they float along the surface of the ocean with their gas filled bubbles and drift with the wind and ocean currents. They eventually head towards the beaches and become hazards to human beachgoers. The name came from early explorers as their gas filled bubbles resembled the war helmets worn by Portuguese soldiers.
How do I avoid these Portuguese Man-of-War?
They are most common on the windward (northeast) side beaches of all Hawaiian Islands. At Oahu beaches, you may see them at some of the popular beaches like Kailua and Lanikai. If you see one in the water or on the beach, get away!
What to do if I get stung by a Portuguese Man-of-war?
The pain is intense, depending on how many stings got on your skin. If you get stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War, find a lifeguard at the beach right away. They can treat it and get medical help if you have an allergic reaction. The next step is to remove the tentacles with tweezers or something flat and then rinse it with salt water to remove the nematocyst (barbed and venomous parts of the tentacles). Peeing on it will not help, but some say spraying white vinegar on it will help neutralize the venom.
Pack for Success
A day at the beach, especially with young kids, is no easy feat. Here’s a list of must-have items to make your day as easy and fun as can be.
Beach Chairs: As I age, sitting on the ground is NOT as comfortable as I remembered. We splurged on this ultra compact chair from Helinox that we love (we use for camping too). We also have a set of Tommy Bahama Lay Flat chairs for relaxation. For the kids, we have a set of character themed kids chairs too!
~ Beach Towels/Blankets – nothing worse than sitting on hot sand.
~ Snacks, lots of water, lunch
~ Baggies for diapers, wet clothes, garbage or found “treasures”