Oahu Beaches

Find the Perfect Beach on Oahu

Oahu, at 44 miles long and 30 wide, with over 200 miles of shoreline and home to roughly 1 million people, is the third largest and most populated island in the state. Aptly called “The Gathering Place”, Oahu offers some big city attractions with bustling restaurants and the world’s largest open air shopping mall. However, let’s be real — It’s all about the beaches!

Here's the Breakdown

The North Shore has some of the longest and prettiest stretches of beaches on the island, is world famous for its surfing in the winter season, and home to the quaint Haleiwa town, The West Side. On the leeward side, it has a hot and dry climate with less crowded beaches, some excellent snorkeling, and good chances to encounter dolphin pods. This side of Oahu is a little more rugged than the other parts of the island. Wherever you find yourself, try and embody the spirit of Aloha, don’t honk in traffic, be patient as the pace is a tad slower here than the rest of the island. 

The East Side, the windward side, is generally a little more wet and windy than the rest of the island, lined by the Ko’olau Mountain range, and is home to the famous Lanikai, Kailua and Makapu’u beaches. It is generally the wetter side of the island, so even if it is a little overcast, wear your reef-safe sunscreen. Also, on the windward side, keep your eyes out for man-of-war jellyfish, eight days after the full moon, they look like little bubbles floating in the water with long blue strings for tails that will wrap around you and sting and it doesn’t feel nice.

The South Side, referred to by Kamaainas as “town”, is home to Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and fun surf year round, but mostly in the summer months.

Safety First

The ocean is powerful and unpredictable and sadly, too many visitors learn about this power, the hard way. To ensure a safe, injury free experience, select beaches with lifeguard towers, and always check for and read the signs on the beach about the water’s currents and conditions. Ask locals and lifeguards if you have any questions. Never swim alone, in high surf, or in murky waters near the river mouths. Remember eight days after the full moon, keep your eyes out for jellyfish, mostly on the East Side of the island. If there aren’t any people in the water, there’s probably a reason for that. Never turn your back to the ocean, and always remember, when in doubt, don’t go out into the surf unless you are completely confident of your abilities. Visit hioceansafety.com for up to date information on Hawaii’s water conditions and beaches.

Kaimana Beach oahu hawaii

Surf Season

Oahu is famous around the world for the pristine surf anytime of the year, catering to every level from beginner to pro. Wintertime in Hawaii brings large swells to the North and West Shores of the island. In the summer months, you’ll be able to hang ten in town. Kailua Beach, on the windward side, offers a gentle shore break which is great for beginning surfing, body boarding and body surfing. Regardless of the time of year, or what skill level you are at, there are some waves you can ride anytime you find yourself on Oahu.  

Text by Elizabeth McGonagleFeature PC: Map, Bryan McDonald, safety, @Hawaiiislander, Surf Season, Bryan McDonald

wave surfer north shore oahu hawaii bryan mcdonald

Photo: Outrigger Waikiki

Photo: Bryan McDonald

Photo: @HawaiiIslander

Photo: @sailholokai

Oahu Beach Breakdown

Some like ’em hot (shade not an issue) some like long (for a contemplative walk) others really only care about the surf break. However it is you love your beach experience, we’ve broken down the what’s what at a dozen of Oahu’s most popular beaches. For the 411 on showers, nearby food stops and as often as possible the story behind the name of the beach, click below. 

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