Plan the perfect Hawaiian beach getaway for your family
It’s no secret that Hawaii’s beaches are as close as you can get to paradise in the USA. Some of the best beaches in the Aloha State are located in O’ahu, the third-largest island in the archipelago and one of the best spots to visit for first-timers to get acquainted with Hawaii.
If you’ve already started your O’ahu research, you’re no doubt already overwhelmed at the choices; what sort of accommodation should you choose? Near the action or something secluded? Resort or vacation home rental? Are you an active family looking for hiking and water sports opportunities, or are kids’ clubs and a deck chair to unwind most important to you?
The great thing about the O’ahu coastline is there’s something incredible to suit all interests.
In this guide to the best O’ahu beaches, we’ll take you through what to expect at each of the popular beaches and beach parks, what facilities you’ll find nearby, and our top picks on where to stay nearby to make the most of the azure waters of O’ahu.
This post is part of our best beach vacations series and Discover the USA
Please stay up to date with latest travel information for Hawaii before you fly.
The Most Beautiful Beaches in O’ahu Hawaii – Perfect for Families
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Set on the west coast of O’ahu, Waikiki Beach is the coastal area of the capital Honolulu, arguably the most popular spot on the island of O’ahu for locals and tourists alike. If you love a bustling beach vacation with everything from swimming and sun-bathing to people-watching and even whale-watching, this is going to be the beach for you.
Waikiki’s gentle waves are ideal for beginner’s surfing lessons – one of the best things to do in O’ahu with kids.
If you’ve been practicing at home with the OMBE method Waikiki is the perfect spot to test out your moves. Even complete beginners can enjoy the waves here, you’ll find many surfing instructors available or simply relax at the beach and watch others do their stuff!
Waikiki Beach and its numerous resorts and condos are just a stone’s throw away from entertainment, cultural events, delicious food, incredible exotic drinks, and performing arts you’ll find in Honolulu.
One of the most popular winter activities in Waikiki is to head out on an O’ahu whale watching tour. The season runs broadly from December to May with several operators you can choose from out of Kewalo Basin Harbor. Come around February-March and humpback whales spotting is almost guaranteed!
Waikiki tends to have a vibe you either love or hate; There’s so much to see and do, your older kids will never get bored, and you can rest assured they are safe in the calm, lifeguard patrolled waters. For some, it’s simply too crowded.
Where to stay: Try Hokulani Waikiki by Grand Hilton Vacations Club or Halekulani for classic family resorts, or if you love a self-catering condo try Aston Waikiki Beach Tower.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
If Waikiki feels too crowded, then what you need is a day trip out to Hanauma Bay.
Set a just a 25-minute drive from Honolulu (grab a rental car!), this beautiful bay in the south of O’ahu is famed for its wine glass shape and for the fact that it makes visitors feel worlds away from the bustle and hustle of the city, making it a perfect escape.
Grab the kid’s snorkeling gear as this is one of the best spots in Hawaii for underwater adventures. With hundreds of marine species inhabiting the area, including green sea turtles the calm and crystal clear waters here make this a fabulous place for beginners.
If you’re up for some hiking, make time for the Koko Bay Trail, especially if you’re keen to explore the lush hills that surround the bay as well as the breathtaking views that come with it.
Be warned this spot might be more remote but it’s still super popular. Daily visitor numbers are capped and a reservation system is in place, now requiring upfront payment to stop no-shows. At the time of writing the daily fee is $25 per adult, under 13’s free.
Where to stay: A nature preserve, there are no resorts in the direct vicinity but the closest back towards Waikiki is The Kahala Hotel and Resort. The south shore is the perfect spot for renting a peaceful beachside villa, near Maunalua Bay.
Heading north, on the island’s Windward Coast, Lanikai boasts some of the softest sand and the bluest waters on the island. It’s also the best spot to come if you’d love to catch the sunrise.
The beach here features two insanely beautiful offshore islets, one of them being Nā Mokulua (but more commonly called “the Mokes”). The Mokes themselves are protected as part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary but you can rent a kayak and glide past this idyllic spot.
The beach can be hard to spot as it’s in a residential area with no parking per se. Needless to say, you can spend the entire day swimming and relaxing under the sun so pack your beach blanket and all your beach toys as there are limited facilities here, just endless blue waters.
Adventurous families though, don’t miss the opportunity to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail to catch some of the best vistas O’ahu has to offer!
Where to stay: There are far fewer big resorts this side of the island, the perfect place for a family-sized vacation rental, minutes to the beach.
Kailua Beach Park
Kailua Beach Park is another picture-perfect beach park just north of Lanikai Beach. Boasting soft sand, low waves, and all the amenities you may need, make it your go-to if you’re after a relaxing picnic beach day.
This beach park is very popular with families traveling with kids, windsurfers, and sailboard enthusiasts as you can catch a lovely breeze. The grassy picnic table areas, close to the parking lot, make it a popular family choice. You’ll also find volleyball courts and a boat ramp where you can rent sports equipment.
Nearby is Kailua, boasting plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities near to the beach.
Where to stay: Another great spot to pick up a vacation rental near the beach for a dreamy Hawaiian vacation.
The beaches on the Windward coast are, generally speaking, much quieter but still just 30 minutes from Honolulu if you’re looking for a day escape. If you’ve driven out this way, may sure to pop down to the easternmost tip and check out Makapuu Point Lighthouse.
Now let’s head up to the chilled-out North Shore of O’ahu!
Hidden behind a grove of aromatic Pride Indian Trees, Haleiwa Beach is located about an hour’s drive away from Honolulu.
Families will love not just the beach but the laid-back surfer town vibes of Haleiwa. Explore the town itself with small galleries and local boutiques before hitting the incredible waters.
For history buffs, the old Emerson Mission homestead and the ruins of Waialua’s Female Seminary give testimonies of the days when missionary work was prominent in the region.
Haleiwa isn’t the best for swimming due to its shallow waters and rocky ocean bottom. However, Haleiwa is your go-to if you’re into canoeing, surfing, kayaking, and even boat racing!
Where to stay: Check out this fabulous beach vacation rental, with the waves literally lapping at your doorstep!
Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach)
Heading just a little further eastward along the North Shore, Laniakea means “wide sky”, and it is easy to see how it earnt its name (if you go past the first 30 yards where most people hang out).
Aside from its natural beauty and gorgeous white sand, the highlight of Laniakea is the giant green turtles (or honu) that inhabit the area. Seriously, it’s full of them!
You are most likely to make a spotting in the summer months when waters are calmer (May to September), but spottings can be made year-round. Volunteers on the beach help control the crowds for the beach’s most popular visitors to have some space.
They were once on the endangered species list, However, today, thanks to the protection efforts of the government and volunteers, they can be easily spotted swimming happily around the island of O’ahu.
Laniakea is also a prime location for big surfing waves during the winter months. It’s not ideal for a full day at the beach, the strip of beach is narrow and not very protected, but undoubtedly a beach stop every family will want on their O’ahu itinerary.
Where to stay: Enjoy an ocean front beach house vacation rental with uninterrupted sea views.
Waimea on the North Shore is famous for its humongous winter waves, which can reach up to 30 feet! A favorite for hardcore surfers, this is a must-stop if you’re keen to explore O’ahu’s surf lifestyle or simply want to watch surfers brave the seemingly sky-high tide during this season.
(You’ll find a good guide to North Shore events you may want to time your trip for here).
Come summer, the water calms considerably and Waimea becomes an excellent destination for families looking for swimming, boogie boarding, snorkeling, or simply relaxing with views of sapphire blue waters keeping you company. (Be warned parking here is a challenge, plan an early start or stay nearby).
Where to stay: Try this vacation rental home enjoying gorgeous views over Waimea Bay, or a little further towards Shark Cove this beautiful holiday rental gem.
Located just outside of Haleiwa Town, Sunset Beach is another must-see haven on the island of O’ahu, especially if you’re looking for a family-friendly beach that’s perfect for swimming and light snorkeling during the summer months.
As the name suggests, sunsets here are something truly special, so make sure you grab your beach chairs and linger just enough to witness at least once during your visit to the island!
Come winter, it becomes a surfers’ mecca as it is considered to be the longest stretch of rideable surf in the world! Several surfing events take place here, including the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, so make sure you take that into consideration when planning when to visit!
Where to stay: Enjoy exceptional waterfront view homes staying on this beautiful stretch of the North Shore.
Last but not least, we couldn’t possibly skip Ko Olina! Ko Olina is a series of picture-perfect beach lagoons that Hawaiian travel magazines are made of! Situated on the leeward (west) side of O’ahu, these beaches are hugely popular with families with young children (and it can be very crowded, especially on weekends!) But don’t let this put you off; the pros can massively outweigh the cons.
Beginner snorkelers will love Ko Olina for its calm and protected waters, though there’s not as much marine life to be seen (once you’ve learned the ropes, head a little further north on the leeward side to Paradise Cove, Kahle Point, and Electric Beach).
Getting about with babies and toddlers is made easy with a network of pathways and plenty of shaded grassy areas between the four lagoon beaches. You’ll find showering and change facilities on hand and everything you could possibly need for the perfect beach vacation – including epic sunsets!
If it’s a great mix of beach time, convenient facilities, restaurants, and entertainment nearby, Ko Olina will suit your family to a tee; it’s no wonder parents so frequently vote it as the best family beach in O’ahu.
Where to stay: The first name that comes to mind is always Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa – but there are more! Try Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club or Beach Villas at Ko Olina to name but a few.
More accommodation options on O’ahu
If you’re still trying to narrow down the choice of where to stay on O’ahu for that perfect family beach vacation, this map helps provide a great comparison between available VRBO properties and hotels via Booking.com.
As a general, but very flexible, rule of thumb:
Resort-lovers – stay on the leeward coast around either Ko Olina or Waikiki
Wave-lovers – the North Shore will be your best bet
Nature Lovers – water sports, hiking, and a bit of serenity can best be found on the Westward coast
For first-timers, the island itself is relatively easy to navigate but can be snarled with traffic in peak season. Do pick the location you think will suit you most of the time, then plan to make day trips – be it on a tour or in your own rental car to some of the other beaches in O’ahu so you can get a full appreciation of what O’ahu is all about.
Best Snorkeling Beaches in O’ahu
Are you coming to O’ahu for the fabulous snorkeling opportunities? Beyond the beaches we’ve already mentioned above, you may also want to try:
Queens Beach Sans Souci Beach – near Waikiki, next to Kapi’olani Park. From here you can enjoy the marine conserve right off the beach. You are near Waikiki’s other top attractions such as the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium.
Kuilima Cove – found on the North Shore near Turtle Bay Resort, this is a great spot for beginners as it’s close to popular hotels for easy access. The waters here are calm even in winter as the rock barrier reduces large waves and you get great visibility.
Three Tables – on the North Shore near Waimea Bay. This area is recommended for more experienced snorkelers as you can get stronger waves and currents than some of the calmer bays but you’ll find a great tropical fish population.
Sharks Cove – Also on North Shore near Waimea Bay. The awesome vision you can experience here with a good range of marine life to be spotted makes this little spot in Hawaii a top choice for snorkeling if you want to see a great range of tropical fish. The downside due to its popularity, it can be crowded during surf season (Fall through Spring). It is also the time of year you can find strong currents, so an area recommended for experienced swimmers.
Aweoweo on the north shore is where you should head if it’s snorkeling with turtles you’re after. There are no lifeguards here, so take care. The beach is tucked within a residential area so expect limited parking and facilities, but a great spot to set up your tent for the day and make some truly magnificent marine sightings.
Kahe Point/ Electric Beach – can often boast some of the island’s clearest waters. Situated on the leeward (west) side of the island, it’s just north of Ko Olina. It’s best for your intermediate to advanced snorkelers as there are no lifeguards at this beach and the waters aren’t as calm as in the more popular bays. It’s perfect for your tweens and teens though with strong swimming skills.
More frequently asked questions about beaches in O’ahu
What is the best snorkeling spot in O’ahu?
It really depends on what stage you are at in your snorkeling journey and what sorts of things you enjoy. Hanauma Bay is a great spot for all with a natural setting, not surrounded by high-rise resorts.
Another good spot for beginners is Ko Olina or Kuilima Bay with good facilities nearby, lifeguards, and calm water.
Where can I see turtles in O’ahu?
The best turtle beaches can be found at Aweoweo Beach Park and Turtle Canyon. You’ll need to reach turtle canyon by boat or kayak but it’s worth the reward.
Another spot, close to the larger resorts of O’ahu to try is Paradise Cove.
Before traveling to Hawaii on a beach vacation
From 2 January 2021, a Hawaii Law came into effect banning sunscreens made with the harmful chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate – the two chemicals that are considered particularly bad for coral and marine ecosystems. PLEASE double check your labels, even if it says Reef safe; they will be confiscated for sure if you have packed the wrong thing.
Check current rules in relation to the State of Hawaii’s Safe Travel Program.
Pack all your beach day bag essentials! Pop on over here we have a comprehensive guide to what we always pack for a big day out at the beach.
Getting There – How to get to the best beach in O’ahu Hawaii
Honolulu airport is one of the busiest in Hawaii, servicing multiple US and international destinations, making O’ahu the most popular tourist island in Hawaii. Traveling out of peak season is certainly recommended, if possible.
Once you’re on the island, the Daniel K Inouye International Airport (HNL) is only 20 minutes from Waikiki with taxi, Lyft and Uber options, or you can hire your own car if you want more flexibility.
For reaching the North Shore resorts, expect more like 35-40 minutes by taxi or rideshares, or 2 hours by bus.
Try out these shared transfer services from HNL airport, great if you’ve got a group of you.
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Have you ever visited the island of O’ahu in Hawaii? Which beaches were your favorite ones? Let me know in the comment section below!
Further reading for beach lovers
Looking for more beach vacation ideas in the US? Why not try:
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