We embarked on a 6 day journey intent on hitting as many beaches as we could along with a few hikes. We rented a car, stayed at three different places (Makaha, Kahaluu, and Waikiki), and tried to keep the whole trip at around $1,000 per person (including airfare, hotel, food, drinks, and rental car). Here are our experiences:
1. SUNSET BEACH: A pro surfer paddles back to shore with his board sawed in half…Jeff Spicoli pedals past on his retro beach cruiser…an acoustic guitar gently weeps along the narrow strip of concrete roadside. All of these sights and sounds made for an awesome experience. And who can forget the surreal experience that ensues when large tour groups take over the beach with camera in hand taking the obligatory money shot of the surfers then jump back into their air conditioned tour buses. Anybody know what that pose with head slightly cocked and peace sign fingers is all about? I hear it’s big in Japan, LOL. Afternoon is prime time for a SUNSET.
2. LANIKAI BEACH: Resisted the urge to skip this beach after circling the Lanikai side streets for 10 minutes to find a barely legal parking spot. Was rewarded with super soft flour sand and postcard views of the offshore Mokus (you’ll swear you’ve seen this same image before in a travel brochure of a “bikini-clad woman walking along a perfect white sand beach, her kids laughing and splashing in front of a beginner sailboat charting into perfect blue waters with an upright sail spitting the two distant islands in the background”). Lots of rental kayakers and families. My sense was a lot of tourists who base camp in Kailua hit this beach, with very few locals present, but we were here on a busy weekend afternoon so that perception could be skewed a bit. Also worth noting, we had perfect sunny conditions with very few clouds at this beach while at the same time it was rainy and cloudy at the Nuannu Pali lookout only a few miles away. Crazy!
3. YOKOHAMA BEACH: Pure white sand, very few people (I think I counted only a dozen or so), a beautiful natural backdrop, the occasional whale sighting, and an “end of the road” feeling made this a great beach to start out our trip. We chilled here after hiking Kaena Point trail. Amazing rainbows were out in full force.
4. WAIMEA BAY BEACH: Surf was down (5-8ft) when we got here on a clear blue sky weekend morning. Got here early after grabbing some coffee at Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa. Definitely had no problem finding a parking spot. But by 10:00 am, the small lot for the big wave beach was full. Seemed like a 50/50 split of local families and tourists. Huge descending beach with nice sand. Didn’t see many surfers of any kind…only a couple of stand up paddle surfers along the northern rocky edge. Kind of a letdown from that standpoint.
5. MAKAPU’U BEACH: Truth be told, we didn’t actually spend any significant time here. No parking was available at the time and we were jonesin’ for some ice cream, but after catching a glimpse from the Makapu’u Head lookout we wish we had the extra time to spend here. What an amazing spectacle of nature. Hang gliders circle overhead like giant birds in the sky. Dark black cliffs empty into perfect blue waters.
WORTH YOUR TIME:
6. Kailua Beach: Not a lot of flat beach area but a nice soft approach to the beach from the parking lot on tightly cut green grass. Plus the grassy berm planted with large trees creates a nice separation from the parking lot and the main access road to the beach. Lots of kayakers making their way to Flat island and the distant Mokus past Lanikai. Sand was not as soft as Lanikai.
7. Waimanalo Bay Beach: Didn’t have enough time to stop here, but the vertical green cliffs across the highway looked amazing and the sand and water conditions looked very similar to Kailua and Lanikai. Drove by on a Sunday and it appeared the locals have kept this card close to the chest.
8. Makaha Beach: Spent the afternoon of our first day here. I think there were more surfers in the water then there were people on the beach. They were gearing up for the Buffalo Big Board surfing competition the next day. Makaha Valley provided a nice green backdrop.
9. Sandy Beach: Man is the sand HOT here. Not much shade other than under a few palm trees which the locals had claimed to watch the surf breaks and catch up on their reading. Cool distant view of the Halona Blowhole to the west. Had a very ‘high school’ feel to it with teens catching the waves after school let out.
10. Halona Beach Cove: Would be an AMAZING beach if it weren’t for the hundreds of gawkers above at the Halona Blowhole parking lot. Good photo op anyway.
BEST OF THE REST:
11. Haleiwa Beach: Just at the end of Haleiwa town. Stopped for some photos early in the morning, but had to head down the Kamehameha to Waimea Bay to grab a parking spot.
12. Kuoala Regional Park Beach: What appeared to be another local’s favorite beach with families grilling and playing games. Great view of Chinaman’s Hat and the Ko’olau Mountains.
13. Pounders Beach: Nice almost deserted beach that we shared with some sand crabs and a local fisherman….until the clouds came then we drove a few miles down the road to sunnier conditions.
14. Pokai Bay Beach: Caught the sunrise at the Ku’ilioloa Heiau on the first night of our trip after flying into HNL. Very few people around….only the lifeguard packing up his truck and some kids in the parking lot.
15. Kahana Bay Beach: Not much going on here. A boy scout troop had set up camp underneath the large pines next to the beach. There was also some construction going on near the Kahana stream. So we snapped a few photos of the bay and headed back for another day at SUNSET BEACH.
IF YOU DON’T RENT A CAR, I GUESS YOU’RE STUCK WITH THIS:
16. Waikiki Beach: We were in Waikiki for 2 full days. I think we spent 10 minutes total on this beach. I’m actually surprised Disney hasn’t gotten a piece of the action yet. If you like jam packed beaches with more beginner surfers per capita than tourists in $30/day beach chairs then by all means head here. But this was not for us. Luckily the Sheraton Waikiki had some great pools and a killer water slide.
What we learned is Oahu is a beautiful place with a lot of natural diversity. Each side of the island is very unique. You really need at least a week to explore the whole thing. And just remember if it’s cloudy on your trip just drive a few miles down the road and you will find the sun again. Happy Travels!