June 13, 2021

Beaches in Hawai‘i, Part One

Waimanalo Beach on the island of Oahu with Manana (Rabbit) Island lying offshore.


A beach is not just a beach in Hawai‘i. Not only are there dozens to choose from, each beach is different. Some are perfect for swimming, others for surfing, and these conditions can vary with the seasons. Winter generally brings high surf to many of Hawai‘i’s beaches, generated by distant storms in the North Pacific, but wind and wave conditions can be highly localized, changing from day to day. During the summer months of May through September, most beaches are fine for swimming.

All beaches in the State of Hawai‘i are public and people are guaranteed legal access. Some of the best can often be found at one of the county or state parks, where facilities usually include parking, picnic tables, washrooms and outdoor showers for rinsing off sand and saltwater. Many of these beach parks have lifeguards on duty year-round.

All of the four major islands in Hawai‘i have beautiful beaches. The most famous is Waikiki Beach on the southern shores of O‘ahu. This storied stretch of sand is lined with iconic hotels, beachfront restaurants and tiki bars. It’s also a great place to swim, surf or just enjoy the view of Diamond Head. There are, however, many more beautiful beaches on O‘ahu. In fact, the island is ringed with them. Reached by the local bus service or by rental car, the lovely beaches on the island’s east side include Hanauma Bay (famous for its snorkeling) and Waimanalo Beach County Park, which is good for swimming and boogie boarding, and is ideal for learning to body surf with its gentle waves and weak currents.

Here’s a full view of the beautiful Waimanalo Beach.


O‘ahu’s North Shore is where you’ll find the island’s legendary surfing beaches with their giant winter waves. These beaches are unsafe for swimming in winter, and even beachcombing can be dangerous when waves breaking on the beach are powerful enough to knock people down and drag them out to sea. Sunset Beach hosts the World Cup of Surfing in late November/early December, attracting the world’s best surf riders. However in summer the waters off this beach are calm and great for snorkeling. Neighbouring Ehukai Beach is the site of the famous Banzai Pipeline, where winter waves take on a tubular shape and expert surfers will momentarily disappear inside these barrel waves.

A summertime view of Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore.


The North Shore’s famous surfing beaches also include beautiful Waimea Bay. The largest surfable waves in the world (30+ feet) roll into this bay during the winter months. Waves crashing ashore have been known to roll right up to the restrooms, some 100 yards from the beach. In summer, though, the seas are fairly calm in Waimea Bay and families come here to swim. With a lifeguard on duty, the local kids have fun leaping from Jump Rock into the water during the summer months, unlike the winter when the seas around this rock outcropping are horrendous.

See Part Two next week as Anne looks at the beaches on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.

About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.