The most important thing to know about the beaches in Hawaii is that there is a dramatic difference in summer vs. winter. Most Oahu beaches are calm in summer but very rough with big swells in winter. Go in summer!
Another consideration is that the water temperatures are not particularly warm in Hawaii if you are accustomed to South East Asia or the Caribbean.
Much Maligned Waikiki
Waikiki is an exception to the above negatives. It’s calm year round, and the water temperature is warmer than many of the other Oahu beaches.
It’s not the prettiest due to the development but the water is very nice for swimming.
My Favorite Beach of All – Lanikai Beach
Oahu isn’t particularly big so all the beaches I’m going to mention are less than an hour drive from each other. The water color at Lanikai beach is spectacular, as is the sand. The only negative is that the water is a bit cold.
Lanikai gets my vote for the absolute best beach in Hawaii.
Kailua is more well known than Lanikai, and right next door. It’s often named Hawaii’s beach beach but I prefer Lanikai. As you can see, Kailua still has some choppiness even in summer (These Lanikai and Kailua photos were taken at the same time). Kailua is an upscale neighborhood and there is a new Wholefoods supermarket. Lanikai and Kailua are a 5 minute drive from each other.
Ala Moana, Another Favourite
Beautiful calm protected bay. Walking distance from Waikiki and a Favourite with the locals so you know it’s good. Like most of the beaches there is no shelter unles you bring your own, so when thinking about your packing list for Hawaii be sure to bring a sun hat, and a sarong to cover your shoulders.
Sunset Beach – Awesome beach in the Summer on the North Shore
This is a famous surfing beach in the Winter, and there still some decent sized waves in the Summer too, but it is a glorious beach and now main destination when we go to the Oahu’s North Shore.
Locals love Waimanolo. It’s a very nice long beach that isn’t crowded. The water is not calm however so expect some moderate sized waves. Probably not suitable for small children learning to swim.
Waimea Bay is a postcard perfect big bay right up on the North Shore (the furthest drive from Waikiki). It’s calm in Summer but rough in Winter. It’s very beautiful.
The only negative is that parking feels a bit sketchy up here. Don’t leave valuables in your car.
Hanauma Bay – sorry it’s a tourist trap and the coral is mostly dead, skip it.
Hanauma Bay is the most visited spot for snorkeling but experienced snorkelers will be unimpressed. It is calm even in Winter though. There is a fee for entry, unlike any of the other beaches mentioned.
Mokule’ia is a long drive from Waikiki. I’m mentioning it because it’s the beach that was featured in Season 1 of Lost. It’s near “The Other’s Village.” Go if you’re a Lost fan (post coming up about visiting Lost filming locations in Hawaii).