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Best Beaches of Windward Oahu

One of the features that sets windward Oahu apart from the rest of the island is its exquisite beaches. Noted for their beautiful white sand and sparkling, turquoise waters, these are the beaches you want to visit when you’re tired of all the crowds on Waikiki beach. While there are many beaches that dot Oahu’s windward shores, the best known ones are located along Kailua Bay and Waimanalo Bay.

Kailua and Waimanalo Bays
(click the map to go to Google Maps to see more details.)

Kailua Bay Beaches

Just south of Kaneohe Bay is Kailua Bay, the home of several beaches that have become extremely popular in the last several years – Lanikai Beach Kailua Beach, “Flagpole” Beach, and Kalama Beach. Swimming, wind and board surfing, parasailing, kayaking, canoeing, and body boarding are just a few of the activities you can enjoy at Kailua Bay, no matter which beach you visit.

Lanikai Beach, is located along the Kailua suburb of Lanikai, an upscale community of multi-million dollar homes. Access to the beach is via beach access trails situated between homes and parking is somewhat limited. But it’s easy enough to park in the adjacent lots at Kailua Beach Park and walk down the street to one of the beach access trails. Unfortunately, about half of this mile-long stretch of beach is gone, due to erosion, but there’s still enough beach left to enjoy a dip in its warm, turquoise waters.

Na Mokulua (The Two Islands), across from Lanikai Beach
(c) 2011 Patrice Walker

Next door to Lanikai Beach is Kailua Beach Park and beach. Sometimes you’ll here the section of Kailua Beach that is adjacent to Lanikai Beach, by the canal and lifeguard stand, referred to as Lanikai beach, but whatever name it goes by, it’s one of the loveliest beaches in Hawaii. Mokulua (Two Islands) and Flat Islands are famous landmarks situated just off shore and are favorite spots to visit while kayaking. You’re not allowed to go on these islands, however, because they are bird sanctuaries. The waters at this end of the bay are a lot calmer than at the northern end, near Flagpole and Kalama beaches, so it’s a perfect spot for children and non-swimmers (like me!). And while these beaches are often crowded on the weekends and holidays, they are virtually empty during the week.

Flagpole Beach got its name from my daughter and her college friends who spent a lot of time swimming and surfing in the part of the Kailua Bay where homes with flagpoles in their yards are located. It’s a popular spot for beach goers because of a widely-used beach access trail that’s a block from Kalaheo Avenue (near St. Anthony of Padua church and school). It’s also an excellent spot to surf as the waves tend to be a lot bigger here.

Mokapu Penninsula, across from Flagpole Beach
(c) 2011 Patrice Walker

Not too many people know about Kalama Beach, located a couple of city blocks north of Flagpole Beach. As a result, it’s not nearly as crowded as Kailua Beach, you don’t have to dodge the windsurfers who access the waters from Kailua beach, and it includes a lovely garden and park on a 16-acre estate right next to the beach. There’s also ample parking and full beach facilities.

While the beaches of Kailua Bay are heavenly, a few cautions are in order. The only lifeguard along this two-mile stretch of beach is located at the Kailua Beach Park, next to the canal. Also, you need to watch out for jelly fish and Portuguese Man-Of-War that often congregate along the shoreline about a week to 10 days after each full moon. I can attest from personal experience that you DO NOT want to get stung by one of these creatures. You’ll also find stinging bees that hug the shoreline (I’ve been stung by one of them, too) during the month of September. So be careful while you’re having fun.

Waimanalo Bay Beaches

South of Kailua Bay is Waimanalo Bay, a five-mile expanse of some of the most spectacular beaches on Oahu. Bellows Field Beach Park, Waimanalo Bay State Recreational Area, and Waimanalo Bay Beach are the three main beaches along Oahu’s longest stretch of beach coastline. The waters are a bit rougher here than they are in Kailua Bay, so if you’re not an experienced swimmer, consider sunbathing or taking long strolls on the beach.

Bellows Beach, part of a now-closed air force base, is located at the northern end of the bay. Like the rest of the bay, the sand is soft, the waters are relatively calm, and areas of the park are set aside for picnicking and camping (free with a permit). However, the beach park is only open to the public from noon on Friday until midnight on Sunday.

The part of the Waimanalo Bay that I’m most familiar with is the 75-acre Waimanalo Bay State Recreational Area which I typically access by driving south on Kalani’ana’ole Avenue, turning left at the McDonald’s on Aloiloi Street, driving down to the end of the street and parking on the little hill next to the park. Once inside, there’s a nice picnic area shaded by ironwood pine trees that leads to the beach, which is huge (very little erosion here). On a clear day, you can even see the island of Molokai in the distance. The park has full beach facilities and lifeguards.

Waimanalo Bay Beach is a mile or so to the south of the State Park and is frequented mostly by residents in the area. Therefore, it’s probably even less crowded than Bellows or the State Park beaches.

A famous landmark that you can see from any part of Waimanalo Bay is Rabbit Island, at the southern end, near the Makapu’u Lighthouse. You may recognize this big rock because it’s featured in many TV shows set in Hawaii and even the Caribbean.

More Windward Oahu Beaches

Other swimmable beaches along the windward coast of Oahu include Kahana Bay Beach Park, Punalu’u Beach Park, and Laniloa Beach, near the Polynesian cultural center.


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