The North Shore of Oahu is filled with some of the best beaches in the world, and with so many options it can be difficult to decide on which ones to visit during your trip.
We put together this guide on what we believe to be the best beaches on the North Shore to help make your planning easier.
Keep reading this post for some highlights of each location. I will also share some tips and tricks that I learned to help you plan your trip
1. Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay is one of the most popular surfing destinations in Hawaii and it’s also considered to be one of the most iconic beaches by many as well. Waimea Bay is also known as one of the best cliff jumping spots on Oahu.
In the wintertime, Waimea is known for its monster waves where the surfs can rise as high as 30 feet. This time of year is truly surfer heaven for the big wave thrill-seekers of the world.
I am not a surfer myself, but I enjoyed watching the surfers each day I was there.
The experience was amazing and unlike anything, I had seen before. When it comes to ocean views, it’s hard to top seeing some of the biggest surfs in the entire world.
The water is much calmer in the summer months, and it offers some of the best swimming and snorkeling. If you love sand between your toes and powder smooth sand, you will love Waimea in the summertime.
After a long day of surfing or watching surfers, be sure to visit some of the food trucks around to enjoy some amazing budget-friendly food.
2. Sunset Beach
This two-mile-long beach is yet another surfer haven on the North Shore of Oahu.
Like Waimea, Sunset Beach is a popular surfing spot in the wintertime. The waves here are gigantic and I would not recommend swimming in the wintertime (especially to those that are not strong swimmers).
In the summertime, however, Sunset Beach is popular for swimming and shoreline snorkeling. The views here are amazing, the sand is very soft, and the turquoise water is so clear and much calmer.
Also, be sure to catch the sunset while you are here. They don’t call it Sunset Beach for no reason!
Turtle Bay is home to the famous Turtle Bay Beach Resort. If you have the same taste in movies as I do, you probably saw this gorgeous resort in the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and you just had to come to see it for yourself!
We snorkeled here for a few hours and saw a turtle and so many beautiful fish. We visited in the summer and the water was warmer and very calm.
When we visited in early May of 2021, Turtle Bay Beach Resort was closed and we were able to use their palapas for free. We still had to bring our own beach chairs. The resort is scheduled to reopen in July 2021.
We visited again in February of 2022, and it was just as amazing. Maybe just a little more packed.
There is public beach access and you will still be able to access the beach without being a guest at the resort.
4. Laniakea Beach
A lot of people come here to see the beautiful sea turtles and I don’t blame them at all. I mean, who doesn’t love turtles, right?! This beach is filled with so many turtles and they are so close to shore which makes seeing them very easy.
One thing to note about Laniakea Beach is that it gets super crowded, and parking can be hectic. I recommend getting there early to beat the crowds and secure your parking spot.
Regardless of the parking situation, I can assure you that you will be glad you came here. It never disappoints.
Note: Be sure not to touch the turtles. I know it can be tempting, but remember to respect the land and health of these majestic creatures.
5. Haleiwa Beach
Haleiwa Beach is a must if you are visiting the North Shore. Unlike the other beaches I discussed earlier in this article, Haleiwa is not as crowded, and parking is very easy to find.
Even though Haleiwa is not as crowded, it’s just as beautiful. The water is calm, the sand is powder soft, it’s relatively clean and the views are amazing.
6. Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline)
I think I purposely saved the best for last here haha. The Banzai Pipeline is yet another hot surf spot in Oahu. It’s mainly known for the powerful waves that break in shallow water above a sharp reef.
I do not recommend swimming here if you are not a strong swimmer as it’s considered to be one of the most dangerous places to surf in the entire world.
Be sure to do the Ehukai Pillbox Hike before or after visiting the beach.
In the summer months, Ehukai Beach offers clear, calm, and warm waters as well as gorgeous golden sand. It’s a must if you are visiting the North Shore.
Oahu Beaches FAQ
1. Can I swim on the North Shore of Oahu? Is swimming safe?
This depends on the time of the year you visit Hawaii; swimming in the winter months (November to April) is nearly impossible due to rough waters.
This is part of the reason why the North Shore is known to host surfing competitions in the winter months. If you decide to go towards the end of winter, you can check out this website that provides a daily surf report on the Hawaiian islands to make sure you are prepared and safe if you decide to swim.
In the summer months (May to October), swimming on the North Shore is one of the best activities to do while in Oahu. This side of the island has some of the best swimming and snorkeling and the water is calmer and clearer.
2. Where is the clearest water in Oahu?
Lanikai Beach is a mile-long beach that offers amazing views and the water here was clearer than any other beach I visited on the island.
3. How long is the drive from Waikiki to the North Shore?
The drive from Waikiki/Honolulu to the North Shore might take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.
Some people make it in less time and others more. On average, it took us 45 minutes from Waikiki, but we made quick stops along the way as well.
4. Should I spend the night on the North Shore?
This will depend on how much time you have on your vacation. If you already decided on staying on a different part of the island, then staying a night on the North Shore does not make sense when you can easily make day trips.
If you were debating on whether to stay in the North Shore or Waikiki area then here is my recommendation: if you love a laid back quieter area and want to surf or watch surfers, then the North Shore is for you.
If you want a more metropolitan feel with lots of lodging options, then Waikiki is for you. Regardless of what you decide, both areas are amazing and you can easily do day trips.
5. What else is there to do on the North Shore?
There are a lot of activities to do while visiting the North Shore. Below are some of my top recommendations.
a. Visit The Sunrise Shack
This “shack” is a cute outdoor café that offers some of the best açai bowls on the island, along with other superfood snacks, smoothies, wellness shots, and coffee!
b. Visit the Kahuku food trucks
We ordered the spicy shrimp from Giovanni’s and it was everything that dreams are made of (spicy dreams, at least). The food prices are also budget-friendly which makes it a win compared to the resort food prices.
As many of you know, Hawaii can get expensive. If you are looking for some more tips on how to save money on your Hawaii vacation be sure to read the above post to learn more.
c. Visit Ted’s Bakery
Ted’s Bakery offers some of the best affordable bakery items, so be sure to stop by for breakfast. They also offer lunch items such as fresh sandwiches, chicken katsu, garlic shrimp plates, and many more options.
6. Which side of Oahu is best for swimming?
In my opinion, the North Shore is great for surfing and snorkeling but if you are looking for a nice beach to swim in with calm waters, I recommend visiting some of the beaches on the windward side.
BONUS: Here are my top 3 recommendations for the best beaches on the windward side:
1. Lanikai Beach
As mentioned previously, the water here is so clear and calm. Lanikai Beach offers some of the best views as well.
A lot of people advise skipping Lanikai as it gets super packed and finding parking can be difficult.
I visited Lanikai Beach many times on my trips to Oahu and did not have any issues with finding parking. The beach was not overcrowded at all either. If you get there early enough, you should not have any issues with finding parking.
I recommend doing the Lanikai Pillbox Hike for sunrise. After that, you can walk to Lanikai Beach and you won’t have to worry about losing your parking spot.
Best Parking Tip: Make sure you follow all parking protocols before you park your car. We got a $75 parking ticket on our first-ever trip to Lanikai Beach. This is something that could have easily been prevented if we familiarized ourselves with the parking protocols. (i.e. don’t park facing the wrong way of traffic, make sure you’re parked no more than one foot from the edge of the road, etc. See here for more Hawaii parking laws.)
2. Kailua Beach Park
If you love swimming you have to visit Kailua Beach, which is located a mile up from Lanikai Beach. Kailua Beach is also one of the best beaches in Oahu overall. It has picnic tables, restrooms, food stands, and beach volleyball courts.
The sand here is pleasantly soft and the water is warm with a greenish-blue color. Kailua is about 2.5 miles long.
A lot of people tend to come here when Lanikai Beach is overcrowded, and I don’t blame them at all. This place is just as beautiful.
3. Waimanalo Beach Park
The best part about this beach is that there are no crowds compared to Lanikai and Kailua. The waves here are calm year-round and the water is so clear.
Waimanalo is a four-mile-long beach that offers good facilities including picnic tables and restrooms.
Tip when visiting Waimanalo– Beware of jellyfish signs. Take them seriously.
So What Are The Best 6 North Shore Beaches in Oahu?
As you can see, the North Shore has so much to offer when it comes to some of the best beaches on the island.
Please remember that some of these beaches are not recommended for swimming in the winter months due to the high and aggressive surf. If you are a surfer or love to watch people surf, then this is your paradise. Don’t miss out!
In the summer months, the beaches here are much warmer and calm and depending on where you go, you might be able to see some turtles too.
Regardless of what time of the year you go, you’ll be glad you came to the North Shore with all there is to do here!