My Airbnb location on Oahu was literally steps from the North Shore beaches. And I took full advantage!
While staying near the town of Haliewa in January, I had the perfect vantage point from which to explore the many beaches of the North Shore. I easily fell right back into the island, beach-bum lifestyle that I had grown to love while exploring Ko Tao, Paihia, Niue, Bali, and other locations around the world.
The North Shore of Oahu is yet another location I have fallen in love with. The only conflict is that there are almost too many beach options! To help with this "problem," I've put together a list of what I think are the top 10 North Shore beaches, including their highlights.
View My Interactive Map of Oahu to easily locate all of these beaches and more!
1. Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park
Locals love this park with its boat harbor nearby and 19-acre stretch of grass and sand. Here are the highlights:
- Picnics and sunbathing are equally enjoyed here.
- The water is perfect for surfing, kayaking, fishing, and diving.
- The beach is in the town of Haleiwa with tons of restaurants and shops.
Hale'iwa Ali'i beach is not as great for swimming because of the rocky bottom. Beginner surfers can keep closer to shore and experts can go out further to catch larger waves. Divers like to check out nearby Hale'iwa Trench.
2. Papa‘iloa Beach (aka Lost Beach or Police Beach)
This long sandy beach was famously featured in the TV series Lost. If you watched the show, you'll recognize it right away as the survivors location for their camp throughout much of the series. The highlights:
- Spot turtles who hang around this spot to nibble on the reef.
- Surf the "Himalayas"—a surf spot named because the waves can get so large there.
- It's not ideal for swimming because of rocks and currents, but spearfishing and free-diving is common.
The beach is also commonly referred to as Police Beach because in 1875 the local police used it as a campsite and recreation area.
3. Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach)
When I visited this beach, the water was a bit rough, but I managed to snorkel for a bit anyway!
- Almost guaranteed to see honu (Hawaiian for green sea turtles) here.
- Snorkel to see lots of variety of fish and turtles only a few meters out from shore.
- Sunbathe on the beach and a turtle may crawl up beside you.
You'll have no trouble spotting honu here. I saw one in the water, but they are often seen sunbathing on the beach. Remember to keep your distance, though. Green sea turtles are a protected species on Hawaiian—you'll get an expensive fine if you're caught getting too close.
4. Waimea Bay Beach
You'll be so happy you put in the effort to find a parking spot in order to spend time at this beach. When conditions are right, this bay turns into a surf haven with waves getting to be 50 feet high! But the snorkeling and swimming here is just right on calmer days.
- Swim and snorkel the right side of the bay to see a well-preserved reef with tons of fish.
- Surfing is top notch when conditions are right – It's one of three Triple Crown Surfing Contest locations.
- Catch views of the bridge and the jungle into Waimea Valley behind the beach.
I had a wonderful experience at this beach. It's worth it to go early to get a parking spot. Or you can do as I did and head there in the afternoon to catch the morning crowd leaving. I only had to wait 10 minutes for someone to walk to the car and give me their spot!
Oh, and don't drink the coconuts that are sold near the parking lot here! They are not as fresh as you can get elsewhere.
5. Three Tables Beach
This beach is named after its three rock tables that formed out to sea.
- Black lava rocks on the beach make for interesting scenery, especially at sunset.
- Snorkeling is excellent here but usually only in the summer months.
- Swimming here is also excellent because of a sandy bottom stretching out to the shore break.
This mostly sandy beach has crystal clear waters in the summer and is often closed due to dangerous conditions in winter. It's located next to Shark's Cove.
6. Shark's Cove
Shark's Cove is similar to the nearby Three Tables Beach but without the sand. It's a protected cove with black lava rocks that form pools and drop-offs into underwater caverns popularly explored by SCUBA divers.
- Divers love this spot for its caves, caverns, ledges, and walls where there are lobsters, sharks, rays, eels, and more
- Snorkel here when the waves are calm where there is no coral but interesting underwater topography and lots of fish
- Children and adults alike will enjoy searching the rock pools for marine life
- Across the street are food trucks and picnic tables conveniently set up to satiate your hunger
The winter months, like when I visited, are not safe for snorkeling and usually not for diving either. Check it out in the summer months.
7. Ehukai Beach Park (The Banzai Pipeline)
You may never have heard of Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea on the North Shore of Oahu, but many surfers have. It's another Triple Crown Surfing Contest location.
- Surfers look to the Banzai Pipeline, a surf break with perfect barrel waves that get to be huge in the right conditions
- Go anytime between October and April to watch local surfers give the Pipeline a whirl
- The snorkeling here is excellent in the summer months when the water becomes flat
Beware! – The Pipeline is not to be messed with if you're not an expert surfer! Many professional surfers have been killed or seriously injured on the Pipeline because of the shallow reef and enormous waves. Either way, try to catch the world's best and bravest surfers here, particularly when the Pipeline Masters Surf Contest comes around.
8. Sunset Beach
This beach has lovely rolling mounds of golden sand that are the perfect vantage point from which to view the sun as it sets off to the West.
- I went to this beach twice to view the sunset atop its golden sand mounds and I was beyond pleased both times
- Watch surfers 40 meters out from the shore here, as this is another one of the three Triple Crown Surfing Contest locations
- Snorkeling the sharp pinnacle reefs here is possible in the summer
There is a parking lot directly behind the beach on Kamehameha Highway (Hwy 99) that gets quite busy. Try some of the side streets on Ke Niu Road or Hoalua Street instead.
9. Kuilima Cove
This is a beautiful little beach located on the right (eastern) side of the Turtle Bay Resort. There is a natural rock barrier making the conditions clear and calm even on winter days that are notoriously windy!
- Considered one of the best places for beginner snorkeling on Oahu
- Sunbathing on the sand here is a delight since it's a lesser known spot
This location is not as frequented as some other north shore beaches and parking is easy to find at the resort.
10. Malaekahana Park Beach
This beach is located in a state recreation park. It doubles as a camp ground and has many related amentities.
- Pay to camp here in a tent, camper, hut, or suite
- There is free access to BBQs, picnic tables, and more
- Swimming, kayaking, fishing, stand-up-paddle boarding, and surfing are all enjoyed from the beach at this park
I stopped by this park on a very windy day to find lots of local Hawaiians spending time off with their families. I could immediately envision going back to Oahu in the summer months to "rough it" a bit and camp like I did across New Zealand and Australia! Now that would be Hawaiian living!
That Oahu Beach Life
Whenever I visit an island, I always so easily fit right into its sea-side lifestyle.
The North Shore of Oahu had that effect on me yet again! Now with the guide above, I'm sure it will turn you into a salty-haired, flip-flop-wearing, sun-screened bum, too!