Soaking Up the Sun: My Favorite Beaches in Oahu

When it comes to gorgeous beaches, the Pacific archipelago and youngest state wins. In Hawaii, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the irresistible pull of the ocean. This I can attest to, having spent a week exploring Oahu to ring in the New Year.

Like every island in Hawaii, Oahu is like a patchwork of beaches – all gorgeous, all accessible to the public (no private beaches here), all completely enticing. Still, no two beaches are alike, and I’ve come to love some more than others.

Here are, in my humble opinion, seven of the best beaches in the island of Oahu.


Hanauma Bay

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Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)

The clear blue-green water of Hanauma Bay is home to a vast coral reef that shelters over 400 species of fish as well as some Green sea turtles. At $7.50 per person plus the cost of parking and snorkel sets (if you don’t own them), you can spend all day snorkeling in this volcano-formed conservation area, making it a cheap yet memorable snorkeling experience. What’s more, a large part of the bay is shallow, so it’s perfect for the not so strong swimmers.

The occasional Jellyfish or Portuguese man o’ war will sometimes stray into the bay, so keep an eye out and be careful. And don’t stand on the coral reefs – how would you feel if someone walked all over your apartment?


Ko Olina Lagoon

Ko Olina Lagoon (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It’s hard not to love everything Disney has created, so naturally I had to check out the Aulani Resort, nestled in the resort area of Ko’Olina about 30 minutes west of Honolulu. Unsurprisingly, the resort was wonderful – the rooms nice, the pools lovely and the spa incredible; but some of my best experiences were at the lagoon. Semi-protected, its tranquil water is great for families with kids, beginner paddle boarders (my son mastered paddle boarding within minutes) and young snorkelers. At the beach, beach chairs and umbrellas are readily available for convenience.


Aweoweo Beach

Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Looking for turtles in Oahu’s legendary North Shore? While Laniakea and Haleiwa are more famous, I prefer the lesser-known Aweoweo Beach, especially for turtle sightings. This stretch of sand in Waialua is not just beautiful, it’s also less crowded, quiet and mostly tourist-free – this means you’re less likely to deal with people more interested in taking selfies with the turtles than actually living the moment.

Please stay at least 6 feet from the turtles. They’re not there for your amusement.


Pupukea Beach

Pupukea Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Pupukea Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Also in the North Shore across the street from a roadside gathering of food trucks (another must-stop while in Oahu) is Pupukea Beach. It’s home to Sharks Cove, which stays relatively uncrowded what with nearby Waimea Bay drawing most of the traffic, where you can snorkel in relatively calm waters. The marine life isn’t as diverse as in Hanauma Bay, but it’s free and the water is warm and shallow.

Grab some garlic shrimp, tender brisket and shaved ice to go from the food trucks across the street, and find a nice, quiet spot at the beach. Don’t forget your flippers if you’re snorkeling, Sharks Cove is pretty rocky.


Puaena Point Beach

Surfers at Puaena Point Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Puaena Point Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Show off your beach bod and rub elbows with surfers and model-types at Haleiwa Beach’s neighboring Puaena Point Beach. Thanks to its great yet small waves, this is where newbie surfers go to learn the craft and practice. But you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy this spot; sometimes it’s enough to just stay on solid ground and watch all the action.

Puaena Point Beach has some pretty stunning photo opportunities too, so bring a camera and snap a few.


Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Yes, it’s extremely touristy. But there’s a good reason why people flock to Waikiki. Actually, there are a few. It’s easily accessible, first of all, so if you’re staying in or near Honolulu’s main tourist strip – Kalakaua Ave – a day at the beach is just a few minutes’ walk away from your hotel. Second, it’s got some great waves for surfing as well as a semi-protected area (Kuhio Beach Park) for shallow waters. And third, it has some of the best sunsets in Honolulu. Pack a picnic, head out in the afternoon and stay to enjoy the setting sun.

Stay at Park Shore Waikiki across the street from Kuhio Beach Park. The family-friendly hotel not only provides complimentary use of beach towels and beach chairs, it also boasts guest rooms with a stunning, unobstructed view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.


Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Lanikai Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It’s one of Oahu’s most popular beaches, which means that it can get pretty crowded, but Lanikai is still one of our favorite swimming spots in Oahu. We cannot get enough of its calm, shallow waters and soft, fine sand, both of which make up for the fact that finding a parking spot can be a pain. While this is far from being a surfing spot, it’s perfect for paddle boarding or simply floating around on a swim tube.


(Originally published on Huffington Post)

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Destination: The Big South

The massive and powerful waves of the Pacific and the jagged rocks at the bottom of the California coast constantly meet with such intensity and force.

To say that the fate of any poor soul who gets caught in between is bleak is a great understatement. But from the safe and distant haven above, atop the cliffs, this dangerous scene transforms into panoramas so stunning, so breathtaking that one might be inspired to risk descending down to it just to experience its beauty at close range.

Such is the magic of Big Sur. And one could not look at its beauty without trembling with inspiration.

It was here in the Big South where I decided to celebrate (or lament, depending on one’s perspective) my thirtieth year of being alive and find some calm. Or perhaps just buy myself time to lick my wounds.

Whatever it was I was trying to find, I couldn’t tell you for sure. And whether or not I found whatever it was I was trying to find, I couldn’t say either. But I definitely found something.

In this quiet retreat just several hours north of Los Angeles, where Kerouac himself found temporary respite from alcohol abuse, there is great power vibrating from the sea and the land itself. But there is also a peaceful and soothing feeling that could cure the weariest traveller and convert the hardest skeptic.

Here, the wind blows strong but clean, and the Santa Lucia Mountains stand majestic yet also humble and ever green, even in the grayest of winter. Here, the land is preserved and the tranquility is ever so carefully maintained, with general stores standing in place of food chains and a few rustic cabins replacing a sprawl of modern concrete buildings.

Point LobosPoint Lobos

Here, endangered California condors fly unafraid and so close to the land, you can almost feel the wind under their wings. Beaches are wild with weeds and sea fans washed ashore. Redwoods grow high and undisturbed. Creeks run clear and steadily. Cows pasture and sea otters wade happily at their leisure. And occasional predatory cats feast at their hearts content, without any fear of starvation.

Point Lobos Big Sur

Here in Big Sur, between the stunning Bixby Bridge in the north and Ragged Point in the south, is a seemingly endless land of daunting temperament and of gentle treasures – from snow-white waterfalls to blue-green coves to unexpected delights and secret nooks and passages. It’s a land of wonderful contrasts so spectacular and inviting you’d want to stay forever.