Oahu

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With 112 miles of shoreline, Oahu boasts some of the most accessible beaches in Hawaii. Even on "the gathering isle," however, you can still find secluded spots where yours will be the only footprints in the sand. Each winter, giant ocean swells turn the north shore into the surfing capital of the world. Exercise caution: "If in doubt, don't go out."

Oahu Beaches

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

Opened in August 2011, this Disney Resort is a lot more Hawaii than Disney in its design, decor, and furnishings, although you will still see Mickey and friends. The Aulani is located 24 miles east of Honlulu and is part of the Ko Olina Resort Community, where it shares a man-made lagoon with the adjacent JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. The 21-acre Aulani has 359 hotel rooms and 460 time share units. A great family option, there are plenty of activities to keep kids and adults happy, including a large pool complex with lazy river and an 18,000-square-foot spa. On the property, guests have the choice of dining at a full-service restaurant, a buffet eatery, two lounges, and two pool-side "shacks" that serve drinks and pūpū's. Consider making dining reservations in advance of your trip to avoid waiting at the resort’s restaurants.

92-1185 Ali'inui Dr., HI, 866-443-4763, resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort
Tags: luxury | beach | family | disney | expensive | swimming pool

Ehukai Beach

It's always tempting for the kids who attend Sunset Beach Elementary School across the street to play hooky when their backyard beach breaks generate fun surf. When the big swells hit, however, the surf here is for experts only. The world's best surfers come to ride the notorious Banzai Pipeline, the barreling wave that breaks like a guillotine above a shallow reef a few hundred yards off shore. This is arguably the most exciting arena to watch wave-riding. In contrast, summertime brings calm waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

North Shore, 59-337 Ke Nui Road, HI, www.aloha.com/~lifeguards/ehukai.html
Tags: beach | surfing | snorkeling | swimming

Kahana Bay

The scenery at Kahana Bay is nothing short of spectacular. Majestic ironwood trees wrap around the giant half-moon bay, and Kahana Valley's dramatically steep and jagged cliffs loom in the background. The water is calm, and the sandy bottom makes it ideal for wading and swimming. Fishermen can try their luck at catching the akule (big-eyed scad) that come in each summer. Kayakers can make their way into the lush valley via the stream that enters the bay.

Windward Coast, HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/oahu/beaches/kahana_bay.htm
Tags: beach | romance | kayaking | swimming | fishing

Ko'Olina Resort and Marina

Families flock to this resort on the western coast of Oahu for its string of man-made lagoons that offer the safest of swimming conditions; resort shops, a marina, restaurants, and a golf course are also nearby.

West Shore, 92-1480 Aliinui Dr., HI, 808-679-0079, www.koolina.com
Tags: beach | family | golf | editor pick | things to do | resort

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach–the setting of many a movie and magazine spread–has powdery, soft white sand and inviting turquoise water that make that it a popular place for sunbathing and swimming. Two idyllic islands, Mokulua and Mokumanu, sit quietly just offshore–if the "Mokes," as they're called, prove too dreamy to resist, kayaks can be rented in the nearby town of Kailua.

Windward Coast, Kailua, HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/oahu/beaches/lanikai_beaches.htm
Tags: beach | romance | swimming | best beach

Makaha Beach

The site of the international surfing championships in 1954, Makaha's waves are still considered world-class. Today, the beach is home to tight-knit families who grew up there, and the ocean-loving community hosts several surfing and canoe surfing events throughout the year. In the summer, the calm, clear water attracts dive boats that organize undersea cave exploration. When there are waves, beware of the sweeping backwash and its swift undertow.

Leeward Coast, www.aloha.com/~lifeguards/makaha.html
Tags: beach | family | surfing | diving

Outrigger Reef on the Beach

The Outrigger lives up to its namesake immediately as you pull up out front: A massive outrigger canoe hangs from the ceiling of the open-air pagoda that fronts the lobby. One of the most Hawaiian-feeling of all the Waikiki hotels, the hotel has a giant lobby area and shopping arcade that’s overflowing with dark wood and Hawaiian decor, including an impressive wall of paintings behind the reception desk. Most of the 639 large, renovated rooms have balconies with ocean or city views, and all offer free phone calls to the mainland (no hidden resort fees here!). After a day at the beach, Outrigger has dining covered. The Kani Ka Pila Grille offers a casual bar scene and a large, varied menu with live music from some of Hawaii’s top entertainers. The Shore Bird Restaurant and Beach Bar remains one of the best places to chill out on Waikiki and let’s diners try out their grill master skills at the DIY grill station. If you’re looking for finer dining, the Ocean House Restaurant serves up the freshest island seafood. For romance, the hotel invites couples to renew their vows in a free ceremony on the beach every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday morning. Guests also get a great view of the weekly Friday night fireworks display over Waikiki from the Outrigger Reef’s beach.

2169 Kalia Rd., HI, 808-923-3111, www.outrigger.com
Tags: beach | moderate

Pokai Bay Beach Park

Thanks to its calm, shallow waters and protected bay, this sandy off-the-path beach, named after the Hawaiian chief who reportedly brought the first cocoanut palm tree to Hawaii, is perfect for snorkelers and families.

West Shore, near Waianae, HI,
Tags: beach | family | snorkeling | editor pick | things to do

Sandy Beach

Sandy's is infamous among experienced bodysurfers and body boarders for its thrilling shorebreak, which jacks up steeply before erupting into a churning cloud of whitewater and sand at the shoreline. While exciting to watch, don't end up like the stick figure flailing upside down in the "dangerous shorebreak" signs posted here by the lifeguards. Strong currents and rip tides are responsible for unfriendly meetings between unsuspecting swimmers and jagged rocks. Unless you're a skilled bodysurfer and a strong swimmer, stick with tide pool exploration or dive into a beach read instead.

Windward Coast, www.aloha.com/~lifeguards/sandy.html
Tags: beach | surfing

The Royal Hawaiian

Built in 1927 in quasi-Moorish style and wrapped in acres of lush landscaping, this iconic hotel still sits like an elaborate garden hat amid the high-rises of Waikiki. A top-to-bottom makeover in 2008 restored the glamour quotient to the "Pink Palace of the Pacific" while adding a full service Abhasa Spa and witty touches like pink-and-silver wallpaper. Panoramic views of Diamond Head and the sparkling Pacific Ocean can be enjoyed from each of the 528 rooms and suites, and private beachfront cabanas.

2259 Kalakaua Ave., HI, 808-923-7311, www.royal-hawaiian.com
Tags: luxury | beach | spa | historic

Waikiki Beach

If you desire mai tais and an oceanfront terrace from which to drink them, Waikiki Beach is the place for you. Honolulu’s long stretch of sand is lined with hotels, in front of which sunbathers lay their towels, taking an occasional dip in the dazzling turquoise water. You'll find bronzed beachboys following in the footsteps of their famous predecessors—offering surf lessons, canoe rides, and their own playful brand of an aloha welcome. With the island's biggest concentration of accommodations, shopping venues, nightlife, and restaurants, visitors who want to be part of the scene often arrive in Waikiki and never leave.

HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/oahu/beaches/waikiki_beach.htm
Tags: beach | family | sailing | surfing | editor pick | water sports | things to do | swimming

Waimanalo Beach

Three miles of white sand line the edge of crescent-shaped Waimanalo Bay, forming the longest beach along the Windward Coast. Just offshore Manana Island (Rabbit Island), a bird sanctuary, sits undisturbed. The beach park offers waves for body boarders and surfers, while sun worshippers appreciate the serenity provided by the ironwood trees that separate the beach from development. Barbecue pits, campsites (permits are required for overnight camping), and a lifeguard tower make it a family-friendly destination. Look out for stinging Portuguese Man O’ War jellyfish that are blown to shore by the prevailing trade winds.

Windward Coast, HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/oahu/beaches/waimanalo_beach_park.htm
Tags: beach | family | surfing | swimming | camping

Waimea Bay

During the biggest winter swells, the best surfing shows are at Oahu’s Waimea Bay, where wave-catchers drop into 40-foot faces. By contrast the deep, sprawling bay becomes a sparkling swimming pool in the summer, often frequented by dolphins and sailboats. Athletes like to run the wide sandy beach, and daring kids enjoy the 25-foot leap off local landmark Jump Rock.

North Shore, HI, www.aloha.com/~lifeguards/waimea.html
Tags: beach | surfing | editor pick | swimming | best beach

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