Under-the-Radar Beaches of Oahu 

By Whitney Butler 

No vacation to Oahu would be complete without a trip (or two or three) to the beach. While Oahu has several famous beach destinations, there’s a bounty of lesser-known beaches that feature exclusive shorelines and smaller crowds.

Whether you’re looking for warm sand to read a good book on or a life-changing aquatic adventure, check out these unique spots on your next trip to Oahu.

Camping and Culture Combined: Malaekahana State Recreation Area

The popularity of some North Shore beaches can be distracting to visitors looking for a quieter beach experience.

Located along the eastern edge of the North Shore, the Malaekahana State Recreation Area is a 32-acre recreational campground with 40 campsites, fire pits and a few traditional yurts with beds that sleep two to six people. For a no-frills beach outing, Malaekahana Beach is very secluded, with no man-made structures in sight while on the sand.

The beach is a great place for bodyboarding and canoe rides. During low tide, visitors can swim to Mokuauia Island (Goat Island) to a seabird sanctuary where hundreds of nesting birds make their home.

Malaekahana State Recreation Area’s proximity to the Polynesian Cultural Center, less than two miles away, makes it an ideal home base for visitors who want an authentic immersion in the culture and history of the islands. Experience village life and go native with a canoe race, lesson in Samoan cooking or Tahitian spear throw.

Surf and Turf: Kokololio Beach Park

This secluded surfing destination is located at the foot of the valley and stream that share the same name—a combination that serves up consistent waves nearly all year long.

In addition to great surf, this beach has a large forested park and sandy beach, which is great for family members not ready to hang ten. Pack up a picnic and enjoy the curving shoreline and limestone cliffs. There are well-kept facilities available including bathrooms, picnic tables and grills.

Kokololio Beach Park also includes a few campsites for overnight visits. Permits are required, so plan ahead and make reservations in advance.

Marine Life: Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. Today, it’s one of the best places for young and novice snorkelers to learn and explore the ocean from the safety of the lapping bay.

Hanauma Bay is home to a wide variety of marine life including coral heads, beautiful fish species and sea turtles. The park offers convenient rentals and charges a small fee to enter. Make sure to apply plenty of sunscreen to the backs of legs and arms if you plan to snorkel all day.

Shopping and Dining Nearby: Laie Beach Park

Located on the northeast end of the island, Laie Beach Park, known locally as Pounders Beach, is perfect for those who might want to retreat every so often from the sun. This beach is great for swimming, paddle and boogie boarding, yet is close enough to town for those who might like to shop, check email, or grab a bite to eat while enjoying a full day at the beach.

The facilities at Laie Beach Park are limited, but a short car ride will get you to Hukilau Marketplace, a retro-inspired outdoor shopping plaza with plenty of places to enjoy fresh Hawaiian fare, a cool smoothie, novelty shops, live music and kid-friendly activities.  

Simply Surfing: Castles Beach

Castles is an exposed beach and reef break that offers optimal conditions for novice and experienced surfers alike. Located just minutes from Malaekahana Beach, between Laie and Kahuku, visitors can expect a mix of groundswells and windswells from offshore winds blowing in from the northeast.

Castles beach does not have a lifeguard tower, facilities or parking lot but street parking is available. While this beach is not ideal for small children, it does offer surfing enthusiasts a place to surf away from large crowds and the large breaks known throughout the North Shore.

No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a quiet beach, park or bay to get you in touch with the island spirit. Enjoy these beaches or explore countless more on your next trip to Oahu, Hawaii.

This article is brought to you by the Polynesian Cultural Center—all of Polynesia in one place. Click here to register for tours, luaus and special packages. Book tickets 10 days in advance and receive 10 percent off!