Oahu - Beaches

Waikiki Beach: This famous stretch of sand is the spot that originally put Hawaii on the tourist map. No beach anywhere is so widely known or so universally sought after as this narrow, 1 1/2-mile-long crescent of soft sand (from Molokai) at the foot of a string of high-rise hotels. Home to the world's longest-running beach party, Waikiki attracts nearly five million visitors a year from every corner of the planet. In high season, it's packed towel-to-towel, but there's no denying the beauty of Waikiki.

Lanikai Beach: Hidden, off the beaten tourist path, this beach on the windward side has a mile of powder-soft sand that's safe for swimming and--with the prevailing trade winds--excellent for sailing and windsurfing. It's the perfect isolated spot for a morning of swimming and relaxation. Sun-worshipers should arrive in the morning, as the shadow of the Koolau Mountains (which separate Windward Oahu from Honolulu) blocks the sun's rays in the afternoon.

Kailua Beach: Imagine a 30-acre public park with a broad, grassy area with picnic tables, a public boat ramp, restrooms, a pavilion, a volleyball court, and food stands. Add a wide, sandy beach, great for diving, swimming, sailing, snorkeling, and board- and windsurfing, and you've just described Kailua Beach, which is tops on the windward side of the island. On weekends, local families consider it the place to go. Great on weekdays, when you practically have the entire place to yourself.

Kahana Bay Beach Park: If you didn't know you were in Hawaii, you would swear this beach was in Tahiti or Bora Bora. Picture salt-and-pepper sand, a crescent-shaped beach protected by ironwoods and kamani trees, and as a backdrop, a lush junglelike valley disturbed only by jagged cliffs. Kahana offers great swimming (even safe for children), good fishing, and perfect conditions for kayaking. Combine that with picnic areas, camping, and hiking trails, and you have one of the best beaches on the island.

Malaekahana Beach: If you'd like to venture back to the Hawaii before jet planes brought millions of people to Oahu, back to the days when there were few footprints on the sand, then go north to the romantic wooded beach park at Malaekahana. This is a place to sit in quiet solitude or to beachcomb along the shore. There's good swimming most of the time, and good snorkeling when it's calm, but no lifeguard here. Surprisingly, very few visitors come to Malaekahana Beach, one of the best on Oahu--it's a true find.

Sunset Beach: Surfers around the world know this famous site for its spectacular winter surf--the waves can be huge, thundering peaks reaching up to 15 to 20 feet. During the winter surf season, the best activity here is watching the professional surfers attack the giant waves. In the summer months, Sunset calms down and becomes a safe swimming beach. It's a great place to people-watch year-round, as you'll spot everybody from wanna-be Baywatch babes to King Kong surfers.

Waimea Bay: Here is one of Oahu's most dramatic beaches. During much of the winter--October to April--huge waves come pounding in, creating strong rip currents. Even expert surfers think twice when confronted with 30-foot waves that crash on the shore with the force of a runaway locomotive. It's hard to believe that during the summer this same bay is glassy and calm--a great place for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Oh, and by the way, despite what the Beach Boys croon in their hit song "Surfin USA" (Why-a-mee-ah), the name of this famous surfing beach is pronounced Why-may-ah.

Pokai Bay: If you dream of a powdered-sugar sand beach, a place you can swim, snorkel, and probably be the only one on the beach (on weekdays), try this off-the-beaten-path shoreline. Surrounded by a reef, the waters inside are calm enough for children and offer excellent snorkeling. Come with the aloha spirit and a respect for local customs--the local residents here don't see too many visitors.