Waikiki is one of the most famous beach areas in the world. It’s the birthplace of surfing and one of the best tropical vacation spots. In this guide, I will share with you all of the different sections and beaches of Waikiki so you have an understanding of where to plant your umbrella, catch your waves and enjoy this beautiful slice of paradise.
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A GUIDE TO THE BEACHES OF WAIKIKI
Let’s start at the western end of the strip and work our way to the eastern end. For each Waikiki beach section, I will explain what to expect and show you some photos of that section.
ALA MOANA BEACH PARK
This beach park is slightly out of Waikiki but only just. At the very western end of Waikiki there is a boat harbor and on the other side of that harbor is a beach called Ala Moana. It’s where lots of the locals hang out but you’ll find tons of tourists sunbathing also. It’s very chill and has a breakwater giving it nice calm water for kids.
The great part about Ala Moana is that it has a grassy park that offers tennis courts, an outdoor gym, and walking paths. It is the meeting place for many outdoor activities such as canoeing, yoga, boot camps, and surfing.
This beach is great for swimming due to the white sand and calm waters that the outer reef provides. And because of its expansive size, it is usually pretty easy to find an uncrowded spot to claim for the day. The park also has restrooms and outdoor beachside showers. It’s also a sweet sunset spot.
DUKE KAHANAMOKU BEACH
After the Harbor at the western end of Waikiki is the first beach of the strip. It’s known as the Duke Kahanamoku Beach section of Waikiki Beach. Here you can find the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort, which is one of the most famous resorts on Oahu. It has an iconic, colorful mural on the side of the building.
Here you will find a man-made lagoon where you can swim and do water activities. However, it’s also the first part of Waikiki Beach and you can lay out on the sand, head out for a snorkel and even spot some Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. This is also where the Atlantis Submarine Tour takes off from.
The beach and the entire lagoon are part of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort grounds although they are open for both the public to use. There are rarely any big waves here and it’s perfect for playing in the water with small kids.
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FORT DERUSSY BEACH PARK
Fort Derussy Beach Park is one of the nicest beaches of Waikiki. It’s generally less crowded as there is a large park rather than a full row of hotels backing onto it. While the beach is quite simple with no infrastructure, you can rent umbrellas, chairs, and boards from the stands nearby.
The park behind the beach has volleyball courts, beautiful landscaping with walking paths, and shady trees. It’s a great spot for a picnic and to take some respite from the sunny beach.
This is one of the simplest beaches in Waikiki but also one of the best spots to hang out. It’s very family-friendly and has a calm atmosphere.
THE FOUR MOST POPULAR OAHU TOURS
- Doors-Off Oahu Helicopter Flight Tour: My number one recommendation is to do a heli-flight (doors off) and be blown away when you see Oahu from the air.
- North Shore Shark Cage Tour: The biggest adrenaline rush you can have in Hawaii is beneath the surface with sharks!
- Eco-Friendly Dolphin and Snorkel Tour: One of the best experiences I had on Oahu was swimming with the beautiful spinner dolphins on this exact tour.
- Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran: The number 1 MOST POPULAR snorkel tour on Oahu. GUARANTEED Turtles!
Unfortunately this Waikiki ‘Beach’ isn’t quite what it used to be. There’s such a small amount of sand at Gray’s that at high tide, you can’t even walk along the beach and need to make a detour around the back.
The beach sits in front of the Halekulani Hotel and is now more of a connecting strip of sand rather than a beach many people will set up and hang out at.
Probably one of the oldest sections of Hawaii Waikiki Beach. This beach was named after Gray’s By The Sea lodge that once stood at this point. The irony about Gray’s Beach is that not only is the structure gone, but much of the beach is as well.
ROYAL HAWAIIAN BEACH
The Royal Hawaiian Beach is quite a famous strip of Waikiki. You might also know it as ‘Waikiki Beach Center’. It sits right in front of the iconic Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which is bright pink! This section of beach is just as beautiful as all of the other beaches of Waikiki but it’s action-packed.
Surf rentals are the hot item here as it’s a great spot to launch off to go out and surf some intermediate and beginner-sized waves on Waikiki Beach. It’s a great area to hang out, have a swim, go for a surf and chill out under the palms. I even like this spot for sunset as it looks down towards Diamond Head Crater.
TURTLE CANYON SNORKEL TOUR FROM WAIKIKI BEACH
The best snorkeling tour from Waikiki Beach is the Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran. Not only do you get the chance to swim with these friendly giants and tons of tropical fish, but you’ll also get a catamaran cruise from Waikiki. You are picked up from your Waikiki hotel and taken to the harbor for a short boat ride to a few secret snorkeling spots. Lunch is included and the food is really good too, you’ll love the kalua pork! Something that people love about this tour is the staff! They really make sure you are entertained and you will have the best trip to Oahu.
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PRINCE KUHIO BEACH
We are slowly making our way down the strip of Waikiki Beaches. Prince Kuhio is one of the most popular beaches in Waikiki because of the concrete walls that protect it from the waves. It has been nicknamed ‘The Ponds’ because of these man-made pools.
Basically, at high tide, the ocean overflows into these pools and at low tide, they are completely cut off except for a small channel. This means they are great for small kids as there are almost no waves.
Older kids like to head out on the walls and play around as the waves smash into the wall and flow over. It’s a nice place to sit and watch all of the action with kids enjoying the beach in all different ways. Beyond the wall, lots of people bodyboard right next to the pier.
The pier is a popular lookout along Waikiki Beach and gets packed at sunset as many people flock to get a vantage point of the sun setting down the western end of Waikiki.
QUEEN KAPIOLANI BEACH
This is probably my favorite part of Waikiki Beach as it is the most chill, has the least tourists and there’s easy access to it. I’ve spent a lot of time living near Diamond Head and always enjoy going for a dip at Queen Kapiolani Beach after an outdoor gym workout at Kapiolani Park.
This is one of the best beaches of Waikiki for bodyboarding. Right along the wall, local kids line up to ride in the waves on their boards. Tourists can rent a bodyboard here too.
If you just want to relax, this is a great beach for shade with a huge row of palms right on the edge of the sand giving shade throughout the day. You’ll have great views back down Waikiki Beach as it curls around the curved bay.
KAIMANA BEACH PARK (SAN SOUCI BEACH)
Kaimana Beach, also known as San Souci Beach is located in Waikiki right next to the Aquarium and the New Otani Kaimana hotel. Kaimana Beach is attractive as it isn’t nearly as crowded as Waikiki; it’s also nice and sandy. It is a little bit smaller, but there aren’t as many tourists. There is also a nice grassy lawn dotted with Palm trees straight back from the beach if you prefer laying in the grass or setting up a hammock.
One thing to be wary of is, that this beach can have strong currents a bit further out, so if you are unsure of your swimming abilities, stay closer to the shore.
What are my favorite pieces of gear for the beach?
There are three pieces of gear that I simply never forget when I go on a beach adventure. These are three items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my beach essentials.
- Quick-Dry Towel: A quick-dry towel is a must for travelers. It hardly takes up any room and dries in seconds.
- Osprey Ultralight Dry Sack: The beach can be a great place to ruin your precious gear so having this ultralight dry sack for cameras, phones and valuables mean you have a safe place to store everything.
- GoPro Hero 12: The best and easiest way to capture your underwater and snorkeling adventures.
MAKALEI BEACH PARK
Makalei Beach is located between Kaimana Beach and Diamond Head Beach. It is small and easily missed from the road due to the park in front of it. In order to reach this quiet beach you just go back towards the stone sea wall and turn right where you will more likely than not find an empty beach. We love this beach because of how vacant it is. There are a few areas where the reef is quite shallow, but also sandy areas that are easier to enter the water. From the beach you’ll see surfers, swimmers, and snorkelers.
There are tropical fish here as well which makes for a good snorkel spot. This beach doesn’t offer parking or restrooms, but there is an outdoor shower and a few picnic tables. Also as the beach is quite small so it can be a bit tricky at times to find dry sand during high tide. But if you’re looking for something more secluded and private this is a great option that is still within walking distance of Waikiki.
DIAMOND HEAD BEACH
Diamond Head Beach extends along the south side of the island to the east of Waikiki. You just head towards Diamond Head volcano past Kapiolani Park. Diamond Head lookout offers a great walking path, a small grassy lawn and astounding views. We like to pack picnic dinners and have dates here sometimes.
There are a few different pathways to get down from the lookout to the actual sand. Diamond Head beach is popular amongst the surf and windsurfing community for its surf break about a quarter-mile out. There are also tide pools, breathtaking beachfront homes, and a lighthouse.
The reef of this beach comes right up to the shore so swimming can be a bit challenging, but there are a few different areas where the reef breaks that offer a sandy place for you to take a dip!
The interesting fact about Diamond Head Beach, one section of it is Waikiki’s unofficial nude beach. This is just a small section, and not extremely popular, but something to be aware of if you are walking along the beach with children. One of the best things about Diamond Head beach is that it’s not very crowded, while the lookout definitely attracts some tourists, the beach is more popular to residents of Hawaii.
I hope this was a helpful guide to the best beaches of Waikiki and you enjoy your vacation!
WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Overall Favorite): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach with a private lagoon.
- Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach.
- Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD.
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location.
- Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like you are living in a theme park.
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I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!
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