The Makapu’u tide pools is one of the most beautiful spots on Oahu, Hawaii and unlike a lot of tourist hotspots this one is off the beaten track. In fact, each week thousands of people walk past the tide pools on their way to the Makapu’u Lighthouse without even knowing they missed one of the coolest spots on the island.
There are two ways to get to Makapu’u tide pools. You can scramble down the rocks from the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail OR you can scramble along the rocks all the way from Alan Davis Beach/Pele’s Chair. I’ve tried both and will share the pros and cons of each method.
How to get the Makapu’u Tide Pools
Option 1: The Simple route
The most common way to reach the tide pools is to scramble down the rocks. To do this you park your vehicle in the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail parking lot and begin walking up the paved trail. It’s not a tough trail but it will start have you sweating and breathing hard for about 30 minutes. About 2/3 of the way along the trail you will notice a bit of a cove on your right-hand side as you look down over the edge. Also look out for a whale watching sign board in this area. Then you simply scramble down the rocks. It’s not dangerous at all and is just like a natural scattered staircase. Bring shoes for protection unless you live the island flip flop life. As you begin to make your way down you will get your first view of the tide pools. You will ascend the same way up the rocks to leave and can check out the lighthouse and viewpoint while you are there. It’s only another 5-10 minutes so you may as well!
Option 2: The scenic adventure route
If scrambling down the rock face wasn’t adventurous enough for you, fear not there is another way. Park your car in the Makapu’u Lighthouse Parking lot but this time doesn’t take the Lighthouse trail. Head to the right of the trail along the dirt path that leads into the bushes. Walk for 15 minutes and you will arrive at Alan Davis Beach and the rock formation called Pele’s Chair. There are a couple of cliff jump spots here and it’s a cool beach so you may want to chill here for a bit. Once you are ready to continue to the Makapu’u tide pools, wrap back along the coast to the left (Back towards the parking lot but on the other side of the cliff). You really do want shoes for this one because it is a decent little trek of about 45 minutes or so. Be careful doing this coastal walk if the tide is in, high and the waves are rough. The day I went was fine but as always I am writing a guide from my experience and you need to use your best judgment to stay safe. Along the way, we passed under huge overhangs and even found some private tide pools before reaching the main area we know as ‘the’ Makapu’u Tide Pools. Pretty much just keep cruising along the coast towards the lighthouse until you reach the pools.
Makapu’u tide pools map
Conveniently the pools are on Google Maps but the site has its limitations and doesn’t tell you these two ways to access, which is why I detailed both. Beware there are two listings on Google Maps but the one nearest the lighthouse is the go.
Sunrise at Makapu’u Lighthouse and Makapu’u tide pools
I think the best time to hit the Makapu’u tide pools or Makapu’u Lighthouse is for sunrise. Likewise, if you do the Tom Tom Trail, which is just behind Makapu’u Beach and overlooks the whole stretch of coast. The sun rises right out over the ocean as it is on the east side of the island. At sunrise not only will the place be peaceful but the colors of the sky will hopefully give you an awesome sunrise backdrop. The effect of the sunrise is intensified by the reflections of the tide pools. If you are into photography this is a pretty epic spot to test out your creativity.
The other awesome part about the tide pools I have so far forgotten to mention is the blowholes! Several blowholes/geysers shoot water up into the air intermittently as pressure grows below the surface. Depending on the tides and conditions water can shoot with huge force tens of meters into the air.
The Makapu’u tide pools are a great place to swim with some of the pools several meters deep, while others are quite shallow. Just be careful swimming in the pools nearest to the edge of the coast on days with a big swell. However, most of the pools are quite protected and you can usually find some sea stars, crabs and fish hanging out.
Go check em out and have yourself a private natural pool party!