Oahu, Hawaii: beach vacation travel guide

Dec 16, 2022

Oahu is the most popular island in Hawaii with Canadian travellers, and for good reason. Known as the “Gathering Place” and home to Honolulu, the state capital and largest city, Oahu is beloved for its iconic stretches of beach, epic surfing competitions and scenic hiking routes through tropical rainforests. (It's also easy to get to, with far more direct flights than Hawaii's other islands.)

Full of craggy volcano peaks, dense rainforests and amazing vistas that overlook iconic stretches of beach, Oahu also rewards visitors with hidden waterfalls. 

Whether you are a surfing enthusiast or just enjoy watching others tackle giant waves, Oahu is a must-visit destination. Take a photo with the Duke Kahanamoku Statue and visit the Banzai Pipeline in the winter to catch some of the best surfers as they tackle the giants. Beginner surfers need not worry; there are plenty of surfing schools around the coast. Start with the gentler waters of Haleiwa Beach Park or Kawela Bay before tackling the more demanding waves.

Explore the history of Hawaiian royalty with a tour to Iolani Palace, or visit Pearl Harbor, one of the most famous attractions on the island. Movie buffs should check out Kualoa Ranch, a 400-acre ranch where Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and Lost were filmed. Take a movie tour or book a horse-riding tour and visit some amazing hidden beaches.

Oahu beach vacation guide

North Shore is a beautiful stretch of beach used as the backdrop for countless TV shows and films. It is the site of world-class surfing competitions, and in the winter, the swells throw up such massive waves that its seven-mile stretch of sands has been coined “The Seven Mile Miracle." Sunset Beach is home to Oahu’s best surf breaks, but even if you aren't a surfer, we recommend a visit to enjoy its namesake sunset views.

Travelzoo tip: If you prefer calm seas, visit in the summer months when the surf subsides. 

Waikiki was once a Hawaiian royal retreat, and is one of the most famous beaches of Hawaii. Backed by Diamond Head, with stunning vistas overlooking turquoise waters, it has plenty of top level luxury resorts. (Our deal experts often find surprisingly affordable offers in Waikiki.) This gorgeous crescent of sand is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, and hosts some of the most beautiful sunsets that you’ll see in Hawaii. Hike along the steep slopes of Diamond Head Crater to take in some epic views of Waikiki beach.

Once you've seen Waikiki, visit Kailua, a trendy beach town located just 30 minutes away from downtown Honolulu. Lanikai Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand nearby, as is Turtle Beach, located on the top of North Shore. Stay alert: you might be able to spy green sea turtles sunbathing on the sand.

For a break from the big breaks, Kailua Beach is an award-winning beach with gentle waters and waves, perfect for swimming and stand-up paddle boarding. Lanikai Beach also boasts gentle, swimmable waters and is a perfect place to learn how to snorkel. It is one of the few beaches in Oahu without shore-breaking waves, which means even in the winter (peak surfing season) it's a gentle place to swim.

Some of the best beaches are tucked away along Oahu’s coastline. Visit Halona Beach Cove, a stunning pocket of sand close to the Halona blowhole. Makapuu Beach is backed by rising cliffs of carved lava, with strong riptide currents. For seasoned watersport enthusiasts, Sandy’s Beach is also known as “break-neck beach”, and is a popular spot for bodyboarders.

Waimea Bay is a popular destination for surfers. The moon-shaped beach is located on the north shore of Oahu and in the winter months hosts many surfing competitions. Take a break from your saltwater dips with a visit to Waimea Falls Park, with a 45-foot cascade considered one of the best waterfalls in Hawaii.

Travelzoo tip: Adrenaline-junkie locals and travellers have made it a sport to jump off “the rock”, a big black monolith located on the left edge of the bay.

Waimanalo Beach is the longest uninterrupted white-sand beach on Oahu. Located on the eastern coast, it's a lovely setting for long walks with Hawaiian green sea turtles as company. Ala Moana Beach Park is also a favourite with families, as is Ko Olina Lagoons, where the rocks surrounding the lagoons make for gentle waters.

Don't forget your snorkel in Hanauma Bay, which features some of the island's best coral and sea life. Formed within a volcanic cone, it is home to over 300 different Hawaiian fish species. 

Browse our Hawaii deals or visit our Hawaii beach vacation guide for more inspiration.

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