Beaches on O‘ahu’s north shore offer a wealth of opportunities for all the favorite beach activities. You’ll find excellent spots for swimming and snorkeling, waves suitable for both novice and experienced surfers, plenty of sand to stretch out on for a relaxing day, and of course, turtle-watching. Most beaches have fair to good facilities, but if you seek solitude from the crowds, be prepared to go without frills.
Famous for the turtles that rest in the sand and feed off of the rocky shelf at the water’s edge, Laniakea is a beautiful stretch of beach once you get away from the hordes of people that jam onto the small pocket of sand where the majority of the turtles rest. Park in the dirt parking lot on the mountain side of Kamehameha Highway just north of a ranch with horses. Cross the road with extreme caution. Tour buses of all sizes stop here and direct people to the northern corner of the beach. The turtles, however, feed along the rocks that run the length of the beach, so walk to the south to escape the melee. Where the beachfront properties begin at the southern end of the beach, the sand widens and there are beautiful views of the Wai‘anae Mountains and the western side of the North Shore. If you plan on swimming or snorkeling, this is also the best place to enter and exit the water. The farther south you walk along the beach, the better the chance of finding seclusion.
A beautiful spot for a beach day, Chun’s Reef is the next beach north of Laniakea, but without the tour buses and crowds. The wide sandy beach has tidepools in the southern corner up against the rocky point, and the water right off the beach is a bit deeper here and more suitable for swimming and snorkeling. The beach gets wider to north end of Chun’s and is lined with tall ironwood trees, providing ample shade. Little waves break over the reef quite a distance offshore almost all year long, so it’s a great place for beginners to surf in the summer. It’s also a favorite area for stand-up paddle surfers. Park in the dirt on the mountain side of the road across from the beach. There are lifeguards, but no facilities at Chun’s.
Waimea Bay Beach Park
At the mouth of the Waimea River and Waimea Valley is the scenic Waimea Bay Beach Park. The tight bay is lined with beautiful white sand, and the water is crystal clear, perfect for swimming and snorkeling. There are rocky points on both sides of the bay, while the center is all sand, producing light blue water. Stand-up paddle across the bay, relax on the beach, or jump off the famous Jump Rock, a 20-foot-tall rock spire right off the beach. Spinner dolphins and green sea turtles are frequent visitors. Park in the designated parking area, but if it’s full, there is paid parking in Waimea Valley, which is about a ten-minute walk to the beach. Use the white pedestrian bridge to cross the river and access the beach park, which has restrooms, showers, picnic areas, and a grassy park. The beach park is closed 10pm-5am daily.
Once you round Waimea Bay, the first beach you come to heading north is Three Tables, named after three flat reef platforms that rise above the ocean surface just off the beach. This is part of the Pupukea-Waimea Marine Life Conservation District, a protected area where fishing is illegal. The resulting copious amounts of reef fish in the water mean the main draw here is snorkeling. Three Tables has a quaint beach with shallow water stretching between rock outcroppings. Perfect for families, there are shade trees on the beach and picnic tables up by the bike path. There are a few parking spaces in front of the beach on the side of Kamehameha Highway, or you can park in the parking lot just to the north of Three Tables. Turn into the lot at the Pupukea Road traffic signal. There are restrooms here as well, though they are notoriously dingy.
On the north side of the prominent reef rock point that frames Sharks Cove, Ke‘iki Beach is the place to go for solitude. The beach stretches out to the north, and even though the name might change every quarter mile, it’s still one beautiful ribbon of sand with aquamarine water pushing up against it. The water gets deep rather quickly here, so it’s also great for swimming and snorkeling. From the highway, turn onto Keiki Road and look for parking. There is also intermittent parking along Kamehameha Highway on the ocean side. Follow one of the designated public access paths to the beach. There are no facilities and no shade here.
‘Ehukai Beach Park
Across from Sunset Elementary School is a small parking lot for ‘Ehukai Beach Park. Walk through the small park toward the lifeguard tower and onto the sand. To the immediate left is the world-famous Banzai Pipeline surf break. If it’s summer, the water is beautiful and clear, but there will be no waves. To the right is ‘Ehukai Beach, which stretches north up to Rocky Point. Swimming is great up and down the beach, which is lined with palms and shrubs offering midday shade. During the summer, the snorkeling is better on the Pipeline side of the park where there is a wide shelf of reef, canyons, and caves to explore. ‘Ehukai Beach Park has restrooms and showers, and there are additional public restrooms across the street in front of the school. The beach park is closed 10pm-5am daily.
To the north of Sunset Elementary School, homes line the ocean side of Kamehameha Highway, and the beach is hidden from view. But once you pass a gas station, Sunset Beach is all you see: a wide swath of sand from the highway to the water’s edge. Sunset is famous for its big winter waves, but its natural beauty is splendid, waves or not. In the summer, it’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling, or you can stand-up paddle up and down the coast from here for a good look at the shore. Take a walk up the point to the north for a great view back toward Hale‘iwa. There is parking on the ocean side of the highway, along the bike path. If you luck into one of these spots, it’s pleasant enough to relax, have a snack or some coffee, and watch the ocean sparkle. During the winter, it’s also a great vantage point for whale-watching. There is another parking lot on the mountain side of the highway where you’ll find restrooms and showers.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.