Still waters and blue skies on Oahu's North Shore.

Glassy day out on Oahu’s North Shore. (Photo courtesy of Neal Kido.)

As an island chain, Hawaii is home to hundreds of beaches, each possessing its own set of unique qualities.

What makes one beach great for surfers and water-sport enthusiasts does not necessarily make for a great destination for families or vacationers looking to relax on the shore

To help narrow down the search for the your own personal perfect beach destination, the following list is a compilation of what are widely agreed to be the top five beaches on Oahu.

Lanikai Beach

Ocean waters, small islets and blue skies over Lanikai Beach on Oahu.

A perfect day at Lanikai Beach. (Photo courtesy of Neal Kido.)

Nestled in the sleepy beach town of Kailua on Oahu’s Windward side, Lanikai Beach is one of Hawaii’s most picturesque and famous beaches.

An offshore reef keeps the water calm year-round, offering excellent swimming conditions from January to December. Less than a mile offshore are two small islands that house bird sanctuaries and those looking for an adventure can easily reach the islands by kayak.

Other water sports to enjoy on the clear-blue waters include snorkeling (reef fish and sea turtles are common sights), sailing and windsurfing, while half a mile of fine white sand is the perfect setting for sunbathing. Beachgoers should note that parking is limited, as Lanikai Beach is sandwiched between residential housing.

Kailua Beach Park

Kailua Beach waves, emerald blue waters and white sand beaches.

Warm and gentle, Kailua Beach waves are perfect for the family. (Photo courtesy of Neal Kido.)

Located approximately one mile up the road from Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach Park often is cited as one of Hawaii’s best beaches.

In fact, Kailua Beach Park was named America’s Best Beach by coastal expert Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, in 2019.

With nearly three miles of light-colored sand and crystal-clear water, the park is the perfect spot to spend the day. While many enjoy playing in the gentle waves or learning how to windsurf, the 35-acre beach park also boasts a volleyball court and ample picnic areas where families can relax in the shade with a refreshing treat from local eatery Island Snow, a favorite spot of President Obama.

Other nearby establishments, such as Buzz’s Original Steak House and Kalapawai Market, are perfect for picking up a quick lunch or souvenir, or choose to spend a bit more time and book a room at one of the many local bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals in the area.

Waimanalo Bay Beach Park

Stretching nearly five miles from Wailea Point to Makapuu, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park is one of the longest beaches on the island. The northern section of the beach is known to locals as Bellows and was once part of an air force base that is now closed. (The area is still used today as a popular vacation spot for the military.)

Despite rougher waters, which make it less suitable for inexperienced swimmers, the size, scenery and soft sand make Waimanalo a classic Hawaiian beach that is great for boogie boarding, fishing, sunbathing or walking along the shoreline.

Dr. Beach named Waimanalo Beach Park “America’s Best Beach” in 2015.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach displays the beautiful reef patterns just outside the protected lagoons.

A unique bird’s eye view of Waikiki Beach displays the beautiful reef patterns just outside the protected lagoons. (Photo courtesy of Neal Kido.)

Possibly the most famous beach in all of Hawaii, Waikiki Beach has been an epicenter for tourists since the 1950s. The 2-mile stretch of white sand coast is actually divided into several sections by various hotels, but each is connected to the other by a boardwalk. The peaceful waters offer good swimming and surfing year-round, and other fun activities abound, including surfing, canoe racing, stand-up paddling, volleyball and more. Attractions such as the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium are mere minutes from the beach, while world-class restaurants, entertainment and shopping destinations offer respite from a day in the water.

Sunset Beach

A rainbow off of Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore.

Passing showers create a glorious rainbow off of Sunset Beach, North Shore. (Photo courtesy of Neal Kido.)

Situated on the historic North Shore of Oahu, Sunset Beach is a beautifully long expanse of beach that has enamored both locals and tourists for decades. During the summer, the blindingly blue ocean waters are calm and crystal-clear, making it the perfect destination for swimmers, snorkelers and families. But as the winter months roll in, so do the large waves, making conditions suitable only for the most experienced of surfers. Surf fans are still welcome to watch pros ride these giants from the safety of the shoreline and take photos of this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.