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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Probably the most popular beach with locals on this side of Oahu, the broad, sloping beach is covered with sunbathers there to watch the "Show" and soak up rays. The Show is a shore break that's like no other in the Islands. Monster ocean swells rolling into the beach combined with the sudden rise in the ocean floor causes waves to jack up and crash magnificently on the shore. Expert surfers and body boarders young and old brave this danger to get some of the biggest barrels you can find for bodysurfing. But keep in mind that the beach is nicknamed "Break-Neck Beach" for a reason: many neck and back injuries are sustained here each year. Use extreme caution when swimming here, or just kick back and watch the drama unfold from the comfort of your beach chair. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; walking.
So named as it was once the site of Queen Liliuokalani's beach house, this beach draws a mix of families and gay couples—and it seems as if someone is always playing a steel drum. Many weekends, movie screens are set up on the sand, and major motion pictures are shown after the sun sets (www.sunsetonthebeach.net). In the daytime, there are banyan trees for shade and volleyball nets for pros and amateurs alike. The water fronting Queen's Surf is an aquatic preserve, providing the best snorkeling in Waikiki. Amenities: lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.
If you're making a circle of the island, this is a great stopping point to jump out of your car and stretch your legs. It's easy, because the sand literally comes up to your parked car, and nice, because there is a sandy bottom and mostly calm conditions. Plus there are full facilities and lots of shade trees. Often overlooked, and often overcast, Punaluu can afford you a moment fresh air before you get back to your sightseeing. Amenities: showers; toilets; parking (no fee). Best for: solitude, swimming.
This gorgeous swimming and snorkeling beach is protected by a long breakwater left over from a now-defunct boat harbor. The beach's entire length is sand, and a reef creates smallish waves perfect for novice surfers. Amenities: toilets; parking (no fee). Best for: snorkeling, swimming, surfing.
You may have to do a little exploring to find Papaoneone Beach, which is tucked away behind three condos. Duck through a wide, easy-to-spot hole in the fence, and you find an extremely wide, sloping beach that always seems to be empty. You'll have to park on the street. The waters are that eerie blue found only on the west side. The waves can get high here (it faces the same direction as the famed Makaha Beach), but, for the most part, the shore break makes for great easy rides on your boogie board or belly. The only downside is that, with the exception of a shower, all the facilities are for the condos at the adjacent Beach Lovers Hawaii, so it's just you and the big blue. Amenities: showers. Best for: solitude, swimming (carefully).
There is a reason why the producers of the TV show Lost chose this beach for their set. On the remote northwest point of the island, it is about 10 miles from the closest store or public restroom; you could spend a day here and not see another living soul. And that is precisely its beauty—all the joy of being stranded on a deserted island without the trauma of the plane crash. The beach is wide and white, the waters bright blue (but a little choppy) and full of sea turtles and other marine life. Mokuleia is a great secret find; just remember to pack supplies and use caution, as there are no lifeguards. Amenities: parking (no fee). Best for: solitude.
The big attraction here is tiny Goat Island, a bird sanctuary just offshore. At low tide the water is shallow enough—never more than waist-high—so that you can wade out to it. Wear sneakers or aqua socks so you don't cut yourself on the coral. The beach itself is fairly narrow but long enough for a 20-minute stroll, one-way. The waves are never too big, and sometimes they're just right for the beginning bodysurfer. The entrance gates, which close at 6:45 pm, are easy to miss, and you can't see the beach from the road. Families love to camp in the groves of ironwood trees at Malaekahana State Park. Cabins are also available here, making a perfect rural getaway. Amenities: showers; toilets; parking (no fee). Best for: walking, swimming.
This beach provides a slice of local life most visitors don't see. Families string up tarps for the day, fire up hibachis, set up lawn chairs, get out the fishing gear, and strum ukulele while they "talk story" (chat). Legendary waterman Buffalo Keaulana can be found in the shade of the palms playing with his grandkids and spinning yarns of yesteryear. In these waters Buffalo not only invented some of the most outrageous methods of surfing, but also raised his world-champion son Rusty. He also made Makaha the home of the world's first international surf meet in 1954 and still hosts his Big Board Surfing Classic. With its long, slow-building waves, it's a great spot to try out longboarding. The swimming is generally decent in summer, but avoid the big winter waves. The only parking is along the highway, but it's free. Amenities: lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming.
A magnificent beach protected by Makapuu Point welcomes you to the Windward side. Hang gliders circle above the beach, and the water is filled with body boarders. Just off the coast you can see Bird Island, a sanctuary for aquatic fowl, jutting out of the blue. The currents can be heavy, so check with a lifeguard if you're unsure of safety. Before you leave, take the prettiest (and coldest) outdoor shower available on the island. Being surrounded by tropical flowers and foliage while you rinse off that sand will be a memory you will cherish from this side of the rock. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.
Think of the beaches you see in commercials: peaceful jade green waters, powder-soft white sand, families and dogs frolicking mindlessly, offshore islands in the distance. It's an ideal spot for camping out with a book. Though the beach hides behind multimillion-dollar houses, by state law there is public access every 400 yards. You'll find street parking on Mokulua Drive for the various public-access points to the beach. Look for walled or fenced pathways every 400 yards, leading to the beach. Be sure not to park in the marked bike/jogging lane. There are no shower or bathroom facilities here—they are a two-minute drive away at Kailua Beach Park. Amenities: None. Best for: swimming; walking.
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