A local’s guide to the best of Oahu: Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of of our Oahu series, where we share the very best parts of the Hawaiian island known as “The Gathering Place.”

While Part 1 covers the “Town” side of Honolulu, this post is about the East side and the North Shore — two regions with their own distinct character and personality.

Let’s go!

East side

Driving east from Honolulu and Waikiki, you’ll encounter Oahu’s “East side,” which runs from ‘Aina Haina to Hawaii Kai, around the east tip of the island past Makapu’u point, through Waimanalo, Kailua, and Kaneohe. It’s a big area.

Hanauma Bay ridge hike

As soon as you pass Hawaii Kai you’ll start going uphill towards Haunama Bay, a famous snorkeling spot.

Many visitors don’t know about the incredible hike that elevates you above Haunama Bay, where you can gaze down at the azure blue waters, west towards Diamond Head, and on a clear day — the islands of Moloka’i, Maui, and the Big Island in the distance.

Hanauma Bay was formed within a volcanic cone, and today is a protected marine life conservation area that’s open to the public on most days. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Sandy Beach and Makapu’u Beach

Makapu’u beach

Both Sandy (aka “Sandys”) and Makapu’u beaches are gorgeous white sand beaches known for their powerful and world-class shorebreaks. The waves here are loved, feared, and respected by bodysurfers, bodyboarders, and surfers.

Of the two beaches, Sandys packs much heavier and more dangerous waves. Makapu’u, on the other hand, offers a stunning scenic backdrop and tidal pools and gentler waves.

Makapu’u lighthouse hike

Between Sandy and Makapu’u beaches on the barren far east tip of Oahu, you’ll find the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.

This relatively easy 2-mile round trip hike offers breathtaking panoramic views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline, other Hawaiian islands in the distance (on a clear day), and the opportunity to see humpback whales breaching in the winter months.

At the bottom of the cliffs are gorgeous tide pools — best avoided due to dangerous surf. At the end of the hike is the lighthouse itself, which was built in 1909. This hike is best enjoyed at sunrise.

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach Park is often rated as one of the best beaches in the world! Here you’ll find soft, powdery white sand on a flat, gentle beach that stretches for 2.5 miles — excellent for for runs, long walks, and swimming.

Thanks to its calm, clear waters and consistent trade winds, Kailua Beach is also a popular spot for watersports like kayaking, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and windsurfing,

The nearby town of Kailua offers charming shops, eateries, two farmers markets, and modern amenities.

Bonus: if you want to experience “the Kailua Beach of Kailua Beach,” walk over to neighboring Lanikai Beach (as pictured in the cover photo on this page) — it does not disappoint!

North Shore

The North Shore is Oahu’s crown jewel, known for its legendary surf spots, stunning beaches, and laid-back surfer vibes.

Haleiwa Town

Haleiwa is a charming little surf town that serves as the gateway to the North Shore. Here’s you’ll plantation-era architecture, charming shops, art galleries, and great eateries — we highly recommend Waialua Bakery (freshly baked goods and sandwiches, cash only). And don’t miss world-famous Matsumoto Shave Ice!

Waimea Bay to Sunset Beach

Waimea Bay is famous for massive winter waves and the gutsy surfers who dare to ride them. In the summer, the bay becomes almost unrecognizable with its tranquil waters, cliff divers, and playful mellow vibes.

From Waimea Bay, you can walk or bike along the bike path all the way (and a bit beyond) to Sunset Beach, another iconic surf location known for stunning sunsets and ultra challenging waves.

Between these two beaches is a nearly uninterrupted stretch of even more drop-dead gorgeous golden sand beach. It starts at Ke Iki, goes past Ehukai (where you’ll find the world famous Pipeline surf break), then Rocky Point, followed by Sunset Beach.

Peacock Flats hike

Peacock Flats is an advanced-level hike in Waialua is an adventurous escape into rugged wilderness. This challenging trail is located in the Mokuleia Forest Reserve and runs about 8 miles round trip.

The route features steep hills, dense forests, and expansive ridgelines, rewarding you with breathtaking views of the Waianae Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.


Image credits: Ryan Noeker, Simon English, Michael Olsen, Amanda PhungJustin Shen, dcgpinoy.com

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