I lived in Lanikai once. It’s a bit of a heavenly dream combined with a heavy sadness.
Lanikai is consistently ranked among the top beaches in the world. It’s the only beach in the USA that makes those lists. It’s powdery white sand, the view of the Mokulua Islands, the calm and protected waters sitting like a piece of blue sik encrusted with turquoise jewels. Lanikai is a bit of heaven. The name means Heavenly Sea – but rather than having been named by Hawaiians, this beach was named by savvy haole developer Charles Frazier when he bought the land from Harold Castle and created the Lanikai Subdivision in 1924.
The beach itself is a relatively small strip of sand in a pocket of Kailua town on the windward side of Oahu – while it used to be more than a mile long, erosion and climate change have reduced it to just 1/2 mile of heaven and social media and internet coverage have made it one of the most crowded beaches on Oahu during weekends and holidays – despite efforts by residents and the City and County of Honolulu to discourage people from going there. Those efforts include draconian parking restrictions, fines of $200 and more for illegal parking, and no restrooms, showers, or lifeguards.
Living in Lanikai more than a decade ago was amazing. I’d walk to the beach in the morning or sometimes climb to the famous Lanikai Pillbox before my morning swim. Then home for a shower. Today, the crowds, the parking, the uptight neighbors venting their frustrations at the crowds and the parking – I wouldn’t live there today – even if I coudl afford the $4000/month rent or had the ability to buy one of the median average of nearly $2 million dollar houses in the neighborhood.
The people who live in Lanikai would like nothing better than to make Lanikai a private, residents only, beach. Who can blame them? But Hawaii state law guarantees that all beaches in Hawaii are public access (with a few military exceptions) – so instead they have passed laws that prohibit commercial vehicles or tour companies from dropping off visitors in Lanikai or even stopping on the street for visitors to take pictures of the residence where Barack Obama frequently stays on his vacations to Oahu.
Obama’s stays in Lanikai were at about the same time that Japanese guide books started listing Lanikai as one of the must-see places to visit in the Hawaiian Islands. It wasn’t long before big tour buses began dropping of literal busloads of tourists in the neighborhood. Prior to this, small tour companies and private guides used to bring small groups to Lanikai – companies like Oahu Nature Tours which I used to work for. The small tour groups didn’t bother anyone very much – but the buses and the Obama seeking tourists – it lit a fire under the neighborhood association and since Lanikai is more than a little bit affluent, it wasn’t long before all commercial activity in Lanikai was banned. Not long after, all public parking during holidays and long weekends was banned.
Today, if you want to visit Lanikai – your best bet is to park at Kailua Beach Park and then walk up the hill to the Lanikai Marker (no, it’s not the entrance to the Penis Park) where you get great views of the Mokulua Islands (the Mokes) and Flat Island on the Kailua Beach side. You can also take ‘Da Bus’ into Lanikai from either Honolulu or Kailua.