All of Hawaii is famous for the wonderful beaches and the island of Oahu is no exception. Oahu is filled with fantastic beaches for surf, barbecues, body boarding, sun bathing, and enjoying all the Pacific Ocean has to offer. These are the five best family beach parks on the island of Oahu. It’s impossible to say which of these is the best because they all have different things to offer.
If you’re taking your family to Oahu, these are my top five recommendations for a great day at the beach. One last thing…make sure not to leave your valuables in the car since the cockroaches will often take wallets or iPhones when you aren’t looking. Be careful and have fun!
Waimea Bay Beach Park
Waimea Bay Beach Park is the home of big wave surfing. During the winter when waves are the size of buildings, this is a no-go zone for those with small kids. Waves have been known to drag people off the beach never to be seen again. During the mellow spring, summer, and autumn months though – this beach is a wonderful place to barbecue, surf, swim, and relax. Make sure to pack your cooler and bring everything you need. The closest store is a few miles away in Haleiwa.
Waikiki Beach Park offers so much that people tend to discount it. Yes, it’s where everyone goes, yes it can be crowded, and yes it’s right in the middle of the city. However, with the zoo right across the street, great picnic facilities, Queen Kapiolani park next to the zoo, and the restaurants and attractions of Waikiki within a five minute walk, there is no better place for families. Plus, the waves are great, the water is warm, the locals on the beach are friendly, and you can almost always find a beach volleyball game.Plenty of lifeguards and safe for everyone.
Sandy’s Beach Park is the South shore jewel of Oahu. One thing to be careful of is the shorebreak since the shoreline is steep here and waves can catch you by surprise. Ask the lifeguards about conditions before going in the water or letting your kids body surf. Beautiful views of the back side of Diamond Head and Koko Crater, amazing stretches of sand, and plenty of action in the water.
Kailua is perfect for families. This windward beach park is in the mellow beach town of Kailua and offers shady picnic facilities, scenic views of the Mokulua Islands, plenty of parking, and a safe beach that has water perfect for snorkeling, swimming, or kite surfing. As a bonus, there are more than enough trees to string up a hammock and have a relaxing seaside nap.
Kahana Bay Beach
Kahana Bay is south of Punalu’u and is just between the Windward and North Shores of Oahu. This is a nice beach with a sandy shoreline. If you want to experience what Hawaii was like fifty years ago, this is the place to go. Punalu’u has camping facilities, picnic facilities, and gentle waves that are fun to swim in and can sometimes support a long board.
When I moved to Hawaii – I had $100. I booked a dorm bed into the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel in Waikiki for seven nights and bought some rice and cheap veggies in Chinatown. During the next week, I ate rice and beat the streets looking for a job. I found a job painting houses and then moved into a longer term hostel down the road called the Beachside Hostel. I got a discount for waking up early and cleaning up the common areas.
Painting houses wasn’t very fun and while the owner of the hostel I was in was giving me a discount, she wasn’t a particularly nice woman – so my life wasn’t the Hawaii dream I’d been expecting. I’d made friends with some of the people who worked at the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel and was down there when the owner came in and told everyone that the manager had stolen a bunch of cash and left the island. I’d talked with the owner a few times in the past and had a friendly relationship – I volunteered to be her new manager. She agreed. I quit the painting job and moved into the manager’s apartment. My Hawaii dream life was taking shape.
A little over a year after I started, she took a month long vacation and left me to handle everything. It all went good except I’d gotten a dog while she was gone. She told me to get rid of it. I’d grown attached and honestly, I don’t respond well to orders. During her absence a shady character who was opening a new hostel on the windward side had been trying to recruit me to come help him build his place. She gave me the ultimatum about the dog and I resigned and moved to the new hostel “Countryside Cabins” in Punalu’u.
Punalu’u was AWESOME. We built this amazing country Hawaiian hostel where our guests regularly decided to skip their flights home and stay longer. We had bonfires every night, we had an outdoor kitchen we cooked communal meals in every night, we integrated with the local Hawaiian community and they taught us how to cook in an imu, spearfish, hunt pigs, catch prawns, and much more. It was like a Hawaiian dream. Then it became a little like ‘The Beach’. The owner was older and single and all of us young guys were regularly hooking up with our guests and he wasn’t. He started drinking more, getting sort of abusive to the staff, and frankly, being a dick. People stopped staying longer. It was unpleasant. Some of the locals had developed some heavy ice habits (smoking meth) and there were a couple of scary incidents. The owner kept driving away our guests and then when I took issue with it – he drove me away. We’d made a gentleman’s agreement – I would come, help him build, recruit a staff, and set up tours and activities. I would be paid a salary and the tour revenue would be mine. He renegged. When I complained he said “What are you going to do? You have a dog and you don’t have anywhere to go?”
I gave my dog to a local guy who liked him and I put my things in a storage locker at Kailua Mini Storage. Then I bought a ticket to Kauai where I hiked out the 22 mile trail to Kalalau where I set up a camp in the jungle and stayed in solitude for a couple of weeks before I met some of the other outlaws out there and began to take part in the Spiritual Pizza parties, pakalolo sharing, and heavenly communal living in the valley.
When I finally hiked out of Kalalau, I was in love with Kauai. I got a job at the Blue Lagoon Hostel in Kapa’a and then got hired as a kayak river guide at Paradise Kayaks. I bought a VW van and lived on the beach in Kapa’a next to the Kayak shop. For the next two years, I was a river guide – then I fell for a flight attendant and went to Portland where I published Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond before coming back to my senses and returning to Kauai. After that I took a trip to the Philippines and when I returned I decided to live in Kailua on Oahu and write a novel. I bought another van (I’d sold the one on Kauai) and wrote my first novel, Slackville Road. When the book was finished I was ready to do something else. I got a job as a tour guide and limo driver and rented a studio in Kailua. It was one of the best places I’ve ever lived. I began blogging and creating an online used bookstore and everything empire. I was the Chairman of the Fukn Bored and CEO of Fukn Books, Fukn Records, and Fukn Clothing. I met an amazing woman, we fell in love, we got engaged, and she went to Africa to help the people of Sierra Leone. Then we mutually fucked everything up. For the next couple of years we tried to fix things but were unable. We lived in Lanikai and then on the Punchbowl. Finally, I enrolled at University of Hawaii and rented a studio in Manoa. Our relationship never recovered – which is a pretty huge bummer. She was one of the most awesome people I’ve ever known – and today, we’re not even in contact. I miss her friendship.
Anyway, I did my best to make myself important but school took all of my energy and the Fukn Empire began to fall apart. I put my energy in becoming the managing editor of Ka Leo, the University of Hawaii student newspaper, the president of the Honor Student Organization, an Osher Scholar, the President of the UH Sierra Club Chapter, and a dozen other things. I made student films, wrote an undergrad thesis, and graduated with honors. That was December of 2008 and the economy was fucked. So I gathered what money I could, sold all of my possessions, and decided to take trains across the USA and then go travel the world – that’s when Vagobond.com was born.
Kapa’a is a small town on the East side of the island of Kauai. It’s beautiful and not really a big tourist destination – at least it wasn’t when I lived there, mainly because there were few hotels there. The population is about 10,000 today – to the south is the Wailua River and the once famous Wailua Beach – home to the destroyed Coco Palms Hotel that was devastated by the 1992 Hurricane Iniki. The Coco Palms was where Elvis loved to stay in Hawaii, many movies were made there. Frank Sinatra stayed there too. The Wailua River is a popular kayaking destination. There are waterfalls, a Hindu Temple, some surprisingly tasty restaurants, and large empty stretches of beach nearby.
Honolulu, Hawaii is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.
Over the past year, I’ve written a large number of posts that detail the different neighborhoods, cities and towns of Honolulu – which includes the entire island of Oahu. I have not included the outer islands that are part of Honolulu City and County which stretch all the way up to Midway Island but not including it (or Johnston Atoll). Thousands of uninhabited little islands, atolls, reefs, etc are included but since they have no people, they have no neighborhoods. This post is an attempt to share all of those neighborhood articles in a bit of an orderly way. My purpose in writing these articles has been so that I can share more than just the names when I write about places, activities, attractions, restaurants, or beaches on Oahu.
Neighborhoods in ‘Town’ include those places formally inside the metro city limits. East Honolulu goes from Diamond Head to Koko Head. Windward Side stretches from Waimanalo up to Kahuku on the east side of Oahu. North Shore is from Kuhuku to Mokuleia. Leeward is the ‘West Side’ and goes from Yokohama Bay down to Ko’olina. Central Oahu includes areas from Ko’olina to Salt Lake and all the towns upwards to Wahiawa in the center of Oahu between the two mountain ranges of Ko’olau and Waianae.
I’ve combined some areas that made sense to me and have yet to write about some neighborhoods like Chinatown, Ala Moana, Black Point, Portlock, Kalihi, Moili’ili, Waipio, Barber’s Point, Nu’uanu and the many many many Military Bases and Housing Complexes on the Island.
There are three little communities on the Windward Side of Oahu that I love. None of them will take you more than a minute or two to drive through and chances are that you won’t get out of your car or spend any time in them. I’m okay with that, and probably most of the people who live in these communities are okay with that.
Kahalu’u means diving place. All told there are about 2300 people in Kahalu’u. Most of them are Chinese and Hawaiian descent people. This was an area where many Canton Chinese settled in the mid 1800s. The most famous resident was probably Senator Hiram Fong. He was the first Asian American to be a U.S. Senator, the first to run for his party’s nomination for President of the USA, and to date, the only Republican Senator to ever come from Hawaii. I used to take people to Senator Fong’s Plantation in the early 2000s – he died at 97 in 2004. It was always a pleasure to chat with the Senator in his gardens. The plantation continued for about a decade as a fine tourist attraction for about a decade after his death but is now is well past its prime. I’m not even sure it is open to the public anymore but I’ve heard that you can book private walking tours there. Another couple of fun stops in Kahalu’u are the Sunshine Arts Gallery and the many Orchid greenhouses. Like Senator Fong’s Plantation though – these attractions now feel neglected and dated. There used to be one of the very few food trucks in Kahalu’u – Surf Tacos – but that and Mike’s Huli Chicken are both gone now. FDR made a stop in Kahalu’u back in the 1930s.
Driving North from Kahalu’u you will go by the Coral Kingdom, a strange and high priced tourist shop that from my perspective, doesn’t offer much. You should stop at the Macadamia Nut Farm, Chinaman’s Hat, and Kualoa Ranch.
Past the Kualoa Ranch, you will come into sweet little Ka’a’awa. K’a’a’awa means Wrasse. About 1,379 people live in Ka’a’awa. Nicholas Cage’s character gets stuck there in the movie ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’. You can bet some pretty decent Southern BBQ at Uncle Bobo’s restaurant. I love the beaches in Ka’a’awa. They are narrow strips on the ocean side of the road but rarely crowded and usually the people there are local people fishing, swiming, and talking story. On the North Side of Ka’a’awa you will find the popular Crouching Lion hike behind the now being refurbished Crouching Lion Inn.
Past Ka’a’awa you reach one of the most important places on Oahu – Kahana Valley and Kahana Bay. I’ll save that for another post. Coming around Kahana Bay you will see the red and white of Keneke’s Restaurant and that means you are in Punalu’u.
Punalu’u means ‘coral dived for’. It is home to about 881 people – and is where some of the oldest inhabitation remains found on Oahu are located. Ching’s Market and Kaya’s Market are the only two stores. These are windward everything stores and carry everything residents might need including food, fishing supplies, hardware, and 5-toed reef shoes called tabies. The Kawananakoa Beach House is located here – it was the summer home of the Kawanakoa Family (heirs to the Hawaiian throne). I lived in Punalu’u back in 2002. I managed and helped build a hostel called Countryside Cabins – it was an amazing period in my life and I learned much of what I love about Hawaii from the residents in Punalu’u who taught me about aloha, the Hawaiian way of life, and local Oahu culture. Punalu’u has fallen on some fairly hard times these days. The cabins fell into disrepair when I left and eventually folded. You will find the first of the shrimp trucks near the market’s in Punalu’u.
While very few of these places I’ve mentioned will ever make it to anyone’s Top 10 of Oahu – that is probably a good thing because Punalu’u, Kahalu’u, and Ka’a’awa all remain truly authentic places. You can’t get them by stopping for a few minutes and you won’t find hotels in any of them.