The beaches near Kailua, O‘ahu each have their own big draw; one is the place to go for fun in the water, another for excellent kayaking, and still another for finding your own small stretch of sand. Whenever you seek solitude, however, be prepared to go without the convenience of park facilities and easy accessibility.
Kailua Beach Park
This ocean activity hub of the windward coast offers everything—swimming, bodyboarding, kitesurfing, sailboarding, stand-up paddling, and kayaking. Kailua Beach Park at the south end of Kailua marks the start of the world-famous Kailua Beach, composed of fine grains of white sand and stretching 2.5 miles up the coast in a gentle arc. The water is shallow and often calm, perfect for families and swimming, but there can be small shore-breaking waves along parts of the beach.
Because the ocean floor is sand, ditch the snorkel mask and fins and get into a kayak. There are outfitters within walking distance to the beach and along Ka‘elepulu Stream. Popoi‘a Island, better known as Flat Island, is a quick paddle offshore. There is also a boat ramp where residents launch their watercraft. Locals tend to gravitate to the small beach on the south side of the boat ramp, where they can park their trucks and anchor just off the beach.
Kailua Beach Park has restrooms, showers, and three free parking lots that fill to maximum capacity nearly every day. The park is clean with manicured landscaping, a walking path, and beautiful canopy trees. There is also a restaurant and market right across the street. Weekends are always more crowded than weekdays, but summer weekends see the crowds swell in both the park and along the beach. Police adamantly ticket illegally parked vehicles.
To get to Kailua Beach Park from Honolulu, the Pali Highway turns into Kalanianaole Highway, which becomes Kailua Road. From Waimanalo, turn right onto Kailua Road from Kalanianaole Highway. Continue straight on Kuulei Road as Kailua Road veers right and into Kailua’s shopping district. Follow Kuulei Road until it dead-ends at South Kalaheo Avenue. Turn right, then make a left at Kailua Road to access the first parking lot, or continue on Kalaheo Avenue and over the bridge as the road turns into Kawailoa Road. The next parking lot is on the left, just on the south side of the stream. At the stop sign, take a left onto Alala Road; the third parking lot is on the left side of the boat ramp. All three lots border Kailua Beach Park and are closed 10pm-5am daily. The restrooms are locked until 6am.
Lanikai Beach fronts the affluent and quaint Lanikai neighborhood. The aesthetics of Lanikai Beach are the same as Kailua, except Lanikai Beach gets narrower as you head south, until it disappears altogether and a seawall and million-dollar homes take its place.
The draw at Lanikai Beach, apart from the great swimming and calm, turquoise water, is the Mokulua Islets. A trip to “The Moks,” as they are locally referred to, is the quintessential kayak destination on O‘ahu. You can take a tour or paddle the 0.75 mile solo to the islands. Most people land on Moku Nui, the larger and more northerly of the two islets. It has a small beach that offers a postcard perfect view of the mainland and the Ko‘olau Mountains, a perspective most visitors will never attain. There is also a trail to the back of the island. It is against the law to deviate from the trail, as the island is also home to nesting seabirds. Parking for Lanikai Beach is on the street through the neighborhood. There are no sidewalks, so be mindful of residents’ landscaping and driveways. There are several public beach access walkways in between the homes, which are obvious and well signed.
On the western shore of Moku Nui, the larger and more northern of the Mokulua Islands, is a small beach, the perfect respite after making the kayak crossing from Kailua or Lanikai. Once here, you’ll find an amazing view of the leeward coast from a unique vantage point. The water is clear and blue, and the vibe on the beach is often festive. You can spot the burrows of the island’s nesting sea birds from the white sand beach. Moku Nui is a bird sanctuary, so public access is limited to the beach and a narrow footpath that circles the island. Paddling across via kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or other watercraft is the only way to access the beach. There are no facilities here.
Kalama Beach Park
At the north end of Kailua Beach is a wooded park with a soft, manicured lawn, showers, and restrooms: Kalama Beach Park. The beach here is slightly less crowded than at Kailua Beach Park, and at Kalama Beach Park you’ll avoid many of the kitesurfers and kayakers. Walk either way up or down the beach from the beach park to nab your own swath of sand and surf. From Kuulei Road, turn left onto North Kalaheo Avenue. You’ll see the small parking lot for the beach park on the right where parking is free. The gate gets locked 6pm-7am daily. If it’s full or if you’re planning on staying after hours, street parking in the neighborhoods is the next option.