Bustling Honolulu Harbor stretches along much of Honolulu’s coastline, and only a few beaches fall within its borders. Not to mention, the beach parks in Honolulu are more park than actual sandy beach. The beach parks draw big crowds all summer long when there’s surf along the south shore, while the weekends seem to be crowded all year long. The city beaches and parks are also the stomping grounds of many of Honolulu’s pervasive homeless population.
Ala Moana Beaches
Magic Island is an artificially constructed peninsula that creates the western flank of the Ala Wai Canal and Small Boat Harbor. This grassy park with shade trees, walking paths, restrooms, and outdoor showers also includes a tranquil keiki beach at the end of the point. It’s blocked from the waves by towering rock jetties and framed in all around by beach, making it a perfect place for the kids to play and swim safely. The jetties are constructed so that fresh ocean water can flow in and out of the lagoon without creating currents or waves. During the summer months, a wave known as Bomburas breaks beyond the jetty at the end of the point.
There is ample parking, but it does fill up during the summer and on weekends when people turn out en masse with barbecue grills and tents to take advantage of the beautiful weather. To get to Magic Island, turn onto Ala Moana Park Drive from Ala Moana Boulevard where it intersects Atkinson Drive. After you pass the first right bend in the road, the parking lot is on the left, and it’s free. The lot and park are closed 10pm-4am daily.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Connected to Magic Island, but on the west side of the peninsula, is Ala Moana Beach Park. Ala Moana Beach is a 4,000-foot-long, rather straight strip of sand falling into an artificial channel that runs along the entire beach. Buoys demarcate a swimming lane and one for stand-up paddling. Across the channel is a very shallow reef that stretches way out to the waves washing up on the sharp coral. There are many surf breaks along the outer reef, all the way across the beach park. A rectangular park, with busy Ala Moana Boulevard on one side and the beach on the other, has a tide-fed stream meandering through it with a pond at each end. There are many shade trees, lots of picnic tables and barbecue areas, facilities, a snack bar, tennis courts, a community center, and lots of parking along Ala Moana Park Drive, which intersects Ala Moana Boulevard at both ends of the park. Parking can get crazy during the summer when the surf is up and on the weekends when the park is packed with families. Be sure you don’t use one of the designated lifeguard parking spots. Parking is free, but the park is closed 10pm-4am daily.
Sand Island Beaches
Sand Island State Recreation Area
Wedged between the Honolulu International Airport’s reef runway and Honolulu Harbor is Sand Island. The expansive, but aesthetically challenged Sand Island State Recreation Area (808/832-3781, sunrise-sunset daily) is on its south shore. There is a camping area, park, picnic areas, restrooms and outdoor showers, and a steep sandy beach that stretches from the island’s western point, nearly to the harbor channel entrance. Since the beach and park are in an industrial zone and the park is littered with bits of rubbish, paradise isn’t the first thing that comes to mind here. Planes zoom overhead on a regular basis. The large, rectangular sand trappers exposed on both ends of the beach could be a safety hazard for small children. Still, there are a few decent surf breaks off the beach if you’re looking to get away from the crowds at Ala Moana Beach, and the area is popular with local families on the weekends. To get to the beach, turn onto Sand Island Access Road from North Nimitz Highway and follow this to the end. Parking is free. The gated parking lot is locked when the recreation area is closed.