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Soak in the sun on Oahu, Hawaii's top 10 beaches
Tourists from around the world flock to see Waikiki Beach when they visit Hawaii. But Southern Californians usually aren't impressed by its sandy shore. Compared with SoCal beaches, it's a loser. Too narrow, too noisy and so crowded that people who venture into its waters emerge coated with the suntan oil that washed off other swimmers. But there's more to Oahu than the beach at Waikiki: rocky inlets with tide pools and great snorkeling; wide, uncrowded shorelines with calm waters; big-wave beaches where you can watch surfers tame giant crests. Here we profile 10 top beaches beyond Waikiki and Honolulu.
1. HANAUMA BAY NATURE PRESERVE
The draw: This curved bay east of Waikiki is postcard-beautiful. Tall palms wave gently in the breeze, turquoise waters beckon to swimmers and snorkelers, colorful tropical fish dart back and forth along the reef. Unfortunately, it is so beautiful that it almost perished under the crush of tourism. Now designated Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, the beach has strict regulations that limit visitors and also educate them about safeguarding the fragile marine life in the bay. You'll need to arrive early; the parking lot closes when it fills up. You'll pay a parking fee of $1, an entry fee of $5 for those older than 13, and you'll be required to watch a nine-minute film about the reef before you're allowed to enter the water.
Details: Snorkeling equipment, changing rooms and lockers available. From Honolulu, take H-1 east; H-1 turns into Kalanianaole Highway (Hawaii 72). More info: (808) 396-4229, www.hanaumabayhawaii.org.
2. HALONA BLOWHOLE
The draw: Some people call it Halona Cove, others Here to Eternity Beach. It's the sandy shoreline made famous by the hot kissing scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the 1953 film. You'll have to climb down a rocky cliff to get to the pretty, usually uncrowded beach. But the water can be rough and dangerous. Spend time at the highway overlook above (it will be closed for renovation from mid-April until September, so park at Sandy Beach instead). You may see turtles in the bay; you'll also see the Halona Blowhole, where wave action causes compressed water to shoot high into the air.
Details: No services. The turnout overlooking Halona Bay is just past the entrance to Hanauma Bay.
3. KAILUA BAY
The draw: Kailua's 2 1/2 -mile-long, powdery beach on the windward (eastern) side of Oahu offers excellent swimming and kayaking, but you can just take a stroll and watch windsurfers zip around . Or head southeast to Lanikai Beach, which locals say is one of the best swimming beaches in Hawaii. Located in an upscale residential area, it's hard to find. But its waters are shielded by an offshore reef. And twin bird sanctuary islands, about a mile off shore, add relief to the horizon.
Details: Kailua has facilities; Lanikai does not. To reach them from Waikiki, take H-1 to the Pali Highway (Hawaii 61) to Kailua Road. Follow Kailua to the state beach; Lanikai is just past it. Park and walk along the access pathways to the beach.
4. LAIE BEACH PARK
The draw: This pretty, unmarked beach is worth a stop if you're visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center. Called Pounders by locals, it offers bodysurfers good waves when the surf is up (that's how it got its nickname). Or walk north past the old pier pilings to a sheltered area that's often so calm it has been called Bathtub Beach.
Details: No restrooms, but there's a sand shower and picnic tables. Take the Kahekili Highway (Hawaii 83) and follow it for 21 1/2 miles. (The Kahekili joins the Kamehameha Highway.) Laie Beach Park is just north of Haula Kai shopping center.
5. TURTLE BAY
The draw: The tony Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore charges $400 or more during the summer for its ocean-view rooms, but you can enjoy the view for free. Why? Beaches in Hawaii are open to the public. This beach is small but sweet; a reef keeps the waters calm, and a grassy area offers shade and a nice place to sit. If you get hungry, have lunch at the resort's Ola Cafe.
Details: Take H-1 west to H-2 north to Wahiawa. Follow signs to Haleiwa on the Kamehameha Highway, then continue north to Turtle Bay Resort. Follow the public access signs into the main parking lot. Ask the gate guard for a parking pass to visit the beach.
6. SUNSET BEACH PARK
The draw: This long, curving stretch of sand and sea is rimmed by palms and ironwood trees, giving it a wonderful South Seas feel. In summer and early fall, it often has clear, calm waters that are great for swimming and snorkeling and tide pools that are fun to explore. In winter, watch out: Sunset often has 15- to 20-foot waves and becomes a great place to watch surfers.
Details: Lifeguards, restrooms, showers and parking. Follow Turtle Bay directions.
7. PUPUKEA BEACH PARK
The draw: This park has two great areas, Sharks Cove and Three Tables Beach. Tiny Sharks Cove is for snorkelers and divers. Rocks and a craggy reef make entering the water a little dicey for beginners, but they give fish plenty of places to hide. Next door is Three Tables, named for three flat volcanic platforms. It has good snorkeling and a small area to swim.
Details: Nearby parking, but no facilities. Follow directions for Turtle Bay. Three Tables is unmarked, but it is where Kapuhi Street meets Kamehameha Highway, just north of Waimea.
8. WAIMEA BAY BEACH PARK
The draw: Everyone's heard of Waimea, where monster waves draw some of the world's best surfers in winter. So if you're in Oahu then, spend a few hours watching the greats slide down giant waves. What happens in the summer? Hey, it's flat. In fact, when it's calm enough, there's good snorkeling here. Or, watch cliff divers jumping from a large rock at the shoreline.
Details: Full facilities and lifeguards. Follow directions for Turtle Bay.
9. YOKOHAMA BAY
The draw: This is the end of the road on the northwestern coast of Oahu. Yokohama, also called Keawaula Bay, is another beach with a split personality, calm in summer and ferocious in winter. The coastline park has more than 800 wild acres of empty beaches, sand dunes, cliffs and turquoise water.
Details: Lifeguard and restrooms. Take H-1 west to Farrington Highway (Hawaii 93) north to Yokohama Bay.
10. MAKAHA BEACH PARK
The draw: This leeward shore beach is another of Oahu's famed surf breaks with good swimming in summer and big waves in winter.
Details: Full facilities and lifeguard. The northwestern coast is where many of the island's poorest residents live. Homeless camps are prevalent, and beach visitors are warned not to leave valuables in the car or unattended at the beach. Take the H-1 to the end, where it turns into Hawaii 93. Makaha Beach Park is at the end of route.