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Honolulu: Beaches

updated February 21, 2017

SEE Sans Souci Beach
Between New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel (2863 Kalakaua Ave.) and Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, Waikiki Beach
Nicknamed Dig Me Beach for all the hardbodies on display, its literal French translation is "without a care." Preening Adonises parade along the beach, while out in the water, long-distance swimmers, outrigger paddlers, and triathletes train. Great swimming year-round.

PLAY Gray's Beach
In front of the Halekulani hotel, 2199 Kalia Rd., Waikiki Beach
Find it by following the walkway alongside the Halekulani. There are two surf breaks offshore: Paradise and Threes. The narrow beach can disappear at high tide. Fun for swimming and people watching; gear rentals available.

PLAY Queen's Surf
Enter across from Kapiolani Park, Waikiki Beach, 808/923-1094
Open-air screenings of free movies (both new releases and classics) each weekend. Arrive just before sunset with a towel or beach chair; dinner is sold on site. Call for a schedule.

PLAY Kuhio Beach Park
From the Waikiki Beach Center (corner of Kalakaua and Uluniu Aves.) to Kapahulu Ave.
The protected cove is kid-friendly, and the nearby Waikiki Beach Center offers restrooms, showers, lockers, and equipment rentals. Further west, in front of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, you can ride the surf in an outrigger canoe (Aloha Beach Desk, 808/922-3111; $10 for 25 minutes). Canoe's, a nearby shore break, is the one of the best beginner surf spots.

PLAY Ala Moana Beach Park
Across from the Ala Moana Center (1450 Ala Moana Blvd.)
After Waikiki, this huge beach park is Honolulu's most popular; weekend family picnics near the barbecue pits give it a local feel. The protective reef creates a lagoon perfect for doing laps.

PLAY Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
7455 Kalanianaole Hwy., southeast of Honolulu
The reefs of this underwater volcano crater teem with tropical fish, making it a hotspot for snorkeling. One of the country's most beautiful beaches, Hanauma is always packed. To beat the crowds, go early in the morning or in the late afternoon. Rent snorkeling gear at the educational center. No smoking. Closed Tues. Entry fee $5, parking $1.


Kailua Beach
Enter along Kawailoa Rd., between Lihiwai Rd. and Aalapapa Dr., Kailua
Windsurfing is Kailua's big draw, but this two-mile long beach also has great swimming and sunbathing. Just southeast is Lanikai Beach (access from Mokulua Dr.), where you can paddle out to the tiny Mokulua Islands, home to bird sanctuaries. Rent from Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks (130 Kailua Rd., 808/262-2555, kailuasailboards.com; $39 for half-day single kayak rental, $49 for half-day double; guided tours from $89).

The North Shore
During its October-to-April epic swells, when waves easily reach 20 feet or more, surfers from all corners congregate at Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the notorious Banzai Pipeline. Contests allow enthusiasts to grab a free, safe seat in the sand and watch the pros rip, get barreled, and wipe out. (Swimmers need not despair-there are plenty of summer days when waves are flat and waders rule.) Prime snorkeling in the non-winter months can be found at Shark's Cove in Pupukea, a good alternative to popular Hanauma Bay. One of the Shore's largest towns is Haleiwa, a hippie holdover marked by some surf shops, a few battered shacks, and an occasional handwritten sign (mango pickles for sale). In the back of Celestial Natural Foods lies Paradise Found, a vegetarian café with a local following (66-443 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-4540). The landmark Matsumoto's Shave Ice specializes in a version of what mainlanders call snow cones (66-087 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-4827). There's a staggering selection of mix-and-match bikinis at North Shore Swimwear (66-250 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-7000) and gear of all sorts at Surf N Sea (62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-9887, surfnsea.com).

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