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Kailua and Lanikai Beach: Things to do on Oahu, Hawaii

Stephanie loves to travel. She has written numerous articles with tips, photographs, and information on places to visit.

Kailua, Hawaii - a Quieter Side of Oahu

We visited the island of Oahu, Hawaii for gymnastics competitions in January 2013. During our 10-day stay, we rented a studio apartment in Kailua on the windward side of the island, and then stayed with relatives in Honolulu for the second part of the trip.

My kids and I preferred staying in Kailua during our trip, even though there is not as much nightlife as in Honolulu (or maybe because of that fact). The area was beautiful, relaxed and easy to get around. Gorgoues beaches thrilled us with surfing and snorkeling opportunities and we even spotted sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean.

Kailua is said to be slightly more rainy than Honolulu on the leeward side. Yet, during our visit, rainfall was pretty even on both sides of the island. The great thing about Oahu is that it takes at most an hour to reach the opposite side of the mountains and a potential change of weather. You could also head toward the North Shore (also about an hour away) and enjoy the Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley, and some other amazing beaches.

Among our favorite places to visit were: (1) Kailua Beach Park; (2) Lanikai Beach; (3) Buzz's Restaurant and (4) Island Snow Hawaii for shave ice!

Kailua, Hawaii on the Island of Oahu

Kailua, Hawaii on the Island of Oahu

What to Expect in Kailua, Hawaii

Kailua is a town on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii. It is approximately 12 miles from Honolulu via the Pali Highway (Highway 61) from H-1, over the mountains separating it from the leeward side of the island. Depending on traffic, plan on 30-45 minutes of travel time. Note that there are some steep, curvy roads and plenty of state patrol officers to make sure you stay at the 45 MPH speed limit. Take your time and enjoy the views!

Unlike the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Kailua better exemplifies "Hawaii Time" for which the islands are so famous. There are a few decent restaurants, as well as the usual franchises you'll find in many American cities and towns (Starbucks, Jamba Juice, McDonald's, Subway). A shopping mall featuring Macy's, a theater and bowling ally is also downtown Kailua. The Whole Foods grocery store is one of the best and healthiest around, according to tourists and locals. You can also find plentiful service stations and other local amenities including small grocers, swimsuit shops and more.

Hugging the eastern shoreline of Oahu, as you drive through Kailua, you'll see many people - both tourists and natives - strolling the streets in flip flops (called slippers in Hawaii), riding bicycles, carrying surfboards and walking dogs.

Its hard not to relax when you are in Kailua!

Beautiful Lanikai Beach near Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii

Beautiful Lanikai Beach near Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii

Kailua Beach, Oahu

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Lanikai Beach is one of the consistently rated best beaches in the United States. It is a mere 5-10 minutes from Kailua Beach Park and the main part of the town.

The word Lanikai means "heavenly sea," and trust me - that is what you will find when you visit. The ocean waters are a comfortable 70-75 degrees F, which seems just about right for cooling off from the humid warm weather. Even in January, the air temperatures were in the upper 70s to low 80s. You will need sunscreen no matter when you visit.

Lanikai Beach is blessed with fine, white, soft sand. Perfect for a stroll, or for burying your feet while relaxing on a beach towel. The waters are a combination of amazing shades of blue and green and generally calm, which makes for perfect snorkeling conditions. Gentle breezes help keep you cool when the sun is shining.

Tourists and locals alike flock to this beach year round. When we visited, we saw two weddings in a single day. Just be advised that you are parking in a neighborhood. Pay close attention to signs and make sure that you leave plenty of room in the bicycle lane. Although parking is "free," we managed to get parking tickets (cost $30 each) both days we visited Lanikai Beach!

Two important tips: (1) there are no public restrooms at Lanikai; and (2) no lifeguards on duty. Plan accordingly!

Visit Lanikai Beach, Oahu

Lanikai Beach, Oahu

Kailua Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii

When visiting Kailua, you may find parking is tight at Lanikai Beach. But a great alternative to reaching the beaches on this side of Oahu is found in a visit to Kailua Beach Park. Among several amenities not found at Lanikai are: (1) bathrooms; (2) showers to rinse off sand; (3) lifeguards and (4) large, free parking lots.

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Kailua Beach Park is located about 1/2 mile from the city downtown. There are large grassy fields to enjoy, ample parking in several free lots, and paved pathways for walkers. It is so accessible, you'll find people of all ages enjoying the park.

The sandy beach is not as wide as at Lanikai, and there are generally more people present at Kailua Beach Park. But its accessibility makes it a popular beach on the windward side of Oahu. Within easy walking distance of the park are two of our favorite stops - great for the entire family.

For lunch or dinner - try Buzz's Restaurant. It is right across the street from Kailua Beach Park. Indoor and outdoor seating. Lunches are approximately $8-25 for adults; dinners range from $12-50 per entrée. The cocktails are wonderful! Our favorite was the BFRD (Big F*^# Rum Drink) - made with more mixer than the regular Mai Tai, its tasty and easy to sip! By the way, its one of President Obama's favorite restaurants when he's in Hawaii!

Don't forget to enjoy some famous shave ice in Hawaii. No more than 1/4 mile from the beach park is Island Snow Shave Ice. We're not talking about snocones. Nope. These treats are amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom, over 30 flavors of syrups and additional toppings, as well. Word has it that the President Obama and his family frequent this stop, as well.

Kailua Beach Park and Surrounding Attractions

Kailua Beach Park

Lovely, Low-Key Kailua, Hawaii

As much as we enjoyed attractions and entertainment in Honolulu, I have to say that Kailua offers the type of Hawaiian vacation we were seeking. Beautiful, easy-going, and completely relaxing.

The beaches on the windward side of Oahu are simply breathtaking. With fewer people than you'll find on Waikiki, and no direct access to the beaches from populated restaurants and bars, this is a more family-friendly place to visit on the island. Snorkeling, surfing, swimming and beach walking are all so peaceful with the smaller crowds.

Even if you don't stay in Kailua on your next visit to Hawaii, make sure you set aside a day to visit its amazing beaches and enjoy its low-key atmosphere.

Oahu, Hawaii Guidebook

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Stephanie Marshall


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 05, 2013:

Hi CarNoobz,

Yes, that sand got everywhere! A triathlon at Lanikai? Sign me up!

I agree that Kailua is like Santa Barbara! I was just there in November. Great comparison.

Appreciate your comment/votes. Have a great day, Aloha!

CarNoobz from USA on February 04, 2013:


Lanikai is probably the most beautiful beach I've ever seen, with that powdery white sand (it's annoying to wash off, but beautiful to look at).

I did my first -- and last -- triathlon there a few years back. I'd have to lose like a MILLION pounds to ever attempt that again though.

And my wife and I love going to Kailua too. It actually reminds us of the Mainland. I always feel like I'm in Santa Barbara when we go there lol. (some awesome places to eat in Kailua, though).

Voted up, Steph. ALOHA

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 01, 2013:


Your trip to Oahu, Hawaii sounds great. It would be great for you and your family to spend some more relaxing time at Kailua in the future. Cheers to you, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 01, 2013:

Hi Melovy,

I'd love to visit Paris, no matter what time of year. Of course, tropical vacations are pretty nice. All the best to you, Steph

Danette Watt from Illinois on February 01, 2013:

My husband, younger son and I went to Oahu in Oct 2009 (?) to visit our older son who was due to deploy to Iraq the following month. We were very lucky to be able to spend most of our 10 days on a small AF base with the beach just a 1 minute walk away. I loved it there and would love to go back.

You're right, the Kailua side (where my son lived) is very different from the bustling Honolulu side. Nice hub, voted up

Yvonne Spence from UK on February 01, 2013:

Oh wow, I'd love to go there! We made do with wet and cold Paris in January, but I'd swap with you any time. This a lovely guide to somewhere that looks so beautiful. Maybe one day…

Dianna Mendez on January 30, 2013:

I love your photos and I can just imagine how much fun it is to walk these sandy beaches and play in the surf. Thanks for sharing your experience of this beautiful island.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 30, 2013:

OK - good! I'll take it. :-)

Nell Rose from England on January 30, 2013:

Don't feel guilty they are lovely to read and look at, its so much better than looking at the rain out of the window! lol! thanks

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 30, 2013:

LOL Nell - I kind of feel guilty publishing these Hawaii hubs. Then again, its nice to use the information and photographs while its still fresh.

Best to you, Steph

Nell Rose from England on January 30, 2013:

I am so jealous! lol! seriously, what a beautiful place to vacation, wish I was there!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 30, 2013:

Hi Gypsy Rose,

I feel very blessed having had the opportunity to visit all these great places on Oahu. I love nature and beaches too. Great places to enjoy my photography hobby. All the best, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 30, 2013:

Hi Natasha - its much more my pace in Kailua. We preferred spending most of our time there, with excursions into Honolulu on occasion. Pretty nice place! :-) Cheers, Steph

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 30, 2013:

Voted up and interesting. Really beautiful. Loved the photos and all those places sound great. I love nature and beaches. Fantastic videos. Passing this on.

Natasha from Hawaii on January 30, 2013:

Kailua is a beautiful place. You're right, the night life pretty much consists of...just about nothing. The Cold Stone is open kinda late, I guess, and the Whole Foods is really nice. I don't like going out, though, so it's perfect for me.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 29, 2013:

Hi GoodLady,

Yes, it is a nice virtual vacation with the photos and videos from Kailua and Lanikai beach. I cannot wait for longer days and warmer weather. Although Tuscany is a pretty nice location - love it there!

Cheers to you, Steph

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on January 29, 2013:

It's felt like being on holiday and I watched the videos! How beautiful. It's cold and wintry here but i feel like i spent a whole week on the beach! Thanks.

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