Get a real feel for Hawaii’s local surf/beach scene at Makaha Beach Park. This park is well off the beaten touristy path, and it’s a significant drive–about an hour or more with traffic–from Waikiki. But it’s worth it for the pristine sand and water and the calm, relaxed atmosphere.
Makaha Beach is located on Oahu’s west side, known locally as the Waianae or Leeward Coast. This side of the island offers a stark contrast to Waikiki; here you’ll see cactus and century plants dotting the landscape. The scrub trees (called kiawe) and short, scrubby grasses might make you feel more like you’re in New Mexico than Hawaii, but the startlingly blue waters and glistening waves don’t have a match anywhere else.
Makaha Beach Park abuts a long, narrow valley that was home to ancient Hawaiian people. You’ll find public restrooms (in questionable states of cleanliness, like all other public beach parks on Oahu), outdoor showers for rinsing off post-swim, and a lifeguard. Makaha Beach Park does have a dedicated parking lot. The lot, along with showers and bathrooms, is located across the street from the beach itself. Many beachgoers just park on the side of the road on the beach side; a wide shoulder allows ample space for pull-in parking at the northern end of the beach.
During the summer months, Makaha Beach is relatively calm, with swells of 2-4 feet. It’s a popular spot for SCUBA diving and snorkeling during the summer. But like Oahu’s famous north shore, this part of the island gets buffeted by big waves when the winter swells roll in. December-February boasts some of the biggest, most challenging surfing waves on the island, and one of the island’s most popular big wave surf tournaments happens here annually.
If you visit during the winter, don’t plan on entering the water unless you have fins, a board, and ample experience in big waves. During the summertime, although the water is much more approachable, rip currents and undertows are real risks. It’s a good idea to talk to the lifeguard about what to expect before you jump in.
Parents with kids should also be aware that the water gets deep (for kiddos) rather quickly. You can always check HawaiiBeachSafety.com for recently-updated surf conditions before you make the drive out.
-Makaha Beach Park is a great place to drive out for unobstructed sunset views over the Pacific waters. Try to arrive half an hour before sunset and stay half an hour after to fully appreciate the colors.
-You’ll find an array of hole-in-the-wall restaurants on the Waianae Coast; make a day of it and stop for shave ice and dinner while you’re on the west side!
-For an even more complete West Side experience, drive all the way up to Kaena Point for a 2.5-mile hike up to the island’s most pronounced tip. On this hike, you might get to see endangered nesting seabirds like the albatross and pacific golden plover, Hawaiian monk seals, and green sea turtles.