When epic Lanikai Beach on Oahu was recently top-rated by Dr. Beach, who said, “With its breathtaking scenery and serene atmosphere, Lanikai Beach is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii and is a must-visit destination for any traveler to the island,” he get the entire picture.
While spectacular in many ways, we would say “serene atmosphere” is a bit of a stretch. The most relaxed times we’ve had there are visiting friends who live in the neighborhood fronting Lanikai. We have a place to park in their driveway and a code to open the gate to a private beach path. But that’s the exception; we are usually stuck trying to find parking and dealing with incessant crowds and understandably less than happy residents.
A love and hate relationship with Lanikai Beach.
Lanikai Beach is a place we return to in spite of over-tourism. Yes, there is friction between Hawaii visitors and Lanikai residents. There’s an undless flow of visitors who want to enjoy this world-renowned beach and all its incumbent activities like ocean sports, hiking, sunbathing, and more.
Residents have taken measures to prevent visitors from parking on streets, and some of these measures aren’t technically legal. We’ve seen plantings, rocks, and various no-parking signage along narrow streets to create areas where visitors cannot park. Not to be outdone, visitors have been known to remove such parking obstacles put in their way.
The situation with area residents has long been over-strained in an unending situation that has been bad for countless years, which got far worse with the revenge travel rage that followed Covid. The problem is more than aesthetic and makes it near impossible for residents to come and go, and even, at times, has prevented first responders from gaining access to Lanikai due to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Lanikai is a pristine white sand beach viewing the iconic Mokulua Islands.
Situated in this small residential community on Oahu’s windward side, it lacks typical beach park amenities you’d expect including public restrooms and parking lots. Law enforcement frequently monitors the area, which results in abundant parking citations and tows due to ongoing parking issues that have persisted for decades.
Lanikai, also renowned for the Lanikai Pillbox Trail, is showcased to a fault on Instagram.
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail, also called the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, is renowned for its spectacular panoramas, including Lanikai Beach, Kailua, and the nearby off-shore Mokulua Islands. At sunrise, the “pillboxes” offer great photo ops and at times a huge influx of people. The pillboxes for which the trail was named were WWII military bunkers that were prior observation points.
The hike is moderately challenging, with a steep incline in parts. Those visiting need suitable footwear (yes, we have witnessed people hiking in flip flops), water, sun protection, and appropriate fitness for the hike that typically takes up to one hour.
To limit congestion, the state is considering a reservation system and shuttle transportation, similar to what has been done on Kauai to access Haena State Park and the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
The trail can be reached from several points in Lanikai. It is 1.6 miles round-trip, with a vertical incline of 613 feet.
Getting to Lanikai Beach:
Lanikai is found about 45 minutes by car from Waikiki via the H-1 freeway, connecting to the Pali Highway or the Kalanianaole Highway along Oahu’s southeast coast.
Parking at Lanikai Beach:
Parking is almost always a challenge. While there is street parking, it is hard to find, even more so on weekends. Our best suggestion is to park along Mokulua Drive.
Another option is to park at Kailua Beach (also crowded) and walk to Lanikai Beach on foot.
Getting onto the beach:
As with all beaches in Hawaii, Lanikai Beach is public. Access is via walkways or paths between homes along the beach.
Lanikai Beach amenities:
Lanikai lacks traditional beach amenities, including restrooms and showers. There are limited shady areas, and it can get very hot. Restrooms, showers, and other facilities closest to Lanikai are found at Kailua Beach Park, one mile away. Kailua Town also offers stores, restaurants, and more.
Lanikai Beach Activities:
The typically clear and calm water is excellent for snorkeling and swimming. But remember, there is no lifeguard. The picturesque Mokulua Islands off-shore are accessible for kayaking. You can both rent kayaks and take kayak tours of the area that includes the Mokulua Islands. Search online for companies offering these.
How to reach Lanikai Beach.
Lanikia is on the Windward Side of Oahu in the community of Kailua. It’s 40 minutes on average from Waikiki. For the best chance of parking, arrive before 8 am and avoid visiting on weekends and holidays.