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Beaches on Oahu's insider take:

The most famous beach on Oahu (and possibly in the world), Honolulu's Waikiki Beach lives up to the hype. Though the sections in front of major hotels can get crowded, the scene—a mix of local bathing beauties, Japanese surfers, and pink-roasted visitors—is endlessly entertaining. The surf breaks are far from shore, so there's plenty of gentle water for swimming. And the options for pre- and post-beach drinks, dining, and shopping are numerous. Also in Honolulu, Ala Moana Beach Park's wide stretch of sand, protected swimming area, and ample parking draw families with young children and coolers.

Body-boarders dominate at Sandy Beach, on Oahu's southeastern coast (locals call it "Sandys"), where the pounding shore break makes for gnarly rides. Beginners or casual boogie-boarders should definitely find another spot; reportedly, more injuries occur here than at Pipeline. The beach and adjacent lawn are plenty spacious enough for spectators, though (as well as the occasional landing hang glider). Bring a beach umbrella: There's almost no shade here.

Idyllic, half-mile-long Lanikai Beach, in Kailua, fronts a suburb of multimillion-dollar homes on the shore. Though it's the island's prettiest beach, you'll have to park on the road and walk between the houses to get to it. This is completely kosher—all beaches are public in Hawaii—but there are no facilities of any kind.

The North Shore's Sunset Beach, clearly visible from Kamehameha Highway, has a split personality. Between May and September, it's a family-friendly sunning and swimming beach with a bit of rough shore break; but in October/November and March/April, it morphs into a premier surf spot with killer waves. During these hairy periods, the surf has been known to sweep unattended towels, beach bags, and even beach-walking tourists out to sea.

At the very end of the road on Oahu's west coast, legendary Yokohama Bay is well worth the drive. Its remoteness keeps the crowds away; the only people you'll likely see here are west-side locals. These residents get a bit of a bad rap for being unfriendly, but if you're respectful you won't have any problems with them. Do, however, keep an eye out for strong currents and undertow when you're swimming or boarding.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.