Sunrise on Oahu | 6 Must-See Oahu Beaches & Hikes Before First Light
There are few places in the world that offer such captivating sunrises like Oahu. With a diverse topography that spans coastline and mountain ridges, catching the sunrise on Oahu could mean stepping onto cold sand at a beach in Kailua at dark, or racing to the top of one of the many hikes on Oahu with a flashlight before the first morning light. In some places, the beach is a mere steps from your favorite sunrise hike so it only makes sense to do both!
If you read my related blog about the best places to watch a sunset on Oahu then you'll know I'm Team Sunset. I'm fortunate to get a daily dose of semi-sunrises over the Ko'olaus from my house in Honolulu and I just prefer take as few steps as possible before my morning coffee which keeps me seated at home. An Oahu sunrise definitely sets the tone but not without being colored by the underlying angst of the day ahead. Sunsets on Oahu, on the other hand, see me viewing the evening sun through rose colored glasses as the day is behind me, my mind is clear, and I can hit the pause button for a moment to take in one of the best parts about living in Hawaii.
6 Must-See Oahu Beaches & Hikes Before First Light
There are many beautiful places to watch sunrises on Oahu. We would recommend hitting all of them at some point but if you're not not sure where to start, it would be wise to consider whether you want your sunrise with a side of leisure or adventure. Read on for our 6 picks on where to watch a sunset in Oahu as well as a Vibe Report to make sure the spot matches your morning energy!
To see the second best sunrise on Oahu, stop your car along the side of the Kalanianaole Highway, between Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo, or take a quick stroll up the Makapuu lighthouse trail; one of the best sunrise hikes on Oahu is along the paved path to the lighthouse, which is a relatively simple morning climb. Enjoy the imposing cliffs, the swaying grass, the distant Honolulu islands, and the vast ocean as the sun emerges from the horizon and the day begins to take shape. Unlike some of the other options we've mentioned, there's plenty of parking at the base of the hike.
Vibes: spirited | Parking: easy | Breakfast nearby: Moane Cafe
As one of Oahu's most stunning beaches, Kailua is also the location of some of Hawaii's most expensive real estate in Hawaii. It boasts breathtaking views of the Mokulua Islands and is situated in Kailua on the windward side of the island. The beach is an excellent place for swimming and snorkeling; it's got a fun little shorebreak bump for body surfing and boogie boarding as well. Kailua Beach is HUGE with many beach accesses so you won't have to fret about finding a quiet space to spread out. Parking isn't too bad.
There's a parking lot at Kalama Beach Park but if that fills up, just park down any of the lanes in the neighborhood. You'll walk about a block to the beach from there. You'll need to park in an open spot in the neighborhood; just be sure not to park in front of a driveway. At the end of one of the many beach accesses you'll find powdery white sand and shallow turquoise waters. Spread out your blanket, enjoy the early-morning rays, and if you're looking to spice things up a bit, take out a standup paddleboard before the wind picks up.
Vibes: relaxed, elegant | Parking: difficult | Breakfast nearby: Cinnamon's
Sandy Beach is located past Hanauma Bay and around the bend from Hawaii Kai. Enjoy the amazing experience of seeing the sunrise as it rises over the cliffs, tide pools, and crashing waves. Sandy Beach's waves are strong and are renowned among surfers for inflicting spine injuries, so don't be fooled by the beach's beautiful sand and clear seas. Keep yourself safe while admiring the courageous surfers and stunning colors.
Vibes: dynamic, energetic | Parking: easy | Breakfast nearby: Island Brew Hawaii Kai
Grab your hiking shoes, water, and a headlamp if you're up for some exercise before the sun rises. Catch your breath and the top and get ready for an incredible view of East Oahu as you watch the sun splash its bright hues over the waters of Hawaii. Koko Head Trail climbs 1,048 steps made of old railroad ties to reach the World War II bunker at the top.
Here you'll find some of Hawaii most ambitious sunrise seekers, not to mention the fittest, as Koko Head is one of the most oxygen demanding hikes on Oahu. This Oahu sunrise will likely be the most gratifying as none of the other spots breed quite the same sense of accomplishment at the top!
Vibes: adventurous, gratifying | Parking: easy | Breakfast nearby: Koa Pancake House Hawaii Kai
Kualoa Beach Park is located on the Windward side of Oahu, past Kaneohe and around a few curves. This will likely be the most unihabitated sunrise you'll experience on Oahu as the region is far more rural than most of Oahu, not to mention one of the most tropical! This is why Kualoa Ranch was chosen as one of the shot locations for the Jurassic Park movie years. ago. Throw a blanket down under one of the famous palm trees, look out at the island known as Chinaman's Hat. Even better, you can get a campsite and spend the night there while listening to the waves. On this nearly unexplored region of Oahu, wake up to the brilliant colors and picture-perfect scenes.
Vibes: relaxed, tranquil | Parking: easy | Breakfast Nearby: Kaneohe Pancake House
Lanikai Pillbox Trail offers a spectacular, direct view of the sunrise over the Mokulua twin islands (the "Mokes") rising out of the clear Pacific waters. You'll find be the first to catch morning sun here by ascending the short, sometimes steep path to the Lanikai Pillboxes in Kailua. Since the route is crowded throughout the day, grab your headlamp and leave early.
The first "pillbox," is a World War II bunker about 30 minutes in and the second pillbox is just another 15 minutes along a more level part of the hike. You will enjoy a panoramic view of the Lanikai neighborhood below that spans from the Kaneohe on your left and Waimanalo on your right. This one is special because once you come down, you're 2 blocks away from Lanikai Beach! Put your bathing suit on under your clothes and be ready to strip down and cool off in the soft morning light.
Vibes: adventurous, inspirational | Parking: difficult, uninspiring | Breakfast Nearby: Sunrise Shack Kailua