Locally known as the “Second City” of Oahu, Kapolei is a quaint community on the island’s Leeward Coast, roughly 25 miles (40 km) to the west of Honolulu. Offering a striking contrast to the hustle and bustle of Honolulu’s tourist hub of Waikiki, Kapolei is much less developed, made mostly of quiet residential areas and a small commercial center with shopping, dining, and entertainment. On the south end of the coast, Ko Olina is the city’s resort district, home to a handful of upscale resorts, family-friendly activities, and beautiful lagoons. To the north, off-the-beaten-path beaches make prime spots for snorkeling and surfing, while a number of forest reserves give locals and visitors plenty of ways to explore the rural landscape of the dry and sunny region.
Areas & Neighborhoods in Kapolei
Downtown — Centered around Kalaeloa and Kamokila boulevards, the commercial hub of Kapolei is where you’ll find a cluster of complexes housing local merchants, big-box retailers, and variety of eateries from casual burger chains to hole-in-the-wall sushi spots. Within 20 minutes to the east and the south, golf enthusiasts can reach no less than 8 championship courses set against a verdant backdrop of the Waianae Mountains. The area is also home to kid-friendly attractions including the Fun Factory amusement center and the 29-acre Wet’n’Wild water park.
Ko Olina — Just 10 minutes to the west of downtown, Ko Olina is Kapolei’s premier resort destination, with a high-end hotels, a championship golf course, and a full-service marina catering to fishermen and sailors. Running along the postcard-worthy coastline, 4 gorgeous lagoons give visitors the perfect place to swim, snorkel, and bodyboard in the calm, clear water. Shoppers can get their fix at Ko Olina Station, while foodies can find everything from pizza and tacos to juicy Hawaiian barbecue. Of the area’s attractions, a perennial favorite is the Paradise Cove Luau, a long-running show given the title of Hawaii’s Best Luau by Star Advertiser numerous years in a row.
Barbers Point Beach Park — On the southwest tip of the island, roughly 15 minutes from Ko Olina, Barbers Point is a small sandy beach with a rocky waterline and a view of the 19th-century lighthouse. Come here to enjoy a picnic in the park or take in a traditional performance and buffet at Germaine’s Luau.
Kahe Beach Park — Directly to the north of Ko Olina, Kahe Beach is a picturesque area that’s popular for its snorkeling—in fact, it’s considered one of the best spots on the entire island. Clear, warm water from a nearby power plant draws a wide array of marine life, including sea turtles, spinner dolphins, and perhaps the largest variety of fish around Oahu.
Kalaniana’ole Beach Park — Just about about 2 miles (3 km) north of Kahe, Kalaniana’ole Beach is a wide pocket of warm sand running roughly 500 feet (152 m) along the water. While swimming and kayaking are popular here in the summer, be careful as high surf and strong currents can make them dangerous in the winter. From the south end of the beach, you can take a walk across jagged lava rock to get to the Tunnels, a hidden gem that’s only recommended for the extremely adventurous. A deep descent into an open hole will bring you into a breathtaking cave filled with otherworldly blue water. Doing so should only ever be during low tide and calm water, as the caves fill with the swell of the tide and quickly become dangerous. Getting out of the caves requires that you lift your own bodyweight back out through the opening, so anyone who enters must be very physically fit.
Pokai Bay Beach Park — About a half-hour drive north of Ko Olina, Pokai Bay Beach is a calm destination protected by breakwater, making it popular among families, swimmers, and beginning surfers. Just a block from the beach on Farrington Highway, find a shop for renting kayaks and paddleboards, along with a small selection of eateries where you can grab a bite in the afternoon. Nearby, at Waianae Harbor, boats can be chartered for snorkeling, dolphin watching, or sportfishing.
Makaha Beach Park — Two-thirds of the way up the Leeward Coast, Makaha Beach boasts the best surfing on the west side of Oahu, though it’s typically still uncrowded thanks to it being largely unknown to tourists. Conditions are great for swimming and bodyboarding the summer, while strong currents in the winter are meant for experienced surfers only. If you’re looking for even more outdoor adventure, the nearby Makua Kea’au and Waianae Kai forest reserves have trails for hiking and biking as well as sites for camping.
Yokohama Bay — Located just before the highway ends and turns into a trail, Yokohama Bay is the northernmost beach on the west coast of Oahu. Remote, undeveloped, and never crowded, the beach is where surf-loving locals go to find thrilling whitewater waves, though rocks and a strong current make it dangerous for beginners. At the north end of the beach, the highway becomes a hiking trail, leading 2.5 miles (4 km) up to scenic Kaena Point.
What to See in Kapolei
Rent a car for an unforgettable drive up the coast, gazing out upon views of white-sand beaches, blue lagoons, lush mountains, and the last few traces of once-standing sugarcane plantations. From Kapolei, the drive takes less than an hour to reach the end of the highway at Yokohama Bay, where you can park your car and set off on a moderate hike up the rest of the coast. Along the way, enjoy stunning scenery of boulder beaches to your left, towering cliffs to your right, and a small pair of blowholes midway through the trail. When you eventually reach the tip of Kaena Point, you’re met with jaw-dropping views of dramatic lava coastline and the powerful Pacific Ocean crashing on the rocks. Take time to bask in Oahu’s beauty and visit the bird sanctuary in the park before making the hike back down the trail.
Sightseeing in Kapolei
Take advantage of all the natural wonder that Oahu has to offer on a guided snorkeling cruise along the Leeward Coast. Aboard a luxury catamaran, set sail for an afternoon that brings you close to silly sea turtles, colorful coral, and schools of tropical fish. If you choose, pair your adventure with a chance to see majestic dolphins in their natural habitat. With a certified NOAA Dolphin SMART provider, you’re guaranteed to catch sight of the graceful mammals or set sail a second for free.
If staying on dry land is more your speed, hop on the back of a friendly horse for a ride through the scenery of the Ohikilolo Valley. With the warm sun on your back and a knowledgeable guide to lead the way, learn about the rich history and legends of the alluring region as you explore the spectacular surroundings of forest, beach, and sea.
Of course, a trip to Oahu isn’t complete without a traditional luau. Make your way to Paradise Cove in Ko Olina for an incredible performance that you’ll never forget. Your experience begins when you’re greeted onto the grounds with a fresh flower lei. Next, take time to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture as you learn to make your own lei, test your hand at spear throwing, and try out other age-old arts and skills of the islands. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, watch while the savory pig is dug up from the underground oven where it’s been cooking for hours. Dig into a feast of pork paired with classics such as macaroni salad, lomi lomi salmon, and ripe tropical fruit. As you dine and the sun sets over the Pacific, marvel at a phenomenal performance of elegant hula, rhythm drumming, and the mesmerizing feats of fire dancers.
Can’t decide what you want to do in Oahu? Well, thankfully, you don’t have to. With the Go Oahu Card, get discounted admission to attractions in Kapolei as well as other cities across the entire island. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, or the USS Arizona Memorial. For adventure seekers, you can enjoy everything from hiking and biking to scuba diving and snorkeling—all for a fraction of the original price. And for those looking to check out Oahu’s shopping and dining options, the card grants special deals at retailers and restaurants from big-name stores to local merchants.