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Soaking Up the Sun: My Favorite Beaches in Oahu

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Puaena Point Beach in Oahu's North Shore (Photo: Michelle Rae)

When it comes to gorgeous beaches, the Pacific archipelago and youngest state wins. In Hawaii, you're pretty much at the mercy of the irresistible pull of the ocean. This I can attest to, having spent a week exploring Oahu to ring in the New Year.

Like every island in Hawaii, Oahu is like a patchwork of beaches - all gorgeous, all accessible to the public (no private beaches here), all completely enticing. Still, no two beaches are alike, and I've come to love some more than others.

Here are, in my humble opinion, seven of the best beaches in the island of Oahu.

Hanauma Bay

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Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)

The clear blue-green water of Hanauma Bay is home to a vast coral reef that shelters over 400 species of fish as well as some Green sea turtles. At $7.50 per person plus the cost of parking and snorkel sets (if you don't own them), you can spend all day snorkeling in this volcano-formed conservation area, making it a cheap yet memorable snorkeling experience. What's more, a large part of the bay is shallow, so it's perfect for the not so strong swimmers.

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Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)

The occasional Jellyfish or Portuguese man o' war will sometimes stray into the bay, so keep an eye out and be careful. And don't stand on the coral reefs - how would you feel if someone walked all over your apartment?

Ko Olina Lagoon

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Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa at Ko Olina Lagoon (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Ko Olina Lagoon (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It's hard not to love everything Disney has created, so naturally I had to check out the Aulani Resort, nestled in the resort area of Ko'Olina about 30 minutes west of Honolulu. Unsurprisingly, the resort was wonderful - the rooms nice, the pools lovely and the spa incredible; but some of my best experiences were at the lagoon. Semi-protected, its tranquil water is great for families with kids, beginner paddle boarders (my son mastered paddle boarding within minutes) and young snorkelers. At the beach, beach chairs and umbrellas are readily available for convenience.

Aweoweo Beach

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Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Turtles at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Looking for turtles in Oahu's legendary North Shore? While Laniakea and Haleiwa are more famous, I prefer the lesser-known Aweoweo Beach, especially for turtle sightings. This stretch of sand in Waialua is not just beautiful, it's also less crowded, quiet and mostly tourist-free - this means you're less likely to deal with people more interested in taking selfies with the turtles than actually living the moment.

Please stay at least 6 feet from the turtles. They're not there for your amusement.

Pupukea Beach

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Sharks Cove at Pupukea Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Sharks Cove at Pupukea Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Also in the North Shore across the street from a roadside gathering of food trucks (another must-stop while in Oahu) is Pupukea Beach. It's home to Sharks Cove, which stays relatively uncrowded what with nearby Waimea Bay drawing most of the traffic, where you can snorkel in relatively calm waters. The marine life isn't as diverse as in Hanauma Bay, but it's free and the water is warm and shallow.

Grab some garlic shrimp, tender brisket and shaved ice to go from the food trucks across the street, and find a nice, quiet spot at the beach. Don't forget your flippers if you're snorkeling, Sharks Cove is pretty rocky.

Puaena Point Beach

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Puaena Point Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Surfers at Puaena Point Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Show off your beach bod and rub elbows with surfers and model-types at Haleiwa Beach's neighboring Puaena Point Beach. Thanks to its great yet small waves, this is where newbie surfers go to learn the craft and practice. But you don't have to be a surfer to enjoy this spot; sometimes it's enough to just stay on solid ground and watch all the action.

Puaena Point Beach has some pretty stunning photo opportunities too, so bring a camera and snap a few.

Waikiki Beach

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Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Yes, it's extremely touristy. But there's a good reason why people flock to Waikiki. Actually, there are a few. It's easily accessible, first of all, so if you're staying in or near Honolulu's main tourist strip - Kalakaua Ave - a day at the beach is just a few minutes' walk away from your hotel. Second, it's got some great waves for surfing as well as a semi-protected area (Kuhio Beach Park) for shallow waters. And third, it has some of the best sunsets in Honolulu. Pack a picnic, head out in the afternoon and stay to enjoy the setting sun.

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Diamond Head from my Park Shore Waikiki hotel room balcony (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Stay at Park Shore Waikiki across the street from Kuhio Beach Park. The family-friendly hotel not only provides complimentary use of beach towels and beach chairs, it also boasts guest rooms with a stunning, unobstructed view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.

Lanikai Beach

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Lanikai Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It's one of Oahu's most popular beaches, which means that it can get pretty crowded, but Lanikai is still one of our favorite swimming spots in Oahu. We cannot get enough of its calm, shallow waters and soft, fine sand, both of which make up for the fact that finding a parking spot can be a pain. While this is far from being a surfing spot, it's perfect for paddle boarding or simply floating around on a swim tube.