8 We Tried: We Search for the Best Public Swimming Pool on O‘ahu
From Wahiawā to Kāne‘ohe, from the hidden to the new, we searched O‘ahu for the best public pool.
Photos: Martha Cheng
Every year we seek out the best food, shopping, services and more for our Best of Honolulu feature. Here are some of the top contenders for Best Public Pool—find out who won in here! Available on newsstands in July, or purchase the issue at shop.honolulumagazine.com. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.
The Wahiawā pool is the city and county of Honolulu’s first recreational swimming pool, opened in 1949. It was built with donations from veterans and the community and is dedicated to the 21 men from Wahiawā who died in World War II. This pool is 25 yards long, 6 lanes wide, and up to 10 feet deep. It’s adjacent to another pool, just 3 feet deep, where, on the morning we visit, the lifeguard relegates all the kids after determining they can’t actually swim.
1139-A Kīlani Ave., Wahiawā, (808) 621-0857
“All the pools in the city are hidden, you gotta really look for them,” says a lifeguard. But the Kapāolono pool, in full view of Diamond Head, feels especially tucked away. One of the regulars hangs out in a corner, moving his legs, and then talks to the lifeguards for an hour. This pool is 25 yards long, 5 lanes wide, up to 5 feet deep.
701 11th Ave., (808) 733-7369
The Kalihi public pool is right behind the fire and police station. It shares a parking lot with the cop cars. The lifeguards say it still takes the police 6 minutes to get there when they call them though—mostly for fights in the nearby park. “Do you get a lot of trouble at the pool itself?” “Yeah. Kids running.” The Kalihi pool is 50 meters by 25 yards, and goes to a depth of about 5 feet.
1911 Kamehameha IV Road, (808) 832-7814
The Mānoa pool is a funny one (although, truthfully, all the pools are a little quirky). It’s 50 meters long and up to 12 feet deep—all the makings of a competition level pool. But it’s an odd width: 19 yards. Every lifeguard has a theory, some of them obviously wrong: One lifeguard speculates it’s because the community didn’t want swim meets and the noise they bring, so the pool was purposely built narrow. But plenty of swim meets have been held here, and there are bleachers. Another lifeguard speculates they just measured it wrong. Because of the depth and location in Mānoa Valley, this pool runs cold.
2721 Ka‘aipū Ave., (808) 988-6868
A rooftop public pool! The elevated McCully pool is built above a parking lot. On the sidewalk, you could pass right by the structure and not know about half a million liters (go metric system!) of chlorinated water is suspended above you. This pool is 25 yards long, 20 yards wide and up to 6 feet deep.
831 Pumehana St., (808) 973-7268
When normal trades blow and funnel through the valley, there’s a current in a pool—going against you when swimming mauka and going with you when swimming makai. Even in our controlled spaces, we can’t control everything. This pool is 50 meters long, 25 yards wide and up to 5 feet deep.
2007 Pālolo Ave., (808) 733-7362
The Kāne‘ohe pool is 50 meters long, 25 feet wide and up to 13 feet deep. The rumor is it was supposed to be 14 feet deep, the regulation depth for diving (it used to have a diving board), but the pool builders had leftover material and threw it in the deep end. Despite this, it’s a popular pool. In the summertime, it gets “cutthroat,” says a lifeguard, with people waiting for lanes to free up.
45-660 Kea‘ahala Road, Kāne‘ohe, (808) 233-7311
VMAC, or the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Waipi‘o, is O‘ahu’s newest public pool—it opened on Veterans Day in 2005. It’s the only public pool with diving boards (1 meter and 3 meters). They even have diving classes for adults. There are usually open swims at night here, but birds supposedly destroyed the wires to the lights, so night swims are postponed indefinitely. Near the entrance to the pool is a list of all the people who have completed channel swims, including the Kaiwi (from Moloka‘i to O‘ahu, 28 miles) and the ‘Alenuihāhā (Hawai‘i to Maui 30 miles). According to the lead lifeguard here, “we decided to post it up to show what you can do.” This the biggest and deepest public pool, at 50 meters by 25 meters, with a depth starting at 8 feet all the way down to 13 feet.
94-801 Kamehameha Highway, Waipahu, (808) 677-8510