Hidden Hawai‘i: Kahala and Portlock Beaches

O‘ahu is lined with beaches, and as long as you are within the highest wash of the waves, they’re all public property. In this series, we visit some less-busy spots you might not know about, each with something fun to offer.
PHotos: Christine Hitt


Kaalawai Beach


In Kahala, a short road called Kulamanu Place ends in a few concrete steps leading down to Kaalawai Beach. The narrow strip of sand makes the beach feel secluded and small, separated from the neighborhood by rock walls and bushes. It’s perfect when you just need a quick break in the sun, but not great for swimming—the best part is following the walls around the point to just below Doris Duke’s estate, Shangri La.


The area, which used to be a dock for Duke’s husband’s yacht, is nicknamed Cromwell’s after him and provides a jump-off into clear water with a sandy bottom. Tons of crabs scuttle along the rocks, which flatten out to a good spot to put up a tent and have a barbecue. There is also snorkeling and surfing beyond the reef.


Number of people we saw: 1 walking back to her car

Parking: Lots of street parking on Kulamanu Street


Kahala Avenue Beach Access

The Elepaio Street access point (above) led to the ocean with no beach (below).


On the eastern side of Black Point, there are various access points along Kahala Avenue, however we do not recommend the ones at the end of Elepaio Street and Kala Place for sunbathing.



The Kala Place access point off Kahala Avenue is located to the right of twin lion statues (you'll know it when you see it) and offers a small beach to use (below), if you don't mind the lack of space. We saw one person here with her dog.



Further down Kahala Avenue, you'll have better luck with "Mother's" beach at the end of Hunakai Street (below). Its entrance is right in the middle of two derelict properties, including Gensiro Kawamoto's on the right.



And, at the end of Koloa Street, you'll find another beach that leads to that fabled “long walk on the beach” mentioned in every dating profile, along with glimpses into the most expensive homes on the island. It’s a peaceful stretch, but good for dogs, too, since the water is neither deep nor rough.


Total number of people we saw at Kahala beaches: 6 adults, two kids.

Parking: Lots of street parking on Kahala Avenue


Portlock Road Beach Access


Portlock, another wealthy community, is so expensive in part because of its prime location on the water. Similar to the Kahala stretch, the beaches here are shallow and directly in front of mansions. The area itself isn’t crowded, though not exactly private, either: It feels like you’re sunbathing in someone else’s backyard. Go ahead, soak up that rich-and-famous lifestyle. Plus, the unobstructed view of Diamond Head is even better at sunset with SUPers gliding by, and you don’t have to fight over parking down the road at Maunalua Bay to see it.


Access points along Portlock Road are at the ends of lanes owned by property owners, but since the beaches are public, the community intends to let beachgoers pass through. We only recommend visiting the sandiest stretch that is between 240 and 280 Portlock Road.


Number of people we saw: 2 girls lying on the beach, and a couple with their two dogs.

Parking: Lots of street parking on Portlock Road


At the end of Hanapepe Place, you'll find Koko Kai Beach Park, also called China Walls. There is no beach here, and we don't recommend that you jump in, but you will find the occasional sunbather on the rocks.



Number of people we saw: 1 male catching some sun, and 1 adult exploring with two kids.

Parking: Lots of street parking on Hanapepe Loop