Laniakea Beach is Oahu’s most well-known location for turtle spotting. I’ve been coming to this North Shore beach for years and always recommend Lani’s to friends and family who are visiting Oahu. Make sure to take a close look at the “rocks” on the beach since basking turtles often blend right in!
The honu (Hawaiian word for “turtle”) have been visiting Laniakea for decades. The first recording of basking turtles took place in 1999! The turtles continue coming back to this beach because there’s always an abundance bright green limu (or seagrass, one of their favorite snacks) on the rocky shelf.
The word Laniakea translates to “wide sky” in ‘Ōlelo Hawaii, and while perfect to describe this scenic stretch of sand, the story of how this beach got its name has nothing to do with the meaning! A crew of surfers, including Pat Curren, Buzzy Trent, Peter Van Dyke, Fred Van Dyke, George Downing, and Wally Froiseth, came upon this unnamed surf site in the 1950s along with surfing’s first film producer, Bud Browne. While looking for a spot to film the surfers, Bud noticed a sign on the side of a nearby house with the word “Laniakea” on it. When the group was trying to think of a name to call this now-famous surf spot, Bud suggested “Laniakea”.
Laniakea Beach is located along the Kamehameha Highway on the North Shore of Oahu. There are no signs indicating where the beach is and no official address, but you can find directions using GPS apps like Google Maps. Pohaku Loa Way is the street that runs through the neighborhood next to Laniakea Beach. The easiest entry point onto the sand is right near where Pohaku Loa Way meets the Kam Hwy.
Parking is free, but there is no official lot. You can park on the mauka side of the single-track Kam Highway opposite the ocean. You’ll then walk across the street to access the beach. Use extreme caution when crossing – there are no crosswalks so you will either have to watch for a gap in traffic or rely on cars stopping to let you go. This causes a lot of backed up traffic on the Kam during the day, especially on weekends in the afternoon.
When to go:
Hours: The beach is open 24/7, so you can stop by any time! I’ve heard the best time to see turtles is from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, but I’ve seen them up on the sand as early as 5:30 am. There’s also a chance you’ll see them around sunset. Like with all of Hawaii’s marine life, any encounter is up to chance. If you happen to be driving by, have a passenger lookout for groups of people crowded in the same spot on the sand – this is usually a good sign that there’s a turtle nearby.
Seasons: I’ve seen turtles here during every season, including winter when larger waves draw surfers to this beach. I’ve read there is a slightly better chance of seeing turtles in the summer when the water is much calmer, but there have been turtle sightings here every month of the year in past years.
Laniakea Beach is not the best beach for swimming. It is really rocky and there are sharp sea urchins in the water. Always check the ocean conditions before entering the water at any beach! View the surf report »
I have seen people snorkeling here, but I personally don’t recommend this because it can be dangerous for both humans and turtles. If you do decide to swim or snorkel here, it is probably safest to stay in the cove all the way to the right side of the beach (facing the ocean). Be extremely careful not to touch or bump into any turtles. Hawaii state law requires you give them at least 10 feet of space at all times!
Help protect Hawaii's Honu!
You may see turtles regurgitate water when they haul up onto the sand. If the water is a reddish color, no need to worry like I did the first time I saw it! Turtles take in a lot of seawater while they’re eating, which gets mixed up with the red-colored limu and creates some concerning looking spit-up. It’s bizarre, but completely normal!
Over a half-million people come to Laniakea Beach each year to witness Hawaii’s turtles basking and swimming. This puts the turtles in jeopardy of being harassed or even hurt by unthinking humans. Make sure you always give turtles at least 10 feet of space and never touch them. You’ll probably notice some volunteers on the beach that dedicate their time to protecting the honu and educating people about their protection. They may even be able to tell you the name and history of the specific turtle you have the chance to meet! Learn more about their essential efforts at malamahonu.com »
My Most Memorable Laniakea Experience!
One of my favorite experiences on Laniakea Beach took place January 2021. I had stopped in the late afternoon to take a stroll on the beach. No turtles were on the sand at the time, so I decided to sit down in the warm sand and stare out at the ocean hoping to catch a little turtle head pop up to take a breath. As I was packing up to leave, a turtle started hauling up out of the water right in front of me! I quickly grabbed my camera and started recording while simultaneously scooting further back onto the sand to keep my distance.
It was just the two of us for a little while until the sound of my camera shutter gave the turtle’s presence away. It started to drizzle, but I decided to stay just a little longer to keep watching this magnificent little guy do its thing. A few minutes, later the sun came back out, revealing a double rainbow right over the ocean. I thought I was hallucinating because it was all too beautiful to be real!
Shortly after, a volunteer came over to rope off the area to ensure anyone who came to see the turtle would keep at least 10 feet away. Those of us nearby helped set up the red rope and patiently waited as the volunteer flipped through a binder full of plastic-covered pages containing unique details used to identify each turtle.
When the volunteer realized which turtle it was, she told us she decided to become a volunteer when she saw this very turtle in the same spot years ago!
Feeling blissed out grateful, I decided it was time to give up my front-row spot and begin the short, sandy walk back to the beach entrance. I turned my head to take one last look at the turtle, utterly oblivious to the scraggly lava rock sticking out of the sand in front of me. Nothing snaps you back to reality like kicking a sharp rock, face planting in front of a dozen people, and having to hobble off a beach with two broken toes. I guess the universe decided I had had enough luck that day!!
This video makes me think the turtle was politely trying to not to photobomb the shot of the rainbow lol
More to do and see on Oahu’s North Shore: