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Kailua is a beautiful beach town located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Known for its world-famous white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and laidback vibes, Kailua attracts over 2 million visitors each year.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Kailua is on the windward (eastern) side of the island of Oahu, about 30 minutes drive northeast of Honolulu and Waikiki along the Kamehameha Highway.

Geography and Location of Kailua

The town of Kailua lies along the eastern coastline of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, nestled between the verdant Ko’olau mountain range and the sparkling blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Known for its consistently warm tropical climate, talcum-soft white sand beaches, and laidback island lifestyle, Kailua enjoys a breathtaking natural setting unlike anywhere else in Hawaii.

On the Windward Side of Oahu

Geographically speaking, Kailua occupies a prime spot on Oahu’s windward (meaning wind-facing) side, which experiences frequent cooling trade winds blowing in off the ocean. As a result, Kailua boasts less extreme heat and humidity compared to the leeward side of the island, where the state capital of Honolulu and popular Waikiki Beach are situated.

The lush green Ko’olau Mountains provide a photogenic backdrop to Kailua Beach’s famous stretch of powdery soft sand. The nearly 4-mile long shoreline curves gently inward to form the eastern rim of scenic Kailua Bay.

Just offshore lies the wildlife-rich Flat Island coral reef, attracting sea turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, and even occasional whales during winter months.

Bordering Kailua Bay and the Pacific Ocean

Spanning over 2.5 miles of coastline, the shorefront along Kailua Bay offers prime beachfront real estate for luxury homes, rental cottages, and oceanfront resorts like The Cliffs at Kailua. Public beach parks like Kailua Beach Park and Kalama Beach Park allow free access for swimming, standup paddleboarding, kitesurfing, or simply sunbathing on the beach.

During peak tourist seasons, the fine white sand and turquoise waters attract over 2.1 million annual visitors to Kailua Beach, making it one of Oahu’s most popular beach destinations after the world-famous Waikiki Beach.

However, the expansive shoreline is wide enough to find peaceful spots away from crowds.

Northeast of Honolulu and Waikiki

The small beach town of Kailua lies nearly 12 miles up the coast from the densely developed capital city of Honolulu. As the closest white sand beach to Waikiki, Kailua serves as a convenient day or weekend trip destination for Waikiki visitors seeking laidback beach vibes away from the tourist scene.

Driving from Waikiki to Kailua along the H-3 freeway/Interstate H-201 takes approximately 30-45 minutes depending on traffic conditions. Visitors can also take public transportation via TheBus routes 56 or 57 from the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu, which takes just over an hour each way.

Alternatively, commercial shuttles like Roberts Hawaii Express Shuttle offer direct rides between Waikiki hotels and Kailua Beach for easier access to explore Oahu’s scenic windward side without a rental car.

Accessing Kailua

Driving from Honolulu and Waikiki

Kailua is located about 30 minutes northeast of downtown Honolulu and Waikiki by car when traffic conditions are favorable. To drive to Kailua from Waikiki, take H-1 eastbound towards Kaneohe and follow the signs for the Pali Highway (Hwy. 61) once through the Pali Tunnel.

This scenic route winds its way up the Ko’olau mountain range before descending into the town of Kailua.

The normal drive time from Waikiki to Kailua is 30-45 minutes depending on traffic, which can get quite heavy during rush hours on weekdays. Give yourself extra time to account for traffic or possible slowdowns if you plan to drive to Kailua from Honolulu or Waikiki.

Taking Public Transportation

While most visitors rent cars to explore O’ahu, there are some public bus options to get from Honolulu and Waikiki over to Kailua as well:

  • TheBus Routes 56 and 57 run between Kaneohe, Kailua, Waimanalo and Honolulu. The full trip takes around an hour each way.
  • TheBus Route 70 is an express bus from Kaneohe to Ala Moana Center, with select trips stopping in Kailua. This can be a quicker option than Routes 56/57.

So it is possible to reach Kailua using Oahu’s public transportation, but the travel times are longer compared to driving. Visitors should plan for up to 90 minutes travel time each way. Getting around Kailua itself is easier with a rental car to reach key attractions and view scenic areas at your own pace.

Famous Beaches and Attractions in Kailua

Kailua Beach Park

Stretching over 2.5 miles of powdery white sand and sparkling turquoise waters, Kailua Beach Park is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii and even the world. Its calm waters and steady trade winds create ideal conditions for water sports like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and windsurfing.

The beach park has volleyball courts, bathrooms, outdoor showers, and picnic tables. Lifeguards are on duty daily. An estimated 2.5 million visitors enjoy Kailua Beach Park every year.

Lanikai Beach

Next to Kailua Beach Park lies the famous Lanikai Beach, which is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world with its powdery white sand and bright turquoise waters. Though swimming can be tricky due to strong currents, Lanikai is perfect for simply relaxing on the sand and taking in the postcard-worthy views of the Mokulua Islands (also known as the Mokes).

The beach’s parking lots fill up quickly on weekends. If you can’t find parking, consider walking or biking in along the 1.5-mile loop trail from Kailua Beach Park.

Kawainui Marsh and Oneawa Hills Hike

At over 900 acres, Kawainui Marsh is Oahu’s largest wetland and an important habitat for native waterbirds and plants. The marsh has a rich history, once being used for aquaculture by ancient Hawaiians.

Adjacent to the marsh is the Oneawa Hills Hike, a moderate 2.5-mile loop trail offering panoramic views of Kaneohe Bay, Chinaman’s Hat Island, and the Koolau Mountain Range. The trail takes you through grasslands, shaded forests, and even an old Hawaiian village site.

Whether you’re interested in nature, history, or scenery, Kawainui Marsh and the Oneawa Hills Hike lets you experience the best of Windward Oahu’s natural beauty in one place.

Accommodations and Dining

Hotels and Vacation Rentals

Kailua offers a wide variety of accommodations from hotels to private vacation rentals. Some popular options include:

  • The Kahala Hotel & Resort – This luxurious oceanfront resort features fine dining, a world-class spa, and stunning views of Kailua Beach. Rates start around $695 per night.
  • Paradise Bay Resort – Set on over 5 acres, this family-friendly resort has one-, two- and three-bedroom suites with full kitchens. Nightly rates average $350.
  • Vrbo and Airbnb – For more affordable options, there are hundreds of privately-owned condos, apartments, cottages and houses for rent by the night or week on sites like Vrbo and Airbnb. Nightly rates for entire homes often range from $150-$300.

With high demand for Kailua accommodations, advance reservations are highly recommended to secure your preferred dates and properties.

Local Cafes and Restaurants

Kailua is home to over 100 eateries ranging from cute caf├ęs to oceanfront fine dining. Here are some delightful dining options in Kailua:

  • Kalapawai Cafe & Deli – This charming 1930s plantation-style cafe is known for its hearty breakfasts, creative sandwiches and bakery treats. Meals start around $12.
  • Buzz’s Original Steakhouse – Overlooking Kailua Beach, this award-winning restaurant offers superb steaks and seafood with pupus, tropical cocktails and nightly entertainment. Entrees run $30-$60.
  • Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen – Family-owned for over 50 years, this iconic breakfast spot dishes up macadamia nut pancakes, loco moco bowls and fried saimin noodles for under $15.
  • Cinnamon’s Restaurant – Housed in a historic 1930s home, Cinnamon’s is acclaimed for its breakfast and lunch menus with highlights like guava chiffon pancakes, blackened mahi sandwiches, and lilikoi cheesecake. Most plates are $10-$18.

From casual cafes to white tablecloth dining, Kailua offers delectable eats to delight every palate and budget.

Conclusion

With its postcard-perfect beaches, laidback lifestyle and convenience to Honolulu, Kailua has become one of the most desirable places to stay for visitors in Hawaii. Whether you want to relax on the beach, hike to scenic viewpoints or enjoy fresh local cuisine, Kailua has something for everyone.

We hope this guide gave you a better understanding of where exactly this Hawaiian paradise is located and what it has to offer.

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