Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island are probably one of the most family-friendly, community-friendly beach parks on Oahu. For many of us who grew up on Oahu, Ala Moana Beach is often a gathering place for birthday parties, work/sports team/church potlucks, and giant family gatherings.
Address: 1201 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96814 – Phone: 808-768-4611
Hours: 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Are Pets Allowed: No. Parking: Yes. There is a parking lot on the Magic Island side (entrance past Ala Moana Shopping Center going toward Waikiki). It is a recently renovated 470-car parking lot. There is also street parking all along Ala Moana Park Drive (the interior road) and along Ala Moana Boulevard, but check signs and hours so that you don’t block traffic or get towed.
Lifeguard on Duty: Yes, at both Magic Island and Ala Moana Beach Park Bathrooms: Yes. Four bathroom buildings with changing stations and outdoor shower/rinsing stations – two on the Magic Island side and two on the Ala Moana Beachside. There may be portable bathrooms closer to the Kewalo Basin entrance (on the park side of Ala Moana Park Drive) but I’m not absolutely sure if they’re always available.
Beaches: There are technically two beaches but you can easily go from one to the other via the walking paths woven throughout the park. The most toddler and child-friendly is Magic Island due to the man-made rock wall enclosures that block waves from coming through to the lagoon. Ala Moana Beach is also very calm, but the side closest to the Magic Island parking lot is what I usually preferred when I went to the beach with very young children – it seems calmer and the water is pretty shallow.
Additional amenities: Tennis courts, McCoy Pavilion, L&L BBQ Take-Out, four bathrooms & changing areas, four outdoor shower/rinsing stations, ample walking paths, picnic tables, and BBQ grills throughout Magic Island and Ala Moana Regional Park. For Ala Moana Beach Park, there are a few rules regarding the use of the picnic tables: picnic tables are usually first-come-first-serve, except for the Summer Season (from Memorial Day holiday through Labor Day holiday). During the Summer Season, you will need to make an advanced reservation. **As of this post, it is unclear if this rule also applies to the Magic Island side of the park; you may want to call the number above if you have additional questions. I’m enclosing the link to the official document here.)
Because I had such great experiences at Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island as a kid and teen, it was a no-brainer that I would happily take our kids there.
However, as an adult, there are two things that I don’t love (i.e. These things won’t stop me from going, but…I’m not excited about them):
- Parking can sometimes be a pain in the butt.
- The sand is more coarse and rocky than I remember.
Yes, there is a lot of parking, but if you go on weekends or holidays, it is usually packed. Like really, really packed. (In our family, Lym has this uncanny knack for always finding parking. If you have a family member like that, take them! Just kidding. ????) Also, if you need a table and BBQ grill, then getting there early enough to secure them can also take a little extra planning. Before writing this article, I didn’t actually realize that you were supposed to reserve a picnic table in the summer season, regardless of group size. (Oops????????♀️.) In fact, my guess is that lots of people don’t know about this (even though the policy has been around since 1989). So, my best assumption is that if there’s an empty table, you might be able to use it but if someone comes by with a reservation permit then please give it up without a fuss. They did it properly.
In terms of the rocky sand, I honestly don’t remember the sand being that coarse and rocky when I was a kid. At the same time, I don’t remember anything good or bad about the sand at most beaches – sand was just sand. But, whether the sand has changed or not, since we moved here with my family I’ve been very surprised by the rocky sand and many of the beaches. Overall the rocks and coral pieces are not sharp. Just be careful, it’s never fun to get a rock in the arch of your foot ????.
Now, if you don’t mind hunting for parking or dancing around rocks, then either Ala Moana Beach or Magic Island is perfect for a full day of fun. (And it really is. Those things are minor because our kids really enjoy this beach!) With easy-to-access bathrooms, showers to rinse off the kids, and lots of paved paths to walk with a wagon or stroller, you can swim, play or even walk/drive across the street to Ala Moana Shopping Center! On the Ala Wai Harbor side, Outrigger clubs and high school teams often practice at the harbor and will launch their canoes from that area. When I was in high school, I was part of the paddling team, so it was always fun to take the kids to watch the teams carry boats into the water or paddle out to the ocean. We also like to walk alongside the harbor so the kids look for fish. Even when we first moved to Hawaii, our three oldest kids were pretty fearless when it came to the ocean.
Even when they couldn’t swim (AT ALL!), they would happily jump through the waves or play in the water so it was easy to take them to different beaches. Our youngest son, however, was very sensitive to waves and the ocean – I can’t recall any bad situation he could have witnessed or experienced, but he was always just really twitchy when it came to water. (It turns out that he has high anxiety for a variety of things, but we didn’t know that at the time.) He was the only one born in Hawaii and the only one anxious about the ocean; we didn’t know what to do!? Anyway, Ala Moana and Magic Island were just about the only beaches he would comfortably go-to for several years. As he reached elementary school age he suddenly decided that he loves the ocean and pools and suddenly decided he loves the water and beaches. Recently, he even — somewhat accusingly — asked me why he stopped his swimming lessons. Ha. (It was actually because we moved and because of Covid, but I was so surprised he even brought it up ~ I thought he detested swimming lessons!)
Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island are surrounded by Kewalo Basin Harbor, Ala Wai Boat Harbor, and Ala Moana Shopping Center. The park is approximately 100 acres with beaches that run over half a mile long and is located right at the junction of Waikiki, residential luxury condominium complexes, and downtown Honolulu. Because the Ala Moana strip of beach is so long, you’ll find everything from surfing lessons, to kayaking, to swimming at this beach.
Because of its urban location, Ala Moana Beach Park is often the go-to spot for many public events or festivals as well. Off the top of my head, we’ve been there for several state-wide Cub Scout and Boy Scout events, a Korean Cultural Festival (they eventually moved to Honolulu Hale Civic Grounds), a few parades, Fourth of July fireworks, and the Lantern Floating Festival, but there is much more that goes on as well. In addition to the two beaches, Ala Moana also has tennis courts, the park also has great walking paths so on most mornings and evenings throughout the week, you’ll see a lot of local residents going on their daily walks, playing sports, and more. I think there’s even a kid’s parkour class that takes place weekly! (Please note: Although it has always been a local gathering spot, Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island have been undergoing a major re-haul that started around 2018 and will continue through 2025. It seems like the park won’t shut down, but there may be various points of construction or portions of the park closed during this improvement and rehabilitation process.)
Other activities to do around the area:
Visit Ala Moana Shopping Center. We actually do this often. The park is big but you can see part of the shopping center parking structure from the beach. We’ve walked back and forth between the shopping center and the beach or just drove if we weren’t planning on coming back. Even if everyone is sandy and sticky from the beach, we just rinse off at the showers, change into dry clothes, and then head over to Ala Moana Shopping Center for a meal or snack. The food court there has a lot of variety and there are fun and unique snack shops all around the shopping center. Since it’s an outdoor mall in Hawaii, I’ve never felt awkward walking around with slightly sandy sandals and damp-from-the-ocean hair! LOL.
Go to Waikiki. You’ll need to drive, but Waikiki is really close. In fact, Ala Moana Boulevard (the large street outside of the park, merges into Kalakaua Avenue (the main street that runs through Waikiki) shortly past Ala Wai Boat Harbor.
Take a Drive-up Tantalus. If it’s still daylight and you’re up to a drive with a view, visit Tantalus Lookout at Puu Ualakaa State Park. It’s about 20 minutes from Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island (via car) but you’ll have a gorgeous view of all of Honolulu and Diamond Head. The drive is curvy with a few switchbacks on a narrow road with minimal street lights so I recommend going while it’s still light outside, also cyclists sometimes bike up and down that road so you have to drive carefully. In any case, the drive is pretty and you won’t be able to see any of it if it’s dark. Hours are from 7:00 AM to 7:45 PM.