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Ala Moana Beach Park

Experience an Urban Beach at the Ala Moana Beach Park

With its excellent downtown location, the Ala Moana Beach Park can offer a different experience to visitors.

If you’re the type of tourist who wants to do things like the locals, then the Ala Moana Beach Park should be included in your itinerary. While out-of-towners come in droves to the Waikiki Beach, the locals can be found at the Ala Moana Beach. With a half a mile golden sand beach and a large outdoor space packed with various amenities, this is where lots of locals get together to enjoy beautiful views, relax, and play.

What draws people into this park is its central location. It sits just right across the street from the Ala Moana Center shopping mall and is very near the downtown area. This makes it a destination of its own or a quick stop for locals who want to take a breather while in the area. 

It’s pretty much just like your favorite local park, except it’s in Hawaii, so a dazzling beach that’s worth traveling thousands of miles to comes with it. While lots of city parks have large grassy open spaces, not all of them come with a beautiful beach that is perfect for swimming like this one. What’s even better is that in recent years, improvements were made all around the park. So if you’re thinking of going here sometime in the next few months, there are quite a few things you can look forward to.

About Ala Moana Beach Park

There are so many special things about the Ala Moana Beach Park that might just tickle your fancy. We’ll enumerate them below.

History

About a century ago, the Ala Moana Beach Park doesn’t even exist yet. It’s pretty young when compared to other local parks but it doesn’t mean that it’s not as fun.

Originally, the area was a marshland. The only things you’ll see there were kiawe trees, bulrushes, and coconut palms and garbage as the city used to use the area as a dump. In 1927, the land was deeded to the city of Honolulu by the federal government with the expressed condition of using it as a public park.

Development started in 1931. Dredging work was done and the marsh was filled with coral reefs. A sports pavilion, Banyan court, and lawn bowling green were also constructed to provide activity areas to visitors. When it was opened to the public in 1934 as the Moana Park, swimming was discouraged as there were two sewage outfalls in the area.

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During the war years, the park was used as a military battery and staging area. A barracks and other temporary structures were built for it to function as such fully. In 1947, the Moana Park was renamed to Ala Moana Park which translates to “path to the sea”.

It was only in 1954 when the Ala Moana Beach came to life. It became a deep swimming area replacing the former boat channel there. A couple of years later, the bathrooms and concession stands were added.

It can also be said that the Ala Moana Beach Park became a beloved spot for local residents when its existence was threatened in the early 60s. A plan for developing the area further and constructing a “magic island” of hotels in the area. In this plan, the park will be turned into a parking lot. Steps to execute the proposal went as far as reclaiming thirty acres of the shallow reef before locals stopped further developments. Today, the man-made peninsula is referred to as the Magic Island instead of its official name, ‘Aina Moana’ which means ‘land from the sea’.

In 1988, the park was added to the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places.

Fun Things to Do at Ala Moana Beach Park

What can you enjoy on your visit to the Ala Moana Beach Park? Here are a few examples.

Various Water Activities

Since you’re in Hawaii, one of the most popular forms of entertainment would be to play in the water. This is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can do a lot of that in the Ala Moana Beach. There are also different kinds of fun things that you can do on the sparkling waters, so you can take a pick on how you want to spend your day in this park.

Swimming

Deemed as the most popular open ocean swimming spots in Hawaii, Ala Moana Beach welcomes 4 million visitors yearly. With its calm outer reef waters, thanks to the shallow outer coral reef, it’s perfect for long-distance swimmers, novice swimmers, stand-up paddleboarders, and families. Some consider it as a natural swimming pool as waves are very rare. 

Surfing

How can you surf in Ala Moana Beach Park when the water’s so calm, you ask? Well, the interesting thing about this beach is that it has different conditions in various spots. Its south town-side surf spots are quite well-known and loved by locals and tourists alike.

Why? The waves out here are some of the biggest and cleanest on the south side of Oahu. So if you don’t want to travel up north for some surfing and you just want to stay near the downtown area but still get to ride some nice waves, this would be a great spot for you. 

Just note that you will need to paddle 200 yards to the reef, walk 200 yards more to cross the raised reef, then paddle for another 400 yards to reach the lineup. Once you’re there, though, there are already dozens of great surf spots to choose from.

The best thing about the swell in Ala Moana Beach Park is that you don’t have to be a highly experienced surfer to give it a try. There are quite a few surfing schools in the area that offer lessons, so you can also try riding the waves here even without any background in the sport. 

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Being a water activity that originated in Hawaii, the Ala Moana Beach Park is also an excellent spot for stand up paddleboarding. With the calm nearshore waters of this beach, you won’t have a hard time enjoying this rather calming activity here.

Paddleboard Yoga

Another extremely calming water activity that you can try on this beach is paddleboard yoga. It’s basically performing yoga poses on top of a paddleboard or surfboard, making the zen exercise a bit more thrilling and challenging. Often done on lakes and other calm bodies of water, the Ala Moana Beach Park is possibly one of the few spots on the island to enjoy this unique activity.

Outdoor Sports  & Activities 

Being a city park, you can expect that the Ala Moana Beach Park comes with a full range of amenities. As mentioned above, it can easily compete with and maybe even outshine other major city parks because it has a lot of facilities that offer different outdoor activities to visitors. 

How, exactly, can you have fun under the sun while in this park? Here are a few of the most popular activities out of the water:

  • Tennis with its 10 outdoor tennis courts.
  • Lawn bowling with the Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club. Games are regularly held on Saturdays but can also be scheduled on other days. Lessons are offered before games start on Saturdays.
  • Running is a popular activity done in this park by local residents. With its 3-mile loop that is flat and paved, it can really be a great place to jog and run around in all day. Expect crowds, however, because this is a really popular spot for its accessibility and central location.
  • Beach volleyball was added as a permanent activity on Ala Moana Beach Park when two courts were created. You might need to bring your own nets, however.
  • Biking can be an alternative to running in this park, thanks to its nicely paved pathways. You can rent a bike in the park or bring your own.
  • Picnics are also popularly enjoyed here. You can set up on the many picnic tables or spread your own blankets on the grassy area. BBQ grills are also available on a first-come-first-served basis but most folks recommend calling the city’s parks department if you’re having a big party.

Special Events

True to its community spirit, there are also tons of special events hosted on Ala Moana Beach Park. They typically hold different kinds of occasions, festivals, and other gatherings at the McCoy Pavilion which is named after the person who presided the creation of the park (Charles Lester McCoy). Some are held in Magic Island. 

What are these annual events that you might be able to become a part of? Here are a few of the most notable ones:

  • Hawaii Greek Festival held every August
  • Hawaiian Scottish Festival & Highland Games every March
  • Friday Night Champagne Series a.k.a. Beer Can Races held every Friday
  • Friday Night Fireworks every Friday from September to early summer
  • July 4 fireworks
  • Shinnyo-en Lantern Floating Festival every Memorial Day

Magic Island

Magic Island Ala Moana Beach Tour

Jutting out of the Ala Moana Beach Park is the man-made peninsula known as the Magic Island. As mentioned above, this is quite a controversial addition to the park as it was supposed to be a part of a hotel complex. However, through the unity of residents, such development was foiled, leaving behind a large open space by the water for the public to enjoy.

Normally used as an events location as an alternative to the McCoy Pavilion, the Magic Island is also where you’ll find a crescent moon-shaped beach known as the Magic Island Lagoon. It also features large open, green areas that are perfect for picnics and outdoor fun. It’s a convenient location for such activities as well since it’s close to the parking lot.

Important Information About the Ala Moana Beach Park

Operating Hours

The Ala Moana Beach Park is open from 4 am to 10 pm every day. The local police implement the operation hours strictly, giving out citations and arrests those who are still inside the park after hours.

The Magic Island is only open from sunrise till sunset daily unless there are scheduled events on certain evenings.

Where To Park

There are plenty of parking spots in Ala Moana Beach Park and they’re free. 

Where To Eat

With its location, you can expect to find a lot of places to eat near and around the Ala Moana Beach Park. There are also concession stands inside the park so you don’t have to cross the road to get some chow. You can also opt to bring your own food to eat or cook as picnics are allowed.

Safety Reminders

To help you cover all your bases when visiting Honolulu, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

The ocean bottom drops quickly so observe great caution.

With how calm the water is at the Ala Moana Beach Park, you might feel at ease and let your little ones run wild in the shallow parts of the water. However, unlike in other beaches, the ocean bottom in this beach doesn’t gradually slope down but drops off rather quickly. So if you have kids or if someone in your party isn’t exactly a strong swimmer, they should be informed of this.

If you want a safer spot for your little ones to swim in, the Magic Island Lagoon might be better suited for you. The ocean floor gradually slopes down there, so it’s safer for swimming and playing in the water.

Homeless People Are Present

There’s a very good chance that you’ll learn about homeless people staying at the Ala Moana Beach Park if you try to do some research about this destination. While true, you don’t necessarily have to worry about your safety. The most they do is take up some of the benches in shaded areas so you might need to work harder to find a good spot to stay in during your visit.

At night, the area is also generally safe. The neighborhood is actually rated as one of the safest in Honolulu as violent crimes hardly take place here. 

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