China Walls – Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

China Walls is one of our favorite spots for chilling out and watching the sunset after a long day.

aerial view of china walls oahu

China Walls is mostly known for its dangerous surf break that crashes right next to the rocky cliff. However, it’s one of THE BEST places to watch the sunset on Oahu.

It’s one of those places that feels like it should be hard to get to—but in actuality, it’s a short walk to get to its stunning cliffs that overlook the Maunalua Bay.

In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know to plan your trip to China Walls. I’ll provide some tips on how to get there, what to bring, and what to do when you get there!

How to get to China Walls

China Walls is located in the Portlock neighborhood of Hawaii Kai in East Honolulu.

If you search for “Koko Kai Beach Mini Park”, that’s where China Walls is at.

If you’re driving, there’s ample street parking in the neighborhood on Hanapepe Loop. There’s no parking on the street directly in front of Koko Kai Beach Mini Park, so you’ll need to walk over once you find parking.

The entrance to China Walls is located at Koko Kai Mini Beach Park
The entrance to China Walls is located at Koko Kai Mini Beach Park.

Once you enter the park you’ll find a narrow dirt path that leads to the rocky cliffs of China Walls.

The path that leads down to China Walls is short but steep, so take your time and be careful when walking down there. The path down has loose gravel and I’ve seen a few people slip and fall while walking there.

The entrance to China Walls is steep and has loose gravel, so be careful on your step down.
The walk down to China Walls is steep and has loose gravel, so be careful on your step down.

The best time to go to China Walls is at sunset. But you’ll also find the most people there at that time.

The crowd starts building up in the afternoon, getting busier and busier as sunset approaches.

So if you have a large group, I recommend getting there early to secure your spot since it tends to get crowded right before sunset.

Bring sun protection and a towel

Like any ocean activity in Hawaii, sun protection is critical. But it’s even more important at China Walls because of the lack of shade.

There are no trees or buildings to hide under at China Walls.

So be sure to bring some sunscreen at the very least. I always wear a long-sleeved shirt and a sun hat when I go to China Walls.

Another thing that I should mention is that beach umbrellas and beach tents are useless at China Walls. You won’t be able to set up your umbrella or tent on the uneven rocky terrain.

Instead, bring a towel to sit on. The rocky cliff can be a little dirty, so it’s nice to have something to sit on.

Staying safe at China Walls

China Walls has a reputation for being the location of a lot of ocean rescues.

Some people go there and jump in the water, but they quickly realize that getting out is much harder than getting in.

Combined with high surf and unpredictable waves, a nice day for a swim can quickly turn into an injury—or worse.

Waves crashing on rocky wall at China Walls
This is considered a “small day” at China Walls

Never turn your back to the sea—large swells come in quickly and smash into the rocks. I’ve seen many people get a huge splash while posing for photos with their backs turned toward the ocean.

The summer surf swells are what give China Walls its deadly reputation. The waves at China Walls tend to be calmer in the winter, but it can get rough any time of the year—so use your best judgment.

If you decide to jump in, there are two ways to climb out:

  1. You can climb out via a low point on the makai side of the wall (left side when facing the ocean). If you choose to climb out this way, you need to wait for a small wave to push you up, otherwise, it’s too difficult to climb out.
  2. You can climb out via a step on the mauka side of the wall (right side when facing the ocean). If you choose to climb out this way, wait until there are no waves coming, otherwise, you’ll get thrown into the rocky cliff.

You can still get wet even if you don’t go in the water. Wet rocks signal that the waves are crashing up and onto the rocky cliff. So don’t hang out near the wet rocks unless you want to get smashed by a wave.

Finding a spot at China Walls

China Walls is a pretty spacious area—you usually won’t have a problem finding a spot to hang out.

However, it can get pretty packed for sunset and on the weekends.

China Walls packed crowd for sunset
China Walls can get pretty crowded for sunset

China Walls can sometimes feel like a “party spot” with all the drinks and music. But remember that it’s a public area, so stay respectful of everyone around you.

If you decide to bring a few beverages to China Walls, keep in mind that there are no restrooms there.

So be courteous and respectful to the people around you, and you’re sure to have a great time and maybe make some friends 🙂

Surfing at China Walls

Surf season at China Walls is during the summer when the south swells roll in. The surf there is known to be dangerous since the waves break right next to the rocky cliffside. For that reason, surfing China Walls is for experienced surfers and locals only.

The good news is that high surf makes for an awesome show. The surf breaking right next to the cliff gives you a front-row seat to surfers catching waves. 

How high is the China Walls cliff jump

Depending on the surf and tide, the China Walls cliff jump can be anywhere from 5 to 15 feet high.

The cliff jump height also depends on where you jump from.

Most people jump from the cliffs on the makai side (left side if you’re facing the ocean). This is the smaller, safer side to jump from—the jump is about 5 feet high on this side.

If you jump from the cliffs on the mauka side (right side if you’re facing the ocean), the jump is much higher—about 10 to 15 feet. The mauka side is more dangerous to jump from because of the height and the difficulty getting out of the water.

The water at China Walls is about 15 feet deep near the cliff, and it slowly gets deeper the further you go out.

china walls aerial view

Why is it called China Walls?

China Walls was named by Richard Okita in 1948. Richard named the surf break China Walls while surfing there one day after learning about the Great Wall of China in history class.

Today, many people mistakenly refer to the rocky cliffside as China Walls. In actuality, the surf break is what is referred to as China Walls.

The China Walls phenomenon only occurs a few times a year—usually in the summer when huge, extremely long waves break over the reef. These long waves are what Richard Okita was referring to when he gave it the name China Walls.

Have fun!

With its easy access, stable weather, and chill atmosphere, China Walls is one of my favorite spots to unwind at after a long day.

I usually bring a cooler with some drinks and poke to snack on while watching the surfers.

Sunsets at China Walls are always amazing and tend to enhance the colors of the sky and reflect off the ocean.

Beautiful purple hazy sunset at China Walls
Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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