I came to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, for the unspoiled nature and incredible nightlife – but was looking for a peaceful beach to relax. And the nicest beach is also easy to reach and almost deserted: Tanjung Aru Beach is 20 minutes by car from town, near the airport and you get beautiful sunsets to boot – what’s not to like?
Kota Kinabalu is the busy capital of Sabah province and most of the visitors come for the Orang Utan rehabilitation center in Sepilok, to see stunning Mt. Kinabalu or to visit Danum Valley preserve.
But being on a tropical island with perpetual summer just calls for going to the beach! Tanjung Aru beach is home to the luxury Shangri-La hotel and I had stopped by for the sunset on a previous trip, so I was eager to check it out. I had gone island-hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park the day before and found a peaceful stretch of beach away from the crowds – but I was surprised to how busy the little island beach was with tour groups.
Thankfully, Tanjung Aru beach is not on the tour group schedule – I went to the beach on a weekday afternoon and when I stepped out onto the beach there was…. Nobody! From the beach parking lot, I turned left towards the airport and I had the mile long stretch of beach all the way to the airport almost to myself. It’s a fairly deep beach with coarse yellow sand and trees providing shade in the back. A few kids were playing ball in the water and a handful of locals were resting under the trees! I went for a long walk along the beach, looking out over the ocean and watching the planes land at the nearby airport.
The stretch from the parking lot (turning left) towards the Shangri-La hotel is a little busier. There are some local food stalls and little shops, as well as a sailing school further down. I heard from the locals that there are plans to tear down those stalls for an upcoming development – too sad, it feels very peaceful and it’s a nice stretch of public beach near town!
I enjoyed my visit to Tanjung Aru beach more than my trip to the islands – considering how close the big city is and how easy it is to reach, I was surprised how empty it was, making for a peaceful beach experience. It’s popular with the locals, so I’d expect it to be busier on weekends!
Travel Tips: Take an uber from town to Tanjung Aru Beach – it’ll take about 20 minutes and costs less than $2 (for comparison the airport taxi is about 4 times that!). For your return trip, step out to the Waikiki Condominiums a block from the beach to call your uber. Given the price difference, uber is not very popular among the local taxi drivers!
If you go in the afternoon, you can combine your visit to the beach with watching the sunset – watching the sunset with palm trees swaying overhead and the sound of waves hitting the beach is pretty hard to beat!
If you are looking for peace & quiet, turn left when you reach the beach from the road – it was the more quiet portion of the beach with hardly any visitors when I was there!