Our picks for the best beaches in Hawaii include four beaches from each of the major islands, Hawaii Island (the Big Island), Kauai, Maui, and Oahu. We also include two beaches on the island of Lana'i and one on Moloka'i.
Our list is presented in alphabetical order by island. We include several, less well-known, Hawaii beaches that we consider real gems.
'Anaeho'omalu Beach is located on 'Anaeho'omalu Bay and adjacent to the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on the Big Island's Kohala Coast.
The beach area features beautifully landscaped walking paths from the resort that meander past ancient Hawaiian fishponds to a golden sand beach fringed by swaying palm trees. Sunsets here are amazing.
A public parking area is available from Kuualii Place off of Waikoloa Beach Drive just past Queens' Marketplace if entering the Waikoloa Resort area.
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Kau District, Big Island of Hawaii
This is the most easily accessible black sand beach on the Big Island. It is also a sanctuary for green sea turtles. There is an excellent chance that you will find one lying in the sun on the beach.
The beach offers some of the only safe snorkeling and swimming on the south coast. Use caution, however, the waves here are unpredictable, and there often is a bad riptide. The beach has a picnic area, pavilion, restrooms, and showers.
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach is located off of Highway 11 near the 56-mile marker, about 20 minutes driving time from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you'll come to a turnoff for Punalu'u Black Sand Beach.
Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast, Big Island of Hawaii
Located 27 miles north of Kona International Airport on the Big Island's Kohala Coast, the 61-acre Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is one of the most popular state parks in Hawaii.
Hapuna Beach is a half-mile crescent-shaped beach bordered by the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Hapuna Golf Course on its northern end.
There is great swimming during calm seas, bodysurfing during periods of shore breaks, a covered picnic pavilion, picnic areas, snack bar, restroom and shower facilities. Dangerous rip currents and pounding shore breaks occur during periods of high surf.
A number of A-frame tent shelters are available for rent. Hiking opportunities are available at the park and serve as an access point for the historic Ala Kahakai Coastal Trail.
Pololu Valley Beach, North Kohala, Big Island of Hawaii
In the Big Island's North Kohala region, past the quaint towns of Hawi and Kapa'au, at the end of Highway 270, you'll find the Pololu Valley. The Pololu Valley is the first of five majestic valleys that stretch along the Big Island's coast to the southeast, the most famous of which is Waipio Valley.
Views of the coast, the black sand beach and beautiful valley beyond are obstructed from the lookout. The best way to see all that this area of the Big Island has to offer is to hike down the four-mile trail to the valley floor 1000 feet below.
The hike is moderately difficult with a rocky path. The climb back up is strenuous. In wet conditions, the path can be dangerous. Allow yourself about two to three hours for the round-trip hike including the time to explore the beach area.
The path takes you through groves of hau and ironwood trees, marshland and across the valley stream which, depending on recent rainfall, may be easy to cross or even set off from the shoreline by a sandbar. You'll then arrive at the valley's black sand beach, a favorite spot for family outings.
Lumaha'i Beach, North Shore, Kaua'i
Just past the 4-mile marker past Hanalei, you'll likely see cars parked along the side of the road. These belong to folks who have decided to take the short hike 150 feet down to one of Kauai's most beautiful beaches, Lumaha'i Beach. The path down to the beach is not easy to find and the walk down can be a bit slippery.
Don't even think about swimming at this beach. The surf is dangerous especially in winter and strong currents and undertow are present year-round. The eastern end of the beach, (reached via the path from the cliff) is the most stunning especially when waves are crashing against the rocks that extend from the far eastern point of the beach.
This beach was made famous in the motion picture South Pacific and bears the nickname of "nurses' beach" since this is where Ensign Nellie Forbush played by Mitzi Gaynor "wash(ed) that man right out of my hair."
Po'ipu Beach, South Shore, Kaua'i
Located on Kaua'i's sunny southern shore, Po'ipu Beach Park was chosen by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a.k.a. "Dr. Beach," as Americas Best Beach for 2001 and hence retired from competition. In 2003 it was named "America's Best Beach" by the Travel Channel.
The Travel Channel sited Poipu for its "unspoiled beauty, sandy bottom lagoon, sunsets, warm people, and superb weather. It's setting, safety, climate, creature comforts, and list of unending activities."
As outlined by the Po'ipu Beach Resort Association, "This beach is a series of golden sand crescents, strung together where beach-goers will find snorkeling, swimming, wading, and surfing.
Palm trees dominate the coastline here with an expansive lawn at the park. The surf spots are slightly off-shore where a reef establishes perfect wave-breaks for beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers. Nearer to the shore, swimmers can enjoy swimming in calm waters or snorkeling near a couple of interesting rocky points."
A favorite area of the beach is the section fronting the Sheraton Kauai Resort. Don't be surprised if you see a monk seal sunning on the beach.
Salt Pond Beach Park, Hanapepe, Kaua'i
Located in Hanapepe, near the Port Allen Airport, Salt Pond Beach Park is a great beach for family gatherings with lots of pavilions for eating and plenty of flat space on the beach for games. The beach is lifeguard protected.
The water is relatively calm especially in summer and the sun bright and warm.
Partially protected by a reef, Salt Pond Beach Park is popular for swimming, picnicking, or exploring tide pools near the Hawaiian salt ponds that give the beach its name.
During the summer months, you can still see Hawaiians making salt in the only natural salt pond in Hawaii still used to make salt. Seawater is pumped into containers and allowed to evaporate in the sun.
'Anini Beach/Kalihikai Beach, North Shore, Kauai
Located off of Highway 56, off of Kalihiwai Road (which forks to the left onto 'Anini Road) you'll soon find yourself along the coast and after a short drive at 'Anini Beach.
This 2+ mile coastline is one of the most beautiful on Kauai and the views are stunning. Offshore is the longest continuous reef on Kauai, which makes this area of the coast some of the safest for summer swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, spear fishing, kite-surfing, and windsurfing. The bottom near the shore is sandy which makes it perfect for children. In winter these waters can become extremely dangerous with a strong rip current.
Anini Beach Park is located about midway along the coastal drive across from the Kauai Polo Club. You'll almost always see beautiful horses in this field, often right by the fence. Anini Beach Park actually fronts Kalihikai Beach. The actual Anini Beach is located further down the road where it ends.
The homes on the mauka side of the road are some of the most highly desired and highly priced on Kauai. Many are available as vacation rentals. You may even spot some of the celebrities who are known to vacation here. One of the homes, the 4,000-square-foot Keawaihi Hale, was used for the Kauai scenes in the film "Honeymoon in Vegas."
Hulopo'e Bay Beach, Lana'i
Featuring pearl-white sand and crystal blue water with abundant marine life, this protected bay, and the nearby Manele Bay is part of the Manele-Hulopo'e Marine Life Conservation District. The two bays are separated by a volcanic cone, eroded on the seaward edge to form Pu'u Pehe Cove.
Hulopo'e Bay is the best location on Lana'i for swimming and snorkeling, however dangerous swells and currents can occur during southern storms primarily in the winter.
For non-resort guests, the adjacent Hulopoe Beach Park also has a great beach park has barbecue grills, picnic tables, showers and restroom facilities.
Shipwreck Beach, Lana'i
While most would choose Hulopo'e Bay Beach as their pick for the best beach on Lana'i, Shipwreck Beach is in many ways more interesting and certainly more adventurous.
Located about a half hour drive north of Lana'i City, past the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i Lodge at Koele, Shipwreck Beach is not a swimming beach. It is made up of boulders, lava rock, washed-up timber, and sand.
Shipwreck Beach is also not easily accessed. You'll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to drive the rough, unpaved and often impassable (when wet) road that leads to the beach.
However, once you arrive, Shipwreck offers spectacular views of the nearby islands of Moloka'i and Maui, the abandoned hull of a World War II Liberty Ship ship beached on the reef, green sea turtles and whales, and the nearby the Kukui Point petroglyphs, located about 200 yards from shore.
Ka'anapali Beach, West Maui
Located in West Maui just north of Lahaina, Ka'anapali Beach is one of Hawaii's most famous and popular beaches.
The Ka'anapali Beach Resort likes to say that Ka'anapali is "where the world comes to play" and there's a lot to support that statement. With five major award-winning resort hotels, six condominium resorts, a world-class shopping village with over 60 shops and restaurants, an oceanfront beach walk, two championship golf courses, tennis courts for day or night play, a Sugar-Cane Train, and free trolley service within the resort, what more can there be?
The answer is the beach itself. It's stunning on either side of world famous Black Rock. This lifeguard-protected beach is almost three miles long. Ka'anapali is the beach for activities. You can snorkel in the crystal clear water, windsurf, jet-ski, parasail, or kayak.
Every evening Ka'anapali honors its history and traditions. At sundown, cliff divers re-enact the feat of Maui's revered King Kahekili, who bravely dove from the cliff at Pu'u Keka'a, or Black Rock, into the churning sea, at a time when the spot was considered to be the jumping off place for the soul to enter the nether world.
Tiki torches are lit along the shore as the ancient pahu drums and triton shell horns call the hula dancers and revelers to the beachside luaus at many of the resorts.
Wailea Beach, South Maui
Wailea Beach offers good swimming, snorkeling in calm waters, and body surfing on a shore break that is not as punishing as Wailea's other beaches. The sandy bottom remains shallow inshore and drops off slowly to deeper water.
Activity companies for the nearby resorts rent ocean equipment.
Parking here is very difficult. There are only about 40 spaces available to the public.
Big Beach and Little Beach at Makena, South Maui
Located south of the Wailea Resort area in South Maui is the area of Makena. Here you'll find what is popularly known as Big Beach.
The true Hawaiian name for Big Beach is Oneloa and it is also referred to as Makena Beach. It's one of the longest, at about .75 mile, and widest beaches in the islands. It's also one of the most popular, especially with locals for family gatherings and picnics. The large parking lot fills quickly on the weekends.
The swimming is fair and conditions can get rough. There's a steep dropoff into the ocean. Body surfing and boogie boarding are popular here.
At the northern end of Big Beach there is a rocky outcropping to reach Little Beach which is more properly called Pu'u Ola'i Beach, after the huge cinder cone behind it. This is one of Maui's unofficial nude beaches.
Ho'okipa Beach, North Maui
Located about 2 miles past Paia town on the Hana Highway, Ho'okipa Beach is a must stop for Maui visitors.
Ho'okipa is not a beach for great swimming, although during periods of calm seas you can swim at both ends of the beach.
It is, however, the best place in the world to watch windsurfers at what is known as the "windsurfing capital of the world." You'll also see some great board surfing here towards the east end of the beach.
The waves can be high almost any time of the year as the north shore picks up both the winter and summer swells.
The best views are from the roadside parking area or along the hill at the west end of the beach. Be sure to bring your still and video camera.
Papohaku Beach, Moloka'i
Located on the west coast of Moloka'i off on Highway 460 on Kaluakoi Road past the former Kauakoi Resort and Golf Club, Papohaku Beach is one of the world's longest beaches at over three miles. It is also an extremely wide beach, well over 100 yards wide in some places.
It is not unusual to be able to see no one on the beach for miles. If you want a private, secluded and beautiful beach, Papohaku is for you.
There is a beach park which includes a camping area, showers, picnic facilities, and restrooms.
Like many Hawaii beaches, dangerous swells and currents can occur when strong winds arise from the west, primarily in the winter.
Kailua Beach, Windward, O'ahu
Kailua Beach Park is known for its wide fine white sandy beach with great views of the nearby Kaneohe Peninsula and the off-shore Flat Island.
There are generally no significantly hazardous ocean or beach conditions here. Typically there are very small, if any, waves.
It is a popular beach for family gatherings since there are lifeguards, picnic areas, lots of accessible parking, restrooms and showers, and even a concession stand.
You'll also likely see numerous kayakers, several windsurfers, parasailers, and an outrigger canoe club practicing.
Waimanalo Beach, Windward O'ahu
About nine miles north of Hanauma Bay on the Kalanianaole Highway, past Makapu'u Point, you'll arrive at the community of Waimanalo Beach, which is home to about 4,000 people, Here you'll find Waimanalo Beach, a favorite beach on Oahu.
There are two major sections of the beach. The first you'll come to is Waimanalo Beach Park which can be seen directly from the highway. In recent years, many of Oahu's homeless population have settled here. The preferred section of the beach is the Waimanalo Bay State Recreation Area accessed a bit further down the road by a marked entrance off of the highway through a grove of ironwood trees.
Over 5 miles in length with lovely, soft white sand, Waimanalo Beach is rarely crowded on weekdays. It's a great place to meet and talk to a local enjoying this wonderful spot. The swimming is generally excellent since there are rarely large waves. It is a major weekend gathering place for local families who hold picnics and barbecues in the shaded area near the beach. It is ideal for bodysurfing, boogie boarding and swimming. Waimanalo offers a spectacular view of the coastal mountain ranges of O'ahu and of Manana "Rabbit" Island.
The wooded area where you park your car was once known as "Sherwood Forest" because of a high number of thefts from parked cars. So, don't leave any valuables in your car since you won't be able to see it from the beach
Waikiki Beaches, Southern Shore, O'ahu
Waikiki Beach is perhaps the world's most famous and most filmed beach. It actually consists of nine individually named beaches stretching along the two miles from Kahanamoku Beach near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa to the Outrigger Canoe Club Beach near the foot of Diamond Head.
The beach today is almost entirely artificial, as new sand has been added to control erosion.
If you're looking for privacy, Waikiki Beach is not for you. It is one of the most crowded beaches in the world. With over 4 million visitors a year, it can be wall-to-wall bodies, but people-watching is half the fun.
Waikiki Beach is a popular surfing spot, especially for beginners since the surf is quite gentle. The waves rarely exceed three feet. Locals arrive at the beach before sunrise and swim out to catch the first waves of the new day. Since the 1930s surfing lessons have been given at Waikiki beach, where tourists have been introduced to this ancient sport. Today local beach boys will still show you how to ride the waves. Board rentals are readily available.
There are also boogie boards, canoes, kayaks, snorkels and umbrellas for rent. Sans Souci Beach near Diamond Head offers great swimming.
Waimea Bay, North Shore, Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is home to some of the world's most famous surfing beaches: Sunset Beach, 'Ehukai Beach Park (home to the Banzai Pipeline), Haleiwa Beach and Waimea Bay. Many sites are visible from Kamehameha Highway, yet some of the top surfing locations can be found only by word of mouth from the local surfers.
The North Shore beach that is most easily accessed with ample parking (which fills up quickly) and excellent facilities is the lifeguard protected Waimea Bay.
The beach here is large and wide. In summer months this is a popular spot for family gatherings, picnics, and barbeques. In those months the surf can be very tame and swimming is excellent.
When, however, winter arrives and with it the big waves, from November through February, Waimea Bay changes drastically. The world's top surfers take over and if conditions are perfect with waves over 20 feet (which happens only every few years), the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau surf competition takes place.