10 Best Beaches In Hawaii
Hawaii has some of the best beaches in the world, some accessible only by helicopter or landing watercraft, some built around the high drama of intense waves crashing against razor-sharp lava rocks, and some that literally disappear under the high winter surf on the north shores of the islands. But which beaches are best for a day at the beach?
To find out, we asked the subscribers to our monthly newsletter, Hawaii visitor-industry businesses, and visitors to the Best Places Hawaii website for their votes for the beaches in Hawaii that are best for visitors. We asked for nominations in terms of beauty, activities, amenities, access, sand, and safety.
The staff at Best Places Hawaii voted, too, and we have personally visited all these beaches, most of them many, many times. Go to these beaches first, then to any others of your choice. We know that you’ll come back to these.
To submit your pick for the 10 Best Beaches in Hawaii, click here.
Lanikai Beach, Oahu
Considered by many locals to be the best swimming beach in Hawaii, Lanikai’s clear waters, clean, wide beach, and swaying coconut palms also make it a photographer’s dream. A mile-long stretch of powdered-sugar sand is perfect for sunbathing. Sparkling turquoise waters sheltered by a wide, protective offshore reef provide ideal swimming conditions. Other popular activities on Lanikai include kayaking, outrigger canoeing, sailing, surfing, and windsurfing. With the twin Mokulua Islands in the distance (one called the “Chinaman’s Hat” due to its profile), Lanikai Beach truly lives up to its translated name of “heavenly sea.”
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Hanalei Bay Beach, Kauai
Lovely Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore may be the most beautiful beach setting in all of Hawaii. Hanalei is the largest bay on the island of Kauai and nearly a perfect semi-circle of white sand. Behind the beach is an utterly breathtaking backdrop of waterfalls and emerald mountain peaks wrapped in mist, soaring thousands of feet towards the heavens. The beach is two miles long, 125 feet wide, and bordered by the Hanalei River to the east and the Waipa River to the west. The ocean bottom slopes gently to overhead depths, and there are large coral reefs at both ends of the bay. Every ocean recreation activity you can imagine is available, from boating and windsurfing to kayaking up the placid Hanalei River. The bay is very popular with serious surfers. There is a public boat ramp and a 300-foot long pier used for fishing and swimming. The many “no dogs” and “no jumping off the pier” signs are blissfully ignored.
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Kaanapali – Black Rock Beach, Maui
For some reason, this beach has many different names (among them Keka‘a Beach, Canoe Beach, Dig Me Beach). Whatever you call it, Kaanapali Beach in West Maui is a water sports lover’s paradise. Virtually every type of ocean recreation is available. Snorkeling and scuba diving are outstanding. The Black Rock is a large lava rock that divides the beach. This is a busy, popular beach that fronts two resorts. What you give up in solitude you gain in big-time fun—shopping, restaurants, boat tours, fishing, kayaking, sailing, sunbathing, people-watching, and more.
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Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Pretty and popular, Hanauma Bay is a victim of its own success. Formed thousands of years ago by the flooding of a volcanic crater, this nearly circular bay is home to an amazingly diverse and abundant population of fish life. Hanauma Bay is one of the best and most popular snorkeling and swimming areas in the world. However, excessive swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving have threatened the bay’s marine residents. The area’s designation as a marine life conservation district in 1967 wasn’t enough protection, so in 1990 strict visitor limits were initiated. Hanauma Bay is another of Hawaii’s most beautiful bays, but to enjoy its treasures you’ll have to plan ahead and arrive early for a visit.
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Ke’e Beach Park, Kauai
Incredible sunsets are synonymous with Ke‘e Beach Park. Located literally at the end of the road on Kauai’s North Shore between the dramatic Na Pali Coast and Limahuli Stream, the reef lagoon at Ke‘e Beach is a favorite snorkeling site. The water is clear and there are tons of colorful reef fish and turtles. Ke‘e Beach has a very tropical look with a backshore lushly vegetated by ironwood trees, coconut palms, ti, and guava.
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Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui
Golden sand, swaying palms, calm waters. What more can you ask for? It’s just another day in paradise on this West Maui pocket beach. Situated between two lava points and bordered by a coconut tree grove, Kapalua is known for its tranquil surf, ideal for the less-than-adventurous swimmer and families with small children.
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Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island
A one-half mile long band of white sand that is over 200 feet wide in the summer months plus clean, clear water would describe anyone’s perfect imaginary beach. In winter, wild, thundering waves pound the shoreline. Fortunately, Hapuna Bay, on the Big Island’s west side, is for real and it is the most popular beach on the island. The ivory sands slope gently into a shallow sandbar that extends approximately 25 yards into the ocean. Swimming and boogie boarding conditions are excellent. Abundant fish and coral make for superb snorkeling and the wide beach is just right for frolicking and sunbathing.
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Hulopoe Beach, Lanai
Formerly known as the “Pineapple Island,” where for decades the fruit was grown by the Dole Company, Lanai is now a remote and secluded vacation destination. Hulopoe Beach Park is an exquisite pocket beach at the head of Hulopoe Bay. The shoreline is quite steep, making it fine for swimming. Hulopoe has some of the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii due to the rich variety of colorful fish and stunningly clear water. The waters of Hulopoe Bay are part of the marine life conservation district, so fishing is limited to hook and line from the shore. For romance and intimacy, you won’t find a better beach than Hulopoe.
Poipu Beach, Kauai
The most popular beach on Kauai’s south shore, Poipu Beach is ideal for families. A small boulder breakwater creates a protected pool-like area where children and parents can play and snorkel. Outside the swimming area, the ocean bottom slopes gently to overhead depths. The south shore’s bays create year-round ideal wave conditions for body boarders and surfers. The beach is a pretty curve of white sand about 1,000 feet long and 50 feet wide, with plenty of room for sandcastle building or strolling. Sunbathers are occasionally joined by endangered monk seals that come up for a snooze on the shore.
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Papohaku Beach, Molokai
How about miles of long, straight white sand beach, hundreds of feet wide, completely empty except for skittering crabs and soaring sea birds? Papohaku Beach is as close as you can get to the deserted tropical island of your dreams. Located on the west end of Molokai, which itself is between Oahu and Maui, Papohaku Beach also offers swimming, snorkeling, bodysurfing, body boarding, and surfing. This is the beach where you leave your troubles behind and get away from the world. On this remote beach on this remote island, the only footprints in the sand may be your own.
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