The 10 Best Beaches in Hawaii

Hanalei Beach and pier
Kelsey Neukum/Shutterstock.com

Written by Alan Lemus

Updated: June 26, 2023

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Best Beaches in Hawaii Infographic
Hawaii is known for its warm tropical waters and year-round warm temperatures.

Hawaii is unique in geography and topography. It is the only American state located outside North America in an archipelago and tropical region. Have you wondered why Hawaii beaches are featured on almost every Best Beaches list? You’re about to discover why the state has earned its nickname, “Paradise of the Pacific.”

The state has hundreds of beaches open to the public. They range in size and color with green, red, orange, black, and white sand — perfect for Insta Worthy photos.

There are romantic bays, small, isolated coves for those who seek privacy, and family-friendly beach parks. So whether you choose to unwind by the ocean, snorkel to enjoy the Hawaiian marine life, or hike through the extensive tropical rainforests, Hawaii has something for every kind of beachgoer. 

Don’t be surprised if this list inspires your next getaway. 

#1 Kaanapali Beach

Kaanapali Beach

At Kaanapali Beach, you can watch humpback whales perform acrobatics and humans dive from cliffs.

The historic Lahaina town on Maui’s west coast is home to the picture-perfect Kaanapali Beach. This beach is your one-stop shop for an enjoyable beach holiday experience. Imagine yourself on its breathtaking three-mile-long shoreline with white sand and turquoise water.

With its deluxe hotels, seaside resorts, restaurants, bars, and golf courses open all year long, it’s hardly surprising why the Kaanapali beach is bustling. If you decide to play on any of the two golf courses, Royal Kaanapali or Kaanapali Kai, be on the lookout for breaching whales.

You can also go snorkeling over multicolored reefs to discover the fascinating underwater world. Spot Hawaii’s marine animals, such as humuhumunukunukuāpua’a (reef triggerfish) and Hawaiian Honu (green sea turtle). You can visit during the winter to see humpback whales perform fantastic acrobatics. The beach has gentle waves, making it a perfect place to learn surfing or take your first paddle-boarding lessons.

The fun continues even at sunset. What’s a trip to the Kaanapali beach without the ceremonial daily cliff dive? According to legend, Maui’s last sovereign, King Kahekili, demonstrated his spiritual fortitude by diving into the seas below from the famous Pu’u Keka’a (Black Rock).

Fun seekers in need of an adrenaline boost can leap off the 16-foot rock as a continuation of a long-standing custom. You can also go ziplining for spectacular beach and ocean views.

The Whalers Village shopping mall, featuring top-rated stores, a whaling museum, hula lessons, dining, and entertainment options, is excellent for spending some time after a day filled with playing water sports.

#2 Hapuna Beach

Trees flank Kohala Beach, the largest of the white sand beaches in Hawaii.

Kohala Beach is nestled along the Kohala Coast’s western, volcanic coastline and is a part of the Hapuna Beach State Park. It’s a favorite among locals and tourists for day trips and beach picnics.

Hapuna’s pristine waters spanning half a mile make it the ideal location for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sunbathing (depending on ocean conditions), and bodyboarding during the summer. However, beware of strong rip currents in the winter. Typically, you can see migrating whales along the coast from January to March.

It’s also one of the top family-friendly beaches on the Big Island. There’s a year-round presence of a professional lifeguard for maximum safety. The beach is primarily sunny and is a great place for kids to play. Trees flank the beach and provide shade for the picnic pavilion. Some amenities include ample parking, restrooms, beach showers, concession stalls, picnic tables, and a store where you may rent beach gear. In addition, you can get boogie boards, beach chairs, and umbrellas.

Hapuna attracts many beachgoers, so you want to get there early to secure a decent parking space and a shaded spot on the beach. Don’t forget your appropriate bathing suit, towel, reef-safe sunscreen, swim shoes, waterproof camera, and a change of clothes.

#3 Waikiki Beach

Oahu island

Waikiki, a former playground for Hawaiian royalty, is today one of Hawaii’s most popular beaches.

It’s almost impossible to duplicate the vibe and appeal of Waikiki Beach. From its intriguing history, a two-mile expanse of beautiful white sand, picturesque sunset views, and iconic Diamond Head background, Waikiki earns its place as one of the most famous beaches in the world.

It stretches along the south shore of Honolulu, an area known for some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts in Oahu. The Hilton Hawaiian Village and Kapi’olani Park are on the west and east sides, respectively.

Heads up: this isn’t the beach for seclusion or privacy. With its popularity and plethora of accommodations, many tourists visit the area and, by extension, the beach.

Historically, Waikiki (the Hawaiian word for spouting waters) served as a playground for Hawaiian royalty, where they surfed on longboards. So, of course, it remains a time-honored water activity. The beach features endless water sports and adventures, including canoeing, surfing, boogie boarding, sailing, and wakeboarding. 

You can sip on beachside drinks, practice surfing in the calm waves, sunbathe, and bask in the most beautiful sunset views.

Did you know that Waikiki is made up of a few smaller beach strips? These include Queen Surf Beach, which has more tranquil parts on the Lahi Head side of Waikiki, Fort DeRussy Beach to the west, Khi Beach (along Kalakaua Avenue), and Waikiki Beach (facing the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Westin Moana Surfrider).

#4 Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Beach is a top snorkeling spot on Oahu.

Snorkeling is the main attraction in this bay situated on Oahu’s South Shore, east of Waikiki and south of Koko Head Crater. It’s a top snorkeling spot on the island of Oahu (now developed into a marine conservation area), teeming with schools of Hawaiian fish species and green sea turtles. If you’re lucky, you may see moray eels, manta rays, and octopuses. This seems like a perfect location for a snorkeling excursion!

That’s not all. You can go on a scenic hike along the Koko Head Crater trail, from which you can observe the Diamond Head and Windward side. The Makapuʻu Lighthouse route leads you to a beautiful cliffside lighthouse.

The golden sand Hanauma Bay Beach Park is now known as the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Millions of snorkelers have visited over the years, but the conservation area is now closed on Tuesdays for aquatic creatures to eat and rest. 

Locals value this wildlife preserve so highly that tour buses are no longer allowed. However, lone travelers can still make the trip to view the stunning shoreline.

#5 Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach

Crescent-shaped Poipu Beach has a natural ocean-wading pool for snorkelers, beginner swimmers, and boogie-boarders.

In Kauai, you will always find cliffs, rugged terrain, and some of Hawaiian best beaches. Poipu Beach on the South Shore is known for its clean waters and random sightings of Hawaiian monk seals. Poipu Beach is actually a combination of two beaches converging at Nukumoi Point.

Hawaiian monk seals enjoy laying on the sand and basking in the sun. They are officially listed as an endangered species and while there is no law specifying the minimum distance people can approach them, getting close to these seals may constitute a violation of federal or state law if the animal is disturbed or if your action has the potential to intentionally disturb its natural behavior. Exercise caution by keeping at least 100 feet away and refraining from using flash photography if you see one. Humpback whales are occasionally visible in the distance from December to April.

The crescent-shaped beach has a natural ocean-wading pool for snorkelers, beginner swimmers, and boogie-boarders. It’s perfect for a family day trip because it has lifeguards, parking, picnic areas, showers, pavilions, and restrooms. In addition, there is a bodyboarding spot just in front of the park for older kids and inexperienced adults, a surfing area for skilled surfers, and a good snorkeling reef.

Poipu offers excellent protection from both winter and summer surf, making it safe for swimming all year. Summertime brings the biggest surf to Poipu Beach. It’s an ideal opportunity for experienced surfers who want to take on problematic waves. The beach faces south; therefore, it is more vulnerable to southern swells. Be on the lookout for the beach lifeguard flags during this period.

#6 Hulopoe Bay

The Hawaiian green sea turtle and spinner dolphin populations thrive in Hulopoe Bay.

Hulopoe, regarded as the most easily accessible beach on Lanai, is found at Hulopoe Bay on the island of Hawaii, directly in front of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. 

You can’t miss the large tide pools on the eastern side. The tidal pools result from the ebbing and flowing tide, exposing and concealing rocky shorelines. They are made of volcanic rock and protected to enable exploration of the calm waters. The Hawaiian green sea turtle and spinner dolphin populations thrive in the bay, a marine life protection area. As a visitor, you will be requested to leave each shell and stone in its proper location to preserve the bay for Hawaii’s vibrant native fish and marine life. 

Swimming conditions are best throughout the summer. Winter comes with high tides and surf, so swimming should be avoided. Humpback whales stop by during the winter, while acrobatic spinner dolphins are often spotted throughout the rest of the year. Tip: make sure you bring your beach hat, flip flops, lip balm, reef-safe sunscreen, and reusable water bottle.

Take advantage of the opportunity to see the symbolic natural rock formation, Puu Pehe, by taking a 15 to 20-minute hike along the southeast of the tide pools.

#7 Punalu’u Beach

Erosion of volcanic rock creates the rich black sand of Punalu’u Beach.

When you take the worthwhile drive to the southeastern Ka’u coast on the Big Island, you will probably notice the rich black sand of the Punalu’u beach. The erosion of volcanic rock causes the black color. It’s not your regular white or golden sand beach, but it has everything you would expect from a Hawaiian beach: a lifeguard tower, Hawaiian green sea turtles basking in the sun, and coconut trees lining the upper edge of the sand. Swimming isn’t recommended at this beach; however, there is a picnic area and restrooms so you can eat lunch while enjoying the unusual sensation of the black sand.

The beach is located between Pahala and Naalehu towns and not far from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

#8 Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach, or “Heavenly Ocean,” has breathtaking beauty.

The calm waters of Lanikai offer something for everyone. You get to decide whether you want to enjoy kayaking in its turquoise waters, snorkeling, paddle boarding, sunbathing or just want to view jaw-dropping scenery. 

Lanikai Beach means “heavenly ocean” in the Hawaiian language, so you know it’s a top favorite of both locals and tourists. Although it’s not the best location for snorkeling, novices can still enjoy the water and discover underwater life. The one-mile-long Lanikai Pillbox Hike early in the day guarantees breathtaking vistas of Lanikai Beach, the Koolau coast, and Kailua town.

#9 Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay is one of the largest bays on Kauai.

The surrounding white sand, historic pier, glittering waterways, and majestic mountains of this crescent-shaped beach make it a popular subject for photography. Hanalei Bay is one of the largest bays on Kauai Island, and it spans a total of two miles along Kauai’s north shore. 

This beach is suitable for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling because of the calm water and colorful coral reefs. Surfers, bodyboarders, and kayakers can enjoy the water while the more adventurous beachgoers can leap off the pier. The waves are more active in the winter and draw surfers to the area. However, the waters are calmer and more inviting for swimming during the summer.

#10 Papohaku Beach

Sunset with palm trees at Papohaku Beach on Molokai, Hawaii.

Molokai experiences much less tourist traffic than Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. Thus, you’re more likely to enjoy some of its best beaches to yourself.

The Papohaku Beach is on the west side of Molokai and is one of the state’s most extensive white sand beaches, stretching three miles. It’s your go-to if you need a secluded spot to spend time alone or with a partner. It has a spacious area to sprawl out and offers views as far as the Lēʻahi (Lēʻahi Head) on Oahu when the weather is clear.

Although the beach has restrooms, picnic areas, and campgrounds, there are no lifeguards. Fall and winter months are dangerous for the waters; only calm, flat water is recommended for swimming. Papohaku Beach has a lengthy coastline, so you’re better off taking strolls and viewing the sunset. 

Summary of the 10 Best Beaches in Hawaii

Let’s take a second look at the Hawaiian beaches that made our top 10 list.

RankHawaiian Beach
1Kaanapali Beach
2Hapuna Beach
3Waikiki Beach
4Hanauma Bay
5Poipu Beach
6Hulopoe Bay
7Punalu’u Beach
8Lanikai Beach
9Hanalei Bay
10Papohaku Beach


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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