If you’re planning your dream vacation to one of the Hawaiian Islands, you probably want to know where the best Hawaiian beaches are. Whether you prefer a hotel with beachfront property or plan to spend your time snorkeling where the sea turtles are, there’s a beach in Hawaii for you.
Each Hawaiian Island has a slightly different flavor, which can play a large part in where you choose to stay. Although Hawaii is known for its gorgeous blue waters and white sand beaches, it’s essential to do a little pre-vacation planning.
Best Hawaiian Beaches in Oahu
You don’t want to book a hotel on the wrong side of an island only to find the waves are too dangerous to swim in. It’s also good to know the best time to visit Hawaii so you’ll know what to expect at different beaches. If you’ve ever pictured yourself taking a sunset stroll on Waikiki Beach, you should know it’s one of the most crowded beaches on all the islands, especially in the summer!
Use this list of the best beaches in Hawaii to plan your perfect getaway.
Waimanalo Bay Beach Park
This magnificent beach is one of Oahu’s hidden gems that most tourists don’t even know about. The secluded entrance is tucked away in an area that, if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss, and it’s not unreasonable to find you have the place all to yourself, especially on a weekday.
Waimanalo Bay is located on the southeast side of the Island of Oahu, and together with Bellows Beach next to it, you’ll find a three gorgeous mile stretch of powdery white sand and beautiful turquoise water.
During the summer months, the surf is perfect for catching some waves and boogie boarding most of the time. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park is an excellent beach for families to enjoy, especially if you like to be where it’s less crowded.
Perhaps the most recognizable beach by name, Waikiki is famous for its long stretch of glistening white sand and beautiful blue water that attracts visitors worldwide. It’s a perfect place to spend a day surfing, swimming, sailing, or hanging out on the beach.
Since Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii is within walking distance of many hotels in the area, it’s a popular place for people to vacation without needing to rent a car. Oahu is also the least expensive of the Hawaiian islands to visit and parents can find plenty of things to do in Oahu with their kids.
According to Hawaii Tourism Statistics, Oahu gets anywhere from 450,000-570,000 thousand visitors per month. That’s by far the most of any Hawaiian island. For this reason, Waikiki is a very popular–and populated–Hawaiian beach.
The four artificially made lagoons at Ko Olina are the perfect beach for families to spend the day playing. They’re so perfect Disney built the Aulani Resort there in 2011. Each lagoon has a sandy beach that gently slopes into the water, remaining shallow for several yards out.
The breakwater at the lagoons take the brunt of the ocean’s waves. This makes the water at the shoreline gentle enough for kids and beginner swimmers to enjoy playing in the water. These lagoons are clean and clear, and although there isn’t a lot of coral in the lagoons, there are plenty of colorful fish to make it a favorite place for families to snorkel.
The lagoons at Ko Olina are located about 45 minutes west of Waikiki. Parking here can be a challenge. You’ll want to get there early in the morning or head straight to the fourth lagoon since it has the most parking space.
Maui’s Best Beaches
Maui has more than one jaw-dropping beach and Makena Bay, also known as Big Beach, is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Its white, powdery sand extends two-thirds of a mile and is over 100 feet wide, making an incredible impression on visitors, especially those touring Hawaii for the first time.
Makena Bay Beach is a fabulous place to spend a day relaxing and enjoying time in the water. However, its waves can be rough, making it a dangerous beach for kids or beginner swimmers. This beach is best for bodyboarding, skimboarding, and body surfing. Since you’ll be spending so much time in the sun, be sure to add a UV-protecting rash guard shirt to your Hawaii packing list.
Imagine three miles of beautiful sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and a sunset straight out of the movies. If you can do that you’ll have a vision of what Kaanapali Beach in West Maui looks like.
Many hotels and condominiums are located in Kaanapali since it’s a fabulous stretch of beach for families to enjoy. A popular walking path connects many of the hotels and resorts lining the shore in Kaanapali.
Many people enjoy snorkeling here, especially since there’s a long stretch of relatively shallow water they can explore. It’s also not uncommon to find sea turtles in the water here, although they seldom come onshore. Kaanapali is a popular place for parasailing, jet skis, and other water excursions, including whale watching in the winter months.
Hoping to spot a celebrity on your Hawaiian vacation? You’ll up your odds by visiting Wailea Beach. Three luxury hotels, Fairmont Kea Lani, The Four Seasons Resort and the Grand Wailea, are located in this area, along with several other high-end resorts and private homes. Are those hotels out of your budget? Learn how to fly to Hawaii for free and you’ll save hundreds, even thousands of dollars that could go toward your hotel!
This beach is easily one of the most beautiful beaches Hawaii has, although it can also get crowded. It’s been known as one of America’s Best Beaches since 1999. (Source)
The best time to visit Wailea Beach is in the morning before the winds pick up. Although, if you’re not afraid of the stronger waves, you’ll have a great time playing here. It’s also an excellent beach for standup paddleboarding, kayaking, and boogie boarding.
Best Hawaiian Beaches in Kauai
If your idea of heaven on earth is lush, green mountains sloping down to kiss the sparkling blue water, you must be dreaming of Hanalei Bay in Kauai. It ranked number one in the 2009 category for best beaches. (Source) That comes as no surprise and it’s remained mostly untouched since then.
Kauai hasn’t been overrun by the tourist industry, unlike Oahu or the Big Island of Hawaii. Nowhere is that more evident than when you’re standing on the stunning two-mile stretch of beach that makes up Hanalei Bay. When you can see so much beauty in one place–green mountains, white sand, and blue water–it’s hard to believe any vacation spot could be as picture-perfect.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, it does! Kauai is one of the least crowded Hawaiian Islands. Its population is only seven percent the size of Oahu’s so if spending a crowd-free week in paradise sounds heavenly to you, put Hanalei Bay on your agenda. It’s one of the best beaches in Hawaii!
Poipu Beach Park
Not to be outdone by Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach Park was named America’s Best Beach by the Travel Channel. (Source) It’s easy to see why! Two crescent-shaped areas make up this impressive beach. The smaller beach is located on the left side and has calmer waters and a lifeguard. The bigger beach is on the right side and is perfect for those wanting a little more action.
Snorkelers will be dazzled by the breathtaking array of tropical fish and other sea life, proving that the underwater scene is just as exciting as the Kauai landscape is. It’s also not uncommon for endangered Hawaiian monk seals to come right up on the beach. You may also spot some green sea turtles snoozing in the sand. (As always, remember to keep your distance and don’t try to touch them.)
Kauai showcases the quieter side of Hawaii and is perfect for visitors who want to experience the beauty without the hustle and bustle of the larger islands.
Big Island of Hawaii
Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. The beach is in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, but like all beaches in Hawaii, it’s open to the public.
During the summer months, Kauna’oa Beach is popular with families due to its calm, clear waters. You’ll also find the best snorkeling along the coral reef that lines either side of the beach. However, the stronger winds in the winter months make it a dangerous place for inexperienced swimmers.
One of the most incredible things to do on this beach is to look for Manta Rays. The hotel has floodlights that shine over the waters, which attract plankton. Mantra Rays come for feeding time, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot them from Manta Ray Point!
Green Sand Beach
This is easily one of the most unique places you will ever travel to in your life! You’ve likely heard of a black sand beach. You may have even a red sand beach, but you probably haven’t seen a green sand beach. That’s because Green Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of only four in the world.
It’s located at the mouth of the bay at the site of a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. The sand gets its green color from olivine, which is lava rock that flowed thousands of years ago.
You’ll have to go on a pretty steep downhill hike to get to Papakolea Beach. (That’s the proper name of Green Sand Island.) If you’re up for the hike, you’ll be able to say you’ve seen something very few people in this world have. That’s especially true considering how far-flung the other three green sand beaches are!
The Best Beaches in Molokai
There are some amazing adventures in Molokai to be had. The beaches found on this Hawaiian island provide some of the best things to do on Molokai because they are often empty and allow you to roam freely no matter which beach you choose to visit.
Papohaku is on the western end of the island and provides three miles of stunningly sandy beach. As beautiful as this beach is, it is best enjoyed from the safety of the beach as it has sharp hidden coral reefs and swift, treacherous rip currents. It can be quite windy on Papohaku so we like to suggest exploring this beach on foot and perhaps enjoying one of the hikes to the viewpoints above.
Dixie Maru Cove
We tend to spend the majority of our beach time at Dixie Maru Cove as it provides for great swimming and snorkeling in the protected sandy cove. There is Japanese sailboat wreckage offshore that adventurous spirits can snorkel out to. The Japanese sailboat was named Dixie Maru hence the name of the cove but the actual Hawaiian name is Kapukahehu Beach.
We usually stay in Molokai in one of the condos located near Kepuhi beach. We have spent many sunsets on this beach, with a drink in hand, just sitting and enjoying the isolated feeling of being on the beach of Molokai. You will see the occasional surfer on Kepuhi Beach but swimming here is only recommended on very calm days because of strong alongshore currents.
During the winter months, we have watched the waves pound the beach and expose the rocky shoreline. On the southern end of the beach is Kaiaka Rock, which was once a Hawaiian temple.
Pohaku Mauliuli Beach
Located in the west end of Molokai, there are two beaches at Pohaku Mauliuli Beach, one of which is known as “bare buns beach” because of the private setting allowed by having to scramble over a small hill of lava rocks to access it. Pohaku Mauliuli Beach has the nicest white sand beach in my opinion but the water is treacherous and swimming should be avoided.
You can access Pohaku Mauliuli Beach (also known as Make Horse Beach) in one of two ways. You can drive along a very rough dirt road full of potholes to a parking lot about 100 yards from the beach and walk in. Or you can walk north along the shoreline of neighboring Kepuhi beach by following the cart path that is still evident from the golf course that used to operate there. It is roughly a 10-minute walk to the first cove.
We discovered Kaupoa Beach after walking to this abandoned beach village from Dixie Maru Cove. It was roughly a 15-minute walk along a well-marked path and our boys loved playing in the lava rocks that lined much of Kaupoa Beach. It isn’t as protected at Dixie Maru Cove but there is a large beach area and it was fun to explore the lava rocks along the water’s edge.
Other Hawaiian Beaches Worth Mentioning
There are too many beautiful beaches in Hawaii to list them all. Frankly, what’s “best” differs depending on what you want to do there. Here are more of the best Hawaiian beaches that are also worth mentioning.
Oahu: Hanauma Bay, Sunset Beach, Alo Moana Beach, Kualoa, and Waimea Bay
Maui: Hookipa Beach, Kapalua Bay, and Hanalei Bay
Kauai: Polihale State Park, Kalapaki Beach and Kee Beach
Big Island: Hapuna Beach, Manini’owali Beach, Waikoloa Beach, and Punalu’u Beach
Molokai: Murphy Beach, Sandy Beach, Halawa Beach Park, Moomomi Beach
Whether your goal is to surf, snorkel, swim with turtles, or relax on the sand, you’re sure to find the best beach in Hawaii to spend your vacation.
This post originally appeared on Hello Sensible.
Karee Blunt is the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel blog focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.