The 15 most beautiful Hawaiian beaches that we can’t stop dreaming about

Feb 22, 2021

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While the Hawaiian Islands chain consists of just eight main islands — the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Niihau — there are more than 100 incredible beaches to be found on them. You’ll find all sorts of beaches, from those with powder-soft white sand to black, pink and green sand stretches. Some beaches are ringed by shade trees while others offer no shelter so you’ll need to bring your own umbrella. Many offer amenities like changing rooms and restrooms, picnic tables and grills — and some even have playgrounds for the kids.

Some of Hawaii’s beaches are not recommended for swimming due to swift currents, while others are made for surfing and boogie boarding. Some of the most coveted options are inlets that provide calm water for swimming and wading.

Frankly, you can’t go wrong visiting any of them — but if your time is short on the islands, we’ll share our absolute favorites with you to help craft your future tour plans.

Just a few words of advice first. If you plan to get out into the water, it’s best to pick a beach with an on-duty lifeguard. Check water conditions before heading out. HIOceanSafety.com monitors surf and wind conditions and is a good resource to bookmark. Stay out of the water if the surf is high. Never swim alone and keep an eye on children in and near the water.

Hawaii is a magical destination. If you’d like to learn more about the islands, check out TPG’s Hawaii trip-planning resources.

And here’s what you need to know if you’re traveling during the novel coronavirus pandemic:

In This Post

Kaanapali Beach, Maui

Kaanapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Kaanapali Beach on Maui. (Photo by ejs9/Getty Images)

The 3-mile-long Kaanapali Beach on Maui’s West Shore fronts a variety of big resorts, including four points options: the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa and the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. It’s easy to swim and snorkel from this long, walkable beach with views of Lanai and Molokai. It’s common to encounter sea turtles, and even to see humpback whales breaching the water in the distance (season dependent).

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Many visitors not staying at a nearby resort will park at Whalers Village to check out the shops before or after beach time. The path from the shops to the beach passes an area where you can rent snorkel gear, surfboards and wakeboards, and arrange for a shaded cabana. The white sand is nice and soft but there are shells and stones at the water’s edge, so wear reef shoes to protect your tootsies. If you’re visiting near sunset, walk to the Black Rock Beach area (the northernmost part of Kaanapali Beach near the Sheraton Maui, which is also best for snorkeling) where you’ll be treated to a little cliff-diving show.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, beach accessory rentals, nearby shops and restaurants

Related: Massive in Maui — A review of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui

Makena Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Makena Beach on Maui. (Photo by Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Locals and visitors alike spend idyllic days at Makena Beach in South Maui. While there can be some rough waves here, the 1 1/2-mile-long beach is 100 feet wide with glorious white sand. While sunbathing is the order of the day for most, you can swim, snorkel, bodyboard and fish here too. A dormant volcanic cinder cone, Puu Olai, separates Makena State Park, with Big Beach on one side and the 660-foot Little Beach on the other. As you can imagine, the smaller Little Beach can get crowded — and is sometimes where nude sunbathers congregate — so if you want to enjoy that side of the park, visit early to get a spot. There is only an on-duty lifeguard at Big Beach. The view from the park is worth the visit: Kahoolawe and Molokini islands.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, picnic tables, food concessions

Related: 9 things to do in Maui that aren’t the Road to Hana

Hamoa Beach, Maui

Hamoa Beach (Photo by M.M. Sweet/Getty Images)
Hamoa Beach on Maui. (Photo by M.M. Sweet/Getty Images)

Picture a perfect, crescent-shaped beach tucked beneath lava rock cliffs and you have Hamoa Beach out along Maui’s famous Hana Highway (a half-mile past Marker 51 beyond Hana Town). While this is a public beach, it’s also the “house” beach for the Hana-Maui Resort; the lounge chairs you’ll see are reserved for its guests. The beach is just 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, but it’s a place where Hawaiians have gathered to surf for many, many years. You can snorkel here but since the beach faces the ocean with no coral reef fronting it, there can be swift currents, so beware. The beach is lined by hala trees and other vegetation so there are shady spots to be found. Street parking can be tight here (it’s parallel parking) and the walk down to the beach is very steep, so not everyone may be comfortable descending.

  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers and a stop for a local food truck

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu

Hanauma Bay, formed by a volcanic crater (IPhoto by Ignatius Tan/Shutterstock)
Hanauma Bay, formed by a volcanic crater. (Photo by Ignatius Tan/Shutterstock)

You’ll find Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in East Honolulu, about a 25-minute drive east of the Westin Moana Surfrider. It’s been a very popular snorkel destination for years so, in 2002, the city and county developed a marine education program. Now, everyone who visits the beach must first watch a nine-minute video that tells them about the bay’s marine life and how to enjoy the beach safely. The number of visitors per day is capped so be sure to arrive early if you have your heart set on a snorkel session here. Access to the beach is $12 per person, while kids 12 and under are free. It’s worth it: The shallow coral reefs are home to more than 300 species of fish.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers and gift shop

Waikiki Beach, Oahu

North America, USA, Hawaii, Oahu, Honolulu, Chinatown, People enjoying on Waikiki Beach with skyscraper in background. (Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)
Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the distance. (Photo by JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)

Nearly every visitor to Oahu hits Waikiki Beach for its views of the Diamond Head crater or to pay homage to Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic swimmer and father of modern-day surfing, at the statue in his image. Visitors also take surf classes or try their hand at canoe paddling here. On the island’s South Shore, Waikiki consists of a handful of beaches, including Duke’s Beach, Kuhio Beach, Queen’s Surf Beach, Sans Souci/Kaimana Beach Park, Ala Moana Regional Park and Magic Island Lagoon. The last three options offer shallower and calmer waters and are best for families or swimmers of all ages who want to get into the water.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms; showers at all beaches except for Queen’s Surf; Kuhio Beach has food concessions and is accessible; Ala Moana Regional Park has picnic tables and grills plus food concessions; Magic Island Lagoon has picnic tables and food concessions

Related: A review of Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

Kailua Beach, Oahu

Kailua Beach Park
Kailua Beach Park on Oahu. (Photo by kellymarken/Getty Images)

If you’re looking for magical turquoise water paired with powdery soft white sand, head to Kailua Beach Park on Oahu’s East Coast. About 30 minutes from Waikiki, the stretch of beach here is nice and long at 2 1/2 miles between Alala and Kapoho points. The beach is good for swimming and boogie boarding, plus windsurfing at Alala Point. It’s also a nice departure point for sea kayak adventures, as you can rent a kayak at the beach. In the distance, you’ll enjoy views of Moku Nui and Moku Iki islands, which are about three-quarters of a mile off the windward coast. Fit kayakers make the trip in 45 minutes to two hours.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills, pavilion

Kaunaoa Bay, aka Mauna Kea Beach, Big Island

Mauna Kea Beach as seen from the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (Photo courtesy of the resort)
Mauna Kea Beach as seen from the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel)

Beginner snorkelers adore Kaunaoa Bay, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, because the sand-bottomed bay is less than 10 feet deep. Located on the Kohala Coast, it’s a great place to learn how to snorkel, or for less-than-confident snorkelers to enjoy a stress-free outing. There is a rock ledge on the right side of the beach that’s your best bet to spy the likes of peacock bass, butterflyfish, goatfish, parrotfish and turtles. If you’re staying at the on-site Mauna Kea Beach Hotel or nearby, return at night to see manta rays feeding on plankton. While the beach is public, the hotel controls guest parking and there are only a few dozen spots. If you have your heart set on a visit, arrive early in the morning or you may have to wait for a parking spot later in the day. (If parking is full, you can also drive 1 mile south to Hapuna Beach where you will find plenty of parking for $10 per car. See below for more details.) Mauna Kea Beach is a 40-minute drive from Kona Airport. Note that strong rip currents can happen here in the winter.

  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, food and drinks available at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Related: Best beach on the Big Island — A review of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Hapuna Beach, Big Island

Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island. (Photo by Kris S/Getty Images)

Snorkeling is good when the waters are calm at Hapuna Beach, just south of Kaunaoa Bay. But when high surf hits the shoreline in the winter, it’s best to stay out of the water due to strong rip currents. Even so, it’s a popular place to surf and bodyboard when the conditions are right. The white sand stretches a half-mile and is fringed with leafy vegetation. The plus of Hapuna Beach is that it is lifeguarded, but it can get crowded here. If you’re looking for something more sparsely populated, continue south to Waialea Beach (also known as Beach 69). There is a $10 per car entrance fee to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills, pavilion, gear rentals, concessions

Related: How suite it is — Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Big Island

Punaluu Beach, Big Island

Punaluu Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Punaluu Beach on the Big Island is a great place to see green turtles. (Photo by Kirk Lee Aeder/Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau)

What’s unique about Hawaii is the fact that you’ll find as many black sand beaches as white ones. Punaluu Beach is one the easiest black sand beaches to visit and it’s got a lot to offer, from snorkeling to coastal hikes to sunbathing and evening camping (permit required). But many people visit for the opportunity to see endangered hawksbill turtles (honuea) in the water and green turtles (honu) that love sunning themselves on the black sand made from fragmented lava. As you can imagine, black sand gets hot, so wear water shoes at this — or any — black sand beach. Seek out shade under the stand of coconut palms that line the beach. Currents can be strong here, so be careful. Punaluu Bay has several underwater freshwater springs so when in the water, you’ll traverse both warm and colder temperatures. Pair a visit to nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with some time at this beach.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills, pavilion, gear rentals, concessions

Related: 9 things to know about the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort

Hanalei Bay, Kauai

Hanalei Bay
Fun times at Hanalei Bay. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

You honestly can’t visit Kauai without spending some time at gorgeous Hanalei Bay on the island’s North Shore. The crescent-shaped beach offers 2 miles of sand. The center section, known as Pavilions, is very popular for swimming, surfing and bodyboarding. This is the area of the beach that’s staffed by lifeguards. Even if you don’t plan to swim, this is a fantastic beach for walking and there’s plenty of eye candy by way of the boats anchored in the bay.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills, pavilion

Related: North Shore, Green Island — A review of The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas

Lumahai Beach, Kauai

A rock pool at Lumahai Beach in Kauai. (Photo by BackyardProduction/Getty Images)
A rock pool at Lumahai Beach in Kauai. (Photo by BackyardProduction/Getty Images)

Also on Kauai’s North Shore in Hanalei, Lumahai Beach is another stunner. We don’t recommend this beach for swimming, since the surf gets quite rough here. But with its perfect white sand, it’s the type of beach made for walking and enjoying picturesque sunsets. Many people visit just to take photos and there is a scenic overlook of Lumahai Bay from the road above the beach.

  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Facilities: None

Related: Crown jewel of award redemptions — A review of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa

Poipu Beach, Kauai

An endangered Hawaiian monk seal at Poipu Beach in Kauai. (Photo by Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images)
An endangered Hawaiian monk seal at Poipu Beach in Kauai. (Photo by Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images)

We adore Poipu Beach on the South Shore as much as the endangered Hawaiian monk seals that love hanging out here on Nukumoi Point, which separates this beach into two sections. If your kids want to learn bodyboarding, head to the western section of the beach, where gentle waves break against a shallow sandbar. To the left of that area is a shallow swimming area that’s sheltered by lava rock. You can rent snorkel gear and surfboards nearby and there’s an on-site playground and picnic areas.

  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables

Related: A review of the Koloa Landing at Poipu, Autograph Collection in Kauai

Polihale State Park, Kauai

Getting to Polihale Beach was worth the bumpy ride. We practically had it to ourselves.
Getting to Polihale Beach was worth the bumpy ride. We practically had it to ourselves. (Photo by The Points Guy)

First things first, there’s no shade at this beach — so bring an umbrella and a cooler packed with drinks if you plan a visit. In Kekaha on Kauai’s West Side, you’ll find 17 miles of white sand beach and 100-foot dunes. If you love beach walking, this is a terrific spot to get in that exercise. Locals also come here to fish. But the real treat is visiting at dusk to see the sunset over the island of Niihau in the distance. Polihale is the last beach before the Napali Coast takes over. The water is rough here and considered dangerous, so it’s not the place to go swimming.

  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, camping by permit

Papohaku Beach, Molokai

Papohaku Beach, Molokai, Hawaii
Papohaku Beach on Molokai. (Photo by Dana Edmunds/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Most visitors from the mainland visit Oahu, Maui, the Big Island or Kauai, but you’re missing out if you don’t pay Molokai a visit at some point. This smaller, more remote island still packs a punch in the beach arena with its largest: Papohaku Beach on the west side. It’s 100 yards wide and 3 miles long — hence its nickname, Three Mile Beach — so you’ll have plenty of space to spread out and enjoy nature. The sand is white with golden hues at sunset. The water can be dangerous here during the winter months, so get in the water cautiously from October through March.

  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills, two campsites

Related: Off the beaten path — Tips on visiting Molokai

Hulopoe Beach, Lanai

Hulopoe Beach, Lanai, Hawaii
Lanai’s Hulopoe Beach. (Photo by AJ Feducia/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

If you’re lucky enough to stay at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai on the island’s southern coast, you’ll get intimately acquainted with crescent-shaped Hulopoe Beach right on site. The brilliant blue water is a beautiful contrast to the beach’s soft white sand. In the summer, visitors swim and snorkel here, while surfing and bodyboarding are more popular pursuits in the winter. Stroll to the east side of the bay and you’ll find a volcanic rock tidal pool. Kids love exploring here to find sea stars, limpets and hermit crabs. Train your eyes on the water and you’ll often see spinner dolphins and, in the winter, humpback whales. From the beach, take a short hike to see Puupehe, aka Sweetheart Rock. Legend has it that a Hawaiian prince scaled the rock only to jump to his death in the ocean as he mourned the passing of his wife.

  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and grills

Related: Tips for visiting and exploring Lanai

Bottom line

For anyone with a store of miles and points, a Hawaiian vacation moves from the “dream” category to the “do” category very easily. Each island has its own personality, so you may be drawn to returning to the chain again and again. When you do, you can check more of these incredible beaches off your list.

Have you been to Hawaii? Which beaches are your favorites and why? Tell us in the comments.

Featured photo by M.M. Sweet/Getty Images.

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