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10 Best Beaches on the Hawaiian Islands

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

The best shores in Hawaii to do everything from snorkeling, picnicking and swimming, to getting a thrill, watching big waves surfers and eavesdropping.

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While you can’t really go wrong on the shores of any Hawaiian island, there are a handful of beaches that stand out for a variety of reasons. We’ve made sure to include everything from beaches of various colors, and shores that melt into waters filled with a rainbow of sea life, to pristine stretches of sand ideal for a lazy day, and coves that require some serious trekking to get to.

As you can imagine, research for this list was just grueling ;-) But we pulled through to help you prevent the often-paralyzing experience of trying to figure out what Hawaiian beach to explore.

Two of these beaches aren’t great choices for kids, or those with special health circumstances – it won’t be hard to figure out which ones. But if you’re up for a challenge that reaps astonishing rewards, procure childcare for the little ones and indulge in a thrilling date with your partner, or a fellow adventurous adult.

If your favorite Hawaiian beach isn’t on this list, please tell us about it in the comments below.

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Best Beach for a Snorkel: Tunnels Beach, Kauai

Golden sand and turquoise water at Tunnels Beach, Kauai

A nirvana for snorkeling and scuba diving, Kauai’s Tunnels Beach features a coral reef so expansive and vibrant it can be seen from space. Think on that for a minute. For those with an oxygen tank strapped to their back, or an impressive lung capacity, a series of underwater tunnels, created by lava tubes thousands of years ago, can be enjoyed. However, the tunnels are best toured with a guide, especially if it’s your first time.

When the warm, crystal waters have crinkled your skin, the blonde crescent-shaped beach is the perfect setting for a nap, picnic or that quintessential long walk.

For fans of nature photography, you don’t have to worry about buildings photo bombing your shots, as Tunnels Beach is lined by palms and ironwood trees and a few well placed peaks. Speaking of photos, sunset at this spot offers seriously stunning photos ops.

How to Get There

If you’re heading east on Highway 560 from Hanalei towards Ha’ena, you’ll find Tunnels Beach adjacent to mile marker 8. To access the beach and street parking, turn on the narrow road that’s 0.4 miles past mile marker 8, or the one that’s 0.6 miles past. Don’t park on the highway, as you’ll likely get ticketed. And, avoid the hassle of not scoring a parking spot by going earlier in the day.

Best Beach for a Swim: Lanikai Beach, Oahu

View of two small islands from Lanikai Beach, Oahu.

The fact that Lanikai means “heavenly ocean” is appropriate, as this beach offers some of the clearest, most tranquil water on Oahu, making it ideal for not only swimming but non-wave water sports like stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and cat napping on floaties.

You’ve probably seen this beach in various print ads or commercials, as it’s a hotspot for those trying to enhance the product they’re selling with the natural splendor of this oasis. Adding to the appeal are two islands, or “mokes,” jutting out of the sea not far from shore -so don’t forget your camera. And if you’re looking for the ultimate place to propose, or treat your partner to a swoon-worthy date, post up on this beach during a full moon – it’s a big wow.

Tip: Lanikai Beach is PACKED on the weekends, especially during holidays, so plan to enjoy it on a weekday, during sunrise, or after the sun sets and the moon makes it ascent.

How to Get There

If you’re staying near Kailua, getting to Lanikai Beach via ride-share is the most convenient option, as you won’t have to deal with parking. If you’re driving yourself, know that parking is strictly enforced in this area, so be hyper vigilant about reading signs. All access is through footpaths between homes off Mokulua Drive, primarily between Kaelepulu and Onekea. Your best bet is to search for parking on the streets perpendicular to Mokulua.

Best “Beach” for a Thrill: Queens Bath, Kauai

(Not suitable for kids)

The clear waters of Queens Bath, Kauai in the afternoon.

Probably one of the most famous tide pools in the world, Queens Bath is a swimming pool-sized sinkhole in lava rock, filled with the aquamarine waters of the Pacific. It was created after a lava tube collapsed, and is named after the folklore that Hawaiian royalty bathed here.

While it's not safe to swim in the water surrounding Queens Bath, it’s fun to creature-watch, as sea turtle and schools of bright fish use this patch of ocean as an aquatic playground.

Thrill-Seekers Beware: When the surf is big, waves can crash into this tide pool, or even on to the trail leading to the bath. While this type of surf is what allows the pool to have water, it also creates dangerous conditions. So, check the surf report for the Queens Bath area to ensure the surf is 4 feet or less. It’s best to not even bother a hike and swim here between October and May, when the surf is typically large. All you have to do it search Queens Bath on YouTube to see how treacherous it can be.

Before you get in the “bath," observe the ocean to ensure the surf report was correct. Surf can be unpredictable, so trust your eyes and instincts more than anything. However, if the surf report predicted waves over 4 feet, but all looks tranquil, you should still skip it, as the larger waves could show up at any time.

How to Get There

First off, GPS to Kapiolani Loop and park in a small lot at the end of the loop, right before it turns into Punahele Road. Next, follow the trail for about ten minutes until you reach lava rock that disappears into the ocean. Finally, turn left and (carefully!) walk along the rocks for five-ish minutes until you reach Queens Bath. This trail can be muddy and slippery, so it’s essential to bring good walking shoes and a hiking stick/pole.

Best Beach for an Adventure: Honopu Beach, Kauai

(Not suitable for kids)

View from the ocean of the massive rock faces of the mountains backing Honopu Beach, Kauai.

This is one of the only beaches in Hawaii that’s almost guaranteed to not have a crowd… and not because it’s subpar – this Jurassic-esque fantasyland can only be accessed by a swim from a neighboring beach, or an offshore boat. But if you’re a strong swimmer, and determined to investigate one of the most remote shores on Kauai's Na Pali Coast, you’re in for a well-earned treat.

When you reach this cove, flanked by two 1,200-foot sea cliffs, the environment is so prehistoric you half expect a triceratops to lumber out of the jungle (even though dinosaurs never actually lived on these islands.)

For intrepid travelers willing to make the aquatic trek from nearby Kalalau Beach, or that aforementioned offshore boat, wear a mask, snorkel and fins, be sure you can get in and out during low tide and check the surf report to ensure you won’t be swimming in an angry sea.

How to Get There

We feel it’s worth the money to charter a boat to take you as close as possible to Honopu Beach. An added perk of this option is that the boat captain will likely have in-depth knowledge of the currents and tide schedule, helping to ensure your swim is as safe as possible. Check out Na Pali Riders for boat tours.

If you’re an avid hiker and camper, contact Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park to inquire about hiking and camping permits for the 11-mile trail you’ll need to traverse to reach Kalalau Beach. This trail is for highly skilled backpackers only. If you’ll be swimming from Kalalau Beach, walk to the Southwestern-most edge of the beach, then start swimming Southwest, along the shore. For a hiking guide, reach out to Hike Kauai With Me.

Best Beach to Watch Big Wave Surfing (in the Winter): Sunset Beach Park, Oahu

Located on the legendary North Shore, this iconic two-mile beach likely matches the vision that materializes when you fantasize about sipping a cocktail on Hawaiian sands. In the summer, when the waves are flat, this is one of the many dreamy ribbons of Hawaiian seaside optimal for swimming, snorkeling, sun worshipping and reading those gossip mags we hide between the pages of a National Geographic.

But in the winter (October – April), this beach comes alive, serving as one of the most popular sites to witness the best surfers in the world tackle the fury of the ocean. 15 – 30+ foot surf can be seen on many days during the winter, but because the biggest waves break quite a ways out, bring binoculars to catch the drama up close. Oh, and the sunsets. This place was named Sunset Beach for good reason.

P.S. You’ll rejoice when you find restrooms and showers across the street from the beach.

How to Get There

Sunset Beach is located outside Haleiwa Town past Waimea Bay. The address is 59-144 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa 96712 if you’ll be GPS-ing. It’s about 45 – 60 minutes North of Honolulu.

While you can park on the Kamehameha Highway, which borders Sunset Beach, the easiest place to park is Sunset Beach Support Park (where you’ll find those restrooms and showers!)

Best Beach for People Watching: Kaanapali Beach, Maui

Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock, the daily cliff diving ceremony off Kaanapali Beach's northern cliffs

One of the most popular beaches on Maui, this three-mile stretch of sand is the ideal place to engage in incredibly amusing people watching and good-natured eavesdropping. But when you get tired of watching those strangers flirt, kids digging an epic booby trap, and that abnormally-tan, Speedo-clad muscle man doing lunges, you can walk along the powder-soft sand and check out the many resorts and eateries bordering the beach, or float in the turquoise sea that seems to be filled with diamonds when the light hits it just right. This beach is so spectacular it was once a retreat for Maui royalty.

If you need a break from the sun, check out Whalers Village, which is a shopping center that includes an acclaimed whaling museum and regular shows by local performers. For those that hang out till sunset, don’t miss Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock, the daily cliff diving ceremony off the beach’s northern cliffs. This reenactment of a acclaimed act by Maui’s King Kahehili, consists of a cliff diver lighting the torches along the bluff, then diving off Black Rock.

How to Get There

This beach is a 45-minute drive from Kahului airport, and accessed by taking Honoapiilani Highway (HI-30) to Ka’anapali Parkway. While there are a few public parking lots between Ka’anapali Parkway and the beach, you’re almost sure to get a spot at the Whaler’s Village parking area. Be sure to get your parking ticket validated by buying something at one of the shops.

Best Beach for a Picnic: Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island

Beach and grassy picnic areas at Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island

The $5 entry fee to this 68-acre state park is well worth it, as it provides access to the largest snow-white beach on the island, and water so clear it can be tricky to determine where the sand meets the surf. Because of the clear water, coupled with an abundance of sea life, this a prime setting for snorkeling.

When you’re ready for that picnic, you can enjoy your stash of goodies on one of the many beachside picnic tables, or rent beach chairs and an umbrella from the Three Frogs Café, which also offers burgers, tacos, smoothies, and shaved ice. In addition, this concession stand rents snorkeling gear and boogie boards.

If you’re hoping to post up for awhile, A-frame shelters can be rented. These structures provide a screened room, sleeping platforms and a picnic table. In addition, shelter-renters gain access to a central pavilion featuring a range stove, refrigerator and tables, and the Comfort Station with showers (no hot water) and bathrooms.

For those looking to amp up the adventure, take a walk on the nearby Ala Kahaki Trail, which leads you past remote beaches and anchialine ponds, depending on how far you go.

Tip: While there is always a lifeguard on duty, this beach is exposed to the open ocean and can have surf conditions ranging from mild to fierce – check with the lifeguard before diving in.

How to Get There

On the Northwest shore, you’ll drive up Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (HI-19), then turn onto Hapuna Beach Road. Signs will lead you to Hapuna Beach State Park.

Best Beach for Photos: Poipu Beach Park, Kauai

Stars and constellations from Poipu Beach Park, Kauai.

Once named “America’s Best Beach” by the Travel Channel, this iconic shore is composed of two golden-hued, crescent bays offering a natural wading pool ideal for little ones, and smooth waves on the western side of the beach ideal for surfing and boogie boarding.

While there are a few nearby hotels and restaurants, few structures are visible from the beach, making it a prime locale for photos that capture the mellow vibes of this rural tropical environment. For truly breathtaking photos walk out to Nukumoi Point - which separates the two crescents - where napping monk seals are regularly spotted. And if you’re visiting between December and April, have your camera ready for humpback whale sightings.

Amenities include a lifeguard, bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables.

How to Get There

From Koloa, take Poipu Road south, then turn onto Hoowili Road. You can park at a lot at the intersection of Hoowili and Hoone Road.

Best Black Sand Beach: Honokalani Beach, Maui

(also called Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach)

Bird's eye drone view of the black sand and lush foliage of Honokalani Beach, Maui.

This small, volcanic crescent-shaped beach, located on the edge of Wai’anapanapa State Park, was deemed sacred by the Hawaiian people and is the source of many legends. The primary appeal is the stunning display of black sand that was created by a lava flow that cooled, hardened, and then fractured into miniscule pieces by the pressure of the waves thousands of years ago. Adding to the remarkable visuals are the bright green naupaka shrubs and turquoise waters that border the dark sacred sand.

Swimming isn’t recommended at Honokalanai Beach, as powerful surf and sneaky currents are prevalent. So swap your fins for a good camera, and capture the majesty of this otherworldly microcosm.

When you’re ready to move on from the beach, consider hiking in the park’s 122-acres, which include lava caves, wind-twisted plant life, Hawaii’s largest known heiau (temple), stone arches, and blow holes.

If you’re interested in folklore, check out the park’s Wai’anapanapa Caves where a Hawaiian princess was said to have hid from her cruel husband who found, and killed, her in the cave because of the glint of a feather her maid used to fan her. Certain times of year, small red shrimp fill the pool in the cave, creating the effect of blood-filled-water.

Tip: Wear shoes on the beach as the black sand can get HOT on a warm day.

How to Get There

From Hana, travel about three miles north on Hana Highway (HI-360) and take a right on Honokalani Road. When this road dead ends, take a left and follow it until it turns into the parking lot for the beach.

Best Green Sand Beach: Green Sand (Papakolea) Beach – Big Island

Aerial view of the green sand and clear water at Green Sand (Papakolea) Beach – Big Island

This olive-green beach creates the illusion that you’ve landed on an alien planet, as the slope of viridesccent sand melts into a turquoise sea. Then there’s the ancient cinder cone that the beach is carved from, which resembles the planet of Tatooine from Star Wars. This cinder cone belongs to the Mauna Loa volcano that spewed the olivine crystals that created the beach 50,000 years ago. Because these crystals are fairly heavy, they stayed put while the volcanic sand was washed away over time. Be sure to scoop up some sand to get an up-close view of the endless tiny, smooth crystals mixed with a hint of black sand and white shell shards.

It’s requested that visitors not take sand for a souvenir - only photos and memories. And be super cautious about swimming, staying out if there’s big surf, and being hyper-vigilant about rips. Because of these potential risks, children shouldn’t swim here.

Tip: Visit the beach early in the morning to not only beat the crowds, but the heat, as reaching the beach requires a 5-mile round trip hike, and there is no shade on the shore.

How to Get There

From Kona, take Hwy 11 toward Volcano Village until you reach the turnoff for South Point, between mile markers 69 and 70. Follow this road until you reach a harbor where you can park your car in the lot on the left and walk towards the beach until you hit a road that runs parallel to the ocean. Turn left (east) on this road and follow it for 2.5 miles until you reach the bluff above the beach.


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