Hotels flank the curving shoreline of Waikiki Beach.

The beautiful and legendary Waikiki Beach. Photo © jewhyte/123rf.

Tropical destinations are defined by the quality of their beaches. While all the beaches in Hawaii are beautiful, they vary from island to island and coast to coast. Different beaches have different types of sand; depending on what’s on the ocean floor, the water color glistens from deep blue to sparkling turquoise. Whether you’re looking for recreation, isolation, or convenience, there’s a beach that’s right for you.

Best Beaches on O‘ahu

  • Waikiki Beach and Kuhio Beach Park: Side by side in the middle of a legendary shoreline, these two beaches present the essence of Waikiki: white sand framed by Diamond Head, historic hotels, and the sparkling blue Pacific. Queen’s and Canoes surf breaks are just off the shore, catamarans and outrigger canoes line the beach, and sunbathers stretch out in all directions.
  • Waimea Bay Beach Park: This protected marine area on O‘ahu’s North Shore, framed by rocks and boulders on both sides, sees pods of spinner dolphins gracing the bay in the summer. The water is calm and perfect for swimming and snorkeling Don’t forget to leap off Jump Rock.
  • Sunset Beach: This is the quintessential North Shore. The coarse sand made of tiny bits of coral and shells stretches out in both directions and is thick with tropical vegetation along the dunes. Walk north to the point for an unspoiled view of the Wai‘anae Mountains.
  • Sandy Beach Park: Set along the dramatic volcanic southeast coast of O‘ahu next to Halona Blowhole, Sandy Beach is a popular sunbathing locale. Its infamous pounding shorebreak offers the best bodysurfing on the island.
  • Kailua Beach Park: Fine white sand< gently arcing up the coast for four miles. Crystal-clear water with a sandy bottom that’s perfect for swimming, stand-up paddling, and kayaking. A grassy and shady park. Rental outfitters and dining across the street. What’s not to love?

Best Beaches on Maui

The sun reflects off the water at Ka‘anapali beach.

Kick back on the sand of gorgeous Ka‘anapali Beach. Photo © Eddy Galeotti/123rf.

  • Ka‘anapali Beach: Whether you’re looking for snorkeling, stand-up paddling, cliff jumping, or scuba diving, you’ll find it here. This resort district is the see-and-be-seen shoreline for the island’s West Side.
  • Mokulei‘a Bay: During summer, there are few better ways to start the day than by snorkeling at Mokulei‘a. Tucked away at the base of the cliffs and hidden from the road, it’s also a scenic and sandy spot for watching the large winter surf.
  • Hamoa Beach: Travelers from Michener to Twain have written of its beauty. The bodysurfing, surfing, and sandy shoreline make this the nicest beach in Hana. If your vision of paradise involves a book, a palm tree, and the sound of waves at your feet, you’ll find it here.
  • D.T. Fleming Beach Park: D.T. Fleming Beach Park has it all: surfing, beachcombing, and hiking. It’s also a family-friendly beach with facilities.
  • Makena State Park: There are three beaches within this state park; Big Beach is the best known. It’s free of coastal development, a nice respite from nearby hotel-lined shores. The vibe is free and easy.

Best Beaches on Lana‘i

  • Hulopo‘e Beach Park: This Lana‘i marine reserve has a sandy cove, vibrant reef, and palm-fringed shoreline that continue to make it an island favorite. Summer months bring good surfing and bodysurfing, and there are coastal hiking trails on both ends of the beach. Public restrooms, showers, and picnic tables make this a family-friendly outing.

Best Beaches on Moloka‘i

  • Papohaku Beach: This westward-facing shoreline offers the island’s best sunsets. Even though Papohaku is one of the longest beaches in Hawaii, on most days you’ll be putting the only set of footprints in the sand. It’s the perfect beach escape.

Best Beaches on the Big Island

  • Waipi‘o Beach: You have to hike down a nearly vertical road before you arrive at the beach at Waipi‘o Valley on the Big Island. Even with the black sand and a waterfall far elow you, you can’t really argue its appeal. Given the effort it takes to get here, you might as well stay the whole day to explore the valley.
  • Richardson’s Beach Park: There are drive-up beaches galore on Kalaniana‘ole Avenue in Hilo, all with something different to offer. In this case, you’ll enjoy shade, full facilities, and clear blue water perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
  • Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area: Locals rank Hapuna Beach one of the top 20 beaches in the world. The smooth, wide white sand is welcoming to swimmers, body boarders, and snorkelers, drawing huge weekend crowds.
  • Makalawena Beach: It’s a walk over a desolate lava field to this beach in Kekaha Kai State Park, but the payoff is worth it: a nearly uninhabited silky white beach, with truly nothing around you but sun and ocean.
  • Manini‘owali Beach: If a sweltering walk isn’t your idea of a vacation, no worries—Makalawena Beach has a sister beach in the Kua Bay section of Kekaha Kai State Park. When you’ve got it this good (a beautiful white-sand beach, great snorkeling and body boarding, close parking, bathrooms), expect to share the beach with a crowd.
View of Kaua‘i coastline.

Above Sealodge beach in Kaua‘i. Photo © Steven Heap/123rf.

Best Beaches on Kaua‘i

  • Maha‘ulepu Beaches: Take the bumpy dirt road out to the Maha‘ulepu Beaches for secluded beach time. You’ll have your choice of Gillin’s Beach and Kawailoa Bay for relaxation.
  • Po‘ipu Beach Park: Home to a long strip of fluffy white sand, Po‘ipu Beach is great for surfing, both for beginners and experienced surfers, and safe swimming. Restrooms and showers add to the convenience of the easily accessible location.
  • Sealodge Beach: Nestled below Princeville’s cliffs, this small paradise cove is accessible via a roughly 15-minute hike. The small crescent of sand is backed by shade-giving trees. The water offers good swimming and great snorkeling.
  • Hanalei Bay: The long, crescent-moon-shaped beach offers fine white sand to stroll on, calm waters to swim in, and popular surf breaks for all levels.
  • Ha‘ena Beach Park: Nestled in front of a backdrop of lush green mountains at the end of the road, this beach has full amenities and a lifeguard. It’s great for beachcombing and watching surfers.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.