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Hawaii’s Best Beaches

Our guide to Hawaii's best beaches will give you a good idea of what Hawaii has to offer. Keep in mind that there are over 100 great tourist beaches in Hawaii (see our individual island beach guides for Kauai's Beaches, Maui's beaches, Oahu's beaches and Big Island beaches), and many have dual personalities - dependent on weather, surf, seasonal sand erosion and recent rainfall. So even beaches that are not on this list can be paradise when conditions are right. The list below excludes beaches from Molokai and Lanai.

The Typical Hawaiian Beach

The typical Hawaiian beach has semi-coarse golden brown sand and is flanked by large lava rock formations where colorful tropical fish congregate. The water transitions from a dark blue to a ‘greenish blue’ near the shore. The water is rarely crystal clear as kicked up sand, ocean debris (plankton, coral bits etc.) and sediments from streams reduce visibility. The beach and sand are clean and well maintained, and free of sand flees (no-see-ums) and other annoying critters. A light fragrant breeze blows over calm ocean waters in the morning. In the afternoon the trade winds pick up, turning the ocean choppy with small waves. If it’s a weekday the beach comfortably accommodates all its patrons with ample amounts of play room.

Rating Factors

Below we describe the factors that form the basis for our ratings. Keep in mind that we don’t walk around with a sheet of paper and pencil, taking notes and giving marks, tasting the sand and gargling the water. We attack the beach! Our weapons include surf boards, boogie boards, goggles, soccer balls, shovels and sand trucks, kites and frisbees,  and hopefully a little sun screen.

Quality of Sand

Fine, soft sand is nicer to walk and play on than coarse sand, and also better for construction projects like sand castles. Rocks or other debris greatly reduce the quality as running and playing are not possible. Light colored sand is visually more appealing in our opinion, although it produces more blinding glare than dark sand.


A qualified expert analzyes a beach's fun factor
Waves and Water

Waves influence how much fun a beach is. The most fun and accessible ocean sport is boogie boarding, and as such we judge a beach that normally has active surf by its ability to produce the ideal boogie boarding wave.

In contrast, the most fun and accessible ocean activity is snorkeling. A location that aims to please as a snorkeling spot must have little surf, clear water, and plenty of fish.

The ideal wave is about 3 ft high, breaking perhaps 20-30 yards from the beach in waist high water. This size is challenging and exciting for those who are comfortable in the water, but not overwhelming. After the wave breaks, less experienced swimmers can still catch the white water without fear of being tumbled.

With Hawaii’s reputation as a surfing destination, some may be disappointed by what the ocean offers for non surfers, with waves often being too big or too small for boogie boarding. At many locations, the beach slopes into the ocean rather quickly, resulting in a wave that breaks on top of the beach instead of in the water. Reefs or neighboring islands also deflate wave energy, with trade winds further deforming the waves.

Consistency

The character of the ocean changes dramatically from season to season as far away storms in either the northern hemisphere (Winter months) or southern hemisphere (Summer months) send powerful waves to the north or south facing shores. The position of neighboring islands and reefs also greatly influence the surf that a beach is exposed to. Most northern beaches have a dual personality, often placid in the summer and very active in the winter with something in between in the spring and autumn. The same holds true for south beaches in the summer months, but the effect is less dramatic. East facing shores experience more consistent conditions, while west facing shores often feel the affects of the north or south coast’s big surf. Eastern shores are generally active and choppy due to waves from the trade winds.

Accessibility

All beaches in Hawaii are public. A few hotels and land owners try to trick vacationers into believing otherwise, however hotels must provide public beach access through their property.

In rating a beach’s quality in terms of accessibility we consider walking distance from the parking lot to the beach. This consideration mostly affects a handful of magnificent beaches and attractions on Kauai and the Big Island. A 15 minute walk may sound trivial until one considers navigating lava rocks or a slippery path with beach gear and kids who mysteriously lose all their energy when it’s time to go home.

Size & Crowds

Some people enjoy visiting the beach to people watch, sun tan, and check out the latest beach fashions. However, when we rate a beach a primary consideration is how much room there is to walk and play. Can you fly a kite, play Frisbee, build forts, put up a volleyball net, or go for a long walk or jog? Bigger beaches offer more possibilities and as such are more desirable.

Most of Hawaii’s beaches are not crowded during week days and offer plenty of room to play, both on the sand and in the water. Only a handful of beaches and snorkel locations lose points for being consistently crowded.

Surroundings

Surroundings that detract from a beach include busy roads directly adjacent to the sand, camp grounds, industrial buildings, litter, un-kept facilities (parking lot, park or BBQ area, facilities) etc. Fortunately Hawaii’s beaches tend to be very well maintained with local communities and organizations (like the Surfrider Foundation) helping to keep them clean. Also influencing the ambiance of a beach are the adjacent parks, hotels, vegetation, homes, and neighborhood.

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Rankings - Click links to see aerial and panoramic pictures

  1. Hanalei Bay (Kauai)

    On its good days, this beach shines like no other in Hawaii. Over 2 miles long and set in one of the most picturesque locations in the state with majestic mountains in the background. When the surf’s just right it turns into Disney Land for water enthusiasts. Experienced surfers are offered large waves at a reef on the right hand side of the bay. Closer in, at the pier, the waves lose energy and are perfect for beginners. Variably sized waves are served at the middle sections – good for boogie boarding and intermediate level surfers. The beach is never crowded and offers plenty of room to play.

    During the summer the bay turns into a placid lake that’s good for swimming and a favorite for stand up paddle boarders.

    Hanalei Bay

  2. Lanikai Beach (Oahu)

    Lanikai beach is one of Hawaii's most picturesque beaches with fine white sand and excellent swimming year-round thanks to an offshore reef that keeps the water calm. The beach is ideal for small children and those who don’t like to contend with waves. Less than a mile offshore are two small islands (bird sanctuaries) that one can kayak to. Lanikai is nestled in a corner of Kailua town, hemmed in by hills, and the exclusive residential neighborhood built around the ocean adds to the beach’s charm.

    Lanikai Beach

  3. In years gone by Lanikai was without peer. Eventually the word got out and Lanikai was featured prominently in many publications (including TV). Unfortunately this turned a once quiet and peaceful beach into a popular excursion for visitors from other parts of the island. The ½ mile long beach has also lost a lot of its precious sand to erosion in recent years and is nearly half the size it once was. Still, Lanikai can’t but please those who don’t reminisce over the beach of yesteryear.
  4. Kailua Beach (Oahu)

    Kailua Beach is often cited as Hawaii's best, and for good reason. The beach is nearly 3 miles long, a large portion having soft light colored sand, and offers more activities than any other: swimming, windsurfing, kite-boarding, kayaking, boogie boarding and occasionally surfing. The beach’s playful character persists year round in an area that has a dry climate. The Kooloau mountain range provides a dramatic backdrop. The beach is located in a residential area with no hotels or condos nearby and rarely gets crowded on weekdays.

    Kailua Beach

  5. Hapuna Beach (Big Island)

    Hapuna possesses all the traits that vacationers love. The beach is wide and long, stretching for several hundred yards and offers plenty of play room with fine soft sand. The clear water offers excellent snorkeling towards the rocky south point when the ocean is calm. Skilled swimmers can snorkel almost a mile down the coast to reach the beautiful Wailea Bay. When the surf picks up Hapuna often serves up some excellent boogie boarding.

    Hapuna Beach

  6. Kaanapali Beach (Maui)

    Kaanapali Beach is one of Hawaii’s most energetic, charismatic, and active beaches. The beach’s vibe is defined by the surrounding Kaanapali Resort and the many hotels that sit along its shores. But unlike the similarly positioned Waikiki Beach, the 1.5 mile long Kaanapali Beach is able to shoulder the masses with little strain except during the busiest of times such as Christmas. Many activities including seasonal parasailing, surf lessons, volleyball, and sailing keep vacationers busy. At the north end of the beach lies Black Rock offering great snorkeling.

    Kaanapali Beach

  7. Maniniowali/Kua Bay Beach (Big Island)

    Maniniowali beach, with its fine white sand and crystal clear water, is Hawaii’s tribute to the Caribbean beach. This is simply a beautiful beach that offers great swimming and some snorkeling. Like many Hawaiian beaches, it is best enjoyed in the morning before the winds pick up. And weekends will be crowded.

    Maniniowali Beach

  8. Tunnels Beach (Kauai)

    Tunnels beach is one of the best snorkel spots on Kauai when the ocean is calm (especially the summer months). The long beach and beautiful scenery add to the magic.

    Tunnels Beach

  9. Keawakapu Beach (Maui)

    In a tucked away spot between Wailea and Kihei sits the lovely Keawakapu beach. It’s size, fine sand, relative lack of crowds, playful nature, and consistently good swimming conditions make it the best beach in South Maui. Several exceptional vacation homes (price included) overlook the beach. Better to keep this one a secret.

    Keawakapu Beach

  10. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park (Oahu)

    Waimanalo beach is massive – nearly 4 miles long. The beach park segment is located in the middle of the bay. The northern section is known as Bellows beach and used to be part of an air force base that has now closed down (used as a vacation spot for the military). The ocean here is rougher than Kailua Bay just to the north, making it less suitable for inexperienced swimmers, but the boogie boarding tends to be better. Despite less than ideal swimming conditions, the size, scenery, sand, and beautiful ocean colors make Waimanalo a great beach.

    Waimanalo Beach

  11. Poipu Beach Park (Kauai)

    Poipu beach is split into two small bays. One section is protected and ideal for infants and small children. The other section is good for swimming and snorkeling, and sometimes surfing when the waves pick up. The two sections of the beach are separated by a sand bar, which is usually claimed by a monk seal (endangered species), that understands the value of an afternoon nap.

    Poipu Beach Park

  12. Kapalua Bay(Maui)

    Kapalua is a beautiful beach with nice sand and good snorkeling in a protected bay. In the past Kapalua bay has been cited as the best in the U.S. although today it's one of the most popular beaches in the region and somewhat more crowded than in years past.

    Kapalua Bay

  13. Kahekili Beach (Maui)

    This is the extension of Kaanapali beach past Black Rock. Many confusingly group it with Kaanapali Beach, conveniently ignoring the 250 yards of lava rock and hotel that separate the two. Kahekili beach is still situated within the Kaanapali resort, but has a distinct character of its own. There are fewer hotels (although much new construction) and consequently the beach is far less busy than Kaanapali. The beach offers beautiful fine sand and great swimming.

    Kahekili Beach

  14. Waikiki Beach (Oahu)

    Waikiki beach is about 1.5 miles long and divided into several sections - connected by boardwalk. The beach offers good swimming and surfing year round as well as several other fun tourist activites. Waikiki loses a lot of points for being very busy, although Kapiolani beach park (pictured below), the final segment of Waikiki, is much less crowded than the other sections.

    Waikiki Beach

  15. Makalawena Beach (Big Island)

    As picturesque as the nearby Maniniowali beach, but sometimes offering good boogie boarding. Because access is via a 15 minute hike on a lava path from Kekaha Kai Beach, the beach is usually uncrowded.

    Makalawena Beach

  16. Kamaole Beach Park I(Maui)

    This is Kihei's best beach with good swimming and reasonable snorkeling at the rocky ends of the beach. Backing the beach is a very busy road, but the beach is somewhat protected by small dunes.

    Kamaole Beach Park 1

  17. Kiahuna Beach (Kauai)

    Featuring fine soft sand, this beach offers swimming, beginner surfing, boogie boarding and sometimes snorkeling.

    Kiahuna Beach

  18. Mauna Kea Beach (Big Island)

    This beach is located just north of Hapuna beach and shares many of Hapuna’s characteristics. Parking is difficult to find but as a result crowds are also kept down.

    Mauna Kea Beach

  19. Malaekahana State Park & Goat Island (Oahu)

    Stretching for more than a mile and never busy on weekdays, the waves at this gently sloping beach are often lots of fun - even for novice swimmers. Offshore is Goat Island (not seen from the vantage point in the below photo), a treasure in itself, accessed by wading through the water when the ocean is very calm.

    Malaekahana State Park

  20. Napili Bay (Maui)

    A charming beach with excellent swimming. The beach is busy throughout the week and popular spot for those with children.

    Napili Beach

  21. Sunset Beach (Oahu)

    A beautiful and long strech of beach with great swimming and snorkeling during the summer. Winter months often bring large waves suitable for expert surfers only.

    Sunset Beach Park

  22. Mahaulepu Beach (Kauai)

    This remote beach on Kauai's south shore is simply beautiful and a favorite resting place for monk seals. There is no development nearby and the area features a wonderful coastal hike.

    Mahaulepu Beach

  23. Secret Beach (Kauai)

    Secret Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches on Kauai. It’s the beach that’s seen from the nearby lighthouse. The ocean at secret beach tends to be rough, especially in the Winter. It’s often swimmable during the summer, but seldom suitable for novice swimmers.

    Secret Beach

  24. DT Flemming Beach Park (Maui)

    This large beach offers good swimming with occasional boogie boarding surf. Reasonably quiet during weekdays but very popular on weekends.

    DT Flemming Beach

  25. Poolenalena Beach (Maui)

    One of the lesser known beaches in South Maui with good snorkeling at the rocky end sections of the beach.

    Poolenalena Beach

  26. Wailea Beach (Maui)

    A picturesque beach with soft sand and good swimming. The beach is backed by two impressive hotels as well as the fabulous Wailea Beach Villas.

    Wailea Beach

  27. Waialea Bay (Big Island)

    Waialea bay offers excellent snorkeling, especially mornings before winds have picked up. The beach is crowded on weekends but suprisingly empty during weekdays.

    Wailea Bay

  28. Kikaua Bay (Big Island)

    This is a beautiful man made beach fronting a protected bay. Don't be too surprised that we include an artificial beach in our ratings (Waikiki is also manufactured, although on a much grander scale).
    The beach doesn't get much fuller than pictured below due to very restricted parking.

    Kikaua Beach

  29. Anini Beach Park (Kauai)

    A narrow reef protected beach that stretches for over 2 miles in several sections. Despite the reef good snorkel spots are hard to find. Anini has the calmest ocean conditions on Kauai's north shore - still channels in the reef can create strong currents.

    Anini Beach

  30. Big Beach (Maui)

    One of Maui's widest beaches, Big Beach rarely gets crowded. Although a popular boogie and body boarding site, serious injuries are a weekly occurance thanks to a deceptively forceful shore break. The southern section sometimes offers calmer conditions.

    Big Beach

  31. Polihale State Park (Kauai)

    This is the last section of Hawaii's biggest and most majestic beach, one that stretches for over 12 miles. Polihale's tale is unfortunately a sad one. A military base occupies over 7 miles of the beach. A confoundingly terrible dirt road services the remote park (rental cars likely prohibited). Strong currents make for dangerous swimming conditions, although the queen's pond area (depicted in photo but not visible due to high winter surf) offers reef protection.

    Polihale State Park
Hawaii has many other fine beaches that could easily have made our list. Visit our island beach guides or interactive map guides to see other beaches and attractions, more photos of the above beaches, and get information on their exact location.
Kauai Beaches |  Oahu Beaches |  Maui Beaches |  Big Island Beaches |  Hawaii's Best Island