With those Polynesian island vibes, grass-skirt Luaus, and humbling volcanoes, it can be easy to forget that Hawaii is part of the USA. Blissful beaches, spectacular sunsets and everything from total seclusion to resort-studded coastlines are on offer here, and the entire state is a tropical paradise.
If you’re eyeing it up, here’s the inside scoop on the best beaches in Hawaii.
First Off, Get Your Bearings
Hawaii is formed of 19 islands. The Pacific Ocean location sticks Hawaii on the northeast corner of Polynesia (perfect for that culture blend), while the geological hotspot offers jaw-dropping scenery and a really lush setting. The biggest mistake people make is to assume that everything revolves around the main “Big Island”. Even the world-famous Honolulu isn’t on it.
The eight major islands are Hawaii (Big Island), Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Niihau. Each is different, but beach-wise, you’re literally spoiled for choice.
Our Top Ten Hawaiian Beaches
01 – Lanikai Beach, Oahu
02 – Kapalua Beach, Maui
03 – Hapuna Beach, Big Island
04 – Ka’anapali Beach, Maui
05 – Poipu Beach, Kauai
06 – Waikiki Beach, Oahu
07 – Pokai Bay, Oahu
08 – Hulopoe beach, Lanai
09 – Wailea Beach, Maui
10 – Papohaku Beach, Molokai
Big Island: Nesting Turtles, Great Seafood And Black, White Or Green Beaches
Big Island is best summed up as a beautifully diverse, foodie paradise that really embraces Hawaiian culture. You’d be missing out by not visiting its fiery volcano as that is the island’s main draw, but its beaches are also fantastic as they not too crowded.
One of our favourites on the Island is the long stretching soft sands and lapping turquoise waters of Hapuna Beach. This stunning tree-lined beach is one of the island’s most popular, as it offers sunbeds, various activities and is great for cliff snorkelling.
For a more secluded escape, head to Makalawena Beach on the North Kona coast. You’ll need to be prepared for a 20-minute hike across a lava path, but if you make the journey you’ll be rewarded with the island’s most spectacular soft white sands and crystal-clear waters.
Volcanic lava fragments have also left beautiful black beaches, like Pololu Valley Beach. With a dramatic setting at the end of Highway 270, this beach requires a 15-minute downhill hike, but the seclusion is worth it. Think wild dunes, sweeping Kohala Mountain views and all the fresh air in the world. Over at Waipio Valley, the crescent black-sand beach is the stuff of dreams- 2,000-foot cliffs shelter it, waterfalls run down them and chunky rocks chop up black-inky sands. Most black-sand beaches will also have you spotting nesting sea turtles lounging around in the sun.
There are only two green-sanded beaches in the entire USA. One of them is on Big Island. Washed from a 49,000-year cinder cone, Papakolea Beach’s glassy-green shores are great for snorkelling (but again, prepare for a bit of a hike to get there).
Images: Hapuna Beach, Makalawena Beach, Waipio Valley
Maui- Sheltered Coves, Great Swimming And Quality Resorts
Maui has more swimmable beaches than any other Hawaiian island. It’s known for beautiful dormant volcanoes, waterfalls, natural pools and golf. Lahaina Town offers great nightlife, museums, shopping and the scenic harbour. The Western coast is best for stunning sunsets, while the South is the island’s most upscale region.
For sugary-white sands, there’s Ka’anapali Beach which has plenty of resorts, a beachfront boardwalk and lots going on, day and night. This is by far the island’s most popular, and although busy at times it’s far less crowded than Oahu’s Waikiki Beach.
Kapalua Beach is this island’s most stunning spot, it’s lined with palm trees, it’s framed by lava rocks and is always ranking as one of Hawaii’s best beaches.
For jet-black sands, there’s Wai’anapanapa Beach. If you want somewhere to lounge with a cocktail, try the trendy resort bars over at Wailea Beach. The island equally offers hidden spots like Honokalani Beach which has aquamarine waters, black sands and a jungle backdrop.
Images: Kaanapali Beach, Kapalua Beach, Wailea Beach
Oahu- Honolulu, Waikiki, Nightlife And Romantic Beaches
Oahu Island has 112 miles of coastline (and 128 beaches). With Honolulu and Waikiki, this island is Hawaii’s top tourist destination, so expect world-class dining, tons of shopping, entertainment and the funky vibe that makes it so popular.
Waikiki Beach is possibly one of the World’s most famous beaches, so shouldn’t need much explaining. With a background of high-rises under blue skies you’ll find high-end resorts, great restaurants and lots to do nearby.
For powder-soft sands and lapping waters, Lanikai Beach is just the ticket. Located by the peaceful town of Kailua, this is one of Hawaii’s most picturesque beaches winning many awards. It’s offshore reef, ensures the clear waters are calm all year and you can also kayak to the small offshore islands – pure paradise!
Sunset Beach is one of the local’s favourites, a long expanse of sand, peaceful, stunning and great for swimming. If you really want a place to yourself though, head out to Pokai Bay’s secluded shoreline. Oddly, the man-made Ala Moana Beach Park between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki makes this list for its palm-fringed white sands, reef sheltering and cracking swimming.
Images: Lanikai Beach, Pokai Bay, Waikiki Beach
Kauai- Long-Stretch Beaches, Surfing And Canyons
Way less developed than Oahu and Maui, Kauai ranks higher for remote terrain and lush wilderness (but lower for choice of hotels). Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed here, so it’s mostly about the 10 mile-long Waimea Canyon, rugged Na Pali Coast and red-dust hikes. The beaches here are gorgeous, though.
Poipu Beach has been named as one of America’s best beaches. Its sand bar divides the beach into a protected cove ideal for children, and then a long stretch of sand on the other side offering all the beach activities you could ever want.
If snorkelling is a priority, head to Tunnels Beach, famous due to its half moon shaped reef and deep-water caverns. Polihale has 17 miles of golden sands, while Kauapea “Secret Beach” has jutting red cliffs and staggeringly beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
Images: Poipu Beach, Poipu Beach, Kauai Coastline
If You’re Considering The Smaller Islands
Don’t automatically assume that Hawaii’s best beaches are the most talked-about. Lanai is the nature-centric island that still offers boutique hotels and shopping, but there are no flights from the mainland. Hulupoe Beach here has the Four Seasons hotel, although you’re missing out if you don’t visit Shipwreck Beach. Molokai Island is more under-the-radar, but you’ll find great beaches here with Kiawe trees and picnic pavilions. We recommend the East End’s Sandy Beach, the West End’s Papohaku Beach which is actually the largest beach in the state and the locals’ favourite, Ali’i Beach Park (lots of open lawns and shore fishing).
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