The usual North Shore surf in summertime at Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii. Photo by Mandolin Davis.
Lanikai beach, Oahu. Photo by Hakilon
Lanikai Beach (swimming, windsurfing, kayaking)
Lanikai Beach, along Mokulua Drive about halfway up Oahu’s east side, is regarded as Hawaii’s best swimming beach by Oahu’s residents. This mile long strip of golden sand is clean, usually surf-free, and pretty with palm trees and offshore islands across the water, just like a postcard. The offshore Mokulua islands have small beaches where you can land and swim. Lanikai is at Kailua Road, Kailua – East O’ahu. Note that Oahu’s east shore is wetter than its west.
North Shore: Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline (aka Ehukai), Haleiwa Beach and Waimea Bay (surfing in winter, swimming or bodyboarding in summer)
Winter: Oahu’s North Shore is the mecca of big wave surfing during the winter. Sunset, Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay, and Haleiwa Beach Park are among the world’s most famous surfing spots. From October-May powerful, glassy waves at all these beaches can reach up to 15-30 feet (4-10 m) high, generating very dangerous water conditions, so at that time the area is for expert surfers only.
The North Shore is home of major professional events such as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing that comprises 3 men’s and 3 women’s pro surfing events from November 12 to December 20 each winter.
Summer: During the calmer summer months the beaches become excellent swimming places with light brown sand, calm seas, lifeguards, restrooms, showers and picnic areas. Get there from Honolulu via the Kamehameha Highway, north Oahu.
3 miles of soft light golden coloured sands scattered with useful shade trees and sporting superb 360 degree views of islands and the dramatic Kooloau mountain range; Kailua is often mentioned as having the ‘world’s best view’.
This is a premium wind surfing site for pros and amateurs alike, with gear rentals and lessons available. Other popular activities are kayaking, body boarding and of course swimming. Kailua has all the usual facilities – lifeguard, restrooms, showers and picnic areas.
June – September does see visits from the occasional Australian bluebottle, the Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish (not very venomous) and a stinging seaweed called limu. Kailua is at 450 Kawailoa Road, East O’ahu.
Oahu has many more little secret beaches that adventurous tourists need to hunt out for themselves.
Hanalei Bay Beach (swimming, snorkelling, bodyboarding, surfing, windsurfing ++)
Hanalei Bay on the north shore is a large circular bay, with more than 2 miles of clean white sandy beach backed by mountains, said to be the most scenic setting in the Hawaii islands. It is also one of the best recreation beaches in the island. Loads of ocean activities include kayaking and sailing. There are 3 beach parks with facilities in this bay, Black Pot Beach Park, Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park, and Waiolli Beach Park. The beach is exposed to high surf during the winter. Beware strong currents.
Ke’e Beach (swimming, snorkelling)
The tropical-looking Kee Beach, located at the western end of Na Pali Coast State Park on the North shore of Kauai, is the best snorkeling spot in the island. Its shallow lagoon offers great swimming, especially for families with children. The beach can have high surf during the winter, sometimes summer as well. Beware strong currents.
Poipu Beach Park (swimming, snorkelling, bodyboarding, surfing)
Kauai island is loaded with unspoiled beaches, some secluded and only accessible by boat (such as Honopu Beach or Kipu Kai Beach). Poipu Beach Park is not only one of the great Hawaii beaches, but it is also packed with things to do and places to see. It is known for its unique shape and excellent swimming beach, especially for families with small children, because the lava borders create a sheltered pool with still, shallow water. A few blocks from Poipu Plantation is good for snorkelling due to the calm, clear waters and plenty of colourful fish . Because of its popularity, this coral beach can be crowded. Beware high surf during summer. A more isolated place, a couple of miles east is Mahalepu Beach with a wild beauty. Swimming is not quite as easy as Poipu Beach, but the views are sensational.
Secret Beach, Kauapea, is absolutely gorgeous but quite tricky to get to (15 minutes walk down a dirt road off ‘one’ (south or east!) of the Kalihiwai Roads, near Kilauea town) and the surf/sea is VERY powerful and unsafe.
Big Island (Hawai’i)
Hapuna Beach, Big Island. Photo by Polihale
Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area (swimming, snorkelling, body surfing, surfing)
Hapuna Beach is one of the longest, widest (200 feet) sandy beaches and the most popular beach on the island, especially with bodysurfers and bodyboarders. Excellent public facilities and lifeguards on duty every day. The high surf period is winter months. It is along Queen Kaahumanu Highway (No. 19).
Waikoloa Beach on Anaehoomalu Bay. Photo by Kyle Hawton.
Waikoloa beach, Anaeho’omalu Bay (swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, windsurfing, scuba diving)
Waikoloa in Anaeho’omalu Bay is one of the best recreational beaches on Big Island, excellent for swimming, snorkeling, diving and windsurfing. Even during the high surf of winter, unlike many places in Hawaii the beach stays calm because it is protected by a reef, and does not endanger swimmers near the shore. Offshore is quite challenging for expert windsurfers.
There is a more secluded beach, Kapalaoa, on the south of the bay. Take Waikoloa Beach Drive off from Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
Hulopoe Beach, Lanai (swimming, snorkelling, surfing, scuba diving)
Lana’i used to be Hawaii’s sleepy little island for nature lovers and hikers, but in the last decade it has become an exclusive resort for the rich, especially golfers. This crescent-shaped white sandy beach is not just the only beach on the south coast and easily accessible, but also the best swimming beach on the island. It’s popular with local bodysurfers and surfers.
Hulope Beach takes 15 minutes by car from Lana’i City and there’s no public transport on the island. Other Lanai beaches are more than an hour’s drive, and in some case require 4WD.
Papohaku Beach Park, Molokai (with care, in season – swimming, body surfing, surfing)
Papohaku Beach a wonderful, massive, natural beach backed by lush greenery. It is wide, three miles long and sees very few visitors, probably because it’s also remote, offers little shade and no facilities. The beach has no reef so there is high surf most of the time, but it may be OK for swimming and snorkelling in calm summer months.
Getting around Hawaii
Flights: domestic flights operate frequently between Honolulu (Oahu) and Lihue (Kauai), Kahului (Maui), Kona and Hilo (Big Island).
Ferries: there are also inter-island ferries between Lahaina (Maui) and Manele (Lanai), and Lahaina and Kaunakakai (Molokai).
Hawaii’s beaches get busiest in winter (December – February), mainly because of the weather elsewhere. June to October is the hottest time and December to March the wettest.
The average temperatures are more or less the same winter and summer, 75F-85F (24C-30C). Hotel prices are highest mid-December to the end of March.
If you’re into surfing, winter months are the best, especially the Christmas season on Oahu’s North Shore.
Otherwise for swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing and scuba diving at a less crowded, less pricey, good weather time try March-May, September-November. Beware that some beaches have seasonal high surf in summer.