Best Hawaii  Beaches, USA

The usual North Shore surf in summertime at Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii. Photo by Mandolin Davis.

The usual North Shore surf in summertime at Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii. Photo by Mandolin Davis.

Best beaches in the Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii’s beaches are all public even if they front onto luxury hotels or elegant mansions so feel free to enjoy the groomed sands, clear waters and well-organised parking, but stay away from loungers and parasols unless you wish to buy a drink, something to eat or rent equipment.


Oahu encompasses Hawaii’s biggest city, Honolulu, its touristy Waikiki beach as well as the famously monster surf on the North Shore. It is the most densely populated of all Hawaiian islands, but it also has the best surf beaches in the world, an historic harbour, a lovely driving circuit around the coast and plenty of inland greenery and good walks.

Hanauma Bay, Oahu. Photo by Cristo Vlahos

Hanauma Bay, Oahu island. Photo by Cristo Vlahos

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve (swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving)

Hanauma Bay, situated in the crater of a volcano, is one of the Hawaii’s most beautiful bays, with terrific, safe snorkelling and scuba diving for both amateurs and experienced divers onto a flourishing coral reef.
The beach is large, sandy, palm-shaded, with calm waters due to the protective arms of the bay’s rocky outcrops and a couple of spectacular hiking trails on the ridge behind.
Hanauma is a marine life conservation area, so has strict rules such as no smoking, no pets, no booze, no fishing and only 2,000 visitor per day, so go there early in the busy season.
Facilities: restrooms, showers, picnic areas, concession stands, locker rental, snorkelling gear rentals.
Hanauma is at 7455 Kalaniana’ole Highway, Southeast O’ahu, about 10 miles (16 kms) east of Waikiki.

More Oahu beaches

Lanikai beach, Oahu. Photo by Hakilon

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.

Kailua Beach

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.

Maui beaches

Maui big beach, Hawaii, USA. Photo fiuchris

Maui big beach, Hawaii, USA. Photo fiuchris

Maui is the second biggest Hawaiian island but many think it’s the best, offering numerous waterfalls, freshwater pools, spectacular viewpoints, a couple of museums and archeological artefacts, endless activities from the obvious marine stuff to hiking, horse riding, zipline action, golf, dolphin encounters, whale watching, kayak rentals and tours, glass-bottom boats, submarine trips.
Maui is also ringed with around eighty beaches ranging from black-sand beaches to light gold, many characterful and rarely crowded, though facilities can be limited.

Kaanapali Beach (swimming, snorkelling, body surfing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving)

Ka’anapali beach and its soft brown sand is located in front of the Kaanapali Resort, extending nearly 3 miles from Kahekili Beach in the north to Hanakaoo Beach (Canoe Beach) in the south. The beach is lined by a concrete walkway, hotels, restaurants and activity centres and is one of the best place for watersports and activities in Hawaii. During no or low surf seasons, snorkeling and scuba diving are fantastic around Black Rock (a volcanic cinder cone on the north end of the Kaanapali Beach, known as Airport Beach). Surfing is good to the south near the Marriot Hotel.
Kaanapali has outstanding views across the Auau Channel and has been voted ‘Beach with the Best Sunset’ by the Hawaii Magazine.
The beach has lifeguards, restrooms and showers but can get overcrowded and thefts occur.
Kaanapali is off Highway 30, West Maui.

Wailea Beach (swimming, snorkeling, body surfing, windsurfing, scuba diving)

One of the better family beaches, Wailea beach is wide, with shade, soft, light brown sand, good snorkeling, swimming, kayaking and sailing. However, parking nearby is difficult to find and offshore currents can be strong in the afternoon because of the Trade Winds. There are occasional jellyfish on the beach or in the water – don’t touch the blue bubbles! The Four Seasons Hotel, one of the best beach resorts in Hawaii, is located at this beach and there is a shopping village nearby.
Whales sometimes appear in winter months. The beach is safe except during periods of high surf or Kona storms (severe winds from west).

The Royal Lahaina Hotel at Kaanapali Beach, Lanai, Hawaii, USA

Maui’s Palauea beach. Photo viriditas.

Palauea Beach (swimming, snorkeling, body surfing, scuba diving)

If you like more secluded Hawaii beaches, go to Palauea (‘lazy’) Beach south of Polo Beach in Wailea. This excellent swimming beach is one of the last undeveloped area on the Wailea-Makena coastline. Ideal for families with young children because it is sheltered from the winds and the water is shallow.
At the south end of the beach there are underwater rock formations that make interesting diving and snorkelling.
There are no facilities, nor lifeguards (the nearest food is at the Kea Lani Beach Hotel). Do not leave anything in your car, break-ins are problem here! High winter surf and winds may occasionally cause dangerous water conditions.

 Kapalua Beach Park (swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving)

Kapalua Beach is a beautiful golden stretch along the west coast of the Keanae Peninsula, with a spectacular view of Molokai, and one of the prettiest and safest beaches on Maui – once voted the best beach in the world by Condé Nast Magazine and offers some of the best snorkeling in Maui. It also has an exclusive beach resort called Kapalua Bay.
Inside the bay is well-protected from big waves by offshore reefs and by lava outcrops on the both sides, making this a superb swimming beach for families with small children. It is also a good place to watch whales, during the whale season. If you drive, beware that public parking and beach access is not easy to find, and it’s a bit of a walk to the beach.

Maui's Fleming beach, near Kapalua. Photo kasugahuang

D.T. Fleming Beach Park near Kapalua. Photo by Kasuga Huang.

D.T. Fleming Beach Park

This tranqil, crescent cove makes an excellent family beach and is equipped with all the necessities – restrooms, showers, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and parking lot. Just north of the Ritz-Carlton hotel it has trees proving good shade, limited waves, decent snorkeling, good swimming and a shallow sandbar that kids will enjoy.

Hamoa Beach

Near tiny Hana town in eastern Maui, Hamoa is a picturesque, beige sand, public beach in a tranquil, tree-lined bay overlooking the little palm-topped island of Alaui; one of Hawaii’s favourite beaches though there is no lifeguard and sea conditions vary from no surf to occasional big surf as there is no barrier reef. There are restrooms and picnic facilities. Get there via the Hana Highway, a serpentine 52 mile road along Maui’s north shore.

Getting around

UK visitors should remember to register with ESTA for USA before flying out there!

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).

Kauai beaches

Hanalei Sand Festival on Kauai. Photo by Kauaiwaves.

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) beaches

Hapuna Beach, Big Island. Photo by Polihale

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 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.

Lanai island

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.

Molokai island

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 Weather

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.