An archipelago state, Hawaii is known throughout the world as a place of exceptional beaches and rip-roaring waves with the presence of volcanoes around every corner.
There are over 130 islands in Hawaii, yet you don’t have to go beyond the major islands to find memorable beach experiences. From the famous Oahu to the humble Molokai, there are beaches for families, for adventurers, and for those who love nothing more than to chase the perfect wave.
Nature has shaped the best beaches in Hawaii. While you’ll find innumerable golden shores, there are black and red sand beaches burnt through history by surging lava. The range of options means you won’t have to try hard to escape the crowds.
18. Hanalei Bay, Kauai
Curving around the coast and protected by two hearty reefs, Hanalei Bay is one of the best places to swim on the island. The sand runs for two miles and its width grows well over 100 feet in certain parts. This helps to spread out the crowds who come in large numbers to the popular beach.
Aside from looking out to the far horizon, beachgoers will enjoy beautiful views of the vast mountains of Kauai. If you’ve come on a calm, windless day, the surface is like glass and begs you to dive in for a swim. For surfers, you can enjoy lively waves towards the beach’s eastern end.
17. Sunset Beach, Oahu
Running for two miles, Sunset Beach is famous not just for golden hour but for the burly barrels that attract expert surfers from across the globe. On the iconic North Shore of Oahu, home to the Bonzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach is the place to go to test your skills and bravery.
But that’s just in the winter months after the winds have picked up. In the summer, beachgoers will feel more comfortable getting out on the water. At that time of year, the ocean is calm and the vast sand is great for large groups and families.
If you’ve arrived in winter, don’t miss out on the fun and head to Sunset Beach and watch the surfers tame the beasts.
16. Kua Bay, Big Island
The fun starts immediately at Kua Bay. Before you even arrive on the soft golden sand, you’ll wander along an accessible paved path that guides you through a vast lava field. Soon the barren beauty makes way for sparkling turquoise water fringed by ancient lava rocks.
After finding your spot on the beach, you’ll look out on the water and see some fun waves waiting to be tamed. With a lifeguard standing watch, head out into the water with a boogie board or try your hand at body surfing.
When you’re ready for a break, you’ll have access to showers, bathrooms, and picnic areas, complete with BBQ grills.
15. Kaihalulu Beach, Maui
Also known as Red Sand Beach, Kaihalulu Beach is a dramatic stretch of sand, worth the trip for the adventure alone. You’ll need to hike to this remote beach, surrounded by large red cliffs. Be sure to wear sturdy footwear and be sure-footed as you navigate the tricky path.
After arriving, take your time admiring the stunning scenery with the cliffs and cinder cones hugging the beach and the small patch of red sand is your only respite from the ruggedness of nature.
Kaihalulu Beach isn’t the place to go to swim. There are some protected spots, but for the most part the swimming is rough.
14. Wailea Beach, Maui
Maui’s remote eastern coast quickly makes way for resorts as you travel south. It’s here, in front of the impeccable Grand Wailea, that you’ll find Wailea Beach. For an upscale beach day, it’s hard to pass up this stretch of sand as you can balance your sunbathing with great food and waterfront bars.
Wailea Beach forms a crescent along the shoreline with the soft sand, providing the perfect bed for a day under the sun. The blue water sparkles and calls your name, a call you’ll answer just to experience the beauty beneath the water.
Aside from snorkeling, the beach has rental outfits slinging boogie boards, surfboards, and paddleboards for your enjoyment.
13. Anini Beach, Kauai
If there’s one word to sum up Anini Beach, it would be relaxing. The spot is a popular choice among those staying in the nearby resort town of Princeville and is enveloped in coral reefs leading to picturesque and calm swimming.
The water remains shallow for some time as you venture away from the beach. This helps to overcome the lack of lifeguards. But those comfortable diving into the deep end can head further out to explore the gorgeous Anini Reef. Here, snorkelers and scuba divers converge on an exquisite spot, one worthy of its own spot in an art gallery.
If you don’t want the day to end, you can camp overnight on Anini Beach.
12. Wai’anapanapa State Park, Maui
Another stretch of black sand not to be missed can be found within Wai’anapanapa State Park on the island of Maui. Towards the end of the famous Road to Hana, the beach is surrounded by dense Hawaiian jungle that is as unkempt as the sand is beautiful.
Getting here isn’t straightforward, however. Would-be beachgoers will first have to drive down the gravel road to a trailhead. From there you’ll walk through the jungle, which then makes way for a small cove.
The diminutive beach has no shortage of mesmerizing sights. You can venture into lava caves, spot the stunning sea arch and experience the colorful life underwater.
11. Papohaku Beach, Molokai
One of the longest beaches on Molokai, Papohaku Beach is the place to go to enjoy some privacy. The beach runs for three miles and its width provides seemingly endless opportunities to find your own patch of sand.
After wandering along the lengthy shore, adding footprints to the sand, settle on a spot and enjoy the views across the channel to Oahu. Those with a keen eye may even be able to spot Diamond Head.
Papohaku Beach has all the amenities you need from bathrooms and showers to picnic tables. You’ll want to stick around for the beach’s amazing west-facing sunsets and you can even camp out overnight.
10. Makena Beach, Maui
In South Maui, Makena Beach is a small stretch of sand that packs a big punch. The 0.6 mile block of sand is placed within the beautiful Makena State Park and the stunning scenery will have you assuming you’ve ascended to the heavens. The beach may not be long, but it’s 100 feet wide and provides ample space for bathing in the sun.
As Makena Beach is within a state park, you’ll be able to laze on the sand while surrounded by nothing but nature and a turquoise ocean. The lack of development adds a layer of peace to the experience, a scene only bettered by the gorgeous coral beneath the surface.
9. Kailua Beach, Oahu
Stretching along the eastern coast of Oahu for over two miles, Kailua Beach provides ample room to lounge upon the beautiful sand and swim in the shallow waters.
Just up the coast from Lanikai Beach, Kailua is another popular beach spot, yet avoids the mass of crowds found elsewhere on the island. Being on the windward side, the beach has a consistent breeze that also makes it great for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Further out, beachgoers will have access to waves perfect for breaking out the boogie board or even enjoying some thrilling sea kayaking.
Behind the sand, there is a large oceanside park where you’ll find bathrooms and picnic areas to enjoy.
8. Kapalua Beach, Maui
The views from Kapalua Beach are just as good as the beach itself. From your spot on the sand, you’ll be able to gaze upon Mauna Kahalawai, a breathtaking volcano. After picking your jaw up off the sand, you can then look across the channel to Molokai.
Once you’ve admired the vistas, turn your attention to making the most of this wonderful beach. Kapalua has a reputation of being one of the safest swimming beaches on Maui, even when the winds pick up in winter. There is a duo of reefs on each end, blocking the swell and creating memorable snorkeling. You can also embark on the Kapalua Coastal Trail that runs to DT Beach Park.
7. Punaluu Beach, Big Island
For all the golden sand beaches in Hawaii, travelers will be remiss not to experience the state’s spellbinding collection of black sand shores. On the southeastern coast of the Big Island, Punaluu Beach is a vast swath of rich black sand, burnt by lava and now providing picturesque contrast.
First, you’ll wander through the coastal jungle, the array of greens interrupted only by the sky above. Soon the trees disperse and greens make way for a thick, glistening black sand backed by electric blue water. The sand continues to warm under the sun throughout the day, leading to many a dip in the refreshing Pacific Ocean.
6. Lanikai Beach, Oahu
Found on the windward side of Oahu, Lanikai is a quintessential paradise and one of the best beaches in the state. Its location leads it to be a lot quieter than beaches found on the other side of the island, most notably Waikiki. But for those who make the journey, they’ll uncover a tranquil beach where glistening white sand mingles with the baby blue ocean.
As you look out towards the ocean, the shadows of swaying palms move left and right, a reminder of the jungle that lays behind you. The off-shore reef cuts the swell’s legs out from underneath, creating pleasant swimming for all ages.
5. Poipu Beach, Kauai
On the South Shore of Kauai, Poipu Beach is split into two sections, making it a popular choice among all beachgoers. In the center of the beach, Nukomoi Point soars out into the Pacific, cutting off the swell to one side, leaving calm, child-friendly conditions to enjoy. This is accentuated by the sandbar, with lifeguards on watch throughout the year.
On the other side of the point, snorkelers and surfers gear up. There is space away from the surfers for snorkelers to explore in peace, while the range of beginner and intermediate waves will be perfect for newcomers to the sport and those who are feeling a little rusty.
For bigger swells, experienced surfers can venture out beyond the point for some thrills. Wherever you choose to settle on Poipu Beach, keep your eye out for Hawaiian monk seals who are known to laze upon the golden sand.
4. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu
The archipelago state of Hawaii has dozens of mind-boggling beach experiences, but the one to be had at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve may just be the most unique. The bay was formed in prehistoric times and stands upon an ancient volcanic crater.
On either side of the bay, the land juts out, protecting the water and creating an idyllic environment. Hanauma Bay is a spot for swimmers. With little swell, you’ll be able to experience the impeccable underwater world that thrives with its protected status.
Travelers will need to pay a fee to enter the preserve and also watch a video about the park. This will help you appreciate the vibrant nature beneath the surface and the immense colors that envelope the reefs and marine life.
3. Waikiki Beach, Oahu
Arguably the most famous beach in Hawaii, Waikiki Beach forms the bulk of the renowned shoreline in front of the boisterous Waikiki. Not far from downtown Honolulu, this beach has it all and has become the symbol of travel in Hawaii.
With the range of nearby accommodation, staying near the beach is a popular option. But the fun to be had on and off the water is what makes Waikiki so beloved. On the golden sand, the revelry runs throughout the day, volleyballs fly left and right and beachgoers rotate between the shore and nearby bars.
There are roped off sections of the beach separating nearby surfers and water sports from swimmers. The blue-tinged ocean rolls in but is mitigated by the ropes, creating a peaceful experience. For more relaxation, head behind the beach to Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon.
2. Hapuna Beach, Big Island
Located within Hapuna Beach State Park, this stretch of sand is the main attraction of the memorable Kohala Coast. This incredible coastline runs along the northwestern shore of the Big Island, with Hapuna Beach’s sparkling white sand drawing you in the moment you arrive.
The beach is smaller than others on this list, at only a half-mile long. Yet the calm waters and surrounding nature park create a classic Hawaiian experience. As you lay on the golden sand, you’ll enjoy glistening turquoise water with the swaying greenery providing the perfect backdrop.
Hapuna Beach is known for its inviting swimming, with approachable waves that are great for body surfing. Importantly, lifeguards look on 12 months of the year and alongside picnic areas, food stands, and restrooms help to make this beach family-friendly.
1. Kaanapali Beach, Maui
On the west coast of Maui, Kaanapali Beach offers exceptional swimming and snorkeling opportunities. Here, travelers can enjoy the true beauty of the island while also having access to a range of amenities that make the beach similar to Waikiki.
The golden sand runs for three miles along the exquisite coast and is lined by an endless supply of restaurants and bars, not to mention a hearty collection of exotic resorts. But even if you aren’t staying by the water, you can’t pass up a day at Kaanapali Beach.
Lay down the beach towel and sit on the soft, cloud-like sand as you watch lines of locals and travelers jump off the 16-foot lava rock, known as Black Rock. Afterwards, venture to the northern end of the beach for amazing snorkeling with colorful reefs and the odd sighting of sea turtles.