Born of fire, Hawai‘i is an archipelago of eight islands formed by volcanic activity in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Over millions of years, the islands grew as basaltic lava flowed into the ocean, resulting in coastlines that range from jaw-dropping craggy ridges to majestic red-earth sea cliffs.
Dotted with palm trees, sugar-soft sand, and crystal-clear waters, Hawai‘i is also the birthplace of modern surfing and a sanctuary for endangered marine species. Each of the five tourist-frequented islands—Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Lānaʻi, Maui, and the island of Hawai‘i—has its own distinct personality and unparalleled landscape and coastlines. So, slather on some reef-safe sunscreen, throw a shaka, and say aloha to 13 of the most beautiful beaches in Hawai‘i.
1. Kāʻanapali Beach
- Location: Kāʻanapali, Maui
- Come for: White sands, calm waters, and a myriad of water activities
Maui royalty once spent leisurely afternoon retreats along Kāʻanapali Beach’s powdery white sands that spill into the ocean. Today, the three-mile-long beach on the sunny coast of west Maui is lined with seven luxury resorts, boutique shops, and ocean-front restaurants. Kāʻanapali’s warm, calm waters make it an ideal spot for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, jet-skiing, and kayaking. Or sun worshippers can opt to rest on the sand and take in distant views of the islands of Lānaʻi and Moloka‘i. Be sure to stay through dusk, because at sunset, the Sheraton Maui carries on the Hawaiian tradition of ka leina a ka ‘uhane (leap of the soul), where a young warrior in loincloth lights the torches along the sacred Pu‘u Keka‘a (Black Rock) and dives off the cliff.
How to get to Kāʻanapali Beach
Kāʻanapali Beach is a 28-mile drive west of the Kahului Airport. There are small parking lots available along the beach (look for the “Beach Access” signs), but the most convenient spot is at the Whalers Village, which offers two hours of free parking if you purchase something at the shopping mall or dine at one of its restaurants (regular rate is $4/half hour).
Where to stay
The first resort to open on Kāʻanapali Beach in 1963, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa updated its 508 beachfront rooms and suites in 2020, with modern but warm wooden furniture, textiles with bright pops of colors, and nature-inspired artwork. The resort’s tropical landscape surrounds an expansive lagoon pool with different swimming areas connected by lava-rock waterways.
2. Ho‘okipa Beach Park
- Location: Pa‘ia, Maui
- Come for: Sea turtles, surfers, and tide pools
A local favorite in north Maui, Ho‘okipa Beach Park has some of the biggest waves in the world. Serious surfers—including wind and kite surfers—come for the summer and winter swells, which can be 25 feet high. The beach is also known for its protected area for honus (green sea turtles) looking for a quiet corner for an afternoon snooze. With some luck, you might spot an endangered Hawaiian monk seal climbing ashore (remember to keep your distance). Due to strong currents and sharp coral reefs, snorkeling and swimming are not recommended. A better option is to wade around in the small tide pools or pick up some tropical fruit from a nearby stand and enjoy a picnic while watching the multihued kite surfers ride the waves.
How to get to Ho‘okipa Beach Park
Situated along Hana Highway, Ho‘okipa Beach Park is 8.5 miles east of Kahului Airport. There’s a parking lot above the beach with a lookout and a lower lot that’s closer to the beach.
Where to stay
The Inn at Mama’s Fish House offers an intimate collection of 12 Polynesian-themed cottages and suites, which come with an on-site washer-dryer combo and a full kitchen equipped with Wolf and Subzero appliances (the junior suite and garden studio also include a kitchenette). Staying at the inn means Mama’s Fish House is nearby, making one of the most sought-after dinner spots in Maui only a minute’s walk away.
3. Wailea Beach
- Location: Wailea, Maui
- Come for: Paved beach path, calm waters, canoeing, and sunbathing
The breakout star of the first season of HBO’s White Lotus, Wailea Beach may exude the exclusivity of a private sanctuary but it’s actually a free public beach that’s open to all. Walk the white sands and enjoy the ocean breeze or stroll along the paved three-mile beach path that connects several luxury resorts, from Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort to Fairmont Kea Lani. The clear, calm waters are gentle enough for children to play in and ideal for snorkeling, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, boogie boarding, canoeing, and kayaking. The occasional sea turtle has been known to pop up next to kayakers, bobbing along the waves. There’s scant shade around Wailea Beach, so bring a beach umbrella to avoid the sun.
How to get to Wailea Beach
Wailea Beach is a 17-mile drive south of Kahului Airport. There is free beach parking around Wailea Beach; just look for blue signs that say “Beach Access.” There’s also free parking at the Shops at Wailea until the end of 2023.
Where to stay
For the ultimate White Lotus experience, check into sophisticated 380-room Four Seasons Resorts Maui, set in a tropical oasis with 15 acres of manicured gardens. Guests have direct access to Wailea Beach, along with chaise lounges and umbrellas, or they can venture into the hotel’s adults-only infinity pool—cocktails in hand—and take in views of the West Maui Mountains and Lānaʻi.
4. Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
- Location: Nāʻālehu, Hawai‘i Island
- Come for: Black basalt sand, wetlands, and green sea turtles
Perhaps one of the most striking beaches in Hawaiʻi, Punaluʻu’s grainy charcoal-hued sand is bordered by icy cobalt-blue water. The youngest island in the chain at less than half-a-million years old, Hawai‘i Island continues to expand from lava spewed by the island’s active volcanoes; the inky basalt sand is the result of rapid cooling when hot lava meets the ocean. The strong waves and volcanic rock–covered seabed may prove challenging for beginner swimmers and snorkelers, but the nearby tide pools are worth exploring. (Be sure to wear water shoes with good traction, as the lava rocks can be slippery.) Punaluʻu is also perfect for nature lovers who want to see humpback whales breaching or hawksbill (honu ea) and green sea (honu) turtles resting on the shore. The verdant wetland adjacent to the beach is also teaming with native fauna like the endangered ‘alae ke‘oke‘o, or Hawaiian coot.
How to get to Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
The beach is about 60 miles south of the Hilo International Airport, just off Highway 11, past the 55-mile marker. There’s a parking lot near the restrooms and pavilions, and a smaller lot closer to the beach.
Where to stay
Step back in time at the historic 33-room Volcano House, built in 1941 within the grounds of the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The accommodations are clean and basic, with no TVs, mini bars, or air conditioning, but offer the opportunity to stay overnight at a national park—also a UNESCO World Heritage site—and perhaps see lava glow from the nearby Kīlauea volcano. Located 30 miles northeast of Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach, Volcano House sits at 4,000 feet elevation, so be sure to bring a sweater.
5. Waikoloa Beach and ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay Beach (A-Bay)
- Location: South Kohala, Hawai‘i Island
- Come for: Ancient Hawaiian structures, salt-and-pepper sand, swimming, and sunsets
Along the south Kohala coast, ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay is an area steeped in history: The side-by-side Waikoloa Beach and ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay Beach are situated in front of two historic fishponds—Kuʻualiʻi and Kahapapa—that once provided fish for Hawaiian royalty. Nearby, history buffs can explore sacred heiau (temples) and thousands of 15th- to 18th-century petroglyphs. On the far east side of the bay, the crescent-shaped ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay Beach features salt-and-pepper sand and shady coconut palms. The calm water at the tranquil beach is well-suited for swimming and snorkeling to see blue parrot fish, pufferfish, and Hawai‘i’s state fish, humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (triggerfish). Stay for drinks at the beach-front Lava Lava Beach Club and witness one of the most scenic sunsets in Hawai‘i. (You might glimpse the rare “green flash,” the green light refracted right before the sun dips into the ocean.)
How to get to Waikoloa Beach
Waikoloa Beach is approximately 19 miles north of the Kona International Airport. The public beach is located in front of the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort, but there’s free parking at the end of Ku‘uali‘i Place, next to the Lava Lava Beach Club.
Where to stay
The breezy, light-filled Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort features 297 renovated guest rooms overlooking landscaped gardens, the ocean, and three pools. In addition to daily beach yoga and cultural activities, guests can also go on a complimentary guided cultural tour to learn about the history of Hawai‘i and ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay.
6. Hāpuna Beach
- Location: Waimea, Hawai‘i Island
- Come for: Calm waters, expansive beach, and picnicking
The aquamarine waters of the Hawai‘i Island’s largest white sand beach, Hāpuna Beach, sets the stage for a fun day of swimming, snorkeling, and bodyboarding, while the half-mile beach is the prime spot for family-friendly activities like picnicking, sandcastle building, and whale watching. Occasionally, food trucks selling malasadas and other local food are parked outside the entrance of the beach. Due to its popularity, the beach gets crowded midday and especially during weekends, so arrive early and stake a spot.
How to get to Hāpuna Beach
Hāpuna Beach is about 25 miles north of Kona International Airport. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. and the entrance fee is $5 per person; parking at the lot costs $10. (Hawaiʻi residents get in and park for free.)
Where to stay
Steps from Hāpuna Beach, the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is a contemporary hotel with 249 guest rooms and 17 suites where the cool, blue-hued decor and oatmeal-colored sectional reflect the ocean and beach beyond the white plantation shutter balcony doors. On select mornings, guests can take part in the “E Ala E,” a Hawaiian sunrise chant and a ritual cleansing dip in the ocean. In the afternoon, hang out in the heated 6,800-square-foot family pool or the adult infinity pool, both overlooking the beach. And in the evening, book a manta ray tour at sister property Mauna Kea Resort, where you can swim with giant manta rays at Mauna Kea Beach, steps from the resort. (There’s also a manta ray viewing deck, as well as a free shuttle between resorts.)
7. Waikīkī Beach
- Location: Honolulu, O‘ahu
- Come for: People-watching, warm, gentle waters, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding
Decades before the Moana Surfrider opened as the first hotel along this sandy stretch in 1901, Waikīkī was already a popular retreat for the Hawaiian people and its monarchy. Over the next century, more hotels and shops popped up along the beach, propelling its popularity. Perhaps the most popular beach in Hawai‘i, Waikīkī is constantly packed with sunbathers, sand castle builders, boogie boarders, and surfers of all stripes. The contrast of modern skyscrapers against white sands and the stately Diamond Head volcanic tuff cone in the background is a sight to behold. Luxury retailers, souvenir shops, and restaurants are a stone’s throw away along Kalākaua Avenue, and on Friday nights, fireworks from Hilton Hawaiian Village light up the sky.
How to get to Waikīkī Beach
Waikīkī Beach is less than 10 miles southeast of Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Parking is available at various hotels along Kalākaua Avenue and ranges between $30 to $50. Metered spots are $1.50 per hour. There’s free parking at Ala Moana Beach Park, about 1.3 miles from Waikīkī Beach.
Where to stay
There are numerous beachfront hotels in Waikīkī, but the grandest of them might be the 793-room Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Celebrity guests who have stayed here include Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Agatha Christie. The Hawaiian Gothic–style resort is a throwback to old-school elegance with stately white columns and grand staircase lined with black-and-white photos documenting the hotel’s past. The Historic Banyan Wing has a nostalgic flair while the rooms in the Tower and Diamond wings are more modern and spacious. Some rooms even have rocking chairs so guests can relax in the lanai and enjoy views of the ocean and Diamond Head.
8. Waimanalo Beach
- Location: Honolulu, O‘ahu
- Come for: Swimming, snorkeling, long walks on the beach
Boasting the longest stretch of white-sand beach in O‘ahu, three-mile-long Waimanalo Beach offers a much-needed respite from the Waikīkī crowd. Waimanalo features the grandiose Koʻolau Mountains as a backdrop and a turquoise ocean with a seemingly endless horizon. Play paddleball or throw a football on the powdery beach or bodyboard along the shore breaks. The water is calmer in the morning (great for stand-up paddleboarding), with wind and waves picking up in the afternoons.
How to get to Waimanalo Beach
On the windward side of O‘ahu, Waimanalo Beach is about 20 miles east of Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. There is plenty of free parking off the Kalanianaole Highway.
Where to stay
There are some vacation rentals near Waimanalo Beach, but the largest collection of accommodations is concentrated in Waikīkī. Situated away from the bustle of the city, Kaimana Beach Hotel is a 122-room boutique hotel about 17 miles southwest of Waimanalo Beach. The dreamy, youthful hotel was refurbished with vibrant furnishings like blue-and-pink rattan chairs, surfboards as wall art, and bold nature-inspired wallpaper. Guests can also sign up for surf lessons and learn to hula.
9. Sunset Beach
- Location: Pupukea, O‘ahu
- Come for: Big-wave surfing and sunsets
Like its namesake, the sunsets at this North Shore beach are breathtaking. Another awe-inspiring sight at Sunset Beach is the size of its swells—some of the world’s most prestigious surfing competitions take place during winter months, when pros tackle the gnarly waves. In the summer months, the waves are dialed down enough for swimming and boogie boarding. There’s little shade along the two miles of beach, so be sure to bring an umbrella (there are no rentals around). Pick up the garlic shrimp plate and freshly baked pie from the nearby Ted’s Bakery and settle in for the best picnic in town.
How to get to Sunset Beach
Sunset Beach is about 30 miles north of Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. There’s a free parking lot by the beach park or select parking spots along Kamehameha Highway.
Where to stay
Turtle Bay Resort is a landmark in O‘ahu, holding strong as the only luxury accommodation in the North Shore for nearly 50 years. Renovated in July 2021, the 1,300-acre property features 450 rooms, suites, and bungalows with picturesque views of the ocean or rooftop gardens; three heated pools; tennis and pickleball courts; miles of hiking and biking trails; and even horseback riding.
10. Poʻipū Beach Park
- Location: Koloa, Kaua‘i
- Come for: Snorkeling, gold-sand beaches, the sandbar, and monk seals
Kaua‘i is one of the oldest major islands in Hawai‘i, with more than 50 miles of beaches wrapping around the coastline.Poʻipū Beach Park, on Kaua‘i’s south shore, is made up of two golden-sand crescent bays that meet in a tombolo (a sandbar that leads to a shallow rock islet) known as Nukumoi Point. There’s a natural wading pool with waters calm enough for young children, as well as snorkeling opportunities around the shallow coral reef, brimming with tropical fish, sea turtles, and eels.
How to get to Poʻipū Beach Park
Poʻipū Beach Park is 15 miles southwest from Lihue Airport. There are two free parking lots across from the beach.
Where to stay
About a mile west of Poʻipū Beach Park, Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection is 25-acre tropical paradise. The property’s nearly 300 spacious studios and villas include either a kitchenette or a full kitchen, washers/dryers, and furnished lanai. The highlights at Koloa are the pools—which include a family pool, a tranquility pool, and an impressive 35,000-gallon lagoon pool with waterslides, infinity edge, and swim-through waterfalls and grotto.
11. Lydgate Beach Park
- Location: Lihue, Kauaʻi
- Come for: Swimming, surfing, and Kamalani Playground
Immortalized on the silver screen in Elvis Presley’s 1961 Blue Hawaii, the tree-lined Lydgate Beach is located near the mouth of the Wailua River on the east coast of Kauaʻi. The highlights at Lydgate Beach are the two lagoons, protected from the open ocean by man-made lava rock walls. The shallow child’s pond is separated from the adult’s swimming area, which is a great spot for beginner snorkelers looking to spot rainbow-colored fish. The park also has a disc golf course and an expansive wooden playground with slides, swings, and tire walks. A few hundred feet north of the lagoons, visitors will find lava rock remnants of a historic 14th-century Hikinaakala Heiau Hawaiian temple, once a sacred place used to welcome the sun.
How to get to Lydgate Beach Park
The beach is five miles north of Lihue Airport, off Kuhio Highway. There’s ample free parking at the lot, but spaces fill up quickly on weekends.
Where to stay
All 314 of Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort’s 2019-renovated rooms and suites have wooden shutters that open up to private balconies with ocean views; the pool; the manicured walk/bike path; and the Halau Ho‘okipa, a beachfront open-air event space where hotel guests may have primo views of the lūʻau. Some rooms even include a swing on the lanai. The resort fee ($40 per night) includes access to beach chairs, umbrellas, and bicycles that you can pedal to Lydgate Beach Park, about two miles away.
12. Hāʻena Beach
- Location: Kapaʻa, Kaua‘i
- Come for: Dry cave, surfing, and snorkeling
Not to be confused with Hāʻena State Park, Hāʻena Beach is a free county-owned beach that doesn’t require prior reservation or fees. Before heading to the beach, be sure to cross the road by the parking area to explore the Maniniholo dry cave, a sea cave that is more than 100 feet deep. Legend has it that the cave was dug by a mythical Menehune chief fisherman, who was looking for the evil spirits who stole his fish.
An equally fairy tale–like setting awaits across the street at Hāʻena Beach, with golden sands, arching waves, and tree-shrouded mountains in the background. During winter months, the swells along the beaches on the north shore tend to be bigger, making it an optimal time for surfers. During the calmer summer months, Hāʻena Beach is a great spot for swimmers and snorkelers (although Tunnels Beach, a half-mile walk east of Hāʻena Beach, is known to be the best snorkeling spot in the area).
How to get to Hāʻena Beach
Hāʻena Beach is a short drive west of the quaint town of Hanalei. There are two parking lots, which hold about 35 cars. The cave is across the street from one of the parking lots.
Where to stay
The 2023-opened 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay is a sustainable, carbon-neutral luxury resort with 252 rooms and suites showcasing views of the mountains, the ocean, Hanalei Bay, and native gardens. The resort was constructed using locally sourced or reclaimed materials, and the rooms stock reusable carafes and have painted stones for the “do not distrub” signs. The property focuses on wellness with on-site nutritionists, doctors, and other health experts; guests can participate in a wide range of classes, including sunrise meditation, martial arts, and restorative yoga. At this pet-friendly hotel, guests can even invite a shelter dog from Kaua‘i Humane Society for a sleepover and a hike around the north shore.
13. Hulopoʻe Beach
- Location: Lānaʻi
- Come for: Keiki tidepools, picnics, and snorkeling
The smallest inhabited island in the Aloha State, Lānaʻi is an amalgamation of the nostalgia of what Hawai‘i used to be—before high-rise buildings took over sister islands—and the exclusivity and luxe of a private island. And because it’s not as populated as the other islands, the beaches here are immaculate. On the southern coast in Hulopoʻe Bay, the crescent-shaped Hulopoʻe Beach boasts powdery sand, clear water, and the imposing Puʻu Pehe—a red-rock triangular sea stack—jutting 80 feet out of the ocean. A snorkeler’s dream dive, the coral reefs on the east side of the beach are teeming with whimsical fish and sea life, including goatfish, yellow tang, and peacock groupers. (There are no rentals around so be sure to pack your own gear.)
How to get to Hulopoʻe Beach
Hulopoʻe Beach is about 10 miles south of the tiny Lanai Airport. However, most day-trippers take the 50-minute ferry ride (about $30 each way) from Lāhainā Harbor in Maui to Manele Harbor in Lānaʻi. From Manele Harbor, it’s a 10 minute walk to Hulopoʻe Beach.
Where to stay
The Five Diamond Four Seasons Lanai is a serene luxury retreat overlooking Hulopoʻe Beach and Puʻu Pehe. The more than 200 zen-like guest rooms are surrounded by verdant botanical gardens or dotted along the dramatic coastline. There are also two pools, tennis courts, an archery and shooting range, a Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course, and an on-site observatory for stargazing.
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