Travel

11 of the best beaches in Hawai‘i

The black sand beach at Wai‘anapanapa State Park on the island of Maui.

Palm trees swaying in the breeze, warm sand between your toes, gentle surf lapping at sunset—if the thought of a Hawaiian vacation can be said to bring anything to mind, it’s a tropical beach.

The Islands have 750 miles of coastline, so there are plenty of beaches to choose from. From household names like Waikiki to famous colorful sands to lesser-known gems, we look at the ones you shouldn’t miss during a visit to the Aloha State.
 

Beaches on O‘ahu

Many high-rise hotels overlook Waikiki in Honolulu.

1. Waikiki

Located in Honolulu

It's no surprise to find the most famous beach in Hawai‘i (and maybe the entire United States) on this list. Waikiki was a favorite of Hawaiian royalty, and it’s where Duke Kahanamoku popularized the sport of surfing. His statue keeps watch at the beach today.

Fittingly for the birthplace of surfing, Waikiki is one of the best places to learn to surf. Its small surf break lasts an unusually long time, so newcomers can put all the parts of surfing together at their own pace on beginner-sized waves.

Other beach activities here include almost anything you can think of. The calm waters are great for stand-up paddleboarding, and it’s one of the best places to go on a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe ride. There are also great views of Diamond Head in the distance, plenty of places to stay right along the beach, and lots of dining options.

Good for: Visiting an iconic destination, learning to surf, staying right on the beach, outrigger canoeing, other activities nearby

Lanikai Beach is famous for “the Mokes,” 2 offshore islands that are home to nesting birds.

2. Lanikai Beach

Located in Kailua

About a 45-minute drive away on O‘ahu’s windward eastern shore is Lanikai Beach. It’s often said to be among O‘ahu’s most beautiful beaches because of its secluded location, smaller crowds, and fine powdered sand. There are also the offshore Mokulua Islands, known as “the Mokes,” which provide an offshore view and are a favorite of photographers.

Lanikai’s waters are calm, so it's a good spot for families to swim, but there’s not much undersea life for snorkelers to see. It’s a great east-facing spot to see the sun rise in the morning, or the moon rise at night. Keep in mind that it’s in a residential neighborhood with limited access and parking—if you go, be respectful. 

Good for: Seeing the Mokes, swimming, escaping Waikiki crowds

Also consider: Looking for an even quieter, less-crowded beach? Consider the similar but less-visited Bellows and Waimanolo beaches farther south.

Turtle Beach on O‘ahu’s North Shore is a popular place to see green sea turtles around midday.

3. Turtle Beach

Located in Kawela Bay

Turtle Beach, as the name suggests, is one of a few beaches on O‘ahu’s North Shore famous for its green sea turtles, known as honu in Hawaiian. (Another is nearby Kawailoa Beach.) These endangered reptiles can draw quite a crowd when coming ashore to warm themselves up, so volunteers keep people and the federally protected turtles separated. Arriving early (before 10 a.m.) will make parking and finding a viewing spot easier.

If seeing the turtles on the shore isn’t enough, there are also turtle-viewing snorkeling and scuba tours where you can see these giants—some weigh more than 400 pounds—in their native habitat.

Good for: Seeing green sea turtles

Beaches on Maui

Ka‘anapali Beach features many resorts and the famous Black Rock jutting out to sea.

4. Ka‘anapali Beach

Located in Ka‘anapali

A white-sand beach that’s 3 miles long and located in the center of a resort district, Ka‘anapali can be thought of as Maui’s version of Waikiki. There are plenty of dining and hotel options right on the beach, as well as places to rent everything from surfboards and snorkel equipment to Jet-Skis.

Black Rock, known in Hawaiian as Pu‘u Keka‘a, juts out into the sea from the beach. The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa sits atop it and there’s a nightly tradition where a cliff diver lights ceremonial torches before jumping from the rock into the sea. (This is among the reasons we named Maui a top spot for iconic honeymoons.) Another can’t-miss sight from the west-facing beach is the sun setting behind the island of Lana‘i.

Good for: Having a lot of things in 1 place, seeing cliff-divers jump off Black Rock, seeing sunsets

The black sand at Wai‘anapanapa State Park is made of lava rock.

5. Wai‘anapanapa State Park

Located near Hana

This park on Maui’s east shore near the end of the Hana Highway is famous for its black-sand beach. (Don’t confuse it with Punalu‘u Beach on Hawai‘i Island, which is also called “the black-sand beach”). Waves have broken down lava rock to create a small jet-black shore that contrasts sharply with the surrounding greenery.

Once you’ve seen the beach, check out the nearby caves, as well as an ancient temple built by native Hawaiians. Plan ahead: There is a parking fee, advance reservations are required to visit the beach, and same-day reservations are not allowed. Swimming isn’t advised, as the surf can be rough and there are rip currents.

Good for: Seeing a black-sand beach on Maui, exploring rock formations and cultural sites

Baby Beach features bright orange clay cliffs overlooking the sand.

6. Baby Beach at Spreckelsville Beach

Located near Pa‘ia

If you don’t mind some airport jet noise, this beach just 15 minutes from downtown Kahului offers paradisiacal views and a unique attraction for families. Orange clay and black lava rocks abut the beach in small “cliffs” that give Baby Beach an unusual color palette. More importantly, there’s a protected lagoon about 700 feet long where little kids can swim without having to deal with waves (thus the name).

The beach is a little over a mile from the flight path for planes landing and taking off from Maui’s main airport. Jet engines aren’t everyone’s idea of tropical background noise, but if you or your kids like to watch planes, this is one of the prettiest places in the world to do it.

Good for: Swimming, families with little kids, plane spotters

Beaches on the Island of Hawai‘i

Palm trees grow right on the black sand at Punalu‘u Beach.

7. Punalu‘u Beach

Located near Pahala

When people refer to “the black-sand beach” in Hawai‘i, they usually mean this world-famous one near the border of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The deep-black basalt is the result of lava flowing into the ocean, cooling, then being slowly ground down by the water. Palm trees grow right out of the black sand, giving the beach a surreal look.

If you’re coming to Hawai‘i specifically for a black-sand beach, this is a good choice, as it’s easily accessible and much larger than the one at Wai‘anapanapa on Maui. The shore can be rocky, and it’s not recommended as a swimming destination, but sea turtle sightings on land and in the water are common.

Good for: Seeing black sand, picnicking, possibly seeing turtles

Also consider: Lava flows in 2018 created a new black-sand beach at Pohoiki Beach, on the east side of the national park. That offers a very cool chance to see a brand-new black-sand beach, though the rough pebbly shore means it isn’t recommended for swimming either.

Hapuna Beach enjoys gentle waves thanks to a gradual offshore slope, especially at its southern end.

8. Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

Located near Kawaihae

A favorite beach for locals as well as visitors, Hapuna Beach is the biggest white-sand beach on Hawai‘i Island—200 feet wide in the summer. That width continues underwater, where a very gradual sandy slope creates gentle waves and allows swimmers to stand in shallow water far from shore.

The waters are usually clear once you’re away from the sand mixed by the waves, so it’s also a great spot to snorkel. More experienced snorkelers can head to either end of the beach to find coral reefs and colorful fish. (If you need to rent snorkel equipment, do so before coming to Hapuna, which doesn’t have rentals on site.) Since Hapuna Beach is part of the Hawai‘i State Park System, be aware that non-residents must pay a $5 entrance fee per person and a $10 parking fee per vehicle.

Good for: Swimming, families, snorkeling

‘Anaeho‘omalu Beach has the ocean on one side and a freshwater fishpond on the other.

9. ‘Anaeho‘omalu Beach

Located near Puako

‘Anaeho‘omalu Beach is another white-sand beach on Hawai‘i Island’s western shore. It offers many of the amenities you’ll need for fun on the water, such as snorkel, board, and boat rentals, as well as gentle surf that everyone can enjoy.

There’s also unique Hawaiian history here: Behind the beach is a freshwater fishpond once used by Native Hawaiians to raise mullet for food. The Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve is a short drive away and features thousands of rock carvings in the shapes of people, animals, and more. From there, head to the Buddha Point overlook to watch the sunset. 

Good for: Swimming, rentals for other activities, Hawaiian cultural sites, sunsets

Beaches on Kaua‘i

Hanalei Beach and Hanalei Pier at sunrise.

10. Hanalei Beach

Located in Hanalei

Protected in circular Hanalei Bay on Kaua‘i’s north shore, this pristine white-sand beach is renowned for its idyllic scenery. Soaring peaks covered in verdant vegetation frame clear blue waters and the Hanalei Pier. Built in 1892, it was featured in the classic 1958 film South Pacific. The dramatic backdrop makes Hanalei a great spot for landscape photography.

Calm waters in summer make Hanalei a good place to swim, paddleboard, or kayak, and there are equipment rentals available. If you stay on shore, it’s also the perfect spot for a picnic with public tables and grills. After enjoying the beach, head into charming Hanalei Town to see historic spots. Be respectful of its residential character—you may find yourself parking near locals’ homes. If you plan to visit nearby Ha‘ena State Park, be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Good for: Beautiful scenery, photography, swimming, picnicking

Hawaiian monk seals often haul out onto Po‘ipu Beach.

11. Po‘ipu Beach

Located in Koloa

Po‘ipu Beach is unusually shaped, with 2 bays split by a sandbar sticking out to sea. The waters are usually calm, offering family-friendly swimming conditions. Offshore reefs teem with tropical fish and are a great place to snorkel. Bodyboarding is also popular here, with rentals available during the busy season.

The stars of the show at Po‘ipu are the adorable Hawaiian monk seals, often spotted dozing on the sand. These endangered animals are protected by law and it is illegal to disturb them, so it’s best to appreciate them from a distance of at least 100 feet.

Good for: Snorkeling, families, seeing monk seals

Book your Hawaiian escape with AAA

Browse AAA Hawai‘i travel packages online to find the one that's right for you. Or, get in touch with a knowledgeable AAA travel advisor and start planning your dream vacation.

AAA Travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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