June 9, 2023

Happy Travel & Tour

Specialists Travel & Tours

The 11 best Hawaii beaches for swimming, surfing or sunning

The 11 best Hawaii beaches for swimming, surfing or sunning

Hawaii has endless natural gifts to offer, but its coastlines might be the most coveted. From glittering emerald-colored waters to black sand beaches, the best Hawaii beaches are worth skipping a day at even the most luxurious resort pools.

Each island of Hawaii has its own unique vibe that directly translates down to its shore, from the laid-back lulling of Lanai to the bustling action of Maui. Here are 11 beautiful Hawaii beaches to visit, sorted by island, for your next trip to one of the nation’s most sandiest states. 

Kauai beaches

Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park

Set against the beautiful Hanalei Bay, with a backdrop of lush green mountains, Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park is an ideal spot for families and surfers. The crescent-shaped beach is bookended by two coral reefs on either end of the shore which helps to provide a buffer between the strong waves and the gentler shallow waters. The waves here get large in the winter months, which are ideal for professional surfers, but those traveling with their family may want to just wade in the shallow edge of the beach even in the summer months.

Find it: Hanalei, HI 96714

Tunnels Beach, as seen in summer, on the North Shore of Kauai.

Tunnels Beach, as seen in summer, on the North Shore of Kauai.

Valerie Loiseleux/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Tunnels Beach (Makua)

On the North Shore of Kauai is Tunnels Beach, also known as Makua, which gets its name from the iconic underwater caverns along its shore. Travelers who are into snorkeling or scuba diving will enjoy the tunnels and seeing many of Hawaii’s most famous ocean residents, including turtles and schools of fish. The crescent-shaped beach, which stretches for over a mile, is surrounded by palm and ironwood trees, which makes a lush background for the white sand beach and glittering waters. Note: The primary access to this beach is through residential streets and parking is limited. 

Find it: East Kaua’i, HI 96746

Oahu beaches

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach can be found on the North Shore of Oahu and features one of the island’s best surf spots. In fact, the beach is considered one of the longest stretches of ridable surf in the world. During the winter months, when the ocean produces its biggest waves, surfers can drop in on 30-footers at this Oahu beach. And, as its name suggests, this is one of Hawaii’s best beaches to watch Mother Nature light up the sky with blazing color as the sun goes down. 

Find it: 59-104 Kamehameha Highway, Oahu, HI 96712 

Makapuu Beach Park, on Hawaii's island of Oahu, offers some of the best scenery on the island.

Makapuu Beach Park, on Hawaii’s island of Oahu, offers some of the best scenery on the island.

Warren Ishii / 500px/Getty Images/500px

Makapuu Beach Park

If you’re looking for a beach for body surfing or bodyboarding, Makapuu Beach Park, on Oahu’s Windward Coast, is ideal. The beach backs up to sea cliffs, which are a stark juxtaposition to the sparkling teal waters. Just around the corner from the beach is the towering Makapuu Lighthouse, which also offers great views of the beach and surrounding waters if you’re willing to take the 30-minute hike to the top of the cliff where it sits.

Find it: 41-095 Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo, HI 96795

Molokai beaches

Kumimi Beach

Kumimi Beach, which is also known as 20 Mile Marker Beach — because of its location along Kamehameha Highway — is known for its ideal snorkeling conditions. Before diving in, just be sure to check the water conditions, because they can be rough at high surf. This easily accessible Molokai beach has golden sand and green waters that make it a place worth snapping plenty of pics for Instagram as well. After snorkeling and exploring its underwater world, consider an afternoon relaxing on the shore as the waves lap against the sand.

Find it: 10989 Kamehameha V Highway, Kaunakakai, HI 96748

Lanai beaches

Polihua Beach

Those who are looking for a secluded beach away from tourists will want to venture to Polihua Beach in North Lanai. The beach is known for its  golden sand, great sunbathing and strong winds, and the 2-mile-long beach offers plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the views. The only downfall to Polihua Beach is that the ocean current here is very strong, making swimming too dangerous to recommend. If you want to swim, head south to Hulupoe Beach Park, the island’s most popular beach.

Find it: Lanai City, HI 96763

Maui beaches

Kapalua Bay

The small shore of Kapalua Bay is mostly visited by tourists looking for a beach that’s close to their resort, but that doesn’t mean it’s overrun with people; it’s typically easy to find a spot on the shore to set up for the day. The beach is known for its prime snorkeling where you can see everything from giant rays, to turtles, to schools of fish. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your snorkeling gear, because there’s a small rental shack at the end of the beach that will hook you up with everything you need. If you come at sunset, it’s not uncommon to see couples exchanging wedding vows on the beach as the sun dips below the horizon. 

Find it: 1 Bay Club Drive, Lahaina, HI 96761

Honokalani Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It's one of the state's most famous beaches because of its striking sand.

Honokalani Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It’s one of the state’s most famous beaches because of its striking sand.

Mlenny/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Honokalani Beach

Within the boundaries of Waianapanapa State Park in Hana is Honokalani Beach which is famous for its black sands. The park also boasts deep turquoise waters and lush green forests that make for a stunning backdrop to the obsidian beach. If you’re up for an adventure, take a look into the sea caves or stand near the natural blowholes of the rocky shore. Travelers should be aware that reservations are needed to enter Waianapanapa State Park.

Find it: Honokalani Road Waianapanapa State Park, Maui, HI 96713

Island of Hawaii beaches

Onekahakaha Beach Park

While many Hawaii beaches offer big waves for surfing, one that offers calmer waters for swimming is Onekahakaha Beach Park. While there’s no actual sand beach at Onekahakaha, just shallow lagoons, this beach makes our list because it’s a favorite for those with kids. The shallow pools of water offer safe swimming conditions and family snorkeling. 

Find it: 74 Onekahakaha Road, Hilo, HI 96720

Palm trees sway above Kahalu'u Beach Park, on Hawaii's Big Island.

Palm trees sway above Kahalu’u Beach Park, on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Douglas Peebles/Getty Images

Kahaluu Beach Park

In North Kona you’ll find Kahaluu Beach Park, which is known for the green sea turtles that can often be spotted along its sandy shore or in the water just off its coast. The calm waters make it a perfect spot for snorkeling and watching creatures in their natural habitat of coral reefs. The best time to spot magnificent sea turtles here is from noon until around 5 p.m., when the sands and sun are at their warmest.

Find it: Ali’i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Editor’s note: SFGATE recognizes the importance of diacritical marks in the Hawaiian language. We are unable to use them due to the limitations of our publishing platform.

This story was edited by Hearst National Editor Kristina Moy; you can contact her at [email protected].