Hawai’i’s Best Beaches

The Islands’ Must-Visit Spots for Surf, Sand and Shoreline Bliss

Driving across a vast lava field about 7 miles north of Kona International Airport on Hawai‘i Island, I topped a rise and looked down at vivid bands of aqua, from muted to intense, paralleling the shoreline like colors on a paint-store sample strip. I’d arrived at Hawai‘i’s white-sand Manini‘owali Beach, a hidden, and sublimely beautiful strip of sand that’s a part of Kekaha Kai State Park.

The Hawaiian Islands are home to beaches large and small, popular and hidden, with sand that’s golden, black, white or even green; waves that are gentle or wild; and waters ideal for surfing, swimming or snorkeling. And the best part: All the beaches are public in Hawai‘i. Here’s a look at key beaches to visit on your next trips to Hawai‘i Island, Maui, O‘ahu or Kaua‘i.

Hawai‘i Island

About 19 miles north of Kona Airport on Hawaii Island, Anaeho ‘Omalu Beach (above) is a scenic, broad sweep of sand backed by palm trees. About 3 miles farther north, Pauoa Bay forms most of a circle, with lava outcroppings nearly closing the curve of ivory sand off from the ocean. The coral reef here—one of the healthiest in the islands—teems with flashy fish and showy corals. Be sure to bring your snorkel gear.

Maui

With 120 miles of coastline and 30 miles of beaches, Maui is the queen of shoreline recreation. For easy pickings, find a spot along 3-mile-long Ka`anapali Beach, where soft sand is backed by palm trees and resorts linked by a scenic beachside promenade. Swimming in the calm, silky soft water as the morning sun’s first rays bring Technicolor hues of parrot green to upland landscapes is a lovely way to greet any day. Farther north, Napili Bay Beach, protected by a headland, has a relaxed vibe and small scale, making it ideal for families. On the wild, rain-forested east side of the island, the tranquil hamlet of Hana is bookended by two visually stunning and polar opposite beaches: Wai`a Napanapa State Park (above), just before Hana, features a surreal, jet-black sand beach embraced by vivid green foliage, and just beyond Hana, Hamoa Beach is a tiny, perfectly formed half-moon of speckled sand surrounded by hala trees, at the base of cliffs.

O‘ahu

On O‘ahu‘s North Shore, the waters of Waimea Bay, the much-celebrated locus of big-wave surfing in winter months, are actually slack in July and August, making them ideal for swimming, snorkeling and turtle-watching. Secret Island Beach at Kualoa Ranch, a private nature reserve on Kane‘ohe Bay, on the island’s east side, offers kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards and glass-bottom boat rides (with advance purchase of a package), plus shaded hammocks for relaxing. Fans of classic films will recognize Halona Beach Cove (above) as the setting for the famouse love scene in From Here to Eternity. The tiny pocket beach east of Honolulu is perfect for stretching your legs and soaking in the serene vibe while hiking down a recently improved trail to the tawny strand below. It’s also a great spot for sighting whales, December through April.

Kaua‘i

On Kaua‘i, Tunnels Beach, in Ha‘ena State Park, 10 miles west of Princeville, is a spectacular long strand of delicate sand bordered by dense, jungle-like growth; it’s a top-notch swimming spot, with gentle waters protected by reefs. East of Princeville, Kauapea Beach (above) is one of the longest and broadest beaches on the island, backed by ephemeral waterfalls; access can be tricky, though—it’s via a steep, a narrow path. Finally, Kalihiwai Beach is a sickel-shaped swath of golden sand bracketed by headlands and backed by a river-mouth lagoon that’s perfect for freshwater swimming.

—Written by Leslie Forsberg

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