Sure, everyone knows Hawaii beaches are some of the best vacation spots, but which ones should you explore first? From green-sand shorelines (yes, really!) to snorkeling paradises, these hidden gems and local favorites are the top 10 must-see Hawaii beaches.
Waimanalo Beach, Oahu
In paniolo country — far from the bustling streets of Waikiki — sits unspoiled Waimanalo Beach, named the best beach in the U.S. for 2015 by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach. Five miles of talcum sand invite basking and beach combing along Oahu's longest stretch of sand.
Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach), Kauai
The 1958 classic South Pacific was filmed here, and it's easy to see why. A golden half-moon beach. Turquoise water rushing toward bone-white sand. Waves that form perfect tunnels. Mountainside folds of green. And it's even better snorkeling underwater, you may have a rare sighting of the endemic triggerfish.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Big Island
Hawaii's Big Island is one of the only places in the world where you can snow-ski in the morning and surf that same afternoon, where verdant rainforests give way to molten volcanoes, where white sand meets black sand. Honu (green sea turtles) are partial to the warmth of the black sand on Hawaii beaches, so walk carefully.
Polihua Beach, Lanai
Just 3,000 people live on the tiny island of Lanai, and it's likely not one of them will be strolling Polihua the same day you are. Here it's not about the Jet Skis and lounge chairs. Bliss on Lanai is found amid the rolling sand dunes, high winds and roiling waters that give meaning to the Hawaiian adage, "Never turn your back on the ocean." Instead, Hawaiians say, face it, respect it, know your place alongside it.
Poipu Beach, Kauai
Those two palm trees are just waiting for a hammock. Bring yours and stay for a while because Poipu is not just another one of those pretty Hawaii beaches. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals (only 1,200 or so of these behemoth beauties remain) are known to visit this slice of shoreline in search of a little sun.
Makena Beach, Maui
Even though it's less crowded than the Hawaii beaches in Kaanapali and Lahaina, Makena is one of the largest beaches in Maui, hence its nickname, Big Beach. As wide as a football field is long, Makena's golden sands stretch for a mile between two clusters of black lava and beg you to claim a little patch as your own ... at least for a day.
Kee Beach, Kauai
Amid a backdrop of ironwood and guava trees is the end of the road on Kauai and the beginning of the famed Na Pali Coast. To get the most staggering views of Na Pali, hike behind the public bathrooms and through a large dirt area to a secluded part of the beach and look left. The only better vantage point is from a helicopter.
Kaanapali Beach, Maui
With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the rolling West Maui Mountains on the other, Kaanapali Beach's 3 miles of caramel-colored sand were once a playground for Maui royalty. Now they're home to a select group of resorts and condos ranging from swanky high-rises to authentic low-key outposts. Visit in June for the annual Wa'a Kiakahi outrigger canoe races and "talk story" about the ancient art of sailing and the present desire to preserve a culture.
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
A thousand-some years ago a volcano erupted and created this perfect crescent-shaped nook protected from large ocean swells. The result is arguably the best snorkeling spot among all of the Hawaii beaches. More than 300 species of native fish like damselfish and porcupine fish scurry through the lava-rock tubes and shallow coral reefs eager to show you around. Closed on Tuesdays
Green Sand Beach, Big Island
No, that's not a golf course. Here at Papakolea on the southern tip of the Big Island is one of the only two green-sand beaches in the world. The sand gets its color from olivine crystals created from the eruption of a volcano 50,000 years ago. You can drive to the top of the Hawaii beach in a 4x4, but opt for the hike instead to explore cave dwellings and heiau (Hawaiian temples) along the way. Oh, and don't leave without building a green sand castle.