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10 Best Beaches in Hawaii

Say aloha to the best Hawaii beaches on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Updated:

September 11, 2019
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Sure, everyone knows beaches in Hawaiian are some of the best vacation spots, but which one should you explore first? Deciding which Hawaiian island has the best beaches is no easy task. From green-sand shorelines (yes, really!) to snorkeling paradises, these hidden gems and local favorites offer the expected luxury of a Hawaiian getaway combined with the relaxation desired in a vacation.

Some beaches, like the Punaluu Black Sand Beach on the Big Island, offer a chance to meet with “honu,” or green sea turtles. If you’re looking for exclusivity and seclusion, the best Hawaiian island for beaches is Lanai, as only 3,000 people live there.

Whatever you’re looking for in Hawaiian beaches, read on for our list of the top 10, must-see Hawaiian shores.

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Hawaii Beaches | Waimanalo Beach
Waimanalo Beach, Oahu Shutterstock

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. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach. Five miles of talcum sand invite basking and beach combing along Oahu’s longest stretch of sand.

Hawaii Beaches | Tunnels Beach
Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach), Kauai Shutterstock

Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach), Kauai

The 1958 classic South Pacific was filmed here in Kauai, 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.

Hawaii Beaches | Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Big Island Shutterstock

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. It’s 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.

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Hawaii Beaches | Polihua Beach

Polihua Beach, Lanai

Polihua Beach, Lanai Shutterstock

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.”

Hawaii Beaches | Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach, Kauai Shutterstock

Poipu Beach, Kauai

Palm trees are just waiting for a hammock to be strung up between them on Poipu Beach. 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.

Hawaii Beaches | Makena Beach
Makena Beach, Maui Shutterstock

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.

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Hawaii Beaches | Kee Beach
Kee Beach, Kauai Shutterstock

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.

Hawaii Beaches | Kaanapali Beach

Kaanapali Beach, Maui

Kaanapali Beach, Maui Shutterstock

Kaanapali Beach, Maui

With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the rolling West Maui Mountains on the other, Kaanapali Beach’s three 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-risers 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.

Hawaii Beaches | Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay, Oahu

Hanauma Bay, Oahu Shutterstock

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. This beach is closed on Tuesdays.

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Hawaii Beaches | Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach, Big Island

Green Sand Beach, Big Island Shutterstock

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 four 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 4×4, 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.

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