With more than 100 public beaches to choose from, you could spend several sunburned years exploring Hawaii's many stretches of sand. To save you the trouble, we slathered on the sunscreen in search of Hawaii's best beaches, from the rough seas of Oahu's North Shore to the placid sands of Hapuna.
Hulopoe Bay Beach on Lanai's southern coast is one of our favorite spots on the island for swimming and snorkeling, thanks to a series of large pools where crabs, starfish and colorful fish gather. The summer brings acrobatic displays from dolphins, while during the winter months, humpback whales majestically breach the waves. The protected park (stones and shells must not be removed) is equipped with picnic tables, barbecue grills, restrooms and showers.
You’ll need four-wheel drive to navigate the unpaved road that leads to Shipwreck Beach. Off the coast, the hull of the Liberty — a relic from the Second World War — sits beached among the reefs. Since it’s not suitable for swimming, you’ll likely find yourself wandering the eight-mile stretch of beach with only sea turtles for company.
The Big Island
The 61-acre Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is where you'll find the crescent-shaped Hapuna Beach, a half-mile stretch of cream-colored sand and calm waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Younger beach-goers should head toward the shallow, sandy-bottomed cove at the beach's northern end. The park includes a snack bar, spots to picnic and restrooms with showers, plus A-frame cabins for rent. The park also serves as an access point to the historic Ala Kahakai Coastal Trail, where hikers can explore numerous ancient Hawaiian settlements.
The green isle of Kauai remains one of least developed islands of the Hawaiian chain. On the northern end of the island, the small town of Hanalei gives way to Hanalei Bay, a two-mile stretch of sand surrounded by towering mountains. During the summer, the bay resembles a placid lake, perfect for swimmers and paddle boarders. Come winter, the waves pick up and surfers descend on the area for the 12-foot swells. Closer to the Halalei Pier, newbies can catch gentle one- to two-footers.
If you want to find a good beach on Maui, just follow the trail of high-end hotels. On the island's west side, a half-dozen award-winning resorts and two championship golf courses line Kaanapali, a three-mile stretch of beach flanked by striking black rock formations. Ancient Hawaiian tradition takes center stage at sunset: Cliff jumpers reenact King Kahekili's dive into the sea (and netherworld), while hula dancers sway at beachside luaus.
On Maui's southern side is Wailea beach, where a sandy bottom and shore break combine for clear, calm waters for swimmers and snorkelers.
The southern shore of Oahu is home to perhaps the most iconic — and crowded — beach in the world. With 4 million visitors a year, Waikiki is the place where generations of paddlers learned the ancient sport of surfing among the two-foot swells.
Equally famous (but far less surfed), the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore kicks up 20-foot waves where the shallow water and the coral shelf collide. Beginners shouldn’t chance this break — just sit back and enjoy watching the pros.