No one ever gets as much beach time in Hawaii as they planned to, it seems, but it's a problem of time, not beaches. Beaches of every size, color (even green), and description line the state's many shorelines.
They have different strengths: some are great for sitting, but not so great for swimming. Some offer beach-park amenities like lifeguards and showers, whereas others are more private and isolated. Read up before you head out.
Makapuu Beach. Quite possibly Oahu's most breathtaking scenic view—with a hiking trail to a historic lighthouse, offshore views of two rocky islets, home to thousands of nesting seabirds, and hang gliders launching off nearby cliffs.
While the white-sand beach and surroundings adorn many postcards, the treacherous ocean's currents invite experienced body boarders only.
Kailua Beach Park. This is a true family beach, offering something for everyone: A long stretch of sand for walking, turquoise seas set against cobalt skies for impressive photographs, a sandy-bottom shoreline for ocean swimming, and grassy expanses underneath shade trees for picnics.
You can even rent a kayak and make the short paddle to Popia (Flat) Island. This is Windward Oahu, so expect wind—all the better if you're an avid windsurfer or kiteboarder.
Waimea Bay. This is the beach that makes Hawaii famous every winter when monster waves and the world's best surfers roll in.
Show up to watch, not partake. If the rest of us want to get in the water here, we have to wait until summer when the safe, onshore break is great for novice bodysurfers.
White Plains. This beach is equal parts Kailua Beach Park with its facilities and tree-covered barbecue areas and Waikiki with its numerous surf breaks—minus the crowds and high-rises.
Pack for the day—cooler with food and drink, snorkel gear, inflatables, and body board—as this destination is 35 minutes from downtown Honolulu.
Napili Beach. There is much to love about this intimate, crescent-shaped beach. Sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming, bodysurfing, and—after a full day of beach fun—startling sunsets. Bring the kids; they'll love the turtles that nosh on the limu (seaweed) growing on the lava rocks.
Makena (Big Beach). Don't forget the camera for this one. A bit remote and tricky to find, the effort is worth it—a long, wide stretch of golden sand and translucent offshore water. It's beautiful, yes, but the icing on the cake is this beach is never crowded. Use caution for swimming because the steep, onshore break can get big.
Waianapanapa State Park. The rustic beauty will capture your heart here—a black-sand beach framed by lava cliffs and backed by bright green naupaka bushes. Ocean currents can be strong, so cool off in one of two freshwater pools.
Get an early start, because your day's destination is just shy of Hana and requires a short, quarter-mile walk.
Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. It's hard to know where to start with this beach—the long, perfect crescent of sand, the calm, turquoise waters, rocky points for snorkeling, even surf in winter. Just about everyone can find something to love here. With its west-facing views, this is a good spot for sunsets.
Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach). This is like the big brother, more advanced version of Hapuna Beach with snorkeling, bodysurfing, and board surfing but trickier currents, so be careful. Still, it's worth it. Try them both and let us know which you prefer. For most, it's a toss-up.
Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach). Papakolea makes our list, because, really, how often do you run across a green-sand beach? That's right, green. The greenish tint here is caused by an accumulation of olivine crystals that formed in volcanic eruptions.
This isn't the most swimmable of beaches, but the sand, sculpted cliffs and dry, barren landscape make it quite memorable. A steep, 2-mile hike is required to access the beach.
Punaluu Beach Park (Black Sand Beach). This might as well be called Turtle Beach. Both the endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle and hawksbill turtle bask on the rocky, black-sand beach here.
We prefer to stay dry at this beach—due to strong rip currents—and snap pictures of the turtles and picnic under one of the many pavilions.
Haena Beach Park (Tunnels Beach). Even if all you do is sit on the beach, you'll leave here happy. The scenic beauty is unsurpassed, with verdant mountains serving as a backdrop to the turquoise ocean.
Snorkeling is the best on the island during the calm, summer months. When the winter's waves arrive, surfers line up on the outside break.
Hanalei Bay Beach Park. When you dream of Hawaii, this is what comes to mind: a vast bay rimmed by a wide beach and waterfalls draping distant mountains. Everyone finds something to do here—surf, kayak, swim, sail, sunbathe, walk and celebrity-watch.
Like most north shore beaches in Hawaii, Hanalei switches from calm in summer to big waves in winter.
Poipu Beach Park. The keiki (child's) swimming hole makes Poipu a great family beach, but it's also popular with snorkelers and moderate-to-experienced surfers. And while Poipu is considered a tourist destination, the Kauai residents come out on the weekends, adding a local flavor.
Be mindful of the endangered Hawaiian monk seals; they like it here, too.
Polihale State Park. If you're looking for remote, if you're looking for guaranteed sun, or if you're thinking of camping on the beach, drive the 5-mile-long cane-haul road to the westernmost point of Kauai. Be sure to stay for the sunset.
Unless you're an experienced water person, we advise staying out of the water due to a steep, onshore break. You can walk for miles along this beach, the longest in Hawaii.
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