Hawaii usually appears in guides naming the best beaches in the world. Many miles of coastline make it hard to decide which beaches in the state are truly the most beautiful. From volcanic black sand and secluded hidden gems to incredible snorkeling spots, Hawaii offers a variety of beaches for every mood.
Punalu‘u Beach is not only famous for its jet-black shoreline but it’s also a well-known place to spot honu (green sea turtles). These endangered marine reptiles are often found basking in the sun or munching on algae in the shallow bay.
Hapuna Beach’s turquoise water, fine white sand, and minimal rainfall land it on most best beaches lists. Many cafes, restaurants and stores are nearby, making it a sunbather’s dream. If the beach is too crowded, there is a rustic dirt path near Hapuna Beach Resort that follows the sea cliffs, connecting Hapuna Beach and the nearby Mauna Kea Beach.
Papohaku Beach on Moloka’i’s west shore is the place to be for complete solitude. Moloka’i is one of the rare spots where it’s easy to find yourself on a beach or hiking trail all alone. Papohaku Beach Park is great for picnicking, beach volleyball, barbecuing, camping or just spending the day on the pristine sandy shore.
In the final section on the road to Hāna in Maui, there is a small, yet mesmerizing black sand beach named Pa’iloa. This area is often spoken about in Hawaiian legends and it’s easy to see why. The small curved beach is part of the 120-acre Wai’anapanapa State Park, where lava rock outcroppings, freshwater caverns, natural arches, and sea caves add to the mystery of the place.
Walking the short trail from Hulopoe Beach, it’s hard to miss the volcanic Pu‘u Pehe sea stack, known as Sweetheart Rock sitting in the water offshore. Visitors can sit on the small crescent shaped beach tucked under the cliffside, while contemplating the tragic Hawaiian legend of two lovers. A princess from Maui and a warrior from Lanai were deeply in love, but one day during high surf, the princess drowned. The grieving warrior buried his beloved at the top of Pu‘u Pehe before jumping into the crashing surf 80-feet below.
Waimea Bay on O‘ahu’s North Shore is most famous for its gigantic winter swells, generating the waves for legendary rides by the world’s top surfers and home to the Eddie Aikau Big Wave International. In summer though, the water is crystal clear and calm. Locals and tourists love to climb the large rock on the left side of the bay and make the 30-foot plunge into the ocean.
Makapuʻu Beach is a well-known bodyboarding spot and local hangout, nestled right below the popular lighthouse hiking trail. Two islands—Manana and Kāohikaipu, both state bird sanctuaries—sit right offshore, while a little further up the coast, children splash around in the tide pools at Baby Makapuʻu. Overhead, dozens of paragliders soar next to the steep Koʻolau mountain range which backs the beach before landing in the nearby open field.
The rural Polihale State Park can only be reached by experienced off-road drivers with a 4-wheel drive vehicle—many people get stuck here. The difficult access means it’s possible to have the long white sand beach all to yourself. The secluded state park consists of large sand dunes, camp grounds, and a beach that stretches for over 17 miles—the longest in Hawaii.
The golden sand of Makua Beach on Kaua‘i, often referred to as Tunnels, is a stark contrast to the surrounding lush tropical mountains. The diverse inner and outer reef habitats make Tunnels one of the best places on the island to scuba dive and snorkel. It’s common to see various types of parrot fish, trigger fish, wrasses, and honu among the branching coral heads.
With no signs pointing the way, Kauapea Beach is nicknamed ‘Secret Beach’ for a reason. A strenuous yet short hike lets visitors in on the secret—Kauapea’s white sand and tide pools surrounded by black lava rock cliffs. The iconic Kilauea Lighthouse can be seen in the distance, adding to the beach’s charm.