Hawaii might just be the closest thing on earth to paradise, with seemingly no end to its natural beauty. Famous for its relaxed island lifestyle and rainforest treks that pass volcanoes, waterfalls and forests, Hawaii is an adventurers playground. Not to mention the awesome arts and culture scene which is not to be missed. However, there’s one thing that stands out above all else – The spectacular beaches in Hawaii. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are easily recognisable from their classic turquoise waves lapping against a powdery white shore.
But that’s not the only type of beach on offer here: The volcanoes mean there are also black sand beaches in Hawaii, and you can trade digging your toes into the powdery white sand for awesome surfing and stand up paddleboarding.
The only problem with Hawaii is that it can be pretty expensive. But we’ll ensure that you don’t fall into the traps of spending too much money. Our expert travel writers have taken a look at the best places to stay and things to do while you’re enjoying Hawaii’s best beaches.
We want you to have the best time possible in America’s 50th state. So, whether you want to enjoy water sports, find your very own secluded spot, or just soak up the island lifestyle, let’s get you ready to say Aloha to Hawaii!
- When to Go to Beaches in Hawaii
- Most Popular Beach in Hawaii | Waikiki Beach, Oahu
- Best Swimming Beach in Hawaii | Poipu Beach, Kauai
- Most Beautiful Beach in Hawaii | Hapuna Beach, Big Island
- Cleanest Beach in Hawaii | Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach), Kauai
- Quietest Beach in Hawaii | Polihua Beach, Lanai
- Best Surfing Beach in Hawaii | Waimea Bay Beach Park, Oahu
- Best Black Sand Beach in Hawaii | Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island
- Hawaii Packing List
When to Go to Beaches in Hawaii
The good news about Hawaii is that it’s a great destination throughout the year. The weather is always warm, but there are some things that you should keep in mind. During winter, the tradewinds pick up; this means there are more showers. It also produces bigger swell – especially on the north of each island. While this isn’t good news for sunbathers and swimmers, it should have surfers’ ears pricking up!
April, May, September, and October are the best times to visit, especially if you’re backpacking Hawaii. You’ll benefit from wonderful weather, without having to put up with the exorbitant accommodation prices and massive crowds that descend on the islands in the summer months.
When it comes to booking your vacation in Hawaii, try to book your accommodation at least two to three months in advance. The most popular hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels can get booked up quite quickly, and you don’t want a bad accommodation experience to ruin your trip.
Other notable times to visit are February and March – a good time for whale watching and even skiing. Yep, that’s right – skiing! You can do it, but you’ll need a 4×4 and equipment. But hey, how many people can say they’ve skied in Hawaii?
Most Popular Beach in Hawaii | Waikiki Beach, Oahu
- Who It’s For: If you want the full Hawaii tourist experience, Waikiki Beach has seafront hotels and surfing – as well as the typical azure waters.
- Don’t Miss: One of the most famous surf spots in the world, both beginners and experts can tackle Waikiki’s waves.
Probably the most popular destination in the state capital (Honolulu) and the entirety of Hawaii, Waikiki Beach is known throughout the world. The beach isn’t as idyllic as it was when it first started attracting tourists; there are now malls, restaurants, and epic nightlife just off this two-mile strip of sand. However, it’s a great place to begin your trip and it makes for one of the best places to stay in Hawaii as there’s something for every type of traveller, including the awesome beach!
Best Airbnb: Suite by the Sea
This private studio is one of the cheapest rooms in Waikiki, but you wouldn’t know from staying there. It’s got loads of mod cons, it’s clean, and the design is on-point!
Best Hostel: Polynesian Hostel Beach Club Waikiki
You don’t just have to take our word that this is a great place to stay; the Travel Channel rated it as the best youth hostel in Waikiki! Be sure to take advantage of the daily excursions on offer.
Best Hotel: Hotel Renew
You won’t even have to take the one block walk to enjoy the ocean from Hotel Renew. It has jaw-dropping views of Waikiki Beach from private balconies!
Best Penthouse: Magnificent Ocean View Penthouse
Just imagine sitting on a traditional Hawaiian lanai with a cocktail in hand looking out over Waikiki. That dream becomes a reality at this beautiful property!
Check out our post on the best VRBOs in Honolulu for even more choices of where to stay!
Diamond Head Volcano
Looking out over Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head is a dormant volcano and US State Monument. It’s a steep but relatively easy hike that you can complete in less than an hour – and those views!
This is where you’ll find the coolest restaurants, shops, and hotels in Waikiki. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs. [source: okimo (Shutterstock)]
Take home an unreal souvenir that you’ve made yourself – with this unique Hawaiian jewellery class.
Enjoy the fastest growing board sport in the world – stand-up paddleboarding. And get a photo of you doing it!
See what’s beneath the waves of Waikiki Beach with this snorkelling session.
Best Swimming Beach in Hawaii | Poipu Beach, Kauai
- Who It’s For: Want to enjoy swimming and snorkelling in a safe and clean environment? Look no further.
- Don’t Miss: The endangered Hawaiian monk seals. They’re the rarest seals in the US, but sometimes they stop by Poipu Beach in Hawaii!
With its very own natural swimming pool just off the Poipu Beach shoreline, you can relax knowing that you won’t be swept away as you swim and snorkel in these gorgeous turquoise waters. It’s a great place to come with the family, thanks to the safety; there are lifeguards seven days a week. While it’s perfect for swimming, there are also sections of the beach where you can jump on your surfboard. There’s no arguing that this is one of the best beaches in Hawaii! And there are some fantastic villas near Poipu Beach that offer a luxurious stay for families.
Best Airbnb: South Shore Kauai Gem
You’ll have to be quick to book this Hawaii Airbnb, which isn’t often available. There’s a BBQ area and ponds packed with koi carp on your doorstep!
Best Hostel: Kauai Beach House Hostel, LLC
One of the best places to stay in Kauai, and the only Hostel, it’s more than a half an hour drive to Poipu Beach from here. However, it’s one of the cheapest options on the island, so give it a go!
Best Hotel: Koa Kea Hotel & Resort
This four-star resort boasting a restaurant is lovely for a couple who are looking to make the most of a romantic trip to Poipu Beach. After a busy day, pamper yourself at the spa!
Best Condo: Beautiful Oceanfront Condo
With stunning views over Kauai’s south shore, this one-bedroom unit is ideal for visiting the stunning beaches in the area. It’s close to the island’s best surf spots, too.
One of the most popular natural sites on Kauai, an ancient lava tube spews incoming surf in this geyser-like attraction. [source: SamanthaRoberts (Shutterstock)]
Roy’s Poipu Bar and Grill
Explore the Coast
Take a guided hike along the remote south shore of Kauai. You might even find fossils if you’re lucky!
Learn more about Hawaiian culture on this scavenger hunt. Your host is a creative collaborator and cheerleader and will ensure you enjoy yourself!
Try your hand at surfing with a beginner’s lesson from Poipu Beach. We bet you’ll be able to stand by the end
Most Beautiful Beach in Hawaii | Hapuna Beach, Big Island
- Who It’s For: If you appreciate natural beauty, don’t miss Hapuna Beach. Whether it’s the beach itself or the wildlife, you’re sure to be bowled over.
- Don’t Miss: The tours. You have to make one excursion – whether it’s to get close to whales, rays, or dolphins.
Now, this is a hard one. How on earth are you supposed to choose the most beautiful beach in a place like Hawaii?! Well, we’ve given it a go, and we think Hapuna Beach edges it. Just. This stretch of white sand is popular with locals and tourists who come to paddle in the turquoise waters off the longest beach in Hawaii. If you feel like you’ve seen this before, it’s either from the TV or a postcard. Write your own from under one of the swaying palms! Either way, Hapuna Beach is a must-visit destination to include in your Hawaii itinerary.
Best Airbnb: Garden Room King
You’ll find a selection of affordable private rooms in Waikoloa Village. This one comes with a laptop-friendly workspace – just what you need if you’re a digital nomad.
Best Hostel: My Hawaii Hostel
It’s 33 miles from Hapuna Beach, but the journey is worth it to enjoy the most beautiful beach in Hawaii and the best hostel on Big Island. There’s public transport right by the door, which helps!
Best Hotel: The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort
This stunning hotel isn’t cheap, but then, it is a beach resort in Hawaii! While you’re here, take advantage of an 18-hole golf course, a private lanai from your room, and a full spa service.
Best House: Aloha Ka Milo
The perfect spot for a large family getaway, once you divide it between ten, that intimidating price tag starts to look much more manageable. Don’t miss the sunrise over Mauna Loa from the Lanai!
If SUPing isn’t exciting enough, try it with a light underneath to spot nocturnal creatures from the deep! [image credit]
Three Frogs Cafe
Want to get out of the sun? Pull a shady spot at the Three Frogs Cafe beach shack and enjoy a tasty snack.
Part of the Westin Hotel on Hapuna Beach, this restaurant has a Mediterranean theme. The cocktails are pretty good too!
Go Whale Watching
Enter the playground of the gentle giants, humpback whales. This boat trip with a sea captain is sure to be an unforgettable memory!
Take a Boat Trip
Witness majestic and gentle manta rays in an intimate setting as they feed on plankton. This tour isn’t your traditional nightlife scene, but if you love nature, it beats going to a club.
If you’re not fussy with what you’ll see, this snorkelling trip may bring you face to face with dolphins, turtles, rays, and much, much more!
Cleanest Beach in Hawaii | Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach), Kauai
- Who It’s For: If you want crystal clear waters to snorkel and scuba in, let us present Tunnels Beach to you.
- Don’t Miss: The triggerfish. Endemic to the area, this is just one of many brightly-coloured fish in one of Kauai’s best scuba and snorkelling spots.
It’s not the easiest to get to, and parking is limited, but once you rock up on Tunnels Beach in Hawaii, those worries will be banished from your mind. You might even feel like you’ve seen this place before; that’s because it featured in the famous 50’s musical South Pacific! Nowadays, it’s better known for snorkelling and scuba diving. However, no-one would blame you if you didn’t go into the water – you might just be mesmerised by the views of the lush green hills.
Best Airbnb: Studio in the heart of Princeville
This studio offers one of the lowest prices in nearby Princeville. There’s a kitchenette, lanai, and BBQ on site.
Best Hostel: Kauai Beach House Hostel
You probably recognise this one: as we said, there’s just one hostel on Kauai. This is great spot to stay if you’re visiting Tunnels Beach as well as Poipu!
Best Hotel: Hanalei Colony Resort
This stunning resort may not be right on Tunnels Beach, but we thought you’d be okay with that. It’s less than a mile away, so you can hike there if you’re feeling brave!
Best Cottage: Remodelled Cottage with Dipping Pool
You don’t even need to head to the beach for a dip when staying here; there’s a plunge pool, which is a perfect way to recover from the Hawaiian humidity.
Limahuli Garden & Preserve National Tropical Botanical Garden
Like plants? Then you’ll love this place! It’s got species from all over Hawaii – with a view of the Pacific thrown in. [source: Marisa Estivill (Shutterstock)]
Koloa Mill Ice Cream and Coffee
Sushi Girl Kauai
If you can stomach the fact you might be eating some of the fish you’ve gotten close to, Sushi Girl needs to be on your bucket list!
Everyone loves the sound of a ukulele, and you won’t get away from it in Hawaii. So why not join in the fun with a group lesson on this simple stringed instrument?
Take Part in a Scavenger Hunt
Star in your own gameshow with this epic scavenger hunt near the beach. It’s an awesome way to uncover the hidden gems of nearby Hanalei.
Take a Tour
Stop off at Tunnels Beach as you tour the north of Kauai Island. This will also take you to waterfalls and allow you to see local wildlife.
Quietest Beach in Hawaii | Polihua Beach, Lanai
- Who It’s For: Want to go off-the-beaten-track? This is the place for a long, long walk.
- Don’t Miss: The peace and quiet makes it one of the top beaches in Hawaii. The whole point of coming here is to disconnect!
Lanai is one of the smallest and quietest of the Hawaiian islands, with just 3,000 residents. Polihua Beach, on the north shore, runs for two miles. It’s an ideal spot if you don’t want to be disturbed by other tourists. To be honest, you probably won’t find any locals here either! Mind your step for turtles who nest here throughout the year. In winter, be sure to look out for humpback whales!
Best Airbnb: Dreams Come True
Check out this bed and breakfast for a great budget option on Lanai. It’s in a renovated plantation home which dates back more than 90 years.
Best Hostel: Tiki Beach Hostel
There are no hostels in Lanai, but staying on Maui and taking a ferry across is a good option if you’ve got your heart set on budget accommodation!
Best Hotel: Hotel Lanai
One of the few hotels on Lanai – and one that certainly won’t cost the earth – this historical property is very popular with couples.
Best Apartment: Plantation Style Home in Lanai
This cute home in Lanai City is an excellent base for exploring the entire island. It’s just three minutes from the town square, which boasts restaurants, galleries, and shops.
Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods)
This unusual rocky landscape isn’t found in many places around Hawaii. Go for a walk and appreciate the stunning views! [source: Gu1M (Shutterstock)]
Lanai Cat Sanctuary
This non-profit animal sanctuary is a must for animal lovers. More than 600 cats call this place home! [source: KnelsenPhoto (Shutterstock)]
Take this 12-mile trail across the island to pass through the rainforest and the top of Lanai’s highest peak. From here, you can see six Hawaiian islands on a clear day!
Best Surfing Beach in Hawaii | Waimea Bay Beach Park, Oahu
- Who It’s For: If you’re looking to catch waves in Hawaii, this beach has to be on your itinerary.
- Don’t Miss: Waimea Falls. These waterfalls have a swimming spot where you’ll be surrounded by greenery!
Another impossible choice – but we’ve made it! Waimea Bay Beach Park on Oahu sits on the island’s north shore and is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. There’s less development here than Honolulu and Waikiki, but when it comes to surfing, there’s nowhere better. Some of the state (and the world)’s top surfing competitions take place here – something you certainly won’t want to miss.
Best Airbnb: Four Bedroom Pupukea House
This functional house is great if you’re looking for somewhere to crash after a day of surfing. There’s parking, so it’s great for those with their own transport.
Best Hostel: Private Hammock Camping with Tent
It can be tricky finding budget accommodation in Hawaii; however, think outside the box, and you could be waking up right on the beach!
Best Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore
While Hawaii is covered in expensive resorts, Waimea Bay offers this affordable and reliable option from Marriott. It’s got a huge swimming pool!
Best Apartment: North Shore Surf Loft
If you’re going to surf, you may as well go the whole way and get a surf lodge. Wake up with a view of the ocean from the open plan living area of this gorgeous pad.
Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site
Scenery and history? Sign us up! The views are simply spectacular from the 17th-century religious site. [source: Steve Heap (Shutterstock)]
Take a Night Tour
Equip yourself with nightlight and see the coral reefs off Shark’s Cove at night. You’ll get protective footwear just in case you stand on a stonefish!
Take a nature walk along the North Shore while your guide tells you all about Hawaiian history.
Learn to Surf
We couldn’t miss this one – if you’ve never tried surfing before, take your first lesson at one of the world’s best surf spots!
Best Black Sand Beach in Hawaii | Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island
- Who It’s For: Anyone who likes an unusual feature on their beaches will not want to miss this unique black sand beach.
- Don’t Miss: Watching the sea turtles sunning themselves on the rocks. Just don’t get too close!
Last but not least on our list of the best beaches in Hawaii is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Even in an area famed for volcanic activity, black sand beaches are quite a rarity in Hawaii. While it’s great for watching turtles, you might want to do it from the land. The water is excellent for surfing, but the rocky bottom doesn’t accommodate swimmers well. We can’t believe we’re saying this, but if you get sick of white sand beaches and turquoise waters (unlikely), at least you have a backup option. If not, stick Punalu’u on your itinerary anyway!
Best Airbnb: Rainbow Jaguar Treehouse
When offered the chance to stay in a treehouse in Hawaii, you’re hardly likely to say no. A quirky and unusual option which is great for couples – and it’s not even that expensive!
Best Hostel: Big Island Bed and Breakfast
It’s tricky to find a hostel in the south of the island. However, if you’re looking for budget accommodation, then a bed and breakfast will do just nicely. You’re welcome to use the kitchen too!
Best Hotel: Sea Mountain
This aparthotel gives you the chance to stay in a traditional Polynesian-style accommodation. There’s an 18 hole golf course on-site, while an outdoor pool and hot tub will help rest your muscles afterward.
Punalu’u Bake Shop
Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii is known for its volcanoes, and this national park is the best place to see them safely.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
While you’re in the area, why not visit a green sand beach too? Papakolea is one of only four in the world. Squeeze it in!
Explore Volcanoes National Park
See more than just the beach. Visit a nearby coffee farm and the highlights of Volcanoes National Park too!
Take a Helicopter Ride
Tick a helicopter ride off your bucket list – you’ll see Punalu’u Beach as well as stunning waterfalls. This tour leaves from Kona.
Looking for something to do at night? This stargazing tour really makes the most of Hawaii’s lack of light pollution.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance for Hawaii
Shoutout from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker: Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do think about getting insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before: you may well need it.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Hawaii Packing List
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl geopress is a true behemoth amongst water bottles acting as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.
5.Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
Final Thoughts on the Best Beaches in Hawaii
Now that you’ve seen seven of Hawaii’s epic beaches, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of which one is most suitable for you. Do you want to swim in the calm and turquoise waters of Poipu Beach? Perhaps you’d prefer to be amazed by the natural wonder of Punaluu’s black sand beach. Or, you might just want to throw yourself into the waves and enjoy SUPing and surfing at Waimea Beach! Our list of the best beaches in Hawaii has something for everyone!
Whatever you want, you’ll be able to enjoy it during a Hawaii beach break. Hawaii is often the trip of a lifetime, so be sure to leave time to see the state’s top attractions away from the beach, too. Take a road trip on the Hana Road, hike in Volcanoes National Park, or perhaps take a helicopter tour over the islands.
However you choose to spend your vacation in Hawaii, we hope you’ve found our guide helpful in choosing the beach for you… at least, which one you’ll visit first! We hope you have an incredible vacation!
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