These are Hawaii's best beaches - whatever your holiday style

What makes a beach amazing? The sweetest sand? The best waves? Or picture-perfect views? We paddle through the Hawaiian Islands to find the perfect seaside spot.

A beach-hut and palm trees on Poipu Beach, Kauai.
  • Bill Fink
  • March 2020

Whatever you are looking for – family-friendly, desert island, action-packed – there’s a perfect stretch of sand for you on the Islands of Hawaii.

Best all-rounder beach: Poipu Beach, Kauai

On the southern edge of Kauai, there’s a beach that’s neither too remote nor too crowded. Its white sands are soft and welcoming and, amazingly, the ocean waters are wavy and calm at the same time. A natural peninsula has created a protected cove for about half the beach, which means I can surf and snorkel at the same place. An adjacent public park provides respite from the sun, and across the street, local diners offer cheap eats for lunch. Like Goldilocks, I’ve finally found something that’s juuuuuust right.

Best hidden beach: Hanakapiai Beach, Kauai

On a quest for something more private, I hike miles of Kaua’i’s cliffside Kalalau Trail to reach Hanakapiai Beach. The small rock-covered cove, hidden between mountain passes, has a secluded end-of-the-earth feel to it, with rock cairns piled along the shore. Surrounding it are amazing, fluted green cliffs! A nearby waterfall! No masses of tourists! Oh, and a few signs: “High Surf”, “Strong Current”, “Dangerous Shorebreak”. And a hand-carved notice: “Warning! Do not go near the water!” OK then, back to the drawing board. It was pretty, though.

Green cliffs overlooking the water in Hanakapiai Beach in Hawaii.
Framed by cliffs and waterfalls, Hanakapiai Beach is a real hidden gem.

Best for Instagram: Hulopo’e Bay Beach, Lanai

Want to know what it’s like lounging around like galactically wealthy Oracle founder Larry Ellison? He owns the cove, the Four Seasons Hotel next door, and about 98 per cent of the entire island of Lanai – everything except the beach itself, which, like all in Hawaii, must allow public access. The waters are calm, the crescent of sands fluffy and white, the shore nearly empty. It’s pretty much perfect, but it can get a bit lonely on remote Lanai so be sure to bring a friend or two.

Best for families: Hanauma Bay Beach, Oahu

I feel like I’m floating in an aquarium as hundreds of multicoloured fish swim around me as if I’m part of the reef. And I’m only about 20 metres away from what might be the world’s best beach for snorkelling. The smooth, protected waters of the bay and the soft sands make it perfect for families. Yes, it can get crowded with people but the combination of remarkable sea life, calm waters and nice white sands make the spot as tasty as fresh sushi.

A bird's eye view of Hanauma Bay Beach, Oahu.
Keen snorkeller's will love the multi-coloured fish found in Hanauma Bay.

Best for surfers: Ehukai Beach Park, Oahu

Better known as the home of the famed Banzai Pipeline, one of the top surf spots on the planet, this beach sees some of the best surfers in the world riding the perfect barrel waves on the north shore of Oahu. If you’re a surfer, this beach gets full marks. But if you’re not an experienced surfie, stay out of the water in the winter months (mid-November through March), as the sometime eight metre-high waves crashing into shallow reefs are literally deadly.

Best for atmosphere: Waikiki Beach, Oahu

This is the iconic Hawaiian beach I’ve heard about all my life – high-rise hotels with the famed Diamond Head crater behind them, gentle surf, and a dozen neon-lit bars serving cocktails nearby. I scan for Elvis, he must be here, playing his ukulele from Blue Hawaii, right? Old dudes on longboards hang ten and families and honeymooners picnic on beach towels like they have for decades. Waikiki is overbuilt, over-touristed and totally clichéd but still utterly beautiful in its own way.

A woman standing on a paddle board in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii.
Hawaii's iconic Wakiki Beach is perfect for surfing and paddle-boarding.

Best for secluded beaches: Papohaku Beach, Molokai

The white sands stretch for miles, the waves lap gently on shore and I don’t see a single person. The beaches on the sleepy island of Molokai, a 90-minute ferry ride from Maui, are an antidote to Hawaii’s more built-up shores. With only a handful of small hotels and restaurants, and a trickle of visitors, I feel like I’m on a deserted tropical island retreat. It’s ideal if you’d like your own private slice of paradise. Many secluded beaches, but after dark, it gets pretty lonely.

The sandy shores and sea in Papohaku, Hawaii.
You'll love how unspoilt the beaches are on the the sleepy island of Molokai.

Best for black sand beach: Wai’anapanapa State Park Beach, Maui

There are plenty of white-sand beaches around. For a genuine Hawaiian experience, I visit the black sands, lava rock caves and shrimp-infused red tide pools of Maui’s Wai’anapanapa. Being there felt like I’d gone back thousands of years in time, to when the island was formed. But while black sand looks cool, in the sun it becomes foot-cooking hot. And I found myself shouting “Ow! Ow!” while walking on what Hawaiians call the “a’a’” lava rock.

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