Top 10 Beaches in Hawaii

Published on June 28th, 2021

What are the Most Popular Beaches in Hawaii?

If there’s any state in the union that’s made a name for itself on its beaches, it’s Hawaii: this remote island state offers 750 miles of coastline despite its teeny-tiny size, including beaches with exotically covered sands and those hidden by stunning volcanic cliffs. With so many gorgeous vantage points to choose from, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by options when it comes to Hawaii beaches — which is why we’ve listed these top 10 across all the popular islands that you definitely don’t want to miss.

Top Beaches in Hawaii

1. Papakōlea Beach, Big Island

2. Punaluʻu Beach, Big Island

3. Makalawena Beach, Big Island

4. Makena Beach, Maui

5. Kaihalulu Beach, Maui (Road to Hana) (red sand)

6. Lanikai Beach, Oahu

7. Sunset Beach, Oahu

8. Poipu Beach, Kauai

9. Hanalei Bay, Kauai

10. Polihale Beach, Kauai (SP)

Hawaii Beaches

Let’s head to the beach(es)!

1. Papakōlea Beach, Big Island

Hawaii Green sand beach (Papakōlea) the must-see beach of Big Island

You’ve likely seen white sands, and maybe even black ones, in your time. But green sand is a truly unique Hawaiian experience — there are only three other places in the world you can take in this alien site, and given that they’re in Norway, Guam, and the Galapagos, chances are the flight is going to be considerably more expensive! Hawaii’s Papakōlea Beach is also simply colloquially known as Green Sand Beach, since that’s what people go there to see. The sands get their unique hue from the olivines, or green crystals, that result from the volcanic activity in this area. This is an undeveloped beach which often experiences rough surf and isn’t watched over by a lifeguard, so we recommend skipping the dip and instead just enjoying the sunshine and picking up a handful of those pretty green crystals to look at up close.

Things to do near Papakōlea Beach on the Big Island:  Tucked into the extreme southern end of the Big Island, Papakōlea Beach is considerably far from the beaten path — but also within easy driving distance of the Manukā State Wayside and Kaʻū Forest Reserve. And, of course, no trip to the Big Island is complete without a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here are some local RVshare rentals and campgrounds to consider!

2. Punaluʻu Beach, Big Island

Punaluʻu Beach park - Big Island, Hawaii

Green sand? Check. Now let’s head to one of Hawaii’s premier black sand beaches — which also owe their color, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the volcanic goings-on in this island state. The Big Island’s Punaluʻu Beach is covered with gorgeous, dark sand that’s composed of basalt, which is formed when the lava flowing from the volcano reaches the ocean and rapidly cools. Along with its Technicolor footing, this island is also known for the hawksbill and green turtles who are frequently seen hanging out here, sunning themselves and feeding on the marine plants that populate the shallow waters. Be careful if you’re tempted to follow them into the sea, though; the waves here are rough and the seafloor beneath is rocky, so keep your wits about you at the swimming area.

Things to do near Punaluʻu Beach on the Big Island: Just a bit further north up the coast from Green Sand Beach, this is another fairly remote part of the island — but closer to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the cities that dot the island’s eastern shore. Here are the best RV rental vehicles and campgrounds on Big Island.

3. Makalawena Beach, Big Island

Makalawena beach, Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Some of us, when we plan a beach day, are after a convivial, festival atmosphere populated with plenty of other beach-goers to bask with. Others, however, prefer an experience with more solitude — which is exactly what you’ll find on Makalawena Beach. This secluded cove requires four-wheel-drive to get to, thanks to the rough lava rocks that separate it from the rest of the mainland; even once you get to the parking area, you’ll still have a half-mile hike. But if you’re up for all that trouble, you’ll be rewarded with what is one of the most beautiful and also serene beach locations in not only Hawaii, but the world. There are also great snorkeling opportunities here, thanks to a nearby coral reef — but do be apprised that the southern end of the beach tends to draw the clothing-optional crowd!

Things to do near Makalawena Beach on the Big Island: This secluded beach on the island’s western shore is close to Kekaha Kai State Park, which offers another beautiful beachfront and almost 5 miles of walking trail. As always, there are some excellent RV rental vehicles and campgrounds nearby, too!

4. Makena Beach, Maui

makena beach hawaii

Also known simply as Big Beach, Maui’s Makena State Park hosts what is easily one of the most beautiful stretches of waterfront in the whole state of Hawaii, not to mention 165 acres of lush rainforest and the 360-foot cinder of a dormant cinder cone volcano. It’s easy to see, too, why Makena Beach gets its “big” nickname: at more than 100 feet wide and a mile long, there are plenty of places here to set up your towel and umbrella, though it’s known for the crashing waves that make it a favored spot amongst surfers and body boards. (If you’re not a strong swimmer or are traveling with little ones, we recommend sticking to the shallows and taking it easy!)

Things to do near Makena Beach on Maui: Maui is also known as “the Valley Isle,” and this beach gives you an excellent introduction to exactly why: beautiful lush vegetation backed up right against glorious beachfronts makes this area a completely unique, classically Hawaiian experience. This island is also home to Haleakalā National Park, and, of course, plenty of great RVshare rentals and campgrounds!

5. Kaihalulu Beach, Maui

Hawaii Maui Hana Kaihalulu red sand beach

Yet another stop on our rainbow sand adventure — and also an important stop on the popular scenic drive that is the Road to Hana — Maui’s Kaihalulu Beach is another spot that requires some devotion to get to. You must hike down a slippery and sometimes treacherous path which curves through pine forests and is comprised of crumbing cinder stone to arrive. When you do, though, you’ll be rewarded by the shocking juxtaposition of its red sands — colored by the iron present because of, you guessed it, local volcanic activity — and the turquoise waters that lap against its rusty shore. (And yes, we do mean that literally: the red sand is due to the oxidization of the iron, which is better known as rust!)

Things to do near Kaihalulu Beach on Maui: Isolated and rugged though it might be, Kaihalulu Beach is also only minutes from the relatively large town of Hana, which has plenty to offer in terms of places to eat, shop, and stay. Of course, you might already have those needs covered with a peer-to-peer RV rental and local Maui campground!

6. Lanikai Beach, Oahu

Hawaii Lanikai Beach

Ready for a beach that’s less of a trek and more of a classic Hawaiian landscape with plenty of places to lay back, relax, and soak up the sun? Lanikai Beach is like the local’s answer to Waikiki: powder white sands, shimmering blue waters, and softer waves that gently lap the shore, making for a great opportunity to swim and wade for those who aren’t professional surfers. (The area is also popular among windsurfers, sailors, and paddle boarders for this reason.) Grab some snorkeling gear from a local rental outfitter, or bring your own, to get an up-close and personal view at the gorgeous coral reefs that line this section of shoreline. Best of all, rejoice in the relative solitude you’ll enjoy since this beach is a further drive from the hopping city of Honolulu than the bigger-name beaches you’ve likely heard of on Oahu. The best of both worlds!

Things to do near Lanikai Beach on Oahu: Just a 40-minute drive from Honolulu, Lanikai Beach is surrounded by other interesting things to explore on the eastern shore of Oahu, including the Lanikai Pillbox hike and the sprawling Kawainui Park. There are also plenty of RVshare rentals and campgrounds to check out on Oahu to make your vacation getaway feel like a tropical home away from home!

7. Sunset Beach, Oahu

sunset beach oahu north shore

The north shore of Oahu is a must-visit for everyone who makes their way to Oahu, and Sunset Beach, as you might have gathered from its name, is the quintessential north shore spot to lie back and watch the sun do its thing. The experience you’ll have here can vary a great deal depending on which season you’re visiting in; in the summer, the water is calm and welcoming, perfect for taking a relaxed swim to cool off. In the winter, though, if you’re not ready to hang ten, best to hang back on the beach and watch the surfers cut their way through the wake with power and style. Either way, it’ll certainly be a beach day to remember.

Things to do near Sunset Beach on Oahu: Although one of the best, Sunset Beach is far from the only beautiful stretch of shoreline to explore here. Follow the highway just a blip further north to visit Waiale‘E Beach Park, or get a different taste of the island by meandering inland toward Pūpūkea-Paumalū Forest Reserve. Either way, here are the local RVshare rentals and campgrounds you need to know about.

8. Poipu Beach, Kauai

Sunset at Poipu Beach

If you’ve made your way out to the Garden Isle of Kauai, known for its dramatic cliffs and heart-beat-increasing hikes, chances are you don’t turn your nose up at serious adventure — but even the most rugged outdoors enthusiasts occasionally need a place to chill out. If that describes your scenario, consider Poipu Beach, a beautiful, soft, family-friendly stretch of sand on the southern reaches of Kauai, which includes a protected swimming area as well as nearby snorkel rentals and a playground. Dotted with palm trees and footsteps away from the eateries and resources of the town of Poipu, this is a great option for a classic beach day retreat on an otherwise-adventure-filled island.

Things to do near Poipu Beach on Kauai: If you’re looking for a slightly more rugged landscape close by, check out the rocky cliffs and rougher surfs of nearby Shipwreck Beach, or take a hike along the popular Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. Meanwhile, here are the Kauai RVshare rentals and campgrounds that’ll make the experience that much more pleasant for you and your family!

9. Hanalei Bay, Kauai

Hanalei Bay - Overlook of Hanalei Bay at the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, USA.

Clear on the opposite side of the Island from Poipu, Hanalei Bay is easily one of the most famed stretches of shoreline in Hawaii, if not the world — and its namesake bay is the largest in Kauai. This beach is beloved because its long, meandering stretch of soft sand offers both access to the relatively calm waters of Hanalei Bay as well as stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The beach is also backed up by numerous public parks, such as Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park and Waioli Beach Park, which offer green spaces and amenities to make for a more convenient stay. And, of course, it’s all just steps from the town of Hanalei, which offers plenty of attractions and resources.

Things to do near Hanalei Bay on Kauai: Queen’s Bath is an incredible coastal destination not far from here, but be forewarned that it can be a treacherous hike — and an even more treacherous place to take a swim. But all visitors to this part of the state should set aside some time to visit the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a variety of endangered water and shorebirds. Here are some local RVshare rentals and campgrounds to consider!

10. Polihale Beach, Kauai

Beginning of the Napali Coast at Polihale State Park in Kauai, Hawaii Islands.

Located on the western end of the island, making it one of the most remote places in the entire United States, Polihale Beach sits inside the larger Polihale State Park, which is known for its relative isolation and untouched natural beauty. Imagine a traditional white sand beach, only backed up by rolling green mountains, remote jungle hiking trails and 100-foot dunes. Oh, and did we mention its 17-mile stretch of sand is the longest in all of the Hawaiian islands? Basically, it’s a wilderness, and it’s known for its lack of amenities and also its rough seas. Come here to bask and enjoy the absolute splendor of nature, but don’t walk into the water, except in the very small section reserved for swimming known as Queen’s Pond.

Things to do near Polihale Beach on Kauai: While dry camping is available at Polihale Beach State Park, you’ll need four-wheel drive to get there, which means disqualification for many RVs. However, there are plenty of beautiful, more developed areas to hang your hat in other parts of the island: here are the best RV rentals and campgrounds to peruse for your journey.

Planning an RV Trip to Hawaii

Obviously, since Hawaii is a series of islands, you can’t drive there (unless you’ve developed some really cool technology we’d love to get in on!). But you can fly in and rent one of our cozy RVshare vehicles, which are available all over the state. We’ve also covered the best campgrounds in Hawaii to stay at in Kauai, Maui, the Big Island, and Oahu as well as the most popular state parks to visit and explore. We’ve also covered the urban offerings of Honolulu in our in-depth city guide — and, of course, written guides to the following Hawaii national parks:

Aloha!

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