5 Great Hawaiian Beaches

The sun sets along Ka’anapali Beach in West Maui.

The sun sets along Ka’anapali Beach in West Maui.

Above photo: The sun sets along Ka’anapali Beach in West Maui.

Story and photos by Joe Rogers

Joe is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Denver, Colorado. See more of his work at The Travlin' Joe or on Instagram.

Oahu and Maui both offer beautiful stretches of sand.

List the many reasons why Oahu and Maui are must-see island paradises — aside from the coconut drinks straight from the shell and the easygoing surf culture — and you’ll likely run out of fingers. Start naming specific beaches, and you’ll end up counting on your sand-covered toes, too.

Oahu boasts well over 100 beaches. Maui offers fewer, but over 30 miles of its coastline are devoted to stunning stretches of white, black or red sand. And if you’re island-hopping, Oahu and Maui deliver plenty of Instagrammable photo-ops and places to plant yourself at the edge of the turquoise waters.

With 75- to 80-degree water year-round, the Pacific Ocean near these Hawaiian beaches offers abundant opportunities to snorkel, surf, stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and bodyboard. Back on the sand, watch the kids build castles, soak up the sun on a long walk, dine beachside or simply kick back with a ukulele and watch nature put on a show at sunset.

Here are five spectacular beaches to consider as you build your itinerary.

Waikiki Beach – Downtown Honolulu, Oahu

Here, you’ll find that world-famous view of Diamond Head crater, a full range of fun water-based activities, open-air shopping, historic accommodations and plenty of beachside dining. The Hula Grill offers authentic Hawaiian flavors and locally sourced ingredients. Live music, cocktails and excellent meals also can be found at Duke’s Waikiki, named for Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian-born legend considered the “father of modern surfing.”

Sunset Beach – North Shore, Oahu

Speaking of surfing, a trip to Oahu’s North Shore is a must if you tackle the big waves. If you don’t, the 40-mile drive from Honolulu to Sunset Beach between October to March is still worth it simply to watch the pros ride 30-foot behemoths. Visit during the summer when the water is calm, and Sunset is a great spot for snorkeling and swimming. Fuel up on bulletproof coffee — a high-calorie drink intended to replace breakfast — or avocado toast at the bright yellow Sunrise Shack across the street. You can’t miss it.

Lanikai Beach – Kailua, Oahu

Lanikai means "heavenly ocean,” a fitting name for this picturesque beach known for year-round calm water and soft white sand. Tucked among Kailua’s residential neighborhoods just 14 miles northeast of Honolulu, Lanikai is the perfect setting if you’re seeking both adventure and relaxation. Here, you can arrive in time for a glorious sunrise, spend the day in the sand with the family, kayak to two offshore islands or snorkel alongside sea turtles.

Ka’anapali Beach – Ka’anapali, Maui

Resort getaways, remarkable restaurants and the Whalers Village open-air mall line this gem on Maui’s western coast. Human-made amenities still come in second at this beach, thanks to 3 miles of sand and shallow water where snorkelers catch up-close views of colorful tropical fish at Black Rock. Just a 10-minute drive north from Lahaina — Maui’s historic whaling village that’s now an island hot spot — Ka’anapali Beach also offers a perfect vantage point for whale watching and a daily cliff dive ceremony at sunset.

D.T. Fleming Beach Park – Kapalua, Maui

This West Maui classic, a 7.5-mile drive north from Ka’anapali Beach, is a popular spot for surfing and bodyboarding. In summer, a reef to the right of the beach is a snorkeler’s paradise. The ironwood trees provide ample shade for families using the tables and grills at the beach. But if signature burgers and whimsical milkshakes are your thing, make sure to stop at the Burger Shack, a beachfront bar just up the hill on the left.


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