Ask any veteran traveller for a list of their top ten beach-hunting destinations on the planet and Hawaii is likely to figure heavily. Every year various media outlets list this archipelago state as the home of some of the world’s most superlative coastal spots, using adjectives like "paradisal", "idyllic", and "pristine" to try and convey the real uniqueness of Hawaii’s seaside offering. But being in the limelight for the beaches of Big Island, Maui and Kauai is no new thing; they’ve inspired the awe of travellers, explorers, and even past kings since time immemorial, famed for their exotic majesty and immortalized as the birthplace of surf.
Here are five of the state’s must see beaches, ranging from snorkelling meccas hidden in the coastal coves to lively cosmopolitan spots right in the heart of the capital.
Since it was first used as a holidaying spot by the Hawaiian kings of old, the district of Waikiki on Oahu’s south shore has been home to one of the world’s most famous recreation beaches. More recently it was the site of Honolulu’s first hotel, attracting totemic cult figures throughout the 20th century (think Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor to name but a few) to its glowing yellow beachfront, underground rock bars and stylish island resorts. Today, visitors here can expect all the quintessential charm of Hawaii’s most famous coastal destination, along with all the bubbling nightlife activity of the state capital.
Snorkelling opportunities abound amidst the submerged corals and volcanic monoliths of Hanauma Bay just outside of Honolulu city. Formed by the attrition of coastal erosion over thousands of years, this deep crater lagoon now teems with a kaleidoscope of exotic marine species and interesting underwater plants. Near the small stretch of sand in the centre of the bay, a newly formed Marine Education Center affords visitors a great introduction to the site’s unique ecosystem and the current conservation efforts that are underway.
Nestled on the sheltered south shore of exotic Kauai Island, Poipu beach offers up a myriad of activities for would-be visitors, earning it the regular epithet of "America’s Best Beach". Not only are the shoreline waters alive with a rainbow of tropical pacific sea life for snorkelers and divers, but the protected wading pool and swimming area nearer to the sand, mean that Poipu is the perfect choice for families looking for safer coastal spots in Hawaii. Nearby, there are also plenty of entertainments on offer, from local crafts shopping to golf courses and hiking routes in the hills.
So named for both its length and width, Maui’s iconic Big Beach extends nearly a mile along the island’s south shore, offering up one of the most beautiful enclaves of paradisal sand in the whole state. The beach itself sits between two volcanic coastal protrusions, sheltering the area from the wind-driven swells in the west and making for some seriously good swimming and snorkelling conditions. Come here if you like to spread out on the sand, because no matter how busy this spot gets, there’s usually room aplenty!
Rarely does a year go by when the iconic half-a-mile stretch of sand at Lanikai near Kailua does not receive some World’s Best Beach nomination or other. Carved out of the eastern coast of Oahu, the beach is said to be the resting spot of the island’s political luminaries, while from above the landscape shows a stark gradient, from the deep turquoise of the waters to the glistening ivory of the sand. If you’re after a quintessential Hawaii beach experience, then this one’s not to be missed!