Surf's Up: The Best Beaches in Hawaii

November 29, 2016

Ever heard the expression 'Life's a Beach?' Well, on the tropical paradise that is Hawaii, there's never a truer word said.

Let's face it, life is better at the beach: the sun beaming down on your face, the soothing sounds of the sea as your soundtrack and a cocktail or two in hand because you're on holiday and you deserve it; and where better to relax, let loose and forget about your troubles than Hawaii.

Choose from eight beautiful islands, all of which boast some of the best beaches in the world. We've found the top spots for snorkelling, surfing and even the option of having the entire beach to yourself.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your towel, throw on your costume and let's go to the beach.

Surfing: North Shore, Oahu

North Shore beach, Oahu

Hailed as the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii is the place to go if you want to catch a few waves. North Shore on Oahu is said to be the best spot for surfing with over seven miles of beaches providing 'the perfect wave'. Head there between November and February if you want to watch the surfers in action - the waves can reach heights of 30 feet or more. It gets pretty busy between mid-November and mid-December when the 'Vans Triple Crown of Surfing' event takes place, with surfing professionals coming from around the world to ride the waves and show off their skills.

Waimea Bay is one of the top spots along the shore. It's home to the 'Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau' surf competition, a unique contest that only takes place if wave swells reach a minimum height of 20ft. It's also great for swimming during the summer months when the waves are a lot calmer. The Waimea Valley isn't far away and will provide the perfect escape if you need a break from the surfing madness. The beautiful Waimea Falls reside here along with small pockets of botanical gardens where you can learn about local plant life.

Head to Haleiwa town if you need a bite to eat or wish to shop. Kono's is the place to go for breakfast burritos and Matsumoto does the best shaved ice on the island.

How to get there: North Shore is located on the island of Oahu. Fly into Honolulu International Airport and rent a car - it's only a 30 minute drive away.

Where to stay: Turtle Bay Resort is one of the most popular resorts in the area with rooms starting from $239 a night. You'll have a choice of a beach cottage, ocean villa or suite with breathtaking views of the ocean right on your doorstep. It also has eight cafes/restaurants on site serving local and international cuisine so you won't have far to go when hunger strikes.

On a budget? Courtyard Marriott offer rooms from $175 a night. Not only will you live in luxury, you'll also be steps away from the Polynesian Cultural Centre, a must-see when holidaying on Oahu.

Windsurfing: Hookipa Beach, Maui

Hookipa beach in Maui

If windsurfing is more your thing, head to Hookipa beach on Maui. Described as the 'Mecca of Windsurfing' this is the place to go for fierce winds and even fiercer pros. Locals follow the 10 man rule - if there are 10 windsurfers in the water, you don't go windsurfing (or wait until someone leaves the water). Like regular surfing, the best time to catch the professionals in action is during the winter months when the strongest winds arrive.

Head to the Pavilion area if you want to go swimming. It's shallow and separate from the main surfing spot, so you won't risk annoying windsurfers. You might even see green turtles swimming around the shallow reef so have your underwater camera at the ready.

Walk along to Mama's Fish House when you're feeling peckish. The seafood is freshly caught every day and we hear the macadamia nut crab cakes are delicious. The complementary fresh poi is a bonus too.

How to get there: Fly into Kahului Airport and rent a car for the 35 minute journey to Hookipa beach.

Where to stay: Live in luxury for $379 a night at the Lumeria Maui, a relaxation retreat which offers yoga and meditation classes, a saltwater pool and hot tub. Stay at the God's Peace of Maui if you want a more authentic homestay style experience. This bed and breakfast offers comfy beds, a shared kitchen and helpful, friendly hosts for around $100 a night.

Snorkelling: Makua (Tunnels) Beach, Kauai

Aerial shot of Tunnels Beach, Kauai

Snorkelling novices and diving pros often flock to the Hawaiian islands for their amazing underwater world. The Tunnels beach, also know as Makua, on Kauai is our pick for snorkelling as its horseshoe shaped reef is much bigger than it appears. Begin in the shallower water and you'll see parrotfish and reef triggerfish with butterfly fish and hawkfish swimming along the reef drop-off. You might even get to see Hawaiian monk seals; native to the island they enter this area regularly and can often be seen resting on the beach itself. Beginners should stay close to the beach but experienced snorkelers/divers can explore the larger reef provided they know how to navigate the current. 

The area surrounding the beach is residential so pack a picnic and a change of clothes for when you're finished in the water.

How to get there: You can now fly direct to Lihue Airport from many mainland US airports. Hire a car so you can get around the island easily - it's about an hours drive to the Tunnels beach from the airport.

Where to stay: The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is the luxury option. Rooms start from a staggering $579 a night but you'll feel like royalty when you enjoy the saltwater lagoons, spa and salon with Hawaiian body treatments and the choice of seven restaurants. There's also a private balcony and a marble ensuite bathroom with every room. 

Need something a little cheaper? The Hale Ho'o Maha Bed and Breakfast oozes character with it's fruit themed suites, all of which start from $220 a night. What's more, it's only a 20 minute walk to the Tunnels Beach and offers a full daily breakfast that includes pancakes, bacon, fresh fruit and home made granola so you'll be able to fuel up before you head off to explore the island.

Luxury: Kaanapali Beach, Maui

Kaanapali beach, Maui

Splash the cash and live like a King at Kaanapali Beach on Maui island. Once a retreat for royalty, this getaway hotspot now welcomes travellers from around the world who flock to the three miles of white sand and transparent waters for the ultimate beach holiday. Home to some of the world's best resort hotels, you'll be spoilt for choice if you decide to make Kaanapali your next destination.

Spend your time lounging by the ocean with a drink in one hand and a book in the other if you just want to relax. Alternatively, enjoy a shopping spree at the Whalers Village, a shopping mall with boutique shops, chain stores and even daily workshops which include Ukulele lessons, Lei making classes and hula shows. Golfers will also love this area of Maui - it boasts some of the best courses in the USA with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and private lessons on offer for those who need to polish up on their skills.

Don't leave without watching the daily cliff diving ceremony, where locals dive into the ocean from the edge of the sacred Pu’u Keka’a (Black Rock) to honour the legend of Kahekili, the last chief of Maui who demonstrated his spiritual strength by cliff diving in this very spot.

How to get there: Fly into Kahului Airport and drive along highway 30 which will take you along the west coast of the island to the beach. You'll have views of nearby Molokai and Lanai, islands that are easily reachable from Kaanapali if you're looking for a day trip.

Where to stay: If you want an all-inclusive hotel that includes outdoor pools, a fitness centre, a boutique spa, golf and weekly activities such as traditional poi making then you should book a stay at Napili Kai Beach Resort. Rooms start from around $405 a night with the option of a suite or studio with a garden or ocean view. If this is out of your price range, the Kaanapali Ocean Inn is a cheaper option that will still give you a authentic Hawaiian experience with it's traditional tropical inspired decor. With prices from $189 a night you won't be breaking the bank but will be able to enjoy the resort's restaurants, outdoor pool and hot tub.

Family: Ko Olina Beach, Oahu

Ko Olina beach, Oahu

The Hawaiian islands are a great destination for families and our pick for a family-friendly beach has to be Ko'olina on Oahu. The four man-made lagoons that line the coast in this area are the perfect place for kids to swim as the water is shallow and protected from strong currents. You can walk between the lagoons if you find that one is more crowded than the rest, but stay away from the rocks that separate them as they can be very slippery - you won't want to fall into the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. 

The surrounding lawns are very well kept so are an ideal picnic spot if you don't want to walk back to your hotel to eat. Elsewhere, you can explore the charming gardens of the resort hotels, have a game of golf at the Ko Olina Golf Club or go fishing at the Ko Olina Marina. 

How to get there: Fly into Honolulu airport and hire a car. It's only a half an hour drive to the beach and you'll be able to familiarise yourself with the roads should you want to pop back to Honolulu for the day.

Where to stay: There are a number of hotels perched on the edge of the lagoons, most of which have a big price tag. The Marriot Ko Olina Beach Club offer a one-bedroom suite suitable for a family of four for around $750 a night. Cheaper options can be found closer to Honolulu such as the Ramada Plaza Waikiki which offers rooms for around $180 a night. Stay on this side of the island and you can visit the infamous Waikiki beach as well as the Ko Olina lagoons. 

Unique: Papakolea Beach, Big Island

Papakolea, Big Island

The Big Island is full of traditional, white sandy beaches but it's the black and green alternatives that we're interested in. Papakolea beach is one of few beaches in the world with green sand on its shores and that's all thanks to a mineral called olivine. The beach was black until deposits of olivine were scattered on its shores following volcanic activity that created a cone of olivine which was slowly worn away by the ocean.

Getting to Papakolea isn't as easy as our other beach favourites. You'll need to drive along highway 11 until you reach the 69 and 70 mile markers where you'll find a sign for South Point road. Head down this road for approximately eight miles and stay left when the road splits. Drive past the makeshift 'Visitors Centre' until you come to the end of the road, passing through a gate to a parking area. The rest of the journey must be done on foot (unless you have a 4WD) and will take you across the cliffs through hilly fields - the hike is two miles long so take plenty of water. Be careful when you descend onto the beach, if the water seems rough and choppy admire the beach from afar as you don't want to get caught down there when the tide comes in.

How to get there: Fly into Kona International Airport when staying on the Big Island. You'll need to hire a car to get around, especially if you want to make the journey to the Papakolea.

Where to stay: The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows are our pick when staying on the Big Island. Prices start from $330 a night and include access to the hotel spa, restaurants, golf courses pool and beach cabanas. The Royal Kona Resort is a great cheaper alternative with rooms from around $165 and excellent facilities such as on site tennis courts. You might even have the chance to see humpback whales from the restaurants waterside tables during migrating season.

Escape: Papaohaku Beach, Molokai

Papaohaku, Molokai

Like its little sister island Lanai, Molokai is often overlooked by its bigger siblings, but this is the place to go if you want the ultimate holiday escape. Take a stroll along the three-mile long Papohaku beach where there mightn't be another person in sight. It's the perfect spot to escape from the rest of the world, just be careful in the ocean as large waves are very common. Come here for a morning stroll if you want to avoid the fierce currents and you'll even be able to see Oahu from the shore.

There are a few campsites, showers and picnic facilities dotted along the beach so you're not completely cut off from civilisation, but you'll certainly appreciate the peace and quiet for a few hours.

How to get here: You'll have to fly into Honolulu International Airport on Oahu then fly with a local airline to Molokai. Hire a car when you're on the island as there is no public transportation and taxi services are limited.

Where to stay: Accommodation choices on the island are limited but still great quality. Our top pick is Hotel Molokai for its oceanfront views and cool Polynesian village vibe. It's only half an hour away from Papohaku beach and also offers nightly entertainment, rental snorkelling equipment and an abundance of hammocks to laze about in.

Are there any other beaches you think should be on our list? Tweet us @travioor or post a comment on Travioor's Facebook page to let us know.

Laura Peveller
After completing her degree in English Lit and Creative Writing Laura set off on the adventure of a lifetime - a six month round the world trip to NZ, Oz, Fiji and San Francisco where she was well and truly bitten by the travel bug. Laura is now eager to travel again and continue with her love of writing and photography. Follow her on Twitter @LauraPev