Obviously Hawaii has lots of beaches, and several guidebooks have sections dedicated to them. Technically all beaches in Hawaii are open to the public, but for those bordered by private property, the problem is getting to them. Some hotels have beach access trails on the edge of their property, and you'll find these in residential areas, too. Some beaches can only be entered by going onto hotel property, so the hotels offers limited (and they mean limited) parking for beachgoers. Other beaches may be accessible by dirt roads that seem iffy for a rental car. The easiest way to identify many beach trails is by parked cars on the side of a road, sometimes in places you didn't even realize was near the water!
Also, beaches differ widely in their purpose. Hawaii has swimming beaches, sunning beaches (no swimming), snorkeling beaches, surfing beaches, body surfing beaches, etc. And this depends in part on the time of year and other weather conditions. Waimea Bay on the north side of Oahu is a world-class surfing spot in winter, but in summer is flat as a pancake. Take care.
Some of our favorite beaches:
- Mauna Kea (Kauna'oa) Beach. In front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. One of the great beaches of the world. Large beach with lots of fine white sand. Sandy bottom. Hotel guests get umbrellas and chairs. This is one place with LIMITED public parking - we've arrived there at 10 AM and were told the lot was already full.
- Maumae Beach. A small but great little beach between Mauna Kea and Spencer Beaches. Easiest way to get there is through the Mauna Kea Resort (particularly if the main beach lot is full). The guard will give you a map, which you follow through a maintenance area to a path. A short walk later you're at the beach. Great fine white sand, water is usually pretty calm.
- Hapuna Beach. In front of the Prince Hapuna Hotel. Another great beach, with lots of white sand. In theory, hotel guests get umbrellas, but the staff kept claiming that it was "too windy" when we stayed there.
- Mauna Lani resort hotel beaches. Both the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and the Fairmont Orchid have good beaches. The Orchid beach is better for swimming; the other is good for children. Turtles are a common site at both beaches.
- Mauna Lani Beach Club. Small beach for the Mauna Lani condos. Good snorkeling area.
- Kiholo Bay. A little bit of a hike, but a gorgeous bay and beach along the Kohala coast. (Bay formed from old fishponds overrun by lava flows.)
- Lumaha'i Beach. Familiar from the movie, South Pacific. Not for swimming.
- Ke'e Beach. Good snorkeling area at the end of the road, but tends to get overcrowded both in and out of the water.
- Salt Pond Beach Park. Public beach park that's good for children, and has shade if you need to stay out of the sun.
- Polihale State Park. At the end of a dirt road on the west shore, this beach has huge sand dunes. In theory you can find Niihau shells here (we never have).
- Wailea Beach. Pretty beach, but not particularly good for swimming.
- Po'olenalena (and a bunch of other local names) Beach. Nice beach in Makena area, which tends to be pretty quiet during the week. Located next to the Makena Surf condos; there's a small parking lot (often empty) for beach access, and a shower on the path to/from the beach.
- Kapalua Beach. Good snorkeling beach.
- Manele Bay. Good snorkeling beach. A short walk from the Manele Bay Hotel.
- Waikiki Beach. Famous, overcrowded, good for people watching.
- Hanauma Bay Park. Snorkeling beach, that's fun to visit but gets overcrowded. Best to get there early in the morning before the crowds arrive.