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Thinking about a trip to the Hawaiian Islands with your family, but can’t decide which island has the best Hawaiian beach?

As standby family travelers, we have made Hawaii our destination 3-4 times a year.  It’s our favorite place to be. We’ve experienced all the islands multiple times.

  • Oahu: 4 trips
  • Maui: 6 trips
  • Kauai: 2 trips
  • Big Island: 4 trips
  • Total 16 trips to the Hawaiian Islands

So which one is the best in my opinion?  Well, it depends.  This is a series of island blog posts discussing my favorites.

You’ll have to decide what is most important to you, and pick that island for your trip.

I will say this.  In Hawaii, you cannot go wrong!  Every Hawaiian island is magical, beautiful and beyond description.  Make it a priority to take your family to Hawaii and least once (or once to every island?!?) in your life.

Although we have not experienced every beach, we have beach hoped around all the islands, so we have some pretty good ideas.  This isn’t mean to be an in-depth study guide, but I have a pretty good overview of the beaches offered on each island.

Read the top sights on each island here.


Oahu is the only island where the airport is located in the same city as the top beach.  Waikiki beach is easy to access and has so many options for lodging and food.  All that being said, Waikiki is not my favorite beach and not even on my top beach list {gasp!}


Despite Waikiki being on many best beach lists I’ve read, I didn’t really like it!  The beach is made of imported sand.  If you dig down more than a couple feet (which we always do!)  you’ll hit foundation stone.  Waikiki beach is crowded. The waters is just ‘meh!’   Not blue and clear like other beaches in Hawaii.  It is a really gentle wave crash so that is nice for the kids.  But then you also miss out on the roaring waves sound as you relax on the sand.  Honestly, I would skip Waikiki for the more desirable beaches on the North Shore or Ko’olina.

Kids Play on Napili Beach on Maui, Hawaii

Hanauma Bay

This is a paid entry beach.  You can read all about Hanauma Bay here. Great sand, fantastic snorkeling, little to no waves, I went for the snorkeling and left loving the beach.

baby plays in the sand at Ko'olina beach on Oahu, Hawaii

Ko’olina beach

One Hour West of the Airport, you’ll find Ko’olina beaches.  These beaches are 4 coves created with rock barriers to have the gentlest of waves.  The luscious sand is manicured daily. It isn’t very crowded as most people are guests at the Ko’olina hotels.  The beach is technically open to the public, but there isn’t much parking and the hotels dominate the area. Family holds hands across Ko'olina beach in Oahu. Hawaii Ko'olkina beach photo from a hotel room

North Shore

Shark’s Cove 

In the summer, Sharks cove has the best snorkeling around.  In the winter, the waves are strong and less reliable, so it might not be safe to snorkel.  But in the summer, you’ll find plenty of coral reef, ideal hideouts and will most definitely see a turtle!Waves crash at sharks cove beach on Oahu, Hawaii

Sunset Beach

In the winter, this beach is the hot spot for surfing competitions and giant waves.  In the summer, this is the pinnacle of perfection.  I loved the large grains of rounded smooth sand.  I could feel the sand through my fingers for hours here!  Plus, you can catch a sunset here every night.  The sounds and sights here at the ultimate.  My favorite North shore beach!

Laie beaches (Pounders, Bikini, The Point)

None of the beach in La’ie are great.  I lived there for 2 months as a student, so I experienced them many times, which is why I’m including them.  Pounders has a wicked crash, Bikini beach is full of crabs (great if you want to go crab hunting).  The Point is a great ocean-viewing spot, but not the beach.  In my opinion, its best to do the PCC, BYU Hawaii or see the LDS temple in Laie, but skip the beaches.

The Big Island

The best Hawaiian beach on the Big Island is nowhere near Kona which the airport is.  In fact, Kona A 45-minute drive north of the airport through the volcanic wasteland will yield my absolute favorite beaches.

Anaeho’omalu Beach or A-Bay has Salt and Pepper (white and black mixed sand).  It’s easy to see how this sand formed when you hike north from the beach in the large black and white stones and coral.  This coastal walk connects the Marriot and the Hilton. The black sand made this feel a little more ‘dirty’ to me, but the waves are so gentle for the kids. Father and daughter head to the ocean with a boogie board ath A-Bay on the Big Island in Hawaii

These next 3 beaches are all minutes from each other and are all spectacular.

Kapuna beach has recently been made a state park, so non-residents have to pay to park here.  But I’d pay any day  Kapuna is a slice of heaven.  Family plays in the blue green water at Hapuna Beach on the Big island of Hawaii

Kaunaoa (Mauna Kea) Beach and Waialea Beach (Beach 69) are right next to Hapuna and boast the same great weather, sand, views and water.  Fabulous beach days will be had here.

On the far south of the island (hours from aforementioned beaches) is the Punalu‘U Beach or Black Sand Beach.  If you are going to  Volcano National Park on the South Side of the Island, stopping here is a must! You are practically guaranteed to see sea turtles relaxing on the beach here. Although they do blend in to the dark sand, so don’t step on one! (or touch it at all, its bad for the turtles!)


If you asked me where the best Hawaiian beach is, I would say Maui.  Just like the Big Island, the beaches are located a dry-and-barren-1-hour-drive from the airport, but oh so worth it.  You might wonder where paradise is when you first get to the island but don’t worry, its out there!

In any direction, North, South or all the way to Hana, beautiful beaches can be found on Maui.

West Maui

Ka’anapali Beach is a huge stretch of beach with Black Rock right in the middle.  The best snorkeling on the island is on the south side of Black Rock.  So many resorts and hotels line Ka’anapali beach, but it is big enough it doesn’t feel too crowded.  You may have trouble finding parking if you don’t come early enough (or stay in a hotel in the area).  But that keeps the crowds out.  Becuase the beach is so big, there are places where the waves are a little too big for my kids, but you can definitely find another spot easily.   The resorts have made this area so beautiful and lush.  You will love Ka’anapali beach!

Napili Bay is a small crescent beach that isn’t overly crowded.  The sand is great here. The wave crash was a bit much for the little kids, but that didn’t stop them from loving the sand.

Just north of Napili, Kapalua Beach.  My favorite snorkeling has been at the far north side of this bay.  The water here is bright bluish-green and the views are jaw-dropping.Ka'apalua Bay on Maui, Hawaii

South Maui

This isn’t technically the south of the island, it is a west coast.  But it is further south than what people call the west coast.  It still faces the west, so just like in West Maui, you’ll be sure to see fantastic sunsets from these beaches.

The beaches in South Maui are a little more ‘dirty’ to me.  The sand is less luxurious and the water isn’t quite a clear and clean.  I prefer West Maui beaches but will review some from the South.

Big Beach -There is a reason this is named Big Beach.  The waves pounded some poor body surfers to pulp here.  {It was us} Its easy to access and a wide beach area.  Not my favorite, but worth a stop.

Wailea Beach is outside of the Marriot resort and is the best beach in South Maui.  It is more crowded and full of tourists, but it is still gorgeous here. Young girl digs in the sand at Ka'anapali beach on Maui in Hawaii


If you are lucky enough to take the 3-hour drive you Hana (You absolutely should!) You will be rewarded with some great beaches.

Kaihalulu (Red Sand) Beach and Waianapanapa Black Sand beach live up to their names with gentle waves and colorful sand.  These beaches are bound to not be crowded because they are far from all the tourist resorts.

The seven Sacred pools at Ohe-o isn’t exactly a beach. But I’ll include it because the clear-water pools filled by waterfalls pouring into other pools out to the ocean is gorgeous.  Swimming here is the epitome of Hawaiian beauty. 


Kauai is the oldest island. The best Hawaiian beaches for our family are more calm and kid-friendly.  Kauai is the smallest island, so within minutes of the airport, you can find great beaches.

The beaches on Kauai have more refined sand, but choppier waters.  Especially in the winter, the waves and the riptides can get scary.

Lydgate beach park is a state-owned beach with built-in rock reef protection so you are sure to get a beach perfect for the kids. (not to mention the fantastic playground on the other side of the parking lot.

Baby plays at Lydgate beach park on Kauai, Hawaii

Shipwreck beach wasn’t highly recommended from our guidebook. But since it was right outside the Grand Hyatt where we were staying, we tried it.  It was perfect for our kids.  The right side of the beach has tide pool and a reef you can walk onto.  This creates a huge place to explore sea creatures and growth.  Plus, it’s a natural protection from waves. I say ignore the guidebook on this one and check out Shipwreck beach!

Family of 6 on Shipwreck Beach on Kauai in HAwaii
see the tide pools in the background? fun!

Little girls tries to surf on a skim board on Shipwreck beach, ourside The grand Hyatt, Kauai, Hawaii

Coconut Beach We absolutely love the sunrises on this beach.  The cool black rocks make for fun climbing and exploring. If you want the island breeze and waves crashing, spend time relaxing on this beach. Mom with 4 kids on coconut beach on Kauai in Hawaii

Tunnels Beach near Haena Beach Park is a highly recommended beach, but when we were there, the waves were so treacherous we couldn’t get in the water at all.  In fact, several surfers warned me to keep my kids close as the waves could sweep them out to sea (not very relaxing for mom!) I’m willing to try this one again in the summer, but can’t recommend it yet.  We did enjoy watching the surfers here.

Girl Plays in the ocean at Tunnels Beach on Kauai, Hawaii

Read our family’s itinerary all the way around Kauai here.

Conclusion: Best Hawaiian Beach

If you asked my choice for best Hawaiian beach, it would be Maui for the variety on all sides of the island and Ka’anapali as the top beach.  And the most idyllic, beautiful, all-around best Hawaiian beach would be Hapuna Beach on the Big Island.

You cannot go wrong with any island in Hawaii.  For example, we saw a sign for beach parking, pulled off and found this remote and crowd-free slice of paradise.

woman paddleboarding on a bay in Oahu, Hawaii
yes, I am 5 months pregnant and paddle boarding!

I’m positive you will love many, many beaches. I will say that we have become beach ‘snobs’ since experiencing the best Hawaiian beach.  Anything less than paradise is so disappointing.  Make Hawaii your destination ASAP!

Do you have a favorite beach in Hawaii?  Share the beach and what island it is on in the comments below!

These guidebooks are essential for any trip to the islands.  They have in-depth recommendations for beaches, sights, adventures, food, lodging, and nightlife.  Any trip to a Hawaiian Island will be enhanced with this guidebook.  {Click on the photos to purchase from Amazon} These are affiliate links.

Which island is best? Best Hawaiian Beach pin

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  1. Pingback: 16 Best Beaches in Florida for Families - Travel Melodies

  2. Hawaii is always a fascinating place to visit. You get the taste of it and traveled so many times .You had awesome family to travel with. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I have never been to Hawaii, but your beautiful photos and descriptions make me want to go there now! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your opinions of each beach and fun things to do in Hawaii!

  4. I’ve never been to Hawaii despite the fact that I was born and raised in Southern California and everyone here goes to Hawaii for vacation….or at least everyone I know haha! My kids have been begging to go, so as soon as I can make it happen I will. I loved your blog and inspiration!

  5. Great round up of beaches on the islands. What a blessed family to have been able to go so many times. I haven’t been yet but now I know which beaches to head to when I do. Thanks so much!

  6. Great information! I have never been to the Big Island, maybe its worth a shot! But my heart lies in Maui just like you!

  7. Kauai has always been my favorite island … it’s so lush and full of gorgeous scenery and waterfalls. Next time you go, check out Poipu Beach!

  8. Excellent post…and BOY…did it answer so many of the questions I have about the islands and beaches of Hawaii. I find this extremely valuable and helpful, and I am pinning it to review again!

  9. Great post and it’s amazing to hear how many times you’ve been to Hawaii! I spent my honeymoon on Maui, Ka’anapali Beach. However, we rented a car so we got to explore every day we were there. We went through road to Hana, visited the red and black beaches as well as all kinds of other hidden beaches. One of my favorite parts was a hidden forest with Avatar-like (the movie) trees and we saw some chickens running around there and arrived at a hidden beach! It was definitely a trip to remember. We’re waiting to go again when the kids are old enough.

  10. Great overview of all the islands and the beaches! Hawaii is one of the only states left I haven’t visited yet, so it’s a family trip in the near future. Will definitely be referring back to this article when we make our plans!
    Deborah, http://www.12by12travel.com

  11. This blog is so fun! Our family also travels standby aka “by the seat of our pants”! I love Hawaii and absolutely agree with you, if give the choice I wouldn’t go to Oahu/Waikiki. When I think of Hawaii I think of rest and relaxation. Waikiki is super overpopulated. Nice pics on Maui, but by far I think Kauai is where it’s at!

    • Hawaii is definitely a standby favorite! Im loving following you on IG too! I haven’t fallen in love with Kauai (Maui and Big island are top 2 for me!)yet, but I’ve had several people say this. I guess I need to keep going back!

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