by Barbara Ann Weibel at Hole In The Donut
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau just announced “A Thousand Reasons to Smile” contest. Having spent many months in the Hawaiian Islands, I can think of a million things about Hawaii that make me smile, but none so much as their gorgeous beaches. So, in honor of the contest (which, by the way, offers a chance to win a trip to Maui) I offer my personal list of the beaches across Hawaii that make me grin, smile, or laugh:
Any list of Hawaii’s best beaches simply must start with Waikiki Beach. It’s pretty enough, but its location in the heart of Honolulu is the real attraction. Stretching from Duke Kahanamoku Beach near the Hilton Hawaiian Village to the Duke Kahanamoku statue on Kuhio Beach, Waikiki is actually a collection of seven different beaches strung together by boardwalks and parks. Along the way, Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, the International Marketplace shopping center, and some of Hawaii’s finest restaurants and hottest nightspots beckon. The people watching here keeps me grinning.
About ten miles east of Waikiki, famous Hanauma Bay offers one of the island’s best snorkeling experiences. This collapsed volcanic crater is home to an amazing variety of coral and sea life, but the site is so popular that access is limited to 2,000 visitors each day, so plan to arrive early.
On the eastern, windward side of Oahu, the powdery sands and crystal turquoise waters of Lanakai Beach are considered by many to be Hawaii’s best swimming beach. However, its calm waters are just as wonderful for kayakers and canoers who wish to spend a day investigating the tiny offshore islands. Whether sunning or paddling, I’m always wearing a blissed-out smile after a day at Lanakai.
As host of the Van’s Triple Crown of Surfing contest every year, Oahu’s North Shore may be best known for surfing, but it also lays claim to some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. At Waimea Bay you have a choice – just bake on the lovely crescent of sand like a lazy lizard or climb the lava outcropping that splits the bay and jump into the azure waters below. A bit farther north is Ehukai Beach Park, home of the famous Banzai Pipeline. While this beach is fine for sun bathing, it’s more likely that you’ll be watching the amazing prowess of the surfers as they duck in and out of the perfect barrel waves just offshore. Finally, Sunset Beach rounds out the top three North Shore Beaches. A great place for sunning and surfing, this sandy cove wears its fame in a name – the sunsets here are truly gorgeous and always leave me smiling.
Kauai’s best known strip of sand, Poipu Beach, is a favorite with families, not only because of its location in a popular resort area, but also for its a man-made kiddie lagoon. With an assurance of gentle waters, the only thing to beware of at Poipu are the Hawaiian Monk seals that regularly climb up onto the beach to sleep…and that always makes me giggle!
It takes a little effort to get to Secret Beach (aka Kauapea Beach), but it’s definitely worth the trouble. A 15-minute hike from a dirt parking lot rewards you with views of high cliffs, long stretches of sand, and the Kilauea Lighthouse.
With its man-made pools, lovely crescent of soft sand, and grass field that’s perfect for kite flying and frisbee throwing, Lydgate Beach is heaven for families. On site facilities also include a playground, picnic tables, bike paths, showers, bathrooms and an abundance of parking, making it the most complete ocean park on Kauai.
I’ll tell you a secret – Secret Beach is not my favorite beach on Kauai – Polihale Beach is! Few people venture out to this furthest western beach because the dirt roads leading to it are riddled with pot-holes. Those who endure the bumpy 10 mph ride are rewarded with mile upon mile of deserted beach with sand so pristine it literally squeals when you walk on it. Backed by tall sand dunes and capped at one end by soaring red cliffs that mark the southern terminus of the Na Pali Coast, Polihale is the beach most capable of making me laugh with delight.
Hanalei Village is the staging area for anyone planning to hike the gorgeous, remote Na Pali Coast, but any visit also demands a stop at Hanalei Beach. Majestic emerald mountains provide an exquisite backdrop for the pure white sand of this two-mile long half-moon bay. A favorite with surfers, the Hanalei Pier (located on the east side of the beach near the mouth of the Hanalei River) generates a smaller break for the less experienced, while the pros head for the big waves offshore.
Hiking the rugged Na Pali Coast requires an adventurous soul, but it is the best way to visit some of the loveliest beaches on Kauai. At the beginning of the trail is Ke’e Beach, the only Na Pali area beach than can be accessed by car. Hanakapiai Beach lies further along the trail and is best seen from atop sheer cliffs that plunge straight into the ocean. Na Pali’s 15 miles of trail offer gorgeous vistas of rocky coastline, wind and wave swept shores, and lush tropical vegetation.
Many long time Maui visitors insist that Makena Beach State Park is the best beach on the island. I simply nod and give them my Mona Lisa smile, then head for Makena Cove Beach, a tiny spit of sand enclosed between two lava arms that enjoys the most magnificent sunsets. Located just past the last entrance to Makena Beach, this cove is a favorite spot for weddings and renewals of vows.
Kapalua Beach, located along Maui’s western shore, was the first ever to earn the designation of “America’s Best Beach.” Although that happened back in 1991, Kapalua is today more gorgeous than ever, as the 1500-acres surrounding the beach having since been transformed from a pineapple plantation to one of Maui’s most luxurious resort areas.
Also located on Maui’s western shores, Ka’anapali Beach was named “America’s Beast Beach” in 2003. Sailboat rides, catamaran rentals, and surfing and windsurf lessons are all readily available on this three-mile long beach, and the black rock that splits it in two is an ideal snorkeling spot.
THE BIG ISLAND:
Though known more for active lava flows and extinct volcanoes than for its sands, the Big Island of Hawaii earns kudos for two unique beaches. Near the northern tip of the island is Hapuna Beach, a perfect white sand crescent and one of the largest beaches on the Big Island. Strong swimmers will discover good snorkeling around the rocks that border the beach on either side, and kids love the shallow, sandy-bottomed pools at the north end of the beach. On the exact opposite side of the island is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Formed from crushed lava, Punalu’u is famed as much for its black color as for the turtles that regularly crawl onto its shores. Indeed, on the day I visited, a giant turtle seemed more than happy to let me observe as she soaked up the sun.
On Molokai, wind and wave-swept Papohaku Beach is stunningly beautiful and largely deserted, despite the fact that it offers campsites, showers, bathrooms, and picnic facilities. Except during May, when the island’s biggest cultural festival is held here, you are almost always guaranteed to have the beach to yourself.
Although tiny, the island of Lanai also claims one of Hawaii’s best beaches, Hulopoe Bay. With its frequent sightings of spinner dolphins and humpback whales, its unique tide pools, and its jagged coastline, Halopoe Bay has a feeling of remoteness that makes it hard to believe Maui is just nine miles away.
There’s nothing better than a tour of luscious beaches to brighten any day…. but don’t just sit there dreaming of sugar-fine sand and tropical sun – cruise on over to the “A Thousand Reasons to Smile” contest. Just upload a photo of your smiling face for your chance to win a trip for two to Maui, including 80,000 Hawaiian air miles, four nights of accommodations, and a helicopter tour for two.
Each of the beaches discussed above are shown in the gallery below. Click on any thumbnail for a full-size image:
Photos not otherwise credited courtesy of Barbara Weibel