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It’s not uncommon to picture paradise as a palm-fringed beach in Hawaii – and with good reason. Whether you’re searching for a sheltered cove to swim, peeling waves to surf, or a desolate shoreline to stroll, the islands’ smorgasbord of beaches offers numerous opportunities to embrace the sun and the sea. If ocean conditions are too rough at one spot, lifeguards can offer alternatives.

Hawaii Best Beaches

Hamoa Beach

Tucked away on the verdant, windward side of Maui, this 1,000-foot-long, sandy beach is surrounded by 30-foot cliffs and is one of the most accessible strands on this corner of the island. Open ocean swells roll into the cove to the delight of surfers and bodysurfers. Beware of powerful rip currents (there is no lifeguard to save you if you get caught in one).

HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/maui/beaches/hamoabeach.htm
Tags: surfing | best beach

Hanalei Bay

This two-mile-long, crescent-shaped bay on the north shore of Kauai is a beautiful place to swim, surf, fish, kayak, or just take in the sunset. A 300-foot pier juts into the ocean, where yachts anchor in summer. During the winter, it’s mesmerizing to watch the giant north swells roll into the bay.

HI, www.kauaiexplorer.com/kauai_beaches/hanalei_bay.php
Tags: family | surfing | editor pick | best beach

Hapuna Beach

There's a reason the Big Island's Hapuna Beach is frequently voted the best beach in the U.S. Half a mile long and 200 feet wide, with golden sand and gentle blue waters, it's a perfect place to frolic. Bodyboarders and bodysurfers will enjoy playing in the forgiving beach breaks.

HI, www.bigisland.org/beaches/242/hapuna-beach-state-park
Tags: beach | editor pick | water sports | swimming | best beach

Hulopoe Beach

Hulopoe Beach is the ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling on Lanai. The sand drops to overhead depths close to the shoreline, so non-swimmers should exercise caution. Spinner dolphins regularly visit this protected bay, and whales can be seen in the winter. Large lava rock tide pools on the east side of the bay offer an excellent opportunity to observe near-shore marine life, like crabs and blennies.

HI, www.gohawaii.com/lanai
Tags: snorkeling | swimming | best beach

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach–the setting of many a movie and magazine spread–has powdery, soft white sand and inviting turquoise water that make that it a popular place for sunbathing and swimming. Two idyllic islands, Mokulua and Mokumanu, sit quietly just offshore–if the "Mokes," as they're called, prove too dreamy to resist, kayaks can be rented in the nearby town of Kailua.

Windward Coast, Kailua, HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/oahu/beaches/lanikai_beaches.htm
Tags: beach | romance | swimming | best beach

Papohaku Beach

Walk 50 yards through a dryland grove of trees to reach this 300-foot wide, three-mile-long, white sand beach, one of the most remote in the islands. It’s not uncommon for the beach to be virtually empty, making it a peaceful, meditative place to watch the sunset. Swimming and snorkeling are best in the morning before the tradewinds pick up.

HI, www.hawaiiweb.com/molokai/html/beaches/papohaku_beach.html
Tags: romance | surfing | snorkeling | swimming | best beach

Polihale Beach

Seventeen miles of golden sand less trodden make this west side state park Hawaii’s biggest beach and a good option for isolation seekers. A sacred heiau (ancient temple) is at the far end of the hot, dry beach where the verdant Na Pali cliffs meet the ocean. Camping is an option with a permit.

HI, www.kauaiexplorer.com/kauai_beaches/polihale_beach.php
Tags: romance | best beach

Punaluu Beach

Located in the Big Island’s lush Ka‘u district, this black sand beach was formed by hot lava flowing into the ocean and shattering upon contact. The sea continued to erode the hardened lava chunks into the rich, black sand that has become a nesting ground for Hawaiian green sea turtles. You’ll often find them grazing on the seaweed along the rocky shoreline or basking in the sun. Swimming is possible when the sea is calm, but steer clear of the waves when they’re rough – there’s no lifeguard here to bail you out if you find yourself in trouble.

HI, www.bigisland.org/beaches/311/punaluu-beach-park
Tags: family | editor pick | best beach

Waimea Bay

During the biggest winter swells, the best surfing shows are at Oahu’s Waimea Bay, where wave-catchers drop into 40-foot faces. By contrast the deep, sprawling bay becomes a sparkling swimming pool in the summer, often frequented by dolphins and sailboats. Athletes like to run the wide sandy beach, and daring kids enjoy the 25-foot leap off local landmark Jump Rock.

North Shore, HI, www.aloha.com/~lifeguards/waimea.html
Tags: beach | surfing | editor pick | swimming | best beach

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