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5 Lesser-Known Hawai‘i Beach Gems to Escape the Crowds

Hawaiian beaches are among the best in the world. Discover some new favorites for a relaxing day

spinner image a graphic of two surf boards in the sand on a beach in Hawaii.
Hawai‘i is full of great beaches. Here are some lesser-known locations to add to your list.
AARP

The images of swaying palm trees, inviting turquoise waters and deserted white sandy beaches have long lured travelers to the islands of Hawaiʻi. Nearly 8.8 million people from around the world visited within the first 11 months of 2023. Though the entirety of Hawaiʻi encompasses a string of 137 islands in the Pacific Ocean, there are eight major islands, six of which are open to the public and welcome visitors. Just as the islands have their own vibes or personalities, so do their beaches, from iconic spots such as Waikīkī to the quietest stretch of sand in the most remote part of an island.

Here, we take a look at a handful of Hawaiian beach gems, following the chain from the island of Hawaiʻi north to Kauaʻi.

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Because these beaches are lesser-known, lifeguards may not be present. Pay attention to the weather, which can affect waves and tides. Visitors are encouraged to review Ocean Safety and/or Safe Beach Day to check conditions before setting out.

Note: If you encounter wildlife on any of the beaches in Hawai‘i, please be mindful — give them their space and do not approach. Not only is it the considerate thing to do, but Hawai‘i imposes heavy fines on those who disturb native wildlife, including sea turtles and monk seals.

spinner image aerial view of Pohoiki Black Sand Beach on the Big Island
Pohoiki Black Sand Beach on the island of Hawai‘i was created after the 2018 volcanic activity of Kīlauea.
Peter Unger / Getty Images

Hawaiʻi

There is a fairly new black sand beach in the Puna district on the eastern side of the island, south of Hilo. Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, also known as Isaac Kepo‘okalani Hale Beach Park, was created as a result of the 2018 activity of Kīlauea, one of the volcanoes in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

A popular surfing spot for experienced boarders, Pohoiki Black Sand Beach is terrific for swimming, too, though visitors will want to heed lifeguards’ warnings if issued. The beach is flanked by verdant palm trees and a bright blue sky overhead, a clash of colors that makes for incredible photos. 

Stay: Reserve a room at Volcano House within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

Do: After walking through the 500-year-old Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube), go deep into the park to see the Puʻuloa Petroglyphs. About 23,000 petroglyphs have been found in the more than 500-year-old lava field. The uneven terrain at both of these sites could make walking or hiking moderately difficult; use caution.

spinner image Tourist along Keawakapu Beach in Maui
The southernmost entrance of Keawakapu Beach on Maui is usually less crowded.
Douglas Peebles Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Maui

Maui’s 130-plus-mile coastline boasts more than 30 miles of beaches, some of which rank among the best in the U.S. There are plenty of options when it comes to a beach day on the “Valley Isle.”

Keawakapu Beach stretches from the south end of the town of Kihei into Wailea. Although the beach is not a hidden gem, the southernmost of its three entrances is usually less crowded. At almost a mile long, it’s ideal for strolling.

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Stay: Consider Mana Kai Maui for hotel and condo accommodations overlooking Keawakapu Beach.

Do: Travel inland and taste the flavors at Kula Country Farms, including farm-fresh produce, honey, jams and strawberries you can pick yourself from February through June.

Note: The town of Lahaina on the west coast of Maui is recovering from devastating wildfires in August 2023 and remains closed to visitors. Out of respect to the people who call Lahaina home, the local government asks, “Please do not take photos of the area, even from afar.”

spinner image two tourists running into the ocean at Papohaku Beach, Moloka‘i during sunset
Pāpōhaku Beach on Moloka‘i is one of the largest white-sand beaches in Hawai‘i.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds

Molokaʻi

In addition to having some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world, the pristine island of Molokaʻi is home to one of the largest white-sand beaches in the state, Pāpōhaku Beach. Stretching 3 miles on the west end of the island, Pāpōhaku Beach is about a half-hour drive from Kaunakakai, the central town on Molokaʻi. The undisturbed beach is about 100 yards wide, so there is plenty of space to spread out and make the most of your day under the Hawaiian sun.

Depending on when you visit, you may find you have the entire beach to yourself. Or perhaps you will spot some of the locals that come to the beach to rest, such as sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, one of the most endangered seal species in the world.

Stay: Check into Hotel Molokaʻi, the island’s only hotel.

Do: For a real treat, do as the residents do and follow them to the window at Kanemitsu Bakery for a loaf of “Molokaʻi Hot Bread” filled with your choice of cream cheese flavors, such as ube (purple yam), guava or pineapple, to name a few.

spinner image aerial view of Kawela Bay, Oahu
The bay of Kawela Bay Beach Park on O‘ahu is protected by the Trust for Public Land.
morrismedia / Getty Images

O‘ahu

Waikīkī has long been a popular destination for travelers from around the world, and it is certainly fun to visit. When you are ready for a quieter beach, though, make your way to the northeastern tip of O‘ahu, past Haleʻiwa and near Kahuku, where you will find Kawela Bay Beach Park. The bay is naturally protected from big waves and surf, as well as protected by the Trust for Public Land, making for an idyllic spot to snorkel and spend the day. Peek below the water’s surface and spot myriad colorful fish, and maybe even a green sea turtle or two if you are lucky.

In addition to venturing underwater and relaxing on your own quiet patch of beach, take a walk along the coastline and veer onto one of the sandy hiking trails, keeping an eye out for the enormous banyan tree.

Stay: Turtle Bay Resort is just up the coast from Kawela Bay Beach Park.

Do: Leave the beach behind and go to the Waimea Valley, a sacred historical site rich in Hawaiian culture and history; take a short hike to Waimea Falls.

spinner image Windsurfing in Hanalei Bah, Hawaii
Windsurfing at Hanalei Bay in Kaua‘i provides views of Mount Makana.    
Mark A. Johnson / Alamy Stock Photo

Kauaʻi

You may recognize Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauaʻi for its starring role in The Descendants — cue George Clooney. The crescent-shaped beach stretches for 2 miles, hugging Hanalei Bay with stunning views of Mount Makana, one of the few places in the Hawaiian islands where the ancient art of fire-throwing was performed. Though it came in at number 4 on Tripadvisor’s list of the best beaches in the U.S. in 2023, chances are you will find a quiet spot on the white sand to stop and relax awhile.

Water sports enthusiasts can enjoy swimming, bodyboarding, paddling or kayaking in the crystal clear water, and surfing in the winter months. Or simply stroll along the sand and soak up this idyllic spot.

All visitors to Kauaʻi are asked to take the Aloha Pledge, essentially making a commitment to protect the island during their stay. If you go to Hanalei Bay and plan to explore more of Kauaʻi’s north shore, keep in mind that reservations are required (available at GoHaena.com) to visit neighboring Hā'ena State Park.

Stay: Splurge for a luxurious stay at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay in Princeville, a town near Hanalei Beach.

Do: A visit to the “Garden Island” is not complete without seeing the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon, on the southwest side of the island.

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