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12 Must-Visit Beaches and Waterfalls in Hawaii

And what to do at each!

Kailua Beach

OluKai is partnering with Hawaiian Airlines to offer one grand prize winner (and a companion!) their very own 4-day, 3-night Ultimate Island Adventure in Hawaii.

To enter to win, visit OluKaiAdventure.com 

(but hurry—entry is open from April 15, 2017 to May 15, 2017, and the winner will be selected by May 20, 2017).

The Hawaiian word for wealth is waiwai, which literally means water-water—an appropriate name given how integral water is to the Hawaiian way of life. A visit to paradise would not be complete without experiencing the wealth of water-embracing activities available here, so check out our list of must-see beaches and waterfalls on four of Hawaii’s most visited islands and get inspired for your own Ultimate Island Adventure.

But first, no trip to the beach is complete without a pair of slippers (aka flip-flops if you’re from the mainland). With review comments like "believe the hype" and “most comfortable flip-flops I’ve ever worn” you can’t go wrong with the Hokua for men and Ho‘opio for women. Both sandals are water resistant and quick-drying, with an anatomical design that hugs your foot.

The comfortable Hokua sandal is quick drying and vegan-friendly.

The Ho’opio features an outboard strap, which means the strap is built into the outside wall of the sandal instead of in the footbed for even more comfort and arch support. If you plan on hiking around, the Nohea Moku for men and the Pehuea for women is your best bet. These babies have a drop-in heel, making them super easy to convert from a supportive (but really comfortable) shoe to a hang-out-on-the-beach sandal.

HAWAII

Big Island

The Big Island is home to several unique beaches. Explore the Anywhere Aloha story.

Also called the Big Island, the island of Hawaii is best known for its varying landscape encompassing several climate zones—from lush rainforest and black sand beaches, to the snow-capped peaks of Mauna Kea and the mighty (and still active!) Kilauea Volcano. Hawaii is a favorite among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

  1. Hapuna Beach

Beloved by locals and tourists alike, beautiful Hapuna Beach is perfect for families in search of calm waters or anyone who loves a classic toes-in-the-sand beach experience. Considered to be one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches, Hapuna has public access along its entire half-mile stretch, as well as free and ample parking. There’s a picnic area to enjoy a packed lunch, and lifeguards are on duty almost year round.

  1. Punalu’u Beach

If you’re after a unique beach experience and photos to set your Instagram feed apart, look no further than Punalu’u Beach on the east side of the island’s southern tip. Nourished by the pulverized lava rock of the nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this beach has distinctive, jet-black sands and a rocky coastline. The snorkeling is excellent, and behind the beach is a lovely freshwater pool that’s fun to explore. Punalu'u is also the one spot on the island where endangered green sea turtles lay their eggs. They are beautiful to observe, but should not be disturbed in any way.

  1. Akaka Falls

The 442-foot tall Akaka Falls is part of the Akaka Falls State Park, just north of Hilo. To reach this stunning cascade, you’ll need to take a short (but pleasant) 0.4-mile hike through a lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo groves, and ferns. This is a great hike for the whole family, and the trailhead is easy to find just off the parking lot. As of April 2017, the admission fee is $5 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians.

OAHU

Kailua Beach

You’ll be dreaming of the golden sand and clear water at Kailua Beach long after you visit.  Aussie Assault

Home to Hawaii’s state capital of Honolulu, Oahu has it all—luxurious beaches, exciting watersports, breathtaking scenery, rich cultural history, and world-class shopping and dining. While it may be the most populated Hawaiian island, it’s easier than you’d think to escape the hustle and bustle for a more relaxed and authentic Hawaiian experience.

  1. Waikiki Beach

When a place is so well-known, it’s usually for good reason, and the iconic Waikiki Beach is no different. Enjoy classic, white sand beaches in a bustling, urban setting with Diamond Head Crater as a scenic backdrop. Waikiki Beach has something for everyone, whether you want to try surfing for the first time, go stand up paddle boarding, or simply spend the afternoon sunbathing. For something a little extra special, book an outrigger excursion or sunset sail.

  1. Kailua Beach

It’s only a 30-minute drive from Honolulu to Kailua Beach, but you’ll feel worlds away. Nestled between the towering Koolau Mountains and the ocean, Kailua and the nearby Lanikai Beach have yet to be overcome by tourists. Rent a kayak and paddle out to the Mokulua Islands, a mile or so offshore. The small, friendly town of Kailua is about a 20-minute walk to the beach and is worth exploring for its cute shops and restaurants.

  1. Maunawili Falls

Maunawili Falls is only 20 feet tall, but has a deep and beautiful swimming hole that you can leap into from surrounding boulders. The falls can be reached from a relatively easy three-mile loop trail hugging the Ko’olau Mountain range in Kailua. You’ll meander through tropical fruit groves with kukui nut, coffee, and monkeypod trees along the way, and like most waterfall trails, the path can be muddy.

KAUAINapali

Explore Kauai with the Island Hoppers.

Visit Kauai and you’ll see why its nickname (the Garden Island) is so fitting—it’s almost entirely covered in lush tropical rainforest. From these verdant jungles to the dramatic cliffs and pinnacles of the Napali coast and the awesome Waimea Canyon, it’s no wonder this small island has served as a backdrop for so many major Hollywood movies and is a go-to spot for nature lovers and hikers.

  1. Mahaulepu Beach

Just down the road from popular Poipu Beach on Kauai’s south shore, Mahaulepu offers relative seclusion because it takes a bit more effort to get there. This hidden gem, which is better for exploring than swimming, consists of three separate beaches along two miles of golden-red sand. Near the first beach, Gillin’s Beach, is an interesting cave with ongoing archaeological excavation. Kawailoa Bay is the next beach and is popular with windsurfers. The least-visited beach, Haula Beach, is a 10-15 minute walk along a sandy trail near the edge of the cliff. On most days, you're likely to be the only one there except maybe local fishermen and the occasional horseback rider.

  1. Hanalei Bay

If you’re looking for a postcard-perfect beach, look no further than Hanalei Bay on the island’s north shore. Hanalei is a long half moon of four golden-sand beaches near the picturesque village of Hanalei, with quaint boutique stores, restaurants, art galleries, and surf shops. Like most of Kauai’s north shore beaches, swimming and other water sports like paddle boarding, kayaking, and windsurfing, are best in the late spring and summer months when the ocean is calmer. Two of Hanalei Bay’s beaches have lifeguards, and camping is allowed at Black Pot Beach (you’ll need to get a permit first, though).

  1. Hanakapi’ai Falls

If Hanakapi’ai Falls is not on your bucket list, then you need to add it right now. This awe-inspiring waterfall is the only one on Kauai’s fabled Napali coast that can be accessed without a permit and is a nature lover’s triple threat. First, the hike is through a tropical rainforest with sweet-smelling mango and guava trees, then there’s a beach with stunning views and sea caves to explore, and finally you get to the 300-foot waterfall cascading into a large pool edged with mosses, ferns, tropical flowers, and boulders. The hike is eight miles round trip and strenuous at times, but the scenery along the way makes this an unforgettable Hawaiian experience.

MAUI

waimoku

The 400-foot Waimoku Falls is easily accessible from the Road to Hana.  Andrew K. Smith

The second largest Hawaiian island, Maui offers an appealing mix of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and cosmopolitan flair that keeps visitors coming back for more. In addition to gorgeous beaches and outdoor adventure, there’s sophisticated dining, nightlife, and shopping. It’s also home to the famous 64-mile Road to Hana that snakes along the island’s northeastern shore.

  1. Makena Beach

About a mile long and 100 feet wide, Makena Beach is also called "Big Beach" and is a favorite of both locals and tourists. This pristine sprawl of sand on the island’s southern shore makes it easy to stake out prime real estate without feeling too close to the next beach towel over. And because the sand runs into the ocean, it’s ideal for swimming and boogie boarding. Makena Beach has lifeguard stands and food trucks in the parking lot serve fresh mahi-mahi and shrimp tacos.

  1. Honokalani Black Sand Beach

Along the road to Hana is Honokalani Beach, with jet-black shores and jungle foliage. Located within Wai’anapanapa State Park, it’s an ideal spot for exploring and embracing Maui’s natural beauty. In addition to swimming, snorkeling, diving, and hiking, you’ll find seaside lava tubes, a sea arch, and sea caves. Picnic facilities, restrooms, and showers make Honokalani a convenient, must-see spot along the Road to Hana.

  1. Waimoku Falls

Several miles beyond the Road to Hana is Maui’s phenomenal Pipiwai Trail, leading visitors past several swimming holes and waterfalls through an enchanting bamboo forest. The highlight of this 3.5-mile hike, though, is Waimoku Falls. This 400 foot, sheer-cliff beauty is in Haleakala National Park and flows all year round. While swimming is not allowed, you can cool off in the swimming holes further downstream. This spectacular hike and waterfall can get crowded, so get an early start.