Kalaupapa Molokai

Best Beaches In Hawaii: One You Can’t Visit + One You Shouldn’t

This week, two more “best beach” reports are out, and we have to mention they are confusing and fatiguing. Family Destinations Guide picked Awahua Beach, Molokai, among the best secret beaches in the US, which seems meaningless mainly for the reasons below. Then Dr. Beach released his top picks, and let us know if you agree. These lists may even be counterproductive for those planning their first Hawaii vacation, as we’ll tell you more about it in today’s article.

What’s wrong with Awahua Beach, Molokai?

The big problem is that visitors cannot go there. It’s at Kalaupapa, reached by a 3.5-mile trail that is currently closed. Also, the Kalaupapa Peninsula is off-limits to visitors. Since Covid, it has been and will apparently remain closed to the general public. That closure means there is no access to the trail or fly-in access to Kalaupapa Airport for visitors. The trail was closed initially due to a landslide in 2018 and then during Covid. The federal government appears to have restored trail access. The National Park Service is not issuing permits, however. Part of the issue is that visitors had to be on a tour to visit. There is currently no concessionaire. The Hawaii Department of Health, Hansen’s Disease Division, directly confirmed that information to Beat of Hawaii. And the National Park Service said, “Kalawao County is closed to the general public… in alignment with CDC and Hawaii State Department of Health guidance until further notice.”

Yet the author, unknown to us, said, “Awahua​ ​Beach is a picturesque and secluded beach located on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. Visitors can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, or simply lounging on the beach, taking in the serene atmosphere and the natural beauty of this hidden gem.”

The reality is that while beautiful, it’s also not a swimming beach because of rip tides. That also means snorkeling isn’t usually possible.

What you should know about Lanikai Beach, Oahu.

The same publication proffers, “With its breathtaking scenery and serene atmosphere, Lanikai Beach is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii and is a must-visit destination for any traveler to the island.”

In a word, good luck. There is significant strife between visitors and the town’s residents. Visitors want to enjoy the world-renowned beach and its hiking and ocean sports. Residents have taken to measures to prevent visitors from parking. They have also been installing plantings, boulders, and no parking signs placed where they aren’t technically legal. This was done to create visitor-no-parking areas. In response, some visitors have moved those obstacles to park there anyway.

Lanikai Beach is in a community that has long suffered from Hawaii’s over-tourism. Narrow streets and visitors parking anywhere they can have led to problems.

Residents are at the breaking point due to a situation that has long been bad and has gotten exponentially worse since revenge travel that followed Covid. It has also impeded residents from being able to enter and exit the community and their properties safely, and the traffic has resulted in emergency vehicles not being able to navigate through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Beat of Hawaii will head over to Lanikai Beach shortly to again report firsthand the severity of the current over-tourism problems there.

Lanikai is a pristine white sand beach that views the Mokulua Islands.

It is also famous for the Lanikai Pillbox Trail, which has been exploited in social media, especially Instagram. The trail is within a small residential community on Oahu’s windward side. There is no beach park in any sense, and there are no public restrooms or other facilities, including parking lots. Police regularly patrol the area; parking citations and even towing are common. The parking situation is definitely out of control and has been for years.

Dr. Beach Picks 3 Hawaii Beaches as Best in USA.

The more reputable Dr. Beach just released his findings based on a set of 50 criteria to be chosen. There’s nothing wrong with his list, but there are other beaches we might have picked as better. See if you agree or not with his findings below

#2 Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu.

#7  Wailea Beach, Maui.

#9 Poipu Beach, Kauai.

So what’s the truth about the best beaches in Hawaii?

Best is in the eyes of the beholder, and there’s no best beach for everyone. Yet, Hawaii aficionados want to know the quintessential bucket list of Hawaii beaches.

The number of beaches in Hawaii is extraordinarily vast. They include red, black, white, and even green sand beaches. There are small ones, and giant ones, calm ones, and surfing ones, animal and people-watching ones. Some are better for swimming and snorkeling than others. Other beaches might be lined with homes, and others feel more remote. Best beaches also vary highly based on seasons and surf conditions.

So many look to sources such as Dr. Beach and TripAdvisor, and now this new one at Family Destinations Guide, all of which attempt to answer the question you want to have answered for your Hawaii vacation.

TripAdvisor rankings come from crowd-sourcing of Hawaii travelers, and Dr. Beach’s recommendations are from a self-proclaimed expert.

Our best advice is to research multiple sources in advance and check YouTube for beach videos to give you more of an idea of what you’ll find.

If you love beaches in Hawaii, which one is your favorite?

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45 thoughts on “Best Beaches In Hawaii: One You Can’t Visit + One You Shouldn’t”

  1. We went to Waikiki beach right after sunrise. We had the whole beach practically to ourselves. Then we ate breakfast at hotels with an ocean view. We took the bus to the North shore of Oahu and also to the Kailua beach on the windward side. We saw a black sand beach. There wasn’t much beach at Lahaina and at Hotel Molokai but the water was nice. We went to the beach on the south end of Lanai. They are all my favorite!

    1. Carol, I guess you missed the Kaanapali Beaches and Kapalua Bay, just North of Lahaina. Check them out next time, especially if you want to see colorful fish, swim with turtles and listen to the whales (Nov.-March). Aloha!

      1. We went on a train from Lahaina to Kaanapali but didn’t go to a beach. There were 2 good luau we went to at Lahaina. Mahalo for the suggestion. Aloha!

        1. Unfortunately, the sugar cane train is no longer …one more thing to add to “history”. I was hoping they would restore the railing and make it a commuter train. Would have helped with the congestion is this area. It’s all overgrown now …

    1. Maybe, the best way to visit Hawai’i nei beaches, or hiking, is to volunteer with non-profit organizations (Hawaii WildlifeFund, Sierra Club, etc). Volunteer to learn about our precious oasis in the middle of the Pacific, and kokua in keeping aina, plant and marine wildlife, prestine and safe for all, especially for all upcoming generations. Aloha is world-wide. Its not about where to park. PS, take with you what you brought to beaches. Have you seen what’s left behind? Mahalo sharing Hawai’i nei in your posts. More aloha.

      1. At one time I heard there was a special clean up project you could participate in on Kahoolawe. Do you know if it is still going on?

  2. Waimea Bay for Sure! Only downs side is the lack of parking, but its a different experience every time you go! Ocean will be flat as a pancake one trip and have awe inspiring waves the next!

    1. thanks for the tip. I think I went there once 20 years ago, but couldn’t remember where it was. It was magic and I hope to go back there in the near future (I live in Lahaina)

  3. I think every tourist should visit Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. I don’t know why people suggest Kahanamoku due to the rocks, but the lagoon is wonderful for kids. Lanikai is beautiful, but a mess. Trick is to arrive at sunrise to get legal nearby parking. The locals lobbied Against a parking lot expansion with paid shuttles so the “you can’t come to our beach” (which is illegal) is alive and well. Eternity (aka Blowhole and Halona Cove), while hard to get down to, is a body surfing haven but watch for riptide throwing you under the rocky overhang.

    1. This a bit off point, but every time I see those homeowners on Oahu complaining about not being allowed to “save” their homes from beach erosion, my mind asks the questions, “Why were you ever allowed to park a house on the beach?”

      Lanikai and other North Shore folks wouldn’t be illegally limiting access if they had not been allowed to park their house and god knows what kind of waste system next to our most precious resource, the ocean.

  4. I’ll say this, Dr. Beach is a marketing thing in a way for himself.

    His criteria are that once a beach makes his list, it won’t make it again, allowing him to add new beaches every year.

    A couple years back he “reset” the count so that more beaches could be added to the list. He basically ran out of good US beaches.

    So just something to keep in mind. All of the other “better” beaches have made the list already, many being named #1.

    In the past, Kailua, Lanikai, Waimanalo, Hapuna, and others have all been ranked the best beach in the country.

    Now they won’t be back in the list again for another 20 years or whenever he decides to reset again.

    Basically it’s an opportunity to market different beaches each year.

  5. Asking the question about favorite beach is counterproductive. Once one discloses a favorite beach, social media, as you pointed out in your article, will grab the rec. and exploit another sensitive spot. Forget Oahu. That train has left the station. Focus on the outer islands, but encourage your readers to join up with other visitors, carpool, or use a local vendor for transport. That’s the only solution besides a visitor fee and advance reservations.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, James. Once you give out your secrets to the best beaches, it will no longer be the best beach. When I 1st arrived in Hawaii, tourists were very respectful, but that all changed with the timeshare idea …now we have to live with it. Where were the locals when those were built? I live on the West side of Maui and although I had no problem with the Sheraton, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and even the 1st building at the Westin, this area now has the same people who would go to Cancun or any other resort (and I wish they would). I know there are exceptions, but that is what they are “exceptions”

    2. Advance reservations are a joke!
      Haunama Bay..forget it!
      Even with fees enacted, all beaches would be the same.
      Or maybe, I can’t type fast enough!

      A little late to restrict on-the-beach homes (as opposed to beach-front!) So much for beach access for all. Never going to happen!

  6. Lanakai is my favorite beach on Oahu (I take the city bus).

    Hapuna State Park Beach is my favorite beach on the Big Island.

    Wailea Beach is my favorite beach on Maui!

      1. Many moons ago my new bride and I honeymooned at The Cliffs in Princeville on Kauai. They were filming “Uncommon Valor” right next to us with Hueys flying overhead and the “rice patties” across and just down the road. Went to Hanalei daily and became kama’ainas before the end. Interviewed on Oahu and moved to first Waikiki, then Hawaii Kai. We liked almost every beach we visited except Makaha past the base. Drunken locals upset wife and keiki and we haven’t gone back. Sorta reminded me of Chicago gang bangers!

        But it was years ago and due to spinal cord injury my wariness helps me walk out at Ala Moana using a walker. Once I am floating I’m okay. God Bless her@

  7. Being a 16 year resident I have a few favorite beaches on Kaua’i but I’m not sharing. One thing important to share however is for visitors to go to a lifeguard to find out the safest place in the beach that day. Beaches and riptides change seasonally. Unless you are very familiar with the ocean, as a lot of our visitors are not, stick to our beautiful lifeguarded beaches. Seems like we lose visitors who get in the ocean, become overwhelmed and have heart attacks as they either struggle and or panic.

  8. In June we took a 2 day getaway to Oahu from the big island where we live. We had the chance to visit Lanikai beach and it truly is beautiful. we were the only people on the beach save for one other local that was paddleboarding. Finding a place to park was a bit of a challenge and we were there midweek. Definitely going back

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