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 honeymooned at The Cliffs in Princeville and went to Hanalei almost daily. Beautiful beach and palms around it. The Coco Palms was still open and they were filming “Uncommon Valor” right down the road from us with Hueys flying overhead regularly!

    Fell in love with Hawaii right away. Interviewed for an awesome job on Oahu and moved first to Waikiki, then Hawaii Kai.

    Only beach we ever hated was Makaha past the base entrance. Local gang bangers were drunk and fighting and scared my wife and keiki.

    Anyway, that’s awhile ago and long before my spinal cord injury. Now I’m happy with the wife helping me use a walker to get into the water at Ala Moana Beach. Once deep enough I can still swim! God Bless her!

  2. Actually, there is a list of places, beaches included, here in Hawaii, that the public are asked not to post about on social media due to overcrowding and the risk of destruction (coral death/damages, for example).
    Also, I hesitate to name my favorite places for that same reason.
    The amount of people that disrespect Hawaii is astounding. I don’t know what the heck people are thinking (not thinking? Or don’t care) when it comes to basic respect of the land, residents and the wildlife.

    1. I knew a woman that was that way. What was she thinking or not thinking. Instead of holding on to some trash until she came to a can she would roll down the car window and throw it out. When I first visited Hawaii I mentioned to her how you were supposed to leave things like you found them-or better. Don’t take any rocks or sand etc. with you. As soon as I said it she ask me to bring her some sand when I got back. What did I just say?!

      1. I think throwing trash out of your car is far worst than taking some sand …at least on Maui, there is a lot of sand!

        1. I think of it this way: If everyone takes a little sand there wouldn’t be any left. Some people that took stuff from the Big Island mailed it back. They were having a lot of bad luck. They thought maybe there was something to Pele being angry for them taking things home with them. I don’t know why anyone would litter anywhere. It makes things look so bad.

          1. I heard that story over 20 years ago (taking sand home as a souvenir bringing bad luck), but the trash issue is still far more damaging …you say what would happen if everyone took sand and I say “imagine if everyone just left their trash on the island”, of course as everyone knows by now, plastic being the worst because it can easily make it to the ocean where turtles get choked thinking it’s jellow fish etc. So far, no shortage of sand on Maui.

          2. I go by how I feel on the situation. I prefer to hold onto my trash if no can is readily available. When I first went to a beach on the mainland I was big on collecting shells. I picked up a Starfish to take home and it later broke. Pele is not an issue for me. I just prefer to leave everything where it is. I like real flowers and leis but I don’t like to see the flowers die. I use to pick flowers but I wouldn’t now. That’s just me.

    2. Yes, I remember that I explored some of those during Covid. I found beaches just by exploring areas I always wondered about (after being a real estate broker for 30 years in DC before getting licensed here) and it was obvious that the beaches I found were “local” and when I told a lady in Lahaina that I found some of those beaches, she said “please don’t post them on Facebook” and I didn’t. In fact, I haven’t been back there, since I love the beach closest to me (Kaanapali), even if I have to share it with tourists.

      1. Just FYI, Dr Beach is a PhD in coastal ecology and rotates beaches in his ratings so repeats are rare or spread out, otherwise a handful would always be the same top 10. There are some beaches even some locals stay away from, Waimanalo is very local locals only. Thanks for noting there are beaches visitors need to stay away from. I wish Kailua, which neighbors Lanikai, hadn’t become so popular with parking often overflowing on weekends and holidays.

    3. Regarding wildlife, visiting a beach known for turtles we saw a group of four taking turns sitting on a turtle on the sand and taking selfies and group pics. We told them it was against the law to go within 25 feet of protected wildlife much less sit on them and they told us what we could do.

  3. I am being biased here but I will always love Waimea Beach. I grew up in Waimea so it does have a special place in my heart our house is very near the area. I remember as a child in the 80s we let in a family of tourists in our seperate guest shack because their rental car broke down. We didn’t accept their payment because they truly needed help. They were amazed by the beautiful sunrise of waimea.

  4. Build proper parking lots and restrooms from all the taxes and fees. Even changing entrance fee would better than parking and peeing in the dirt and shrubs. Residents would be better off offering services in a controlled area instead of just fighting the tourist. Its Hawaii people love it and will come.
    I got favorites on the Big Island named Secret Beach.

    1. ok, the only secret beach I know is in Maui (but it’s not really “secret”. However, I did go to a small (hidden) beach on the Big Island when I visited 20 years ago, may be that was the one!

  5. Thanks for the words on Lanikai but it’s popular with everyone from Oahu residents to tourists, as is Kailua Beach next door, which does have parking – often full to overcapacity – and bathrooms. Kailua is also over popular with tourists, including bus loads who get off, take a selfie, use a restroom and leave. Just FYI, Dr. Beach, Stephen Leatherman, is a PhD in coastal environment and rotates the beaches in his ratings, you can only be No.1 once, our at least once in a long while. He’s a professor at Florida International University. When you check out Lanikai, you might take a look at the state and local beaches in Waimanalo, including the Air Force base beach, but watch out for break ins and a dislike of visitors.

  6. Thanks BOH for another informative article. Always enjoyable to read. My favorite beach is/was Polihale. It used to be very quiet and serene, almost like a private beach. I haven’t been there in awhile since it was closed the last time I visited Kauai. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches, that’s for sure.


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