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Hawaii: Life's a Beach

Life’s a Beach in Hawaii!

It’s obvious, Hawaii is famous for its beaches. Here’s guessing this is a major reason you’ve chosen to vacation on the islands. No doubt about it— the beach atmosphere intoxicates body and soul. Hawaii’s beaches are as varied as the islands’ coastlines— from white, powder-like sand to the notorious black sand beaches (Punaluu Beach) on the Big Island. What’s there to do at the beach? Duh…swim and surf! We learned that much from Gidget. But there’s also awesome wakeboarding, sun bathing and snorkeling. Or you can play volley ball, collect rocks and shells, read and relax, build sand castles, body surf, deep sea dive, kayak, ride bikes and horses and, of course, people watch. What are you waiting for? Grab a board or strap on your snorkel, mask and fins and get wet!

While seasonal water, wind and weather conditions create playful to extreme opportunities for water-sports enthusiasts, surfers, snorkelers and body boarders cannot be naïve the about inherent dangers they create as well. Families need to be serious about conducting a safety pep talk together before unleashing themselves onto the beaches. If you already know it all, brush up on safety tips and confirm weather conditions anyway. For starters, here are some general tips to consider before you dive into action, especially for families traveling with small and young kids whose swimming abilities and judgments are questionable:

  • Look for, read and obey all beach safety signs and symbols; if in doubt, just stay out! Check weather conditions and advisories in advance of selecting a beach.
  • Swim in life guarded areas
  • Never swim alone
  • Don't dive into unknown water or into shallow breaking waves
  • Ask a lifeguard about beach and surf conditions before swimming
  • If you are unable to swim out of a strong current, signal for help
  • Rely on your swimming ability rather than on a flotation device

No need to be foolish—or brave. For more general information regarding beach/water safety, please refer to: This is an excellent source of information and considerations regarding the risks of swimming in Hawaiian waters including rip currents, high wind, sharp coral reefs and stinging/biting sea creatures. A bad encounter with any of these can quickly ruin the family vacation and create the proverbial “wipe out!” And we’ll have none of that, will we?

Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, the beach expert professor at Florida International University in Miami known as "Dr. Beach” ranks America's Best Beaches annually (based on 50 criteria) The following Island beaches have all made his list:

  • Kapalua Bay Beach, W Maui
  • Lanikai Beach, Oahu
  • Hapuna Beach, Waimea
  • Hulopoe Beach, S Lanai
  • Kailua Beach Park, E Oahu
  • Wailea Beach, Maui
  • Kaunaoa Beach, So. of Kona, Ka'u district
  • Hanalei Beach, N Kauai
  • Kaanapali Beach, Maui
  • Hamoa Beach. Maui/Hana
  • Poipu Beach Park, S Kauai
  • Hanauma Bay, E Oahu

Here’s a small beach “sampler”— but don’t stop here! Depending on your schedule you can visit several beaches during your visit. You may have your heart set on one in particular that fits your family’s interests and water-sport agilities to a tee? Why not plan to couple a beach visit with another attraction or outing so you can experience as many as you can? There’s no end to beautiful, is there?

Anaehoomalu Beach—on the Kona coast in Hawaii's Big Island, is revered by locals and visitors as one of the best places on the island to enjoy the sunset. Just one of many beaches along the Kona Kohala Coast, this wonderful location has plenty to offer visitors. You can rent water toys here including kayaks, boogie boards and glass bottom boats—or procure snorkeling and windsurfing equipment or sign up for varied themed boat cruises along coast line. Thick coconut palm trees frame the westward facing beach. From here you can watch small boat activity in the shallow waters, picnic and relax. Historical markers make for an interesting history lesson; you’ll hopefully see the ancient fishpond area that existed here in pre-Western-contact times. Plenty of parking and restrooms.

Ali Beach Park in Oahu is also called the "Royal Beach.” This beach (and Oahu’s entire north shore beaches) is a favorite amongst the worldwide surfing community. This is the place where the giant “grand daddy” waves you’ve seen on film and TV for years. For mere mortals, swimming in the small, protected bay area on the South side of the beach is recommended, but only when the water is calm since the reef is shallow. Experienced surfers get stoked at this beach because it has some of the best and biggest waves on the island. At peak wave times of the year, it is a rush just to sit and watch as the ho-daddies brave waves 15-20 ft. tall. It may even look familiar to Baywatch enthusiasts; this popular 1990’s television show filmed on the North Shore and at the Haleiwa Surf Center. Good facilities make this a nice place for families to visit. You’ll find restrooms, showers, phones and picnic areas plus lifeguards are usually on duty. Get down with the surf lingo before venturing out so you can relate to the dialect once you arrive.

Kaunaoa Beach —another Kona-coast beach in Hawaii's Big Island, is world famous, consistently rated by Dr. Beach (an beach expert) as one of the best beaches in the United States! You’ll see why if you visit. Gorgeous white sand and dynamic surf conditions make this a favorite spot for body surfers and boogie boarders—(be sure to keep an eye on the younger kids!). Good snorkeling is also part of the draw; it can be enjoyed in the clear waters at the left end of the beach. Since Kaunaoa Beach is close to a hotel, the beach is well maintained and the restrooms are cleaner than most found at public beaches. No lifeguard is on duty, but surf and wind conditions are well marked, so pay attention. Go early as the parking is limited and only so many visitors are allowed on the beach at any one time.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve —(pronounced “ha-now-ma,” with the accent on “now.”) is the “poster child” for successful clean up and restoration, preservation and protection efforts initiated by the City and County of Honolulu in 1990. Already recognized as one of the most spectacular natural resources in Hawaii, the 1990 plan restored the bay to a healthy reef environment and, over time, provided education, sustainability guidelines and visitation reduction initiatives. The award-winning Marine Education Center opened in 2002 and its amazing infrastructure improvements have renewed vigorous community pride in and stewardship of this amazing ecosystem. This is not a beach park for sport, but a nature preserve, although snorkeling is permitted. This area is the State’s first Marine Life Conservation District. It’s a very good idea to leave no trace and take only pictures. Seasonal hours; so best to call 808-396-4229 for recorded messages. Closed every Tues. Open until 10pm second & third Saturdays of the month. Parking lot fills early; expect long lines. Take bus #22 from Waikiki (for info 808-848-5555). 10 miles east of Waikiki, off the main coastal road, Rte. 72. Snorkeling allowed. $1per car; $5pp)

Ke’e Beach in Kauai, is the last beach accessible by car on Kauai’s north shore, literally the end of the road. Ke'e's picturesque lagoon (at its calmest in the summer months) is protected by reef that allows for spectacular snorkeling and swimming—especially for younger kids. Stronger swimmers can venture further out and see hundreds of fish, coral and, perhaps, adventuresome sea turtles. This is a very fragile eco-system so refrain from touching the reef at all. From here you can see the Na Pali coast—its beautiful cliffs stretch westwards, jutting upwards 4000 ft. above the ocean. Ke’e Beach marks the beginning of the Kalalau Trail, the only land access into the Na Pali Coast State Park. This popular beach is often crowded; facilities include parking, bathrooms and showers. No life guide is on duty and always avoid swimming when the surf is high because strong rip tides exist when waves hit the coral reefs.