With almost 400 beaches, all of which are public, it's no surprise that Hawaii is a beachgoer's paradise. There are beaches of white sand, black sand, red sand and even a green sand beach. There are famous beaches with lots of people every day and other beaches where you might find yourself the only person for miles. But which one is the best when you're coming on a cruise? Here are our picks for some of the top beaches for cruise visitors.
Consisting of nine individually named beaches stretching two miles, Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is one of the world's most famous beaches. Often crowded near many of the big resorts, the beaches at the far western end, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort's Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon and at the eastern end near the the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel are well protected and perfect for families. Waikiki Beach is a popular surfing spot, especially for beginners since the surf is quite gentle. The waves rarely exceed three feet in height. Waikiki's famous beach boys, in central Waikiki near the police station, offer surfing lessons for reasonable prices. There are also boogie boards, canoes, kayaks, snorkels and umbrellas for rent.
Located about 10 miles east of Waikiki, just off the main coastal road (Kalaniana'ole Highway, Route 72), Hanauma Bay is the first Marine Life Conservation District in the State of Hawaii. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is dedicated to safeguarding the fragile marine life found within the bay. It's considered one of the premier snorkeling locations in Hawaii. Easily accessed from Honolulu by rental car or by Oahu's excellent public transportation system, The Bus, Hanauma Bay is open daily (except Tuesdays). The parking lot is closed when full, so plan to arrive early. There is a $7.50 per-person admission fee.
A 10-minute walk from Nawiliwili Harbor and Kauai's cruise port, Kalapaki Beach is the most convenient beach for cruise passengers who want to don't want to rent a car, taxi or take a guided tour. Free shuttle service is also available to adjacent shopping centers. The beach fronts the Kauai Marriott Resort. Kalapaki Beach is great for swimming on calm days, but beware of high surf, especially during winter. Beach services include rentals for kayaks, standup paddleboards, surf boards and boogie boards rentals. Lessons and public showers are also offered. Numerous beachfront dining options are available, too.
Located on Kauai's sunny southern shore, Po'ipu Beach is actually a series of golden sand crescents, strung together where beachgoers will find snorkeling, swimming and surfing. An expansive palm tree-shaded lawn area is found at the beach park. The surf spots are slightly offshore, where a reef establishes perfect wave-breaks for beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers. Nearer to the shore, swimmers can enjoy swimming or snorkeling in calm waters. Don't be surprised if you see a Hawaiian monk seal sunning on the beach near the Sheraton Kauai Resort. Local boating companies offer fishing excursions, snorkel cruises, scuba diving and sunset sails.
Located in West Maui, just north of Lahaina town, Ka'anapali Beach is one of Hawaii's most famous and popular beaches. This three-mile-long lifeguard-protected beach is divided in two by the Black Rock at the Sheraton Maui Resort. Ka'anapali is the beach for activities. You can snorkel in the crystal clear water near Black Rock, windsurf, parasail, kayak or use personal watercrafts. Whale-watching tours are a favorite winter activity. Adjoining the beach are five major award-winning resort hotels, six condominium resorts, a world class shopping village with more than 60 shops and restaurants, an oceanfront beach walk, two championship golf courses and tennis courts for day or night play.
Located in South Maui at the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons Resorts, the multi-award-winning gold-sand Wailea Beach offers good swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving in calm waters, as well as paddleboarding and body surfing on a shore break that's not as punishing as what's found at many of the other beaches in South Maui. The sandy bottom remains shallow inshore and drops off slowly to deeper water. Activity companies for the nearby resorts rent beach and ocean equipment. A shoreline path spans the length of the Wailea Resort and has access to numerous dining and shopping options.
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
Visitors to Hawaii's Big Island who rent a vehicle or take a day tour from Hilo should not miss the chance to see one of Hawaii's famous black-sand beaches. Located in the Kau District, about 56 miles south of Hilo and 20 minutes south of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu'u is the most easily accessible black-sand beach on the island. It's also a sanctuary for green sea turtles. There's an excellent chance that you'll find one lying in the sun on the beach. The beach offers some of the only safe snorkeling and swimming on the south coast. Use caution, however, as the waves are unpredictable, and there is often a bad riptide. The beach has a picnic area, pavilion, restrooms and showers.
Kahalu'u Beach Park
Located about six miles (a 10-minute drive) south of Kailua-Kona along Alii Drive, the lifeguard-protected Kahalu'u Beach Park is a popular family beach that offers some of the best snorkeling opportunities on the Big Island. It's a great place to observe Hawaii's green sea turtles in their natural environment. There's a parking lot, covered picnic area, restrooms with changing facilities, and snorkel rentals. Kahalu'u Bay is teeming with fish and beautiful coral. Don't step on or touch the easily-damaged coral or attempt to touch the turtles, and be careful when entering the water, as some areas of the shoreline are rocky.
Hapuna Beach State Park
Located about 35 miles north of the cruise pier on the Big Island's Kohala Coast, the 61-acre Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is one of the most popular state parks in Hawaii. Hapuna Beach is a half-mile crescent-shaped beach bordered by the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Hapuna Golf Course on its northern end. There's great swimming during calm seas, bodysurfing during periods of shore breaks, a covered picnic pavilion, picnic areas, a snack bar, restrooms and shower facilities. Dangerous rip currents and pounding shore breaks occur during periods of high surf during the winter.
--By John Fischer, Cruise Critic contributor