Waikiki Beach (south shore) - Comprised of several adjoining beaches, this two-mile stretch is world famous for a reason. With easy access from beachfront hotels, gentle swells just right for beginner surfers and plenty of sports rental facilities, Waikiki is ideal for families with kids. The surf can get high in summer, which brings out the more expert surfers. You can also hop on an outrigger canoe ride or sign up for a catamaran sail to end your day.
Hanauma Bay (south shore) - Considered a snorkelers paradise, this beach offers moonlight snorkeling for free on Saturday nights. Bring a flashlight.
Kailua Beach (east shore) - Serious water sports buffs can try their hand at body boarding, kayaking, snorkeling and - especially -- windsurfing here, thanks to the nearly constant breeze. Located within a 30-acre public park, the beach also offers picnic and other facilities for families.
Makaha Beach (west shore) - Only serious surfers need apply here in winter, where waves come fast and furious - and dangerous, if you don't know what you're doing. In summer, though, a calm ocean and sandy beach draw swimmers and snorkelers.
Waimea Bay (north shore) - There are so many gorgeous beaches along Oahu's north shore that we hate to pick just one. Try them all, but don't miss Waimea Bay, which is world famous for its ideal surfing conditions in winter. In summer, calm waters return, just right for families and beachcombers.
Go to http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu for more information about Oahu beaches.
Kaanapali Beach (west Maui) - This three-mile beach is situated in resort heaven, so don't think you'll be alone here with the swaying palms. For water sports enthusiasts, however, this is a great location to learn to snorkel or scuba dive, especially at the Black Rock end. Although touted for families - there are lifeguards and some portions of the beach are sheltered - keep an eye on the waves, especially in winter. There are facilities galore.
Honolua/Mokuleia Bay (west Maui) - At the opposite end of the spectrum is Honolua/Mokuleia, which offers zip in the way of facilities and you'll need to get there by car or taxi. Why bother? Stunning underwater scenery for snorkelers and scuba divers and great waves for surfing are among the draws that bring people to this nature reserve.
Wailea Beach (south Maui) - Kids rule at this family beach, which offers up plenty of what youngsters are looking for - soft, white sand; shady areas where you can get out of the sun, and waves that will tempt even a resolute landlubber into the water for swimming.
Waianapanapa Beach Park (east Maui) - Love looking at beaches and great scenery - but from a distance? Waianapanapa is a hike to get to, the sand is black and the water is rough, but the views are stellar. Check out the lava tubes, hike in the park and take advantage of the picnic and restroom facilities.
Go to http://www.gohawaii.com/maui for more information on Maui beaches.
The Big Island
Hapuna Beach State Park (Kohala Coast) - Bring the kids and try body boarding on these gentle swells in summer or get a more serious ride with bigger waves in winter. The 61-plus acre beach park offers plenty of facilities. Situated about 30 minutes north of Kona; an hour-and-a-half from Hilo.
Kahaluu Beach Park (Kona) - Great for kids, this beach offers calm, shallow water in a protected bay, loads of colorful tropical fish and even a few Hawaiian sea turtles. Snorkeling equipment is available for rent on-site.
Leleiwi Beach Park (Hilo) - Not thought of as beach territory, Hilo offers this lava rock beach just a few minutes away from the harbor. Swim, snorkel and picnic alongside locals or strap on your gear for a scuba dive along the rugged coast. Not for novices.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach (Kau/south shore) - Nature lovers are likely to come across sea turtles while snorkeling here (but don't touch, as turtles are federally protected), and information about the animals is available at on-site vendors. Don't go expecting sugar-white sand - the sand is black and the water is cool - but the beach boasts its own unique beauty.
Go to http://www.gohawaii.com/bigisland for more information on Big Island beaches.
Poipu Beach Park (south shore) - Hands down one of the best beaches in the Hawaiian Islands, Poipu has it all. Shallow, calm water (great for little swimmers), clear water for beginning snorkelers and a sheltered cove for relaxing sunbathing, Poipu is a standout for families. Can't-sit-still types can rent snorkel equipment and head out to some of the best snorkeling in the area. Or you can zone out in shady of pavilions or under palm trees. Surf boards, picnic tables and restrooms are among the facilities available.
Haena Beach (north shore) - Offering the best of both worlds -- surfing in winter (although not for novices) and swimming and snorkeling in summer, this beach also offers plenty of facilities.
Anini Beach (north shore) -- .Located adjacent to Kauai's biggest reef, Anini Beach draws snorkelers, but be careful of the currents, especially when the tide is going out. Restrooms and picnic facilities are located at the Anini Beach Park a mile or so away.
Kee (north shore) - While this is a good snorkeling spot in summer, the real draw is the view of the famed Na Pali coast (which is virtually inaccessible except by boat or helicopter). It's a long drive to get there, so leave the kids behind and bring your camera in case a curious sea turtle makes an appearance.
Go to http://www.gohawaii.com/kauai for more information on Kauai beaches.
Shipwreck Beach (north shore) - Just the name ought to tell you something. This is a beautiful beach for visitors who want to poke around the debris of wrecked ships and take pictures of the Liberty ship that still sits, stranded in the reef offshore. Your best bet is to stay dry while enjoying this rough but scenic area.
Go to http://www.gohawaii.com/lanai for more information on Lanai beaches.
Papohaku Beach (west Molokai) - Fans of ocean swimming should make it a point to check out Papohaku Beach in summer. The three miles of wide, sandy beach also make it a good spot for long walks or beachcombing, especially in winter when the surf kicks up. Best of all, you won't have to share the beach with crowds, as it is very secluded.
Go to http://www.gohawaii.com/molokai for more information on Molokai beaches.