From its turquoise waters and golden beaches to dense green jungles and a seemingly endless supply of pineapple, Hawaii is a complete paradise. The laid-back culture of this island state’s best beach towns is what dreams are made of, and they attract new visitors and residents each year.
The main islands that people flock to are Oahu, Big Island (also called “Hawaii”), Maui, Kauai, Lanai, and Molokai. No matter what beach trip you’re looking for, one of these isles will have it. The numerous neighborhoods up and down the shores have unique traits that differ from other places in the same state, so there will always be something new to discover.
With a near-perfect climate year-round, it’s no wonder why Hawaii is one of the world’s most popular bucket list places to visit or live. When you’re ready to exchange your suit and tie for flip-flops and sunscreen, head to these top beach villages around Aloha State.
Anyone seeking a down-to-earth boho vibe should head out to Paia, a surfer’s paradise with a distinct 1960s hippie vibe. While small, this beach village is overflowing with charming boutiques, galleries, and a variety of top-notch restaurants.
In the late 1800s and after, a thriving sugar cane business brought Paia its first time of prosperity. The tiny town on Maui’s north coast with 2,285 people (as of the 2020 census) used to be known as the end of the road to Hana, but now it’s the most stylish place on the Valley Isle.
When it comes to dining, a trip to Paia wouldn’t be complete without a meal at Mama’s Fish House, which many say is the best of Maui. On the island, you can also go ziplining, shopping, hiking, and visiting many scenic lookouts.
Paia has beaches that are great for getting in the water and relaxing on the shores. The area’s best sands can be found at Baldwin Beach or Paia Bay Beach. Hookipa Beach is called the “windsurfing capital of the world” and is home to turtles and fabulous sunsets.
Hanalei, located west of Princeville on Kauai’s north coast, is a lush tiny town with historical sites and modern art galleries. Green taro fields, lovely boutiques, waterfall-adorned mountains, ancient attractions, spectacular beaches, and galleries await visitors of all types.
Hanalei’s ancient people had a plentiful food supply from land to sea. First-generation Hanaleians farmed taro, bananas, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yams, and coconuts, and then foreigners who settled in Hawaii introduced new agricultural operations.
The small beach town has a population of just 444 (2020 census) and numerous historic buildings to explore, like the Wai’oli Hui’ia Church. Visitors also love going to Hanalei Valley Lookout, one of the most picturesque and gorgeous spots in all of Kauai.
Hanalei Beach is one of the prettiest in Hawaii and an incredible destination for some relaxation by the water. Stroll on the sand, walk on the pier and sunbathe to your heart’s content. The sheltered bay makes this one of Kauai’s most popular beaches for swimming, surfing, and bodyboarding. Lifeguards patrol some places.
The beaches of Kailua draw thousands of tourists each year to enjoy their golden dunes and clear seas. There are no tall hotel buildings, no malls, and no large resorts. Instead, you’ll discover welcoming and cozy inns, coffee houses, family-run eateries, and stores where the vendors will greet you at the entrance.
Kailua is primarily a residential area with a major business center along Kailua Road. According to the census, the population decreased from 50,000 in 1992 to 40,514 in 2020. Reaching this area is relatively easy from Honolulu, which is just 12 miles away and provides a scenic route.
While it may be less frequent than other Hawaiian towns, this modest one has a lot to offer, including the most extensive wetlands on the islands.
Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach are home to the town’s golden sands and are great for swimming, playing in the water, or building a towering castle. Of the two, Kailua has more amenities, but Lanikai feels more remote and has calmer waves.
Take off to Kauai’s east side and visit this coastal town lined with coconut trees, hotels, a shopping district, and all the genuine seafood cuisine you can handle. Kapaa is the most populated town on the island, with about 11,652 permanent residents (2020 census) and many revolving tourists.
Over its history, Kapaa has had strong community ties with people who enjoyed helping each other thrive. The town was formally a plantation and saw its fair share of action during World War II.
In modern times, the village has a calm, welcoming atmosphere with a lovely waterfront street of quality shops, local coffee, and great places to buy authentic souvenirs. It would also be difficult to stop through and not hike the Sleeping Giant, a mountain with a panoramic view from the top.
Kapaa Beach Park is the town’s barrier to the sea and is the perfect place to watch the waves slowly roll in. This is a locals’ beach and doesn’t get too crowded, but it has some great views. Swimming and boating are possible from this shore, but keep an eye on the current, which can occasionally be pretty intense.
Lanai City, Lanai
Lanai, Hawaii’s smallest populated island, provides a big draw for visitors. Located just nine miles from Maui, this small island offers both luxury resorts with top-rated amenities like pro-level golf and rural and off-the-cuff unspoiled land.
The world-renowned pineapple plantations owned by businessman James Drummond Dole initially covered over 20,000 acres of Lanai and provided jobs for thousands of people. During his time as the island owner, Dole built Lanai City in the 1920s to house and feed its workers.
In the summer of 2012, the CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison, purchased the island for $300 million and saved it from being renovated to be more modern. As of 2020, 3,332 people call Lanai home, and it boasts a heritage center, cafes, a cat sanctuary, and ancient petroglyphs.
Hulopoe Beach Park, Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach), and Polihua Beach are three of the island’s hotspots for sunbathing, picnicking, and beach walks along the shore. Keahiakawelo is another excellent way to explore the landscape, requiring a four-wheel drive to get around the rocks formed by erosion over the years.
Hilo, Big Island
Hilo, a town on the northeastern coast of the island of Hawai’i, has stunning natural scenery and all the conveniences expected of a modern metropolis. It’s the capital town of the Big Island, surrounded by lush, verdant jungles and breathtaking waterfalls.
The town was once a thriving agricultural and fishing community, but by the 1800s it had become a significant sugar trading hub. Downtown Hilo has flourished into a quaint collection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and eateries.
Visit the Hilo Farmers Market to taste and purchase local crafts, or visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum to learn more about the intense storms that have come through the area. The University of Hawaii Hilo campus adds the “college town” vibe of the region, which has a population of about 44,186 (2020 census).
Coconut Island, Reeds Bay Beach Park, Carlsmith Beach Park, and Richardson Beach Park are a few of the Hilo area’s best beaches. Richardson is the only one with lifeguards seven days a week, but they all have swimming spots and picnicking facilities for visitors to enjoy.
Kaunakakai, the island’s biggest town and a whopping three blocks long, can be found on Molokai’s south coast. This peaceful Hawaiian island is notable for its lack of traffic signals and no huge chain of businesses.
Although tiny, Kaunakakai has deep roots in its small community, which now has about 3,419 permanent residents (2020 census). The Molokai public library, for example, was constructed in 1937 and is still in use today.
Hawaii’s fifth king, Kamehameha V, spent his summers in this coastal town, which used to be surrounded by pineapple and sugar cane fields. Having a meal at Kanemitsu’s Bakery is an unforgettable experience, and Hawaiian bread along with cream pies are so popular that customers would wait in line to get them.,
Molokai island is dotted with beach accesses all along its coast. Whale watching, swimming, and exploring tide pools are a few of the best ways to experience the numerous shores. Kapukahehu Beach, Kawakiu Beach, Kepuhi Beach, and Papohaku Beach Park are the best places for a time in the sand and surf.
Hawi, Big Island
Hawi, a little village in North Kohala, is most famous as the bike turnaround for the annual IRONMANTM World Championship that happens in October. The town is culturally diverse and has a small number of attractive art galleries, shops, and restaurants among bright and vivid plantation-style buildings.
In the island’s lush northern point, you’ll find the ancient village of North Kohala, originally the bustling center of the region’s now-halted sugar industry. Today, you may get everything from handcrafted jewelry and art to fudge and pure Kona coffee.
If you’re looking for a place to dine on Oahu that serves up delicious, authentic island food, go no further than the Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery, which was previously awarded the best restaurant on the whole island. As you cross the Kohala Mountains, you’ll get your first look at the majestic valleys and mountains that make up this region.
When you get to Hawi, the sights just keep coming. Beautiful beaches are ideal for snorkeling and seeing marine life, and nightly sunsets are incredibly vibrant. The best beaches in the region include Keokea Beach Park, Kapaa Beach Park, and Spencer Beach Park.
Kihei, a beautiful village on Maui’s southwest coast, receives approximately a foot of rain each year, making it one of the sunniest areas on the island. The oceanside town offers a wide variety of things to do, from eating to shopping to water sports like snorkeling, surfing, and even whale watching from the Kihei boat pier.
Kihei was the first town on Maui to be a fishing village, and it was also where King Kamehameha I first arrived in 1790. In the early 1900s, fishermen and farmers were the first people to move to the coastal town. It was in the 1970s that the city started to get more tourists and a larger population.
Today it’s home to about 21,423 residents (2020 census) and has shopping malls, hotels, and other tourist attractions that have all popped up throughout the years. Kihei is one of the most popular spots in Maui because it has lovely beaches, affordable homes and restaurants, and other things to do.
From Sugar Beach in the north to Keawakapu Beach in the south, Kihei’s six miles of shoreline are home to numerous beaches and beachfront parks. Other great beaches include Charley Young, Poolenalena Beach, and Kamaole Beach III.
There’s a lot to see and do on the north coast, but if you only have one day, make it to the charming village of Haleiwa. Surfers, food trucks, and other island delights have made this town the cultural and social center of the North Shore.
In the early 1900s, the area now known as Haleiwa was a sugar plantation. The Haleiwa Airfield was established in the 1920s and served as a training facility, an emergency landing site, a wargame arena, and a pilot assistance center during World War II.
The coastal town is considered the “surfing capital of the world” and a permanent home to 4,941 residents (2020 census). There is something for everyone on the North Shore, from families and explorers to hippies and adventurers.
Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park is one of the best areas for recreation, featuring 19 acres of land to play on. Off the Wall and Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park are two places surfers flock to, but those seeking a quieter place to sunbathe and watch sunsets should head to Waimea Bay Beach Park.
Naalehu, Hawaii County
Na’alehu claims to be the southernmost town in the United States. It’s located at South Point in the Ka’u District of the Big Island. This little hamlet may only have a handful of stores and restaurants, but it’s well worth a visit for the gorgeous trees surrounding many of the town’s historic plantation houses.
The village’s name, which translates to “the volcanic ashes” in English from Hawaiian, is the most significant settlement in the region and a popular stopping point for travelers on their journey to or from Volcano.
Na’alehu used to be a place where lava flowed, but as of the 2020 census, it is now a town with about 811 permanent residents. Verdant hills and valleys flank the city and close by are beaches of black sand.
As the hottest part of the Big Island, the Ka’u District is a welcome sight during the winter. Punaluu’s substantial black sand beach is a favorite destination, and it’s no surprise why: the local honu, endangered green sea turtles, and space for sunbathing on the beach’s sand are remarkable. Papakolea is the closest beach to Naalehu, where swimming is available, but it is a 5-mile hike to reach the sand from the parking lot.
The city of Honolulu, located on the southern coast of Oahu, serves as the state capital and main entry point to the Hawaiian Islands. While the city’s museums, galleries, and historic landmarks are fascinating, the island’s stunning beaches are what really draw visitors.
In addition to relics, oral narratives provide light on the initial settlers of Honolulu, who were among the first Polynesians to arrive in the archipelago. The city went through a lot of political turmoil in the 19th and 20th centuries with WWII, the state’s annexation, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Honolulu is a thriving metropolis now, home to 343,342 people as of the 2020 census. The district of Waikiki has become the commercial and tourist heart of the city.
The USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu is one of the most visited historical attractions on the island and marks the final resting place for 1,102 Marines and sailors who lost their lives. When it comes to beaches, Ala Moana Beach Park, Sandy Beach, and Kahala Beach are some of the most attractive. It would be hard not to mention Waikiki Beach, a bustling waterfront area known by name around the world.
Regarding American vacation spots, Hawaii is usually at the top of the bucket list. This beach state has great shaved ice and a lot of other great things to do, like hiking to waterfalls and eating delicious food.