Even adults have to be extra cautious at Hawaii's beaches, with the ocean's notoriously nasty rip currents and undertow. Conditions can be wildly different at the same swimming spot depending on the time of year -- from calm as a lake to swells with 20-foot waves. So where to take the kids for a day of sun and surf? Safety comes first, but beyond that, you'll likely seek a spot that covers practicalities, such as quick and easy access, facilities and food vendors, and someplace where there's shade. Our roundup, which is broken down by island, includes the best picks for toddlers who'll want to splash around at the shoreline to preteens taking their first shot at surfing and snorkeling.
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The half-mile-long, 100-acre Ala Moana Beach Park is usually less crowded than Waikiki Beach, favored by locals, and protected by a reef to keep waters calm. Head to the beach’s east end (closer to Diamond Head), where the ocean bottom is sandy and kids won’t cut their feet on sharp coral. The park has excellent facilities — there are grassy areas with shade, picnic tables, and concessions — and the beach is lifeguarded. Another solid choice near Waikiki is Kuhio Beach Park, which has an offshore breakwater to keep waves low.
On the island’s west coast, or leeward coast, is Pokai Bay. Waters here are calm year-round, while other nearby leeward beaches get rough surf in winter. Pokai Bay is ideal for children who are just learning how to swim, and the south end is usually where it’s calmest. Kids who are new to surfing will likely have good conditions to practice here, too, with smaller waves thanks to a reef that spans the middle of the bay. The 35-acre Kailua Beach Park on Oahu’s eastern shore is a nice spot for families to spend an afternoon — the lifeguarded beach has fine, white sand, gentle waves, and tree-shaded picnic areas.
Smack in the heart of Kona is Kamakahonu Beach, which locals call “Kids Beach” because it’s one of the safest spots to swim on the golden west coast. While it isn’t a particularly scenic stretch, it’s perfect for parents with small children, winning points for convenience with a full range of facilities including showers and barbecue areas. Plus the area has concessions and a few kid-friendly sit-down restaurants. For excellent snorkeling — adults included — check out Kahaluu Beach Park. The ultra-calm water is shallow and often waveless, and the ocean’s bottom has coral, lava rocks, and tons of fish.
North of Kailua-Kona in Waimea is the island’s largest white-sand beach, Hapuna Beach State Park, which can be rough in winter but is great for swimming during the rest of the year. It definitely warrants an all-day stay, with a full lineup of facilities, pretty landscaping, shady picnic spots, concessions, and plenty of parking. Also in Waimea is Spencer Beach Park, a lovely spot with smooth, white sand and an offshore reef to block huge waves. Young kids can splash around and play at the shoreline, and the park has barbecues and picnic pavilions.
The island’s rainy east side has a rugged coast, and while some of the coolest beaches are here (there’s a green- and black-sand beach), many aren’t very kid-friendly. One exception is Onekahakaha Beach Park, located south of downtown Hilo. It has a line of boulders separating it from the open ocean, and water is shallow water with a sandy bottom. There are also lifeguards on duty year-round, and lovely views of Hilo Bay.
Some of the world’s best beaches are located on Maui — and many are family-friendly. Baldwin Beach Park, near the town of Paia on the north shore, has Baby Beach on its west end, one of the island’s prime spots for very small children. It’s protected by an offshore reef to keep waves at a minimum, there’s a soft, sandy bottom, and the water is warm and shallow like a giant tide pool. All of Baldwin Beach is lifeguarded, and facilities include picnic areas, barbecues, bathrooms with showers, and a huge parking lot. There’s another Baby Beach just outside the town of Lahaina in Launiupoko Beach Park, which is smaller and isn’t lifeguarded.
Also on the north shore is Kapalua Beach, a beautiful, crescent shaped beach protected on both sides by twin outcrops of lava rock. On most days it’s fairly calm, but it can get windy and the waves may get too high for very young children. Still, it’s a nice swimming beach and the water is clear for good snorkeling, particularly at the beach’s north end.
All three beaches at Kamaole Beach Park on Maui’s west side are great for kids, plus they’re close to restaurants and shopping, and there’s ample parking. Kamaole III (called “Kam III” by locals) has the added bonus of a grassy hill and playground, providing an alternative way for kids to expend energy. Another popular west coast beach is Napili Bay, which suits families with a wide age range of children. One end has calm water and soft sand for toddlers, and bigger kids might enjoy boogie boarding on the other.
No matter which side of the island you’re on, Kauai has fantastic beaches for kids all around. The shoreline of Kalapaki Beach in Lihue may be a bit rough for younger children, but the waves are good for beginner bodysurfers. It’s super well located near shops and restaurants, and offers stunning cliff views. Lydgate Beach Park, also on Kauai’s east side, is a better choice for toddlers because it’s protected by a lava rock wall, and there are placid tidal pools at the north end.
Poipu Beach Park is easily the south shore’s most popular beach, and makes for a great day trip for families with kids of different ages. There are two separate beaches — Baby Beach is at the east end — and both have clear waters and wide stretches of white sand. An enclosed natural wading pool is perfect for easy snorkeling, and other sections have larger waves to keep boogie boarders happy. Vendors serve up a variety of local eats, there’s a park with a playground, and depending on the season, you might see a Hawaiian monk seal here, which is an endangered species.
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