The Best Beaches

Lanikai Beach (Oahu): Too gorgeous to be real, this stretch along the Windward Coast is one of Hawaii's postcard-perfect beaches -- a mile of golden sand as soft as powdered sugar bordering translucent turquoise waters. The year-round calm waters are excellent for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. To complete the picture are two tiny offshore islands that function not only as scenic backdrops but also as bird sanctuaries.

Hapuna Beach (Big Island): This 1/2-mile-long crescent regularly wins kudos in the world's top travel magazines as the most beautiful beach in Hawaii -- some consider it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. One look and you'll see why: Perfect cream-colored sand slopes down to crystal-clear waters that are great for swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing in summer; come winter, waves thunder in like stampeding wild horses. The facilities for picnicking and camping are top-notch, and there's plenty of parking.

Kapalua Beach (Maui): On an island with many great beaches, Kapalua takes the prize. This golden crescent with swaying palms is protected from strong winds and currents by two outstretched lava-rock promontories. Its calm waters are perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking. The beach borders the Kapalua Bay Hotel, but it's long enough for everyone to enjoy. Facilities include showers, restrooms, and lifeguards.

Papohaku Beach (Molokai): One of Hawaii's longest beaches, these gold sands stretch on for some 3 miles and are about as wide as a football field. Offshore, the ocean churns mightily in winter, but the waves die down in summer, making the calm waters inviting for swimming, picnics, beach walks, and sunset watching.

Hulopoe Beach (Lanai): This golden, palm-fringed beach off the south coast of Lanai gently slopes down to the azure waters of a Marine Life Conservation District, where clouds of tropical fish flourish and spinner dolphins come to play. A tide pool in the lava rocks defines one side of the bay, while the other is lorded over by the Manele Bay Hotel, which sits prominently on the hill above. Offshore, you'll find good swimming, snorkeling, and diving; onshore, there's a full complement of beach facilities, from restrooms to camping areas.

Haena Beach (Kauai): Backed by verdant cliffs, this curvaceous North Shore beach has starred as Paradise in many a movie. It's easy to see why Hollywood loves Haena Beach, with its grainy golden sand and translucent turquoise waters. Summer months bring calm waters for swimming and snorkeling, while winter brings mighty waves for surfers. There are plenty of facilities on hand, including picnic tables, restrooms, and showers.