Hawaiian Hideaway: Our Island-by-Island Guide to the Best Beachfront Homes

From a hideaway on Kauai's secret beach to a luxurious surf cottage on Maui, we've picked the best beachfront pads for your next trip

Almost 9 million tourists visited the islands of Hawaii last year, flocking to the state for uninterrupted sunshine, stunning scenery, and beautiful beaches. For many, it’s the beaches that bring them back to visit a second time, then a third.

If you’re planning your first trip to the Aloha State—or even if you’re a seasoned visitor—we’ve picked out our favorite beachfront homes on each island so you can step out of the front door and step right onto a patch of golden sand.

Big Island

Home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Big Island is a nature-lover’s dream destination. The volcano, Kilauea, has been erupting since 1983 and shows no sign of slowing down; it’s one of the few places in the world where you can watch molten lava flows up close. The island offers up incredible hiking, fascinating volcanic outcrops to explore, and 250 miles of pristine coastline. When it comes to beaches, Big Island has some very colorful options, with both black and green sand beaches as well as classic golden Hawaiian sand.

The most famous black sand beach on Big Island is Punalu’u close to Volcano Village, and it’s a great stop for a picnic lunch. It’s also one of the best places on the island to spot hawksbill turtles, who love to make their nests on the warm sand.

Our Beachfront Home Pick:

Close to the town of Kailua-Kona and Magic Sands Beach, Collessie By the Sea is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom property with uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the infinity-edge pool seems to drop right into the ocean below. Owners Shannon and Neil Cormie told us they were looking for a “sanctuary” in what Shannon describes as “the most beautiful place in the world” when they came across the property, and it was love at first sight. Tropical birds are often seen hopping around the garden, which houses fruit trees, lush island foliage and even a waterfall and outdoor shower.

Maui

Life in Maui centers around the Pacific Ocean. The great snorkel spots, incredible whale watching, and fun surf breaks are what made the island famous. Of course, this means there are great beaches too. Surfers rave about Honolua Bay (where you’ll often see surf pros in action), while snorkelers love Wailea beach, where golden sands softly slope into the water and visibility is great thanks to gentle waves. Whale watchers make a beeline for Lahaina on the island’s west coast, where a number of whale watching tours depart from the nearby harbor.

If your idea of the perfect beach is a strip of powder-soft sand and little else, check out Makena beach just south of Wailea. The area is divided into Big Beach and Little Beach—at the latter be aware that clothing is optional. Makena has some of the clearest water in Hawaii, plus expansive views; on a clear day you can make out the top of Mauna Kea mountain on Big Island.

Our Beachfront Home Pick:

Two-bedroom Napili Cove has a laid back surf-cottage feel with a luxurious twist. There are uninterrupted views over the Pacific from almost every room in the house, and a wraparound porch makes the ideal spot to start your day with fresh pineapple and a cup of delicious Hawaiian Kona coffee, and end your day in the company of a stunning sunset and a cold cocktail. Napili is on Maui’s west coast, close to Lahaina and its buzzy downtown—where Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood often performs impromptu shows at the restaurant he owns.

Kauai

Known as the “Garden Isle,” the first thing visitors to Kauai notice is just how incredibly lush and green the island is. Some parts of the island might even look familiar—the now iconic opening scenes of the original Jurassic Park were filmed along the Na Pali coast. You’ll find tumbling waterfalls, overgrown forests and bright tropical flowers across the island. With fewer inhabitants and less major development, Kauai is the quieter option, and that means emptier beaches too.

On the north coast, Hanalei Bay is one of the most spectacular beaches on the island, with soft golden sand and a backdrop of mountains to one side and the Pacific to the other. It stretches over two miles so it never feels too crowded. For snorkelers, Tunnels Beach is a must-visit, with calm, clear waters and a reef just a few hundred feet offshore. The lack of big waves makes it a great place to try paddleboarding too.

Our Beachfront Home Pick:

When your vacation villa is found on Secret Beach, you know you’re in for a special stay. Dali Hale sits on a bluff overlooking the crescent of golden sand at Secret Beach, where the sound of the waves produces a state of near-constant relaxation. The house is owned by Dahlia Haas, a chef, and caterer whose love affair with the Aloha State goes back a quarter of a century. It was the beauty of the location that drew her to the home: “You look out one window and you see the powerful, immense, green mountains. Look out another window and you can see dolphins and whales in the blue ocean below.”

Oahu

Home to around 60% of the state’s population, Oahu is the most developed of all the Hawaiian islands, known to Hawaiians as the “Gathering Place.” The state capital, Honolulu, is a major hub with shopping centers and all the conveniences you would expect from an American city and is also home to Pearl Harbour, now a memorial site and museum.

Oahu was the first of the Hawaiian islands to become popular with surfers from around the world and the North Shore with its legendary breaks is still synonymous with the best of big-name surfing. In the winter months the North Shore attracts the biggest and best in the sport—and watching them in action is a favorite activity for visitors and locals alike. Pick your spot on the sand at Sunset Beach or Waimea Bay and marvel at the skill and speed of the surfers in the water. For smaller waves where you can practice your own skills, head to White Plains beach in the south-west, or the ever-popular Waikiki Beach, in Honolulu.

Our Beachfront Home Pick:

With ocean views, expansive grounds, a private saltwater lagoon pool, and room for 16 people, Royal Kailua Estate is as sumptuous as its name suggests. The 11,000-acre property is filled with tropical plants and shaded corners where you can get lost in a good book. Or you can stroll down to Kailua Beach and play in the waves. After a day in the sun, gather at the poolside cabana for sundowners and a BBQ feast under the stars.

Jenny Cahill-Jones