Lanai Beaches

When it comes to beaches on the island of Lanai, many people are familiar with Hulopoʻe Beach in front of the Four Seasons resort. After all—the beach was named the #1 beach in America back in 1997, and is the island’s only beach with restrooms, showers, trash cans, or even paved parking. It’s home to what’s easily the best snorkeling on Lanai, has waves for surfing in the summer, and Hawaiian Spinner dolphins will often rest and splash on the right side of the bay. Furthermore, it’s only an easy, five-minute stroll from the docks of Manele Harbor, where passengers ferrying from neighboring Maui disembark for a trip to the beach.

For those who look a bit harder, however, Lanai has many more beaches to choose from than famous Hulopoʻe Bay—just that reaching them requires 4-wheel drive and a healthy sense of adventure. Polihua, on the island’s northern coast, is blissfully empty and deserted, and is a place where you can leave the only set of footprints on a casual stroll down the beach. There unfortunately isn’t any swimming here, as the southerly current and steep drop-off has created the “Tahitian Express,” and a day at Polihua is better spent fishing or exploring the coastal sand dunes. On most afternoons, the northeasterly tradewinds whip across the beach to create blowing sheets of sand, so mornings are the best time to visit Polihua—which is best followed up by visiting Keahiakawelo, aka “Garden of the Gods.”

The second most popular beach on Lanai, after Hulopo’e Bay, is Kaiolohia, or “Shipwreck Beach,” thanks to its relatively easy access. Unlike a beach like Polihua that requires an hour of off-road driving, Shipwreck Beach is accessed via a winding paved road down the mountain, with the last three miles being dirt and requiring 4-wheel drive.

When visiting Shipwreck Beach on Lanai, you’ll drive as far as the road will take you before it ends at some boulders, at which point a well-defined coastal trail will lead all the way to the beach. The highlight here is the Liberty Ship that was purposely scuttled offshore, having rested here on the offshore reef since 1943. Since the beach faces directly into the tradewinds, the beachcombing here is some Hawaii’s best, with shells, coconuts, and unforeseen treasures washing ashore on the sand. By the base of an old lighthouse, not far from the parking area, a dirt trail leads back towards ancient petroglyphs preserved by isolation and time.

Continuing south on the “backside” of the island, a dirt road connects a series of beaches that are some of the best of Lanai, and are popular with locals for fishing, surfing, camping, and simply relaxing. At Kahalepalaoa, past Keomoku village, the haunting remnants of “Club Lanai” still sit along the shore, and the old wooden dock jutting out from the coconut grove is an iconic visage of Lanai. Farther down the 4-wheel drive trail is beautiful Lopa Beach, where the gently rolling, waist-high waves are similar to Waikiki, and the stretch of sand that’s shaded by trees is the perfect spot to string up a hammock and tune out the world for a while. The road finally ends at Naha Beach, by a series of ancient fishponds, and the popular but isolated surfing spot “Stone Shacks” is accessible via a hike down the coast.

Or, to simply find a beach to yourself—but not need 4-wheel drive—follow the trail at Hulopoʻe Bay that departs from the left side of the beach, until it reaches the hidden and scenic “Shark’s Cove” that’s tucked at the base of the cliffs. Accessing the sand can mean a bit of scramble down the rocky, unstable cliffs, but it’s one of the very best beaches on Lanai that you can often have all to yourself.