Molokai Beaches

When was the last time the only footprint on a white sand beach was your own? Or the last time you watched the sun go down on a beach you have all to yourself?

Such is the case with beaches on Molokai, where emptiness, solitude, and fiery sunsets are daily tropical realities. Forget the idea of activity stands or beaches lined with resorts; those are for other, larger islands like Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. Molokai beaches are backed by trees and sand dunes shifting in the wind, and sit at the end of single land roads or bumpy pathways of dirt.

Of the dozens of sandy beaches on Molokai, one of the most popular is Papohaku Beach on the far western end of the island. Nearly three miles long and 100 yards wide, it’s the largest white sand beach on Molokai and home to the island’s best sunsets. Rarely is there a day you’ll be sharing the beach with over a dozen people, and there’s even a campground toward the middle of the beach where you can wake to the sound of the waves. Swimming at Papohaku can be dangerous, however, and a better choice is Kepuhi Beach just a 5-minute drive up the road. Known to Molokai surfers as “Sheraton’s,” Kepuhi Beach fronts the now defunct and former Sheraton resort, and while many of the buildings are now boarded up, the soft white sand and cobalt waters are still open for all to enjoy. Read more

North of Kepuhi, the coast gets wild and is only accessible by foot, but by following a winding coastal trail that hugs the salt soaked rocks, you’ll soon reach beaches like Kawakiu with empty stretches of sand. South of Papohaku, at the end of the road, is local favorite Dixie Maru, or Kapukahehu Beach. This small, protected, white sand cove is calm enough for snorkeling in summer, and offers surfers a right-hand wave on northwestern winter swells. From Kapukahehu there are other beaches accessible by traveling on foot, and it’s arguably one of the best beaches on Molokai for a fun-filled day at the beach.

Because the island’s southern shore is rung by a fringing reef, there aren’t many notable beaches on Molokai along the southern coast. Some exceptions are Puko‘o, on the island’s eastern end, and Hale O Lono out west, as well as One Ali‘i beach on the outskirts of Kaunakakai.

On the eastern shore, two of the most popular beaches on Molokai are Waialua Beach and “Murphy’s”—which is also known as Kumimi Beach and located by the 20-mile marker. These beaches are right where the road begins to narrow for the winding journey toward Halawa, and Waialua offers snorkeling on higher tides and surfing out near the reef. Continuing out toward Halawa Valley is idyllic Sandy Beach, where a small cove that’s protected from the trade winds offers swimming, sunbathing, and occasionally snorkeling on the calmest days of the year. At the end of the long, serpentine road that leads to Halawa Valley, Kawili Beach is the calming spot where the valley meets with the coast, and offers a scenic, sandy perch for photos looking back up the valley.

Because Molokai’s northern coast is home to the world’s tallest sea cliffs, there are few beaches accessible to visitors that don’t require a boat. One exception is Mo‘omomi, where persistent trade winds have created sand dunes that line the isolated shore. This area is a fragile and sacred ecosystem—so all visitors should tread lightly—and stick to established, coastal trails that are accessed via a 4WD road.

Finally, one of Molokai’s most scenic beaches is one of its most remote, and requires obtaining a permit for touring the Kalaupapa Peninsula. With deeply gray sand and a palm-lined coast, Kalaupapa Beach can only be accessed by a 3-mile hike down the mountain, or riding in on the back of a mule down the steep, switch backing trail. The reward for the harrowing journey, however, is strolling down a stretch of sand at the base of near vertical cliffs, which dramatically thrust their way toward the sky and merge right into the clouds.