The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii Beaches: 20 Dos and Don’ts

Are you hoping to visit some of the best Hawaii beaches? Well, we’ve got some tips. Here are a few dos and don’ts for your beach days – from a Hawaii local.

Hawaii beaches with palm trees and tidepools

As you can imagine, Hawaii’s beaches are some of the biggest draws to the islands. After all, with golden sunshine, swaying palm trees, and bright blue water, Hawaii’s shorelines are fit for any postcard!

To make your Hawaii beach visit even better, there are a few tips that you’ll want to keep in mind. From wearing reef-safe sunscreen to monitoring the ocean conditions, here are some Hawaii beach dos and don’ts.

General Hawaii Beaches Dos and Don’ts

First, let’s start with the basic dos and don’ts. Overall, these tips are the ones you’ll want to remember the ones you’ll want to remember the most as you enjoy your Hawaii beach days.

beautiful black sand beach dotted with tall palm trees Hawaii beaches

Do Research the Specific Hawaii Beaches Before Heading Out

If there’s just one tip that I hope everyone reading this follows, it’s to research the beach you’re visiting beforehand. First, you can find out about all of the fun stuff – is it known for turtles? Surfing? Snorkeling? Second, you can learn about the essentials, like if there’s a bathroom and parking lot.

But most importantly, you can learn about safety things. Find out if there’s a lifeguard to keep an eye out or if there are riptides, big waves, and sharp rocks to watch out for.

Do Explore More than Just the Well-Known Hawaii Beaches

We all know about Waikiki Beach. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool spot when it’s not busy. But there are literally hundreds – if not, thousands – of other beaches in Hawaii. And often times, the lesser-known ones are the hidden gems.

I know sorting through all of the beaches can be a little daunting, so you can start with a few of our favorites. Spot some turtles at Laniakea Beach, go for a swim at Kailua Beach, suntan the day away at Kua Bay, or take your pick of the many black sand beaches in the islands.

No swimming warning sign in front of Hawaii beach with large waves

Do Listen to Warning Signs

I know this seems like a self-explanatory “do,” but you’d be shocked by the number of times I’ve seen visitors completely ignoring the warning signs. Whether it’s for strong rip currents or stinging jellyfish, the warning signs on Hawaii beaches will help keep you safe and sound.

On a similar note, when the waves get VERY large (usually on the north shores of the islands in the winter), there will be caution tape put up to prevent people from going to the beach. Please don’t duck under the caution tape! The big waves can crash onto the shore pretty suddenly, and that’s just not a safe situation to be in.

Do Listen to the Locals’ Advice

Like the warning signs, listening to advice from Hawaii locals is usually a good idea. After all, there’s a good chance that the locals know that particular beach inside and out (we all have our favorite spots), so they know which areas are safe and which ones aren’t.

Do Pick Up Any Trash You May See

While many of these Hawaii beaches dos and don’ts focus on your safety, a few also help you keep the beach beautiful for years to come. For example, if you see any trash on the beach, pick it up and dispose of it properly. Please and thank you!

woman lying on beach towel in turquoise swimsuit Hawaii beaches

Don’t Leave Valuables in Your Car

Now, we’re onto the don’ts. First and foremost, do NOT leave valuables in your car while you’re at the beach!

While there are a couple of exceptions, petty theft is quite common at beaches in Hawaii. So if you leave something that looks valuable – especially if it looks like it’s in a rental car – it’s very possible that your car will be broken into and that your valuables will be stolen.

Simply put, leave the jewelry, laptops, and cameras at home, if possible.

Don’t Take Loads of Rocks and Shells

According to a Hawaiian legend, if you take a lava rock from Hawaii, Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, will put a curse on you. As a matter of fact, hundreds of people have sent back the lava rocks – and coral, sand, and shells – that they’ve taken, asking postal workers to return them to where they belong!

Regardless of whether you believe in Pele’s curse or not, it’s still important that you don’t take any shells, coral, sand, or lava rock from Hawaii beaches. If everyone took just a little bit of sand or a handful of shells, there would be none left – especially considering the fat that Hawaii gets ten million visitors every single year.

Colorful purple, red, orange, and yellow sunset at Ko Olina lagoon Hawaii beaches

Don’t Miss the Sunset

Let’s be real. Hawaii beaches are absolutely stunning at any time of day. But sunset is my absolute favorite. With the bright, bold colors painting the sky and the sun setting right into the ocean, it’s picture-perfect.

As for where to go, here’s my article on the best places to catch the sunset on Oahu, Hawaii.

Ocean Dos and Don’ts

While you don’t have to get in the ocean to enjoy your Hawaii beach day, many people like to – including me! That said, the ocean can be dangerous, so these Hawaii beach dos and don’ts are ones you’ll want to keep in mind.

close up of large blue wave

Do Monitor the Ocean Conditions

First of all, you’ll want to be prepared before entering the ocean by monitoring the ocean conditions. Do the waves look like they’re getting bigger? Does the tide look like it’s getting higher? Does the current look particularly strong?

While identifying these factors can be difficult to do at first, there are many sites dedicated to monitoring Hawaii’s ocean conditions, like Surfline and Hawaii Tides.

Do Research the Tide and Wave Size Ahead of Time

On a similar note, it may be a good idea to research the tide and wave size ahead of time. After all, it wouldn’t be great if you showed up to the North Shore for a peaceful day on the beach, only to find out there are 30-foot waves and there’s really no sand to sit on. Or if you wanted to search for shells but missed low tide several hours before.

calm Hawaii beach during sunrise

Do Stay a Safe Distance from the Edge of Rocky Cliffs

Whenever I see visitors standing too close to the edge of rocky cliffs, it makes me SO nervous. (I’m thinking of Laie Point, in particular.) All it takes is one slightly larger wave to knock someone off balance. So please stay safe and stay a safe distance from the edge of rocky cliffs.

Don’t Overestimate Your Swimming Skills

This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see visitors making at Hawaii beaches. They’ll try to swim in large waves or against strong currents, even when that’d be tough for the most talented of swimmers.

Instead, honestly evaluate your swimming skills and make decisions from there. If you can swim, but you’re not that strong of a swimmer, stick to calm bays (which are protected from the biggest waves) with lifeguards. (Oahu’s Hanauma Bay or Kauai’s Hanalei Bay, anyone?) After all, staying safe is the most important thing.

spiny orange coral in deep blue water

Don’t Step on the Coral

Coral is one of the most important aspects of any saltwater ecosystem – and did you know that it’s actually an animal? Or more accurately, each branch of coral is made of thousands of tiny animals called polyps.

When you step on the coral, you can harm these polyps and consequently the rest of the underwater environment. After all, there are loads of fish, crabs, sponges, sea urchins, and more that make their homes inside the coral.

To avoid all of this damage, try to swim over coral instead of stepping on it. With a couple of extra seconds of searching, you’ll likely find a patch of sand to land on instead.

Don’t Ignore the Power of the Ocean

In every single one of my “mistakes to avoid in Hawaii” articles, I talk about how I see people ignoring the power of the ocean all the time – and how that’s so dangerous! While the ocean is beautiful, it’s also powerful.

While I can’t cover every ocean safety tip out there, I’ve already covered quite a few on this list. Watch the tide, avoid large waves, research rip currents in advance, and don’t overestimate your swimming abilities, just to start.

Animals Dos and Don’t

Hawaii beaches are home to all sorts of animals. Monk seals, turtles, and dolphins are just the beginning! But for their safety and yours, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Hawaiian honu diving in turquoise water at Hawaii beaches

Do Learn About the Animals that You Might See on Hawaii Beaches

The best way to appreciate Hawaii’s incredible animals is by learning about them in advance! While there’s a lot of information online, the Hawaii’s Animals and Wildlife book is also a fantastic resource.

Don’t Bother the Animals

If you’re lucky enough to see these animals in person – whether it be on the shore or in the water – be sure to give them their space! Many visitors try to feed, pet, or even sit on these WILD animals, which is all-around unsafe. Instead, simply enjoy these stunning creatures from a distance.

Empty conch shell on golden sand beach

Don’t Take Shells with Live Animals

I know we already talked about not taking shells or sand in general, but odds are you’re going to want to take at least a shell or two home with you. If that’s the case, be sure to check inside the shell for an animal living inside.

If you take the shell and the animal out of the water for too long, it’ll die. That’s obviously terrible for the animal, but it’s also not great for you, because your suitcase, hotel room, and home will smell like dead fish.

Clothing & Equipment Dos and Don’ts

Last but not least, let’s talk about the dos and don’ts of your beach gear. While there aren’t that many tips in this section, they’re all relatively simple and easy-to-implement.

woman holding a tin of reef safe sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Little Hands Hawaii

Do Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen

I’ve written quite a bit about reef-safe sunscreen. I’ve interviewed a local reef-safe sunscreen maker, I’ve compiled a list of the best Hawaii sunscreen brands, and I mention reef-safe sunscreen just about everywhere I can. After all, it’s an easy swap that’s better for you and the environment.

If you’re looking for one specific reef-safe sunscreen recommendation, Little Hands Hawaii (also on Amazon) is my go-to. Using all of the best quality ingredients – including non-nano zinc oxide – Little Hands Hawaii’s reef-safe sunscreen comes in a variety of shades, so it doesn’t leave that white film that reef-safe sunscreen sometimes does.

Use the code BORDERS15 on the Little Hands Hawaii website to get 15% off your order!

woman in salmon colored bikini and papale at one of the Hawaii beaches
Photo Courtesy of Sundaze Bikinis

Do Wear High-Quality Swimwear

Another way to help the ocean stay happy and healthy is by wearing high-quality swimwear. When any type of clothing is made with higher quality fabrics, fewer microplastics will fall off and make their way into the ocean when compared to clothing made with lower quality fabrics.

I’ll be the first to admit that high-quality swimwear is often more expensive than your typical big box store bikini, and so this tip might not be doable for everyone. That said, my favorite brand, Sundaze Bikinis can be quite affordable.

Locally made in Hawaii, Sundaze Bikinis offers some great sales if you keep an eye out. I’ve gotten bikinis SETS – a.k.a. the top and the bottom – for under $20, plus tax. And on top of that, the suits are sustainably made from recycled ocean plastic, so it’s a win-win!

Use the code BORDERS15 on the Sundaze Bikinis website to get 15% off your order!

If Sundaze Bikinis isn’t for you, I have loads of other fantastic Hawaii swimwear brands for you to take a peek at as well.

man swimming underwater with snorkel and mask on

Do Bring the Proper Equipment for Whatever Hawaii Beach Activity You Have in Mind

And the last “do” (or “don’t”) of Hawaii beaches is do bring the proper equipment for your beach day! If you’re going to snorkel, make sure you have a mask and snorkel (and potentially fins). If you want to kayak, get yourself a kayak, a paddle, and maybe a lifejacket. After all, you want to be prepared for your beach adventure!

Luckily, there tend to be a lot of beach gear rental spots dotted around the island, so you don’t have to pack all of that gear into your suitcase. In other words, it’s pretty easy to be well-equipped!

And there you have it! A bunch of the best Hawaii beaches dos and don’ts! Hopefully these tips help you stay safe out there, while also protecting the environment.

Want to remember all of these fantastic Hawaii beach tips? Pin this article for later!

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