The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, located on the southeastern coast of Oahu, has earned the top spot on Dr. Beach’s 26th annual rankings of America’s best beaches.
Compiled each year by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, the top 10 list is based on a ranking system of 50 criteria, including water and sand quality as well as safety and management.
This year, the Hanauma Bay, which fronts Oahu’s most popular coral reef snorkeling site, beat out second-place finisher Siesta Beach in Florida and third-place Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui.
Describing Hanauma Bay as a “white-sand coral beach enclosed in a breached volcano,” Leatherman said that travellers looking to avoid driving out to the attraction might consider taking the Waikiki Beach Shuttle.
“The marine protected area, which has the best accessible snorkeling in Hawaii, is closed on Tuesdays to give the fish a chance to rest,” Leatherman also said of Hanauma. “In fact, this became the first no-smoking beach in Hawaii because of the necessity to protect the thousands of beautifully colored tropical fish.”
Snorkelers will also find a diverse collection of marine life, and possibly even a Hawaiian green sea turtle, at Kapalua Bay on the west coast of Maui.
“Kapalua is a perfect beach for swimming and snorkeling in the clear, azure waters that are protected by two headlands, formed long ago by lava, flows into the sea,” Leatherman said. “The fine, coral sand beach slopes gradually into the deeper water where the rocky bottom is punctuated with corals that attract vividly colored tropical fish.”
Visitors keen to spend time at either Hanauma Bay on Oahu or Maui’s Kapalua Bay should consider arriving early. Parking at both destinations can fill up quickly, and for those hoping to snorkel, water conditions are often best in the morning, before the wind picks up.
And while there are no hotel or resort options in close proximity to Hanauma Bay, travellers can stay at the Montage Kapalua Bay, a condo property which offers rooms overlooking the stunning west Maui bay and is located just a couple of minutes walk from the beach.