Like all "Best" lists, this one must be taken with a grain of sand. There are hundreds of awesome beach parks and beaches in Hawaii. But, okay, let's assume you are on one of the islands and looking for a place where locals and toursts alike hang out at sunset and all feel happy about having the good sense to be in Hawaii. (Listed from north to south.)
1. Black Pot Beach Park, Hanalei, Kauai: The signature Hanalei Pier (pictured) has been featured in many movies, and this stretch of sand most recently is where George Clooney et. al. took a stroll in "The Descendants." Hanalei Bay has several miles of walkable sand. Surfing and canoeing provide entertainment. The nearby town is the place to pick up a libation and watch the sunset turn into a starry night.
2. Sans Souci Beach, Waikiki, Oahu: In the shadow of iconic Diamond Head and just off the glitz of Wakiki, this small run of powder sand attracts well-healed locals and visitors on a beach stroll. The huge greenspace of Kapiolani Park is right across the street. Chill here, or walk down to catch the nightly hula show at Prince Kuhio Park--in the heart of Waikiki.
3. Baldwin Beach Park, Paia, Maui: This former sugar workers camp is now a magnet for islanders ready to kick back after a long day. Body boarders like the shorebreak in the middle of the bay. Walks include a sandy trudge (pictured) to Baby Baldwin Beach, which features a reef-protected pool that is alway safe for swimming. A rustic trail leads the other direction to uber-funk Paia, where fine dining and good eats await. Baldwin is not far from Hookipa, the windsurfing capital of the world.
4. Bayfront Park, Hilo, the Big Island: A long greenspace with a bandstand in the center lies just across the street from delightfully dilapidated Hilo Town. Canoe clubs stroke the near-shore waters, which are protected from tsunamis and high waves by a huge breakwater far offshore. A short drive or long walk gets you to expansive Liliuokalina Gardens and tiny Moku Ola (Coconut Island). A footbridge arches toward the small island, which sports a ring of palms like a tiara. You look across the bay to Hilo, with the giant volcanos of Mauan Loa and Mauna Kea rising to nearly 14,000 feet inland: Talk about a sense of place.
Good directions to all these beaches are in the Trailblazer Travel Books. Find them on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, powells.com or your favorite indie bookstore.