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The best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii
A list of (almost) all of the beaches on the Big Island. The Big Island of Hawaii may not be famous for beaches like nearby Maui, but don’t think that the Big Island doesn’t have beautiful white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters! Some of my favorite beaches in all of Hawaii are found on the Big Island.
The Big Island (Hawaii Island) is geographically the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, so you won’t find as many expansive white sand beaches here. Still, you’ll find beaches of all types, from newly formed lava rock to green sand and, yes, those white sandy beaches that you picture when you think of Hawaii beaches.
This list of the best beaches on the Big Island will split the Big Island into a few different areas (Kona, Hilo, Kohala, and near Volcanoes National Park) and share some of the best beaches in every area.
If you are wondering where in the world a particular beach is, you can refer back to this map. For our purposes, beaches in Puna will count as “Hilo” beaches. The beaches located in Ka’u will count near Volcanoes National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park category since most people never even hear about the “Ka’u” region, but they do know where Volcanoes National Park is located. Check out the ultimate guide to Volcanoes National Park to plan your visit!
The best way to enjoy the Big Island is by car. There are unique beaches spread out all over Hawaii island, and you’re going to need a car, and preferably a Jeep, to truly enjoy it.
Trust me; you’re going to want a car. I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best prices on rental cars in Hawaii. You don’t have to pay anything to reserve your car (you pay at pickup), and you can cancel any time if you find a better deal.
Where are the best beaches on the Big Island?
The best white sand beaches on the Big Island are found in the Kona region or on the Kohala Coast. In fact, they’re some of the top beaches in the United States. The local town of Hilo and the South Side of the Island have some white sand beaches but mostly unique rocky or black sand beaches.
Also unique to the Big Island and located in the south (Ka’u region) part of the island, Papakolea Beach is one of only four green sand beaches worldwide. It is a 2-mile hike to access the beach, but 100% worth it for this unique adventure.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (sometimes simply called Punalu’u’ Beach), also located in the Ka’u region, is arguably Hawaii’s most famous black sand beach. It is easy to access and right on the way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park if you’re driving from Kona.
Big Island Beach Tips
Before we get to the list of the Big Island beaches, let’s go over some general safety guidelines for beaches on the Big Island.
- Never turn your back on the ocean.
- Beaches may be closed due to hazardous conditions. Always pay attention to warning signs or beach closings.
- The sun in Hawaii is intense! Even if you don’t tend to burn at home, make sure to wear reef-safe sunscreen if you need it.
- It is absolutely not safe to leave valuables in your vehicle. Although Hawaii is quite safe for the most part, vehicle theft can be a problem. Make sure to leave anything valuable at your resort.
- Always clean up after yourself. In fact, pick up some trash while you’re at the beach! Leave it better than you found it.
- Do not take lava rocks or sand. Lava rocks might seem like a great souvenir, but legend says that Madame Pele will curse anyone who takes these items from Hawaii. The elements returning to Hawaii is the only thing that will lift the curse. You might roll your eyes, but the post office sees hundreds of lava rocks, sand, and other materials returned to Hawaii every year! Better safe than cursed, right?!
Don’t forget to also check out the best restaurants on the Big Island. You’ll be hungry after all the beach-hopping!
Beaches in Kona
Now, let’s get into the list of beaches on the Big Island. We’ll start in the most popular area, the home of the Kona International Airport, the Kona region. If you want a place to stay in Kona itself, I recommend the newly renovated Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa. Otherwise, the Kohala area has the best places to stay on the Big Island.
If you’re looking for a white sandy beach, you’ll find plenty of them near Kona! Technically the town is “Kailua-Kona,” and the region is Kona, but most people simply refer to it as “Kona.”
Most visitors to the Big Island stay in the Kona or Kohala areas. If you’re looking for the best places to stay on the Big Island, check out The Best Luxury Resorts Big Island or 7 Best Big Island resorts.
By the way, there are some great Happy Hours in Kona! Maybe you can enjoy happy hour after a long day at one of these Big Island beaches. Or, in some cases, the Happy Hour takes place right on the beach!
Kekaha Kai State Park
I am listing Kekaha Kai State Park #1 on this list of the best beaches on the Big Island. Why? Because this is my blog, and it’s my favorite! It’s a bit of a bumpy road through a lava field to access the main beach, but that means it’s less busy than some of the others.
My husband and I call this “our” beach because we spend so much time here, but don’t worry, it can be your beach too!
This is one of my favorite photos taken with an old iPhone at Mahaiula Beach almost eight years ago. You might think it’s a weird favorite, but I used this photo to create one of my first-ever Pinterest images on this blog’s very first Hawaii post.
This is one of the most beautiful beaches with easy access (as long as you have a car) and white sand.
This blog post did so well; it ultimately is what made me decide to turn this blog into a travel blog (it used to cover many different topics.) Eventually, that turned into being a Hawaii Travel Agent and having a popular Hawaii travel blog. Now you know why it’s my favorite!
Okay, back to Kekaha Kai State Park!
When I think of Kekaha Kai State Park, I think of Mahaiula Beach. However, the state park includes three beaches, Mahaiula Beach, Makalawena Beach, and Kua Bay.
This is the beach you first access when coming into the state park through the lava field. It’s a short walk from the parking lot and, as I said, my favorite! Every time we visit the Big Island, we enjoy our last Hawaii sunset on this beach before our flight leaves later in the evening.
Makalawena is one of the best beaches on the Big Island but can only be accessed by hiking a mile beyond Mahaiula Beach. If you’re up for it, it’s worth the hike! It’s not an easy hike, but you’ll likely find yourself alone or close to it due to the difficulty of getting here!
Kua Bay Beach
Kua Bay (Maniniowali Beach) is the furthest north of the three beaches in Kekaha Kai State Park. It’s easier to access than the other two, so Kua Bay tends to be a lot busier than either Makalawena Beach or Mahaiula Beach. Rather than having to drive across a treacherous lava field, you can access Kua Bay Beach via a paved road.
Facilities include outdoor showers, restrooms, and picnic tables. You’ll find some of the most transparent, bluest water on the Big Island at Kua Bay Beach. This is typically a great swimming beach, but, as always, keep an eye on warning signs.
Kiholo Bay is an excellent beach for swimming and viewing sea turtles. The ecosystem was almost ruined at one point by tourists and locals, but conservation efforts have helped a lot. It is now illegal to drive on the beach, so please follow these rules to keep Kiholo Bay beautiful.
There are also two nearby hikes.
Kukio Beach can be reached via the grounds of the beautiful Four Seasons Hualalai. Don’t worry if you aren’t a guest; beaches in Hawaii are public access. Just don’t trespass to get to them, and you’ll be fine!
There aren’t many shade trees, so bring plenty of reef-safe sunscreen. The water can be a bit murky for snorkeling, and the lava rocks can make watersports difficult unless you know what you’re doing. However, Kukio Beach is a great place to see honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles.)
Kikaua Point Beach
Kikaua Point Beach is adjacent to the previously mentioned Kukio Beach and can be accessed via Kukio Golf Resort. Parking is limited, so make sure to arrive early to avoid limited parking availability. Kikaua Point Beach offers restrooms and showers, but make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.
Thanks to the protected lagoon and calm waters, this is a popular beach for families with small children. The waters are shallow and sandy, perfect for children or those who do not swim well.
Ai’opio Beach is part of the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. The beach is excellent for swimming and popular with families thanks to the shallow ride pools. This is a great spot to learn about Hawaiian history while enjoying your beach day.
Old Kona Airport Beach Park
The Old Kona Airport Beach Park is a beautiful beach park located just outside of Kailua-Kona. As the name implies, this was the location of the old airport from 1940-1970.
The old airport was home to drag races on the old landing strip for years. However, it was converted to a park in 1976. Old Kona Airport Beach Park is open daily from 7 am to 8 pm.
This is an excellent choice if you’re looking for the best sunset beach on the Big Island!
King Kam Beach, or Kamakahonu Beach is located in Kailua-Kona near the Kona Pier. This is an excellent beach for families, and it is right in town. It’s a great place to take a swimming break, and you can rent kayaks and snorkeling gear here. King Kam is small and can get crowded, so it might be worth driving elsewhere if you’re looking for seclusion.
Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
Magic Sands Beach (White Sands Beach)
White Sands Beach is also known as Magic Sands Beach because the sand disappears during rough surf. The magic part? It always comes back! This beach offers lifeguards on duty, showers, and restrooms.
Kahalu’u Beach Park
Although it’s really grey, this is another black sand (although it’s really grey) that is popular for surf lessons and snorkeling. An offshore reef makes it one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island. There are also restrooms and shower facilities, and the vicinity to Kona makes it a convenient beach to visit, especially if you love to snorkel!
Ho’okena Beach Park
Ho’okena Beach is a historical site and home to one of the last Hawaiian fishing villages. This beach has greyish sand (much like Pololu Valley and Kahalu’u Beach Park) and offers restroom and shower facilities.
Kealakekua Bay Park & Manini Beach
If you’ve ever been on my blog before, you know how much I love Kealakekua Bay. You can kayak here, snorkel, take a boat tour, and there are almost always dolphins! I’ve been to Kealakekua Bay many times and have only not seen dolphins once.
Kealakekua Bay also has two small beaches. They are certainly not the best beaches on the Big Island, but are a good place to view the sunset if you’re in the area. Manini Beach has some sand but Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park is much rockier.
There is a challenging hike Ka’awaloa Trail, nearby if you’re feeling up to it! One of the best things to do in Hawaii is a sail and snorkel tour of Kealaekua Bay. A guided kayaking tour of Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument is another fun option.
I personally enjoy both the boat trip and kayaking the bay. If you’re not up for snorkeling or kayaking, Body Glove has a fascinating historical dinner cruise of Kealakekua Bay.
Beaches in Hilo
You won’t find the vast, white sandy beaches in Hilo that you’ll find in Kona or the Kohala coast, but Hilo has some unique beaches nonetheless.
Clients often ask me if they should spend part of their time on the Big Island in Hilo. I generally say no, because although the Big Island is Big, it’s not that big. Hilo is not a tourist town, and although there are things to do in Hilo, you likely won’t spend all your time here.
Carlsmith Beach Park
Carlsmith Beach Park is a great place to spot Honu, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. This beach is one of the few with white sand on the Hilo side and is popular for swimming, snorkeling, and fishing. This is the perfect beach to visit in Hilo.
Onekahakaha Beach Park
This is a family-friendly beach park with wading pools and picnic areas. It’s a great place for beginner snorkelers to practice thanks to the wading pools. This is another popular local beach so it can get busy on the weekends.
Coconut Island is a small island in Hilo bay with mostly rocky shorelines from the volcano rocks but some soft white sand. This is another popular spot for locals, as are most of the beaches in Hilo. So make sure to arrive early on weekends to ensure a parking spot!
Richardson beach park
Richardson Beach Park is the closest black sand beach to Hilo and a great place to snorkel. The beach is protected, making it a great option for families. This beach has a lifeguard and restroom and shower facilities.
Wai’olena Beach Park
This beach park has rocky shorelines and no traditional beach, but it is a great spot to picnic. Swimming is not advised.
Beaches near Kohala
The beaches in the Kohala area are some of the most beautiful on the Big Island. From the large Hāpuna Beach to the black sand beaches of the valleys on the North Shore, there are Kohala Beaches of all shapes and sizes.
Waipi’o Valley beach
Waipio Valley feels otherworldly and is one of the most beautiful places on the Big Island. The trail to the black sand beach is public, but please remember that most of the valley is private property. It is not okay to go wherever you’d like, no matter what someone on Instagram or YouTube says.
While this gorgeous black sand beach is worth visiting, it’s not a great beach for snorkeling or swimming and has none of the beach amenities of some of the other beaches on this list.
Most cars can not make it down into the valley. If you have a 4-wheel drive, check your rental agreement before attempting the drive. Otherwise, you can take a guided tour of Waipio Valley.
Pololu Valley beach
There are 7 valleys of the Kohala Volcano, but only two that are easily accessible – Pololu Valley, and the before-mentioned Waipio Valley. These valleys were formed when the Kohala Volcano last erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Black sand (but almost more of a grey) found via a short hike down to Pololu Valley. If you’re heading to Pololu Valley, go early as parking is very limited. Even if you don’t take the short (but steep) hike into the valley, it’s worth the drive just to see the overlook!
The hike is just over half a mile, but it will take 15-20 minutes
Kapa’a Beach Park
This small, quiet, rocky, beach park is not the most popular beach on the Big Island but it is perfect for those wanting seclusion. It is not a great beach for swimming but is popular with local fisherman in the summer.
Beach 69 (Waialea Bay Beach)
Waialea Bay Beach (more commonly known as Beach 69) is one of the most popular beaches on the Big Island. It is called Beach 69 due to number 69 utility pole next to the parking area. Beach 69 is located just south of the popular Hapuna Beach and has 35 acres as a designated Marine Life Conservation District.
Like many of the other beaches in the Kohala area, Beach 69 offers plenty of shade from trees and some great snorkeling. You will often find dolphins near Beach 69 as well as humpback whales in the winter months.
For the calmest and clearest swimming and snorkeling conditions, visit Beach 69 in the morning. Facilities include showers, restrooms, and a few picnic tables.
Located in front of Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and also called “A-Bay” Anaeho’omalu Beach is protected by a reef that creates calm waters perfect for families. The salt and pepper colored sand is unique and beautiful.
If you are staying at the Hilton Waikoloa and surprised that there is no beach, this is the closest sandy beach.
Mahukona Beach Park
Mahukona Beach Park is another great snorkeling spot on the Big Island. Yes, the Big Island has lots of great snorkeling. Maybe that should be my next blog post. Let me know in the comments below if you think that’s a good idea.
This beach park abandoned commercial harbor run by the Kohala Sugar Company that closed in the 1950s. There are several actifacts to the old mill – both overwater and under. If you’re looking for a unique place to snorkel, this is a good one.
Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park
Spencer Beach Park is the northernmost of the white sandy beaches on the Big Island. A long shallow reef directly offshore and the extensive harbor landfill to the north provide good protection from the prevailing winds and offshore waves. It’s an excellent beach for swimming and snorkeling.
This is a very popular beach park thanks to abundant amenities. Facilities include restrooms, picnic tables, showers, tennis courts, a camping area, and a lifeguard tower.
Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea beach)
Kaunaoa Beach is more commonly known as Mauna Kea Beach as it sits in front of the beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Mauna Kea Beach is arguably the prettiest beach on the Big Island.
If you book a Manta Ray diving tour, you’ll likely find yourself at Mauna Kea Beach! The hotel turns floodlights on over the water at night which attracts plankton. The plankton attract the manta rays. This is a Big Island exclusive activity and I recommend it to all of my clients.
Hapuna Beach is the largest and easily one of the best white sand beaches on the Big Island. It is open daily from 7AM-8PM and parking is $5 per car.
This beach regularly makes “best beaches in Hawaii” lists as well as some international lists for best beaches! Hapuna Beach is excellent for swimming, snorkeling, and bodyboarding. Amenities include restrooms, showers, vendors, and picnic areas.
If you’re planning a Big Island vacation, don’t miss Hapuna Beach as it’s one of the best beaches on the Big Island and very easy to access!
Beaches near Volcanoes National Park:
You won’t find the big white sandy beaches near Volcanoes National Park, but you will find two uniquely colored beaches nearby. Either of these beaches would be a good stop on the way to or from Volcanos National Park. However, keep in mind. that visiting the green sand beach is an event that takes several hours.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Often called simply “green sand beach” Papa, access to Papakolea Beach can be challenging. However, it’s totally worth it once to see this one-in-a-lifetime beach. It’s about 2-mile hike in. Do not drive it, no matter what anyone says!
The land between the parking area and beach is both fragile and culturally significant. I have had many tourists tell me that they drove it (or paid someone to drive them) and everything was fine. It’s not fine!! This is why tourists get a bad reputation in Hawaii. Check out 20 things you should never do in Hawaii to learn more on how to do be “that” tourist.
Papakolea is a must-see but has no facilities or shade, so make sure to bring anything that you might need including plenty of reef-safe sunscreen. If you’re wondering why I talk about reef-safe sunscreen so much, it’s very important. You can check out where to find reef-safe sunscreen and why it matters to learn more.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach FAQs:
Why is the beach green? Papakolea Green Sand Beach is green thanks to the olivine crystals in lava rock.
Where are the other green sand beaches located? As I mentioned earlier, there are only four green sand beaches in the entire world! They are Talofofo Beach on Guam, Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island in the Galapagos Islands., Hornindalsvatnet in Norway, and of course, Papakōlea beach on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
There are several black sand beaches on the Big Island, but Punalu’u is by far the most popular as well as being one of the most accessible. I talk about Punalu’u Black sand beach in my post about where to find sea turtles on the Big Island. It’s one of the best places to spot honu sunning themselves.
Located between the towns of Pahala and Naalehu in Kau, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a great stop on the way to Volcanoes National Park. Although it’s not a great beach for swimming, it’s a must see thanks to the beautiful black sand and turtles.
There are also restroom facilities and picnic tables. If you have any interest in learning more fun facts about black sand beaches, check out my post sharing the black sand beaches in Maui. It’s an interesting read even if you have no plans to visit Maui!
The best beaches on the Big Island
When I started to write this, I realized I hadn’t written a Big Island-specific blog post in almost a year. Well, I am going to have to change that! The Big Island and Kauai are my favorite islands and I can’t believe I let a year go by without featuring things to see or do on the Big Island.
If you’re planning a Big Island vacation, don’t worry, I have plenty of other posts with things to do on the Big Island.
More Big Island Travel Tips:
- The 10 best tours on the Big Island
- The Best Luxury Resorts Big Island
- 4-day Big Island Itinerary
- The 7 Best Things to do on the Big Island
- The Best Happy Hours in Kona
- 7 day Big Island Itinerary
- 25 best things to do in Kona
- 20 things to do in Hilo
Want to let a professional take over planning your Hawaii vacation? In addition to sharing lots of information on this blog, that’s what I do for a living! I am a Hawaii Travel Agent but I only take on a select number of clients per month. If you are interesting in planning your Hawaii vacation with me, check out my contact page for more information.
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