The Big Island of Hawaii is so big, that you it can fit the rest of the Hawaiian islands within its limits and still have plenty of leftover space. So it’s no wonder this land of contradictions is home to a few awesome beaches, some of the best in Hawaii. I spent three months on the island and in this guide, I’ll share with you the very best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
This extensive list of the best beaches on the Big Island covers the entire coastline of the island so you can choose the ones that can fit into your itinerary. Keep in mind two things:
- Some beaches have facilities (showers, toilets etc.) and lifeguards while others don’t.
- Beaches inside official state or county parks have opening hours so have a look at the signs before entering. Some allow camping.
Map of the Best Big Island Beaches
This map features all the beaches mentioned in this article. Click on the image to open in Google Maps.
Best Kailua-Kona Beaches
Sunny Kailua-Kona is the de facto tourist capital of the Big Island. On both ends of its charming ‘downtown’, there are several pretty beaches, all perfect options for experiencing the magical sunsets of the Big Island.
Kaloko-Honokohau (Sea Turtle Beach)
Miles of gorgeous beaches, radiating sunsets, and guaranteed a sighting of sea turtles. All those plus more are waiting for you at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park and its beach. Located behind the Kona harbor, a trail leads visitors to the beach where the Big Island’s VIP residents – green sea turtles – are likely basking in the gentle sun. The best time to visit is late afternoons, and be sure to keep a safe distance of 20 ft (6m) from the green sea turtles – a protected species in Hawaii.
Old Kona Airport
The Old Kona Airport is now a beautiful beach park. There are jogging tracks, a small garden, lots of parking on the old runway, and fewer visitors than this place deserves. The beach is perfect for a picnic, long walks, watching the sunset, or all of the above. Though swimming isn’t great, the views and glorious sunsets award this beach bonus points. At its northern end, you’ll also find a secluded cove where locals like to fish.
Magic Sands Beach
South of downtown Kailua, this beach gets its name from the winter disappearing act it likes to pull. During these months, the surf strips the beach of much of its fine sand, leaving half of it decorated with exposed lava boulders. Swimming can be rough (and rocky) when the surf is up, but the vibe is excellent, and bodyboarding enthusiasts will have a blast. It’s also a great spot for sunsets or showing your talent off in a round of beach volleyball with the locals. Magic Sands Beach is also close to Da Poke Shack – home to some of the Big Island’s best poke bowls.
Kahaluu Beach Park
Kahaluu Beach Park is popular with families with small children. Thanks to a protective reef, the bay is home to calm and shallow waters that are safe for swimming and offer decent snorkeling if you cannot make it to Two-Step Beach or the Captain Cook Monument. You might even spot green sea turtles with a bit of luck. Chilling on the beach itself, however, is not that pleasant, and I recommend bringing a couple of beach chairs and some shade.
Best North Kona Beaches
The coastline north of Kailua is characterized by barren lava fields running miles inland. But don’t let the desert-like scenery fool you. This is where some of the Big Island’s finest beaches are found. Black sand or white, the choice is up to you. But never forget to look east to catch a glimpse of snow-capped Mauna Kea as you’re wetting your feet in tropical waters!
Part of Kekaha Kai State Park, Makolea Beach is the best black sand beach on the island, in my opinion. Despite not a single palm tree, the beach is a real stunner – a small crescent of fine black sand that slopes into the rough water. Swimming is not advised, but what is recommended is visiting in the afternoon when it’s not too hot, putting your towel down on the gentle sand, and enjoying one of the best naps you’ll ever experience, thanks to the breeze and aquatic symphony. I loved coming to this isolated beach in the late afternoon and simply getting away from it all.
To reach Makolea Beach here, turn west at the southern entrance to the park. You’ll need to drive for about 20 mins on a rough unpaved road, but taking it slowly with a 2WD will do the trick. Once you reach the parking lot at the very end of the road, begin walking south along the coastline on the beautiful lava field. After a further 15 minutes, you’ll see the beach!
Another member of Kekaha Kai State Park, Mahai’ula Beach is, in my opinion, the best beach on the Big Island! It’s that stereotypical tropical beach, a mix of salt and pepper sand, palm trees galore, and beautiful azure waters. And because getting here requires driving on the same rough road as Makolea Beach, the masses seem to overlook this beauty, which means more space for you! Mahai’ula Beach is so pretty, that even sea turtles like to hang out on the shoreline. Its sloping sand is perfect for doing nothing, and there’s plenty of shade for everyone! A further short hike from Mahai’ula will bring you to Makalawena Beach, another Big Island gem.
To get here, follow the same instructions as with Makolea Beach but instead of driving all the way to the parking lot at the end, park the car by the metal chain restricting access to a trail (you can’t miss it as there will be other cars here). Skip over the chain and head to the beach for about 10 minutes over the lava field.
Manini’owali Beach – a.k.a Kua Bay – is one of the most popular beaches on the Kona coast. It’s the northernmost beach in Kekaha Kai State Park and is accessible via a paved road, so parking can be tricky on weekends and holidays. The beach itself is a beautiful cove, a mix of rock and sand meeting the bluest of waters. It’s difficult to find a private spot, but the beauty of the place makes you quickly forget you’re not alone out here. Swimming is a bit rough during winter months, but bodyysurfing conditions are usually perfect!
Home to one of the Big Island’s prettiest black sand beaches, Kiholo Bay is likely the most accessible beach on the Kona Coast for those who seek to get away from it all. From the parking lot (leave nothing inside), several walking paths head south to secluded ponds and north along the black sand beach to a favorite hangout spot for sea turtles. As with Kaloko-Honokohau Beach in Kailua, you are pretty much guaranteed to spot green sea turtles over here, but just make sure to respect the 20f buffer they’re awarded (by law).
As you head north, you’ll pass a massive private mansion before reaching a freshwater channel that leads to a series of lagoons. If you didn’t have luck spotting turtles up until now, your luck is about to change. These cuties love swimming in the channel to their chillout spot nearby so just park it here for a while. If you continue past the pond, you’ll reach a large and barren lava field where you can keep walking for who knows how long.
Despite its location within the Waikoloa resort area, Anaeho’omalu Beach somehow manages to maintain a sense of authenticity. Perhaps it’s the large number of coconut trees flanking one end of the beach, perhaps it’s the ancient fish pond separating it from the concrete, or perhaps it’s the perfect sunset angle and calm waters. Whatever it may be, this is a great beach option if you have young children or want to catch up on your vacation reading list.
Makaiwa Bay (Mauna Lani Beach)
Another pretty stretch of beach overtaken by resorts, this time the Mauna Lani Bay & Bungalows. You don’t actually have to stay at the resort to enjoy the beach, but non-guest parking is very limited, so arrive in the morning hours. The beach is essentially a protected cove. The snorkeling is incredible at about 100 meters from the beach, and there’s a paved path that curves around the bay where you can catch awesome views of Mauna Kea, the island Maui, and the Kohala Coastline. It is off this path that you can also go snorkeling in rocky waters but this can be dangerous if the ocean is choppy.
Waialea Beach (Beach 69)
If you’re looking for a local secret, Beach 69 is for you. The setting is magnificent, and there’s plenty of shade for everyone. This beach is wild and not “sterile” like its siblings on this stretch of North Kona coastline. Swimming is rough in winter months yet the sound of the crashing waves makes up for the inability to swim. During calmer months, there’s decent snorkeling and very good swimming.
Considered one of the best beaches on the Big Island, it’s easy to understand why Hapuna Beach wins the hearts of locals and tourists alike. Its long and wide patch of soft creamy sand melts between your toes and the azure colors of the Pacific invite you to go for a dip. But wait, especially during winter months, the waves can be a bit too rough and the gusts of wind unbearable. However, when the weather is calm, this is a great place for swimming and snorkeling, thanks to a sandy bottom and a rocky cove at its southern end.
Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach)
Officially named Kaunaoa Beach, this famous beach is more commonly known as Mauna Kea, thanks to the top-notch resort it hosts. As in the case of Mauna Lani Beach (see above), access to this beach is possible for nonguests. However, there is a minimal number of parking spaces available. Your best shot of splashing in its calm waters and lying on the soft creamy sand is by getting here in the early morning or late afternoon. Despite the beach’s claim to fame, I didn’t find it all that special. I can see why resort guests would come here, as well as families with children, but if you’re looking for that perfect beach, head elsewhere.
No parking space left at Mauna Kea Beach? No problem! Finding a secluded beach in the heart of ‘Waikoloa resort country’ is no easy task. However, a few minutes by car from Mauna Kea Beach, Mau’umae Beach is as removed from the resort scene as can be. A secluded cove perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and meditating, Mau’umae is a favorite local beach. To get here, enter the gates of the Mauna Kea Resort access road (Mauna Kea Beach Drive) and turn right on Kamahoi Place. Cross the wooden bridges and look for the numbered telephone poles on the left side (seaside). Right after #22, you’ll see a small parking lot to your right and a marked trail to your left!
Best South Kona Beaches
Away from the resorts and deep into the beautiful coastal countryside of the Kona Coast, you’ll find a small handful of worthwhile beaches, two of which are purely for snorkeling.
Captain Cook Monument
In 1779, Captain James Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay and was the first Westerner to land on Hawaiian shores. His encounter with the locals was, at first, a huge success, but a return visit just a few weeks later proved to be disastrous, with the captain losing his life. These days, the hike to Kealakekua Bay and the monument commemorating the site where Cook was killed are among the prettiest spots on the Kona Coast, and the snorkeling is superb. Expect to hike for about 45 minutes down on the Ka’awa Loa Trail and 60-90 minutes to get back up.
Two Step Beach (Honaunau Bay)
After Kealakekua Bay, Two Step Beach is the best place for snorkeling on the Big Island, and it’s a popular spot since it is accessible by car. The beach gets its name from its proximity to the coral garden – take just “two steps” from the shore, and voila, there it is. The snorkeling is not quite as impressive as around the Captain Cook Monument, but it’s still pretty, and you might get lucky on the day you visit. Another bonus is the next-door neighbor, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (a.k.a ‘City of Refuge’).
Ho’okena Beach Park
Ho’okena Beach is one of the most rewarding beaches on the Big Island and a favorite hangout spot for locals, especially on weekends. The setting is magnificent – charcoal-like sand, beautiful surrounding cliffs, and a good chance of spotting spinner dolphins offshore. Swimming can be rough during the winter months (but perfect for bodyboarding), but parking it for the day in the shade of a coconut tree is more than enough. Camping is possible with a permit.
Best Hilo & South Coast Beaches
This vast section of the Big Island has a few interesting beaches, primarily fine black sand beaches. This shouldn’t be a surprise, with the active Kilauea Volcano never too far away!
The Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach)
The most interesting of the Big Island’s beaches, Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach), is out of the way, but if you can make it here, you will not regret it. Located in South Point – the southernmost place in the United States (not counting American Samoa) – the green color is owed to finely eroded sand from volcanic rock. The Green Sand Beach is reached via a scenic and easy coastal hike. Due to the fragile natural environment, driving to Green Sand Beach is not permitted with your own 4WD or with locals who might offer a paid ride to the beach.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Another popular black sand beach, Punalu’u is also a favorite hangout spot for several species of sea turtles. The palm trees all around you add to the feeling of tropical remoteness, and the location en route to Volcanoes National Park makes this a popular stop. Be advised, though, that swimming is often very dangerous.
Kehena Black Sand Beach
A beautiful beach in the scenic and remote Puna Coast, Kehena Beach is ‘hidden’ at the mouth of a cove with plenty of trees to keep everyone out. Parking is very limited, and you’ll need to scramble down a small cliff to land on the beach.
Carlsmith Beach Park (Four Mile Beach)
Known locally as ‘4 Mile Beach’, Carlsmith Beach Park is… just four miles from Downtown Hilo. So, if you’re checking the Big Island’s capital and the weather is nice, check out this pretty little park. The beach offers something for everybody so it can get quite busy on weekends. There’s good snorkeling and safe swimming at one end and surfing and fishing on the other.
Best Northeast Big Island Beaches
Wild, rugged, and tropical – the Big Island’s remote northeast is characterized by a series of deep valleys carving its interior. The beaches here may not be great for swimming, but the scenery is stunning. It’s worth coming here to explore the valleys. The beaches are certainly a big bonus.
Pololu Valley Beach
The northernmost valley on the Kohala Coast, reaching this beach is quite easy on the well-marked trail from the Pololu Valley Overlook. It’s a great spot for a picnic or a snooze, but I wouldn’t recommend going for a dip in its waters, even if the locals do.
Waipio Valley Beach
Waipio Valley is one of the most challenging places to reach on the Big Island. Its beach is accessible via an incredibly steep paved road requiring a proper 4WD or using your legs. It’s worth the effort, though, with exceptional views of one of the prettiest spots in all of Hawaii. The beach is similar to Pololu Valley’s, only much larger and more enclosed between giant cliffs. You can also venture into the valley on several fine hikes or relax on the beach.
This list of the best beaches on the Big Island will undoubtedly keep you busy and wet during your adventure there! Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and hikes, and the must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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