Best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii

Island hopping in Hawaii is such an amazing experience! There’s so much to discover and explore, especially on the action-packed Big Island. In our opinion, this is the best Hawaiian island for families and other travelers looking to explore the real Hawaii. With so many outdoor activities to choose from – mesmerizing waterfalls, spectacular hikes and so much more – one would almost forget to just unwind and do nothing for a change. And what better place to relax on a tropical island than at the beach? Feeling the soft sand between your toes while listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean. Here are the best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, most of which we’ve personally visited.

At the end of this article, you’ll find a map indicating all of the Big Island beaches mentioned in this article, with an icon that indicates which ones are perfect for snorkeling, relaxing family-fun or turtle-spotting.


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Most dreamy beaches on the Big Island

Just so you know: all Hawaiian beaches are public to the high-water line. So, even though a beach may be located in front of a resort, you’re always allowed to partly access it.

Punalu’u beach

Punalu’u beach is the widest and most famous black sand beach on the Big Island. It’s located on the island’s south coast, near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Since it’s featured in just about every Hawaii travel guide, this beautiful beach attracts many tourists.

This was the first black sand beach we’d ever been to and we loved the deep dark sparkles at the waterline. The black sand can get pretty hot since it absorbs more heat than white sand. That’s also why black sand beaches attract honu who love basking in the sun on the warm black sand.
The current at Punanlu’u beach is strong and makes it unsuited for swimming and snorkeling.

Some tips:

  • To reach this Big Island beach, exit Hwy 11 towards between mile markers 56 and 57 to Punanlu’u Road. At the end of this paved street, you’ll find a small parking lot, under the palm trees.
  • Picnic tables and restrooms are available, lifeguards are present.
  • Looking to stay near this gorgeous Big Island beach? Then check out this villa.
    The wider is home to some of the most amazing vacation rentals, from enchanting cabins in the woods to full-fledged treehouses. We’ve included them in our personal selection of dreamy Hawaiian Airbnbs.

Papakōlea beach

Papakolea green is one of the best beaches on the Big Island Hawaii

One of the most unique beaches in Hawaii is Papakolea beach, it’s even one of only four green sand beaches in the world. This green sand beach is located at the southern tip of Big Island which is also the southernmost point in the 50 states. Papakolea beach is a hidden gem, quite literally, located inside the remains of a volcano crater that was breached and eroded by the waves.

The green sand gets its color from the olivine in the rocks. Olivine is a mineral that forms when molten lava solidifies, it crystallises from magma. The fragmented green crystals form this amazing green sand.

Some tips:

  • Reaching this unique beach on Big Island does require some effort. following Highway 11 of the Hawaii Belt Road and taking the exit in between mile markers 69 and 70. Follow the meandering one-lane paved South Point Road, pass the wind farms and turn left where the road forks to reach the parking lot.
  • No restrooms, no showers and no lifeguard.
  • That’s where the journey to this magnificent Big Island beach begins. Check out our article on Papakolea green sand beach for more details.
  • Looking to stay near this gorgeous Big Island beach? Then check out the the Kalaekilohana Inn and Retreat. Just check out the glowing reviews.

Hapuna beach

Hapuna beach is one of the most popular white sand beaches on Big Island Hawaii

Hapuna Beach State Park is the most popular white sand beach and one where we spent several days. It’s ideal for boogie-boarding (yep, that’s me on the photo) and one of the best snorkeling spots on Big Island. We also spotted several turtles when we were swimming here. The water at Hapuna Beach Big Island is crystal clear and warm and the sand powdery and soft.

Some tips:

  • There’s ample parking available for a small fee but the lot fills up quite quickly.
  • One thing that’s lacking in Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is shade so bring a beach tent, like we did.
  • Looking to stay near this gorgeous Big Island beach? The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort offers guests a prime beach location. Or check out this amazing villa.

Manini’owali beach (a.k.a. Kua Bay beach)

The Kekaha Kai beaches are said to be the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island
Source: Heather Morse – Unsplash

Kekaha Kai State Park features some of the best beaches of Hawaii Island, all of which are picture-perfect but rather secluded. Black lava fields give way to these white sand beaches, creating a beautiful contrast with the azure ocean. The most popular beach in Kekaha Kai State Park, located on the northern end, is Manini’owali beach mostly referred to as Kua Bay beach.

Its fine white sand dotted with lava rocks makes it one of the most popular beaches along the Kona coast. The crystal-clear waters are perfect for snorkeling, bodysurfing and swimming (except when the surf is high).

Some tips:

  • Kua Bay beach can be reached via the Kekaha Kai State Park’s paved north entrance. Take the Highway 19 exit in between mile markers 88 and 89, opposite the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery. The park entrance is located at the end of this paved road.
  • There’s no shade on Kua beach.
  • Two other gorgeous beaches in Kekaha Kai are Mahai’ula beach (very idyllic but not ideal for swimming) and Makalawena beach (it takes a hike to get here). To reach both these beaches, you’ll need to take the park’s unpaved south entrance but not all car rental companies allow you to drive here. This will also be closed at some point in the evening (probably by 7 p.m.), so make sure to check the sign at the entrance of the road.
  • The closest accommodation to some of the best beaches in the Big Island is the Four Seasons Hualalai resort. You’ll also find some incredibly luxurious villas dotting the site.

Kauna’oa Beach (a.k.a. Mauna Kea beach)

Mauna Kea beach is one of the Big Island best beaches for families

Another solid option is the Kauna’oa beach in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (Autograph Collection) just a few miles up north. The same superb quality of sand as Hapuna beach and again, great for bodysurfing. This one is more convenient for families with small kids, thanks to the facilities at the Mauna Kea hotel.

Some tips:

  • To reach this beach, exit Highway 19 north at mile marker 68. There’s public access to the beach but there’s no public parking. The Mauna Kea Beach hotel reserves a dozen of parking spots for day trippers, so arriving early is recommended in order to receive a public day pass.
  • Looking to stay in a villa rather than a room on the resort grounds near this gorgeous Big Island beach? Then check out this fabulous villa.

Pohoiki beach

One of the newest beaches on Big Island is Pohoiki black sand beach

We were in Hawaii just two weeks before the eruption of the Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As a result of this major event, some landscapes changed drastically. The lava flow didn’t just bring destruction but also new life. In Isaac Hale Beach Park, an entire new black sand beach arose. Before the lava disaster, Pohoiki beach was all rock and had no sand. Now it’s a soft black sand beach, fringed with waving palm trees. And since the sun hasn’t had a chance to fade it, the black color is still very intense. For now, the sand still consists of different textures, from fine grains to small rocks, but over time those will be ground to even finer sand.

Some tips:

  • Getting to Pohoiki black sand beach is easy: Just follow Highway 130 to the end of the road before turning left onto Highway 137.
  • Looking to stay near this Big Island beach? Then check out this eco-friendly waterfront home.

Carlsmith beach park (a.k.a. Four Miles beach)

The lagune at Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo Hawaii is one of the most unique beaches on the Big Island

During our stay in Hilo, we got a tip from a local to check out Carlsmith beach park where we could see turtles. Four Miles beach is not an actual sandy beach but a picturesque lagoon with various shades of blue fringed by black lava rock and a lawn of waving palmtrees. The water in the lagoon is only knee-high in the areas closest to shore, which makes it perfect to spot honu.

Kids love it here, since it almost seems like a natural swimming pool. And when you head a bit further towards the reef and ocean, you’ve reached a superb snorkeling spot. The water temperature at Carlsmith is influenced by fresh water sources.

Some tips:

  • To reach this Big Island beach from downtown Hilo, take Kalanianaole at Naniloa and follow it for about 2,5 mi (4 km). You’ll see a parking lot at the side of the street and, at least when we were there, many cars parked along the road as well.
  • Restrooms and showers are available.
  • The lava rocks can be quite sharp so we’d recommend adding water shoes to your packing list.
  • Looking to stay near this beach in Kona? Then check out this dreamy appartment with its floating bed.

Magic Sands beach (a.k.a. White Sands beach)

Magic Sands beach is one of the only sandy Kona beaches near downtown Kailua-Kona

Magic Sands Beach is located south of downtown Kailua-Kona. It’s one of the few sandy beaches south of the city, making it a very popular option with both locals and visitors. The beach is also known as White Sands beach of Disappearing Sands beach because of the strong current that can wash away the sand and leave the black lava rock exposed. So, the white sand is actually just a thinnish layer, making the beach less comfortable than a full sandy beach.

The potentially strong current also means that swimming and boogie-boarding can be treacherous, especially during the winter months. A lack of white sand is a tell-tale sign for the current. When in doubt, check with the lifeguard which is always present during the day.

Some tips:

  • To reach this Big Island beach, you’ll find Magic Sand beach aling Ali’i Drive, just north of the 4 mile marker, along La’aloa Bay. The name La’aloa translates as very sacred, referring to the archeological sites in this area such as the ruins of the Hawaiian Haukalua Heiau temple.
  • Restrooms and showers are available.
  • Looking to stay near what is one of the best beaches in Kona? Then check out the amazing Holualoa Inn boutique hotel, one of the best-kept secrets on the island, this stylish guesthouse or this bright master suite.

Kika’ua Point Beach

This beach is located north of Kekaha Kai State Park and south of Kukio Beach. It’s one of the best Kona beaches for families with smaller kids because thanks to its protected lagoon and shallow waters. There’s only a thin layer of sand over the lava rocks, so it’s not the softest sandy beach but it does offer plenty of shade.

Some tips:

  • To reach this Hawaii Big Island beach from Highway 19, take the exit in between mile markers 87 and 88 and then immediately make a left. We had to pass a gate before reaching it and got in thanks to a vehicle in front of us. There are just a few parking spots at Kika’ua Point Beach Park.
  • Once you parked the car, you take this long, beautiful winding path to the beach. Do not touch the lava rocks along that path since this is a sacred site for native Hawaiians.

Kiholo Bay beach

Kiholo Bay is one of the most unique lagoon beaches on Big Island
Source: Heather Morse – Unsplash

This magnificent bay, part of the Kiholo State Park Reserve, counts as one of the most unique beaches on the Big Island. Dark lava rocks topped with palms fringe an azure lagoon consisting of a mix of salt and fresh water. A small lava island can be found in the heart of the lagoon.

Bordered by Wainanali’i Pond in the north and Luahinewai Pond in the south – both located on private lands – Kiholo Bay was once a royal site. It’s now a safe haven for Hawaiian green turtles and other fascinating wildlife.

Some tips:

  • Kiholo Bay is accessible from Highway 19, by taking the exit after mile marker 83, right before mile marker 82. It’s poorly indicated by a small lantern pole at the corner of a small road. The southern tip of the bay is located about 1 mile (1.6 km) down the road. From there, you’ll need to walk for another good mile to reach the lagoon.
  • There’s also a lookout point at Highway 19, right behind mile marker 82, driving towards marker 81.
  • Looking to stay near this Big Island beach? Then check out this exclusive oceanfront villa.

ʻAnaehoʻomalu beach (a.k.a. A-bay)

A-bay beach is one of the best beaches in Hawaii Island to watch the sunset
Capture the romance on one of the best sunset beaches on Big Island Hawaii

Although located next to one of the most touristic places on Hawaii Island, this is one of the most scenic beaches on the Big Island. It’s also a prime sunset beach. Apart from the powdery sand dotted with tide pools and the waving palm trees, there’s plenty to explore near this beach.

The site is actually a former fishing village and two of the historic royal fishponds still exist. Look closely and you’ll even find petroglyphs in the lava rocks.

Some tips:

  • To reach this Big Island beach, take the Highway 19 exit at the Queen’s Shops, follow Waikoloa Beach Drive and then turn left onto Ku’uali’i Place to reach the parking.
  • The beach is actually located behind the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and just south of Waikoloa beach.
  • Showers and restrooms are available.
  • Note that the gates to this beach will be close at 8 p.m.
  • Looking to stay in a house near this Big Island beach rather than in a hotel? Then check out this gorgeous beachfront villa.

Pink sand beach?

The beaches of the Big Island come in different shades, but if you’re looking for the illusive Pink Sand Beach on Big Island then we’ll have to disappoint you. There’s no such thing in Hawaii!

Car rental Hawaii family vacation

Beaches of the Big Island by interest

  • Best beaches on the Big Island for snorkeling: Manini’owali beach (Kua Bay beach), Kealakekua beach and Pae’a beach (Two Step beach).
  • Big Island beaches best for swimming: Manini’owali beach (Kua Bay beach) and Hapuna beach.
  • Best beaches on the Big Island to see turtles: Mahai’ula beach, Carlsmith beach (Four Miles beach), Punalu’u beach, Pohoiki beach and Kiholo Bay beach.
  • Best Big Island beaches: Kika’ua Point beach and Kauna’oa Beach (Mauna Kea beach).
  • Best sunset beaches on the Big Island: Mahai’ula beach, Makalawena beach and ‘Anaehoʻomalu Beach.

Big Island beaches map

For your convenience, we’ve created this map indicating all beaches on the Big Island that are mentioned in this article. They’re sorted from the east coast (Hilo area) via South Point to the west coast (Kona and Kohala regions). The icons reflect which beaches are perfect for snorkeling, relaxing family-fun or turtle-spotting. Remember not to touch the turtles or honu – they’re a protected species – and to wear reef-friendly sunscreen.

Car rental Hawaii family vacation

Where to stay near the best beaches of Big Island

We’ve already made some recommendations for every beach mentioned in this article. You might have noticed that the Big Island of Hawaii has a limited number of beach resorts. That’s because the windward or east coast mostly has rocky lava beaches. The island’s sandy beaches are almost exclusively to be found along the leeward west coast.

In our article on where to stay on the Big Island we explain how to best divide your time over both coasts. Here’s what it boils down to:

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Which Big Island beach is your favorite?

Now that you know all about the Big Island’s best beaches, you must have a favorite. Which of the featured beaches can you picture yourself lounging on during your Hawaiian vacation? Are you tempted by the soft white sand, the sparkling black sand or the challenging green sand beach? Let us know in the comments!

Pinning this post would be much appreciated!


This article contains affiliate links. Clicking on such a hyperlink and/or making a purchase to the website it refers to, may result in a commission for CosmopoliClan at no additional cost to you. It allows us to dedicate enough personal time and energy to this blog. For more information, visit the Disclaimer page.

11 Comments

  1. We loved Hapuna – that big swath of white sand so perfect for an entire day! And YES to boogie boarding. My last trip to the Big Island I was relegated to a wheelchair and crutches so could not go in the water! It was killing me! Headed back in 2019 – pinning your post, haven’t been to all of these yet – can’t wait. Great tips and beautiful images. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles

    1. Sarah

      Yay! Another boogie boarding fan! Oh Erin, lounging on such a beautiful beach and not being able to swim… That must have been so hard! You’ll have lots to catch up on next year and might enjoy it even more. Happy travels!

    1. Sarah

      It was the highlight of our trip… But I have to admit that we did so much exploring on Big Island that we were pretty exhausted by the time we arrived on Oahu. 😉 So, when we head back, we’ll definitely spend more time on Oahu. Maybe we could exchange notes?

  2. We’ve been to three of these beaches (the black sand is my favorite), but never have made it to the green sand beach. Now that I’ve read your adventure I’m thinking I’m fine not getting there. Gorgeous photos! #farawayfiles

    1. Sarah

      Reaching Papakolea green sand beach was quite the journey, that’s for sure! The bay itself is stunning but the green sand is less of a contrast to a regular beach than the sparkling black sand. So, I can definitely see why that’s your favorite. Glad you like the photos. Thanks for passing by, Hilary!

  3. Saving this one for later!! I just booked a trip to Hawaii for next year. I will be going with my mum and sister and my 12 year old daughter as a reward for finishing primary school. We took my eldest to Japan but this one chose Hawaii. I’m very excited as I haven’t been to Hawaii before and actually haven’t ever really researched it so this post will come in handy. I so far have Pearl Harbour and swim with turtles on my list.

    1. Sarah

      How exciting, Sally! Your kids have excellent taste. 😉 Planning a trip to Hawaii is quite intensive: there’s so much to explore that it’s hard to make a selection. But you ladies will have so much fun! It’s our favorite destination so far. I have an article on Pearl Harbour coming up in a few weeks so, stay tuned. And don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any planning questions, I’d be more than happy to help you out.

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