Island hopping in Hawaii is such an amazing experience! There’s so much to discover and explore, especially on the Big Island, from waterfalls to spectacular hikes, that we would 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 15 best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, most of which we’ve personally visited.
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.
Best beaches on the Big Island
Just so you know: all Hawaiian beaches are public. So, even though a beach may be located in front of a resort, you’re always allowed to access it.
Carlsmith beach park (a.k.a. Four Miles beach)
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 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. Restrooms and showers are available on-site.
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.
Punalu’u is the widest and most popular of black sand beaches 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. It’s equipped with picnic tables and restrooms. This was the first black sand beach we’d ever been to and we loved the black sparkles at the waterline. The 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. Life guards are present.
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.
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. 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. Papakolea beach is a hidden gem, quite literally, located inside the remains of a volcano crater that was breached and eroded by the waves.
Reaching this exclusive location 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. That’s where the journey to this magnificent Big Island beach begins. Check out our article on Papakolea green sand beach for more details.
Pae’a beach (a.k.a. Two Step beach)
Located in Hōnaunau Bay, next to the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park or City of Refuge, you’ll find one of the finest snorkeling beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. Crystal-clear waters attract plenty of wildlife, from turtles at the shallower south side of Hōnaunau Bay to spinner dolphins at the deeper north end and plenty of tropical fish in between. Two Step refers to the two ledges that serve as steps to get into the ocean. Do note that the beach itself is not sandy, it consists of lava rocks. There are no palm trees so, no shade and you won’t find any showers on site either.
Two Step beach is easy to access: Exit from Highway 11 to Highway 160 near mile maker 106. Just before you reach the entrance of Pu’u Honua O Hōnaunau National Historic Park, turn right onto a narrow road and follow it past the boat ramp at Keoneele Cove where you’ll find a small parking area. Alternatively, you could park at the National Historic Park’s parking lot and combine your snorkeling adventure with a visit to this sacred place.
Magic Sands beach (a.k.a. White Sands beach)
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. This 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. You’ll also find restrooms and showers here.
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.
Kekaha Kai State Park beaches
This State Park features gorgeous beaches, 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. Here are the 3 most popular beaches within Kekaha Kai State Park:
- Manini’owali beach a.k.a. Kua Bay beach: This northernmost beach at Kekaha Kai State Park is one of the most popular beaches along the Kona coast thanks to its fine white sand dotted with lava rocks. The crystal-clear waters make this perfect for snorkeling, bodysurfing and swimming (except when the surf is high). No palm trees, though, so no shade.
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.
- Mahai’ula beach: This is a one of the prettiest beaches on the Big Island. You’ll find some shade here thanks to the waving palm trees. It may not be the ideal beach for swimming, since there’s a big chunk of lava just offshore.
Getting to Mahai’ula beach is a bit tricky, since you’ll need to take the Kekaha Kai State Park’s unpaved south entrance. Take the Highway 19 exit in between mile markers 88 and 89 and take the dirt road exit before you reach the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery (coming from Kailua-Kona). You’ll see the entrance sign after less than half a mile. Do check with your rental company if you’re allowed to drive here. There’s a small parking lot with showers and toilets that leads to this gorgeous Kona beach.
- Makalawena beach: This is said to be one of the most spectacular Kona beaches. You’ll need to hike to this beach from the same parking lot and you’ll reach it after about 20-30 minutes.
All three the beaches in Kekaha Kai State Park are among the best sunset beaches on Big Island. It is important to note, however, that the unpaved road to Mahai’ula and Makalawena beach will 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.
Kika’ua Point Beach
This beach is located just north of Kekaha Kai State Park. It’s one of the best Kona beaches for families with kids because there’s more shade and less waves. While there’s only a thin layer of sand, it does offer plenty of shade and a shallow lagoon without waves or current.
The exit we took from Highway 19 is located in between mile markers 87 and 88 and then we immediately made 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
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.
Kiholo Bay is accessible from Highway 19, by taking the exit after mile marker 83, right before mile marker 82. It’s not well indicated but rather 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.
ʻAnaehoʻomalu beach (a.k.a. A-bay)
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.
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. Do note that the gates to this beach will be closed after 8 p.m.
Waialea beach (a.k.a. 69 beach)
Tide pools, driftwood and lava rocks add a wild touch to this magnificent beach that caters to all. The south side is pretty secluded and the quiet waters offer the most perfect snorkeling conditions in the offshore reef that’s teeming with fish. The surf’s a bit stronger on the north side where there’s a soft sandy entry to the water, much to the delight of bodyboarders. Waialea beach is lined with Kiawe trees that offer plenty of shade.
This scenic beach is easily accessible: Just follow Highway 19 past the Mauna Lani Resort and exit at the Puako sign (before mile marker 70). After half a mile, turn right and keep driving untul you reach the parking lot with showers and bathrooms.
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 below) and one of the best snorkeling spots on Big Island. We also spotted several turtles when we were swimming here. At Hapuna Beach Big Island the sand is white and soft, the water crystal clear and warm.
There’s ample parking available for a small fee but the lot fills up quite quickly. Once thing that’s lacking in Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is shade so bring a beach tent, like we did. Or you could stay at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort offering guest a prime beach location on the Big Island. This should be your first choice if you’re looking for a tropical escape in the area.
Kauna’oa Beach (a.k.a. Mauna Kea beach)
“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.
Pink sand beach
The island’s beaches 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!
Big Island beaches 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).
- Best beaches on the Big Island 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, Kiholo Bay beach and Pae’a beach (Two Step beach).
- Best beaches on the Big Island for families: 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.
Where to stay near the best beaches of Big Island
In our article on where to stay on the Big Island we explain how to best divide your time over both coasts:
The windward or east coast mostly has rocky lava beaches while the majority of sandy Big Island beaches is found on the leeward or west coast. Because of that, the west coast is home to most of the Big Island beach resorts. Since the beaches in Kona tend to be quite small, the resorts on the Kohala coast are excellent for that classic beach vacation.
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!
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