Kua bay on the Big Island

Beaches on the Big Island

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Beaches on the Big Island are unlike the beaches you can find back home. The island of Hawai’i is geologically speaking a very young island and there are no miles and miles of pristine white powder-sand beaches as you can find on the other, older, Hawaiian Islands.

Instead, our beaches are made out of pitch black sand,  crystal green sand, coarse white sand, coral, and even newly formed lava rocks.

Because the Big Island is still very young, new beaches appear and disappear regularly. All but one of the beaches we discuss in this article are already well established and will be there waiting for you. Only “magic sands” tends to be a bit fickle.

Map of Beaches on the Big Island

These are the most visited beaches on the Big Island. You can zoom and navigate the map via the embedded icons, and click on the beach/palm icons to get more information on each beach. You can also find these descriptions in the list below.   (back to top)

List of Big Island Beaches

A short description of the most popular beaches on the Big Island beaches as can be found on the map above. The order of the list is bound to the location of the beach. We start with the most Southern beach in the country (green sand beach), and then go counter clockwise through the beaches near Hilo (east), Waimea (north), and Kona (west):

Beaches near Volcano (South coast)

There are only a few beaches on the rugged south coast of the Big Island, but boy, do they count!

Our favorite green (Papakolea) and black (Punalu’u) sand beaches on the Big Island are both on this side of the Big Island. Read more about our Hottest Beaches on Hawaii.

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Green Sand Beach/Papakolea:

One of the two green sand beaches on the Big Island. Difficult to reach through a 1.5+ hour hike, but definitely worth it. Visit our article on green sand beach for directions:

Punalu’u County Beach Park:

Punalu’u black sand beach is the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island! It is located between Kona and Hilo, and most easily accessible from Volcano Village.

Beaches near Hilo (East coast)

The following are the most popular beaches in Hilo and the larger Hilo area. You can also read more in details about the beaches *in* Hilo.

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Kaimu Beach Park:

New black sand beach with strong current and unpredictable waves. This beach was covered by 15 meters of lava in 1990, and is  a very interesting place to visit.

Isaac Hale Beach Park / Pohoiki:

Very popular surfing destination in east Hawaii. No beach but it is possible to get in the water safely at the boat ramp. Picknick tables and a playing ground are also present.

You can also find volcanically heated hot ponds at Isaac Hale Beach Park

pohoiki, pier, big island, boat ramp, guy fishing
The Pohoiki pier protects the boat ramp, and also makes a sheltered area good for swimming

Ahalanui Park:

Also know as Pu’ala’a County Park. No sandy beach but thanks to volcanic energy the water here is warm. Perfect for a warm swim on a cloudy day. Stay away during weekends because the pool gets crowded and the water dirty.

Read more about the Ahalanui hot springs on our website.

big island hot spring hot pond
The Ahalanui hot Ponds in the Puna district on the Big Island, Hawaii. The pool is partly walled of from the Ocean to create a lukewarm swimming pool.

Kapoho Tide Pools:

No beach, but a perfect place for snorkeling! Deep (up to 10 ft) tide pools with lots of fish in between the lava rocks. Take shoes for walking to the water because you will be walking over sharp lava.

Read more about the Kapoho tide pools on our website.

Richardson Beach Park:

Richardsons is the black sand beach closest to Hilo, and the #1 place to snorkel south of Hilo.  There are showers, bathrooms, picnic areas, and a lifeguard. The beach and swimming area are protected by a natural lava rock breakwater.

Directions and pictures of Richardson Beach Park:

Lele’iwi Beach Park:

A rocky shoreline, many picnic tables, tide pools and abundant sea-life make this a prime snorkeling destination if you are spending time in Hilo. Don’t forget to bring lunch for a nice picnic.

Carlsmith Beach Park:

Protected white sand lagoon lined by black lava rocks. Restrooms and a picnic area are available. A good beach to come swimming, snorkeling, fishing or a picnic.

James Ke’aloha Beach Park:

Good family beach with lots of open space and a rocky shoreline. Good for surfing, snorkeling, swimming and fishing, with a large picnic area and restrooms. Be careful in the water because there can be strong rip currents during high surf!

Onekahakaha Beach Co Park:

A good place to bring your family. With picnic areas, grassy areas, shallow waters shielded by breakwaters, and even the occasional ice cream stand. There are also tide pools that you can explore with a snorkel.

Beaches near Waimea / the Kohala resorts (North coast)

The stunning white sand beaches on the Kohala coast come close to what we call paradise. Throw in a few black sand beaches surrounded by 1000+ ft high cliffs and you know why this part of the Big Island is the beach lover’s favorite.

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Waipi’o Valley Black sand Beach:

Difficult to access. The beach looks beautiful and is a very good place to relax after coming down into the valley, but take care with going into the water.  This beach is known for its rip currents and high surf, making it a dangerous place to go swimming especially during the winter months

Read more about this beach in our guide to Waipi’o valley.

Waipio valley
Overview of Waipi’o Valley from the ‘opposite’ side. You can see the steep Waipi’o Valley access road, the black sand beach and taro fields.

Pololu Valley Black sand Beach:

Difficult to access, secluded, black sand beach with great views. The water is often murky and there can be strong currents, which means that this is not a good swimming/snorkeling beach.

To get to the beach from the parking lot you have to descend 400 vertical feet to get to the beach. The path down to this beach is one of our 5 favorite hikes on the Big Island.

Pololu black sand beach
The beach in Pololu valley is well-suited for a rewarding rest after you hike down into the valley. This hike, by the way, is one of our favorite 5 short hikes of the Big Island.

Kapa’a Beach Park:

Rocky beach good for snorkeling and diving. In the park you can also find restrooms, picnic tables, and BBQ grills. Great beach for a sunset BBQ!

Mahukona Beach Park:

Technically an abandoned harbor and not a beach. This is a good spot for snorkeling and diving. You can find old sugar mill equipment on land and a few abandoned shipwrecks in the water.

Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park:

This beach is protected from high surf by an offshore reef and the harbor just north. This makes it a great family beach. In the beach park you can also find a picnic area, camping (with permit) and BBQ facilities.

Right next-door to the Spencer beach park is one four national parks on the Big Island: Pu’ukohala Heiau National Historic Park.

Kauna’oa Beach:

Also know as Mauna Kea Beach. Perfect, 1/4 mile crescent shaped white sand beach in front of the Mauna Kea Beach hotel. Good snorkeling, body surfing and swimming. More information about Mauna Kea beach:

Hapuna Beach State Park:

Hapuna Beach is one of the best beaches on the Big Island for swimming. This 1/2 mile white sand beach is regularly voted among the ‘best beaches in the world’.

There is a wide (in the summer months up to 200 ft) white sand beach that slopes gradually into the ocean – perfect for playing in the waves. On the north and south side of the beach are good snorkeling spots around the rocks.

There is also a large beach park with restrooms, showers, picnic tables, snorkel rental, BBQ, and food concession stands. More information about Hapuna beach:

Waialea Bay Beach:

Secluded white sand beach, also known as 69 beach. If the surf is calm this is a good place for swimming and snorkeling. Somewhat crowded on weekends. More information about Waialea Bay Beach:

Anaeho’omalu Beach:

This beach is protected from high surf by an offshore reef. It is great for swimming, diving, and snorkeling. The sand is ‘salt-and-pepper colored, and the beach is located on the ocean side of the outrigger Waikoloa Resort.

Beaches near Kona (West coast)

The west coast of the Big Island is blessed with lots of sunshine, some rain, and lots of warm weather. Great weather to go out and play! These beaches all are good places to do so.

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Kiholo Bay:

Beautiful salt-and-sweet water bay with good swimming. Most of the ocean access is private property, but there is a public access beach. If the tide is out the bay is dotted with tide pools that are perfect for snorkeling.

Kuki’o Beach:

Kuki’o Beach is a long, white sand, beach with many green sea turtles. Many lava rocks above and below the water make it not a good beach to go swimming.

Kika’ua Point Beach:

Protected beach best suited for families with young children. Actually no beach but a lagoon that has virtually no current or waves. No snorkeling.

Kekaha Kai State Park:

This State park includes several beaches: Mahaiʻula Beach, Makalawena Beach, and Kua Bay.

The beaches are secluded and beautiful and offer a great day-trip from Kona. They are white sand beaches with blue-green water and are surrounded by pitch-black lava fields.

Access is difficult and not for the faint of heart ( lava fields and rocky winding road). If you have rented a car you should check with the rental company to see if you can go here.

sunset at Maha'iula beach
Mahaiula beach is the southernmost of the three beautiful Hawaii Big Island beaches making up Kekaha Kai State Park.

Kua Bay Beach:

Also known as Maniniowali Beach, this is said to be one of the prettiest white-sand beaches on the Big Island. With fine white sand and crystal clear water this is a great place for snorkeling and swimming. More information on Kua Bay Beach:

Mahai’ula Beach:

Pretty white sand beach lined with coconut palms. A lava shelf just offshore makes this beach an unpleasant place to swim, but if you are planning to relax on the beach, snorkel or dive, this is a perfect place!

Makalawena Beach:

One of the prettiest white-sand beaches of Hawaii. Only reachable by a strenuous 1-mile hike beyond Mahai’ula Beach Park.

Ai’opio beach:

Aiopio Beach is a small beach with protected, calm waters. It is part of the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park and most easily accessible from the Honokohau small boat harbor. If you have booked a boat tour that departs from this harbor you should try to arrive early and have a look at this small beach.

Old Kona Airport Beach Park:

The first Kona airport closed in 1970 leaving a runway that now serves as parking lot for this beach park. The ocean is often rough here, but if you stay in Kona, this is the perfect place to bring food and watch the sunset!

Kamakahonu (King Kam) Beach:

This small sandy beach is in front of the King Kamehameha hotel and is therefore often nicknamed ‘King Kam beach. It is in the middle of Kona on the north side of Kailua Bay. Has good snorkeling. More information on King Kam Beach:

Kamakahonu (King Kam) Beach in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii
King Kam beach in downtown Kona is a good place to take a quick dip in between activities. You can find decent snorkeling on the other side of the pier

White Sands Beach Park:

Also know as Magic Sands because the sand disappears temporarily from the beach with rough surf. There is a good shore break for surfers here, and a lifeguard is always on duty. Showers, a bathroom, and volleyball net are present.

Kehalu’u Beach Park:

Dark-gray sandy beach with a reef just offshore and a good place for snorkeling. Showers, picnic tables, and restrooms are present.

Ke’alakeku’a Bay Park:

There is no sandy beach, but this is a very popular destination for snorkeling and kayaking. Spinner dolphins often visit the bay. You can visit the monument erected in honor of Captain Cook via a steep trail or with a kayak over the water also. A permit is required for kayaking.

More information about permits and snorkeling at Captain Cook.

Ho’okena Beach Park:

This is the historical site of one of the last Hawaiian fishing villages. They color of the beach is gray and it is made out of lava and coral. It is possible to camp overnight. Restrooms, picnic tables, and showers are available at the park.

Water and Beach Safety in Hawaii

Take care in and around the water. As peaceful and inviting as the ocean may look – and often is, it also commands respect. Strong, hidden currents can overpower even the most seasoned swimmers. Avoid walking on coral as it may cut your feet, as well as damage the coral. Sea urchins also live in crevices between rocks and coral. Never turn your back to the ocean, and always follow posted signs. More practical tips are:

  • Some beaches may be closed because of high surf and/or dangerous currents. You can find up-to-date information on possible hazard ratings of the Big Island beaches at this website of the county of Hawai’i.
  • The Hawaiian sun can be very strong! Be sure to apply sunscreen generously and often to prevent a heavy sunburn, Wear a shirt if you go out snorkeling.
  • Even though the crime rate in Hawaii is low visitors should be as cautious as they would be at any other destination. Do not lock valuables in your vehicle. If you must, pack items out of sight before parking.
  • Please make sure to clean up after yourself.

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Pololu black sand beach
The beach in Pololu valley is well-suited for a rewarding rest after you hike down into the valley. This hike, by the way, is one of our favorite 5 short hikes of the Big Island.

Things to do on the beach

Beaches on the Big Island are not as crowded as they are on the other Islands. Especially if you go to the more remote beaches during weekdays it is possible that you find the beach all to yourself. This also means that some beaches have very basic facilities. Be sure to take plenty of water and sunscreen.

Going to the beach offers many methods of recreation. You don’t need to be a fan of tanning to enjoy yourself. Take your snorkel gear and you can spend hours under water swimming between fish in every color of the rainbow. If you like playing in the waves, why not go body surfing or take along a bodyboard, SUP board or surfboard?

You will never have to get bored on the beach – even if you travel in a big group! If you are not the sun worshiper your travel companion is, bring a book, good food and drinks, snorkel gear, or whatever you enjoy doing, and do your thing. Let me reiterate those last two important words: “snorkel” and “gear”. The waters around the big island are teaming with beautiful life, make sure not to miss it! Read more on snorkeling and buying or renting gear.

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green sand beach
Green Sand Beach. One of the two green sand beaches in the United States. Close to the south point of the island