Also known as Mauna Kea Beach, Kaunaʻoa Beach is much like the picture-perfect white sand beaches that people imagine when thinking of Hawaiʻi, and often makes it onto the omnipresent favorite/best beaches of Hawaiʻi lists (yes, we also made one).
About Mauna Kea Beach
Mauna Kea beach is a family friendly beach with white soft sand that slopes gently into the water and the palm trees along the fringe to provide shade. The beach fronts the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, has good access to facilities and is great for sunbathing. During the calm summer months, this is also a good beach to go snorkeling.
Curious? Have a look at the live Beach Cam.
During the winter months, waves can get higher in which case a pounding shore break and strong rip currents can make entering the ocean hazardous.
The half-mile beach is contained on either side by a small coral reef . If the waters are calm (and visibility is high) the best place to go snorkeling is along the rocky, southern side of the beach.
Food, drinks, and gear rental
If you get hungry or thirsty and didn’t pack good snacks for the beach you can walk over to the hotel restaurant right on the beach. They serve decent lunches and great tropical drinks here (think ice-cold piña colada), but keep in mind that the prices are at a resort level.
Beach gear and snorkel equipment and boogie boards can be rented from the beach concession stand next to the restaurant.
Kaunaʻoa Beach at night – Manta Rays!
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel turns on floodlights over the water after the sun goes down. These lights attract plankton, which in turn attracts manta rays. There is even a lookout called “Manta Ray Point” where you can get a good view (if you are lucky and the manta rays show up) of these mysterious evening visitors.
Have a look at our information on the Manta Ray Night Dive if you are interested in finding out more about swimming with manta rays.
Directions to Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach
Take Highway 19 north from Kona and turn left at Mile Marker 68. Look for the walls with “Mauna Kea Resort” along the Highway – you can’t miss them! Follow the road to the end of the road for public access and get there early to get one of the passes for the general public — you will be given instructions on where to drive and park.
Good to know: There is limited Parking and parking is not free.
Kaunaʻoa Beach itself is – like all beaches here – public access, but the parking lot belongs to the Mauna Kea beach Hotel. The hotel has parking space for visitors that are not staying in the hotel, but these are limited (40) and fill up quickly. If you want to go to Kaunaʻoa Beach, get there early to get one of the 40 public parking spaces.
To get to the public parking you will need to stop at the security gate and ask for a public beach parking pass. If available, they will send you down and you will need to insert your credit card into the machine to pay the $20 parking fee.
If the public parking spaces have filled up before you arrive and you don’t want to wait around you have a few options:
- You can throw in the proverbial towel and head over to one of the world-class beaches nearby (see the next section)
- You can come back later. People don’t tend to stay the whole day at the beach so you could try stopping by around lunchtime to see if some free parking spots opened up.
- Another one is use the valet parking service offered by the Hotel (currently unavailable).
- Another option is parking your car at Hapuna Beach and walking to Mauna Kea Beach from there along the 0.9 mile (15-20 min walking) trail that hugs the coast. On a calm day you can also find a few small swimming ponds along the trail.
Beaches close to Kaunaʻoa / Mauna Kea Beach
Two other smaller beaches can be accessed by walking for about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of Kaunaʻoa – Waiulaula Beach and Mauʻumae Beach. Both are two small pockets of white sand.
- Hapuna Beach state Park – [1 mile] One of the best beaches on the island for swimming! This 1/2 mile white sand beach is regularly voted among the ‘best beaches in the world’.
- Waialea Bay Beach – [2 miles] Secluded white sand beach. Some private property on the ocean front but also public access. If the surf is calm this is a good place for swimming and – on the north side – snorkeling! Somewhat crowded on weekends.