Exploring the Big Island's Best Beaches in Hawaii: A Complete Guide

The Big Island of Hawaii is a tropical paradise that beckons travelers with its diverse landscapes, rich culture, and stunning beaches. From the Kona Coast’s sun-kissed shores to the secluded white sand beaches amid pitch-black lava fields, there’s something for everyone.

Whether you are a seasoned snorkeler looking to explore vibrant coral reefs, a family seeking child-friendly lagoons, or a couple wanting to witness the magical sunset, the Big Island’s beaches promise an unforgettable experience.

This guide offers an extensive look into the various beaches you can visit, safety tips, and an array of activities you can indulge in.

Why Big Island?

When you think of Hawaii, you might automatically think of Maui, Oahu, or even Kauai. While these islands have their charm, the Big Island offers a kaleidoscope of unique beach experiences you won’t find anywhere else.

On the Big Island, variety is the spice of life. Where else can you find black, white, and even green sand beaches within a short drive of each other? From swimming and snorkeling to surfing and hiking, the range of activities is as diverse as the beaches themselves.

Being the biggest island in the Hawaiian chain, Big Island provides you with more space to explore, more secret spots to discover, and more beautiful landscapes to inspire awe. It’s like multiple vacation destinations wrapped up in one magical package.

The Big Island is home to some of Hawaii’s most untouched and underdeveloped landscapes. If you’re a fan of natural beauty without the hustle and bustle of crowds, this is the place for you.

Beaches Near Volcano (South Coast)

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Let’s start with something that sounds straight out of a fantasy novel—a green sand beach. Papakōlea is one of only two green sand beaches on the Big Island and getting there is an adventure on its own.

Expect a challenging but rewarding hike of over 1.5 hours. When you finally set eyes on this surreal landscape, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to another world. The unique green color comes from a mineral called olivine, which erodes from the enclosing volcanic cone.

Punalu’u County Beach Park

Moving on from the emerald hues of Papakōlea, let’s take a detour to the mysterious and ever-fascinating Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. This beach is the epitome of exotic, showcasing jet-black sand that provides a stark contrast to the frothy white waves and the lush green palm trees.

Punaluu Beach With Black Sand Must Do Activities

Situated conveniently between Kona and Hilo, it’s easily accessible from Volcano Village, making it a popular pit stop for those exploring the area.

And get this—the beach is frequented by Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, locally known as Honu, who bask on the dark sand. So while you’re there, not only do you get to experience the uniqueness of a black sand beach, but you also get up close with some of Hawaii’s most treasured marine life.

Beaches Near Hilo (East Coast)

Kaimu Beach Park

If you’re the type who likes your beaches with a side of history and drama, then Kaimu Beach Park is a must-visit. Imagine this: In 1990, this place was covered by 15 meters of lava. Today, it stands as a new black sand beach, a testament to nature’s relentless power to both destroy and create. However, keep in mind that the current can be strong and the waves unpredictable. It’s not an ideal swimming spot, but it’s an incredible place to witness the dynamic life cycle of Hawaiian beaches.

Isaac Hale Beach Park / Pohoiki

Moving on, if riding the waves is more your style, Isaac Hale Beach Park, commonly known as Pohoiki, should be your go-to. This spot is not just a surfing paradise; it also houses a beautiful black sand beach formed during the 2018 LERZ eruption. And if you’re visiting with family, you’ll be pleased to know there are picnic tables and a playground—making it a full-day affair if you wish!

Ahalanui Park

Speaking of volcanic activity, Ahalanui Park, also known as Puʻalaʻa County Park, was another casualty of the 2018 lava flows. While no longer accessible due to being covered by lava, this park was famous for its geothermally heated warm swimming pool. If you’d visited in the past, remember those warm swims on a cloudy day with a tinge of nostalgia.

Kapoho Tide Pools

Lastly, let’s pay homage to the Kapoho Tide Pools, another natural wonder that we lost to the 2018 LERZ eruption. Although the tide pools no longer exist, they are a snorkeling paradise with depths of up to 10 meters and an abundance of marine life nestled among the lava rocks.

Richardson Beach Park

Ready to meet some colorful underwater residents? This is the black sand beach closest to Hilo and the undisputed champion for snorkeling south of the city. What makes it even better? It’s fully equipped with showers, restrooms, and picnic areas, not to mention a lifeguard for added safety. The natural lava rock breakwater ensures calmer waters, so you can snorkel to your heart’s content.

Leleiwi Beach Park

Pack your picnic basket and head to Leleiwi Beach Park for a day of underwater exploration. The rocky shoreline, tide pools, and teeming marine life make this park one of the top snorkeling destinations in Hilo. From intricate coral formations to schools of tropical fish, you’ll feel like you’re swimming in a natural aquarium.

Carlsmith Beach Park

If you’re looking for a beach that checks off multiple boxes, look no further than Carlsmith Beach Park. This unique spot features a protected white sand lagoon surrounded by stark black lava rocks. Facilities like restrooms and picnic areas make it convenient for spending the day swimming, snorkeling, fishing, or simply lounging by the shore.

James Ke’aloha Beach Park

For a beach day that pleases everyone in the family, James Ke’aloha Beach Park is a top pick. The beach offers lots of open space and a rocky shoreline that’s great for a variety of activities like surfing, snorkeling, swimming, and fishing. A large picnic area and restrooms are added perks, but be cautious—strong rip currents can occur during high surf.

Onekahakaha Beach Park

Have little ones tagging along? Onekahakaha Beach Park is a family-friendly haven. The beach is decked out with picnic areas and has expansive grassy spaces perfect for a game of frisbee. The shallow waters are shielded by breakwaters, offering a safer swimming experience. Don’t miss the tide pools, which can make for a fun, mini snorkeling adventure for the kids. And keep an eye out for the ice cream stand.

Coconut Island

Last but not least, we have Coconut Island, or Mokuola, a charming little island in Hilo Bay. Reachable via a short bridge, this island is a pocket of peace and fun. With small beaches, a spacious grassy area, and plenty of picnic tables, it’s easy to spend a whole day here. The bay is protected, making it great for swimming. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might even catch a thrilling spectacle of local kids leaping off a 20-foot tower into the water below!

Beaches Near Waimea and the Kohala Resorts (North Coast)

Waipiʻo Valley Black Sand Beach

When you say “Waipiʻo Valley,” people often think “postcard-perfect,” but be warned: this beauty comes with a catch. The beach is accessible only via a steep hike or 4WD, and its strong rip currents and high surf, especially in winter, make it a no-go for swimming. Yet, for pure aesthetics and tranquility, Waipiʻo Valley Black Sand Beach is unparalleled.

Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii

Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach

Next, let’s talk about another jewel in the crown—Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach. Difficult to reach? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely! You’ll need to descend about 400 vertical feet from the parking lot to the beach, but the breathtaking views along the way make it one of the top hikes on the Big Island. However, swimming and snorkeling are discouraged due to strong currents and rocky shores.

Kapaʻa Beach Park

If you’re an underwater enthusiast, Kapaʻa Beach Park is your spot. Rocky, yes, but excellent for snorkeling and diving. The beach park also offers restrooms, picnic tables, and BBQ grills—setting you up for an idyllic sunset BBQ. What could be better?

Mahukona Beach Park

Now, let’s take a slight detour from the typical sandy beaches and talk about Mahukona Beach Park. It’s actually an abandoned harbor, but don’t let that deter you. The waters here are rich with sea life and even a few shipwrecks, making it an intriguing spot for diving and snorkeling.

Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park

Protected from high surf by an offshore reef and adjacent harbor, this beach is great for families. You’ll find picnic areas, camping options with a permit, and BBQ facilities. Plus, it’s right next to a national park and a historic trail, enriching your day at the beach with a slice of history.

Kaunaʻoa Beach

Talk about rolling out the red carpet! Also known as Mauna Kea Beach, this 1/4-mile crescent-shaped wonder sits right in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Can you say “beachfront luxury?” Good for snorkeling, body surfing, and just kicking back in the waves, this beach is as close to postcard perfection as you’ll get.

Hapuna Beach State Park

You know you’re at a top-notch beach when it regularly gets voted among the ‘best beaches in the world.’ Meet Hapuna Beach State Park. The beach stretches for a staggering 1/2 mile and features a wide sand area, perfect for wave play. Snorkeling spots? Check. Amenities like restrooms, showers, and picnic tables? Double-check. Food and snorkel rentals? Triple check. This place is a full-package deal!

Waialea Bay Beach

Alright, who here loves a good secret? Waialea Bay Beach, affectionately known as 69 Beach, is your secluded paradise. If you find yourself on the Big Island during a calm surf day, pack your bags and head here for swimming and snorkeling. Just a heads-up, it can get crowded on weekends, so plan accordingly.

Anaehoʻomalu Beach

Finally, let’s talk about Anaehoʻomalu Beach, or as the locals call it, “A-bay.” Protected by an offshore reef, this is another solid choice for water activities like swimming, diving, and snorkeling. But here’s the unique part—the sand is salt-and-pepper colored, a delightful change from the usual white and black sand beaches. And let’s not forget, it’s conveniently located next to the Outrigger Waikoloa Resort.

Beaches Near Kona (West Coast)

Kiholo Bay

Have you ever dreamt of swimming in an area where salt and fresh water coalesce? Wake up and step into Kiholo Bay! When the tide recedes, get your snorkel on because the bay brims with picturesque tide pools. But, remember, much of the bay is private property, so stick to the public access points.

Kukiʻo Beach

Imagine sunbathing and suddenly spotting a green sea turtle next to you. Welcome to Kuki’o Beach! With its lovely white sands and frequent turtle visitors, it’s a nature lover’s dream. Just don’t plan on swimming; there are lots of lava rocks lurking above and below the water.

Kukio Beach Big Island Hawaii

Kikaʻua Point Beach

If you’re traveling with tiny tots, look no further than Kika’ua Point Beach. This isn’t a traditional beach; it’s more of a calm, current-free lagoon. It’s a little slice of peace and quiet perfect for families, although snorkelers may want to sit this one out.

Kekaha Kai State Park

This state park is a treasure trove featuring not one, but three stunning beaches: Mahai’ula Beach, Makalawena Beach, and Kua Bay. They are white sand paradises enveloped by intense lava fields. Don’t let the tricky access scare you; the trip is worth every bump and jolt. But a word of caution: check with your car rental company before you venture out.

Kua Bay Beach:

Also recognized as Maniniowali Beach, this place is straight out of a travel brochure. Fine white sands, crystal clear waters; it’s a snorkeling and swimming heaven. Keep an eye out for high surf though!

Mahai’ula Beach:

Craving that iconic postcard beach scene? Mahai’ula Beach has got you covered! Picture yourself lazing under a coconut palm with a book. Swimming might be challenging due to the offshore lava shelf, but if you want the perfect beach day, this is your spot.

Makalawena Beach

Ready for a mini-adventure? Makalawena Beach is your pot of gold at the end of a strenuous 1-mile hike. And believe me, every step is worth it. It’s one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in Hawaii, and the seclusion makes it all the more special.

Makalawena Beach Big Island Hawaii

Aiʻopio Beach

Tucked away in Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, Ai’opio Beach is a serene little beach with calm waters. Reachable from the Honokohau small boat harbor, it’s the perfect prelude to any boat tour you might have planned. Just arrive a bit early, roll out your towel, and take in the tranquil atmosphere.

Old Kona Airport Beach Park

Ever watched a sunset on an airport runway? You can at the Old Kona Airport Beach Park. This former airstrip now serves as a unique parking lot for beach-goers. Although the water can be rough, if you’re staying in Kona, this is an unparalleled location to enjoy a picnic and a glorious sunset.

Kamakahonu (King Kam) Beach

Say “aloha” to Kamakahonu Beach, which locals often refer to as King Kam Beach because it’s right in front of the King Kamehameha hotel. Nestled in the heart of downtown Kona, this small sandy beach is a convenient spot for some snorkeling and is rich in marine life.

White Sands Beach Park

Fascinated by the ever-changing nature of beaches? White Sands Beach Park, also known as Magic Sands, is an intriguing spot where the sand can temporarily disappear due to rough surf. But when it’s there, it’s absolutely magical. A favorite among surfers, this beach also has a lifeguard on duty. Facilities like showers and a volleyball net add to the beach’s charm.

Kahaluʻu Beach Park

Kahalu’u Beach Park is a must-visit if snorkeling is on your agenda. The dark-gray sandy beach provides a striking contrast to the vibrant marine life that awaits just offshore. Whether you’re a novice or an expert snorkeler, this beach has something for everyone. Facilities like parking, showers, and picnic tables make your visit more comfortable.

Kealakekua Bay Park

Kealakekua Bay Park houses two distinct beaches: Napʻopoʻo Beach and Manini Beach. While neither is ideal for swimming, their views are stunning. Kealakekua Bay itself is a sanctuary for marine life, making it a popular spot for snorkeling and kayaking. You can often spot spinner dolphins and, if you’re up for it, a challenging trail or kayak trip can take you to the monument commemorating Captain Cook. Just remember, a permit is required for kayaking.

Kealakekua Bay Park Big Island Hawaii

Hoʻokena Beach Park

Ho’okena Beach Park transports you back in time. Once the site of one of the last Hawaiian fishing villages, this gray beach made out of lava and coral adds a historical dimension to your beach-hopping adventure. The park also offers camping facilities, so you can even spend the night under the stars. Amenities like restrooms, picnic tables, and showers are available.

Tips for Going to the Beach in Hawaiʻi

Hawaiian beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world, but they also present unique challenges and responsibilities. The ocean is a powerful force, and it’s crucial to be cautious and respectful when visiting. From strong sun to sensitive ecosystems, there’s a lot to consider. Here’s how to prioritize both your safety and the preservation of these natural wonders.

Prioritize Your Physical Safety

  1. Check for Warnings: Always look for posted signs that might indicate high surf, dangerous currents, or other potential hazards.
  2. Watch for Hidden Dangers: Coral and sea urchins can both pose dangers, so tread lightly and never walk on coral.
  3. Stay Alert: The ocean’s mood can change quickly, so never turn your back on it. If you’re a parent, always keep an eye on your children.
  4. Wear Sun Protection: The Hawaiian sun is particularly strong. Make sure to reapply sunscreen frequently, and consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt when snorkeling or swimming for extended periods.
  5. Secure Your Belongings: While crime is generally low in Hawaiʻi, it’s still best to take precautions. If you must leave valuables in your car, make sure they’re out of sight.

Be Environmentally Conscious

  1. Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen: The chemicals in many sunscreens can harm the fragile coral reefs that surround the Hawaiian Islands. Look for sunscreens that are labeled as ‘reef-safe.’
  2. Minimize Waste: Bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and cut down on plastic waste.
  3. Don’t Smoke or Drink Alcohol: Both are illegal on beaches and in state parks in Hawaiʻi. Respect the laws and the environment by abstaining.

For a Better Beach Experience

  1. Footwear Matters: Given that the sand, especially on black sand beaches, can get very hot and may have sharp shells or coral, wearing appropriate footwear is advised.
  2. Protect Sensitive Skin: Areas like your lips and earlobes can burn easily, so consider using a lip balm with a high SPF.
  3. Plan Ahead: Some beaches have limited amenities. If you’re traveling with children or planning to stay for an extended period, ensure the beach you’re visiting has necessary facilities like restrooms.

Things to Do on the Beach

Hawai’i’s Big Island offers a plethora of beach activities suited for everyone, from the laid-back sunbather to the thrill-seeking surfer. The more remote beaches allow for solitude and peace, while the popular beaches have more facilities and rental options for a variety of water sports. Here are some suggestions to maximize your time by the sea:

Water Activities

  1. Snorkeling: The vibrant marine life around the Big Island is not to be missed. You can either bring your own snorkel gear or rent some locally. Either way, get ready to be dazzled by the array of fish, coral, and perhaps even some sea turtles.
  2. Surfing & Bodyboarding: If you’re into catching waves, bring your surfboard or bodyboard along. The Big Island has various spots where you can surf, especially along the Kona Coast.
  3. Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP): If you prefer something a little more relaxed than surfing but still want to be on the water, try SUP. It’s a great core workout and allows you to explore the coastline at your own pace.
  4. Kayaking: Some beaches, like Kealakekua Bay, offer excellent kayaking opportunities where you can venture out to see dolphins or even historical landmarks like the Captain Cook Monument.

Land Activities

  1. Reading: If you’re more of a sit-on-the-beach type, bring along a good book. Choose something set in Hawai’i for an immersive experience.
  2. Picnicking: Pack a meal or some snacks and enjoy a beachfront feast. Just be sure to clean up after yourself to keep the beach pristine.
  3. Beachcombing: Take a walk along the shoreline to discover seashells, driftwood, and maybe even some beach glass.
  4. Photography: The Big Island’s beaches offer excellent photo opportunities, from sweeping landscapes to intricate details like the texture of lava rocks or the pattern on a leaf.
  5. Beach Games: If you’re with a group, consider bringing along frisbees, paddleballs, or even a volleyball for some team sports.
  6. Sunset Watching: Almost nothing beats the beauty of a Hawaiian sunset. Old Kona Airport Beach Park and many other west-facing beaches are excellent spots for this.
  7. Meditation and Yoga: If you’re looking for peace and serenity, the sound of the waves and the fresh sea air can offer a perfect backdrop for meditation or a gentle yoga routine.


Hawai’i’s Big Island is not just another beach destination; it’s a vibrant tapestry of ecosystems, activities, and breathtaking views.

Whether you’re catching waves at Magic Sands Beach, snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, or simply enjoying the serenity of a less-traveled shore, the Big Island has something for every beach lover.

Don’t forget to be a responsible visitor by respecting local regulations, protecting the coral reefs, and leaving no trace.