With such a diverse landscape, it’s no surprise that Hawaii’s Big Island delivers a variety of beaches, from white-sand postcard-perfect beaches loaded with amenities to black-sand hangouts popular among locals. Kona even has a green beach!
The experiences here vary as much as the sand color, from remote, secluded spots to beaches with lifeguards, facilities and lots of action, including paddleboard rentals. So jump in and discover the magic of the best beaches on Big Island, Hawaii.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
No vacation to the Big Island is complete without a visit to a black-sand beach, and Punalu’u, on the southern coast is one of the most scenic.
We love this beach not just for the sand, but for another big attraction: Green sea turtles favor this beach for sunning, as well as laying eggs in summer. As a bonus, outdoorsy types will like the fact that overnight camping is allowed with a permit.
Said to the place where boogie boarding was born in 1971, Honl’s Beach — located in Kailua-Kona — offers surfers and other wave riders a consistent break almost year-round, with summer’s southwest swells bringing the best conditions.
Granted, you don’t need a board to play in the waves here, but do be mindful of the rocky bottom. Beyond the waves, this spot offers a wide expanse of sand for sunbathing, reading or watching simply the action.
Kahalu’u Beach Park
Don’t choose Kahalu’u Beach Park for sugar-soft sand — it comes up short — but for the wealth of watersports available at this happening location. Just yards from the beach is Kahalu’u Bay Surf & Sea, offering rentals and lessons for paddleboarding, surfing and kayaking.
While this beach’s rocky bottom isn’t easy on bare feet, it does bring much greater visibility in the water, which means paddleboarders and kayakers can watch schools of fish, as well as green turtles. Go for the fun on the water, stay for the food trucks and picnic tables.
Maks, as the locals call it, is one of Kona’s most isolated beaches, thanks to the hike required to reach this white-sand outpost. The path is rocky, so, if possible, wear hiking boots or running shoes, not flip-flops. Here, waves lap at the shore, making for gentle, inviting swimming — perfect, as there are no lifeguards (or other facilities).
Find it by driving north of Kailua-Kona for 20 minutes on Route 19. Turn for the sign for Kekaha Kai State Park, then drive to the end of the unpaved road. From here, you’ll walk north for about 1 mile, or roughly 30 minutes. Note that a gate protects the spot, with no entry allowed on Wednesdays.
This stretch of latte-colored sand is really two beaches: In winter, surf crashes just offshore and the sandy expanse is much smaller. Come summer, waves quiet down, and the sand returns to the beach.
We love this beach for the massive koa trees with branches extending right to the water’s edge. In other words, beachgoers need not choose between shade or sitting close to the sea. Note: This beach lacks a lifeguard, but the $5 parking fee buys access to restrooms and freshwater showers.
One of four green-sand beaches in the world, Papakolea, found on the Big Island’s southern tip, offers unique scenery set between the lava cliffs of an eroded cinder cone. The beach owes its hue to the olivine crystals eroded from the surrounding walls. Scoop up a handful of the sand, and, yes, you can see the green in the tiny pieces of crystal.
Because it’s one of Hawaii’s most unusual scenic wonders, it is popular, despite the 2½-mile hike to the water. The best times to visit are weekday mornings. Find the spot on Highway 11 between mile markers 69 and 70.
Kauna’oa Beach, aka Mauna Kea Beach
This beloved Big Island beach stands out for having some of the smallest waves and most pristine stretches of white sand. The water here is generally gentle, typically flat as glass, making it one of the most relaxing spots for sunbathers and those who like to take it easy in the ocean.
The easiest way to access the beach is via the Mauna Kea Hotel, which designates 40 parking spots to non-hotel guests. Note that at night, this hotel turns on underwater floodlights to lure in plankton, which in turn attracts mantas — sometimes up to 15 or more at a time.
Hapuna Beach State Park
Lifeguards and a small-surf break make this ½-mile long Big Island beach a favorite among local and visiting families. For these reasons, expect crowds.
The park provides parking for a $5 fee, plus food vendors, picnic areas, restrooms and freshwater showers. However, because this is a state park, alcohol is not allowed. We love that this west-facing hotspot doubles as an idyllic sunset-viewing spot.
Maniniowali Beach, aka Kua Bay Beach
It would be easy to think you’re in the Caribbean when sunning on Maniniowali Beach — if it weren’t for the crags of lava rock at the edges of the beach and found in patches along the white sandy bottom.
This heavenly crescent of beach, part of Kekaha Kai State Park, is easy to reach, just a 20-minute drive north of Kailua-Kona. Those who arrive early enough can park just 100 yards from the beach in the lot, also home to showers and toilets. As a bonus: Sightings of green turtles are fairly common among this beach’s gin-clear water.
Isaac Kepo’okalani Hale Beach Park
This beach resulted from the August 2018 eruption on Kona, reopening in December 2018 to become the newest black-sand beach on the map. Surfers paddle outside the lagoon for the break, and swimmers looking to relax stay inside the lagoon for flatter, calmer water.
There are no vendors at this beach and no running water, but portable restrooms are available. For an added adventure, check out the four volcanically heated hot ponds at the park — but be forewarned that the government advises those with open cuts not to enter due to the risk of bacterial infections.