Discover The Ultimate Swimming And Snorkeling Destination On Hawaii's Big Island

Visiting Hawaii without indulging in the snorkeling scene would be like visiting Paris without glimpsing the Eiffel Tower or visiting New England without tucking into a lobster roll. You could do it, sure, but you might leave and feel as though you missed out on something special. With 1,200 miles of coral reefs hugging the islands, bath-like waters, and a myriad of colorful sea creatures that call this region home, Hawaii is the perfect place to explore a whole other world beneath the surface. If you're staying on the big island, Kahalu'u Beach Park is one bucket list destination not to be missed.


Widely known as one of the best snorkeling spots on Hawaii's main island, this gem on the west coast sits just five miles south of Kailua-Kona's lively downtown area. Swimmers and snorkelers adore this beach for its smooth and shallow waters, thanks to a rock wall installed beneath the surface by ancient Hawaiians. This clever barrier prevents large waves from breaking onto shore while still supplying the area with rich nutrients from the currents, all topped off with ample sunlight from above. The result? A bustling marine ecosystem with corals, sea turtles, octopuses, sea urchins, crustaceans, moray eels, and tropical fish aplenty.

What to expect at Kahalu'u Beach Park

Kahalu'u Beach Park is a popular choice for novice snorkelers and families with kiddos, given the water is only four to five feet deep and rarely exceeds 15 feet during hide tide. There is also a lifeguard on duty every day during typical business hours, so you're never far from support. For the easiest entry, follow the path to the water in front of the lifeguard station. Straight on, you'll find a cove teeming with life.


The volcanic rock on the ocean floor ensures great visibility, preventing any sediment from being stirred up and clouding your view. The further out you go, the clearer the reef will be. The deeper waters and bigger fish species are found to the right of the cove. It won't be long before you spot yellow butterfly fish, blue damsel fish, neon parrot fish, zebra-striped moorish idol, and polka-dotted box fish, to name just a few. You may even spot the humuhumunukunukuapuaa, an orange triggerfish known as the official state fish of Hawaii.

While you're exploring, avoid touching anything in the coral reef, as the oils on your hands could harm marine life. It's equally important to wear reef-safe sunscreen since traditional sunscreen contains harsh chemicals that leach into the ecosystem. Be sure to give the animals plenty of space, especially Hawaii's green sea turtles (or honu), which are protected by law. If they swim close to you, snap a photo with your underwater camera, but don't chase or bother them. Remember, you're a guest in their home.


Tips for visiting and facilities on site

The beach is free for entry and open every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you're staying near Kailua-Kona, the beach is easily accessible by walking, riding a bicycle, or taking the Kona Trolley. If you're driving, the best place to park is on the south side by the restrooms. The busiest time of year on the beach is November through May, and the beach gets packed after 10 a.m. Try to snag a parking spot as early in the day as possible, or head to Maekola Street for overflow parking.


Feel free to bring your own snorkeling gear, or rent some across the street at Kahaluʻu Surf and Sea. A mask, snorkel, fins, and a bag will run you $18 for the day. To keep yourself safe on the park's slippery, jagged volcanic rocks, consider sporting a pair of water shoes. It's also best to wait to put on your snorkeling gear until you've waded a ways into the water, so your vision is not compromised.

When you're done snorkeling, have a picnic on the beach, laze in the sun, or watch the surfers along the north boundary. The on-shore facilities include bathrooms, showers, pavilions, picnic tables, and barbecue pits. If you forget anything, it's easy enough to run into town for some quick shopping. But if that sounds like too much effort, stay in your beach chair and do nothing at all. You're on one of the best beaches in Hawaii for both snorkeling and relaxing. Don't work too hard.