America's Southernmost Town Is A Tropical Paradise Best Known For Its Beautiful Beaches

The southernmost town in the United States isn't in Florida or Texas. Instead, that distinction goes to Nā'ālehu on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is perfect for some unique beach experiences. Just under 60 miles from Kailua-Kona near the Kau coffee district, Nā'ālehu has only around 1,000 residents. It's known for its local art scene, relaxed pace, and, of course, its beaches. This is Hawaii, after all. 


The name Nā'ālehu means "the volcanic ashes," and it was once a busy area in the late 19th century during the height of the sugar cane industry. There are plenty of relaxing activities and entertaining things to do on the Big Island, like wandering through the charming shops and restaurants in town or visiting the local farmer's market. It's open on Wednesdays from 8 am until 2 pm, and you can purchase arts and crafts from area creators, as well as fresh fruit and baked goods. Then there are the black and green sand beaches to explore, as well as the cliffs at the bottom of the island, the southernmost point in the entire country. Here's what you need to know before you visit Nā'ālehu.

The green and black sand beaches of Nā'ālehu

Nā'ālehu has the only green sand beach in the United States: The beautiful Papakōlea Beach (seen in the first pic). The green sand comes from olivine, originating from the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano around 49,000 years ago. Olivine, which is called the "Hawaiian Diamond," is a semi-precious mineral. This spot is located 15 miles south of the town and requires a little work to visit. The road is pretty rough, and even a 4x4 can have some trouble, depending on the conditions. Instead, you can take a fairly easy 5-mile hike from the beach's parking lot to get there. It's rather flat and pretty scenic, but do note that there is no shade, and it's very windy, with a climb down to the beach at the end. Do not forget to bring your reef-safe sunscreen (which is the only type you can use in Hawaii).


Nā'ālehu also has a black sand beach called Punalu'u (above), which is about nine miles away from town. The color comes from volcanic material called basalt that washed up on the beach and became part of it. There are picnic tables and bathrooms, so you can bring lunch with you and make a day of it by packing your best beach bag to bring everything you need. Though it's not ideal for swimming, you can see green sea turtles lounging on the sand.

More to see in Nā'ālehu

Yet another beautiful spot is Kawa'a Beach. This is a quiet, black sand beach that has a reputation as a good surfing spot. The waves can be a bit rough, but when it's calm, you can do some snorkeling and diving. You'll have to do a bit of a walk to get down to the shore, but it's worth it. You can see a ceremonial temple called Ke'keu Heiau on the lava flow over by the east side of the beach. It's fine to go and observe it, but do not go inside or move anything, including piled rocks, as this is a sacred space.  


Ten miles away from town is South Point Park or Ka Lae, which is the southernmost point on the island. There are remnants of ancient heiau or temples, and you can watch fishermen plying their trade off the cliffs and down through holes drilled in the lava rock. The area is thought to be the place where the first residents of Hawaii landed, and many ruins and artifacts have been found around Ka Lae. While this is the perfect spot to take pictures and marvel at the scenery, the current is very dangerous, and you can be dragged out to see. Do not attempt to swim.