Last updated: 09/18/2023
Discover the 10 best beaches on Big Island, the largest Hawaiian island, famous for its volcanoes and beaches with crystal clear waters.
THE “BIG ISLAND”
“Big Island” is how the largest island in Hawaii is known, whose official name is Hawaii Island. With more than 10 thousand km², although it is the largest in extension, the island is home to less than 15% of the Hawaiian population (around 190 thousand inhabitants). Before organizing your trip, check what you need to know before traveling to hawaii. The island is famous for being of volcanic origin and, even today, it has some active volcanoes, including the Volcanoes National Park. We have already written a very complete guide with Top 30 Beaches on Big Island and now, we've selected the 10 best that you can't help but include in your itinerary for this paradise.
IMPORTANT TIPS FOR ATTENDING THE BEACHES
- Sunblock: Due to Hawaii's strong sun practically all year round, sunscreen is essential. However, not just any sunscreen is recommended. Try to use solar filters that are friendly to coral reefs. Most sunscreens contain toxic substances that harm corals, turning them white or killing them. Do not contribute to the destruction of this incredible living organism. Learn more about the dangers of conventional sunscreens and tips on which ones to buy in this link. The use of lip sunscreen is also recommended.
- Water: The strong sun also dehydrates. Carry a reusable water bottle with you to refill it whenever possible. Avoid disposable plastic bottles that contribute to contamination and pollution of the seas, harming marine life and causing accidents.
- Do not drink alcohol or smoke: Alcoholic beverages and cigarettes of any kind are illegal on Hawaii's beaches and parks. If you want to make use of these substances, leave the beach and go to another place that allows consumption.
- Water Activities: Crystal clear waters, with colorful fish and corals combine well with surface diving (snorkeling). Buy a kit or rent it to enjoy the natural marine beauties. Other activities available are diving with oxygen (there are several options for guided excursions) or renting a kayak, a surfboard, bodysurfing or stand-up paddle for fun.
- Cap/hat and sunglasses: Get out of the hot sun by covering your head with a beach hat or cap and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Also wear comfortable clothes made of light fabrics and, if possible, in light colors and good for perspiration.
- Suitable shoes: The sand can get very hot throughout the day. In addition, many of the beaches are formed by volcanic rocks that get hot and can even hurt your feet. Bring flip-flops, closed-toe shoes for longer walks, and special shoes for getting into the water (rubberized or neoprene socks) when it's full of rocks.
- Turtles: Green sea turtles, very common on the Big Island, are under legal protection under the Endangered Species Act and visitors must stay at least 10 feet away.
THE 10 BEST BEACHES ON BIG ISLAND
The interactive map below shows the location of the Big Island's 10 best beaches for all tastes. Some of them are easy to access and have excellent infrastructure. Others, access is more difficult, you need to take a longer trail to access. Include in your itinerary those that suit your profile and availability to visit and have a great time!
1. KAUNA'OA (MAUNA KEA) BEACH
considered one of the best beaches on the Big Island (and our favorite!), this beach of about 400 meters and turquoise waters attracts many visitors. With fine white sand and surrounded by palm trees, this little piece of paradise needs to be on your itinerary. With calm waters, it is a great option for snorkeling, especially at the southern end of the beach, there are tropical fish in the coral region. The far north also has a good area for snorkeling.
In winter, the waves tend to get stronger, so be careful when swimming there. During the night, many boats offer services to see stingrays! The hotel shines floodlights over the water after the sun sets. These lights attract plankton, which in turn attracts manta rays. You can observe these incredible creatures on the “Manta Ray Point” observation deck. You can see the beach conditions live through from this link.
2. HAPUNA STATE BEACH
This 800 meters long beach is a good option for all ages. Surrounded by trees, with crystal clear waters and white sand, it is always listed among the best beaches in Hawaii and the world. As this part of the coast is located in a semi-arid desert climate, there is little rain and the sun is strong. The beach is great for swimming and surfing in the winter months when the waves are higher. It is also possible to snorkel at both ends of the beach: around the small cliff to the north of the beach or around the rocky point to the south of the beach.
Visibility in the water is typically low because of the mix of sand and an occasional layer of freshwater on the surface, so you'll need to swim a bit to get to the most snorkeling parts. Try to go early to find a parking space and a shady spot, as the beach tends to get very crowded quickly, especially on weekends. From December to April, it is even possible to see whales from a distance on this beach.
3. MANINI'OWALI BEACH (KUA BAY)
Kekaha Kai State Park is a park that is home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island, including Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay), which is one of the few beaches with fine white sand on the Big Island. Crystal clear waters make this small beach a great spot for snorkeling and swimming. The bay can have high waves in winter, but is great for diving with calm waters.
There is almost no shade on the beach and it is best to take your food and water with you. Restrooms and showers are in the parking area and there is a lifeguard station. It's best to visit the beach during the week, when there are fewer tourists, and in the morning, when the sun is weaker. Manini'owali Beach is also famous for providing beautiful sunsets.
4. PUNALU'U BEACH
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach is the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island not only for its incredible black sand of volcanic origin with small fragments of lava, but also for being a habitat for hawksbill turtles, a species of of endangered sea turtle. It is an extensive black sand beach that is easily accessible, making it a great place to take a quick dip, snorkel, walk along the beach or have a picnic. The beach has coconut trees and palm trees that are very inviting.
The sand was formed by the rapid cooling of basaltic lava that hit the ocean water and shattered into small fragments. Due to its volcanic origin, the sand can get very hot in the sun. The easiest place to get into the water is from the small boat ramp to the left (facing the water) of the beach, although swimming conditions are not always good. There are freshwater underwater springs in Punalu'u Bay.
5. WAILEA BEACH
This beach is one of the most popular white sand beaches on the Big Island. Also called Beach 69, it is one of the best options for snorkeling on the island, especially in the morning, as Wailea Bay It is part of a conservation area, with a wide diversity of marine life. The best reefs are on the south side of the bay, but there are also lots of corals around the large rocks that rise out of the water into the bay, and near the rocky point on the right (north) side of the beach.
Depths range from around 3 to 9 meters, with coral communities displaying their diverse marine life. After walking the trail to the beach, go left and walk under the trees, passing the rocky point that marks the center of the beach and where there are small pockets of sand. During winter, strong waves make swimming difficult, but humpback whales and dolphins often appear in the bay.
6. SPENCER BEACH
This beach is named after Samuel M Spencer, a former judge and chairman of the Hawaii County Board of Supervisors in the early 20th century, who helped develop the north coast of the island. This beach with soft white sand is an incredible destination for families, and is great for picnics, as it has a really cool infrastructure. The shallow and calm waters (due to a reef along the coast) are a good choice for children to play.
7. MAKALAWENA BEACH
Like Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay), mentioned in item #3, Makalawena Beach is part of the Kekaha Kai State Park, a park that is home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island. The problem is that Makalawena Beach is very difficult to access. When the waters are calm, swimming, bodyboarding and snorkeling are excellent at this beach, which is rich in marine life. Since there are no lifeguards on duty at Makalawena and the current can be strong, be sure to check water conditions if you plan to swim and stay out of the water if the waves are rough.
8. PAPAKOLEA BEACH
This is one of the 4 green sand beaches in the world. Located in Mahana Bay, its green sands are surrounded by Puu Mahana, a cinder cone formed more than 49,000 years ago associated with the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano. Papakōlea's distinctive coloring is olivine, a common mineral that crystallizes from magnesium-rich, low-silica magma during the cooling process. Access is via a trail (going by car to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach is illegal!) and the beach area is very steep, so use the existing trail to go down. The waters are strong in this region, so swimming can be dangerous.
9. KAHALU'U BEACH PARK
Kahalu'u is located in a wide bay that offers one of the best places on the island for diving and snorkeling, with crystal blue waters, sea turtles, corals, a wide variety of colorful fish and marine life (such as: octopus, sea urchins, eels, among others). Kahalu'u Bay has an important cultural history for Hawaii, as it is estimated to have been populated for over 500 years, with records of royal residences dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries and several heiaus (Hawaiian temples) in the area. The heiau on the north side of the bay, the Kuʻemanu Heiau, is still a very popular temple.
The south side of Kahaluʻu Bay is the access point to enter the water for snorkeling. Be careful as you will need to pass some lava rocks, which can be slippery and uncomfortable for your feet. A tip is to wear special shoes with rubber or neoprene soles. On the other side of the rocks is a sandy bottom area that is shallow enough to stand on and put on your scuba gear. When leaving the water, use this same path. If you swim well, head further out to the middle of the bay, where some of the largest areas of coral can be found. Tip: be careful with the proximity to the corals, as the waters are shallow and you have to be careful not to end up hitting the corals and getting hurt. If needed, you can rent snorkel equipment or even from surf. An important tip is to use sunscreen that is not harmful to corals. Check more information here.
10. KAMAKAHONU BEACH
Also known as King Kamehameha Beach or Kids' Beach, this small white sand beach located north of Kailua Bay is an excellent option for snorkeling and sunbathing. For us, it is one of the most photogenic beaches on the island. Protected by rocks, it lies between the Kailua Pier it's the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel right in the center of Kona. It is a popular spot for snorkeling, diving instruction, canoeing and swimming. For snorkeling, swim out of the bay and turn right. Do not turn left as this area is often used by boats going to and from the pier. The best time for snorkeling is early in the morning. You may to hire diving equipment, boards and kayaks at affordable prices.
One of the highlights of this beach is the 'Ahu'ena Heiau, a holy temple where King Kamehameha I spent his last seven years (1812–1819) in power before his son Liholiho succeeded him. The temple is dedicated to Lono, god of pa, agriculture and prosperity, where Kamehameha's council members often met with him for ceremonies and rituals. It is considered one of Hawaii's most important historic sites. The current temple was rebuilt in the 1970s. In the hotel lobby, some of the artifacts from the ancient temple are on display.
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