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To state the obvious, the Big Island is… well… big. But while its coastline can feel immense, it does not need to feel overwhelming!
The Big Island is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian chain. There is an abundance of marine life and volcanic features, but the sand is generally coarser and the beaches more rocky.
While all of the beaches on the Big Island are beautiful, not all beaches share the same ease of accessibility, parking, and other amenities. Some beach access may require more of a hike than you’d prefer, others you can moonwalk to with ease.
To help you find the best Big Island beaches for your vacation, we’ve compiled a list of the best beaches on the island of Hawaii – why we love them, why you might too, and everything else you need to know to make the most out of your Big Island beach day.
Need to plan your trip quickly? We have you covered with some easy resources including where to stay, our favorite activities, and a download and go itinerary:
– This is one of our favorite Manta Ray night snorkeling tours
– Head to Kealakekua Bay for amazing snorkeling on this tour
– This five day itinerary includes amazing beaches and so much more!
– Our full Big Island Guide gives you the most comprehensive trip planning advice
Big Island Beaches Map
The 11 Best Big Island Beaches
Manini’owali Beach at Kua Bay
Visually, Manini’owali Beach (referred to as Kua Bay by locals) is pretty hard to beat. Small, secluded, and striking, it’s easily our favorite of the three beaches located in Kekaha Kai State Park. Substantial improvements to its access road and the addition of picnic tables, full-service restrooms, and a lifeguard station has increased beach traffic in recent years (particularly during weekends), but there is still sufficient parking roadside, or in the adjacent lot for a $5 fee.
Manini’owali offers beautiful white sand and crystal clear water, but only one tree, so be sure to bring your umbrella. The snorkeling here ranks among the best on the West side of the island. Just be mindful of strong winter swells and high morning winds.
Are you looking for the best beaches in all of Hawaii? We have you covered with our bucket list worthy roundup of best beaches in Hawaii.
Kukio Keiki Beach at Kikaua Point Park
Kukio Keiki Beach at Kikaua Point Park wins the prize for the island’s calmest waters. This man-made, shallow lagoon is well protected from wind and surf, making it a perfect destination for kids and unconfident swimmers alike. The lagoon floor is small and comprised entirely of sand, so your snorkeling experience may not be great, but what it lacks in raw excitement, it makes up for in safety for your family’s next big beach outing.
Access is through the Kukio Golf Resort, and the designated beach parking spots can fill up early. But once you’ve found a spot, the beach is only a short wheelchair-accessible walk away. Kukio Keiki Beach is on the smaller side, but also offers green space above the beach’s sand that you can put your stake in, as well as public amenities like showers and restrooms.
Looking to snorkel on the Big Island? We have the five best snorkeling spots and all the tips you need for a great day out.
Pau’oa Bay at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel
Don’t let the close proximity to the Fairmont deter you! All beaches are public in Hawai’i so you need not be a resort guest to enjoy Pau’oa Bay. And if you are a fan of snorkeling (or gorgeous beaches), you most certainly will enjoy this beach.
Pau’oa Bay sits in a protected cove that keeps the water smooth and calm most days. Wind and waves are protected by a stand of palm trees and a crescent of natural sea walls.
An impressive array of fish, eels, and even a Honu or two (the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle) regularly frequent the reef, making this bay a must-see for all marine life enthusiasts.
You can park in the hotel lot for a fee, but be aware that the chairs and umbrellas are reserved for guests. Free public parking is also available, though not within close proximity.
A staple of any “best of” Hawaii list, our recommendation for Hapuna Beach is hardly breaking news, but… we just couldn’t resist. Hapuna is one gorgeous beach.
The sand is so white! The water is so clear! And while most of our other favorites populating this list evoke words like “intimate” or “cozy” (we clearly love both), Hapuna’s white sands extend over an impressive half-mile of coastline (and then some). Hapuna is “sprawling.” Hapuna is “expansive.” The bad news? The word is out.
Parking is abundant ($5 fee for non-residents), as are the crowds. If you go, go early. There is great snorkeling at either end of the beach, easily accessible restaurants at the adjacent Westin resort, as well as picnic areas and public restroom facilities. It’s well-regarded for a reason and even though this is a busy beach, we always make sure to spend at least one beach day here.
Spencer Beach Park
There is no lack of comforts at Spencer Beach Park. The access road is paved and well-maintained. The parking is convenient and free. The beach is just as gentle as the water. Shade? They got plenty. Protection? A breakwater and shallow reef are just offshore to keep strong currents and high waves at bay. There are not just picnic tables, there is a picnic table pavilion that is beside a sanitary public restroom (can you tell this one’s a personal favorite?).
Spencer Beach Park is one of the most kid friendly beaches on the island, and the perfect low-maintenance family day trip. You can even add a dash of historical education at the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site (a temple built by King Kamehameha I and his warriors in the 1700’s) located a literal stone’s throw away from the Spencer Beach shore.
The shade of the Kiawe trees is very much appreciated; it’s fallen thorns, significantly less so. Be sure to wear your slippahs (sandals) when walking under the trees to avoid getting poked.
La’aloa Beach (aka Magic Sands) Beach Park
La’aloa Beach (popularly known as “Magic Sands”) rounds out our Big Island ‘White Sand Beach’ category. This locale earns its supernatural nickname during the winter months, when the surf can become strong enough to wash the entirety of the cove’s sand away, seemingly overnight. The result is a ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ moment of beach-sized proportion.
Located in a bustling residential neighborhood, La’aloa is small but popular, so you need to get there early if you want a preferred spot on the beach or in the parking lot. Ample parking can also be found across the street if you arrive after it fills up.
In addition to La’aloa’s very impressive magic trick, this beach boasts vivid waters, public restrooms, outdoor showers, picnic areas, outdoor showers and a posted lifeguard.
Although the Pololū Valley Outlook is a well-tread stop for most Big Island tours (for good reason – it’s stunning!), the quarter-mile descent to Pololū’s black sand beach remains largely overlooked.
The hike is brief – just a few switchbacks separate the Awini trailhead and the Valley floor – but has a very steep incline, an unforgiving 400 foot drop-off, and is often muddy, so take care to ensure your footing. And don’t forget to stop for photo breaks! The trail down to Pololū Beach offers even better vantage points than the outlook area above.
We recommend leaving the kids and swimsuit at home, the large array of “danger” signs spattered about the area aren’t just for show. High surf, strong undertow, and rip tides dominate the beach’s waters, making Pololū a ‘look, don’t touch’ beach experience for even the most experienced of swimmers.
But don’t let that deter you from making the descent! Gives you plenty to admire (at a safe distance). Pololū Valley’s rugged beauty is well-worth the closer look.
The beach and lookout are surrounded by privately owned land. Heed all No Parking and No Trespassing signs, and keep your visit limited to the trail and beach. The parking lot has about 10 spots, and is generally full by 9 am. There are also no amenities at the trailhead (cell phone service, water, restrooms), so be sure to show up early and prepared.
Richardson Ocean Park and Black Sand Beach
Richardson Ocean Park is easily the best beach for family-friendly snorkeling on the East side. It is scenic, safe, easily accessible, and comes fully equipped with such amenities as a posted lifeguard, public restrooms, outdoor showers, shaded picnic tables, and free parking. Beyond its comfort and convenience, the cove boasts abundant and diverse marine life, often including the Green Sea Turtle and the endangered Monk Seal.
A natural seawall of lava rock protects the cove from strong surf and tides, keeping conditions safe and calm even in the roughest of conditions. The shallow waters are perfect for novice swimmers and snorkeling beginners, with underwater sights comparable to the Island’s best.
Black lava rock dominates the shoreline, creating tide pools and lagoons perfect for exploring. The rock also makes for a bit of an awkward entry to the swimming waters, so we recommend access via the small black sand beach towards the edge of the park.
Nearby stands the original 1920’s house built by the Richardson’s (the park’s namesake) and several ponds that are part of a marine conservation area. Both are typically off limits to visitors, so keep a respectful distance. If you are spending time in Hilo, make sure to add this beach to your list.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
In addition to being one of the most renowned Black Sand Beaches on the Hawaiian Islands, Punalu’u also holds the distinct honor of being Jordan’s favorite. This beach is striking, like a postcard come to life. The views alone merit a visit.
The sand is jet black and so, so soft. Palm trees line the beach, offering bountiful shade. A spring runs through the shoreside volcanic rock creating freshwater tide pools. And most importantly, Punalu’u Beach is your best bet if you want to see a Hawksbill or Green Sea Turtle sunbathing, which (trust us), you do.
The swimming and snorkeling areas are largely unprotected, so take care to only venture out if you are a confident swimmer and the waters are calm. The easiest access to the water is via the small boat ramp on the left of the beach.
Amenities include ample parking, picnic tables, outdoor showers, public restrooms, and a posted lifeguard. There is a small souvenir and refreshment shack, but if you are looking for something a little more substantive, don’t forget to make a stop at the Punalu’u Bake Shop.
Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach
This stunning beach is located in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, one of the best hotels on the Big Island. The half mile long crescent shaped beach offers beautiful white sand, a somewhat protected cove that has great snorkeling in the summer, and amazing manta ray viewing and night snorkeling. This is the location of “Manta Point” one of the three manta ray viewing locations on the island.
While this beach is one of the best on the island and well worth going to, getting access to it can be challenging. Like all beaches in Hawaii, this beach is public but the Mauna Kea Hotel maintains the public parking spaces. These spaces are usually full before 8 am. So if you plan to visit this beach, make sure you head there early! If you make it to the beach, you’ll be greeted with small crowds and a really spectacular beach day experience.
If you’re looking for a luxury resort, this one makes our list of the best luxury resorts on the Big Island.
Papakōlea Beach in Mahana Bay
Remote, secluded, and one heck of a hike in, Papakōlea (also referred to as “Mahana” after the bay in which it resides) is by no means easily accessible. One of only four green sand beaches on the globe, and fully enclosed by the husk of Puu Mahana (an eroded volcanic cinder cone) Papakōlea Beach truly feels otherworldly. To get there, you’ll need to undertake a 2 mile hike each way. There is a public parking lot, but driving past that lot is illegal. Swimming here can be risky and challenging, as the currents are strong and there is no lifeguard on duty.
While this does make the list of one of the best beaches on the Big Island, we think sticking to the other nine on this list will make for a much more pleasant experience. If you do decide to do the hike to Papakōlea Beach, make sure you bring enough water (it can get hot!), and pack out everything you bring in.
Video of the Best Big Island Beaches
Because sometimes an article just can’t do the beauty of Hawaii justice, we created a video of our favorite Big Island beaches. Check it out to see what beaches you want to pick for your trip.
Big Island Beaches FAQs
Which part of the island has the best beaches?
If you’re looking for beautiful, sandy beaches, and crystal clear waters, there is one area that truly stands out. The Kohala Coast on the northwest side of the Big Island has the best beaches. Kauna’oa and Hapuna Beach are two unbelievably beautiful beaches located on this side of the island.
If you’re trying to decide where to stay on the Big Island, check out our Hilo vs Kona analysis.
What is the prettiest beach on the Big Island?
Hapuna Beach is probably the most visually stunning beach on the Big Island. With it’s long, white sand beach and crystal clear waters, it is hard to find a beach that is more beautiful than Hapuna Beach.
Want to stay right on the beach? You can with the Westin Hapuna Beach.
What are the best family beaches on the Big Island?
The best family friendly beach on the Big Island is the man made beach at Kukio Keiki Beach at Kikaua Point Park. Here you won’t have to worry about strong ocean currents because the beach is protected by a man made rock wall. Kids and adults can enjoy the shallow pond area and explore. Plus, there are a number of trees surrounding the beach that can provide decent shade and there is also a shower and bathroom facilities available.
While you’re here, you’ll want to make sure you have our list of the best things to do in Kona with kids.
What are the best Kona Coast beaches?
While the beaches on the Kona Coast aren’t as beautiful or well known as the beaches on the Kohala Coast, there are still some beautiful beaches to visit. And in the winter, the beaches on the Kona Coast can offer a better swimming experience as they don’t usually experience quite as rough ocean currents and waves as they do on the other parts of the island.
Check out our list of the best beaches on the Kona coast.
Ocean Safety Tips to Know Before Visiting the Best Beaches on the Big Island
Ocean safety is extremely important when visiting beaches on the Big Island or anywhere in the world. There are a few tips that you should make sure to follow, but be sure to check out Hawaii Beach Safety for more information about keeping yourself safe and for real time ocean condition updates.
Some quick tips to get you started thinking about ocean safety:
- Never turn your back on the ocean: waves come in sets and powerful waves can come out of nowhere after a period of seemingly calm water.
- Obey lifeguard signs: it’s always a good idea to only swim at lifeguard patrolled beaches and make sure you’re following any of their signs or precautions.
- If in doubt, don’t go out: the ocean is not a swimming pool and conditions can change quickly. If you have any concerns about the conditions or your swimming ability, staying on dry land is a good idea.
- Protect marine life: wear mineral based reef-safe sunscreen or UPF shirts to protect the fragile coral reef. And if you come across marine life (like green sea turtles) give them space of at least 10 feet.
The Easiest Big Island Trip Planning
We make planning a trip to the Big Island simple with our itinerary. This itinerary includes excursion days designed to take you on a planned out route around the island to explore the best things to see and the best places to eat.
We are going to Oahu, Maui, and Big Island over the course of 21 days, so I have loved your itineraries–seriously they are a must-have lifeline for planning a trip to Hawaii!Kim S.
Get The Big Island Itinerary
The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.
Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).
Don’t miss our other Big Island content to help plan your best trip:
- The best beginner snorkeling spots on the Big Island
- The best coffee farm tours on the Big Island
- You won’t want to miss these great Big Island farm tours
- Our top can’t miss experiences on the Big Island
- Where to stay on the Big Island? This will help you decide.
- How many days should you plan to stay on the Big Island?
- There’s a best time of year to visit the Big Island (really)