Planning a beach vacation to Hawaii? Find exactly what you’re looking for at the best beaches on the Big Island. The largest Hawaiian island is home to a diversity of beautiful beaches shaped by lava and backed by mountains.
In the summer, many of Big Island’s beaches offer calm swimming and scenic snorkeling protected by offshore reefs and lava rock walls. Throughout the year, you’ll enjoy thrilling surfing, which reaches its zenith in the winter months. Back on the beach, sparkling white sand isn’t all that greets you. The Big Island is home to two active volcanoes and five total that have created stunning black and even green sand beaches.
Ready to create the perfect Hawaii beach vacation? Read on to find out all you need to know about the top Big Island beaches.
Top-rated Big Island beaches
Mauna Kea Beach
Home to the island’s first resort, Mauna Kea Beach, also known as Kauna’oa Beach, is a prime Big Island location for swimming and snorkeling. The calm waters are protected by an offshore coral reef. It not only reduces swell but creates a kaleidoscopic world beneath the surface.
As the lifeguards look on, you can explore the reef or paddle across the crescent bay on a stand-up paddleboard. To relax, lay down on the white sand beach as soft as marshmallows. From your cozy spot, you’ll be able to gaze upon the striking Mauna Kea volcano.
At night, the resort shrouds Mauna Kea Beach in light, attracting an abundance of plankton. Manta rays follow shortly after, creating a memorable scuba diving experience.
Hapuna Beach State Park
Sitting on the northwestern shore, Hapuna Beach State Park is one of the most popular beaches on the Big Island. The crown jewel of the island’s stunning Kohala Coast, Hapuna Beach is a half-mile of pristine golden sand sparkling under the Hawaiian sky.
As the stretch of sand is fringed by a lush park, you’ll have nothing but green behind you and baby blue water in front as you lay down your beach towel. The small waves are inviting and create some fun body surfing opportunities. Lifeguards are on watch all year long, making it a safe beach for families. Confident swimmers can make their way to the south end of the beach for snorkeling.
Hapuna Beach has all the amenities for a great beach day, from showers and restrooms to food stands and picnic tables.
A scenic 20-minute walk stands between you and the breathtaking Makalawena Beach. From the trailhead, beachgoers will venture along an unforgettable lave path crossing historic lava flow through the Kona Coast State Park. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by the sight of effervescent coral shining through the crystal clear water.
The path is enough of a barrier for visitors that Makalawena Beach remains uncrowded even in peak seasons. Its remote location means there aren’t any amenities, with picnic tables being the exception.
As you lay down on the white sand, old lava flows out to the reef that is right offshore. The colors and tranquility give the beach an untamed aura, a feeling only enhanced by the wandering wild goats and chickens beyond the sand.
Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
On the quiet southeastern coast near Ka’u is the best black sand beach on Big Island: Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach. As you step onto the beautiful beach, the rich contrast of colors will have you rubbing your eyes out of awe and wonder. Towering palms and dense green shrubbery line the beach before making way for thick black sand.
The ancient lava that’s now the beach’s sand guides your eyes down to sparkling turquoise water. As you relax on the hot black sand, you’ll want to dive in to cool off. You should, however, be aware that Punaluʻu Beach is known for its strong currents.
Aside from the sand, Punalu’u County Beach Park is a popular spot to see the green sea turtles who love the heat of the black sand.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Black sand beaches are relatively common in Hawaii, but our next beach has a rare pigmentation. Papakolea Green Sand Beach is one of just four on earth, helping make it one of the most incredible Big Island beaches. Getting to the unique sand is an adventure in itself.
Also known as Papakolea Beach, the remote beach is near South Point and requires a two-mile hike along the rugged lava field. After around 40 minutes, you’ll reach the edge of an old volcanic cone, now forming the back of the beach. While it may not seem green from a distance, as soon as you pick up the sand, you’ll see the emerald colors dancing between your fingers.
Although Papakolea Beach has spectacular views, the water here is rough and not recommended for swimming.
Waialea Bay Beach
In the summer months on the Big Island, the waves die down, creating a haven for snorkelers and scuba divers. In the winter, the winds pick up, and surfers awake from their slumber, board in hand, ready to tame the waves. It’s a story best told by the changing environment on the popular Waialea Bay Beach.
A local and tourist favorite, Waialea Beach is the place to be in the summer. The calm waters invite you to discover one of the island’s best dive sites. The marine diversity is something to behold, and the calm waters make it a pleasure to explore.
In the winter, surfers may rule the water, but Waialea Beach is a common place to spot the migrating humpback whales.
Just north of Kailua-Kona, Manini’owali Beach has everything you’d want from a Hawaiian beach. After wandering along the paved path that cuts through the lava field, you’ll arrive at a shimmering beach where the blue water glows beside the stark lava rocks.
Known also as Kua Bay Beach, the stretch of sand delivers a forgiving swell that’s made for boogie boarding and body surfing, with the lifeguard on duty overlooking proceedings.
Back on the soft sandy beach, you’ll have access to full facilities, including showers, restrooms, and picnic tables, after cooking up a storm with the beach BBQs. It’s also common for food trucks to set up shop back at the car parking lot.
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Keep in mind that with no palm trees, it’s best to bring your own shade to Manini’owali.
Richardson Beach Park
A short drive out of downtown Hilo, Richardson Beach Park is a popular local snorkeling destination. The black sand beach comes with a full range of amenities, from showers and bathrooms to picnic tables and a lifeguard. But it’s the calm water and tide pools that attract visitors to this spectacular location.
The swimming area at Richardson Beach Park is protected by a breakwater made of lava rock. Almost forming a natural lagoon, the park offers great swimming conditions that are ideal for young families. The easy conditions also create fantastic clarity beneath the water. It allows swimmers to see far and wide through the marine conservation area.
After your swim, put on your beach shoes. Venture to the tide pools to see what discoveries you can make.
Kahaluu Beach Park
Another great snorkeling spot on the Big Island can be found at Kahaluu Beach Park. Just outside of Kailua-Kona, the offshore reef is vibrant and full of life.
The best place to dive into the water is at the southern end of the beach. In a designated swimming area, you can snorkel without worry as you swim among tropical fish. You’ll also have a chance to spot turtles and even octopuses.
There are multiple lifeguard towers along the beach, with tower two marking the beginning of the surf zone. Bring along your board to combine the two experiences for an exceptional day at the beach.
Kahaluu Beach has restrooms, showers, and a picnic table. Several local restaurants are also within walking distance.
Between the Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark and the scenic Kailua Pier, Kamakahonu Beach is perfect for kids. Although a small beach (it’s only 200 feet long), it’s within a protected cove. Here, the water is relaxed, and the young ones can wade without worry.
At the stretch of sand, also known as King Kam Beach, visitors can make use of several rental facilities. The beach shack provides kayaks, SUPs, and snorkel gear. First-time snorkelers and scuba divers can head to the store by the pier for lessons.
If you just want to relax, the soft sand will feel like a cloud as you tuck into your page-turner or simply watch the world go by.
North of Kailua-Kona and within Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, ‘Alula Beach is a “blink and you’ll miss it” spot. The cute and cozy beach has a small crescent shoreline, whose turquoise shallow waters are a popular starting point for offshore divers.
‘Alula Beach is protected by immense rock walls. The lava rock dives over 45 feet into the water. This mitigates currents and waves, providing splendid swimming conditions. It also creates a natural home for the hundreds of colorful fish that live at ‘Alula Beach. Go snorkeling or venture further out where the marine life becomes even more magnificent.
Kekaha Kai State Park
If you want your pick of multiple beaches, head to Kekaha Kai State Park. Covering 1,600 acres of golden sand and sparkling blue waters, the state park is home to the aforementioned Maniniowali Beach and Makalawena Beach, along with Mahai’ula Beach Park.
All these amazing beaches are easy on the eyes and surrounded by lava fields that only serve to heighten their beauty. You can wander between each beach along the park’s several hiking trails.
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The best hike at Kekaha Kai State Park is the Ala Kahakai, a historic coastal trail. The trek will guide you toward Maniniowali Beach, but not before you summit Pu’u Ku’ili, a 340-foot cinder cone.
Carlsmith Beach Park
Located on the Big Island’s east coast near the town of Hilo, Carlsmith Beach Park combines a day at the beach with a fun park experience. The beach comprises several protected lagoons created from black lava rocks and the local reef. This makes for relaxing swimming and some invigorating snorkeling as you explore beneath the surface. You may even spot some turtles here!
Beyond the beach, you can spread out on the large lawns, home to pavilions, BBQs, picnic tables, and bathrooms. Above you, the coconut palms and tropical plants provide all the shade you need.
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Add on the lifeguards that frequent the beach on weekends, and you can see why Carlsmith is the complete Big Island beach experience.
Spencer Beach Park
On the famed Kohala Coast, home to many of the Big Island’s luxurious resorts, Spencer Beach Park presents easy swimming and great amenities. The off-shore reef calms the bright blue water, allowing for casual wading and some wonderful snorkeling.
The white sand beach offers plenty of shade, perfect for kicking back and watching the soft waves roll in. For lunch, heat up the beach BBQs and make use of the picnic tables before venturing out into the picture-perfect water once again.
Stick around for a magical sunset, with the option to camp overnight on the beach with a permit.
Just a few miles from Kailua-Kona, Honokohau Beach is both a scenic and historic location. As the focal point of Kalako-Honokohau National Historic Park, it’s a great starting point for exploring Hawaiian heritage.
Honokohau Beach itself has an expansive lava shelf running just off of the shore. The salt and pepper beach differs from most on the Big Island, with plenty of shade to enjoy.
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After swimming in the calm ocean, explore the historical park. A short walk away, you’ll discover the Aiopio Fish trap, an ancient man-made pond for catching marine life. Within the park, you can also see petroglyphs and a Hawaiian temple.
Waipio Black Sand Beach
Perched on the northern Hamakua Coast, Waipio Black Sand Beach presents stunning scenery. The beach is the reward for venturing down into the challenging but spectacular Waipio Valley. The trek begins at the Waipio Valley Lookout, from which you can bask in some of the best views on the island.
It’s possible to drive down to the beach, but the dirt road is strenuous and littered with cars left behind by those who continued on foot. Once you reach the black sand, sit back and relax as you try to wrap your head around the sheer scale of the mountains in the Kohala Forest.
On the Kohala Coast, Kukio Beach is slightly north of Kikaua Point. Upon arrival, you’ll wander through the gates of Hualalai Resort before strolling over the lush shrubbery on your way to the majestic white sands where jade greens and turquoise blues mix brilliantly.
Enveloping Kuki’o Beach are towering coconut palms mixed among the mesquite and ironwood trees. Along the edge are tide pools created from lava.
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Kuki’o Beach doesn’t have amazing clarity for snorkeling, but its flat water makes for great paddle-boarding. Visitors can also venture along the Ala Kahakai Trail. Aside from the resort, there are few amenities, so bring all you need to enjoy this quaint and quiet beach.