It’s pretty much a given that you’ll be hitting the beach on your Hawaii vacation, even if it’s just to have your picture taken. Some of our visitors are not fond of sun and sand, but wouldn’t dream of going back home without some semblance of a natural tan.
Our beaches rim all our islands, and all of them are accessible to you. (Even at the posh resorts and private estates, where the beaches appear to be private, the beaches are public.) Keep in mind that few of them are patrolled and you swim at your own risk. Never swim alone, and heed any warnings that may be posted. Not all beaches are suitable for swimming, but there’s plenty of other stuff that makes them appealing.
Among the islands, the Big Island usually gets a bad rap when it comes to “great beaches.” You’ll hear that the best beaches are on Maui and Oahu, but that’s like saying the best sunsets are seen from Kauai.
The Big Island actually has more than 80 beaches, and more than a few of those are spectacular and unique. Most are on the Kona (west) side, which is sunnier and where the weather is more consistently mild. (That’s where most of the impressive new resorts have been developed.)
The beaches listed here can be found around the island counterclockwise on the map, starting at the northernmost point. Remember, this is a BIG island! You won’t find it easy to hop from beach to beach on a given day.
Keokea Beach Park
This black-boulder beach is suited for fishing in the calm summer months, but heavy surf makes it a hazardous swimming beach. It has picnic tables, rest rooms, showers, drinking water, electricity and a campsite. (Off Highway. 270, near Pololu overlook. 808-961-8311.)
Mahukona Beach Park
Here in the Kohala District, where sugar was once shipped by rail to be loaded on boats, Mahukona Beach’s old docks and buildings are a happy find for photographers. Divers and snorkelers can view both marine life and remnants of shipping machinery in the clear water. Surf is heavy, often prohibiting swimming. The picnic area has rest rooms, showers, and a place for camping, but no sandy beach. Off Hwy. 270, Mahukona. 808-961-8311.
Spencer Beach Park
This spot is popular with local families because of its reef-protected, gently sloping white-sand beach. It’s safe for swimming year-round. You can snorkel with the sea turtles here (No touching!), and large shade trees hover over cooking and camping facilities. It has showers, empty tennis courts and a large covered pavilion with electrical outlets. The entry road is off Hwy. 270, uphill from Kawaihae Harbor. 808-961-8311.
Kaunaoa Beach at Westin Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
It’s a toss-up whether this or neighboring Hapuna is the most beautiful beach on the island. Kaunaoa unfolds like a white crescent, and it slopes very gradually. It’s a great place for snorkeling, but in winter the powerful waves can be dangerous. The beach amenities are hotel-owned and public parking places are limited. Enter through the gate to Mauna Ke’a Beach Resort, off Hwy. 19.
Hapuna Beach State Park
This beach, part of a 61-acre park, forms a 1⁄2-mile crescent of white sand guarded by rocky points at either end. The surf can be hazardous in winter, but in summer the gradual slope of the beach can stretch as wide as 200 feet to the ocean. This is a terrific beach for swimming, snorkeling, and body surfing. Find it between Mauna Ke’a Beach and Mauna Lani resorts, off Hwy. 19. 808-974-6200.
Holoholokai Beach Park
A rocky beach of black-lava formations and white-coral clinkers is fine for surfers and snorkelers, and a small grassy area is available to sunbathers. Bathrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue grills are nicely maintained. Just before the beach park, you can explore historic Puako Petroglyph Park: Malama Trail meanders .7 miles through brush and kiawe trees to an area of lava covered with the ancient etchings of Hawaiian figures and animals. Off Hwy. 19 at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows.
Anaehoomalu Beach at the Outrigger Waikoloa Resort
This is an expansive beach is perfectly suited for swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling, and ping. Some equipment is for rent at the north end. Follow Waikoloa Beach Drive to the Royal Waikoloan Resort, then follow signs to the beach.
Be aware that your access via an unmarked road across a vast lava field requires a 20-minute hike, so take plenty of water. Private homes are built along the oceanfront. The huge, spring-fed Luahinewai Pond anchors the south end of the bay, and the three black-pebble beaches are fine for swimming in calm weather. At the northern end, Wainanali’i Pond (a 5-acre lagoon) is a feeding site for green sea turtles, off-limits to swimmers. You’ll find good swimming here, but no facilities. Hwy. 19, Mile Marker 81.
Kona Coast Beach Park (Kekaha Kai)
This sandy white beach nestles in a bay whose surf is gentle. It has a few picnic tables shaded by coconut trees, but no drinking water. Portable toilets are the only additional facilities. You’ll see the sign about a mile north of Keahole-Kona International Airport, off Hwy. 19, then there’s a rough 1- 1⁄2-mile road to beach. 808-974-6200.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Just down the road from Honokohau Harbor, this is Part of a new 1,160-acre park. You’ll find two beaches, rich in archeology and good for swimming. Honokohau Beach, a 3⁄4-mile stretch with ruins of ancient fishponds, is north of the harbor. The park is being developed as a cultural and historical site. (For information about the park, visit its headquarters, a 5- to 10-minute drive away. The park is off Highway 19, at Honokohau Harbor; or use the park access between Mile Markers 96 and 97. Park Headquarters: Kaloko New Industrial Park, 73-4786 Kanalani St., #14. 808-329-6881.
Old Kona Airport Park
The unused runway — great for jogging or running — is still visible above this beach at Kailua Park, which has picnic tables, showers, bathroom facilities, tennis courts, and palm trees strung out along the shore. The beach has a sheltered, sandy inlet with tidal pools for children, but for adults it’s better for snorkeling than swimming. An offshore surfing break known as Old Airport is popular with Kona surfers. It’s at the north end of Kuakini Hwy. 808-327-4958 or 974-6200.
The “King Kam” beach is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. This beach is conveniently tucked away between the Kailua pier and the King Kamehameha hotel, right on Alii Drive. The surf is calm, so this is a great beach for children. The sand is white, the trees are shady, and the snorkeling is good – especially outside on the cove. This is also a popular spot for SNUBA, pe instruction, and swimming.
Kona Magic Sands Beach
Also known as La’aloa Beach, White Sands, or Disappearing Sands Beach Park. Now you see it, now you don’t. Overnight, winter waves wash away this small white-sand beach on Ali’i Drive just south of Kailua-Kona. In summer you’ll know you’ve found it when you see the bodyboarders and surfers. A volleyball net, restrooms, showers, a lifeguard tower, and a coconut grove create a favorite and convenient summer hangout. This beach is officially called La’aloa Bay Beach Pak. 4-1⁄2 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Ali’i Dr. 808-961-8311
Kahaluu Beach Park
This is one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island, with a huge variety of fishes in clear shallow waters. The north end of the beach is where the waves break and is best for body boarding and surfing. Check the water conditions; with ocean swells, the water can be murky. Facilities include a pavilion, rest rooms, showers, a lifeguard tower, and limited parking. A narrow path takes you directly to the resort’s Beach Bar & Grill, which serves sandwiches and plate lunches. 5-1⁄2 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Ali’i Dr. 808-961-8311.
Napoopoo Beach Park
The best way to enjoy this marine preserve is to take a snorkel, scuba, or glass-bottom boat tour from Keauhou Bay. A 27-ft white obelisk indicates where Captain James Cook was killed in 1779. While this six-acre beach park has a picnic pavilion, the beach consists of rocks, making access into the water difficult. It’s Located at the edge of Kealakekua Bay.
Hookena Beach Park
When Mark Twain visited, 2,500 people populated the busy seaport village at the northern end of Kauhako Bay. You can still find gas lampposts dating from the early 1900s. This dark-gray coral-and-lava-sand beach offers good swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing. Rest rooms, showers, and picnic tables are available at the park. The access road is narrow and a bumpy two-mile drive by the remains of a stone wall off Hwy. 11, 23 miles south of Kailua-Kona. 808-961-8311.
Here’s a beach area where jumping into the surf isn’t the first priority. South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii is the southernmost point in the United States – reason enough for a visit. The drive through rural – and volcanic – Hawaii is unusual in itself, but the South Point area, where the first Polynesians are thought to have landed, is amazing. The cliff near South Point Park drops forty feet to the oceans surface. The concept looks inviting, but don’t jump, even though there are ladders to return and you may see daring young people doing it. A swift current runs along the shore that could carry you straight out to sea.
Green Sand (Mahana) Beach
You need good hiking shoes — or a permit and a four-wheel-drive vehicle — to get to this truly green crescent, one of the most unusual and prettiest beaches on the island. The beach lies at the base of Pu’u o Mahana, a cinder cone formed during an early eruption of Mauna Loa; the greenish tint is caused by an accumulation of olivine that forms in volcanic eruptions. Swimming is dangerous in this windy, remote area, and there are no facilities, but in calm water close to the shore, the aquamarine surf feels great and you find yourself in a surreal grass plain landscape. You can get a four-wheel-drive permit from Hawaiian Homelands (160 Baker Ave., Hilo 96720, 808- 974-4250). They’ll give you a key to the gate for a $25 deposit. Follow the trail 2 to 3 miles along the shoreline. It’s 2-1⁄2 miles northeast of South Point, off Hwy. 11. 808/974-4250.
Punaluu Beach Park
Endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles nest in the black sand of this beautiful and easily accessible beach. Fishponds are just inland. At the northern end of the beach near the boat ramp lie the ruins of a heiau and a flat sacrificial stone. This used to be a sugar and army port until the tidal wave of 1946 destroyed the buildings. Offshore rip currents are extremely dangerous, though you’ll see a few local surfers riding the waves. There are rest rooms across the road. Hwy. 11, 27 miles south of Volcanoes National Park.
This three-acre beach park with a 1⁄2-acre pond heated by a volcanic steam opened in 1993 to replace earlier beach parks that were lost to lava flows. The pond here is good for swimming, but the nearby ocean is rough. Drinking water and a few tables are available for picnicking, and there are portable rest rooms. The park is on the Kapoho coast, southeast of Pahoa, 2-1⁄2 miles south of the junction of Highways 132 and 137. 808-961-8311.
MacKenzie State Recreation Area
a. This 13-acre park shaded by ironwood trees is good for picnicking. You can’t swim here, but there are rest rooms. The recreation area is off Highway 137, 2 miles south of junction with Highway 132. 808/961-8311.
Isaac Hale Beach Park
The oceanfront park facilities here include rest rooms and picnic areas. It’s a good place for an afternoon nap, but it’s dangerous for swimming. The park is off Highway 137, north of the junction with Highway 132. 808-961-8311.
Leleiwi Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park
Near Hilo, along the Keaukaha shoreline laced with bays, inlets, lagoons, and pretty parks, these two beaches are adjacent to each other. The grassy area is ideal for picnics. The beaches are rocky and dangerous for swimming, though you can dip your feet in the shallow areas. Follow Kalaniana’ole Avenue east along the water about 4 miles south of Hilo. 2349 Kalaniana’ole Ave. 808-961-8311.
Onekahakaha Beach Park
A protected, white-sand beach makes this a favorite for Hilo families with small children. Lifeguards are on duty year-round. The park has picnic pavilions, rest rooms, and showers. Follow Kalaniana’ole Ave. east. It’s 3 miles south of Hilo. 808-961-8311.
Reeds Bay Beach Park
With rest rooms, showers, drinking water, calm and safe swimming, and proximity to downtown Hilo, this cove is a great attraction on the east side of the island. Cold freshwater springs seep from the bottom of a nearby pond and rise in the saltwater. Banyan Dr. and Kalanianaole Ave., Hilo. 808-961-8311.For more information contact Hawaii Aloha Travel.