There are few things as mesmerizing as a black sand beach in Hawaii. At these scenic spots, turquoise waters and green landscapes dazzle against the pitch-black shoreline. It’s somehow both calming and invigorating to visit, and the photos are incredibly Instagram-worthy.
But where can you find the best black sand beach Hawaii offers?
Ahead we’re learning all about these natural wonders and directing you to the best ones you can find in the islands.
What is a Black Sand Beach
Hawaii’s black sand beaches are created by volcanic activity. Here, instead of having fine white sand, you’ll find black shorelines filled with glassy rocks (sometimes as small as pebbles but some as large as boulders).
How They Form
When lava flows into the ocean, the sudden force of hot lava against the cool waters causes little explosions that turn the lava into small fragments of volcanic rock. This happens instantly when lava flows, and most of Hawaii’s black sand beaches formed overnight.
But many beaches will have black sand mixed in. Erosion and river flows will bring volcanic rock to the shoreline, lending a unique look to many of Hawaii’s beaches (though these will be more gray instead of stark black).
A young black sand beach will have sharp, rough sand. Over time, erosion will turn the sand into a smooth, glass-like pebble.
The Lifespan of Black Sand Beaches
“Normal” beaches have sand that washes and then (hopefully) is replenished with new sand from the ocean. However, black sand is typically created from one-time volcanoes, so little sand is available to fill the shoreline when erosion takes it away.
That’s why black sand beaches in Hawaii have a limited lifespan – maybe a couple hundred years. It’s also why it’s illegal to take any sand away from the beaches (plus, you don’t want to endure a curse from Pele, the volcano goddess).
Where to Find Black Sand Beaches in Hawaii
Because black sand beaches have such a short lifespan, you’ll only find them in areas with (relatively) recent volcanic activity. So, to see these spectacular spots, you’ll need to head toward east Maui or the Island of Hawaii.
Hawaii Island (The Big Island)
Because of its recent volcanic activity, Hawaii Island has the highest concentration of black sand beaches. Some older ones will have more of a grayish appearance, and some will have other colors mixed in as well. We’ll highlight some of the best ones to visit while exploring the unique (and relatively young!) island.
Punalu’u Beach is on the southern end of Hawaii Island. It’s a genuine black sand beach created by volcanic activity. It’s isolated – you’ll need to drive well over an hour to get there from Kona or Hilo. But once there, the shoreline is accessible and a lot of fun.
There are restrooms, picnic pavilions, camping, lifeguard stands, and excellent wildlife viewing – you’ll likely see green sea turtles here.
When conditions are good, it’s a great spot for swimming or snorkeling, and there’s a tide pool that’s perfect for younger kids and anyone wanting an easy way to cool off.
Richardson Ocean Park
Richardson Ocean Park is unique due to its mix of green and black sand. Located right in Hilo, this scenic spot is typically great for fishing, swimming, exploring tide pools, and picnicking. Plus, it sometimes gets sunny, even when the rest of the town is cloudy.
You’ll find Richardson Ocean Park on Kalanianaole Street near the Hilo airport. It tends to get busy in the afternoons and weekends.
Honoli’i Beach Park
Honoli’i Beach Park is often overlooked on lists of black sand beaches in Hawaii. This Hilo shoreline is a popular surf spot and has a great grassy area for hanging out. But it’s not great for swimming. When tide is high, you may not see any fine black sand at all. However, there is a rocky shoreline with larger rocks that’s neat to see.
So Honoli’i Beach Park isn’t the best place for the ultimate black sand sighting (or for swimming!), but it is a neat place to check out if you’re in Hilo and short on time.
One of Hawaii Island’s newest black sand beaches is Pohoiki Beach at Isaac Hale Park. This black sand beach was formed in 2018 when Kilauea erupted and caused tremendous damage to the lower Puna district of Hawaii Island.
You’ll find this amazing place about an hour north of Hilo. It’s pretty easy to access and can be great for fishing, sightseeing, and exploring tidepools.
We think it’s well worth the drive from Hilo to see such a new natural wonder.
In 1990, Kilauea’s eruption flowed over the town of Kalapana, wiping out its buildings and shorelines. And a treasured black sand beach was lost.
But new black sand formed over the old beach, creating Kaimū Beach. It doesn’t have the beautiful landscape of its predecessor, but it’s still an incredible place to check out.
You’ll take a short hike over a lava field to reach Kaimū Beach. Once there, you’ll mostly just enjoy the sights from shore – it’s not a great spot for swimming or water activities.
It’s about 45 minutes south of Hilo on Highway 130.
Makolea Black Sand Beach
Makolea Beach isn’t the best black sand to visit, since it’s not as scenic and is harder to access. But it is the closest to Kona. So, if you want to stay in that area while seeing a Hawaii black sand beach, Makolea is a great option.
To access this black sand beach, begin at Ka’elehuluhulu Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park. You’ll go left (if you’re facing toward the ocean) and hike for about 15 to 20 minutes along the shoreline.
This is a secluded spot without any lifeguards. Waters can get rough, so we recommend against swimming and snorkeling here. However, it’s fun to reach this hidden gem and the closest black sand beach to Kona.
Maui also has a couple options for seeing black sand beaches. Though there aren’t nearly as many as on the big island, seeing such a unique sight is worth the adventure.
Wai’ānapanapa State Park
This is one of the most popular stops along the Road to Hana. Here, you’ll find Pa’iloa Beach, a dark black shoreline with glistening waters, bright green palm trees, and even a blow hole.
Though it can get crowded, it’s worth the stop as you travel to Hana. It’s at mile marker 32 and has a great place to use the restroom, walk around, and cool off in the ocean. Swimming is a popular activity at Wai’ānapanapa State Park.
Be sure to make your reservation in advance, even if you just plan on stopping by. If you’d like to stay longer, you can try to get a camping reservation that will allow you to immerse yourself in the scenery (and not rush back to town after driving to Hana).
Oneuli Black Sand Beach
One’uli is a really scenic and somewhat secluded black sand beach in Makena (south Maui). When water is calm, it’s a popular place for couples and families to relax, swim, and hang out. But it’s easy to miss. Look for it down Makena Alanui Road, past all the hotels and condos of Wailea. There will be a swinging gate with a rugged road leading to the small parking lot.
If you reach Makena Big Beach, you’ve gone too far.
One’uli is also called Naupaka Beach. One of the coolest things about this spot is that you’re right next to the Pu’u Ola’i cinder cone that you can see from much of Wailea. It’s also much more convenient to reach than Hana’s Wai’ānapanapa State Park. If you’re staying in Wailea, you can drive there in under 10 minutes.
FAQs About Visiting a Black Sand Beach in Hawaii
Ready to see some of Hawaii’s most unique and stunning sights? We hope we’ve helped guide you to some of the best spots. But if you still have some questions, here are a few answers to get you started on your next adventure!
Can I swim at a Black Sand Beach?
Yes, as long as conditions are safe, it’s perfectly fine to swim at a black sand beach.
Do I need to bring anything special?
We recommend you bring along a pair of water shoes, as it can be hard to walk on the pebbly rocks. Also, younger black sand beaches won’t have any shade, so bring along sun protection like reef-safe sunscreen, UPF clothes, and hats.
Can I bring black sand home from me?
No, it’s against the law, and some say it will bring you bad luck. So take plenty of pictures and leave the black sand behind.
Are there Black Sand Beaches on Kauai or Oahu?
On Kauai, Waimea Beach sometimes appears black when the sand gets wet. You will also see some black sand at Kauai’s glass beach near Port Allen Harbor.
There are no black sand beaches on the island of Oahu.
Anything else we should know?
Always prioritize safety when visiting any beach in Hawaii, especially secluded ones. And make sure you get great help planning your sightseeing. At Hawaii Aloha Travel, we can create a custom itinerary that will allow you to see the best black sand beaches in Hawaii and some of the other incredible wonders of the islands.