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It’s not much of a surprise, but when it comes to beautiful beaches, Hawai’i is undoubtedly a top-notch destination. However, the Big Island beaches tends to be overlooked by all the main Hawaiian Islands.
Maybe the island’s Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park gets much attention. Yet the island of Hawai’i’s beaches is not to be missed when planning things to do on the state’s largest (and youngest) island.
The Best Big Island Beaches To Explore
That said, we’re getting into our favorite Big Island beaches, from multi-colored sandy beaches to the top places to snorkel, the best beaches to swim on the Island of Hawai’i, and more.
As for a pink sand beach, the Island of Hawai’i is not the place for that, though there are plenty of white, black, and green sand beaches to make up for it. These are our top five Big Island beaches, plus a handful more.
East Side of the Island Of Hawai’i (Hilo)
The east side of Hilo and its surrounding towns may be the rainier side of the Island of Hawai’i, but its beaches are worth checking out.
Its Hamakua Coast counts uber-steep green cliffs of Waipi’o Valley and the site of the Big Island’s last sugar plantation (it closed in 1996) in its territory. And the beaches are diverse, from black and green sand beaches and more.
Carlsmith Beach Park
Known locally as “Four Mile,” a reef and natural lava rock wall offer protection from the open ocean and make it one of the best Big Island beaches for swimming and snorkeling. The shoreline is surrounded by trees, including palms. Sea turtles (honu) are known to frequent the lagoons, and grassy areas (this isn’t a sandy beach, btw) are popular for picnicking.
Leleiwi Beach Park
Just five miles from Hilo, Leleiwi Beach Park (aka Wai’uli Beach Park) is one of the best Big Island beaches near Hilo to snorkel. Calm seawater and freshwater from underground springs feed its protected inlets. Sand is mostly non-existent here, FYI.
There’s also another section of the park known as Richardson Ocean Center for more snorkeling and swimming and a small patch of salt and pepper sand, but mostly grassy.
Papakōlea Green Sand Beach
In addition to black sand beaches, the island of Hawaii’s southernmost Kāʻu District is home to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach—one of only four green sand beaches in the world! Thousands of years ago, the once-active Pu’u Mahana volcano’s lava flows created the beach’s olivine mineral sand and green color.
The remote land around this beach is fragile due to illegal paths beachgoers use to get there. As advocates for sustainable and responsible tourism, we’re all about being mindful of our natural resources and the communities we’re guests of. In this case, that means getting there legally by hiking two miles from Highway 11. Note that there is no shade at this Big Island beach.
This part of the island (Kalaʻe or South Point) is believed to have been where Polynesian settlers first arrived between 400 and 800 A.D. You can maximize your time on the island’s south side with a visit to the twice-weekly farmers market or Kāʻu Coffee Mill.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Big Island beaches boast several black sand beaches, but this one is ringed with coconut trees. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach’s basalt sand gets its inky color from the island’s volcanic activity. This beach is better for sunbathing and picnicking than swimming due to its rocky shoreline and strong rip current.
Find this beach between Pahala and Nāʻālehu towns on the island of Hawai’i’s southeastern side, or 17 miles from the western entrance of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Punalu’u, or “diving spring water,” refers to the bay’s freshwater springs.
West Side of the Island Of Hawai’i (Kona)
If the Hilo side of the Island of Hawai’i is greener and wetter, its westerly Kona side is drier and sunnier. It’s where famous Kona coffee grows in the cooler upland regions and includes Kailua-Kona town and Waikōloa Village.
Waikōloa Village and the surrounding area are a mix of luxury resorts, high-end shopping, and historic sites like Waikōloa Petroglyph Reserve. You’ll also find most of the island’s white sand beaches on the Kona side.
Also known as A-Bay, ‘Anaeho’omalu Beach sits along the Kohala Coast in front of Waikōloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Its reef bottom creates calm waters for swimming and clear waters for snorkeling and scuba diving. There’s also a kiosk to rent kayaks, bodyboards, and book catamaran tours and outrigger canoe rides.
Ancient Hawaiian fishponds are also nearby, examples of some of the earliest sustainable aquaculture methods where wild fish swim through stick gates in the lava rock walls where they are held and raised.
Out of all the Big Island beaches, Hapuna Beach is a superstar beach for being one of Hawaii’s largest and most beautiful white sand beaches. This is an ideal beach to swim, soak up the sun, and snorkel. Find it along the west side’s Kohala Coast, about 15 minutes north of Waikōloa Village, with lots of parking (there is a fee), food stands, showers, and picnic areas.
Kaunao’a Beach (Mauna Kea Beach)
Kaunao’a Beach — aka Mauna Kea to locals — is a half-mile crescent of white sand beach situated in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (and the island’s first resort.)
People go here to sunbathe, snorkel during the calmer summer months, and catch a sunset. On clear days, you may even catch a glimpse of the Mauna Kea volcano in the distance.
The trick is to go as early as possible to snag one of the few public parking spots; otherwise, plan to valet at the hotel. At night, the resort’s floodlights make nighttime manta ray viewing possible.
Kekaha Kai State Park
Formerly known as Kona Coast State Park, this beach park near Kona has several beaches to enjoy, including Mahaiʻula, Manini’owali beach (Kua Bay), and Makalawena beach. The Mahai’ula section of the beach is sandy, with amenities including picnic tables, bathroom facilities, plus opportunities to hike parts of the historic Ala Kahakai trail.
La’aloa (Magic Sands Beach)
Another white sand beach on Big Island’s Kona side is Magic Sands Beach Park. It has bathrooms, showers, a lifeguard station, and a volleyball court. It’s smaller than Hāpuna Beach, and it gets its name from the sandy shore that “disappears” during the high surf winter season. La’aloa as it’s officially known, is located 30 minutes south of Kona International Airport.
‘Ohai’ula (Spencer Beach Park)
Spencer Beach Park is also up there because the Kohala Coast boasts some of the best Big Island beaches. The reef is a buffer from the rough open ocean and offers a calmer swimming and snorkeling experience. There are also shaded picnic areas with barbecue grills, restrooms, showers, and grassy lawn—a good family-friendly spot.
Combine a stop here with a short walk to the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. The heiau, or temple, was built between 1790 and 1791 under the direction of King Kamehameha I, who unified the Hawaiian islands.
From Hilo to Kona and in between, the diversity of its beaches is why they should be on your must-do list while on Hawai’i Island.
Big Island Beaches FAQ
Consider this your cheat sheet for exploring Big Island Beaches:
What are the best black sand beaches on the Big Island?
- Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
What are the best snorkeling options on the Big Island?
- ‘Anaeho’omalu Beach
- Hapuna Beach
- Kaunao’a Beach (Mauna Kea Beach)
- Leleiwi Beach Park
- ‘Ohai’ula (Spencer Beach Park)
What is the best beach near Hilo?
- Carlsmith Beach Park
- Leleiwi Beach Park
What are the best sand beaches in Kona?
- La’aloa (Magic Sands Beach)
Quick Tips For Visiting Big Island Beaches
If you have read our essential tips to know before visiting Hawai’i, you may already know a few of these tips. However, here they are again to help you be respectful during your visit:
- All beaches on the Island of Hawaiʻi (and all of the main Hawaiian Islands) are public, even though resorts may flank some
- Honu (green sea turtles) and endangered monk seals like to rest on the sand and rocks but disturbing them is strongly discouraged
- Taking sand from the beach is prohibited
- Locals know—and you should too—to never turn their backs on the ocean waves, even when they appear calm. This behavior, unfortunately, makes rescue season a year-round thing for lifeguards.
More Hawai’i Travel Tips
Planning a trip to the Aloha State? Make sure to read these articles too!
- Which Hawai’i Island To Visit
- Local Food To Try In Hawai’i
- What To Pack For Hawai’i
- Six Big Island Hiking Trails To Explore
Have Us Plan Your Hawai’i Trip
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in Hawai’i vacation planning? If you’re looking to plan a trip to Hawai’i, our Hawaii trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Magic Sands Beach by MGambill; Punaluu Beach by Billy McDonald; Spencer Beach park by Bonnie Marie; ABay Photo by FunBoxPhoto
Hawaiian Diacritical Marks: In an effort to be accurate and respectful of the Hawaiian language, we use diacritical marks in our articles on the region. For more about which marks are used in the language and how to find proper spelling, refer to this Hawai’i Magazine article.