The Big Island of Hawaii is well-known for having some of the best and most famous beaches in the country. And not only are the beaches beautiful, they’re also extremely diverse. Whether you’re looking for white sand, black sand, lava rocks, or a place to swim, you’ll find it on the Big Island.
It isn’t easy to determine the best beaches on Hawaii, but these 10 stand out, both visually and because of their attractions and amenities.
Hapuna State Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Big Island, and it’s easy to see why. Located on the island’s northwestern shores, the half-mile long, white sandy beach offers ideal swimming conditions most of the time as well as snorkeling and boogie boarding options.
Hapuna Beach has lifeguards on duty during the day, and there are picnic tables, restrooms, showers, and food and beverages available for purchase.
Mauna Kea Beach
With its soft, white sand and lines of palm trees, Mauna Kea Beach is the kind of picture-perfect place most people dream about when they imagine Hawaiian beaches. This family-friendly beach sits in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, has easy access to restrooms, and is a fantastic place for both sunbathing and snorkeling. The hotel restaurant also serves food and drink right by the beach.
If you go during the winter, take note: waves are usually higher, creating strong rip currents that make swimming dangerous.
If you’re looking to escape the crowd, head to Kona Coast State Park and check out Makalawena Beach. This beach is off the beaten path, requiring a 20-minute walk along a rough lava-lined path to reach. However, the walk will be well worth it when you enjoy your own private piece of paradise.
Makalawena Beach is more rustic than the others on the list. Other than a few picnic tables, you won’t find any amenities here, including restrooms. There are, however, occasionally wandering chickens and goats in the area.
At times, visiting Waipio Beach feels downright otherworldly. Located in the Hamakua District on the Big Island’s northern shore, this black sand beach feels like a piece of the past. Spending time here is rejuvenating in more ways than one—you’ll find fantastic sightseeing and hiking options.
Waipio Beach is not a good place for swimming, and there are no amenities. But what it lacks in those things, it makes up for in stunning scenery. Also, keep in mind that the road leading to the beach is only open to 4-wheel drive vehicles, and most rental vehicles are not equipped to handle it. You can hike down this steep road (considered one of the steepest in the US), but it’s only for the fittest folks.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach sits nestled on the eastern shore of the island, right in between Naalehu and Pahala. Its easy access from Mamalahoa Highway makes it a popular choice for tourists, but swimming isn’t always safe here. Luckily, lifeguards are on duty during most hours, and they’ll have up-to-date information.
This beach is a hot spot for green sea turtles, who appreciate the heat that radiates from the black sand (on that note, make sure to bring appropriate footwear so you don’t burn your feet). Services are limited but include picnic areas, abundant parking spaces, an outdoor shower, and restrooms.
Located about 18 miles from downtown Kailua-Kona, Kukio Beach can be reached through the entrance gate to the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort. This beach sits just north of Kikaua Point Beach Park (a beach for families with small kids), and the soft white sandy shoreline is breathtaking.
The coconut palms, ironwood, and mesquite trees frame the sand here, and lava rocks often form tidal pools perfect for checking out the local marine life. The main bay is good for swimming or snorkeling but can get murky. You’ll often spot people paddleboarding and kayaking here as well. Restrooms are available, but make sure to pack your own snacks.
Kua Bay Beach
Kua Bay Beach (also known as Manini’owali Beach) is a small white sand beach at Kua Bay, which you’ll find just north of Kona. Known for its colorful waters and bright sand, this is a great place to boogie-board (in winter) and snorkel when the water is calm (usually in the summer). This beach is popular so the beach and parking lot can get crowded, especially in the afternoons and evenings. Be sure to pack drinks, snacks, and umbrellas—shade at Kua Bay Beach is very limited.
Pololu Valley Beach
Pololu Valley is arguably the most photographed part of the Big Island, and Pololu Beach is no exception. High sea cliffs that resemble giant walls surround the beach, making it seem like a secret spot. But even though the secret is definitely out, this beach usually remains uncrowded.
Most people refer to view this beach from the Pololu Valley Lookout. If you decide to go to the beach itself, you’ll have to hike down to sea level (and then back up!). It’s absolutely worth it, but note that there are no facilities there. The nearest restrooms are located at Keokea Beach Park about five minutes away.
Papakolea Beach, otherwise known as Green Sand Beach, is not safe for swimming due to its unpredictable currents and rough waves. But since it happens to be one of only four green sand beaches in the world, it’s definitely worth checking out. The sand here is an olive green shade, which is caused by deposits of a crystal formed millions of years ago during a volcanic eruption.
You’ll find this beach at the eastern side of the southern tip of the island. Access is by driving or walking rutted roads for over two miles each way (or hitchhiking with locals who know the roads and charge a small fee). There are no lifeguards or amenities here, so plan accordingly.
Papakolea is also one of The Most Unique Beaches on The Big Island.
Carlsmith Beach Park
If you’ve never been to a beach on the Big Island, Carlsmith Beach Park is the perfect place to start. Warm, welcoming, and family-friendly, this beach has lifeguards on duty during weekends and holidays, and the swimming is usually quite safe. Located just south of Hilo, Carlsmith also has a beautiful garden park by the beach.