There are dozens of beautiful beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, making it a popular destination choice for anyone who can appreciate a classic white sandy beach with picturesque palm trees. But even here, there are a few beaches that will always stand out in a crowd. These are some truly unique beaches on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
There are only four green sand beaches in the entire world, and Papakolea Green Sand Beach is one of them. In fact, it’s one of just two green sand beaches in the United States. But it isn’t just the rare sand that makes this place unique—you simply won’t find a beach like this anywhere else on the Big Island.
The beach itself is carved in a 49,000-year-old cinder cone that belongs to the Mauna Loa volcano, which contains the green crystals that give the beach its name. While the sand is obviously the main attraction, you’ll find stunning, sweeping ocean views here that will make you want to visit again and again despite the access challenges. Swimming can be rough here and there are no lifeguards, so if you decide to swim, make sure you don’t come alone.
Pebble Beach at Kona Paradise
Located on the Kona Coast, Pebble Beach was named for the black lava pebbles that line its shore. This creates a one-of-a-kind landscape you’ll recognize instantly in photos. This beach happens to be home to a rich marine ecosystem. Below the surface, you’ll find an array of ridges, reefs, and pinnacles brimming with fish and other marine life.
In spite of all of this, Pebble Beach isn’t the best spot for snorkeling. The shore break can be treacherous, and there are almost always strong currents. In addition, some of the ridges in the water lead to steep drop offs which is why it’s more popular for diving. But if you intend to stay on the shore, this is a magnificent beach to visit.
Onomea Bay Beach
Onomea Bay is a bit of a hidden gem, but it’s well worth the search. The beaches on the bay are surrounded by the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden on the Old Mamalahoa Highway. Trails meander along the shore to lookouts and a couple of creek fed coves. If you’d like to visit, explore the trails outside the gardens first, then consider paying the admission fee to see the plants and walkways inside the gardens.
Note that it is best to visit this area on a warm, dry day. If it’s raining or has just rained, the trails will be muddy and the beaches will be slippery. Utilize it when you can enjoy it most, when conditions are dry.
Ali’i Saltwater Swimming Pool
The Ali’i Saltwater Swimming Pool is a truly unique experience you’ll find at Aston Kona by the Sea Resort in Kailua-Kona. This stone pool was constructed just above the beach’s high tide line. Waves crash over the top and fill the pool during a combination of high tide and strong surf, leaving cool, calm saltwater for families to swim in and enjoy. Best of all, the pool is free and open to the public.
When ocean conditions are filling the pool it is a hot spot, so parking can be difficult. Your best bet is to park on the shoulder near the entrance. Even when the pool isn’t swimmable due to stagnant water, this can be a great place to watch sunsets.
City of Arches
Located on Honaunau Bay, City of Arches is a mile-long stretch of coastline that’s littered with sea arches and blowholes, which are sea caves that push water up through the rocks to create a big blast (during high surf). The arches along this stretch are spectacular, and people are able to venture out and walk on them when the ocean is mellow.
Exploring Arch City is an amazing experience, but it does require a bit of a hike. Follow the designated trail (see topo map) along the coast north of Honaunau Bay, through some shrubbery to the shore, and then walk north on the lava cliff coastline. It’s well worth the effort.
Kiholo Queens Bath
Kiholo Bay is an off-the-beaten-path hike that takes you to the Kiholo Queens Bath and a cove filled with turquoise water, black sand, tide pools, and basking sea turtles. The easiest way to access it is by taking the Kiholo Bay State Park trail, which will take you straight to the magic. Look for a hole in the lava rock leading to the Queens Bath inside a lava tube. There you can soak in freshwater in near darkness. Note that this area is full of Hawaiian history and heritage, so please be respectful as you enjoy the area.
Mokuola, or Coconut Island, is an island on Hilo Bay with a large grass park and a few small beaches. The swimming is fantastic here, and you can jump into the ocean from a 20-foot tower left over from WWII. Since it’s sheltered by the bay and the Hilo Pier, the waters stay calm.
What really makes this area unique is its close proximity to the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens. This means you can visit the gardens and the island at the same time, making for an ideal day.