Hawaii’s Big Island has no shortage of destinations deemed “magical” by the thousands of intrigued visitors it welcomes each and every year. Magic Sands Beach is one of the most popular
After all, Big Island is the place of towering green Jurassic Park-looking valleys, mystical fairy forests of ironwood trees browsed by wild horses, bubbling lava cauldrons at the summits of volcanoes, and waterfalls as tall as office buildings crashing into turquoise pools of water with rainbows forming out of the ensuing mist. It seems that everywhere you go on this island there’s another spectacle of incalculable natural beauty hiding behind every bend in the road, so it’s no wonder that the word “magic” gets thrown around often while describing the sights to see on trip to the youngest Hawaiian isle.
But head roughly four miles south along the main commercial seaside boulevard in Kona Town known as “Ali’i Drive”, and visitors will find a pristine beach park that truly does its own magic trick; it’s a short crescent-shaped plot of white sand and jutting black lava rocks that’s immensely popular with swimmers, sunbathers and boogie boarders known as “Magic Sands Beach”. In fact, this serene stretch of sandy Kona coastline is often ranked among the best beaches on Big Island for boogie boarding, and in the past has hosted the Magic Sands Body Surfing Championship – the only event of its kind on the entire island.
Magic Sands for the most part is what surfers call “beach break”. This is where, absent an offshore reef to induce the incoming rolling waves to form barrels and crash in deep water, the waves make their way into shore unencumbered and crash close to the beach in a spectacular explosion of white sand, misty spray and bubbling sea foam. Summer months see much tamer waves than winter ones at Magic Sands, with frequent high surf advisories issued for the beach during the winter swell when swimming, playing and boarding in the waves can become extremely dangerous.
And it is precisely the force of these intimidating winter waves which makes the beach’s magic trick possible. After a day of heavy surf crashing against the blanket of white sand and rolling back out again, the smaller particles of sand are dragged offshore leaving behind a bed of jagged, unforgiving rocks. A day later, changing wind and ocean conditions manage to blow the sand back again, making the beach appear wildly different from one day to the next. It’s a common experience; visitors will have a perfect once-in-a-lifetime beach day at Magic Sands sunbathing, swimming, picnicking and watching the sunset over a postcard-quality soft, gently sloping bay of white sand, only to come back the next morning to a completely different sight: blasting waves and badly eroded swaths of tumbling black lava rocks with not a single boogie boarder or swimmer in sight.
Luckily for wintertime ocean-goers, there’s a well-staffed lifeguard tower prominently situated out on the sand beside the park’s volleyball court. During these big swell days, lifeguards are usually blaring notices about current ocean conditions, and if in doubt simply find the tower and ask those working inside whether it’s a good idea to go for a swim or not. As always, keep in mind the statewide Hawaii ocean safety motto: “If in doubt, don’t go out”.
La’aloa – A “Very Sacred” Place
The sandy swimming spot’s official name is “La’aloa Beach Park”, meaning “very sacred” in the Hawaiian language. This name traces back to an 800-year-old ancient Hawaiian temple built ages ago on the south end of the beach known as “Haukalua Heiau” – the word “heiau” meaning temple – the ruins of which can still be seen along Ali’i Drive today. The purpose of this seaside temple has been lost to history, but traditional Hawaiian spirituality holds it to be sacred ground nonetheless. There are several other names for Magic Sands Beach mostly popular among locals, including White Sands Beach and Disappearing Sands.
Besides the temple, other historical spots found near the beach park include a stone honoring the god of fishermen known as a “kuula”, a canoe landing platform, a “papamu” also known as a Hawaiian checkerboard, bait mortars, and a boundary wall marking the edge of a lavafield of smooth, ropey black rock known as “pahoehoe”.
Today, these ancient sites are found along a miles-long commercial strip of hotels, restaurants, gear rental shops, convenience stores and trinket shops. For visitors wanting to experience a day of world-class boogie boarding at Magic Sand Beach – again, often ranked the best beach for it on the entire island – the rental shop called Boss Frog’s is located right up the street and has very reasonable rates: Roughly 10 dollars a day or around 25 dollars per week for board rentals.
Snorkeling and scuba gear can also be rented in Kona Town, and there is a rocky cove at the south end of Magic Sands Beach with fantastic snorkeling grounds of lava rock nooks and crannies inhabited by the island’s many colorful, curious forms of sea life. Exploring this cove, however, is only viable on days with calm water, and accessing it can become extremely treacherous when sets of big rollers come into shore.
In addition to the lifeguard tower and volleyball court, amenities at Magic Sands include a handful of picnic tables situated beneath a grove of shady broad-leafed trees and coconut palms, beside which is a modern restroom facility with a colorful mural painted on its outside wall, as well as stands of outdoor public showers for washing off the extremely fine and surprisingly sticky white sand. Occasionally, food trucks set up shop in the beach park’s parking lot, serving up typical barbecue fare like hamburgers, shave ice, tacos, ice cream, smoothies and the like.
Found just a stone’s throw from the white sand is Magics Beach Grill, with dine-in options either within the restaurant or outside on the patio overlooking the beach itself. The Grill served up entrees like fish and chips, ahi steak, mushroom pasta and fully-loaded salads. For a quicker and simpler bite to eat, the Beach Shack found right beside the restaurant offers breakfast and lunch items like burritos, acai bowls, baked goods, burgers, fish tacos, and specialities like smoked ahi chowder.
For beach-goers wanting a taste of local Hawaiian comfort food, “Da Poke Shack” is roughly a mile north of Magic Sands Beach and serves poke bowls (raw cubed, seasoned Hawaiian fish) in an astonishing variety of flavors – everything from spicy ahi to octopus, scallops, cod, crab and more. For under 20 dollars, diners can select two choices of poke, a healthy scoop of white or brown rice, and a side dish like potato or macaroni salad, calamari, kimchi mussels, garlic edamame or seaweed salad. The Shack only sells poke bowls to go, so lunch-goers might as well bring their fishy delights to the beach and find a patch of shade for a tropical picnic.
How To Get There
Magic Sands Beach is easily spotted on the right-hand side of Ali’i Drive roughly four miles south of downtown Kona. It is one of a string of highly popular beach parks grouped together along the Kona Coast, including Pahoehoe Beach Park, Kahaluu Beach Park, and the informal surfing spot known as “Lymans”.
Look out for the hand-carved wooden sign painted in brown and tan reading “La’aloa Bay Beach Park”, which is visible from the road and located next to the park’s restroom and shower facilities. To the right of the sign is a well-shaded sunbathing and picnic area set just up from the beach itself, with a grouping of large black lava rocks poking out of the sand.
Immediately south of the beach park is a small parking lot that is almost always full, especially on sunny afternoons with medium-sized surf. Across the street from Magic Sands, however, is a larger lot with ample parking made up of a smaller paved area leading to a large gravel section. There’s also parallel street parking along the southern travel lane of Ali’i Drive right above the park’s entrance. All spots in these public parking areas are free.
Magic Sands can get very crowded on weekends and holidays, and at times finding parking can be a challenge. For those wanting to experience the beach at its off-hours, come early in the morning just after breakfast and easily find a parking spot and a vacant picnic table.
For accommodations, there is an ample amount of small private rentals near Magic Sands Beach to be found via Airbnb. There are even rentable condos above Magics Beach Grill, offering some of the best views of the beautiful white sand and easiest access to it. Other resorts and condos in the area are just a few miles away, including the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa, Castle Kona Bali Kai, Banyans Hawaii, and the Royal Kona Resort.