The Big Island is the largest in the Hawaiian chain, which means it also has the most coastline. There are some fantastic beaches to explore and enjoy here – each offering a different experience. From scenic white sand wonders perfect for the family to rugged black sand inlets that take effort and adventure to reach, Hawaii has it all. Here’s a look at the top 10 Hawaiian beaches on the Big Island.
1. Punalu’u – Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach comes in at the top of the list because of its black sand created by the surf pounding over lava flows that have reached the sea. This is not your typical postcard-style beach, and that’s exactly why it’s so amazing. It reflects the rugged wonder that captures the true spirit of the Big Island. Punalu’u is a large beach reasonably easy to reach on the southern side of the island. It makes for a great stop alongside a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or as a day trip unto itself.
The contrasting colors between the Pacific’s blues with green palm trees and other tropical foliage lining the shores make for amazing pictures, but seeing it up close and personal is even more magical. It’s also a good spot for snorkeling and swimming, although you need to be careful because it is rocky and the currents can be strong. If you’re not an experienced swimmer, wait for another beach on this list. Several types of sea turtles can often be found here as well – just make sure to stay at least 10 feet away from them at all times.
Black Sand Beach has plenty of parking, lifeguards during the day, restrooms, a picnic area, and an outdoor shower. It makes for an unforgettable and unique day for any visitor and is the best beach on the Big Island.
2. Hapuna Beach
Hapuna Beach is another top option and more in line with the sandy shores and bright blue waters you’d expect when visiting Hawaii. It is found on the western side of the Kohala Coast, north of Kona. Hapuna is a state recreation area which means you’ll have to pay an entrance fee if you’re not a resident, but it’s well worth it. It’s the largest white sand beach on the Big Island and is a popular spot for all of the usual beachfront activities, from surfing to sunbathing.
There is a large parking lot at Hapuna but it can fill up fast, so arriving early is recommended. You’ll also find plenty of room to spread out alongside picnic areas, outdoor showers, and restrooms. You can also camp here or rent a cabin if you want a few days at another top Big Island beach.
3. Makalawena Beach
Makalawena Beach is a secluded and serene white sand wonder just north of Kona. This one takes a little more effort to access, but you’ll be rewarded handsomely with soft sands and crystal clear water if you are up for it. To reach the inviting shores of Makalawena, you’ll need to take a short 20-minute hike across a lava path. This keeps the average tourist away and the crowds down.
The waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling with reefs and sea caves found just offshore. You won’t find any facilities or amenities here, but its secluded nature makes for the perfect spot to get away from it all.
4. Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach
This is a beach for anyone looking for an adventure when they visit the Big Island. Waipi’o boasts black sand, stunning views, and access to waterfalls. But it is difficult to access and involves a decent hike from the valley rim into its floor down a harrowing 4-wheel drive road. You can drive down, but know that most rental car agencies won’t allow this, and you need a vehicle with low gears and high clearance.
When you do make it to the beach, you’ll find an open expanse where you can gaze into the Pacific, a river mouth, and a waterfall off to the right if it has been raining. The waters look inviting but are notorious for high surf and rip currents. Swimming can be dangerous and isn’t recommend unless you’re an experienced ocean swimmer. Still, Waipi’o Valley is a beautiful destination beach more than worth the extra effort needed to reach its black sand shores.
5. Waialea Beach
Waialea is a great option for a family beach day. It’s found just south of Hapuna Beach and is also called Beach 69 because you can find it from that mile marker off Old Puaka Rd. This is a great spot to snorkel or go scuba diving because it has calm waters in the summer months and a large abundance of marine life.
It can get crowded because it’s a relatively small beach, and in the winter months the sand can literally disappear. But when the sun is out, and the waters are calm, you’ll find tide pools and coconut palms to provide a memorable Big Island experience.
6. Maniniowali Beach
Maniniowali is one of the most picturesque beaches on the Big Island. It has a large stretch of white sand and very much plays the part of a tropical island oasis. This is another beach near Kona but typically sees fewer crowds as there isn’t a lot of nearby parking and it’s a little harder to access than other popular beaches nearby.
A morning at Maniniowali is highly recommended as the waters can be calm and inviting for swimmers and snorkelers. Many different types of fish and turtles can be found swimming offshore. The surf can get big during the winter, which is great for experienced surfers – just be careful swimming when the waves are high. And you’ll want to bring an umbrella or sun hat because there aren’t many trees for shade.
7. Papakolea – Green Sand Beach
You read that right, Green Sand Beach. Papakolea makes the list because it is a surreal spot that showcases the diversity of terrain and beauty found on the Big Island. This beach is near the very southern tip of the island and owes its unique color to volcanic activity caused by nearby Mauno Loa. Olivine crystals from the volcano mixed with rock and regular sand give the shores a greenish hue that seems otherworldly.
Getting to the beach involves a 2 ½ mile out and back hike (5-miles total). Bring a backpack with food, water, and whatever other beach gear you want with you. After the hike, you’ll want to stay and enjoy this amazing location for a while. Starting earlier in the day is recommended to avoid the heat and the crowds. You can swim here, but there are no lifeguards or other facilities, so be careful.
8. Pohoiki Black Sand Beach (Isaac Hale Beach Park)
This is another black sand beach that is well worth a visit for any serious surfer. A lava flow engulfed the beach during an eruption in 2018, so there isn’t as much actual beach as there used to be. But the waves are still great, and you can find other unique things to explore, like thermal ponds a few good hikes.
If you want to see up close and personal how volcanic activity shapes the Big Island or paddle out for a solid set, Pohoiki is the place to be. There are some port-a-potties in the park, but you won’t find any drinking water or other amenities, so be prepared with everything you want and need.
9. Mauna Kea Beach
Mauna Kea is a stunning beach that has the crescent shape, inviting waters, and soft sands that Hawaiian dreams are made of. This is another good option for the family or anyone with small children because the beach sits in a small bay protected from larger surf by a natural rock reef.
It’s a great swimming beach and a place to spend the entire day (or your entire trip if you stay at the Mana Kea Resort). You can find food and other amenities at the adjoining hotel, but you’ll want to arrive early as the parking lot is small and can fill up quickly if you aren’t staying there. Another cool feature of this beach is that Manta Rays come here to feed at night, and the hotel beams lights down on them for all to see.
10. Four Mile Beach
If you are staying in or around Hilo, you’ll want to check out Four Mile Beach. It’s also called Carlsmith Beach Park and is unique because you won’t find any sand here. Don’t worry though, you can still sunbathe and lounge on a grassy lawn that reaches all the way to the water. A reef and rocks provide a natural barrier from heavier surf, which makes this another top spot for swimming and snorkeling.
This beach does have amenities with lifeguards on duty, drinking water, restrooms, outdoor showers, and picnic tables. Kids will love it here as there are safe areas to swim and plenty of land to explore. A beach without sand might sound unappealing, but this is another destination that highlights the diversity of everything the Big Island has to offer.