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It’s been over a year since we have traveled to Hawaii and not a day goes by where we don’t talk about that trip! It was truly amazing in every way you dream about a 3-week trip to this magical state. For me, the biggest highlight of the vacation was the incredible Big Island beaches.
A vacation to Hawaii took a lot of planning and I wanted to get the most out of our time on each island. I am so indebted to all the great blogs I read (check out my Hawaii Pinterest board for all things Aloha) and as always to Fodor’s Hawaii for helping me plan our activities. I am so excited to share our best tips and help other folks plan their awesome Hawaiian adventures! Since launching this site, I have written about the best Maui activities, and a great itinerary if you are traveling the Road to Hana. In this post I am excited to share the best Big Island beaches.
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The Best Big Island Beaches
Hubby and I visited the Big Island with some friends over 10 years ago. The island of Hawaii is so interesting, with the strange juxtaposition of the gorgeous beaches and the black lava rocks that fill much of the terrain. It’s a rugged paradise and the unique landscape is the main attraction.
We were excited to return to the Big Island with the kids, especially my son who is so interested in science and nature. When you first arrive at the Kona international airport (read my best tips to save money on your inter-island flights here) and pull out of the car rental lot, this island is definitely not what you envisioned when you picture the south pacific. But don’t worry, there are a ton of incredible beaches to explore. Here are our favorites, and some helpful hints so you can plan your best Big Island trip!
Best Big Island Beaches
Best Kona Beaches
Kahaluu Beach Park– We stayed in a townhouse in Keauhou (read my best tips for booking a vacation rental and what to bring to your beach house rental) and this beach was located less than a mile from our house. On the big island, this was the first beach we visited. With all of our beach gear, we drove over and parked in the small lot. If the lot is full, there is street parking available.
This beach is also known as the Salt and Pepper beach. The sand is a mix of tan and black sand. Definitely unique.
The sand is super cool, but the best part of this beach is the rocky shoreline where, when we went, we saw a ton of sea turtles! Remember, sea turtles feed off algae so rocky formations are generally a good place to try to see them.
Because of the rocks, getting into the water was a little tricky, but once you were in you could stand, swim and snorkel right along side the sea turtles. We brought our own snorkeling equipment to Hawaii, but you can rent gear through various outposts, including right at this beach.
I highly recommend stopping off at Kahaluu for a chance to see the sea turtles up close. But remember – in Hawaii, it is illegal to touch the turtles!
This beach is a little tricky to find. It is part of Kekaha Kai State Park. From Kona you take Highway 19 North and look for the turn off between mile markers 88 and 89. A one a half mile paved road will lead you down to the water. There is a parking lot (we were lucky enough to find a spot) but if the lot is full you can park along the side of the access road. There is a turnaround near the bathrooms so you can drop off your family (and stuff) and then go park.
To get on the sand, you have to descend a rocky area and a narrow path. Not a stroller or wheel chair friendly area. But if you can manage the walk, you will not be disappointed!
Magic Sands – Not to sound redundant, but this is also one of the top beaches I have ever been to! The sand is so white and soft, it lives up to its magical name! And it was very close to our condo in Keaheau located right on Ali’i Drive. There is no formal parking lot, but on our August visit, we easily found street parking.
At this beach we spent almost all of our time in the water, boogy boarding. The waves were big enough to be fun, but not too big. We literally spent hours on the boards!
After riding the waves, baby girl and I spent some time off on the north side of the beach, in the tide pools. Here we saw a few sea turtles (from a distance) and lots of fish. I want to head back to Kona just to return to this beach, it is one not to be missed!
Hapuna Bay – Hubby and I visited this beach back in 2005 and we were eager to return. Again, this is a gorgeous beach, and one of the biggest on the island. This beach is located in a state park, 25 miles north of the airport. There is a parking lot ($5 per vehicle), concession stands, and picnic tables.
Hapuna Bay has beautiful white sand, and is great for swimming and boogey boarding. This was also the perfect sand castle building spot. We had a great time digging and building here!
Pro-tip: When you leave Hapuna Bay, head 3.8 miles north to the Original Big Island Shave Ice located in a tucked away trailer! The perfect post-beach treat!
Best Hilo Beaches
Unfortunately, in the three visits I have made to the Big Island of Hawaii, I have never been to the Hilo side! Clearly I need to change that. An avid cruiser and travel agent who loves planning cruises, I do have my eye on the Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of America cruise – which docks on both sides of the Big Island!
If you are visiting Hilo, either as a day trip from the Kona side, or staying for a few days, here are some great Hilo beaches to check out. Again, Hilo is not really known for its beaches, but there are some good ones on that side of the island.
Coconut Island (aka MOKU OLA) – Coconut Island has a beach with a rocky shoreline with some sandy spots. A popular activity is to jump off the tower into the waters of Hilo Bay. The park is accessible via footbridge from parking lot.
Onekahakah Beach Park – Onekahakah Beach is a popular beach park at the end of Onekahakaha Road that has a sandy swimming lagoon and a rocky shoreline. Be careful though, there are hazardous waves and currents outside the protected swimming area.
Carlsmith Beach Park – Also known as “Four Mile” Carlsmith Beach Park is a favorite among locals as the lava rocks create an almost pool like swimming spot. Great for snorkeling, sea turtle spotting, or swimming. A top choice for families with younger children.
Black Sand Beaches on the Big Island
Punalu’u beach -We spent a day doing a day trip to the Volcano National Park and hit up Punalu’u beach on the way back. This beach is located on the southern end of the Island, about an hour and 40 minute ride from Kona.
This is definitely the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island. Unfortunately on the day of our visit it was pouring rain, so we tried to spend some time on the beach, but we were soaked! But this is definitely a cool spot to check out – I mean I know had never seen a black sand beach before! The kids did get in the water, and on a sunnier day this would be a nice spot to spend a couple of hours.
Pololu Valley Beach – Pololu Valley Beach is located on the northern tip of the island, about an hour and 20 minutes from Kona. Not a swimmable beach, but more a place to hike and take in the natural beauty.
Best Places to Snorkel Big Island
One of the best things we did in our three weeks in Hawaii was alot of snorkeling time! My kids pretty much stink at breathing underwater, but for little ones, they can just use the mask to stick their face in the water!
Personally, we found great snorkeling at Kahaluu Beach Park. This was the best beach to see sea turtles again since the rocks that the turtles love to feed on were right there!
Another great snorkeling beach, about 17 miles south of Kona can be found at Kealakekua Bay. Kealakekua Bay is a state historic park with free admission. This location is home to a coral reef, which also brings in many fish, making this park a great Big Island snorkeling spot.
Lastly, another great Big Island snorkeling beach is Honaunau Bay, or the “two-step” beach. On our recent trip, we had this beach on our must-see list, but sadly never made it. So much to do, so little time!
The Travel Channel named Honaunau Bay one of “America’s Best Beaches 2004”. This beach is great for snorkeling because of its coral reef, abundance of fish, and clear water that is sunlit for easy viewing. The water here is deep, so consider a using personal flotation device when snorkeling here.
Lastly, one thing I regret NOT doing on our Big Island trip (I blame it on having little kids) is doing a night time Manta Ray snorkel! This sounds like an incredible experience, and is unique to the Big Island of Hawaii.
Click here to book your night time Manta Ray Snorkeling trip.
Big Island Beach Pro-Tips:
The townhouse we stayed in came equipped with everything you might need for a day at the beach – beach towels, chairs, sand toys, even boogey boards! This is definitely a compelling reason to stay in a rental verses a hotel. Just check the rental’s listing to make sure they include these amenities!
Our beach rental also provided coolers of various sizes. In Keauhou we stocked up on groceries at the KTA and Safeway. To the beach we brought our own food – lunch, snacks and drinks. Some beaches had small concession stands, but some did not. I’d rather have my own food and not worry. Plus I am sure we saved money by packing our own food and drinks!
There are several places on the island where you can rent snorkeling gear. We brought our own to keep the cost down, and to guarantee we had clean equipment. The snorkels do take up some room in your luggage, but this was worth it and we always had our gear for whenever a snorkeling opportunity came up!
SHOP THIS POST: (Snorkels need not be expensive!)
Again when you arrive by air, its easy to wonder where the glorious beaches are, because all you can see are lava rocks for miles and miles! But this island has some of the best beaches in the world – warm and calm water make these choices perfect for families, couples, or anyone who loves a great day at the beach!
What are your favorite Big Island beaches?
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