Heading to the Big Island soon? We’re sharing the 8 best beaches on the Big Island, ranging from white sand, to black sand, to green sand, as well as important things to know about each one!
Before our trip to the Big Island, we weren’t totally sure what to expect when it came to the beaches. Since the island is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands and constantly changing due to volcanic activity, the coastline is much rockier and it doesn’t have as many endless white sand beaches like Maui, Oahu, or Kauai have. However, we ended up being very pleasantly surprised by the beaches we encountered.
We actually loved the fact that the island had less white sand beaches (there are still many to visit!) because what it may lack in white sand beaches it gains in unique, different colored beaches. We aren’t big lay out on the beach all day people and love variety when we travel and the Big Island’s beaches definitely delivered on variety. We visited a total of 8 beaches during our trip to the Big Island, ranging from white sand to black sand to green sand, and all of them were beautiful and unique.
In this blog we’ll share the 8 best beaches on the Big Island (from our experience + research). These beaches are located all around the island, have different colored sand, and are a mix of beaches you can just park and walk up to, and ones that you have to hike to.
Have a favorite beach we missed? Let us know in the comments so we can check it out next time!
Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
Map of Beaches on the Big Island
There are 6 regions on the Big Island, which we will refer to often in this blog so you have a better understanding of where the beaches are. These regions are: Kona, Kohala, Hamakua Coast, Hilo, Puna, and Kau.
There are beaches in every region on this blog, with the majority being in the Kona and Kohala regions. This is the part of the island that receives the least amount of rain and is known for having the more tropical, white sand Hawaiian beaches. Below is a map of where each beach on this blog post is located so you can plan your beach adventures easier!
To see our tips on where to stay and how to maximize your time on the island among all of the regions, check out our 7 Days on the Big Island Itinerary!
Accessibility: There is a parking lot right by the beach, but it does fill up quickly.
Out of all of the beaches we visited, Kua Bay (which is officially called Manini’owali Beach) was definitely one of our favorites! Kua Bay is located about 20-30 minutes north of Kailua-Kona and worth the trek out of town for its gorgeous blue water. The beach is in a cove surrounded by lava rocks, but it still has a good amount of soft sand to enjoy. However, it’s not the largest beach we visited and can get busy, so try to arrive early to snag a parking spot and a good spot on the sand.
When we went, we saw probably 4 dolphins swimming off in the distance (amazing!) and witnessed some pretty crazy waves. We sat and watched tons of locals boogie boarding and surfing the waves–it was really fun to watch! We hear the water is usually much calmer than when we went, but still typically good for boogie boarding. They also have multiple beach showers and restrooms if you need to freshen up!
Makalawena BeachAccessibility: A bit tricky! There are two ways to get to the beach: driving to the beach or walking to the beach. To drive to the beach, you will need 4WD and feel confident in offroading. The “road” to the beach is actually a lava field and to access it, you’ll turn off Highway 19 between mile markers 88 and 89. You’ll follow this road to the beach, going to the left at any forks in the road, and you’ll eventually arrive at the beach.
To walk to the beach, you will drive to the Mahai’ula Beach parking lot (right around here!) and then enter a yellow gate to reach the “trail,” which is a lava field. This trail first brings you by Mahai’ula Beach, which is very beautiful, but continue past this beach and down the lava field to reach Makalawena Beach. This walk to the beach is 100% exposed to the sun and is very rocky, so bring lots of water and good shoes. It takes about 20-30 minutes each way.
While a bit tougher to get to, Makalawena Beach is absolutely beautiful and also way less busy than other beaches in the area due to the effort you have to make to get there. There are multiple coves to enjoy and there were only a handful of people there about 2 hours before sunset. The water, similar to Kua Bay is extremely blue and clear, and the sand is extremely soft. This was definitely one of our top beaches of the trip!
One thing to note about this beach is that the beach itself does not have any restrooms or shower. If you walk to the beach, the parking area had some porta potties.
Magic Sands Beach
Accessibility: Magic Sands is super easy to access! You can park along the street or across the street in the parking lot and walk on over!
Magic Sands Beach (officially called Laʻaloa Beach) instantly caught our attention when we first heard of it because it has a pretty cool name. You may be thinking, “what makes it magical?” and the reason is super neat! During the winter months the surf can become so strong that it can actually remove the sand from the beach, exposing the lava rocks below.
During our visit, the waves were a good size, but we still had lots of sand to enjoy. This beach is probably the smallest of the entire list, but we really loved its tropical Hawaiian vibe, with lots of palm trees, bright blue water, and nice golden-white sand. If you arrive early, parking shouldn’t be an issue and you should be able to find a nice spot to lay out. One warning though: the waves can be rough, but they do have a lifeguard on duty to keep everyone safe.
There is a restroom at the beach (although, clean isn’t a word we’d use to describe it) and an outdoor shower for after you’re done laying out and playing in the water. There are also some picnic tables if you’d like to enjoy your lunch off the sand. We really enjoyed this little beach and if the sand is there when you’re on the Big Island, it’s definitely worth a visit!
Pololu Valley Beach
Accessibility: Pololu Valley Beach requires a hike down from the Pololu Valley overlook. There is parking at the overlook, but it’s limited, so arrive early!
Pololu Valley is a gorgeous part of the Kohala Coast, overlooking endless cliffs towards the Hamakua Coast, a valley, and the ocean below. This area is home to the Kohala Volcano, which last erupted 120,000 years ago. However, around 250,000 years ago, the volcano experienced a landslide and part of the volcano slid into the ocean, which created all of the beautiful cliffs you see from the overlook.
At the overlook, after admiring the cliff views, you may notice a black sand beach down by the water. To get to the beach, you take the trail right by the overlook, which is about 0.6 miles down to the beach and you lose around 420 ft of elevation, so it’s a tad steep at times, but relatively easy! Coming up, however, is a bit harder and can be really hot and humid, so bring lots of water.
While the beach itself is beautiful, with its black sand, less crowds, and cliffs surrounding it, we enjoyed this beach even more because of the journey to get to it! The hike is short and sweet and has amazing views the entire time, making the beach an added bonus at the end. You could lay out at the beach for a while, but the waves were pretty big when we were there, so we wouldn’t recommend swimming.
Although this may not be a traditional Hawaiian beach, full of boogie boarders, palm trees, and white sand, it was one of our favorite stops during our entire time on the island!
Accessibility: Hapuna Beach is actually a state park and has a pretty good sized parking lot right by the beach. There is a $5 fee to park in the lot for non-residents.
About 45 minutes north of Kailua-Kona lies Hapuna Beach, a ½ mile long beach located on the Kohala Coast, a region of the island that gets the least amount of rain. Since it’s located in a state park, it has restrooms and showers, and even a little cafe on site that has food (but we hear it’s not very good) and boogie board and snorkel rentals.
Hapuna Beach is the largest white sand beach on the island and while it is busy, there is still plenty of sand for all to lay out on and enjoy. If you have extra time after Hapuna Beach, we recommend checking out Mauna Kea Beach! We didn’t visit the beach ourselves, which is why it’s not one of our listed beaches, but we hear it is beautiful and many people’s favorite!
Hamakua Coast Beaches
Waipio Valley Beach
Accessibility: You have to either drive a 4WD vehicle down to this beach or hike down! The overlook of the beach is free and easy to access though 🙂
We are sort of cheating by including Waipio Valley Beach on this list, as we only saw it from the overlook, but we had full intentions of going down to it had it not been for some weather rolling in. Despite the fact that we didn’t visit ourselves, if you have the time and energy to make the trek down to the beach, we have heard it’s worth it!
The hike down to the beach is around 6.5 miles round trip (you hike on the road) and you lose over 1,000 ft in elevation, making it a steep and challenging hike, especially on the way back up! If you are renting a Jeep or 4WD vehicle, we would suggest driving down to save yourself some time. But beware: the road is one lane, so you’ll have to share the road with vehicles the other direction, as well as hikers. On the way down to the beach, you get to catch a glimpse of Hi’ilawe Falls, which is a stunning 1,200+ ft waterfall!
While the beach isn’t the best for swimming, you’ll get to enjoy some seclusion, as the beach is a good size and the crowds are a lot smaller since it’s harder to access. The black sand is nice and fine and the views of the green cliffs are absolutely spectacular!
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Accessibility: Super easy–just park and walk on up!
The third black sand beach on this list is also the easiest one to access: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach! This black sand beach is lined with palm trees, giving it a totally different vibe than Pololu or Waipio, and it doesn’t require a hike to get to, which is a huge bonus for those wanting to visit a black sand beach without a ton of effort. However, it is a bit far away from both Hilo and Kona, but makes for a good stop after Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
While the beach’s black sand is enough to warrant the trek out to it, one of the best parts about this beach is that it is a great place to see sea turtles! Right after we stepped on the beach, we immediately saw a turtle laying out on the far left side of the beach. We spent some time just watching him before heading up onto the rocks nearby to view the beach from a different angle, where we saw another turtle swimming in the water! We were so excited!
We would’ve been happy with the two turtles, but the cherry on top of our time at this beach was heading to the far right side of the beach (near the restrooms and parking area), where we saw three turtles laying out and a fourth sliding up the sand to join them! It was unreal! In total we saw 6 turtles at this beach, which we hear is pretty common. We didn’t actually lay out here, as it was getting late in the day, but we really enjoyed visiting to see the black sand and the turtles. It’s 100% worth the drive to visit!
Papakolea (Green Sand) Beach/Mahana Beach
Accessibility: Accessing the Green Sand Beach is pretty difficult. First off, it’s located on the Southern tip of the island, right by the Southernmost point in the US, so it requires a bit of a drive to get to (1.5 hours from Kona, 1 hour and 45 minutes from Hilo).
When you drive to the beach, you’ll pass a lot of farmland before finally reaching an area full of old, run down looking vehicles. We believe most people park here, but we kept driving just past this and parked in a dirt area next to another car that was there. The trail to the beach is just to the left down towards the water from where we parked.
Once you reach the trailhead, you have about a 2.5-3 mile hike to the beach, which sounds long, but it truly isn’t that bad. The hike is along the coast, so you have beautiful ocean views the entire time. The trail is relatively flat and pretty easy to follow. You’re hiking on mostly dirt and sand, so wear some decent shoes, and definitely bring water, as you’re fully exposed to the sun. When we went, the wind was NUTS (50mph gusts!) and we got sand blasted, but we don’t think this is the norm.
There are a lot of mixed reviews on if the hike is worth it, as it does feel a bit like a grind after a while, but we are really glad we went! It’s one of those things we think you should do once, but probably not something we would do every single visit.
Note: You will likely read reviews about people paying locals $20 to drive them down to the beach in the back of a pickup truck (we hear it is crazy bumpy), but many sources have stated that this is illegal and harms the fragile terrain. We cannot control what you decide to do, but we highly suggest hiking to the beach as we did to avoid partaking in anything that could be deemed illegal. It’s truly not that bad!
Now that we’ve shared how to get there, here’s a little bit about the beach! Green Sand Beach is officially either called Papakolea Beach or Mahana Beach (it has many names!). It is one of the four green sand beaches in the WORLD! The others are in Guam, the Galapagos, and Norway.
The beach gets its green-ish color from olivine crystals in the sand, which you can see when you pick up the sand with your hands. There are a lot of mixed reviews if people think the beach looks green or not. We think it definitely had a green-ish hue, but looks a bit more like a golden olive color. Whether you think it looks green or not, it is still a beautiful beach to visit, as the cove and the water are beautiful.
The hike took us about an hour and when you finally make it to the beach after the hike, you can admire the beach from above or you can climb down to it. There is a ladder to help you down about ⅓ of the way and then you’ll need to climb down the rocks the rest of the way. From the viewpoint at the end of the trail, it looks pretty sketchy to get down the beach, but it’s really not scary at all (my mom, who is terrified of us falling off cliffs, did it just fine!).
We highly recommend starting this hike early. We started around 7:30 AM and it wasn’t too hot out yet, but the hike back was definitely a bit warmer with the sun beaming down on us. Also, the earlier you go, the less people you’ll have to share the beach with! There are typically a lot less people at this beach because of its remoteness and when we were there, there were only 2 other people at the beach. Many more people were arriving as we walked back to the car though.
Our overall thoughts: the hike is worth it to see one of the 4 green sand beaches in the world! Even if you don’t think it’s green, it’s still a beautiful, remote beach!
Ready to hit the beach?
Pin this blog with the best beaches on the Big Island to plan your beach days!