Best Beaches on Hawaii

The Big Island has a reputation of being the island without beaches. This couldn't be farther from the truth. While it may have the fewest beaches per square mile as compared to the other islands, the beaches it does have are among the best in the state. The water on the west coast of the island is the clearest, cleanest and often calmest water in all of Hawaii. Since there are no streams on the west side, there is no cloudy river runoff to muddy the water. An array of white sand, black sand, salt-and-pepper sand and even green sand beaches make for an interesting variety.

Anaehoomalu Bay (A-Bay)

Resort Area : Volcanoes National Park

Anaehoomalu Bay on the island of Hawaii

Anaehoomalu Bay, sometimes simply called A-Bay, is a gorgeous curve of salt and pepper sand in front of the Outrigger Waikoloa Resort. The beach is great for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking, and is fairly well protected from strong surf by an offshore reef.

Rare green sea turtles are sometimes seen at the far end of the bay, and a nearby shoreline trail between resort hotels winds along the lava, sand, coral, and tidepools of the Kohala Coast.

A-Bay offers stunning views, especially at sunset, and includes restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and parking.

Just inland from the beach is a large ancient Hawaiian fishpond that was used to raise fish for royal families, and you can still see mullet swimming in that pond. Palm trees sway above and educational plaques sit along the trail to teach you about the area's history.

Turn left at mile marker 76 off Hwy. 19 north, then left again at the road across from Kings' Shops. Beach parking is at the end.

Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach)

Resort Area : South Point

Papakolea Beach is a strip of famously green sand enclosed on almost three full sides by a steep cliff. It's secluded and difficult to reach but can be an adventurous highlight of your trip on the island if you get there. That cliff, Pu'u o Mahana, is actually a formation referred to as a littoral cone, with somewhat horizontal layers of cinder rock sloping back from the beach, resembling amphitheater seating.

The erosive force of the ocean washing into its base extracts small green mineral grains of a semi-precious stone called olivine from the rock and deposits them onto the sand, resulting in the beach's renowned green tint.

There are no lifeguards or other facilities available and it's generally quite windy with open waters that can get rough. Bodysurfing can be great under the right conditions, but waves and currents can pick up quickly so keep an eye out. Before you make your way down the cliff, make sure the tide is low enough to leave lots of room for you on the sand between the rock wall and where the waves break.

This secluded beach near South Point in the Kau district of Hawaii is also sometimes called Green Sand Beach. You can reach it via a 3 mile road over lava and pastureland from ancient volcanic eruptions, then up a rugged road to the top of the cliff, and finally by climbing down a precarious trail to the water (with large lava boulders and up to 5-foot drops). A four-wheel vehicle may help with the first part of that trip, but the old road is so full of holes and jagged rocks that you might just want to factor in the exercise as part of your day trip.

Remember to consider the time it will take you to return, too, and make sure to wear good shoes - especially for the rock climbing part. Although walking around the cliff seems easier, it's actually wiser to follow the trail that starts at the edge of the cliff's overhang. And for non-rock-climbing types, the green sand and aqua water view from the top of Pu'u o Mahana might be worth the trip in itself.

Hapuna Beach

Resort Area : Hapuna

Hapuna Beach is one of Hawaii's most popular with calm waters, sand up to 200 feet across, and lifeguards on duty during the summer. It's a half-moon shape of gold sand about a half mile long, at the edge of a park with restrooms, showers, picnic pavilions, and camping facilities.

The crystal clear water is surrounded by lush greenery with a coral reef at the south end where snorkelers enjoy hanging out with various kinds of tropical fish.

This beach is also great for swimming and body or boogie boarding, and there are places to rent water sports equipment. Strong currents and waves can kick up during the winter and there are not always lifeguards on duty, so make sure to check conditions carefully before jumping in.

Turn left off Hwy. 19 north onto the access road before mile marker 69. At the end of that road, turn left, then take an immediate right to the parking lot.

Kahaluu Beach Park

Resort Area : Kona

Kahaluu Beach is one of the busiest along Hawaii's Kona Coast, a small strip of grey sand backed by coconut trees and small grassy dunes.

An offshore reef protects the small shallow bay, making the snorkeling fun amongst the vivid sealife that live in and around the coral. Tuna, marlin, and dolphin can often be seen jumping just outside of the reef and the protected waters inside form calm lagoons for safe swimming, with interesting tidepools and rocks on either end.

High surf develops in winter, along with a strong rip current, so surfers and boogieboarders make the most of the beach during that season while the year-round lifeguards watch. There are restrooms, showers, picnic tables, beach-gear rentals, and food concession available.

This West Hawaii beach is located next to St. Peter's Catholic Church and the ancient Hawaiian temple Ku'emanu Heiau, known as the only temple site dedicated to surfing (back when only chiefs were allowed to surf, they came here to pray for big waves).

Take Alii Dr. south and the beach sits along the coast by mile marker 5.

Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach)

Resort Area : Mauna Kea

Kaunaoa Beach (also sometimes referred to as the Mauna Kea Beach) is a beautiful quarter mile crescent of golden sand at the foot of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

There's a natural rock reef with two black lava points at each end protecting the small bay from the surf.

The shore slopes slightly towards the calm waters which provides perfect swimming, snorkeling, and boogie boarding conditions most of the year.

Coconut trees are nearby and there is a sand volleyball court off to one side. Colorful tropical fish, turtles, and even manta rays frequent the area, and there are restrooms and showers but no lifeguards on duty and limited parking spots available.

Turn left at mile marker 68 off Hwy. 19 north and follow the road to the end for public access parking.

Kekaha Kai State Park

Resort Area : Kona

Kekaha Kai or Kona Coast State Park includes 5 miles of beach pockets, Mahaiula Bay, and coves.

According to legend, a village once existed around the bay, but was destroyed by a volcano when its chief refused to feed a hungry old woman who was actually the goddess Pele in disguise. Only one home was spared by the volcano - that of a kind villager who fed the old woman when the chief wouldn't - and the park is full of archaeological and historical sites related to volcanoes and old villages.

A rugged road leads through old lava fields to reach the salt and pepper beach, where freshwater springs bubble up through the sand to sometimes form small pools.

Swimming and snorkeling are terrific in the protected coves (although the water can be a bit cloudy near the bubbling springs), the offshore diving is great, and surfers frequent the beach when winter waves kick up.

There are portable toilets, picnic tables, and barbecue facilities. No lifeguards are on duty so look out for occasional strong currents.

Turn left off Hwy. 19 north onto a semi-paved road between mile markers 91 and 90. Drive slowly down that bumpy road for about a mile and a half to the shore.

Leleiwi Beach Park

Resort Area : Hilo

Leleiwi Beach Park in Hilo is located within an area called Richardson's Beach, which boasts unique scenery and some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island.

Freshwater springs feed into a collection of tidepools formed by black lava rock to create natural jacuzzis, while a seawall and low lava shelf provides a good place to enter the larger body of water.

Palm trees are scattered along the coast and slow waves roll in over the coral reef.

The beach's protected shallow ponds are usually calm and ideal for swimming, but winter waves can sometimes splash in.

There's a variety of sealife in this small bay, including endangered green sea turtles, making it a superb location to snorkel.

There are paved walkways, picnic areas with pavilions, restrooms, and showers available, plus lifeguards on duty and a marine life exhibit.

The beach is approximately 4 miles East of Hilo on Kalanianaole Ave. along the Keaukaha Coast.

White Sands Beach

Resort Area : Kailua/Kona/Keauhou

The Kona Coast's small White Sands Beach is also called Magic Sands, Disappearing Sands, or La'aloa Bay Beach. This grey sand beach with a rocky shore is one of the few West Hawaii ones with lifeguards.

Conditions are excellent for swimming and boogie boarding when the shallow, offshore sandbar is around, but that protection disappears during high surf and the water becomes choppy and dangerous.

The sand and rocks of the beach itself sometimes disappear from view during high tide or storms (thus one of its nicknames), but in calmer weather, it serves as an excellent place to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive to explore the underwater caves and large colorful fish.

Children learn how to surf in the slow and gentle summer swells at Magic Sands, and expert surfers gather there during winter months when the waves are bigger. The park also includes restrooms, showers, parking, a sand volleyball court, picnic facilities, and lifeguards.

To get to White Sands Beach on Alii Dr., take Hwy. 11 south from Kailua-Kona and look for the rocky shore just before mile marker 4.

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