The Big Island of Hawaii is truly a unique place, even among the other islands in its chain. The volcanic activity, the flora and fauna, and its famous black sand beaches all combine to make an exciting new experience even for those who have already visited O'ahu, Kauai, or Maui. One of the best things about the Big Island is the fact you can drive around the island in a giant loop and witness two massively different climates on each side. The city of Hilo, one of the wettest cities in the U.S., is along the east shore, while Kona dominates the bone dry western coast. The roughly 220-mile loop takes over five hours total, but there is no point doing this drive without stopping at every amazing beach along the way. A long weekend is perfect, potentially as a stopover from a longer trip around the other Hawaiian Islands.
Starting off heading north from Kona International Airport on a Friday afternoon, you will immediately find a number of large white sand beaches to choose from starting with Makawalena Beach. The greater Kekaha Kai State Park is loaded with several with giant beaches, but Makalawena is one of the best. It takes a little effort to reach, which cuts down on the crowds and tourists. If you are looking for a few more amenities and easier access, Manini'ōwali Beach is just further north.
On Saturday morning, hit the road and head north to soak up some sun with the sea turtles. Kuki'o Beach is a picturesque beach often covered with sunbathing Green Sea Turtles, called Honu in Hawaiian. The long and thin beach is a favorite for the protected amphibians and people alike. Nearby Kikaua Point Park is a great place for the children, or Keiki, to play in a semi-protected cove as well. Many of the beaches on this island can be rocky or filled with heavy tides, so any soft white sand in the water is a prime spot.
That afternoon continue north along Highway 19 on the leeward side to A-Bay, Hapuna and Mauna Kea Beaches. All considered some of the best on the island, A-Bay (or 'Anaeho'omalu for the skilled) is a family oriented beach squished between the ocean and a giant Hawaiian fish pond. Hāpuna and Mauna Kea are large and beautiful beaches dotting the coast north of A-Bay. There are lots of places to stay nearby where you can watch the sunset over the western shores from your room or while on a evening stroll.
Get an early start on the day and round the island's north point and begin heading southeast along the windward shore. Once in Hilo, the main city on the windward coast, you can check out James Kealoha Beach Park, also known as 4 Miles. There is no beach, but you have a really good chance to see Honu near the edges of the cliffs and in the lagoon while walking around, and there is even better action underwater. The general Hilo area offers some really fantastic snorkeling, but it has far less sandy beaches than on the Kona side.
Once back on Highway 11, head southwest through Hawai'i Volcanos National Park on your way to Punalu'u Beach, the most famous black sand beach in the world. This hard-to-believe natural wonder can only occur in places with relatively fresh volcanic lava flows and just enough time for the ocean to break it down into a full sized beach. An absolute must for anyone coming to the Big Island and the last stop on Sunday before heading back to our starting point in Kona by that evening.