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Jonathan Stull | 03.10.2017

The youngest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, and its most geologically active, the Big Island comprises well over half of Hawaii’s landmass and hosts some of its most spectacular beaches. With four active volcanoes, the island continually grows, a dramatic process that, at times, spurts liquid, hot magma into the ocean like a firehose.

This is to say that, as far as beaches go, much of the Big Island is all a'a lava. Still, the erosive power of the Pacific is indefatigable, a force of nature that has carved away the Big Island’s western coast. Here, and in isolated pockets elsewhere on the island, are beautiful beaches to snorkel, surf, explore, or sit back with a cold brew and your favorite wahine or kane.

  • Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park: Swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking are the best ways to experience Kealakekua, one of the earliest ports of call in Hawaii and the site of a Captain Cook memorial.
  • Manini’ōwali Beach: A local favorite with great boogie boarding. Be sure to come when the crowds are low and stay all day. Food trucks included.
  • Makalawena Beach: One of the more picturesque beaches on the western shore, the scenery justifies the effort that the difficult access requires. Best for walking, though the northern reaches are good for boogie boarding.
  • ‘Anaeho’omaly Bay/A-Bay Beach: A family-friendly beach with calm waters, a fish pond, and convenient amenities. For the more energetic crowd, kayaks, pedal boats, and yoga are available.
  • Kuki'o Beach: Those dark rocks at the north end of the beach are in fact sea turtles that come here to bask in the sun. Also a great place for snorkeling when the water is clear, which is admittedly rare. Combine the day with nearby Kikaua Point Park to keep the kids entertained.
  • La’aloa Bay Beach Park/Magic Sands Beach: Easily accessible from Kailua-Kona, La’aloa offers a reliable beach day adventure. Its break is good for boogie boarding and body surfing.
  • Kona Beach: Missionaries landed here in 1820, and it’s been busy ever since. These days, beach-goers come for the kayak and SUP rentals, protected waters, and easy access to Kailua-Kona.
  • Makaiwa Beach: Its location and size give a sense of privacy. Visit the Kalahuipua’a Trail and Fishponds and its centuries-old cave.
  • Mau’umae Beach: Mau’umae might be the beach you think of when you think of Hawaii. Small, but secluded and private, the beach is picturesque and a great place to launch stand-up paddleboards. One problem: no restrooms.
  • Hāpuna Beach: Regularly ranked atop the beaches on the Big Island. A massive resort beach best for lounging and shoreline walks, though boogie boarding is possible. 
  • Mauna Kea Beach: Another of the Big Island’s archetypal resort beaches. A beautiful arc of sand with a typically safe surf for children and comfortable amenities. The Ala Kahakai Trail nearby connects Mauna Kea to Hāpuna Beach.

The Big Island’s multicolored beaches

  • Punalu’u Beach: when lava strikes the ocean water and cools rapidly, it fractures into black sand. Black sand beaches, of which Punalu’u is the biggest, are the best for sea turtles.
  • Papakōlea Beach: Olivine gives this beach its green color, endowed by the olivine-rich lava that erupted 49,000 years ago from a crater nearby. Remote and hard to access—it’s a 5-mile hike out—but the surf is good for snorkeling.


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