Top Beaches on the Big Island

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If you love the surf as much as we do, you can’t go wrong picking one of the top beaches on Hawaii’s Big Island for your next vacation destination. Whether you’re looking to do some surfing, boogie boarding or snorkeling, or maybe just kicking back and soaking up the sun is your goal – the Big Island has it all.

And being relatively young geologically, while the island may lack miles and miles of your prototypical Caribbean white sand beaches, it more than makes up for it with a unique collection of visually stunning landscapes, crystal clear water and abundant and healthy reef structures.

Although we did visit some beaches on the east coast of the island, the west coast of the Big Island boasts the best beach areas, and the clear skies and sunshine to boot. In no particular order, here are some of our favorite beaches on the Big Island.

Ai’opio Beach

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This fun little beach just north of Honokohau Harbor is located in the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park. The water here is protected by off shore reef walls, so even on rough water days, you can still go for a dip. Tons of Green Sea Turtles visit this beach and the soft sand, palm trees and huts make for a great spot to lounge or have a picnic.

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna BeachHapuna Beach Boogie

Located just off Queen Kaahumanu Highway, south of the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, this half mile long crescent shaped beach with soft golden sand is one of the largest on the island. Drawing big crowds, the beach is large enough to accommodate everyone. One word of caution in the winter months – this beach is prone to thundering waves and strong rip currents. It was actually closed for a couple days in December because of the dangerous conditions. A good bit of advice when hitting the beach in Hawaii; never turn your back on the surf!

 Maniniowali Beach

 Mani Beach 2Mani Beach

If you’re looking for the Caribbean type beach scene, Maniniowali Beach is a great choice. I think we visited this particular beach at Kua Bay 3 or 4 times. Super fine white sand and crystal clear turquoise water – perfect for swimming and snorkeling when the surf is calm. And when the waves kick up, it’s an excellent location for boogie boarding with a soft sand bottom – just in case you get tossed. Tends to get crowded by the afternoon, so try to arrive early.

Makalawena Beach

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If you don’t mind a 20 minute trek across an unpaved lava path, Makalawena Beach is well worth the effort. For us, this beach was by far the least crowded and most tranquil on the Big Island. One early morning, we were actually the only people exploring this spectacular stretch of powdery soft sand and crystal clear water. If you are looking for the deserted island feel, this is the beach for you.

 Anaehoomalu Bay

fishpond beachAnae Bay

When I think of Hawaii, I think of Anaehoomalu Bay. Fringed by a grove of palm trees and backed by a fish pond, this popular gold sand beach is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful. Located at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort, the beach gently slopes from shallow to deep water, making it perfect for playing in the surf with the kids. Facilities include restrooms, showers, picnic tables, kayak and paddle board rentals and plenty of parking.

Waialea Bay

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Also known as Beach 69, although Waialea Bay is small, it is mighty beautiful. Powdery soft sand, tide pools and shady trees make this secluded beach feel like a slice of paradise. Located on the southern portion of Kawaihae Bay, Waialea Bay is absolutely amazing on a calm day. But in the winter months, the soft white sand can erode in the strong surf, leaving only a small patch of beach near the shore.

On one particular visit, the waves were pretty intense. In the picture above, it may look like I am contemplating life’s great questions and my place in the universe. Actually, I was debating if I should venture out into the crashing surf with my boogie board. Minutes before I watched an elderly gentleman get completely rag-dolled and bloodied by a 10 foot wave. Never turn your back!

I will also give honourable mentions to Ho’okena Beach Park, Makaiwa Bay and Mauna Lani Beach. And for sheer contrast and striking beauty, the black sands of Punaluu Beach are worth a visit. Unfortunately, we never arrived early enough to secure one of the very few parking spots at Mauna Kea Beach, which is supposed to be spectacular. And after two exhaustive days of hiking, we didn’t have enough wind in our sails to make the 2.5 mile hike along the windswept and hot dusty jeep trails down to the green sands of Papakolea. Next time.

Black Sand Beach

Stay tuned for future posts covering top Big Island snorkeling spots, hiking adventures, attractions and restaurants. For now, back to the cage.

  • The Travel Liz

    Beautiful photos, Chris! Wanderlust-worthy to say the least ( :

    • ZOOKeeperChris

      Thanks Liz! Hawaii was incredibly beautiful. It’s destinations like this that have me already thinking about our next trip. Happy travels!