The Best Beaches on The Big Island, Hawaii

I recently visited the Big Island in Hawaii, and when other travelers told me they were “island hopping”, I figured I’d mistake devoting 11 whole days to just one island. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Public transport is sporadic and unreliable (although very cheap), so we rented a car for a few days, and took a road trip around the big island. This allowed us to spend some time exploring the stunning beaches on this diverse island. Here are (what I consider) the best beaches on the Big Island:


Magic Sands Beach (La’aloa Beach Park):

Magic Sands Beach is small, but it’s close to Kailua-Kona and all the big hotels and resorts. For this reason it’s often crowded, but the super-fine sand makes it well worth a visit. Go in the morning, since in summer the clouds tend to roll in mid-afternoon and it often gets hit by rain.

While we were swimming here, a sea turtle came close enough for me to touch. I had a minor freak out (one of my friends has passed her shark fear to me and now I’m not great in the sea), and it was huge! As soon as I wanted to get a better look, the poor turtle took off, probably scared by my shriek of terror. Don’t touch the turtles if you’re lucky enough to get close though, since the oils on our skin can harm them.


Magic sands beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Magic Sands Beach


Green Sand Beach (Papakōlea Beach)

One of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited, this beach is well worth a visit. The sand is a more earthy olive-green, and not the grass-green that you may expect, but the view is simply breathtaking.

Green Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Green Sand Beach


Green Sand BeachAfter turning off highway 11, we drove down an extremely narrow road, and eventually arrived in a parking lot. It’s around a six-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot to the beach if you don’t have a FWD, although it’s a pretty flat hike and definitely doable. The views are gorgeous, and if you don’t want to hike, there were some local guys with FWD’s in the parking lot who offered to take us there and back for $15, or just back for $10.


Don’t believe these guys when they tell you it’s a long hard hike– they psyched me out with their exaggerations of the terrain. It’s not that bad (and I hate hiking), just make sure you have some closed shoes, since the lava rocks are incredibly sharp. Also don’t forget the sunscreen and water, since it’s hot, dusty and a long walk in the sun.

It’s a steep walk down from the cliff to the beach, and I was very entertaining for the locals when I didn’t notice the steps to the right with a bar to hold on to, and instead began clambering down the steepest, and least stable part of the cliff. The waves here are huge, and there’s no lifeguards so be careful when you’re swimming. We didn’t stay long, but I’d definitely recommend staying for the afternoon and walking back later in the day when it’s cooler.

Back on the horrible narrow road, three miles from the Green Sand Beach, is the turnoff for Ka Lae or “south point” as it’s known. This is the southernmost point of the United States, and we headed here on the way back from the beach. Apparently people often cliff dive off here, although it was getting later in the day when we arrived. There’s not much to do here, since it’s not a tourist trap like “south point” is in Key West, but the views were worth stopping off for since we were already at Green Sand Beach.
Ka Lae South Point, Big Island, Hawaii
Ka Lae (South Point)

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

The sand at this beach is quite coarse, and it’s actually made up of volcanic lava. It’s created by the cold ocean water hitting the lava and exploding, and it looked more like tiny pebbles than the fine sand at the other beaches.

Punalu’u is just off highway 11, and it’s one of the most accessible black sand beaches on the big island. Stop off on the way to the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, and hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to see Green Sea Turtles basking in the sun. Unfortunately there were none around when we stopped here, so I’d suggest heading there early if you want to see them.


Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

The water here is freezing, but the contrast between the blue water and black sand is magnificent. Sit on a sun-warmed rock, and watch the waves crash against the dark sand and crushed volcanic rock, or go for a walk and see if you can spot any turtles lazing in the sand. There’s plenty of parking, and although it’s not the kind of beach you sunbathe on, bring a picnic and spend a few hours marveling at the beauty of the place.



Black sand beach, Hawaii
I could have stayed here all day.

Captain Cook Monument

While it’s not exactly a sandy beach, this is my favorite spot on the Big Island. It’s only accessible by hiking down, kayaking across the bay, or taking a snorkeling day-trip.

Captain Cook Monument, Big Island

We opted to hike it, since our hostel was right next to where the hike begins. The hike down took around 50 minutes, and it was steep, but not too bad.

The hike back killed me. It took us around 2 and half hours to hike back up, and by “up” I mean there’s no flat or downhill parts at all, so it was tough going. We missed our turn on the way up, and had to turn around, hike back down and head back up another way, which was great. Just great.

Even though the hike sucked, the bay was definitely worth it.



Snorkeling here was like being inside the movie “Finding Nemo”. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of fish, and the different colors had me transfixed as I floated on top of the water. It was such a relaxing experience, watching all the fish eat, and swim around, and it was quite warm in the bay as well.

Snorkeling, Captain Cook Monument, Big Island, Hawaii

We arrived at 8.30 and there was just one other couple in the bay. By 10am, the bay had filled up with Kayaks, and huge groups of snorkelers. We were constantly bumping into people, and dodging kayaks and boats, make sure you get there early, otherwise it looks like this:

Snorkeling, Captain Cook, Hawaii

The best part about the Hawaii, is the diversity, and there’s a beach to suit everyone here. I had such a great time exploring the Big Island, and I can’t wait to head back and check out either Maui or O’ahu.

Did I leave out any other great beaches on the Big Island?

8 comments on “The Best Beaches on The Big Island, Hawaii

  1. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family August 31, 2012 @ 3:03 am

    Gorgeous! The black sand beaches look a bit like New Zealand’s West Coast.

    How weird to find a green sand beach. That’s a new one!!!
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..Top Ten Things To Do In Bangkok With Kids

  2. Flor Ambrosio January 11, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    I didnt see this before, but absolutly agree with you, Hawaii is one of the nice beaches in the states!!!!
    Im so glad u had fun in this trip u were planning for months!!
    looking forward to see you at any part of the world!!!!

    • Stacey February 16, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

      Thanks Flor! I had a great time, can’t wait to see you soon!

  3. Paula June 9, 2016 @ 7:32 pm

    Recently been thinking about working as an au pair in the us. I’m from Toronto and already did the New York City thing for a year as I have family there! Been reading your articles and they have me so excited! I’m stuck in deciding where to choose my host family from. I’ve narrowed it down to Hawaii, Nashville, Texas, or Florida as my last option. Was wondering if you had any adivce on this? Especially your opinion on au pairing in Hawaii ?

    • Stacey July 31, 2016 @ 9:36 am

      Hey Paula! I’ve heard great things about Nashville, In Texas I personally could probably only see myself living in Austin but I’ve heard good things about other cities, and I love Florida although it’s pretty sticky. Hawaii would be great, but it’s also harder to travel to the mainland then as well. I would probably choose a city that’s relatively big and easy to travel to other cities and visit Hawaii on your travel month. In saying that, so much of your experience will depend on your host family so you should choose the family you connect with the most, regardless of where they’re from.
      Stacey recently posted..Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

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