Top 5 Beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii

by | February 2020 | 0 comments

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Are you dreaming of a tropical Hawaiian vacation where you can lounge on a beautiful beach? When you think of Hawaii, you probably think of pristine, sandy beaches.

But with the beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, sandy beaches are harder to come by. That’s due to all the volcanic activity there.

But hear me out, m’kay?! 

That doesn’t mean they’re any less amazing. The beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii are unique and diverse like the island itself.

From lush rainforests to barren lava fields, mountains to beaches, bustling tourist spots to rural farm country, it has a little bit of everything with something for everyone. 

So I’m not going to bore you with the typical Hawaiian beaches you might expect.

The beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii may not be the iconic tropical beaches characteristic of the Hawaiian Islands. But they’re worth seeing nonetheless.

Because you don’t want to go to one basic beach after another. You want to visit some special beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii during your vacay. Am I right? #nailedit

If that’s the case, keep reading for the top 5 (and most colorful) beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii.

click on this interactive map of the Big Island of Hawaii for details of each location

Top 5 Beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii

1. Pololū Valley (Black Sand Beach)

During my research of must-dos on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Pololū Valley Overlook came up. We figured an overlook would be an easy thing to do for our first day on the island. We’d be able to take a little drive, and it wouldn’t be too strenuous compared to some of the other things we had planned.

We didn’t realize there was a hike down to the valley (and an amazing black sand beach) until we got to the overlook. Parking was very limited. We were able to parallel park down the road a bit and take a short walk to the overlook. 

To be honest, the view from the overlook wasn’t that great. But we saw a trail leading down and thought there might be different viewpoints we could check out. We ended up taking the steep, rocky trail all the way down about 1/2 a mile to the black sand beach. 

The scenery along the trail is worth a visit in itself with breathtaking views of the Hamakua coast and dramatic cliffs framing the ocean. But you don’t want to miss the incredible black sand beach at the bottom! It’s a must to hike all the way down the trail to the beach. The area is gorgeous and also includes an upriver view of Puoholo Valley.

As we walked along the beach, we saw that the trail continued on the far end. Not being one to leave a path unexplored, my hubby wanted to see where it led. The narrow, closed-in trail with switchbacks was stifling and claustrophobic at times. But it took us up to another lookout for Honokane Nui Valley (3.2 miles roundtrip from the parking area).

The trail from the parking area down to the black sand beach isn’t long, but it’s steep and rocky. I recommend wearing Teva-style sport sandals or something similar that you can wear in the water. It’s also very hot. Be sure to bring plenty of water (especially if you’re going to keep going to the Honokane Nui Valley lookout).  

We weren’t prepared and were dying of thirst by the time we got back up to the parking area. Luckily, the nearby farm stand saved us. It’s a great place to stop at after your hike to cool down with beverages, fresh fruit, shaved ice, and views of the ocean.

2. Hapuna Beach (White Sand Beach)

You won’t find many sandy beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii due to all the volcanic activity there. But if you’re looking for an iconic stretch of white sand beach, Hapuna Beach is where it’s at!

As the largest white sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s the island’s most popular beach. In fact, it’s actually one of the best beaches in the U.S. in our opinion!

There’s plenty of room to stretch out on the large expanse of pristine sandy shoreline. And the water is the perfect temperature, cool but not cold (perfect for escaping the heat). Depending on surf conditions, it’s an ideal beach for swimming, bodysurfing, or snorkeling. 

I usually don’t get into the ocean, but I couldn’t resist the beckoning clear, blue water at Hapuna Beach. We loved swimming there and even returned the day we were leaving for one last quick swim before our flight.

We accessed the beach by parking at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area for $5. The amenities there including restrooms, showers, and even a cafe. Beach rentals are also available including chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards, and snorkeling gear.

If you happen to stay at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, you’ll have direct access to Hapuna Beach (score!). We stayed at the Fairmont Orchid this time. But the next time we visit the Big Island of Hawaii, we may stay at The Westin for its convenient location on Hapuna Beach. We could lounge there every day!

3. Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach)

Yes, another black sand beach. Actually, the most popular black sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. But can you ever go to enough beaches, let alone beaches with unusual nature-made black sand?

At Punalu’u Beach, you’ll find fine black sand surrounded by the contrast of blue ocean and green coconut palms. The scene appears to be straight out of a postcard. Along with the scenery, Punalu’u Beach also has other features that make it worthwhile to visit.

You can often see green sea turtles in their natural habitat there swimming around or lounging on the black shoreline. We saw 5 sea turtles in the short time we were there!

Also, it’s easier to get to than the first black sand beach I mentioned above (Pololū Valley Beach). You don’t have to hike to this one. A short drive off the highway (Hwy 11) will take you to the parking lot for Punalu’u Beach Park. You can access the beach right there!

The water at Punalu’u Beach can be choppy, so it may not be the best beach for swimming. But the beautiful view, wild sea turtles, and easy access to this beach all make it a spot not to be missed.

4. Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach)

There are only 4 green sand beaches in the world, and guess what… one of them is on the Big Island of Hawaii! You have to hike to it though, and the trail is about 2.8 miles each way. 

That may not seem bad and it’s totally worth it, but I’ll be honest. This is a rough hike. The trail itself isn’t that difficult as it’s essentially a dirt road. But it’s dusty and HOT (bring a ton of water, sunscreen, and a large hat)!

I’ve never sweated so much in my life. I’m not athletic whatsoever, so I had never experienced sweat dripping into my eyes, that is, until this hike. At one point, I thought there was a bug on my leg, but no… it was just sweat dripping down my shin. I didn’t even know shin sweat was a thing. 

I was swearing the entire way to the beach and back (strenuous hikes make me cranky… haha!). But the beach itself was such an incredible sight! As much as I was hating the hike, I’m so glad we got to experience one of only four green sand beaches! How amazing is that?! 

As you’re trekking along the seemingly endless road, you finally come to a spot where it looks like the trail drops off a cliff. But down below is the beach, a beacon of hope like an oasis mirage in a desert. You become giddy at the sight, realizing that you made it and briefly forgetting that you were just cursing the hike. 

The green hue of the small beach from the view above doesn’t even do it justice. Seeing the olive green and goldish-black sand close-up is a surreal experience. Add it to your bucket list! I wouldn’t recommend swimming at the beach here though. The surf and undercurrent are quite strong with massive waves crashing on the shore. Swim at your own risk. 

To get to the green sand beach, take Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy 11) to South Point Road and turn on it heading south. Drive to where the road practically ends and turn left to end up at a dirt lot. Park there and start walking towards the ocean to the trailhead.

Then follow the trail with the ocean on your right for about 2.8 miles to the cliffs above the beach. There’s a ladder with steps on the wall of the lava cliff to the left across from the bay. Climb down them carefully to reach the beach.

FYI: the trail is basically an extremely rough and bumpy 4×4 road from the parking area to the beach. I heard that it was illegal to drive on (not quite sure why that would be though).

If you were to drive on the road, you’d definitely need a 4-wheel drive vehicle with very high clearance. But there were some locals there offering rides to and from the beach. I want to say they were charging about $20 per person each way. Click here for more info on Papakōlea Green Sand Beach.

5. Pohoiki Beach (newest black sand beach!)

I know… yet another black sand beach. What can I say? I can’t get enough of them! But this one is special because it’s the NEWEST black sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii.

This less-known black sand beach was created as a result of the recent 2018 volcano eruption. It’s part of the Isaac Hale Beach Park, which was nearly consumed by the lava flows.

There’s not much left of the park now. It’s humbling to see the devastation in the area where former roads now end at hardened lava fields.

But from the destruction came the formation of a beautiful new black sand beach. Realizing that the black sand there was molten lava not long ago is mind-blowing.

Take in the scenery and crashing waves as you marvel at nature’s creation. The rough surf and strong currents here may be too dangerous for swimming (swim at your own risk).

There are also four new geothermal ponds at the park created by the lava. But there’s a warning not to go in these ponds. This is because they’re not disinfected and could cause bacterial infections. Enter these ponds at your own risk.

Pohoiki Beach at Isaac Hale Park is not the easiest place to get to. The lava flow destroyed the original road there. And while there’s now a new road over the lava, GPS directions may not be accurate if the maps aren’t updated yet.

To get there from Pahoa (about 19 miles southeast of Hilo), we took the following route:

1. Head south on Pahoa Kalapana Rd (Hwy 130)

2. Turn left at Kamaili Rd/Opihakao Dr

3. Take another left at Kalapana-Kapoho Rd (Hwy 137)

4. Then turn right at Kalapana Kapoho Beach Rd where the road ends at Pohoiki

This is a scenic (somewhat nerve-wracking) drive off the beaten path. Kamaili Rd/Opihakao Dr is a narrow road that’s only one lane and 10 mph at times. As we were driving, we were hoping we were going the right way. It’s an adventure to say the least!

If you want to take a more direct route though, Love Big Island states: 

“The best way to get to the Isaac Hale Beach Park (starting from Pahoa) is to follow Hwy 130 all the way to the end, and then turn left onto Hwy 137, which now ends at Pohoiki.” 

For more info, read their post: Isaac Hale Beach Park & Pohoiki Black Sand Beach.

These beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii may not quite be what you had in mind for Hawaii beaches. But they’re all unique in their own way and worth visiting (even though some require a hike to reach them).

With only 4 green sand beaches in the world, will you have another opportunity to see a green sand beach during your life? Take advantage while you’re on the Big Island of Hawaii and add these beaches to your bucket list!

Have you been to any of these beaches before? Tell me what you thought about them in the comments below. Or let me know if there are any other Big Island of Hawaii beaches that should be added to this list!

Hey there!

Behind the Blog

I’m Briana Nickas, a part-time RVer who loves RVing, hiking, visiting National Parks, and taking photos. My happiest days are spent on the road with my hubby and our fur-baby Saucy (a 7-lb maltipoo) exploring the country and meeting fellow adventurers along the way… READ MORE

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