Honolulu

The Very Best Beaches on Hawaii's Big Island

Anna Abramskaya/Shutterstock
Anna Abramskaya/Shutterstock
Anna Abramskaya/Shutterstock

The Aloha State’s largest and youngest island — nicknamed the Big Island, but officially known simply as Hawaii — boasts some mind-blowing, radically varied landscapes, climate zones, and ecosystems that can make it feel worlds away from the rest of the chain. Home to active volcanoes (one of which erupted and caused serious damage just last year); snow-capped mountains,  tropical forests, and desert-like areas, along with some lovely little seaside towns filled with rich history, there’s a lot to take in when you make the trip to one of the country’s most unique places.
 
But, of course, the island also offers plenty of one of the things Hawaii is most famous for: its beautiful beaches. From powder-white sandy spots with crystal-clear water and tropical fish to rocky, remote spots covered in black (or green!) sand, to family-friendly beach parks with shallow tide pools, beachgoers have more options here than they’ll likely have time for. Check out our top 10 picks for your next visit to a Big Island beach.

RugliG/Shutterstock
RugliG/Shutterstock
RugliG/Shutterstock

Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach)

Kau
Hike to a green-sand beach surrounded by the cinder cone of a volcano 

Yes, there is actual, out-of-this-world green sand here on the Big Island’s southernmost point but seeing it isn’t that easy. That said, if you do make the trip here, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most unique beaches in all of Hawaii: a half-circle bay surrounded by Pu’u Mahana, the cinder cone of a volcano that erupted 49,000 years ago. It’s the volcano’s olivine crystals that are responsible for providing the sand with its olive-ish hue (which you can see better if you pick up a handful). The water can be rough with a serious undercurrent, so swimming is only recommended for strong swimmers or when the tide is low and you’ll be staying close to shore. 
Know before you go: This is not the beach to choose if you’re tight on time as getting here is definitely part of the fun — or not, depending on your interest in exercise. From the dirt parking lot at the end of South Point Rd via Highway 11, you’ll hike for about an hour through an old lava field to get to the beach overlook. Then you’ll need to make it down the side of the cinder cone that surrounds the beach, along an eroded trail. Though 4×4 “shuttles” are available to take you down for a fee, the ride is pretty rough.

Shell20/Shutterstock
Shell20/Shutterstock
Shell20/Shutterstock

Kahaluu Beach Park

North Kona
Excellent snorkeling beach with lots of friendly fish 

The Kailua-Kona area is best known for its active seaside town, storied history, and busy harbor, but it’s home to some worthy beaches as well. While it may not be a quintessential palm-lined, white-sandy beach, this waterfront park a few miles south of Kona is an excellent venue to do some stellar swimming and snorkeling with calm conditions most of the time, an offshore reef, and shallow water that’s often crowded with schools of tame, colorful fish who are unfazed by human visitors. Look for sea turtles hanging out, too. (They’re not to be touched under any circumstances, but you knew that.)
Know before you go: The beach offers picnic tables, bathrooms, adjacent parking, and the Kahaluu Bay Education Center will rent you snorkel and beach gear along with lockers right there on premises. 

Dmitri Kotchetov/Shutterstock
Dmitri Kotchetov/Shutterstock
Dmitri Kotchetov/Shutterstock

Pohoiki Black Sand Beach and Isaac Hale Park

Puna
Black sand beach with thermal ponds created from recent Kilauea eruption

The Kilauea volcano eruption on the southeast region of the island in 2018 resulted in lava blanketing more than 13 square miles, destroying 700 homes, and displacing 2,000 people (though, thankfully, no human lives were lost). A year later, the devastation is still apparent in Lower Puna and residents are working to rebuild their lives and communities. One silver lining for some is the new black sand beach created by the eruption. While Isaac Hale Beach Park and its boat ramp came close to being destroyed, the lava flow stopped just a few-hundred feet away heading instead for the ocean and producing the black sand. The sand is rather coarse since it hasn’t had the chance to be ground fine by wave action, but this brand-new beach created by a force of nature is currently a can’t-miss. 
Know before you go: While there are portable toilets, there isn’t much else, including shade or drinkable water sources. The eruption also created four gorgeous natural ocean thermal ponds. Since they’re not disinfected, officials warn that there’s a risk of bacterial infections and to enter at your own risk.

Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock
Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock
Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Pahala 
Sea turtles, coconut palms, and a freshwater wading pool 

This black sand beach, along the southeast shore, is probably the island’s most famous. Maybe it’s those postcard-esque coconut palms that line the dark lava-fragmented sand or its lovely resident green sea turtles — better known by their Hawaiian name, honu — who might be swimming in the sea or basking along the rocky shore when you arrive. Or maybe it’s the fact that the beach is a lava rock’s throw from the road, making it easily accessible and worthy of a stop even if you only have time for a quick visit.
Know before you go: There are lifeguards on duty, but swimming can be dicey depending on the conditions. There’s also freshwater flowing in from underground springs, which forms a wading pool here if you want to dip your feet in some (pretty chilly) water.

norinori303/Shutterstock
norinori303/Shutterstock
norinori303/Shutterstock

Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay)

Kalaoa
Compact beach with crystal clear water, white sand, and lovely lookouts 

Once upon a time, this gorgeous stretch of sand was difficult to access and the rocky, pothole-laden road used to get there would do a number on your shocks and leave you weary by the end of it. These days, there’s a real, paved road that enables visitors to more easily enjoy the sheer beauty of this intimate Big Island beach. Expect powder-white sand, crystal blue waters, lava rocks, lots of lookout points, and excellent summer snorkeling. Winter can bring rougher waves good for gazing at from the safety of your seat on the beach. 
Know before you go: The beach can get jammed, especially on weekends. The parking lot isn’t all that big, so you’ll want to arrive early for a spot. There are restrooms, picnic tables, and showers, but no lifeguards, so not necessarily the best choice for families with small children.

Jamethiel/Shutterstock
Jamethiel/Shutterstock
Jamethiel/Shutterstock

Onekahakaha Beach Park

Hilo Coast
Calm tide pools, picnic areas, and lots of shade make for a family-friendly venue

If you’re going to spend the afternoon swimming along the Hilo coast, make it this beach that’s, well, not technically a beach, but a rather grassy stretch along the coast with endless water views and plenty of natural shade. It’s perfect for kids (and thus, popular with local families) since the little ones can splash safely in the calm sandy-bottom tide pools separated from the rougher ocean by a breakwater seawall made of lava rocks. Bonus: There’s a concrete walkway and set of steps to the water for easy access. 
Know before you go: The beach park can get busy on weekends, but since it’s so big, it never feels uncomfortably crowded. The venue comes complete with plenty of parking, lifeguard stations, restrooms, and picnic pavilions. Pick up a sampler of the excellent poke options from Suisan Fish Market or a kimchi-bacon burger(!) from Ma’ona Lunch Counter in Hilo.

Dmitri Kotchetov/Shutterstock
Dmitri Kotchetov/Shutterstock
Dmitri Kotchetov/Shutterstock

Waialea Beach (Beach 69)

Waimea
Less crowded than Hapuna, with reef-heavy waters and solid snorkeling

This is an easy little white sand beach to hit and a wonderful one for snorkeling or scuba-diving, thanks to lots of coral and a wide variety of sea creatures (the area is a designated Marine Life Conservation District). The best reefs for exploring are in the middle of the bay where the ocean floor’s gradual drop-off eventually levels out at around 30 feet deep. Keep an eye out for a rock cropping jutting out of the water that’s surrounded by plenty of cool coral. While water activities are a great option in the summer, the surf can be strong come winter, when you might get to watch some (uber-experienced) surfers and body-boarders take on the serious waves at the north end of the bay’s break when the surf’s up. 
Know before you go: The beach is named for the “number 69” utility pole that marks its parking area and, despite the fact it’s super accessible, it isn’t nearly as popular as nearby Hapuna and lacks lifeguard services, resulting in less visitors and a more secluded feel. 

mese.berg/Shutterstock
mese.berg/Shutterstock
mese.berg/Shutterstock

Hapuna Beach Park

Kohala Coast
One of the island’s most beloved beaches, excellent for sandy strolling

The granddaddy of Big Island beaches, Hapuna Beach is frequently voted the island’s — and one of the whole state’s — top spots to visit. Why is it such a beloved beach? It’s the largest white sandy beach on the island, features the Kohala Coast’s signature perennially sunny-and-dry weather, and offers consistently calm conditions on the water, making it an excellent place for snorkeling and bodyboarding. Plus, you might very well eye some breaching whales in the distance during winter months. 
Know before you go: Amenities abound with lifeguard stations, restrooms, showers, concessions, picnic areas, and $5 parking. For a killer Kohala coastline walk, begin here and make your way along the sand to Puakō Bay and back again, about three miles roundtrip.

Abbie Warnock-Matthews/Shutterstock
Abbie Warnock-Matthews/Shutterstock
Abbie Warnock-Matthews/Shutterstock

Waipio Black Sand Beach

Waipi’o Valley
Black sand and lush greenery await those who make the trek to the valley floor 

A visit to the Waipi’o Valley lookout — situated on the Hamakua Coast on the island’s north side — is definitely worth a stop even if you aren’t planning on slogging down to the beach. From here, you’ll spot the towering emerald cliffs and curvy coastline surrounded by lush fields of green. Being down on the valley floor (about a mile below), however, is an even more breathtaking experience. Since it’s not so easy to reach, the beach isn’t usually all that crowded and it’s not a good venue for swimming due to rough waters, but you can explore the marshlands and streams that surround the black sand (which got its darker shade from basaltic lava) or set out to hike a section of the Muliwai Trail
Know before you go: The road down is steep. You’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and rental car agreements often prohibit driving it. If you’re up for it, our favorite way down is on foot, though be warned that the walk back up is a calf- and quad-killer. Otherwise, many tour operators offer guided tours to the valley floor you can arrange for ahead of time. Note there are no lifeguards, bathrooms, or other amenities at the beach, adding to that in-the-wild feel.

yuruphoto/Shutterstock
yuruphoto/Shutterstock
yuruphoto/Shutterstock

Kaunaoa (Mauna Kea) Beach

Kohala Coast
Soft sand and calm waters backing up to a luxe resort

This crescent-shaped Kohala Coast beach along this pristine Kauna’oa Bay is more than just a pretty face (though it’s certainly that), with its supple sand, calm waters, and twin reefs flanked by lava rocks, palm trees, and lush green ground cover. Plus, this beach features the midcentury Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, a high-end-yet-groovy property originally built by the Rockefellers in the early ‘60s as the island’s first resort. Sure, this spot is fun for swimming, snorkeling, and luxuriating, but it’s especially wonderful for its breathtaking views.
Know before you go: All beaches in the state of Hawaii are public and, while this one is nicknamed “Mauna Kea Beach,” it doesn’t belong to the resort. That said, nearby public parking areas that don’t require a monster of a walk are scarce and you may want to just suck it up and valet at the hotel. It’ll cost you, but you’ll make up for it with extra beach time and can pop in to the Hau Tree beachfront bar for an afternoon cocktail on your way out. Sign up here for our daily Honolulu email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Lizbeth Scordo is a food and travel writer whose collection of Locals footwear is taking over her closet … but there’s still room for more. Follow her wearing them out on Instagram @modlizbeth and Twitter @lalizbeth.

Honolulu

Actually Cool Things You Can Do in Honolulu This Winter

From festive light shows to forest bathing and chocolate making, we've got you covered.

Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel

You don’t have to spend these glorious warm and sunny days locked up indoors. Finding cool, safe things to do around Honolulu during the pandemic may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. With new activities popping up around the island this season, holiday traditions can still be enjoyed, albeit with strict social distancing guidelines in place. So read on for more details on all the fun things you can do this winter on Oahu.

Experience a drive-thru holiday light extravaganza

$$
Ongoing through January 9
Get ready to drive through a dazzling display of colorful LED lights choreographed to holiday music at “Show Aloha Land” at the Aloha Stadium. Over 1 million synchronized lights dance to holiday music favorites that play through your car radio as you enjoy a 15-20 minute leisurely drive through the light show. After the show, enjoy tasty eats from street food vendors conveniently stationed at the upper parking lot. Enjoy dinner and a show while you make memories watching the 50-foot Mega Christmas tree synchronized to 50 minutes of music. Open daily. Tickets are $50 per vehicle online, with proceeds going to charity. Use the promo code FHBHOLIDAY to receive 10% off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday shows after 9pm, and 20% off weekday shows (Monday-Thursday) after 9 pm. Guests must remain in their vehicles at all times and wear a face mask when interacting with staff. 

Kuana Torres Kahele
Kuana Torres Kahele
Kuana Torres Kahele

Learn Hula and lei making with Hawaii’s own Kuana Torres

$$
Ongoing
Who said you have to fly all the way to Hawaii to learn how to Hula? As virtual workshops become the new norm, more local artists and educators can share their talents with the world. Renowned Hawaiian musician, songwriter, dancer, and producer Kuana Torres now teaches and shares his love for Hula, lei making, and Hawaiian crafts online. His sell-out Hula classes are offered through Zoom at $40 per class, with beginner classes starting in February 2021. Students can also learn how to make Ni’ihau earrings, Kupe’e shell necklaces, bracelets, or discover the ancient art of tying different Hawaiian cordage types. Order your kit online and have it mailed directly to your home.

Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel

Have a glamorous stay at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel

$$$
Ongoing

As mainland travelers gear up for their winter holidays in Hawaii, Waikiki is beginning to buzz all over again and the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel is reopening its doors with a fresh new look. Located across from the Honolulu Zoo, with spectacular views of Diamond Head and the famed Waikiki Beach Walls-this hotel is the ideal place for a romantic weekend or family staycation. Their Kama’aina (local) rates are affordable, starting at $133 per night, but hurry-these prices won’t last long. Grab your swimsuit and book early! Note that out-of-state travelers must successfully complete a pre-travel test or be subject to the state’s 14-day quarantine program.

Learn to paint with nature artist Patrick Ching

Free
Every Wednesday through December 25
From now till Christmas, Hawaii’s favorite nature artist will be hosting live Facebook Studio Art Shows every Wednesday at 5 pm. Patrick’s art shows feature an art lesson, a bit of scenic beauty, project updates, and music from his Waimānalo Beach studio. Ching shares helpful technical tips on painting for those who want to improve their technique or just spend a relaxing afternoon doing something different.

Koki's
Koki’s
Koki’s

Take a vegetarian Indian cooking class

$$
December 11, 18, and 25
Enjoy the lush green mountains of Manoa Valley while learning how to cook and create delicious dishes from India. At Koki’s Kitchen, all cooking equipment is provided and you’ll jump right into an entirely hands-on cooking experience with Chef Koki herself! The two-hour class is limited to five participants and comes with complimentary drinks. The best part: all the food prep is done before you arrive, so you can focus on learning and savoring your meal. Classes start at $75.
 

Drive-in to your favorite holiday movie

$$
December 10, 11, 17, and 18

The drive-in has returned in full force over the last few months, popping up in Kailua, Mililani, and now in Honolulu at the Ala Moana Center. Aloha Drive-In Movies screens your favorite Christmas flicks including Elf, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Die Hard. Select a showtime and buy your tickets online, then arrive early to get closer screen viewing. Snacks and drinks are available through pre-order, walk ups, or a QR code then delivered to your car. Pricing starts at $40 per vehicle, up to five people.
 

Make your own chocolate bar

$
Classes every Thursday

Learn everything about chocolate bar making on a one-hour tour where a guide will explain the process from bean to bar in the islands and offer tastings of cacao, as well as a flight of five popular chocolate flavors. Then, try your hand at making your own, incorporating fun flavors like spicy chipotle pepper and caramelized ginger.

Honolulu City Lights
Honolulu City Lights
Honolulu City Lights

Celebrate 35 years of Honolulu City Lights

Free
Throughout December

Honolulu’s stage will be set with all the season’s warmth and nostalgia as its famed Honolulu City Lights illuminate this holiday season. This year, Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele will be donning their face masks at Honolulu Hale, along with the city’s 50-foot, fully decorated Christmas tree. All activities at Honolulu City Lights will be modified, with picture taking in front of displays allowed only if practicing social distancing. Drive-by viewing experiences are encouraged for residents. Visit their website for weekly scheduled televised events.

Relax with a full moon crystal sound bath

$
December 29

Close out 2020 with a relaxing guided meditation and crystal bowl sound healing session led by Mayu Kawasaki. It’s been a stressful year, so use this opportunity to release any lingering tension and take a moment to embrace all that you accomplished and are grateful for. Bring your yoga mat or any props that will help you relax and rest deeply during the sound journey. Enjoy a complimentary cup of coconut kava and bring a pen and journal to capture any meditative thoughts. The two-hour session begins at 6:30pm and tickets are $33.

Eat, drink, and be merry at Kailua Night Market

Free
December 12 and 19, January 9 and 16, February 6 and 13
Pet adoptions, art, shopping, and delicious ono food are what you can expect at the Kailua Night Market, which takes place two Saturdays each month at 340 Uluniu Street in Kailua from 5 to 9 pm. Over the last two and a half years, Kailua’s family- and pet-friendly popup has become an essential market for promoting the small local businesses on O’ahu’s Windward side, showcasing local food vendors, retailers, and crafts from local entrepreneurs in a celebration of culture and connection. 

Blue Note Hawaii
Blue Note Hawaii
Blue Note Hawaii

Celebrate A Charlie Brown Christmas with Jazz Musicians

$$
Friday, December 25
You can’t call it Christmas without the Peanuts and their classic holiday shenanigans. Native New Yorker trumpeter Mike Lewis returns to Blue Note Hawaii with A Charlie Brown Christmas, featuring some of Hawaii’s best jazz musicians. The performance will showcase selections from the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, as written by legendary composer and pianist Vince Guaraldi. Time slots are filling up quickly so don’t miss the opportunity to book. Prices range from $25-$35 per person.
 

Run the Hawaii Kai Ultra Marathon

$
December 19 and 20

Challenge yourself with the longest run of your life at the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run. Choose whether to run a half marathon, full marathon, 30K, 50K, 50 Mile, 100K, or 100 Miles. This semi-annual run is held on Oahu’s far east end and designed to challenge new and advanced runners to take on further distances. Start times are flexible on either day with the run beginning at Kalama Valley Community Park. Regular entry is $30 with discounts available, but volunteers who commit to four hours or more will receive free registration and a free event t-shirt. Pre-registration is encouraged and same-day registration increases to $40, with no guarantee of event t-shirts still being available. Ice, drinks, and food are provided. 

Forest Bathing Hawai‘i
Forest Bathing Hawai‘i
Forest Bathing Hawai‘i

Experience Virtual Forest Bathing

$$
Every Thursday and Sunday through January

Join a live online-facilitated nature therapy session from the comfort of your living room, led by a certified forest therapy guide based in Honolulu. The guide will dial in from a trail or green space on the island of Oʻahu, allowing guests to virtually experience Hawaiʻi’s natural and healing beauty through their screens. Attendees will be invited to tune into their senses, slow down, and give their attention to the more-than-human world around them. Prices range from $15 to $25 and complimentary walks are available for first responders, healthcare, and essential workers by emailing [email protected] for a promo code.Sign up here for our daily Honolulu email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Wendy Awai-Dakroub is a Hawaii-based writer, restaurateur, franchise business consultant and founder of kid-friendly food and travel blog. Besides her love for travel and photography, she’s also “momager” to her kid-foodies Leah and Jaffer. Follow her on Twitter.

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