Hawai’i Island is the most dramatic of all the Hawaiian islands. Many visit to experience the active volcanoes or high mountains. The island is an amazing destination for stunning topography and outdoorsy activities, but don’t count out its beach scene either.
Some parts of Hawaii Island are better than others for beaches. In the northwest, the Kohala Coast has the most consistently sunny weather. There are lots of places to stay in this area, including my favorite, The Fairmont Orchid. Among others, you’ll also find the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa and the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.
Another region worth exploring for beaches is the stretch south of the Kona International Airport, in the town of Kailua-Kona. This is where most visitors spend their time on the island as it has a wide range of hotels, restaurants, and nightlife, and most everything you need is within easy walking distance.
On the east side, Hilo also has some beaches, but is more prone to cloudy and rainy weather.
Big Island beach action
Hapuna Beach State Park
Just south of the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on the Kohala Coast, Hapuna Beach is considered one of the best on the island, especially in the summer. This is when the waves are gentlest and low tides are lowest. (Be careful in the winter as that’s when the waves are gnarly and the currents strong.)
I visited in September and found the waters still relatively calm. There were lots of parking spots, and facilities that included restrooms, showers, and pavilions you can use as shade or picnic shelters. If you’re on a budget, there are even cabins for camping.
Also known as A-Bay, this beach is very close to Hapuna on the Kohala Coast and also considered very beautiful. To get there, look for the fishponds at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Hotel and start walking south. You won’t have to go far.
A-Bay is a great spot to engage in water sports. You can rent gear ranging from snorkel equipment to standup paddleboards, kayaks, and boogie boards, and use whatever you get in the bay. I took a standup paddleboard lesson and was surprised at how easy it was.
The beach is lined with palm trees, providing plenty of shade if you don’t have a beach umbrella (something with which I’m not usually equipped).
Kahaluu Beach Park
It’s no surprise that the island’s most popular beach is located on the Kona Coast, in close proximity to Kailua-Kona. Though it’s not the most beautiful beach on the island, it takes the cake for accessibility, and attracts a lot of visitors eager to experience its picnic tables and sunsets. The beach also is known for its snorkeling opportunities; a large fish population comes here to feed in the sheltered cove. You also likely will find sea turtles who make their way to the shore to sun themselves.
For people-watching, stick around during dinnertime when the locals come out with family and friends and fire up their grills. If you’re planning to picnic yourself, note that local shops which sell takeout food for spur-of-the-moment picnics close up early (usually around 5 p.m.).
Viewfinder Tip: If you’re a surfer, the best times to visit the Big Island are winter months. Try White Sands Beach on the Kona Coast for the best waves.
Leleiwi Beach Park
If you find yourself on the east side of the island near Hilo, visit Leleiwi Beach Park. It’s a rocky beach, but the black lava tide pools are great for kids since they’re sheltered from the rough surf.
This beach has pros and cons. The biggest downside: This part of the island tends to get more rain and clouds than other areas, so perfect beach weather isn’t a given. The biggest benefit: There are lifeguards, which is not the case for all the Big Island beaches. If you’ve got the kiddos in tow, these safety experts undoubtedly will give you an extra sense of security.
Hilo is also less expensive than the other parts of the island. While there aren’t as many hotel options around, I do recommend the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, just a few miles from the beach.
Finally, whichever Hawaii Island beach you choose, it’s important to remember to use caution before entering the water. Watch for red flags on the beach and talk to lifeguards about the current tides and undertow. Rogue waves are common, particularly in the winter months, but can happen at any time. Be aware and be prepared; that way you can just focus on having a good time.