Big Island beaches are some of the most beautiful, swimmable golden-sand beaches in the world. Here are the ones that we like.
The Kohala (North West) Coast
Anaehoomalu Beach is a picture-perfect finger of golden sand with palms for shade, on a bay where ancient kings played. Suitable for a wide range of ocean activities, this beach is favored for windsurfing. Novices can frolic in the calmer waters near shore, which they may share with sea turtles. Expert riders enjoy the more challenging wave conditions farther offshore. Public rest rooms and showers are available. No life guards are on duty. (Follow Waikoloa Beach Dr. to Royal Waikoloan Resort, then signs to park and beach right-of-way to south.)
Hapuna Beach, a crescent shaped, half-mile-long beach, regularly wins kudos in the world’s top travel magazines as the most beautiful beach in Hawaii. One look and you’ll see why: perfect cream-colored sand slopes down to crystal-clear waters (with pleasant sandy bottoms) that are great for swimming, snorkelling, and bodysurfing in summer; come winter, waves thunder in like stampeding wild horses.
The facilities (including rest rooms) for picnicking and camping are top-notch, and there’s plenty of parking. There is a lifeguard on duty. (Between Mauna Kea Beach and Mauna Lani resorts, off Hwy. 19.)
Kaunaoa Beach is the ideal Big Island beach for visitors seeking pristine sands and serenity. This crescent-shaped, quarter-mile-long beach is very private, and 78-degree water provides the perfect respite from the sand.
The famed Mauna Kea Beach Hotel keeps the beach clean and full of healthy coral and fish life, as well as offering guests access to its swank beach facilities. Visitors not staying at the resort can still enjoy this tropical paradise, just with a few restrictions. The hotel limits entry to its private beach, and to a public beach accessible via its grounds, to 25 passes at any given time. Your best bet? Arrive at the beach before 9 a.m. Otherwise, spend the morning enjoying a delectable meal at one of the resort’s five restaurants and try to get on the beach later in the afternoon. (Entry through gate to Mauna Kea Beach Resort off Hwy. 19.)
Ka’u (South East Coast)
To get to Green Sand Beach, you’ll need a permit, good hiking shoes, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This green crescent is one of the most unusual and prettiest Big Island beaches. The sand is green, fragments of olivine rock. High surf throughout the year can be dangerous. No lifeguards are on duty. Beachcombers can hunt for gemstone-sized lumps of pale green olvine, a volcanic phenomenon.
The black sand Punaluu Beach Park is one of nature’s rarest wonders. This magnificent beach formed when lava from two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, spilled into the ocean and quickly cooled, breaking into minuscule pieces that now comprise the “sand.”
The black-sand beach with its smoothed glass granules is always warm and soothing, and the wild tropical landscape makes this spot irresistible. Should swimming and sunbathing grow tiresome, grab a net and join the ranks of local fishermen — the waters off Punaluu are noted for their tremendous fishing. (Hwy. 11, 27 miles south of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.)
The Kona (West) Coast
Kahaluu Beach Park is the most popular strand of sands on the Kona Coast; these reef-protected lagoons attract a thousand people a day almost year-round. Kahaluu is the best all-round beach on Alii Drive, with coconut trees lining a narrow salt-and-pepper-sand shore that gently slopes to turquoise pools. The schools of brilliantly colored tropical fish that weave in and out of the well-established reef make this a great place to snorkel. It’s also an ideal spot for children and beginning snorkelers (the water is so shallow that you can literally stand up if you feel uncomfortable).
Be careful in winter, though — the placid waters become turbulent, and there’s a rip current when high surf rolls in (look for the lifeguard warnings). Parking is available in the park. Clothing is optional, even if technically illegal. (5.5 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Ali’i Drive)