Big Island of Hawaii doesn’t have many family-friendly and snorkeling beaches. (as Maui, for example). But there are some unique and memorable that doesn’t exist on Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. “Big Island Top Beaches” is inspired by our trips (the last one was in April-May 2021) and what to look for. We traveled with kids 2, 3, 6, and 11 y.o.
E hele kāua! – “Let’s go!” in Hawaiian
Big Island Top Beaches 2021
1. New Black Sand Beach in Pahoa
Why is it special? In one visit you can get the rhythm of life on the Island: the brutal, destroying force of nature and restarting a new life.
In 1990 lava flow wiped 2 towns in this area in a little more than a month. This also marked the birth of the new beach with the finest black sand. While just a few houses survived, later some were rebuilt right on the lava. And, as almost everywhere on Big Island, the Royal past of Hawaii present here too.
Key Points: this beach isn’t for swimming or snorkeling due to currents and waves. During high tide, you won’t see the beach at all! 15 minutes trail to the beach is a great introduction to “What Big Island Is”.
2. Two Step Beach Snorkeling
South of Kailua Kona, (the most popular place to stay among visitors) lies the beautiful Kona Coast. We explored almost every corner of it, coming back to the Two Step beach for snorkeling.
Why is it special? Two Step has the best snorkeling on the Big Island (from all the places we tried out). Water is turquoise and clear, a couple of meters deep. Lots of space, tropical fishes, and coral reefs:
Key Points: left side of the Two Steps has a tiny sandy beach, the rest of it is a lava shelf. Access to the ocean by 2 rocky steps. Nearby are amazing Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, coffee farms, and macadamia nuts farms.
3. Clothing optional (unofficial) Kehena Black sand beach
If you are looking for a “true, authentic Hawaiian atmosphere”, go to Kehena. Visited mostly by locals, it has an extraordinary, hippie vibe. Plus fine sand, palm trees, and an impressive backdrop. Our most favorite beach.
Key points: be aware of currents and surf. We (and 11 y.o.) loved swimming there and jumping on waves. Clothing is optional.
4. Big Island Top Beaches: Pohoiki Hot Pools at Isaac Hale Beach Park
Big Island’s biggest secret is that like Yellowstone, it is constantly, endlessly changing by nature. Every time you visit, you might find something that never existed before or gone forever. Like vanished Ahalanui warm pool and newly (2018) created Pohoiki hot springs:
Key points: Isaac Hale Beach has a camping area (currently closed due to Covid), restrooms, and a lifeguard on duty. As for pools, you can choose from a warm one, (in the 1st picture) to a hot one (in the last picture). Love it a lot!
5. White Sand Beach or Hapuna Beach
If you are dreaming about white sand beaches, blue waters, soft sandy ocean bottom, go to Hapuna Beach Park. It is perfect for a beach day plus has showers, restrooms, and lifeguards. We also were lucky to meet there a flock of Nēnē: the rarest goose in the world, Hawaii State Bird:
Key points: grab an umbrella on a sunny day, there is hardly any shade!
6. Keiki Beach Queen’s Bath: kiddie beach and tide pools
We were used to tidepool creatures in the Pacific Northwest but didn’t expect them in Hawaii. Despite pretty warm waters, there is plenty of marine life, if you know where to look for it.
Why is it special? “Keiki” means a child in Hawaiian and Keiki beach is the calmest you can find for a baby/toddler on Big Island. Surroundings are picturesque!
Key points: come during low tide to play in sand, swim, and watch tide creatures. Watch between the rocks for sea stars, crabs, eels, and sea urchins.
7. Big Island top beaches: Where to spot Hawaiian Sea Turtles
While chances for watching turtles are highest on Maui, you may spot them on the Big Island of Hawaii too. We successfully checked Kekaha Kai and Alula beach for turtles. And unexpectedly met one baby at the Two Steps (photo above).
Kekaha Kai beach was the hardest to reach but we could watch and swim with turtles:
There is also a white sandy beach, shade, so-so snorkeling, and rocky ocean bottom.
Alula beach has easy access, calm waters, the possibility for snorkeling, Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, and turtles as well:
8. Magic Sands Beach: feel the local vibe and watch surfers
Why “Magic”? If you’d come to the beach during winter… there won’t any beach at all! Every year sands are washing off by the ocean, and coming back again every spring. We called this beach #2 (after Kehena naked beach) to meet locals and feel the Hawaiian atmosphere.
Key points: Magic Sands Beach is also cool to watch the sunset, has showers and bathrooms. Our 11 y.o. loves it for the big waves.
9. Hilo, Carlsmith Beach Park. Postcard views
East of the Hilo International Airport a chain of beach parks is located. At the Carlsmith Beach Park, locals said 11 turtles live there (but we saw none). The area is beautiful and looks like on the postcard:
Key points: Carlsmith Beach Park is popular among locals for swimming and picnicking. Snorkeling popular too. The only con: water is fed by cold spring water.
Big Island Top Beaches. Essentials
- While locals (and us) don’t mind, toe-covered shoes and water shoes are great to explore the beaches. Big Island is flooded by lava, often it is rough or sharp.
- For little kids, (1-4 y.o.) pants are better than shorts to access the beach. Little legs will be less scraped due to stumbling on lava rocks.
- Spotting turtles and other marine life are a matter of luck. Please don’t chase any sea creatures. If they feel curious, they will come to you by themselves:
- Please, use only mineral sunscreen, chemical ones are killing the reefs.
- Don’t step or touch corals, they are fragile.
- For snorkeling, we used full-face masks and a GoPro camera.
- Take Annual National Parks Pass if you have one. The Big Island has dozen of places where you can use it!
- Royal footsteps are everywhere on Big. We learned everything about Royals and Hawaii from Shaka Guide – an amazing self-guided audio tour. Kids loved Shaka too.
- As for the food, we liked Poke (bought at local supermarkets) and all kinds of fruits from numerous fruit stands:
Thanks for reading, guys! Or should I say Mahalo? 🙂
All beaches mentioned above on My Map
Big Island volcanoes (where and what to look for) and top sights: caves, lava tubes, Royal footsteps, coffee fields, magic tree tunnels, waterfalls, etc.
Maui: swimming in 5 waterfalls, hiking Mars-like landscape, and other adventures. Oahu: visiting Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, etc
Kauai: pros and cons of the “Garden Isle”. Kauai top 10 places to visit.
Hawaii on a Budget 2021: accommodation, car rentals, flights. Best time to go. Which island to choose. Flight with kids during Covid
Yellowstone: the best and worst of the National Park. What we have learned only after we arrived there. (traveled with 1, 4, and 9 y.o. kids)
Amsterdam Like a Local: is there anything besides coffee shops, canals, and Red Light District? Traveled with 2, 5, 10 y.o.