It takes months to really pinpoint the best beaches in any given spot and in Hawaii the same is true. But in Hawaii there are about a thousand beaches to search through. I've already covered our favorite beaches on Oahu and now after spending over a year here, Expedia asked me to come up with what we believe to be the 5 best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Makalewena is by far the very best beach on this island and really it rivals any beach on any of the islands of Hawaii. The thing that makes it so special is also the thing that makes it a bit difficult...seclusion. You will oftentimes be the only one on this beach but even on a busy day it still feels rather secluded and offers plenty of private space.
To reach this Kona side beach you will either need to do a moderate hike in or drive on a truly horrible 4x4 road. We have done both and neither will be quick so it really just depends on where your comfort lies. The hike is about 40 minutes in direct sunlight. It is flat but is on a very rough lava rock path. Think sprained ankle central. Not so bad hiking in but after a long day in the sun I can think of better ways to spend 45 minutes. The drive took about 30 minutes and is a tough one on any car. Be sure you have good clearance and drive slowly! 4x4 was definitely necessary especially on the way out.
What we love: Simply put it is one of the most beautiful beaches I think I have ever seen. Powdery white sand, beautiful turquoise waters, just the right amount of wave action, and loads of shade up on and near the sand dunes are just the beginning of a long list of what there is to love.
What we don't love: The hike or drive in are brutal and the fact that there are no bathrooms or showers can be somewhat irritating.
Green Sand beach
The Green Sand beach, located on the South shore of the island is also a bit difficult to get to. It is a remote beach on a very rough stretch of road but worth every bit of effort to get to. The sand may not be bright green but it is stunning and one of the more unique beaches we've encountered. It really is a black sand beach that over time, due to erosion, has been mixed with small pieces of olivine, giving it the green hue. If you look hard enough you can even find some larger pieces perfect for jewelry.
Your options for reaching the beach are similar to Makalewena. You can hike in but it is also in direct sunlight and well over 3 miles each way. You can also drive in if you have 4x4, good clearance and no regard for the general state of your car (this road is about 10x worse and harder to navigate that the road to Makalewena, and that's saying something), or you can pay one of the locals at the start of the hike to drive you in for a small fee.
What we love: The simplicity to the area, the unique sand, the beautiful warm water, and the small caves and rock outcroppings perfect for exploring.
What we don't love: The drive or hike in, the fact that there are no bathrooms or showers, and the steep hill needed to climb down and back up in order to reach the actual beach.
Kua Bay is a lovely little Kona side beach. As you approach you marvel at the colors of the sea and are thrilled when you realize that it is the exact spot you are heading to. This beach is far more accessible than the 2 previously mentioned. You drive right up, park by the bathrooms and head right onto the beach. It is a little more crowded but on the weekdays it is never too bad.
What we love: The accessibility, the bathrooms and showers for rinsing off, and the beauty of it all.
What we don't love: The waves and currents can sometimes be a bit too much, even for my family who love playing in the surf. Also in the winter there is a lot of beach erosion and sometimes, like this year, the beach is almost completely gone. It comes back but that is a definite negative.
Kahalu'u is also a Kona side beach but it is far different than the others in the list. It truly is a, something for everyone, type of spot. There are lovely tide pools that keep even the youngest beach goers safe, a turtle conservation group almost always present teaching kids and adults about the turtles and other sea life encountered there, and even a area where the surf is just perfect for beginning surfers. It is also very accessible with a large parking lot, picnic area, food stand, and loads of showers and bathrooms.
What we love: The snorkeling here is incredible, some of the largest and most colorful fish we have seen in all of Hawaii. We also love the facilities, ability for my oldest to surf while the rest of us snorkel, swimming with sea turtles, and the fact that you can get a drink and snack right there.
What we don't love: This is no white sand beach, its more pebbly and not so soft on your toes. Also because it is so accessible and offers so many great amenities it is far more crowded than any other beach on the list.
Carl Smith is the only Hilo side beach that made the list for us. It is located directly in Hilo and although the water is super chilly it is just beautiful. It is a perfect spot for picnicking, watching whales (in the winter), and most notably swimming with the friendliest sea turtles around.
The beach also offers nice bathrooms, plenty of shade and picnic spots, as well as showers for rinsing off. There is also a lot of lava rock and coral making for decent snorkeling as long as the water is calm, which is usually is.
What we love: SEA TURTLES!! Seriously they get so close . You are not supposed to touch the turtles or interfere with them at all really but at this beach there is no avoiding it, they swim right up onto you!
What we don't love: The water is somewhat chilly and there is no beach to speak of although once you get in the bottom is nice and sandy. The parking is also a bit dodgy as you just park on the side of the road. Be careful if the traffic is heavy.
There are tons of beaches that could make any top 5 list here in Hawaii but these are by far the ones we visit most often. Honorable mention go to Honoli'i on the Hilo side, a great spot for surfing and also a great spot for littles to play. And also to both Hapuna beach and Mauna Kea beach located on the Kona side, both with lovely amenities, long stretches of white sand, and relaxing waters.
Have you been to the Big Island? Which beaches would make your top 5 list? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!