Top 5 Beaches on Big Island

By Sarah Pacheco
Photo:  Mauna Kea Beach courtesy of

Photo: Kaunaʻoa Bay or Mauna Kea Beach courtesy of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

As an island chain, Hawaii is home to hundreds of beaches, each possessing its own set of unique qualities. What makes one beach great for surfers and water-sport enthusiasts does not necessarily make for a great destination for families or vacationers looking to relax on the shore.

To help narrow down the search for the your own personal perfect beach destination, the following list is a compilation of what are widely agreed to be the top five beaches on Big Island.

Hapuna Beach

big island beaches

Hapuna Beach, South Kohala, Big Island of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of 5D*Guy via flickr.

Vacationers love Hapuna Beach, located just north of Kona, for many reasons. First and foremost, the beach features a long stretch of soft sand that leads to clear ocean water. Swimming conditions are usually excellent here, and skilled snorkelers can go nearly a mile down the coast to reach Wailea Bay. Lush, beautiful greenery surrounds the expansive beach, which becomes nearly 200 feet wide during the summer months, offering a plenty of room to play.

Maniniowali Beach

big island beaches

Maniniowali Beach, Kailua-Kona, Big Island of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of EyeTunes via flickr.

Located on Kua Bay in Kona, Maniniowali Beach is sometimes called “The Caribbean of Hawaii,” thanks in part to its fine white-sand beaches that gently slope toward the crystal-clear water. The crescent-shaped beach is one of the best places for swimming when the water is calm, usually during the morning hours. The surf can get rough, however, during which time inexperienced swimmers should look for a calmer, more protected beach. Maniniowali also is a favorite destination for bodyboarders and snorkelers, the latter of whom look forward to seeing sea turtles and tropical fish in the underwater boulders and coral.

Makalawena Beach

big island beaches

Makalawena Beach, Keahole, Kona, Big Island of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of RDPixelShop via flickr.

This northern beach is just as picturesque and tranquil as the nearby Maniniowali Beach, but because the only way to access Makalawena is via a 20-minute hike across an unpaved lava path, the beach often is uncrowded. In this case, it pays to travel “off the beaten path,” as Makalawena is one of the Big Island’s most spectacular beaches, with sand soft as powder and water so clear it shimmers in the sun. Makalawena is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, while shallow coral reefs just offshore provide a perfect destination for exploring colorful underwater caves, coral and sea arches.

Mauna Kea Beach

top beaches

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel nestled along Kaunaʻoa Beach. Courtesy Mauna Kea Resort.

Located just north of Hapuna Beach on the island’s northern coast, Mauna Kea Beach is truly one of the Big Island’s most exceptional destinations. The sand at Mauna Kea Beach, also known as Kaunaoa Beach, extends for almost a quarter of a mile, forming a perfect crescent shape in front of the Mauna Kea Resort. A natural rock reef provides some protection from the surf, making Mauna Kea Beach ideal for swimming, snorkeling and boogie boarding. Parking is limited, so your best bet is to arrive early before space fills up.

Waialea Bay

big island beaches

Waialea Beach or 69 Milemarker Beach, South Kohala, Big Island of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of vectorbug via flickr.

Located on the southern portion of Kawaihae Bay, Waialea Bay is one of the island’s most popular beaches, though it is not particularly easy to access. The beach itself actually erodes due to strong surf in the winter months, so the best time to visit is during the summer when it is pristine. The bay’s diversity of marine life is among the best in all of Kawaihae Bay, making it a favorite site for snorkel and scuba activities. The sand gently slopes into the water, making conditions near-perfect for swimmers and families with young children. Soft sand, tide pools and shady trees make Waialea Bay feel even more like a private retreat.

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