Best Beaches and Hotels on The Big Island, Hawai'i

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Advisor - Chanda Daly
Curated By

Chanda Daly

  • Domestic Travel

  • USA

  • Hawai'i

  • Big Island

  • Outdoors

  • Relaxing

  • Hiking

coastline next to ocean during daytime
Curator’s statement

Hawaii, The Big Island, is underrated in my opinion. But maybe that’s a good thing. It is much less crowded than the other islands, rarely any traffic, and has many serene, hidden beaches that are stunning! Of course, it’s famously known for its active volcanos but did you know it has 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones? You can drive from a desert-looking lava rock landscape to wet, tropical areas of the island in one day. The laid-back vibe, warm hospitality of the locals and uncrowded beaches are a few of the reasons this is my favorite island in the state of Hawaii.

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Where to stay on the Big Island

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Things to do on the Big Island

blue waters and white beach during daytime

Beaches

A-Bay: Anaehoomalu Bay. This bay is located within the Wiakoloa Beach Resort area. It is a gorgeous bay with a strip of sand in the direct sun or a large shaded area under trees to choose from setting up your spot for the day. It is a perfect location for small children as the waves break far outside the bay so it is more like a pool near the shore. There is free public parking very close to the beach. Tips: Free parking and nice restrooms. Lava Lava Beach Club is located here and is a fun place to dine on the sand. You can also rent a variety of beach and water toys from A’Bay Beach Hut. Directions: A-Bay is located within the Waikoloa Beach Resort community off of Hwy 19

Kikaua Point Beach: This beach is stunning! It has a small, protected cove that is perfect for little ones to swim in. It doesn’t get crowded as you have to obtain a parking pass at a guard shack and there are only 26 parking spots. There are clean restrooms, many shaded areas to set up and plenty of room to distance yourself from others - PARADISE! I had heard to arrive before 9AM or after 3PM to get a pass. I ended up passing by at 10:00 AM and snagged the last pass. Tips: Go before 9AM or after 3PM to get a parking spot. Bring your own food and drink. Directions: Access to this park is via Kuki’o Nui Rd (near mile marker 87 on Hwy 19). It’s behind the Kuki’o Golf Club. You will ask for a beach access pass at the guard booth and they will direct you to the parking lot.

Hapuna Beach State Park: Another gorgeous beach located on the NW side of the Island. It is about a 15 min drive North of Waikoloa Beach Resort. There is a large public parking lot that is $10/day for non-locals. I have visited here on very calm days when you can play in small waves and also on a big day when you couldn’t enter the water. Either way, it is stunning to look at. There are restroom facilities and water to rinse near the public parking lot. There is not much shade but it is a giant beach with plenty of sand to spread out away from people. There is decent snorkeling near the edges of the bay where the rocky cliffs are. The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is located on the north end of the beach. They have a lovely outdoor restaurant serving lunch right by the pool. Tips: Pack your own food and water unless you want to wander to the hotel. There is an outhouse in place of restroom facilities for now. Directions: Hapuna Beach is located off Hwy 19 north of Kailua-Kona around mile marker 70. Turn toward the ocean at the sign for Hapuna Beach State Park and continue 1/4 mile to the large parking lot. The beach is open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Kihilo Bay: This bay is another stunning location that is a must-see. We went here a few years ago and swam with more turtles than I ever have in my life (all trips combined). We also saw live seahorses. Stunning views, uncrowded if you go early (around 8 am) and only about a 15 min drive from Waikoloa Beach Resort. There are two ways to access the bay. Both are a trek, which is one of the reasons why it isn’t crowded. There are no restroom facilities as well. This can be done with little kids but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. It is a long walk (over a mile) either over lava rock or over deep sand and lava rock. It is a bit of a workout but so worth it! You will see many goats along the trek as well!

You want to go early for a few reasons: lack of shade and it gets very hot as well as lack of people that early in the morning. Tips: Go early! I arrived at 8 AM both times. We were done by 11AM and as we walked back to the car, a lot more people were arriving. Pack some snacks and water. Bring water shoes! Wear tennis shoes if planning to walk from the spot right off the highway as it is all lava rock. Bring your belongings in a backpack so it is easier to carry. Watch out for thorn trees and falling coconuts if you take the hike along the beach route. There are branches and sharp thorns on the ground that will go through many shoes.

Directions (two options): A) Drive to the parking area close to the beach and walk along the beach to the bay. If you’re coming from the North, go past mile marker 82 and it’s an unmarked gravel road. Follow it all the way down to the end. The road gets quite rugged so best in a car that can handle driving over some bigger rocks and dips. Once you park, head to the beach and walk north for a couple of miles. You will pass some giant homes, a nature preserve with several ponds and a bridge. Keep continuing around the corner until you see the beautiful bay. B) You can access the bay via a foot trail that begins from the highway just south of mile marker 81 (about a 20-minute walk). There is a small gravel area next to the highway where you can park (just north of the guardrail).

Kahalua’u Beach Park: This place is like a real-life aquarium! I have seen more variety of tropical fish here than any snorkel tour I have taken on the islands. It’s located in the Kona area. Plenty of free parking and restroom facilities. It does get crowded so go early or be prepared for crowds. Tips: Arrive early for smaller crowds. Pack your own food and water. Wear water shoes. Directions: Located approx 5 miles South of DT Kona right off of Ali’i Drive.

Kaunaoa Bay (also known as Mauna Kea Beach): This gorgeous beach is an approximately 17 min drive North of Waikoloa Beach Resort. This is a small, almost intimate, white sand beach, situated on a small crescent shape inlet in front of the Mauna Kea Resort. Crystal-clear waters with a gentle beach break make this a must-visit beach on your trip. There are public bathrooms and outdoor showers to rinse off as well. In addition, there is a swimming platform approx 100 yards from the sand. Kids and teens love to swim out and jump off. There is also some snorkeling to the north end of the bay where the rocks are. Tips: limited parking spots so arrive early or late afternoon. No food or rentals so pack what you need for the day. If you can, check out the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for lunch. Directions: There are approx 40 spots held for public parking at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort. Exit Hwy 19 at Mauna Kea Beach Drive. There will be signs for the resort. Stop at the guard shack and ask for a parking permit for the day.

Other Activities

  • Umauma Zipline: With speeds up to 65mph you will fly over 14 waterfalls 100 feet in the air. It is located in North Kohala. This is a great family event. You can purchase a video of your experience at the end of the tour.

  • Akaka Falls State Park: Located about 11 miles north of Hilo and approx 1.5 hr drive NE from Waikoloa Beach Resort. There is a parking lot and a short, easy path to a viewpoint of the 442-foot-tall falls. The charge is $5 per person to help maintain the park.

  • Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Kilauea Volcano): The most famous activity on the Big Island is the Kilauea Volcano. There are many ways to see the volcano: by sea, by air and by land. If you want to visit it on your own, be sure to check the Hawai’i Volcanos National Park website for updates.

  • Lava Tubes: If you are heading to the East side of the Island to see the Volcano’s National Park, be sure to fit in a stop at the Lava Tubes. These are very cool underground passageways created from lava flows.

  • Mauna Kea: Technically the tallest mountain in the world if you count the height including below sea level. There is a visitor center at 9,000 feet. Beyond that, you really need a 4-wheel drive and not prone to altitude sickness to climb the remaining 4,800 feet in a vehicle. Be sure to check the website for restrictions prior to driving there.

Places to eat & drink on the Big Island

large patio with outdoor furniture and palm trees

Manta Restaurant at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: This is a luxury buffet overlooking Kaunaoa Bay. Service is impeccable, the food is delicious and the variety of food is amazing. They have everything you could dream of for brunch: pancakes with fun topping choices such as coconut syrup and coconut shavings, made-to-order omelets, salmon, miso soup, large fruit bar, fresh baked pastries, breakfast meats and potatoes. I could go on for days about this buffet. It is a must-do. Then roll yourself down to the beach all stuffed and enjoy the gorgeous views while the food settles.

Lava Lava Beach Club: You literally dine on the sand at this restaurant. And you have a prime view and steps away from gorgeous A-Bay. This is a great place for families because the kids can play in the sand in your eyesight while you enjoy a cocktail waiting for your food. They have live music every evening. They are open daily for lunch and dinner.

Island Gourmet Market: This is a small market in a shopping center that has great counter service, similar to a deli but offers a large variety of good food. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can find items such as kimchi fried rice, breakfast burritos, omelets, NY steaks, fish and chips, burgers and pizza. Everyone in your group can find something here. There are only a few tables outside of the market so best for taking to go back to your hotel or on the way to the beach.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out 3 Days in Napa: A Journey Through Wine Country.

Advisor - Chanda Daly

Travel Advisor

Chanda Daly

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to the Big Island, and our continuing series on beaches.