Best Beaches of South Kohala, Hawai‘i (Resort Area)

South Kohala on the Big Island is home to many great beaches, making it easy to find the perfect one a dip in the ocean or to make it a classic beach day, or even for a bit more oceanside activity before stretching out on the sand. Whatever you’re looking for in your beach day, one (or more!) of these beaches will be the perfect fit.

Anaeho‘omalu Bay (A Bay)

Once a long narrow strip of inviting salt-and-pepper sand, Anaeho‘omalu Bay, or A Bay (Hwy. 19 at mile marker 76, daily 6am-7pm), the beach that fronts hotels such as the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Hilton Waikoloa Village, was split into two parts by the March 2011 tsunami. Now the only option to walk the beach is via the walkway behind the sandy area where some ancient fishponds are located. Enter through Waikoloa Beach Resort area and park behind Queens’ MarketPlace. Although the beach is used by the resort hotels, it is accessible for nonguests via a huge parking lot (where the Hele-On buses wait). All the standard water sports are possible here, and rentals for equipment are available from a kiosk in front of the Marriott. Also in front of the Marriott are lounge chairs that are open to the public. The public restrooms and showers are near the parking lot.

Holoholokai Beach Park and Malama Trail

A shaded park with a grassy area, Holoholokai Beach Park (Holoholokai Beach Park Rd., daily 6:30am-6:30pm) makes a nice place to picnic or to fish away the afternoon. There are better places to access to the ocean, but you might want to jump in after walking the Malama Trail to view the Puako Petroglyphs, approximately 3,000 individual rock carvings considered some of the finest and oldest in Hawaii. The trail is 1.4 miles round-trip (about a 45-minute walk), but avoid going midday when the unshaded trail can be extremely hot. Bathrooms and drinking fountains are available in the parking lot. To get there, from Highway 19 (between mile markers 73 and 74) turn onto Mauna Lani Drive, turn right at the first turn on the roundabout to North Kaniku Drive, and then turn right onto Holoholokai Beach Park Road.

Kalahupipua‘a Trail and Fishponds Historic Park

The short, paved Kalahupipua‘a Trail (Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, daily 6:30am-6:30pm), which can be connected with the larger shoreline trail system, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, passes through ancient fishponds (still stocked with fish) and the Eva Parker Woods Cottage Museum, originally constructed in the 1920s as part of a larger oceanfront estate. To get there, from Highway 19 (between mile markers 73 and 74) turn onto Mauna Lani Drive and gain access through the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, or for public access follow Mauna Lani Drive and turn left on Pauoa Road; look for the public access lot on the right side.

If you continue to walk south on the Kalahupipua‘a Trail for a few more minutes, you’ll end up at Makaiwa Bay, a white-sand beach that is a great spot for snorkeling, especially for beginners (the signage is so good here that there is a diagram indicating where to go snorkeling in the water based on your level of expertise). Behind the beach is the Mauna Lani Beach Club (the parking lot is not open to the public before 4:30pm, but you can walk there via the trail), housing the upscale restaurant Napua (1292 S. Kaniku Dr., 808/885-5022, daily 11am-4pm and 5pm-9pm, lunch $12-16, dinner $28-36). If you walk through the beach and up the stairs at the end of the beach, you’ll be on Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, passing by some amazing-looking homes, and you can continue on this scenic path to 49 Black Sand Beach.

49 Black Sand Beach

A little known quiet beach with little shade and calm water, 49 Black Sand Beach (Mauna Lani Resort) makes for a nice place to get away. The parking lot, including shower and bathroom facilities, is only a minute away from the beach, making this spot a good place to go if you don’t want the hassle of parking and trekking far out to a beach.

To get there from Highway 19, between mile markers 73 and 74 turn onto Mauna Lani Drive; continue around the roundabout and turn right onto North Kaniku Drive, then left on Honokaope Place. Check in with the security guard to get a beach pass.

69 Beach (Waialea Bay)

The name of the beach is mostly what gets curious onlookers to visit it, but they are usually happy they made the trip. The 69 Beach on Waialea Bay (Hwy. 19 between mile markers 70 and 71, daily 7am-8pm) is pleasant: a long, narrow stretch of white sand, lots of shade, and excellent snorkeling. Restroom and shower facilities are available as are several picnic areas. This isn’t the best beach in the area, but you won’t be disappointed if you spend an afternoon here.

To get to 69 Beach from Highway 19, between mile markers 70 and 71 turn makai (toward the sea; used by most islanders when giving directions) onto Puako Beach Drive and take the first right onto old Puako Road and then the first left after that; follow the road into the parking area.

Turtles on Puako Beach.
Turtles on Puako Beach. Photo © Karen Nguyen, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Puako Tide Pools

One of the most developed fringing reefs on the island, the Puako tide pools (Puako Beach Dr., off Hwy. 19 between mile markers 70 and 71) are an underwater wonderland offering some of the best snorkeling and diving on the island. Once you are in the water, look for submerged lava tubes and garden eels hiding under the sandy ocean bottom. There are no facilities or rental companies located here, so bring in what you need, including equipment and snacks.

Access is available at several different points along the shorefront, but the easiest point may be right before the road dead-ends; from Highway 19 between mile markers 70 and 71 turn makai onto Puako Beach Drive and follow the road through the village—even though there is a Dead End sign—head toward the dead end and turn makai into the dirt parking area.

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

Locals allege that the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area (Hwy. 19 near mile marker 69, daily 7am-8pm) is one of the top 20 beaches in the world, and that assertion might be true. Even on weekdays the large parking lot fills up early as locals and tourists alike rush to this white-sand beach to get a top spot (especially since there is little shade). The turquoise waters are perfect for snorkeling, body boarding, and swimming. There is a lifeguard on duty, and the picnic areas, some of which are shaded, have great views of all the action on the beach. If you forgot your snorkel gear, towels, boogie boards, or chairs, you can rent from the Hapuna Beach Grill (on the grassy area near the parking lot, 808/882-4447, grill daily 11am-3pm, $8, rentals daily 10am-4pm, cash only). The grill offers burgers, fries, ice cream, and fruit smoothies that are better than your usual beach shack foods.

Kauna‘oa Beach

Since all beaches in Hawaii are public, it’s just knowing how to access them that is the trick. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s beach, Kauna‘oa Beach (Hwy. 19 near mile marker 68), is another example where you merely have to ask a security guard for a pass to park in the public lot at the hotel. Technically, there are even different bathroom and shower facilities for the public users versus the hotel guests, but since it’s the same beach, there is a lot of intermingling, including public use of lounge chairs reserved for guests. Once you’re in, you’ll want to stay for the entire day. The water is perfect for swimming and there is a long stretch of white sand as well as a grassy area ideal for a picnic or just lounging with a book.

To get to Kauna‘oa Beach, from Highway 19 turn makai onto Mauna Kea Beach Drive near mile marker 68 and ask the guard if you can have a parking permit for the public beach.

Spencer Beach Park

A top family beach and one of the best camping spots on the Big Island (you need a permit), Spencer Beach Park (Hwy. 270 between mile markers 2 and 3, 6am-11pm) gets crowded on weekends and holidays. Enter through the entrance to Pu‘ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. There are picnic pavilions with barbecues, lots of shade, a sandy beach with calm waters, restroom and shower facilities, and just a general congenial atmosphere. It’s more popular among locals than tourists, probably given the fact that nearby Hapuna Beach provides a more idyllic beach setting.

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