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The Best North Kona Beaches

Many of the best Kona beaches require some work to get to them. Keep in mind that it’s often the destination, not the journey. The majority of routes to the beaches can be accomplished in a good pair of sandals, but the walk, which is usually over uneven lava, can be difficult for some. There are equal amounts of beaches that don’t require any walking beyond from the parking lot to the sand, so don’t fret if you opt out of the beaches that require more effort to get to them.

Kiholo Bay

If you stop at the scenic point near mile marker 82 you get a great panoramic of Kiholo Bay (Hwy. 19 near mile marker 81 and also between mile markers 82 and 83, gate open 7am-7pm), and chances are you’ll want to get closer to it to see what looks like completely untouched paradise: a deserted beach with turquoise water and what appears to be an island off the bay. If you start your journey at the south end of the beach, you’ll find a cold freshwater lava tube bath called the Queen’s Bath (Keanalele Waterhole). It is a sacred site, so please be respectful. A sign there asks people to take care to respect the water by not using it for bathing.

View from the lava rock shore of kayakers in Kiholo Bay.
Kayakers in the waters of Kiholo Bay. Photo © jongela19, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

As you continue on the shoreline you’ll see fancy homes with private property signs. If you continue walking north on the shoreline, you’ll see turtles nesting nearby. Feel free to jump in and take a dip with them. This also is a good place for snorkeling when the water is clear. The beach ends and then you need to walk over the lava rock around the bend to a wonderful little shaded cove. From here you can swim out to that “island,” which is actually attached to the landmass on its north side. Be careful of the many turtles you are likely to see in this area.

To drive to the south end of the bay, look for the stick with the yellow reflector on it on the makai side of the road between mile markers 82 and 83. If you’re driving north on Highway 19 and you passed the blue scenic point sign, you went too far. The road you turn onto is gravel, but a rental car can make it to the end, where there are portable bathrooms. If you decide to walk all the way from Highway 19 to the beach, the makeshift parking lot is right before mile marker 81. Usually there are other cars parked on the side of the road. The trail, which will take you about 20 sweaty minutes to walk, starts to the left of the parking lot and veers left as you’re walking. The benefit in walking and not driving down is that the walk will get you much closer to the bay. If you drive, you end up on the south side of the bay and need to walk around it for about 15 minutes.

Kuki‘o Beach (Four Seasons Resort Beach)

The wonderful thing about Hawaii is that the entire shoreline is public—so even when the beach is at a five-star hotel, as it is in this case with Kuki‘o Beach (Hwy. 19 between mile markers 86 and 87), the public must have access to it. The beach usually offers calm water for swimming and has a pleasant, unshaded, small white-sand area off a paved path that makes for an excellent oceanfront jogging trail. The path is part of the historical ala loa (long path) route that ancestors would use for a nightly procession. Given that the beach actually is maintained by the Four Seasons Resort and since they don’t want “the public” sneaking off into the hotel to use facilities, they have provided bathrooms, showers, and drinking water for the public here, and they are nice (I mean, it is the Four Seasons). There is no lifeguard on duty. This bay is a fisheries management area, which means that you can fish here but a board alerts you to how many fish you can catch of each type.

To get to Kuki‘o Beach, you are required to stop at the Four Seasons Resort gate and alert the guard that you are going to the public access beach. Note: The resort is open to the public, so you can also say you are visiting it and go take a peek if you want. Follow the signs to the “public access” and park in the lot where the road ends.

Kikaua Point Park Beach

Kikaua Point Park Beach (Kuki‘o Nui Dr., off Hwy. 19 between mile markers 87 and 88) is perfect in so many ways. Perhaps due to the fact that entry is limited (passes are handed out at the security gate), it’s never as crowded as you’d expect it to be. The water is glorious. Even when there are waves at other places on the same shoreline, it remains calm here, making it a perfect spot for kids, although there is not a lifeguard on duty. Bring a picnic—locals tend to bring pizza from Costco—and head to the grassy area shaded by the coconut trees. Bathroom, shower, and drinking water are available and they are lovely facilities due to the fact that they are maintained privately.

To get to Kikaua Point Park Beach, turn makai onto Kuki‘o Nui Drive and proceed to the security booth. The guards only hand out 28 passes per day, but the turnover is pretty high, so if you wait around long enough, and people do, you’ll likely end up with a pass. Another option is to park at the Kuki‘o Beach parking lot near the Four Seasons Resort and walk south to Kikaua—it’s only a 10-minute walk. Don’t get tricked in the parking lot with the Beach Access sign pointing to the left—this is only the tide pool area. Take the paved path straight back, about a five-minute walk, to the sandy portion. When you’re done with the best beach day ever, don’t forget to return your access card to the security guard so that someone else can enjoy the beach.

Manini‘owali Beach (Kua Bay)

Before about 15 years ago there wasn’t a road to get to Manini‘owali Beach (Hwy. 19 between mile markers 88 and 89, daily 9am-7pm) in the Kua Bay section of Kekaha Kai State Park. One had to really want to get there by hiking or finding a four-wheel-drive way. And even with all those barriers, people still went—so you know it has to be good. It’s a small white-sand beach with turquoise water that is excellent for body boarding and snorkeling. There is not much shade, but if you’re aching for sun this is a perfect place to spend the day absorbing some rays. Nowadays, the state has made it easier to get here. A lovely paved road reaches a parking lot and full facilities. It’s getting so crowded that now there is a security guard at the entrance to the beach itself (he doesn’t seem to do much besides protect the beauty of the place). To get there from Highway 19, look for the Kehaha Kai Park sign and turn makai across from West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery.

Makalawena Beach

In the state beach section of Kekaha Kai State Park, Makalawena (Hwy. 19 between mile markers 90 and 91, daily 9am-7:30pm) is a favorite beach of many locals, probably because it’s an authentic Big Island experience given that it requires a little bit of hiking to get there. If you make the 30-minute trek to the beach, you’ll be rewarded by the isolated white sand and turquoise water. Given the walk, Makalawena is often fairly deserted (it has no facilities). The beach itself is made up of three crescent-shaped white-sand areas that are backed by trees (although there isn’t much shade). Body boarding and snorkeling are possible.

The sun shines on a sea turtle resting on the sand of Makalawena beach.
A sea turtle rests in the sand of Makalawena beach. Photo © Dan, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Before you get excited about coming here, you should know that while you can do it in a standard rental car, it’s a slow-going 20-minute drive and then there is a 30-minute walk over a lava field. From Highway 19, look for the Kekaha Kai Park sign and turn makai. The initial road starts off paved but then quickly becomes uneven lava.

To get to Makalawena, walk from the parking lot through the first beach, Mahai‘ula, where the bathrooms are located, and then through the lava field. When you start coming to sand again, you’re close. You might want to wear good shoes on the walk, as the lava field can be tricky to navigate.

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