Waipi'o Black Sand Beach, one of the most beautiful black sand beaches, Big Island, Hawaii

7 Best Black Sand Beaches Big Island, HI: 2024 Ultimate Guide

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Black sand beaches Big Island! A quirk of nature, and one of the must visit places if you’re vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii!

The result of millions of fragments formed by the violent and explosive meeting of hot lava flows with colder ocean waters, and their subsequent grinding by ocean waves to sand, you’ll find Big Island black sand beaches where volcanic activity occurs in close proximity to the ocean.

Lava flow is basaltic in nature, and basalt rocks are black: so their fragments and the resulting sand beach are black.

Kehena Black Sand Beach, one of the most beautiful black sand beaches, Big Island
Kehena Black Sand Beach, one of the most beautiful black sand beaches, Big Island

Unlike white and golden sand beaches, where the sand is continually replenished, black sand beaches exist only while the volcanoes are active with regular lava flows.

Once the volcanoes become dormant or extinct, the black sand beaches eventually disappear, eroded by the ocean waves.

That’s why the older Hawaiian islands like Kauai and Oahu have no black sand beaches, Maui has at least two, but Big Island has more!

Do not miss seeing a black sand beach while on Big Island, Hawaii. You may never see another one in your lifetime, they are so rare (only about 20 in the world)!

Join us in reviewing Big Island black sand beaches to identify which ones are best for you to visit!

Snorkeling Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay should definitely be on your Big Island itinerary: check out our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkel tours!

Kaimu Black Sand Beach, a newly formed black sand beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Kaimu Black Sand Beach, a newly formed black sand beach, Big Island, Hawaii

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Best Tours Covering Black Sand Beaches Big Island

Island hopping and short on time? A guided island tour that includes one or more of the best Big Island black sand beaches on its route may be a great option, with pickup from your hotel or a convenient central location.

Several tours are available, and here are some of the 5-star rated, highly popular ones:

Big Island in a Day: Volcanoes Waterfalls Sightseeing and History

One of the most popular (and 5-star rated!) of the Big Island tours, and limited to 12 people for a better experience, this tour includes Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and the Waipio Valley Lookout, along with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, waterfalls, and more!

>> Check pricing and availability on the Big Island in a Day: Volcanoes Waterfalls Sightseeing and History tour now!

Big Island Highlights: Coffee, Volcano, Black Sands & Waterfall

Another popular and 5-star rated, Big Island tour, Big Island Highlights: Coffee, Volcano, Black Sands & Waterfall, covers Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, along with other Big Island attractions like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Rainbow Falls and Kona coffee farms.

>> Check pricing and availability on the Big Island Highlights: Coffee, Volcano, Black Sands & Waterfall tour now!

Small Group Big Island Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour

This popular small group tour stops at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, along with other attractions like dramatic waterfalls, coffee farms, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

>> Check pricing and availability on the Small Group Big Island Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour tour now!

Here are the three best Big Island tours described above:

Black Sand Beaches Big Island

With ongoing volcanic activity, the Big Island of Hawaii is the best island to see black sand beaches, some formed or in active formation in the last few decades.

1. Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Isaac Hale Beach Park

Location: 15-859 Pohoiki Road, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778
Lifeguard: Yes
Beach Amenities: Porta-potties
Food Nearby: 
Parking: Free public parking lot
Directions: Highway 130 towards the ocean, left on Highway 137

The newest of the Big Island black sand beaches, and still in active formation, is at the Pohoiki Black Sand Beach in the Isaac Hale Beach Park on the far western tip of the island.

New Big Island black sands beach at Pohoiki Beach, Isaac Hale Beach Park
New Big Island black sands beach at Pohoiki Beach, Isaac Hale Beach Park

Eruptions from a series of fissures, offshoots of the active Kilauea volcano system, resulted in the largest lava flows in hundreds of years, and ended up creating an amazing 875 acres of new lands, but at the cost of hundreds of homes and displaced families.

The fissures were in the nearby residential area of Leilani Estates, with fissure 8 being the most active for multiple months.

Huge lava fields and sea cliffs were formed, and the explosive impact of the red hot lava meeting the ocean waters led to black sand, pellets and boulders across a long stretch of coastline at Pohoiki Beach.

Black lava stones and boulders being eroded by rough waves into blacks sands at Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Big Island of Hawaii
Black lava stones and boulders being eroded by rough waves into blacks sands at Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Big Island of Hawaii

Originally, Pohoiki Beach was part of the Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna, and while some parts of the park escaped unscathed, others were buried in tons of lava.

Walking trail in Isaac Hale Beach Park buried under tons of lava at Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Big Island
Walking trail in Isaac Hale Beach Park buried under tons of lava at Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Big Island

If you choose to visit one of the newest black sand beaches on the Big Island, Pohoiki Beach, you’ll see the destruction wrought by nature, as well as the emergence of new coconut palm trees, ferns and other vegetation in an otherwise dead landscape.

You’ll also see other curiosities like thermal ponds (the one near the boat ramp is easily accessible), some newly created by the volcanic activity, but note that bacterial activity here may be high! Enter at your own risk.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

2. Punalu’u Beach

Location: Between Naalehu and Pahala, South Kau Region
Lifeguard: Yes
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Food Nearby: Concession stand
Parking: Two free public parking lots
Directions: Highway 11 to Ninole Loop Road

Want to make a family beach day of a visit to a Big Island black sand beach? Your best option is Punalu’u Beach on the southeastern coast of the island, close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (in fact, many combine both on one trip)!

Punaluu black sand beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Punaluu black sand beach, Big Island, Hawaii

With a shimmering, wide and long stretch of fine black sand, and a scattering of lava rock pellets and boulders, Punalu’u Beach is one of the most beautiful black sand beaches on Big Island, and likely the easiest to access and enjoy!

With amenities like restrooms, showers, picnic tables and lifeguards, Punalu’u Beach is one of the best black sand beaches on Big Island for families with kids to visit.

When we visited, the ocean waters were calm, and we enjoyed wading into the waters, and experienced the strange effect of cold water from the underground freshwater springs mixed with the warmer ocean waters.

Our kids snorkeled a bit, and they spotted some Hawaiian green sea turtles feeding but not the much rarer hawksbill turtles.

Snorkeler heading into the waters of Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Big Island
Snorkeler heading into the waters of Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Big Island

With abundant algae and seaweed here, turtles are actually quite commonplace, and you will even see them on the beach, but keep at least 10 feet away (per NOAA guidelines).

Hawaiian green turtles basking in the sun at Punaluu Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii
Hawaiian green turtles basking in the sun at Punaluu Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

We explored the freshwater pond just behind the coconut palm trees bordering the inside of the beach, and took some photos of the Australian Moreton Bay fig trees with interesting winding trunks along the ground.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

3. Kaimu Black Sand Beach

Location: Puna, East Coast of Big Island
Lifeguard: Yes
Beach Amenities: Porta-potties
Food Nearby: Food stands near parking lot
Parking: Free public parking lot
Directions: Highway 137 or Highway 130

Destruction and creation! Life on an island with an active volcano is just this, over and over again, and nowhere is this cycle more obvious than Kaimu Black Sand Beach.

Kalapana was a sleepy fishing village fronting one of the most famous black sand beaches on Big Island, the Kaimu Black Sand Beach, and was a popular surfing location with multiple surf breaks.

Kalapana, a fishing village, and Kaimu Black Sand Beach, before the lava flows that buried them
Kalapana, a fishing village, and Kaimu Black Sand Beach, before the lava flows that buried them

In the 1980s and 1990s, the violent eruptions of Pu’u’o’o, part of the Kilauea volcano system, generated some of the most destructive lava flows in the island’s modern history.

The lava flow in 1990 changed direction and eventually buried Kalapana, Kaimu Black Sand Beach and hundreds of homes, but extended the island well into the bay.

The existing land was buried under 70 feet of lava, and resulted in a coastline of massive sea cliffs.

A new Kaimu Black Sand Beach formed with lava boulders and pellet-sized lava stones, gradually ground into coarse black sand from years of erosion.

Lava sea cliffs and a nascent black sands beach formed by recent lava flows on Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island, Hawaii, USA
Lava sea cliffs and a nascent black sands beach formed by recent lava flows on Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island, Hawaii, USA

As the years passed, the black, desolate lava fields gradually harbored life: new ferns, coconut palm trees and other hardy vegetation, even new homes!

Young green ferns and coconut palms growing on the hardened black lava field at Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Big Island, HI
Young green ferns and coconut palms growing on the hardened black lava field at Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Big Island, HI

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

4. Polulu Valley Black Sand Beach

Location: North Kohala, Big Island, HI
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: None, shower & restrooms at Keokea Beach Park (2.5 miles)
Food Nearby: None, some restaurants along Highway 270
Parking: Free public parking lot (small) at trailhead
Directions: Highway 270 to the end to Polulu Valley Lookout

Polulu Valley Black Sand Beach is one of our favorite black sand beaches on Big Island of Hawaii, primarily because of the stunning backdrop of the emerald green, windward side of the island.

Polulu Valley Black Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii, from the Polulu Valley Trail
Polulu Valley Black Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii, from the Polulu Valley Trail

Polulu Valley, a deep gorge carved by rainwater on the slopes of the ancient, extinct volcano, Kohala Mountain, is a lush rainforest valley, and Polulu Black Sand Beach is at the southern tip of the valley as it meets the ocean.

The half-mile Polulu Valley trail to the black sands beach winds down a 500 feet elevation drop through a dense rainforest jungle, so primordial in nature, that it was used in several scenes of the Jurassic Park movie series.

The trailhead is at the Polulu Valley Lookout, the end of the Highway 270. You will likely be greeted by a Polulu Trail steward, local volunteers who educate visitors and keep an eye on the trail conditions and the beach.

Views of the Polulu Valley are stunning from the lookout, but if you are ok with hiking a moderately hard trail, I highly recommend taking the Polulu Valley trail (sometimes called the ‘Anini Trail), at least part of the way, for better views.

Lush Polulu Valley, from the lookout
Lush Polulu Valley, from the lookout

The beach can be accessed only by the trail, but definitely worth the hike, in my opinion. Conserve energy for the climb back!

Make sure you stop at Fresh off the Grid for some shave ice to cool down from the hike.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

5. Kehena Beach

Location: Puna, Big Island
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: None
Food Nearby: Vendors and food trucks
Parking: Free public parking lot at the lookout
Directions: Highway 127, mile marker 19

Lodged roughly midway between Kaimu Black Sand Beach and Pohoiki Black Sand Beach is Kehena Black Sand Beach, along Highway 137 (mile marker 19).

A beautiful black sands beach, formed from a 1955 lava flow, you can actually see the point at the end of the beach where the lava flow entered the ocean waters.

Beautiful Kehena Beach, one of Big Island black sand beaches that is informally known to be clothing optional
Beautiful Kehena Beach, one of Big Island black sand beaches that is informally known to be clothing optional

While the beach is pretty, you should note that Kehena Beach is one of the few Hawaiian beaches known informally to be clothing optional (though nudity in Hawaiian beaches is illegal and citable), and you’re likely to encounter folks in their birthday suits.

Also, be warned, the beach is known to be off-beat with music and dancing, and a somewhat off-color, hippy crowd! Sundays are drum circle days, usually crowded, and a free-for-all Hawaiian spectacle worth experiencing at least once.

If that’s not for you, you should continue down to Pohoiki Black Sand Beach and Isaac Hale Park, more family-friendly with amenities.

Kehena Beach is also known as Dolphin Beach, after a pod of local spinner dolphins that come here regularly. We loved seeing them breach and spin in the air!

Hawaiian spinner dolphin spinning out of the water
Hawaiian spinner dolphin spinning out of the water

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

6. Richardson Ocean Park

Location: 2349 Kalanianaole Ave, Hilo, HI 96720
Lifeguard: Yes
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, ponds
Food Nearby: Hilo restaurants
Parking: Free public parking lot
Directions: Off Kalaniana’ole Avenue

Just a stone’s throw from Hilo, Richardson Ocean Park is a great option for those short on time, but wanting to see at least one of the black sand beaches on Big Island.

Richardson Ocean Park is probably your best bet for a quick family beach day on black sands, with lifeguards, showers, and restrooms.

With grassy areas and freshwater ponds, tidepools and protected, calm waters for some excellent swimming and snorkeling, and a black sand beach, Richardson Ocean Park is a popular spot for locals and visitors.

Richardson Ocean Park, with sheltered, calm waters
Richardson Ocean Park, with sheltered, calm waters

I recommend you visit this beautiful ocean park on a working weekday for a less crowded experience.

A lot of the ocean front is covered with lava boulders, the black sand beach is quite small, but unusual.

Apart from the black sand from the basaltic lava, the sand also contains olivines, making it a mixture of black and green sand.

Lava rocks and rock barriers along Richardson Ocean Park, Big Island, HI
Lava rocks and rock barriers along Richardson Ocean Park, Big Island, HI

Every time we’ve visited Richardson Ocean Park, we’ve seen Hawaiian green sea turtles galore, basking on the lava rocks!

Hawaiian green sea turtles on lava rocks along Richardson Ocean Park near Hilo, Big Island, HI
Hawaiian green sea turtles on lava rocks along Richardson Ocean Park near Hilo, Big Island, HI

Make sure you keep at least 10 feet away (per NOAA guidelines).

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

7. Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach

Location: 48-5546 Waipio Valley Rd, Honokaa, HI 96727
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: Restrooms at the lookout point
Food Nearby: None
Parking: Free public parking lot at lookout point
Directions: From Honokaa, take Honokaa-Waipio Road

Like Polulu Valley, Waipio Valley is another gorgeous valley sculpted on the slopes of the ancient and extinct Kohala volcano, but on the far southeastern side.

Unfortunately, getting to Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach, one of the most stunning Big Island black sand beaches, involves a 4×4 ride on a fairly steep and treacherous road, which was recently shut down indefinitely for tourist visitors, even hikers.

Waipio Valley Road, the steepest road in the USA leading down to Waipio Black Sand Beach, restricted to 4x4 vehicles and foot traffic
Waipio Valley Road, the steepest road in the USA leading down to Waipio Black Sand Beach, restricted to 4×4 vehicles and foot traffic

However, the Waipio Valley Lookout is a vantage point from which you can admire the beautiful lush valley and the long, shimmering black sand beach (800 feet below).

Stunning Waipio Valley and the long black sand beach along the valley coastline
Stunning Waipio Valley and the long black sand beach along the valley coastline

Hopefully, Waipio Valley Road will re-open soon and you can enjoy a difficult hike, but with a great payoff: beautiful, black sand beach at Waipio Valley!

Waipio Black Sand Beach, one of the most gorgeous black sand beaches on Big Island of Hawaii
Waipio Black Sand Beach, one of the most gorgeous black sand beaches on Big Island of Hawaii

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Map of Black Sand Beaches on Big Island, Hawaii

The below map of the black sand beaches in Big Island shows their locations. Please expand the map for driving directions and parking lots.

Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear Checklist

Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).

Balanced rocks on Polulu Black Sand Beach, Big Island, HI
Balanced rocks on Polulu Black Sand Beach, Big Island, HI

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Ocean Safety Tips

Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.

Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:

  • ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
  • Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
  • Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
  • Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
  • If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
  • Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
  • Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
  • Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
  • Check advisories regarding water quality at various beaches here.

The Best Big Island Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Big Island tours yet?

Guided snorkeling with manta rays at night, a bucket-list underwater Big Island adventure to watch the amazing manta rays up close. Sightings guaranteed or go again.

Big Island in a Day excursion from Kona or Waikaloa, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, ‘Akaka Falls, and the Waipi’o Valley Lookout!

Snorkeling historic Kealakekua Bay, one of the top snorkel spots on the Big Island. Look for dolphins en route (plus whales in season)! Don’t want to snorkel? Take a dinner cruise instead.

Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in all of Hawaii! Travel up and down in a luxury 4X4 van. Hooded parkas and gloves provided!

Thrilling zipline adventure over KoleKole Falls, a 7-line Hilo ziplining experience that allows you to soar over lush forest vegetation and the 250-foot waterfall!

Renting a Car on the Big Island of Hawaii

Most visitors that travel to the Big Island choose to rent a car because the island is, well, BIG, and the Big Island must-see attractions are scattered around the island.

Depending on where you choose to base — Kona or Hilo are the main places visitors choose — you can pick up a rental car in either location.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kona car rentals or Hilo car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kona car rentals now!

>> Check availability and prices on Hilo car rentals now!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona, on the sunnier leeward side of the Big Island, ands Hilo, on the lush windward side, are the main bases on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. Most visitors to the Big Island split their stay between these two places.

You will find the biggest choice of hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona and Waikaloa, with both chains and boutiques, while Hilo has fewer hotels and inns.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pristine beach out the front door. The Hilton Waikaloa Village is a great choice if you are traveling as a family.

The Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona, is a fabulous resort for a splurge. The SCP Hilo Hotel is the perfect base from which to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will find VRBO listings all over the island, especially in Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano (the base for travelers spending a night or more visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Volcano as well as in Kailua-Kona and Hilo and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for a Big Island vacation rental on VRBO now!

Black lava stones and lava boulders at Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Big Island of Hawaii
Black lava stones and lava boulders at Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, Big Island of Hawaii

More Big Island Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is home to some spectacular scenery and lots of activities: check out the top things to do on the Big Island!

Learn about the 4 national parks on the Big Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you may be lucky enough to catch flowing lava!

Head to the southeast part of the island to admire Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, possibly the most striking of the Big Island’s black sand beaches, and read our guide to the rare green sand beach on the Big Island!

The state parks of the Big Island protect some of the island’s best treasures. A few miles north of Hilo, you will find Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Also on the scenic Hamakua Coast, stop to visit the lush and beautiful Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, with its numerous varieties of tropical plants.

On the leeward side of the island, you’ll find many beautiful beaches. Must-visit Hapuna Beach is a picture-postcard tropical beach with its long stretch of white sand.

Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is another white sand beach north of Kona you have to visit. It routinely makes the top 10 beaches in the USA list!

Part of the Kekahai Kai State Park, Manini’owali Beach is yet another stunning white sand beach on the Kohala Coast just north of Kailua-Kona.

South of Kailua Kona, you’ll find arguably the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours will help you find the perfect tour for you!

Also on the South Kona Coast is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s national park sites that is historically and culturally significant. And, it’s very scenic!

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Discover the must-visit black sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii! From Punalu'u Black Sand Beach to Waipio Black Sand beach, these are the Hawaii Island black sand beaches to put on your itinerary!

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