6 Incredible Black Sand Beaches Near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii

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The Big Island of Hawaii is home to some of the most active volcanoes on the planet, which has uniquely shaped its landscape to include stunning fields of volcanic rock, lava tubes, and, of course, black sand beaches. Given the location of the active Kilauea Volcano on the southeastern part of the island, most of the black sand beaches on the Big Island are found along its southern or eastern coastline, conveniently located near its largest city, Hilo. Here’s 6 incredible black sand beaches near Hilo that are worth exploring during your time on the Big Island.

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People sitting under palm trees on the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island
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1. Punalu’u Beach

  • Distance from Hilo: Located here, about one hour and 12 minutes southwest of Hilo
  • Good for: Sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling (however, the waves can get gnarly here, so please be careful!)
  • Amenities: restrooms, outdoor showers, picnic tables and grills, lifeguards on duty from 8:30 AM to 5 PM; and a souvenir stand

The most famous—and most easily accessible—option is Punalu’u Beach, located along its southern shore. In my opinion, it’s arguably one of the most stunning beaches in all of Hawaii, with soft jet black sand and tons of swaying palm trees overhead. In fact, between its beauty, accessibility, and visitor-friendly amenities, this would inarguably be my top recommendation out of all of the black sand beaches near Hilo to include on your Big Island itinerary

Palm trees lining the shores of Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

Besides being absolutely stunning, Punalu’u also happens to be important to the islands’ history. It’s believed that this was actually the spot where ancient Polynesians first landed when they first arrived at the Hawaiian Islands a thousand years ago. 

Punalu’u Beach also happens to be one of the best places to spot sea turtles on the Big Island, whose lil’ cold-blooded hearts love to climb up onto the black sand and warm up. If you arrive at the beach from 11 AM until dusk, you have a good chance of seeing honu basking on the shores or, if you want to see them in action, there’s also a good chance you’ll see them while you’re snorkeling here. 

Sea turtles basking on Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

Honestly, while the gnarly waves make the water a bit on the murky side here, Punalu’u still offers some of the best Big Island snorkeling, given how frequently you can spot turtles here. In fact, my husband, Justin, and I stopped at this beach twice on our most recent trip and saw turtles both times! Just remember to bring along your own snorkeling gear, given that there isn’t any place to rent here. 

If you do decide to snorkel here, be sure to give the turtles, which are an endangered species, PLENTY of space—Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources suggests at least ten feet.

Woman walking by the tide pools along Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

2. Isaac Hale Beach Park

  • Distance from Hilo: Located here in Pāhoa, a little over an hour south of Hilo
  • Good for: Surfing and hot springs
  • Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables, and lifeguards from 7:30 AM to 6 PM

Isaac Hale has the pretty cool title of being the newest black sand beach on the Big Island, formed by a massive eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in 2018. 

Palm trees lining the shore along the Isaac Hale Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

The sand here is rocky (and kind of stabby!) and the waves are generally gnarly, making the water pretty much only suitable for surfers. 

However, this beach has a few pretty HUGE benefits. 

For one, it’s tucked along the remote southeastern corner of the island and is definitely off-the-beaten tourist track, so you’re likely to have it mostly to yourself. And for another, it’s home to the Pohoiki Hot Springs, which are the ONLY publicly accessible hot springs in Hawaii!

Woman in Pohoiki Hot Springs in the Isaac Hale Beach Park on the Big Island of Hawaii

This series of five volcanically-warmed pools offer a hot tub-like temperature in an absolutely beautiful setting (some of them are tucked in the jungle around the beach!) and are the perfect place to relax after all of your Big Island adventures. Even though these hot springs are definitely one of the best things to do in Hilo (in my opinion, anyway!), they somehow have managed to fly under the mass tourism radar–meaning more toasty hot springs for you!

3. Kaimu Beach

  • Distance from Hilo: Located here in Pāhoa, about 45 minutes south of Hilo
  • Good for: A farmer’s market every Saturday
  • Amenities: None

Kaimu Bay used to be home to one of the most stunning black sand beaches on the Big Island, with soft jet black sand and swaying palm trees. However, in 1990, there was a massive volcanic eruption that totally covered this beach in lava, as well as the towns of Kalapana and Kaimū. 

Waves crashing on the black sand on Kaimu Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii
Photo by cloudia of Deposit Photos

Accordingly, the beach is now devoid of palm trees and is, instead, covered in large rocky hunks of sharp hardened lava—not exactly ideal for sunbathing or long barefoot walks on the beach. And that’s even when there is sand on the beach—given how strong the waves are here, it’s not unusual for the current to move the sand around and make the beach pretty much disappear for weeks at a time.

And given the aforementioned nasty waves, Kaimu is not really a good (or safe!) choice for swimming, snorkeling, or boogie boarding.

Waves crashing on black sand at Kaimu Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii
Photo by cloudia of Deposit Photos

So what is this beach good for?

Well, it’s definitely a fascinating example of how the power of Kilauea is constantly reshaping how the Big Island looks. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the destructive and regenerative power of Hawaii’s volcanoes, there’s also the rad Kaimu Farmer’s Market, with over 60 vendors, that pops up right next to the beach every Saturday from 8 AM to 12 PM. Plus—the sunsets here are REALLY pretty. 

Personally, I’d probably recommend trying to schedule a visit to Kaimu during the farmer’s market or if you’re otherwise in this area—in full transparency, it’s probably going to be a pretty quick stop for most travelers!

4. Pololu Beach

  • Distance from Hilo: Located here in Kapaau, about one hour and 55 minutes north of Hilo
  • Good for: Hiking
  • Amenities: None

If you’re looking for one of the most beautiful and secluded black sand beaches near Hilo, Pololu Beach should DEFINITELY be on your list. 

View from Pololu Valley Overlook, looking down on the Pololu Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

You’ll have to work a bit to reach this beach, which is only accessible via one of the best hikes on the Big Island, the Pololu Trail. However, the hike generally deters a lot of visitors from reaching the beach, meaning you should be able to get it mostly to yourself.

This 0.6 mile (one-way) trail is down a series of steep switchbacks, covered with loose slippery rocks. However, if you go slowly and carefully and wear the appropriate footwear, most hikers in decent shape should be able to do this hike just fine. Just remember to bring along plenty of water—the second half of the hike is much harder than the first, given you have to make the steep climb back up to the rim of the valley.

Woman hiking down the Pololu Trail to the Pololu Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

This beach is GORGEOUS and 100% worth the effort. It offers spectacular views of the surrounding Pololu Valley—massive 500-foot cliffs towering on either side, rugged sea stacks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean, and a lush jungle behind you. 

Instead of being the jet black color you’ll find at Punaluu’u Beach, the sand here mostly consists of ashy gray pebbles, kind of like what you’d find in my beloved home state of Washington. Like most of the black sand beaches near Hilo, it’s not exactly the most comfortable to walk on, so I’d suggest bringing along some comfy hiking sandals to wear for the hike to and from the beach and for walking along its shores (Justin and I have a cult-like love for Tevas—here’s the kind he uses and here’s the pair I use).

Woman walking along the Pololu Black Sand Beach with a sea cliff in the background on the Big Island of Hawaii

This can be an okay spot to wade if the waves happen to be calm, but be super careful here. When we visited, there were volunteers stationed at the trailhead warning visitors about the dangerous surf and the number of rescues and even drownings that have occurred on the beach, due to the nasty rip currents. Accordingly, I wouldn’t recommend swimming or snorkeling here and be extremely cautious if you plan on wading out into the water. 

5. Kahena Beach

  • Distance from Hilo: Located here in Kahena, about 50 minutes south of Hilo
  • Good for: Sunbathing
  • Amenities: None

Kahena is a small, but beautiful beach, with dramatic black sand and a row of palm trees, providing midday shade. Besides Punalu’u, Kahena is really the only accessible black sand beach near Hilo to have soft, fine sand that feels nice against your bare feet. That being said, be careful—the sand here can get direct sunlight in the morning and gets straight up HOT and there’s still definitely some larger volcanic rocks sprinkled about, just waiting to stub your toes.

Sunset at Kahena Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

One important thing to be aware of before visiting this beach is that it’s considered clothing optional—so if seeing a stranger’s genitalia makes you uncomfortable, you might want to consider heading elsewhere!

If you’re okay with some naked folks, you can park in the small lot for the beach, located here, and then hike down either of the two steep and rocky trails at each end of the beach to reach its shores. I’d strongly recommend using hiking sandals or something else with a pretty sturdy sole to protect your feet against the jagged volcanic rocks as you’re climbing along the trail. 

Tide pools at the Kahena Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

Once you reach Kahena’s sandy shores, this can be an absolutely lovely place to sunbathe—or, if you want to lean into this area’s hippie vibes, you can even participate in a drum circle here every Sunday!

While this is an excellent place to soak up the groovy vibes, I’d strongly recommend steering clear of getting in the water. There’s a gnarly shore break and strong current that can make it quite dangerous to swim here.

6. Waipi‘o Valley Beach 

  • Distance from Hilo: Located here in Honokaa, about an hour and 5 minutes north of Hilo
  • Good for: Sunbathing
  • Amenities: None

I hesitate to even include this beach, given the fact that it’s currently inaccessible to most visitors. While you used to be able to hike or drive a 4WD vehicle down the road to the Waipi’o Valley Beach, in 2022, the road was deemed too dangerous, due to instability from erosion and rockfall risks. 

Golden glow at the Waipi'o Black Sand Beach in the Waipi'o Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii

Accordingly, the only people that are allowed to access the Waipi’o Valley are Big Island residents, visitors that go with county-permitted tour companies, like the Waipi’o Valley Shuttle, and Native Hawaiians that are carrying out their traditions, all of whom must take a covered 4WD vehicle (i.e., no ATVs) down the road. 

However, if you do happen to be one of these groups (please be respectful of these restrictions!), the Waipi’o Valley Beach looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park, with a stretch of soft black sand, hidden between two impossibly green cliffs, jutting 2,500 feet into the air. It’s not uncommon to see wild horses roaming around the beach and there’s even a waterfall that cascades down one of the cliff sides onto the beach itself in periods of heavy rain. 

Aerial view of the Waipi'o Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii

This valley is incredibly special, not only for its natural beauty, but also its history. The Waipi’o Valley is commonly called “The Valley of the Kings” and was the birthplace or home of many of Hawaii’s ali’i, including King Kamehameha the Great, himself.

Much like most of the other black sand beaches near Hilo, the surf here is quite strong and it’s generally dangerous to get in the water. If you’re lucky enough to (legally!) visit this beach, it’s definitely best to just soak up the sun and the incredible views here. 

And if you can’t make it to its sandy shores, it’s still worth heading to the Waipi’o Valley Overlook, which is still accessible to all visitors, to take in one of the most postcard worthy views of the Big Island. 

View from the Waipi'o Valley Overlook on the Big Island of Hawaii

I hope you have a better idea of which black sand beaches near Hilo to put on your bucketlist while you’re visiting the Big Island. Do you have any questions about visiting any of these beaches? Let us know in the comments below!

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