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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Shallow, rock-wall-enclosed tide pools and an adjacent grassy picnic area make this park a favorite among Hilo families with small children. The protected pools are great places to look for Hawaiian marine life like sea urchins and anemones. There isn't much white sand, but access to the water is easy. The water is usually rough beyond the line of large boulders protecting the inner tide pools, so be careful if the surf is high. This beach gets crowded on weekends. Amenities: lifeguards (weekends and holidays only); parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming.
This beach hugs the coast adjacent to the runway that served as Kona's airport until 1970. The old terminal building is now a public pavilion. The long shoreline is flat and spotted with rocks; calm waters make for good snorkeling. The sand is dotted with coral and generally clean. There is easy access to a few small coves of white sand with safe entry to the water and tide pools for children, while the shady areas are good for picnics or admiring the Kona "skyline," complete with a cruise ship or two. A well-cared-for walking and jogging trail on the other side of the runway is worth checking out for its landscape. Just north, an offshore surf break known as Old Airport is popular with local surfers. It's usually not crowded, but this area can be busy on weekends. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; sunsets; walking.
The shoreline is rocky with only a sliver of beach but don't let that deter you—this is a popular and historically significant park. Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii here in 1778 to refurbish his ships. When he returned a year later, he was killed in a skirmish with Hawaiians, now marked by a monument on the north end of Kealakekua Bay. The area is surrounded by high green cliffs, creating calm conditions for superb swimming, snorkeling, and diving. You'll see a variety of marine life here, including colorful reef fish, corals, and, most likely, dolphins. The trails behind the shore, leading to Hikiau Heiau, are rocky but walkable. Parking is limited. Be aware of the off-limits area (in case of rockfalls) marked by orange buoys. Amenities: parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
Snorkelers and divers will find excitement in the clear waters of this beach park. Long ago, when sugar was the economic staple of Kohala, this harbor was busy with boats waiting for overseas shipments. Now it's a great swimming hole and an underwater museum of sorts. Remnants of shipping machinery, train wheels and parts, and what looks like an old boat are easily visible in the clear water. There's no actual beach here, but a ladder off the old dock makes getting in the water easy. It's best to venture out only on tranquil days, when the water is calm. A popular place for locals, Mahukona gets busy on weekends. A camping area on the south side of the park has picnic tables and an old covered pavillion. A trail also leads to nearby Lapakahi State Park, about a ½-mi hike. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
You'll find plenty of sea life, from sea turtles to reef fish, at these beaches and protected inlets. Just east of Hilo, almost at the end of the road, these two adjacent parks make up one beautiful spot with a series of bays, inlets, lagoons, and pretty parks. This is one of the best snorkeling spots on this side of the island, as rocky outcrops provide shelter for schools of reef fish and you're almost sure to see turtles and dolphins. Local kids use the small black-sand pocket beach for body boarding. The shaded grassy areas are great for picnics. Be warned, this place is very crowded on the weekends. Amenities: lifeguards (weekends only); parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; walking.
This lovely beach is on the northernmost portion of the stretch of coastline that comprises Kekaha Kai State Park. A paved entrance, amenties, and parking lot making it very accessible, and, as a result, often crowded. This is one of the most beautiful bays you'll ever see—the water is crystal clear, deep aquamarine, and peaceful in summer. The beach comprises fine white sand that sits amid black lava with little shade—bring umbrellas as it can get hot. Rocky shores on either side protect the beach from winds in the afternoon. The gates close daily at 7 pm. The surf can get very rough in winter. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming.
This lush park is tucked away under a high bridge that crosses a gulch along Highway 19, about 13 mi north of Hilo, between Akaka and Umauma Falls. The beach is composed of large, smooth, waterworn lava rocks, where the Kolekole stream meets the ocean. Although the shoreline is rocky and the ocean is rough, the stream is usually calm and great for swimming. There's even a rope swing tied to a banyan tree on the opposite side. The park is popular with locals, especially on weekends when it can get rowdy. Where the stream meets the ocean, the surf is rough and the currents strong. Only very experienced swimmers should venture here. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: partiers.
Not a beach per se, this shallow rocky inlet is a great place for a picnic. There's a pavilion and lookout area, but don't try to swim here—the water is very rough. Be careful on the hairpin curve going down.
The brilliant turquoise waters of this stunning bay are a cooling invitation on a warm Kohala day, and a new gravel road to the shoreline makes it an absolute must-see (it's still slow going, but in the past you had to hike over lava for 20 minutes). The shore is rocky and the water's a bit cold and hazy, but there are tons of green sea turtles in residence year-round. The swimming and snorkeling are excellent when the tide is calm. Thanks to the eruptions of Mauna Loa, what was once the site of King Kamehameha's gigantic fishpond is now several freshwater ponds encircling this beautiful bay, with a picturesque lava-rock island in the middle. If you follow the shoreline southwest toward Kona, just past the big yellow house, you'll come to another public beach which has naturally occurring freshwater pools inside a lava tube. This area, called Queen's Bath, is as cool as it sounds. Recent upgrades have been made for camping and unpaved parking. Amenities: parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: snorkeling.
It's slow going, down a 1½-mi, narrow, bumpy, gravel road off Highway 19 to this beach park, but it's worth it. Kehaha Kai State Park encompases three beaches (from north to south, Mahai'ula, Makalawena, and Kua Bay, which has its own entrance). Mahai'ula and Makalawena are beautiful, wide expanses of white-sand beach with dunes; there's a lot of space so you won't feel crowded. There are tidal pools for snorkeling and swimming, and you can hike along a historic 4½-mi trail to Kua Bay. If you're game, work your way to the top of Puu Kuili, a 342-foot-high cinder cone whose summit offers a fantastic view of the coastline. However, be prepared for the heat and bring lots of drinking water. The park is busy on the weekends. Watch out for rough surf and strong currents. Amenities: toilets. Best for: swimming; walking; sunsets. www.hawaiistateparks.org.