On our last day on the Big Island, we visited beaches along the Kohala coast. We spent the day at Hāpuna Beach, Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach, and Beach 69.
- Hāpuna Beach
- Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach
- Waialea (Beach 69)
All 3 beaches are located close together:
We first went to Mauna Kea Beach to see if we could snag one of the 40 public parking spots (parking isn’t an issue if you’re a hotel guest). Unfortunately, the car in front of us grabbed the last parking space so we took a detour and went to Hāpuna Beach instead. Luckily, you can walk from Hāpuna to Mauna Kea Beach and there’s plenty of parking at Hāpuna Beach State Park.
Note, this was a little before 10:00 AM – the moral of the story, get there early if you want one of the available public spaces.
Hāpuna Beach is a pristine white sand beach and consistently ranks on most people’s list of “Best Beaches on the Big Island,” including mine. Whether you want to snorkel, hike, or surf, there’s plenty to do on the island’s largest white sand beach. There are very few places that can compete with the soft sand, calm waters, and spectacular coastal views that you’ll find at Hāpuna Beach.
How to Get to Hāpuna Beach
Hāpuna Beach is located about 40 minutes north of Kailua-Kona off Highway 19. You can locate the large parking area by mapping to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. There is an entrance fee of $5.00 per person (for tourists) as well as a $10 parking fee per vehicle.
TIME SPENT: 40 minutes
Snorkeling at Hāpuna Beach
The best conditions for snorkeling at Hāpuna Beach are found on either side of the beach near the rocks. We followed Tropical Snorkeling’s guide, which recommended the right side for an easier swim and a greater chance of seeing turtles (we actually did their guide for Hāpuna Beach to be the most similar to our experience). While snorkeling on the right side of the beach, we saw turtles, wrasse, tangs, and Humuhumunukunukuapua’a – the Hawaiian state fish.
Before entering the water, be sure to check ocean conditions. Even though there are lifeguards on duty, high surfs can quickly reduce visibility and create life-threatening conditions.
TIME SPENT: 1-2 hours
Hāpuna Beach to Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach Hike
There’s a short hike (~1 mile one way) that connects Hāpuna and Mauna Kea Beach. The trail follows the coastline along the right side of the beach and is one segment of the longer Ala Kahakai Historical Trail. It’s not a hard hike but the trail is parts rocky, parts sandy, and entirely exposed to the sun. While I slightly regretted overpacking my beach bag, I was grateful that I had a hat, water shoes, sunscreen, and plenty of water with us.
TIME SPENT: 20 minutes (one way)
Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach
Kaunaʻoa Beach is a stunning white sand beach located within the Mauna Kea Beach resort. The beach is free to the public but the parking area that’s closest to it is owned by the Mauna Kea Beach hotel. If you’re able to grab one of the 40 available public parking passes, you can pay $20 to be a 5-minute walk from the beach. Restrooms, showers, and water are free for public use. If you want additional comforts like shade and food, you can pay at the hotel.
With endless views of white sand and turquoise waters, Mauna Kea is an ideal place to relax and sunbathe for hours.
Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach Snorkeling
Similar to Hāpuna Beach, the best snorkeling is along the left and right sides of the beach. We stayed on the right side of the beach but didn’t venture too far along the coast because we came across a shoal of fish, swimming in circles.
TIME SPENT: 1-2 hours
We lost track of time but spent about 4-5 hours at Hāpuna and Mauna Kea beach combined. Even though it was late in the afternoon, we decided to check out Waialea Beach (Beach 69) Beach 69 since it was a 5-minute drive from Hāpuna Beach and on the way back.
Waialea (Beach 69)
Waialea is another white sand beach on the Kohala coast. Its nickname refers to a utility pole numbered 69 that used to be located near the parking area.
Beach 69 vs. Hāpuna Beach for Snorkeling
We didn’t spend enough time at Beach 69 to make a true comparison. However, our first impression when we got to the beach was that we were so glad we spent more time at Hāpuna Beach. Though Beach 69 is shaded and less crowded, it has more rocky areas to navigate and less “beach” for lounging around. The currents also looked really strong by the time we got there in the afternoon. If you choose to go, I would not recommend going on the same day you visit Hāpuna and Mauna Kea Beach. Instead, choose to visit both beaches in the morning on separate days.
I can’t imagine a better way to end a Big Island trip than spending a full-day at the beach.