The 8 Best Black Sand Beaches in Hawai'i

Pohoiki Black sand beach, Pahoa,Big Island,Hawaii,USA
Peter Unger / Getty Images

Pockets of black sand beaches are sprinkled throughout Maui and Hawai'i Island (also known as the "Big Island") and offer almost otherworldly volcanic seascapes. Maui and Hawaiʻi Island are the youngest isles of the island chain, formed by recent and still occurring volcanic eruptions. When volcanic eruptions meet ocean waters, lava quickly hardens. Eventually, the lava fragments erode and form black sand beaches. Each black sand beach offers a unique experience. Some beaches have accommodations for the whole family, and others call for slightly more off-the-beaten-path adventures with sweeping views of beauty worth the trek.

While it may be tempting to take home a keepsake from the beach, beware of the legend of Pele's curse. It is said that Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes, will curse years of bad luck on anyone who takes anything natively Hawaiian away from Hawaiʻi. So, take nothing more than photos, let your skin lightly exfoliate in the black sand beach minerals, dip your toes in the warm water, and soak in the sun.  (Pro-tip: Consider wearing bright colors that pop against the sand for optimal photo opportunities.)

01 of 08

One'uli Beach, Wailea

One'uli Beach

dronepicr / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0

6873-6761 Makena Rd, Kihei, HI 96753, USA

One'uli translates to "black sand." This beach is located on Maui's south in Mākena State Park. The sand boasts shades of broken-down shells, pebbles, and black sand eroded from the nearby Puʻu Ōlaʻi volcanic cinder cone. The underwater terrain features various coral reef formations and lava tubes, making this spot an attraction for all marine life. You're likely to run into frequent visitors like turtles and rays. On calm days this beach is ideal for snorkeling, swimming, and launching a kayak. Oneʻuli beach has no facilities or lifeguards, so be sure to check on the current and rough surf before diving in. 

02 of 08

Pa'iloa Beach, Hāna

Pailoa beach at the Waianapanapa State Park along the road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii, United States of America, Pacific
Michael Runkel / Getty Images
Pa‘Iloa Beach, Hana, HI 96713, USA

Tucked away on the east side of Maui, Pa'iloa Beach is a gem in Waiʻānapanapa State Park along the famous 64-mile Road to Hāna attraction. Surrounded by panoramic volcanic coastal views, Pa‘iloa is small and remote, yet a site you don’t want to miss. It’s known for its geological attractions like blow holes, sea stacks and caves, native plants, and scenic points that make for great picnicking or photo opportunities. The beach currents here can be strong, and the shore is rocky, so it’s not ideal swimming, but still worth exploring this mystical nook of Maui. Plus, there is a hiking trail and camping grounds nearby. A reservation is needed to visit the state park and can easily be made online

03 of 08

Kaimū Beach, Kalapana

Kaimu Beach
Laszlo Podor / Getty Images
Kaimu Beach, Hawaii 96778, USA

The nearby active Kīlauea volcano buried the original beach 50 feet under in 1990, making it one of Hawaiʻi Island’s newer black sand beaches. Emerging green growth of coconut trees and ferns contrast with the jet-black sand and surrounding lava rock. Step onto the young black sand beach and walk through an ancient, yet still occurring, volcanic life cycle that formed the Hawaiian Islands. While Kaimū beach is not ideal for swimming, its fresh black sand near the still lively volcano can only be experienced on Hawaiʻi Island. Kaimū beach is a 10-minute walk from the end of Kapoho-Kalapana Road. 

04 of 08

Kehena Beach, Kalapana

Group of people swimming in the sea, Kehena Beach, Big Island, Hawaii Islands, USA
Glowimages / Getty Images
Kehena Black Sand Beach, Hawaii 96778, USA

This narrow black sand beach is sandwiched between a lineup of shading palms and relaxing ocean waters on the east side of Hawaiʻi Island. While the scenery itself is enough for a visit, it is also nicknamed "Dolphin Beach" for its frequent spinner dolphin visitors just offshore. This beach is relatively new and still transforming. In 1955 lava flowed from the sea cliffs and formed Kehena beach. The lava flow stopped at the eastern side of the beach, where there is a rocky point worth checking out. An earthquake in the 70s shook the area enough for the beach to drop about three feet. This is a good beach for swimming on calm days and sunbathing, though its steep access path and remoteness make Kehena Beach known as a clothing-optional spot. 

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Pohoiki Beach, Kalapana

Pohoiki Black sand beach, Pahoa,Big Island,Hawaii,USA
Peter Unger / Getty Images
Kalapana Kapoho Beach Rd, Pāhoa, HI 96778, USA

Fresh black sand blankets Pohoiki Beach, thanks to the 2018 Kīlauea volcanic eruption that flowed down to the beach and changed the area's geology. Located within Isaac Hale Beach Park with restrooms and tables, this spot is ideal for family-friendly activities like swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. The recent lava flow steepened the shore's drop-off, and the crashing waves are still breaking down the coarse sand into finer grains. You can also slip into a relaxing bath in nearby warm springs and natural ocean thermal ponds. The water is heated underground by magma and black sand or lava rock that absorbs the sun's heat. These warm springs are said to have healing properties, though beware of stagnant water that may carry bacteria.

06 of 08

Pololū Valley Beach, Kohala

Hawaii big island bird eye view over Polol Valley
pick-uppath / Getty Images
Pololū Valley, Hawaii 96755, USA

Lush forest-top cliffs nestle this black sand beach along Hawai'i Island's north shore. This beach is a secluded gem for those willing to trek a sloping 20-minute hike down rocks and, sometimes, muddy, dirt terrain. You can easily enjoy the views from up top, more than 400 feet above the valley grounds, where you might catch a glimpse of a whale breaching during their seasonal visit from December through March. The 'Āwini trail to the beach breaks at lookout points of sweeping greenery, steep terrain, and turquoise waters contrasted against the black sand. This valley is one of seven on Kohala's coast, which formed streams, waterfalls, and towering sea cliffs after a massive landslide dropped half of the volcanic crater and crumbled into the ocean. The area is known for rough waters that crash against and chip away at the cliffs. With no lifeguard or facilities, Polulū is not the best for swimming, but well worth the journey down to bask on the shore.  

07 of 08

Punalu'u Beach, Pahala

Coastline of Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii, USA
Charles Davies / Getty Images
Punaluʻu Beach, Hawaii, USA

A striking volcanic beach made possible by the nearby Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park mark Punalu'u as a must-visit on the southeastern coast of Hawai'i Island. Conditions aren't always ideal for swimming and snorkeling, but it's still worth digging your toes into the soft pitch black sand. The beach is also home to endangered species like the green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, and Hawaiian monk seal that often park up on the beach and bask in the sun. It's illegal to get too close or touch the wildlife, but worth observing and appreciating from afar. Beach park amenities like restroom facilities, showers, lifeguards, and picnic tables make this spot one of the best for the whole family. 

08 of 08

Richardson Beach, Hilo

Richardson Ocean Park on Big Island, Hawaii.
Faina Gurevich / Getty Images
2355 Kalanianaole St, Hilo, HI 96720, USA
Phone +1 808-961-8688

Just 10 minutes away from Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island’s east coast, this beach is the perfect stop to picnic with breakfast or lunch after buying food from town. Richardson Beach is a family-friendly spot known for its tide pools, ideal swimming conditions, and black sand to spread out a towel or beach chair and soak in the sun. Emerald waters here are clear, calm, and shallow, making it a favorite for locals and visitors to swim, snorkel, dive, and surf. Green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals also like to frequent this spot. And, if you catch a glimmer in your eye, it might be the green olivine crystals mixed into the sand. Head two miles south on Kalanianaʻole Avenue and turn into the beach park. You may want an early head start—the parking lot only has 30 spots. 

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The 8 Best Black Sand Beaches in Hawai'i