cheat sheet to the best child-friendly beaches on the Big Island

The lady in the jeep next to ours took one look at our littles crawling out of the car and said, “Will you please tell me the other best beaches for kids around here?”

Easy.

And mamas need all the breaks they can get.

Here’s my cheat sheet to the best child-friendly beaches on the Big Island (mostly Kona-side):

Spencer Beach (Kohala)

  • Spencer Beach: Natural tree shade. Mellow waves. Steps from car to sand. (You won’t find that anywhere else!) Warm rinse outdoor showers. Picnic benches. A little sitting tide pool on the north side under the trees to take sanctuary on windy days. And easy access to Mau-umae beach, Spencer takes the cake for my all-time favorite family friendly beach on the Big Island.

    Mau’umae Beach

  • Mau’umae (.75 kilometer hike south of Spencer Beach): Park at the South end of Spencer Beach and follow the well-cared for Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail for about 10-minutes to this stunning and secluded patch of heaven. My 4-year old and 1-year both walked it. (But I packed the littlest one out on my back on the way out.) Snorkeling wasn’t much when we looked but that shouldn’t deter (I’d leave my fins in the car though).

    Kauna’oa, aka Mauna Kea Beach

  • This gorgeous resort beach has public access and free parking for the first 40-ish cars. Arrive before 9am, after 3:30pm, or legitimately claim happy hour at the beach bar (the pina coladas are delicious but expensive). The pathway to the beach is a bit of a haul, so either bring a little wagon and plan to camp all day, or opt for things you can carry easily in your arms (counting a child amongst those items). The snorkeling was great! Especially on the North side where we even bumped into a manta ray at sunset once.

Waialea Bay or Beach 69

When you pop out on this pretty beach, turn left and head for the softer waves and the shade of the trees near the little rope swing (that even 4-year olds can play on).  An easy and beautiful beach to spend a mellow morning in the gentle surf and lava rock tide pools. Descent snorkeling and we often see little turtle heads popping up. The parking is far enough that you won’t want to make a return trip, so bring what you’ll need. Fresh water outdoor showers on the way out.

Mauna Lani Resort Beach

Mauna Lani Resort Beach is another beautiful resort beach with free public beach access. We parked in the hotel lot and received only happy alohas from staff as the kids squealed at the koi fish in the ponds on the way to the beach. One night we ate sushi and enjoyed a little happy hour at the restaurant while the kids ran in the grass and climbed the trees and played in the sand. #winning. There’s also access to another little beach just over a bridge (more fish in the ponds) on the South end. Mellow waters. No one else on the beach.

Waikalao

The beach in front of the Waikalao Lava Lava Beach Club. Basically, our mission was a beach bar where the kids could play while we enjoyed a cocktail hour. We found everything we needed here: sand games, cushioned chairs, a happy hour menu, and mild waters to dunk the kids in before bedtime.

Pine Trees Surf Break

Pine Trees Surf Break has a little protected pool (about 3-minutes north of the break itself) for the littles to safely play while parents surf the Pine Trees break. Of course, the pool access would be entirely dependent on tides and weather. But perfect with the right timing. Lots of fun climbing trees. No shower, but there are porta-toilets stationed about.

Honaunau Bay (also known as Two-Step of The Refuge)

The little beach or tide pools at Honaunau Bay (also known as Two-Step of The Refuge). Don’t be confused, the objective here is definitely snorkeling. We swam with eels, turtles, two black tip reef sharks and a pod of wild spinner dolphins in this cove and the visibility was frankly astonishing each of the four times we went.  The waves and entry were gentle enough that our non-swimming 4-year old could snorkel here with a parent and life jacket.  Make sure to enter via the two-step to avoid any further damage to the surrounding coral. The little tide pools in the rocks are quite warm and also just swimming in camouflaged water critters. Even grandma could supervise the two kids in the safe little ponds while parents snorkeled. Porta-pottys on site. No showers. If you hang out you you can often snag a water-front parking spot (especially convenient with a babe sleeping in the carseat). $5 parking across the street. Keep your eye on water for the dolphins that regularly visit. My 4-year old won’t soon forget witnessing their jumps and flips.

Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach (just north of the airport). Requires a hike or serious 4WD. We managed with the Jeep, but this trip is not recommended for anyone prone to car sickness or fear.  And my body was sore for a week in the role as shock system for the baby car seat. Yet this beach is worth the drive or hike. Make just bring a cooler and make a full day of it.  Sand like silk and a large protected stretch of water where the kids played freely with only one parental eye and a beer in hand in the sand.

Puako Beach Park

Puako Beach Park. This is where my husband took both kids twice while I was trying to find an hour of solo-time. The 4-year is still taking about how he sat with the green sea turtles that seem to be ever-present on this rocky stretch of island.

Waipi’o Valley (river into) Black Sand Beach

The river outlet into the ocean in Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach (on the Hilo side of the island). The river outlet is really only a safe way for the littles to get wet while everyone else awes over the view from the valley. You’ll need 4WD to get down the road, but go for it. It’s intimidating, but not hard, and you’ll find all the locals at the bottom thinking nothing of it. The river is a little cool, but contained and fresh. And certainly safer than the (consistently?) big waves of the beach. Don’t forget to find the nearby waterfall. It’s a majestic sight.

And if all your beach efforts fails, just find a sprinkler….

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