Complete Guide to Black Sand Beaches in Hawaii

The simple result of eroded volcanic material becomes something beautiful and otherworldly on the shores of Hawaii’s coasts. Framed by palms, tucked into valleys, and protected by rugged cliffs, the black sand beaches of Hawaii are as diverse as they are enchanting. 

Hidden away or standing in plain sight, Hawaii’s pure black sand beaches sing a siren’s song on the islands’ coasts. We’ll take you through all the top spots to delight in these beaches firsthand and answer your biggest questions regarding the best black sand beaches in Hawaii. Before you know it, you’ll be planning your trip to see as many of these incredible wonders as possible.

H2: Table of Contents

How Many Black Sand Beaches Does Hawaii Have?

Hawaii has eight true black sand beaches, most found on the Big Island. The only black sand beach not on the Big Island is Honokalani in Maui.

  1. Punalu‘u Beach
  2. Pololū Valley
  3. Kaimū Beach
  4. Pohoiki Beach
  5. Waipi‘o Beach Valley
  6. Kehena Beach
  7. Honokalani Beach
  8. Richardson Ocean Park

Though there are several beaches on other islands called black sand beaches, they aren’t formed from volcanic rock and are typically lighter in color. But, you can rest easy that no matter where you go, you’ll be treated to beautiful beaches throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Where Are Black Sand Beaches in Hawaii?

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii to see its famous black sand beaches, you’ll want to know where to look. You can only find Hawaii’s true black sand beaches on the two youngest islands: Maui and the Big Island.    

Now, you might have heard of so-called black sand beaches on some of the other islands. However, black sand beaches are composed of volcanic rock and glass, which the shores of Oahu and Kauai, for example, don’t have.  

If we were a few millennia older, we might have been able to see palm-studded black sand beaches on these islands too. But, c’est la vie. For now, we’ll have to settle with what Maui and the Big Island have to offer. Prepare for an impressive portfolio of some of the best black sand beaches in the world and ones you just can’t miss when visiting Hawaii.

Punalu‘u Beach

Arguably one of the most famous black sand beaches in the world, Punalu‘u stands out even from other black sand beaches in Hawaii. Its easy accessibility is just one of the reasons for this beach’s popularity. The view certainly has a thing or two to do with it as well. 

Ringed with coconut palms and overlooking a neverending ocean, the beach is breathtaking. Both eerie and enchanting, it’s a sight best experienced in person.

When the waves are calm, ​​Punalu‘u is a great spot to head out for a swim, something you can’t do at other black sand beaches on the Big Island. There’s something else the ​​Punalu‘u black sand beach has that others don’t. Turtles. This beach is a known resting spot for the protected Hawaiian green sea turtles, and you’ll often catch them coming ashore to bask in the warm sand. 

An afternoon spent admiring the view, watching the sea turtles, and catching the sunset is an afternoon well spent at Punalu‘u.

Pro-tip: Pair a visit to this beach with a trip to one of the coolest places on the Big Island, the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

Pololū Valley Beach

Pololū is just one of seven valleys snaking out from the ​​Kohala Volcano. 

One of the most instagrammable spots on the island is the Pololū Lookout. From here, you can see the crashing waves and towering cliffs disappearing into the ocean below. If you plan a visit during winter, it’s also a great spot to catch a glimpse of humpback whales during their migration. 

But while the lookout offers stunning views, the black sand beach at the bottom of the valley draws you in.

Standing on the valley floor, surrounded by staggering sea cliffs and the infinite ocean, Pololū Valley Beach feels like coming to the end of the world. Unfortunately, Pololū isn’t a swimming beach, thanks to the rough waters and high surf. So, while you may feel the urge to swim out and discover what’s beyond the shore, it’s best to keep put on the beach.  

Still, the magic is palpable as you walk along the black sand and pick your way over black rocks. And no one could blame you for stopping for a while to take it all in.

Kaimū Beach

You just might be older than this particular black sand beach. In 1990, a river of lava flowed through Kaimū and the Kalapana community, burying much of it beneath molten fire. As a result, the beloved black sand beach and towering palms were swept away. 

But, in their place, new life has begun to take root, nurtured by the surviving community. It took over twenty years, but a pristine black sand beach continues to form, right where the old used to be. Locals call it New Kaimū Beach, and it’s one of the youngest on the Big Island.

While the new beach is hardly the same as the one lost, the dreamlike landscape provides a glimpse of what could be. The green growth of new palm trees creates a stark but hopeful contrast to the black lava rock that dominates the beach and the narrow strips of black sand that wash in and out with the tide.

Overall, the New Kaimū black sand beach doesn’t offer as much in the way of black sand as other beaches. However, it’s still worth a visit to experience the humbling and awe-inspiring cycle of destruction and rebirth. 

Pohoiki Beach

If the lack of black sand at Kaimū Black Sand Beach leaves you wanting, a short drive up the coast will bring you to Pohoiki Beach. Believe it or not, this black sand beach is younger than the one at Kaimū. However, unlike the beach there, it has plenty of black sand to sink your toes into.

In 2018, Kīlauea erupted, and the resulting lava flow destroyed everything from beloved family homes to some of Puna’s most unique features, like the Kapoho Tide Pools and the Ahalanui Hot Ponds. Both the destruction and beauty of this life-changing event were captured in a short film.

Like with Kaimū, much was lost, and much was gained. New land and black sand formed to make the new black sand beach of Pohoiki, now part of the Isaac Hale Beach Park. 

However, developing beaches need new sand to keep them from washing away. Consequently, it’s uncertain how long Pohoiki Beach may be around, which is all the more reason to visit Isaac Hale Beach Park as soon as possible. Enjoy the black sand beach and its myriad other pleasures like the Warm Spring and thermal pools. You never know when it may all disappear.

Waipi‘o Beach Valley

Another valley cutting its way into the side of the ​​Kohala Volcano is Waipi‘o. Once the home of Hawaiian royalty, it’s even referred to as the “Valley of Kings.” And while royalty no longer lives there, the majesty of the valley remains alive and breathtaking. 

Named after the curving river that winds through the valley and splits the beach in two, Waipo‘o is renowned for its steep cliffs—almost 2,000 feet tall—and cascading waterfalls. Perhaps one of the most stunning waterfalls sits just to the side of the black sand beach, invisible from above. But, when it rains, the Kaluahine Falls thunder out into the ocean.

Waipo‘o black sand beach has long been one of the most popular spots on the Big Island. However, erosion and rockfall have contributed heavily to slope instability in the area. As a result, the county indefinitely closed the valley and the beach on February 25th, 2022. While this news means you won’t be able to explore this black sand beach up-close, you can still admire the black sand and the surrounding valley from afar at the Waipo‘o Lookout, which remains open.

Kehena Beach

Kehena Beach was once a popular spot on the Big Island due to its easy accessibility. Located at mile marker 19 off Highway 137, concrete stairs led right down to the sand. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 1975 destroyed the stairs and caused the beach to drop three feet. This leaves you to wind your way down precipitous cliffs to get to the bottom. But doing so offers up a treat.

The narrow strip of black sand contrasts beautifully against the swirling waves of water, tinted blue or green depending on the day. It’s always a good idea to keep your eye on the water here. Spinner dolphins frequent the area, performing acrobatic jumps and spins, hence, why locals often refer to it as Dolphin Beach.  

Tucked up against the side of the rugged cliffs, this black sand beach in Hawaii feels particularly private and protected. Because of that, don’t be too surprised if you find other visitors enjoying the beach in the buff. Nudity is technically banned at public beaches in Hawaii, but Kehena is one of a few unofficial beaches where the dress code is clothing optional. That said, join the beach visitors at your own risk

Honokalani Beach

Driving along Maui’s scenic Hana Highway will bring you to this gorgeous gem on the coast. Located in Wai‘ānapanapa State Park Beach, Honokalani is the only true black sand beach not found on the Big Island. The Hawaiian people consider it sacred. An exploration of the park will take you to ancient temples, stone arches, and even mysterious lava caves. 

The park is vast and fascinating and worth a hike to discover all its wonders. But, without a doubt, the black sand beach is the park’s most tempting draw.

Honokalani stands out as one of the most colorful black sand beaches in Hawaii. Framed by stark lava cliffs, lush green vegetation, and vivid blue waters, the black sand stands out even more against the frothing white seafoam as waves crash ashore.

When the light hits just right, you’ll want to be sure to have your camera out. While the name Waianapanapa (“glistening waters”) refers to the freshwater springs in the park, there’s no denying that when the sun hits Honokalani, its black sand and glistening waters truly shine.

Richardson Ocean Park

Richardson Ocean Park is in Hilo, on the east coast of the Big Island, and it’s one of the best snorkeling spots in the area. Oh yeah, and it’s a black sand beach. 

When you arrive at Richardson Ocean Park, take a close look at the sand between your toes, and you’ll likely notice something strange. The sand is a peculiar mix of black sand and so-called green sand.

The green sand comes from olivine crystals, the same ones that give the unique green sand beach in Mahana Bay on the south shore its name. (Fun fact: Papakōlea green sand beach is one of only four green sand beaches worldwide.)

Once you’ve marveled over the sand, you can actually enjoy the waters. One of the few black sand beaches to offer calm and shallow waters, Richardson provides a peak into Hawaii’s underwater wonders and fascinating marine life. The park sees frequent visits from the endangered monk seals and green sea turtles. Just remember to keep a respectful distance and admire them from afar.

Bonus “Black” Sand Beaches

Though these aren’t true black sand beaches, Hawaii is home to a few other incredible places often referred to as black sand beaches.


A bit of a hidden gem on Maui’s southwestern shore, Oneuli is close to Makena Beach, one of the best beaches in Hawaii. Oneuli Beach doesn’t possess the jet-black volcanic sand found at beaches like Punalu‘u or Honokalani. However, it’s still an eye-catching shade you won’t find on Maui’s many other beaches. And, when the water allows, it’s also an excellent snorkeling spot.

Honomalino Beach

Honomalino Beach, on the southwest coast of the Big Island, is a bit of a hike to get to, and we mean that literally. It’s only accessible by foot, which may be why this beach isn’t as populated as others on the island. However, once you step out onto the beach, you’re treated to one of the most scenic views on the Big Island and a striking mix of white and black sand.

Haena Beach

Haena Beach, or as the locals call it, Shipman Beach, is located on the eastern coast of the Big Island, across from Honomalino Beach. A roughly two-and-a-half-mile hike takes you along a historic trail through a verdant jungle before revealing towering trees, calm waters, and the unique white and black sand slopes that mark your arrival at Shipman Beach.

How Are Black Sand Beaches in Hawaii Formed?

For most beaches, the sand comes from natural rocks found on land which are ground into fine particles over time. But for black sand beaches in Hawaii, the rocks that are beaten and broken down come from lava flow, and they often don’t take millions or even thousands of years to break down; they can do it overnight.  

When molten lava meets water, the lava hardens and explodes into micro-particles, and in a matter of hours, you get a brand new beach made of black sand where there was none previously. This is how Pohoiki Beach on the Big Island formed not too long ago. 

Which Hawaiian Island Has Black Sand Beaches?

The black sand beaches of Hawaii can be found on two islands: the Big Island and Maui. However, Maui only has one true black sand beach. So, to view the best black sand beaches in Hawaii, and visit multiple, definitely head to the Big Island over Maui.

You’ll be treated to varying dramatic landscapes, sweeping views, and even some fascinating volcanic activity in Hawai‘i National Park, just minutes from Punalu‘u, the biggest black sand attraction on the Big Island.

Do All Hawaiian Islands Have a Black Sand Beach?

No, the only islands with black sand beaches are the Big Island and Maui, with the best black sand beaches found on the Big Island. While others like Kauai and Molokai technically have beaches called black sand beaches, this is true in name only, as the sand found there isn’t from volcanic rock. 

Waimea Beach is often referred to as a black sand beach but is more gray than black and lacks any volcanic rock or glass. As the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, volcanic activity ended on Kauai millions of years ago, and any true black sand beaches are long gone with it. 

‘Awahua Beach in Molokai is also sometimes called a black sand beach, but the color here comes from dark sandstone instead of volcanic activity.

These beaches are still beautiful, and visitors love watching the sunsets at Waimea Beach in Kauai and enjoying the seclusion of ‘Awahua Beach in Molokai. So, we’re reasonably sure you’ll find plenty to love about both islands, even without the presence of a black sand beach. 

What Is the Best Black Sand Beach in Hawaii?

The best black sand beach in Hawaii has to be Punalu‘u Beach. Capturing that classic Hawaii feel, with its stunning waters and waving palms, Punalu‘u still manages to make you question whether you’ve stepped foot on a strange, enchanted land.

Bright green palms dot the black sand, providing spots of shade against the shining sunlight. Just strolling beneath them feels like magic. And the views only add to the fantasy atmosphere, with black sand and rock sloping into an ocean that stretches out endlessly. 

The fact that this otherworldly spot happens to be an area frequented by green sea turtles seems like an incredible bonus. One that we certainly can’t complain about. 

The beach, the views, and the special magic of Punalu‘u combine to make it the best black sand beach in Hawaii.

What Is the Most Famous Black Sand Beach in the World?

You’ll find black sand beaches all over the world, from Papenoo Beach in Tahiti to Karekare Beach in New Zealand. But perhaps the world’s most famous black sand beach is none other than Reynisfjara in Iceland. 

Like the famous black sand beaches of Hawaii, volcanic activity created Reynisfjara and the other black sand beaches found in Iceland. But the infamous black sand is hardly the only thing to make this particular beach stand out. 

Reynisfjara is immediately recognizable thanks to its stunning basalt columns and unique sea stacks—located offshore—called Reynisdrangar. Legends say the sea stacks were once trolls who stayed out too late and were frozen by the dawn. Others claim a man killed the trolls to avenge the death of his wife.

Fairytales or no, Reynisfjara feels like magic from the moment you step foot on the shifting black sand. The panoramas from this beach, and the lookout above it, are nothing short of spectacular. With everything to love, it’s little wonder that travel experts count it among the world’s top fifty beaches.

Are There Black Sand Beaches in Honolulu?

Unfortunately, there are no black sand beaches in Honolulu or anywhere on Oahu. Black sand beaches are characterized by volcanic glass, which explains why so many exist on the Big Island, the youngest Hawaiian island and the only one with several active volcanoes.

However, just because Honolulu doesn’t have a black sand beach doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty to see in Oahu. Gorgeous views and endless play await on stunning white sand beaches dotting the island’s coast. So, whether you stick around Honolulu to enjoy the beaches of the south or head to the northern shores, Oahu holds endless fun and enough beauty to steal your breath away.

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