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Best Snorkeling on the Big Island on a Family Vacation- 12 Great Spots!

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island on a Family Vacation- 12 Great Spots!

Wondering where to find best snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii? We’ve snorkeled all over the island with our family and selected the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island Hawaii. Here are a few of our favorite picks for families.

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island Near Kona

1. Kahaluu Beach Park

Some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii for families can be found at Kahaluu Beach
Photo via Flickr

Our favorite place to start a snorkeling adventure is located right in Kona. Kahaluu Beach is often very crowded, but that makes it a good entry point for timid swimmers because there is safety in numbers.

The fish here are plentiful, the shallow water is calm and easy to navigate, and sea turtles are often spotted from this easy-to-get-to spot.

The onsite Kahaluu Education Center helps families understand the aquatic species and also share lots of tips on keeping reefs safe.

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island on a Family Vacation- 12 Great Spots! 1
Taking a break at Kahaluu Beach to enjoy the shave ice and the sun!

As an ultimate bonus for families, there are shaded picnic areas, onsite restrooms, parking right next to the beach, and frequent visits from snow cone sellers.

Explore more of the island! Here are our favorite things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii with kids.

2. Magic Sands Beach Park

Magic Sands Beach

Located in Kona, not far from Kahaluu, this is a great spot for beach play and snorkeling. The reef is about 100 yards offshore and is filled with big fish! Flotation devices are encouraged, especially if you don’t have strong swimmers. Fins are also highly recommended.

After you snorkel, the kids will enjoy playing in the small waves at the beach. There is also a lifeguard on duty which is always a great safety bonus. Pack a picnic and take advantage of the tables and restrooms at this beach.

Fun Fact: Magic Sands gets its name due to the fact that winter storms can often pull all the sand off the beach to reveal the lava rock bottom. Sand returns as waves push the sand back on shore.

Ready to see black sand, white sand, and more? Check out our guide to the 15 best Big Island beaches!

3. Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook)

Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay Big Island
Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay has to be mentioned in a roundup of excellent snorkeling spots on the Big Island, but the best snorkeling can be tricky to get to with kids.

The marine sanctuary is home to a variety of exotic fish, dolphins, and sea turtles. Although one side of the bay (with great views!) can be accessed by car, the snorkeling is right in the middle of the bay (quite a swim or kayak) and on the opposite side of the bay at Kaawaloa Cove.

To get to this cove without a tour, you will have to hike the 3.9 mile, out-and-back Captain Cook Monument Trail.

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island on a Family Vacation- 12 Great Spots! 2
Snorkeling the Big Island from the Body Glove Tour Boat

Seem like too much? The easiest way to get to the best snorkeling here is to actually book a snorkeling tour with one of the many commercial charter boats that provide easy access, plentiful snorkeling time, all the gear, and often snacks, shade, and snorkeling instruction.

Tip: As an alternate to Kealakekua Bay, we joined a Body Glove Cruises snorkeling tour that took us to a different, unreachable by land snorkeling spot. We were the only boat there, soaking in the amazing glory!

4. Honaunau Bay (Two Steps)

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island on a Family Vacation- 12 Great Spots! 3

If you have confident swimmers, the deep water at Honaunau Bay is a great place for both snorkeling and SCUBA diving. The beach here isn’t extremely accessible; you’ll have to scamper over lava rocks to get into the water.

That said, the Pae’a entrance is located right at the picnic tables at the edge of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park. The reward is a fantastic coral reef, calm waters, and stunning visibility (especially in the morning).

Don’t miss Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park while visiting; kids can complete the Jr. Ranger program.

5. Manta Ray Night Snorkeling

things to do on the Big Island with kids manta rays

One of the absolute must-do snorkeling experiences on the Big Island happens at night where local tour operators will take families to see explore the manta rays that almost always frequent the waters of Keauhou Bay, aptly dubbed “Manta Village.” Mantas have been frequenting these waters for years to feed on plankton, which are attracted by the hotel lights.

If hopping in the dark, vast water with massive ocean creatures has your kids (like mine) a bit timid, you can also sometimes spot them from the shore at the Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa.

6. Kikaua Point Beach

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island on a Family Vacation- 12 Great Spots! 4
Photo via Flickr

With a 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the sandy beach, Kikaua Point Beach has earned a reputation as a family-friendly destination. The sheltered, man-made bay makes for calm, protected waters to snorkel in. Around the bend to the north, sea turtles often play in the calm waves.

To get to the beach, you have to enter through the Palena Aina golf course. The guard shack will give you a pass and tell you where to park.

7. Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay

Just past the scenic area adjacent to mile marker 82 on Hwy 19 to the south, you will find an unmarked gravel road. Park alongside the highway (there are often other cars parked there) and follow the gravel road down to the beach at Kiholo Bay. Or, you can take a high clearance vehicle down to parking near the beach. 

Kiholo Bay is a great place to snorkel with sea turtles at a black sand beach. The walk is about 25 minutes to the beach from the park along the highway, but this special place is worth the effort.

Another highlight of this beach is the partially submerged lava tube that you are able to swim in. You can go back pretty far, but you will need a flashlight because it is pitch black once get back in there.

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island Near Waikoloa

8. Mauna Kea Beach

Sea Turtles near Mauna Kea beach
Sea Turtle near Mauna Kea Beach

With white sand (rare for the young island) and a public beach adjacent to a hotel (yay amenities!), Mauna Kea (aka: Kaunaʻoa Beach) is a great spot for snorkeling.

To get to the beach, head straight to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and ask for a beach pass. Come early, there are only a few parking spots allocated for beach access. The best snorkeling is found on the southern end of the beach near the rocks.

When it is time to take a break, I recommend grabbing lunch at Naupaka Beach Grill in the hotel. The outdoor restaurant overlooks the pool and the ocean!

Tip: This hotel also shines lights into the water to attract local Manta Rays and you can wade out into the water (without paying for a tour) to try to see the amazing animals.

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Best Snorkeling in Hawaii- 20 of the Best Spots for Families 2

9. Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach is one of our favorite beaches on the Big Island
White Sand at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

If your kids are decent swimmers, consider heading to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. The white sandy shore along the beach and the open shoreline make for some good waves to play in and spend a day at the beach, although these conditions also make snorkeling a bit more challenging.

The best snorkeling is to the north and south of the beach along the rocks where the fish spend most of their time. In addition to snorkeling, kids will have fun body surfing at one of the prettiest beach on the Big Island.

Hapuna Beach Big Island of Hawaii
The best snorkeling is found around the rocky outcrop offshore

Families will enjoy the state recreation area’s amenities including plentiful shade, restrooms, picnic areas, lifeguards, and a small restaurant.

Note: There is a nominal non-resident parking fee.

10. Waialea Bay

Getting ready to explore the tidepools at Waialea Bay
Getting ready to explore the tidepools

With less amenities than Hapuna, Waialea Bay offers a similar snorkeling experience that can be fantastic if your kids are okay with some waves.

This beach is often dubbed Beach 69 by locals and snorkeling guides, but don’t let that freak you out as a parent. The beach is named that because it is next to the number 69 utility pole, which is a helpful marker when looking for the beach.

The best snorkeling is found in the morning on the southern side of the sandy beach. There are restrooms onsite, but no lifeguards.

Best Snorkeling on the Big Island Near Hilo

11. Richardson Ocean Park

Some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island near Hilo is found at Richardson Ocean Park
Richardson Ocean Park is the best spot for snorkeling on the west coast near Hilo

The eastern shore of the Big Island is much rougher than the west. If you are staying on the Hilo side of the island (or are just visiting and really want to snorkel), Richardson Ocean Park offers safe snorkeling for families.

Richardson’s boasts a calm, protected reef area, picnic tables, clean bathrooms, easy parking, and a lifeguard. Just make sure you check the weather and follow lifeguard warnings because storms tend to come up on this side of the island making the sea much rougher than normal.

12. Carlsmith Beach

Carlsmith Beach

Another good spot near Hilo to go snorkeling is Carlsmith Beach. This beach shore doesn’t have any sand, it is mostly lava rock. Thankfully, there are some spots on the lawn, as well as picnic tables where you can stake your claim. And, there is some sand on the bottoms where the water is.

Water tends to be cooler here in spots thanks to water entering the ocean from a nearby freshwater lagoon. Sea turtles absolutely love the lagoons and sightings are pretty much guaranteed

There are restrooms and showers but lifeguards are usually only on duty weekends and holidays. There are also bbq grills onsite if you want to cook up lunch or dinner after spending a couple hours snorkeling.

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