The 1,600 acres of Kekaha Kai State Park feature white sandy beaches, natural vegetation, and a wide variety of wildlife. With miles of pristine coastline and hiking trails, this peaceful gem will take you back to Hawaii's wild past. There are two beaches and access to a third, much more secluded one called Makalawena Beach.
Overview of Kekaha Kai State Park (formerly Kona Coast State Park)
The main beaches include Mahai’ula Beach (South), Makalawena Beach (center), and Maniniowali Beach (north). Visitors can access them via a partially paved 1.5-mile road between the 91 and 90-mile markers on Highway 19 north of Kona. And yes, there are multiple reasons to visit these beaches:
- A wide variety of fish are found near the shore at Mahaiula and Makalawena if you snorkel.
- You can see colorful parrotfish, sergeant majors, and butterflyfish at Makalawena.
- Beachcombers may find mauka (red) coral washed up on the rocks at Makalawena. It's not that common, but fun to see!
- Makalawena is an excellent beach for long walks; its narrow white-sand beach stretches about half a mile.
- The water here can be as calm as a lake, making it ideal for young children who want to get in the water without worrying about rough surf or strong currents.
1. Mahai’ula Beach
The white sand beach at Mahaiula Bay features a beautiful crescent-shaped beach with a backdrop of palm trees and ironwood trees that grow along the shoreline. This part of the beach was far less crowded than other area beaches. Mahai'ula Beach, located closest to the parking lot, is beautiful. It has an expansive area for beachgoers to enjoy the sun and sand. Mahai'ula has good snorkeling and beach volleyball facilities shaded by palm trees and tropical plants. Take caution swimming here. Many rocks off the shoreline make it dangerous to swim or play in the water.
2. Makalawena Beach
For those looking for more water activities, Makalawena Beach offers a protected lagoon. The protected lagoon is a great place for families to swim and snorkel while shielding themselves from the ocean. Fewer people visit Makalawena Beach, which means fewer people in the water and on the beach, making it less crowded for boating and snorkeling.
3. Maniniowali Beach
Maniniowali Beach, at the northern end of Kekaha Kai State Park, is a vast golden sand beach with excellent swimming and snorkeling conditions when there's not much surf running. A reef runs along the beach's edge to snorkel right from shore and see lots of fish and coral. It can be very crowded during the summer months.
Directions to Kekaha Kai State Park
Kekaha Kai State Park sits off Hwy. 19 in Kona, Hawaii. A collection of three trailheads located between mile markers 88 and 91. The most popular is Makalawena Beach, accessed by following the road to the end.
If you wanted to, you could have headed straight for the second parking area to another patch of sand called Ka'elehuluhulu Beach, which is considerably rockier with plenty of ground seashells and coral, which makes it rough on the feet. There are restrooms and picnic tables available in the area. No lifeguards are on duty. You may want to download our larger PDF Kekaha Kai - Kona Coast State Park Map before attempting to access these locations.
Amenities at Kekaha Kai State Park
This park has many amenities to accommodate beachgoers. Yet, the park lacks lifeguards on duty. Amenities at Kekaha Kai State Park include:
- Shaded picnic areas
Essential Tips for a Great Visit to Kekaha Kai State Park
Freshwater springs bubble up into the ocean, forming small pools. The mixtures of salt and fresh water can sometimes make the water cloudy. Swimming is fine, and the beach provides shady spots for beach blankets. It has strong currents, so swimming near shore is advised.
Caution: driving on unpaved roads may violate your car rental agreement.
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Having Fun at Kekaha Kai State Park
Family Activities to Do at Kekaha Kai State Park
If you love white sand beaches, snorkeling, and incredible sunsets, then this is a beach park you want to visit. The park has several large open areas where families can picnic and camp overnight. Several hiking trails within the park vary in difficulty from easy to strenuous. There are also several beaches where you can swim, snorkel, or relax on the sand.
Fun Activities to Do at Kekaha Kai State Park
Swimming and Snorkeling: The warm waters make it an ideal spot for enjoying Hawaii's favorite pastime — swimming! The park's two main beaches (Mahaiula Bay and Makalawena Beach) offer calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The farther you go out from shore, the more colorful fish you'll see and sea turtles and dolphins if you're lucky! If you don't have your snorkel gear or beach toys, go to nearby rental shops.
Walking along Hawaii's historic Ala Kahakai Trail: The trail is one of the best ways to experience all that Kekaha Kai offers. This 175-mile path follows the ancient Hawaiian shoreline and connects communities, cultural sites, and natural landscapes. The Ala Kahakai Trail is open to the public, and visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, jogging, and horseback riding.
Dive for shells: Many varieties of tiny seashells and coral fragments wash up on the beach that you can find during low tide.
Bird Watching: Many birds frequent the park, including frigate birds, boobies, red-tail tropic birds, wedge-tail shearwaters, terns, etc. The best time to view birds is early morning or late afternoon when they are more active.
See dolphins: Bottlenose dolphins sometimes visit the area near Makalawena Beach (in the northern part of Kekaha Kai). They usually travel in pods and often ride the waves near shore. If you are lucky enough to see them, remember not to disturb their natural habitat.
Exploring Tide Pools: The rocky shoreline in front of Mahai'ula Beach offers plenty of tide pools to explore. In addition to sea stars and coral, you might spot crabs, octopi, and even giant green sea turtles hiding under rocks or in caves.
Nearby Attractions and Sights of Kekaha Kai State Park
The Captain Cook Monument: The monument is one of the most visited landmarks in Hawaii, and it's also a popular spot for picnics and snorkeling. Today, visitors can reach the monument via a boat tour, kayak, or hiking along the shore. Dolphins have often seen in these waters as manta rays and tropical fish.
The Greenwell Store and Kona Historical Museum: The museum is another popular tourist attraction and a stop for locals who want to buy coffee beans from the Greenwell Farms coffee estate.
The Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park features Hawaiian temples, petroglyphs, and several archeological sites with ancient artifacts on display.
The Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park: This park was once a place where ancient Hawaiians came when they broke the Kapu (taboo) or battled with enemies after losing in combat – this place offered refuge and safe passage back to their homes with no punishment.