Mauna Kea Beach sand and clear water

We had been told about Mauna Kea beach (Kaunaʻoa beach) by a few people but were also warned of the limited parking passes available.  “You gotta check it out!”  “It is amazing!”  “You’ll love it!” Those are the types of comments people made when they talked about the beach at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  As you can imagine this certainly piqued our interest.  After a few attempts to get in we finally figured out when we had to get there before all the parking spots filled up.  We also figured out another way in even if all the parking passes are taken!

You will need to arrive by about 7:45 AM to ensure you’ll get access to Mauna Kea beach and one of the 40 free parking passes available.  An alternative is to valet at a cost of $40 (which can be reduced with resort spending).  There is also a possibility of getting a parking spot in the afternoon as those who arrived in the morning leave the beach.  Let me share our experience and show you how you can get access to one of the most incredible beaches in the world.

Where is Mauna Kea Beach?

Kaunaʻoa beach or, as it’s better known, Mauna Kea beach after the resort hotel that’s next to it is about 27 miles north of the Kona International Airport on the South Kohala Coast.

The beach sits just south of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and just north of the world famous Hapuna beach.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was the first hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii opening in 1965.  The grounds of the hotel are on a secluded 60-acre property which includes Mauna Kea beach.  All beaches in Hawaii are public and therefore the hotel, despite the beach being located on their property must allow public access.  Mauna Kea Beach Hotel created a parking lot with 40 available spots to meet this requirement.

Mauna Kea Beach Resort

What Makes Mauna Kea Beach So Great?

As you plan a trip to Mauna Kea beach you may be wondering if it is even worth all the trouble of getting in.

After three attempts to get to the beach early enough we got to experience it firsthand.  And let me tell you…this beach is absolutely amazing!

The water was clearer.  The sand was whiter and finer.  The beach was far less crowded.  When we arrived I think we were one of about 15 people on the beach.

It doesn’t really get much better than that at a beach in Hawaii.  Great water, great sand and few people…that’s the best of everything.

The water was calm with waves gently rolling in.  No big surf like you might find at the neighboring Hapuna beach.  So, if you’re looking for a place to boogie board or body surf this is not the spot.  This beach is meant for leisure.  For relaxing.  And that’s exactly what we did.

Mauna Kea Beach Webcam

One of the best ways to check the weather conditions prior to planning a trip to use the  Mauna Kea beach webcam.

Marriott, who owns the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, has webcams at all of their resorts.  Simply pull it up before you start heading that direction to see how it looks.

At the time I’m writing this it’s a bit windy and therefore may not be the best day to visit.  But, if you’ve spent some time in Hawaii you know how quickly the weather can change.  But at least you can get an idea of what to expect when you get there.

Mauna Kea beach Hawaii clear water and fine sand

How to Get One of the Free Mauna Kea Beach Parking Passes

Some friends of ours had been to the beach once before and were excited about going with us when we went for the first time.

The four of us decided we would plan an early morning.  No big deal for me and Marla.  We get up at about 5:30 AM every day so we were good to go whenever.  Marianne & Carl, on the other hand, wanted to head out just a bit later in the morning.  They arrived at our house at about 8:25 so we could take the 30 minute drive and be there around 8:55.

We pulled up to the entrance at about 8:50 am.  As we arrived we were greeted by a beautiful entrance with manicured hedges, tall palm trees, flowering plumeria trees…and the gatekeeper.  As we pulled up to the gate we rolled down our window to let them know “we were headed to the beach.”

He politely smiled back and said, “sorry but we’re all full.”

What?! Seriously?  Full?  At 8:50 am?

Yep, the lot was full.  We had to turn around and head somewhere else.  The good news is that one of the best beaches in the world was right next door.  Hapuna Beach.  I’ll share more about Hapuna in a later post as it is one of our favorites.  We were bummed out but still made a day of it over at Hapuna.

Round Two

For our second attempt Marianne & Carl decided not to join us as they had been to the beach once before and didn’t really care for getting up and going so early.  But Marla and I were game for an early trip.

We clearly needed to get there earlier than 8:50 so we planned to leave the house at 7:45 so we could arrive by 8:15.  That should be plenty early…right!? Not so much.

After the 30 minute drive over to the beach we, once again, met the gatekeeper and were turned away because the lot was full!  Another day at Hapuna.  Not that I’m complaining.  Hapuna beach is magical in its own right but we had our minds set on getting in to check out this beach!

Next time, instead of lounging around in the morning and having our coffee and leisure time we figured we would just head to the beach right away.  And that’s what we did!

The Early Bird Gets the…Beach

We headed to the beach early this time around. I think we left the house around 7:00 and got there around 7:30 am. We approached the gatekeeper and we let him know we were hoping to go to the beach (with a bit more hesitation in our voices than we had before). This time he replied with directions on where to park along with our parking pass.

Finally! We were in! Marla was giddy.

We drove through the resort, following the directions we got at the gate. The resort was beautiful, as you’d expect. Manicured hedges, flowers, trees and the golf course lined the road to the beach. We were enjoying the scenery but were anxious to check out the beach even more.

We pulled up to the parking lot and found one of the few remaining spots to park. We unloaded our stuff and headed towards the beach marked with “Beach Access” signs. It was about a 10 minute walk down to the beach along a small paved path. As we got closer to the beach the trees opened up to reveal the turquoise water and white sandy beach.

That’s Maui in the distance!

We spent the morning at the beach soaking in the sun and every moment.

As beautiful as this beach was it wasn’t worth the work it took to get in.  Having to head out so early in the morning to hopefully get a spot just wasn’t something we wanted to worry about on a beach day.  Plus, Hapuna, right next door, is an incredible beach.  Sure, it is quite a bit busier (ok, a lot busier) but still incredible.

If you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing day at the beach check our Mauna Kea Beach…but get there early or check out another option we figured out…

What to do if all the Parking Passes are Taken

Let’s say you arrive to the gate and find all the parking passes are taken and you don’t have the luxury of time to come back because you’re on vacation. (If you start Calling Kona Home that will never be a problem ever again!)

In this case you might want to know what options you have.  Well, we’ve found two.

Option 1: Come Back Later

As you can imagine most people who come to the beach at 7:45 in the morning are probably not staying all day long.  Instead we found that the majority stay until about lunchtime or a bit after…say 12:00 – 2:00 PM.  This means that some of the parking passes get freed up for others to get access.  If you come back in the early afternoon you might have a shot at getting one of those passes.

Option 2: Valet Parking

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel does offer valet parking which will give you access to the beach but it’s a bit pricey at $40.  But I’ve got some good news.  When I called the resort to find out about valet they let me know that with a resort purchase your valet parking can be validated to get a reduced cost of $20.

To get your valet parking validated you can either dine at the restaurant or purchase something at the resort shop.  There’s no minimum purchase amount and the front desk even told me that you could simply get a drink to validate your valet parking.

Mauna Kea Beach Kauna'oa Beach
By AlaskaDave – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28044326

Planning Your Trip to Mauna Kea Beach

  • Get up early!
  • Check the weather conditions with the Mauna Kea beach webcam
  • Map out your trip to get an idea of how long it will take you to get there
  • Plan to arrive prior to 7:45 AM
  • If all the parking passes are taken consider valet parking
  • If you valet stop by and grab a quick drink or pick up something at the resort shop to get 50% off the cost to valet
  • If you don’t want to valet try coming back sometime between 12:00 and 2:00 PM to see if any parking spots have opened up
  • Enjoy the fine, white sand and turquoise water for a relaxing day at one of the most amazing beaches in the world

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