The geologic restlessness of the Big Island is well on display around Kehena Black Sand Beach on the Puna Coast. The beach owes its black volcanic sands to a mid-20th century lava flow—similar to those that later partly destroyed the town of Kalapana just to the southwest—which also formed the rocky point here. And an earthquake in 1975 demolished the stairway that once accessed its two black-sand sections.
Now, it’s a bit of a dicey descent via a rough path down the lava-rock cliffs to reach Kehena Beach. The trail drops from the overlook located at Route 197’s mile marker 19.
Those backing cliffs and the sumptuous dark sands make for quite the stunning beachfront, even if it’s fairly small and narrow. Coconut palms and ironwood trees serve up shade, while an often-vigorous shorebreak serves up dramatic ocean-watching.
In calmer conditions, you’ll often see people swimming here, but generally speaking, this is dangerous surf with the potential for rip currents. You’d do better staying out of the water. There aren’t any lifeguards here, and serious mishaps have occurred when powerful waves and rips overwhelm swimmers.
There also aren’t any facilities, though vendors often sell coconuts and other fares here, especially on the weekend.
Now, the black sand may be Kehena Beach’s signature natural attribute. But there’s a different kind of “scenery” often on display here: a whole lot of bare naked flesh. Kehena Black Sand Beach is well known for its clothing-optional beachgoing, and more often than not you can expect to see quite a bit of nudity. Going in the buff in public is illegal in Hawaii, but that doesn’t stop many visitors—including a host of regulars—at Kehena.
Some folks are more comfortable than others with sharing the sand with semi- or fully nude neighbors. If you’re in the less-comfortable camp, this is not the beach for you. The same goes if you have an issue with marijuana smoking, which is commonplace here. Also, bear in mind that people often bring dogs with them to Kehena Beach.
All that said, for those in the tolerant camp, the hippie-ish vibes at Kehena Black Sand Beach can provide a highly memorable pitstop on your Big Island vacation. The tone here is normally very friendly, and you won’t be made to feel awkward if you’re not going the whole birthday-suit route yourself. (The typical Keneha Beach crowd usually includes plenty of clothed visitors.)
Kehena Black Sand Beach is also notable for regular sightings of spinner dolphins in the nearshore waters. (Indeed, it’s nicknamed “Dolphin Beach” for this reason.)
Between its striking geography and free-spirited crowd, Kehena Black Sand Beach is among the most distinctive Big Island seashores. For those aware in advance of the ambiance, it’s a jovial and scenic stop along the Puna Coast.
In keeping with the general gestalt of this place, Kehena Beach usually hosts a drum circle on Sundays. That’s its own spectacle to enjoy, potentially, but if it doesn’t sound like your “jam” (so to speak), that’s not a great day to come here.