Just a few miles from Hilo, Leleiwi Beach Park and the adjoining Richardson Ocean Center offer some of the best swimming, snorkeling, and seashore R&R on the Big Island’s eastern coast. Shallow and sheltered waters make for generally safe nearshore conditions, while a farther-out break satisfies surfers and body-boarders.
Served by a small parking area as well as street parking, Leleiwi Beach Park has a nice range of facilities. These include restrooms, showers, pavilions, picnic tables, and grills, plus a lifeguard station.
The coastline here takes the form of numerous coves and inlets with offshore ledges and seawall buffering shallow, calm waters. There are numerous tidepools, some fed by freshwater springs. More often than not, you can find placid, sheltered nearshore conditions for wading, swimming, and snorkeling.
Indeed, the snorkeling here is one of the prime draws. That’s partly because of the beginner-friendly conditions, but there’s also a fair amount of sea life to be appreciated here. Along with tropical fish, you have a very good chance of seeing green sea turtles (honu) languidly cruising these waters. Occasionally, you might even spot a Hawaiian monk seal hauled out on the limited sands of this oceanfront. (Give both turtles and any seals you see lots and lots of room to avoid disturbing them.)
A pocket beach of dark sand by the base of the sea wall is mostly noteworthy for providing an easy place to get in and out of the water. You could stake out a few sunbathing/R&R spots here as well though.
The pavilions and tables—plus the handsome, shade-casting palms and pandanus—make Leleiwi a fine place for picnicking.
Farther out, past the protective peninsular point here, surfers and body-boarders enjoy the “Richardson’s” surf break.
The eastern part of the park includes the Richardson Ocean Center, the vicinity of which is often distinguished as Richardson Beach Park. The ocean center itself, which includes some public exhibits, occupies the former home of George Richardson. It was built in the 1920s after Richardson was given permission by the local Malo family, grateful for his assistance when multiple of its members were sickened by typhoid fever. Excellent, family-friendly snorkeling and swimming can be had amid the cove and pools fronting Richardson Ocean Center.
Richardson and Leleiwi are part of a lineup of beach parks stretching to Hilo. If Leleiwi’s on the overcrowded side—or you simply want to spend a full day beach-hopping—explore westward to Waiolena, Carlsmith, Kealoha, Onekahakaha, and other public shoreline spaces.
With its calm, kid-friendly, turtle-cruised waters and picnic facilities so close to Hilo, it’s no surprise Leleiwi Beach Park is such a popular South Hilo hangout for locals and vacationers alike.
Northward from Leleiwi Beach Park, impressive underwater rock formations and drop-offs provide some of the best Hilo-area shore-diving—for experienced SCUBA aficionados, though, not newbies.