If you love snorkeling and are in the process of planning a vacation to Hawaii’s Big Island, then you have probably heard of Two-Step Beach.
Two-Step Beach at Honaunau Bay in South Kona is one of the most beautiful and popular spots on Hawai’i Island for snorkeling. The water here is crystal clear, and there are lots of opportunities to see multi-colored fish, green turtles, and sometimes dolphins (more on this below).
There are so many great things about this place that I had to share with you!
We recently visited and had an amazing time!
Here’s how we did it…
Overview of Two-Step Beach
Two-Step Beach is located on the Big Island’s western side, about 26 miles south of Kailua-Kona and just south of Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (also referred to as the City of Refuge). The bay itself is within the boundaries of the national historical park.
Before we dig into this article, let’s answer some popular questions below:
Why do they call it “Two-Step”?
The name “Two Step” comes from the large natural stone steps used to enter and exit the water. They can be difficult to spot at first and may require a quick walk along the lava rock coastline, but they’re unmistakable once you spot them. I think it adds an element of fun, especially if you have kids traveling with you!
Is Two Step Beach open?
Yes, Two Step is open at the time of writing this post (Sept 2021).
Is Two Step the best snorkeling spot on the Big Island?
This will depend on who you ask, but I can say that Two Step is one of my favorite places to snorkel, and it’s very high on my list.
This is also a free activity, which is a plus for us budget travelers as a trip to Hawaii can get expensive.
Directions to Two Step
To get to Two Step, you can go south into Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. There is a small cost to enter this park (approximately $5), but trust me, it’s worth it.
The park offers many beautiful attractions, including ancient Hawaiian historical sites, and, of course, the Two Step Beach is to the right.
We decided to park at the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. You also have the option to park on the street outside of the park and walk to the beach.
There is limited parking available along the road, so be sure to get there early. If you decide to park on the roadside, be sure not to block any driveways.
Do not park too close to corner curbs when parking as well. Be sure to leave enough space for people to get in and out of their driveways.
I highly recommend visiting the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park first and then heading over to two steps right after. That’s what we did, and it felt so good getting into the water after walking around the park for a bit.
How do I access the snorkeling area?
There is not much sandy coastline at Two Step. You will need to access the water through lava rocks. The best way to get in the water is through the two steps located to the right of the national park.
This can be tricky, but you should be fine if you go into the water using the two steps.
Depending on the day you go and how early you get there, you will probably see people lining up to enter the water through the two steps.
There were only a few people when we went so it wasn’t that bad.
If you are having trouble locating the two steps, I recommend asking one of the snorkelers around and someone should be able to point you in the right direction.
We almost entered the water by walking to the right side just past the two steps, but a lovely local warned us not to do that as the rocks were very sharp and it was dangerous to do it that way.
She was nice enough to guide us on how to get to the two steps and gave us some tips on how to enter and exit the water here safely.
To enter you sit on the first step to put on your fins, mask and snorkel. Then you can stand up, go to the second step, and get into the water.
To exit the water, it may be easier to wait for the tide/waves to lift you into the steps. It may also be easier to get onto the step by pulling yourself up and rotating to put your bottom on the step; that way, you can sit on the steps before getting out.
Although not too difficult, I witnessed a young boy struggling to get out using the “two steps” and had to assist him. Be sure to have someone there to assist you as needed.
Can you rent snorkel gear at Two Step?
Unfortunately there is no place to rent snorkel gear at Two Step. You will need to bring your own gear if you are planning on snorkeling at Two Step.
Another option is renting gear elsewhere before heading to Two Step. I highly recommend investing in snorkel gear though instead of renting, as it will save you a lot of money in the long run.
We bought our snorkel and mask from Amazon for about $35 a year ago and they still work just fine.
I also heard Costco has had some good quality snorkel gear in the past, so check them out while on the mainland or in Hawaii.
What can I see at Two Step?
If you are an avid snorkeler, you will be able to see a good variety of marine life.
There are tons and tons of fish, and we also saw sea turtles when we visited.
If you are fortunate, you may even see dolphins! We didn’t see any when we were there, but I heard from the locals that they could sometimes be seen and heard swimming close to shore.
So where to go to see the most?
Depending on the weather and how calm the water is, you will have a chance to explore the entire bay.
If you are an experienced swimmer, I recommend snorkeling on the left side and the central part. However, if you are not an experienced swimmer, then I would stay on the right side.
The left side is where you will see some of the best coral and and a lot of marine life. This is also where we spotted the green turtles.
The central area is also filled with marine life, and this is where people have reported seeing the spinner dolphins. Unfortunately for us that was not the case, but there’s always next time!
It’s worth noting that the central bay area is also the deepest at 14-20ft, so be sure to take extra precautions if you decide to swim there.
I am not an experienced swimmer, so I stayed on the right side while my boyfriend explored with our underwater camera.
The right side is great for inexperienced swimmers as the water is more shallow. You will also get a chance to see the different types of fish here, including the famous yellow tang.
What is there to see when snorkeling?
It is usually pretty easy to spot some fish when snorkeling at Two Step. We saw many different types of fish when we went, including the yellow tang, sea urchin, eel, and even some turtles.
There are tons of beautiful corals located in the area, so you will get to see some amazing reef life. You might even see the famous Hawaiian spinner dolphins if you are lucky enough.
Can you swim with dolphins?
As mentioned earlier in this post, we did not get a chance to spot the famous spinner dolphins while visiting the big island.
I have read multiple posts where people saw dolphins on their visit, so it depends on when and how lucky you get.
If you get the opportunity to see dolphins, please remember to respect the wildlife and do not touch the animals. Disturbing dolphins (following, chasing, diving towards) is against the law.
The spinner dolphins hunt and feed at night, then rest during the day. Please do your part in protecting and respecting the wildlife. After all, the ocean is their home. A best practice is to float and wait for the dolphins.
As far as amenities go, there wasn’t much at Two Step Beach.
They did have some portable toilets available. Standard toilets are not available, but if you need one and have your car parked at the National Historical Park, I recommend going there instead.
There were also a few picnic tables available — I believe I saw three benches like the one shown below. We were lucky enough to grab one while we ate some snacks.
Tips and Recommendations
1. Get there early
If you can get there before 8:30 AM, you will beat the crowds and be able to snorkel for as long as you want without too many people around you. Also, the water is the clearest in the early hours before too many people get in the ocean.
We recommend getting there early because the large waves of people usually come in around 10 to 11:30 AM. There is limited street parking available, so getting there early will help secure your parking space.
I noticed that by 10:00 AM, the parking along the road was full. If this is the case when you get there, you can always park at the Historical Park — but you’ll have to pay the $5.00 fee.
2. Pack some snacks and water
We always bring a cooler filled with sandwiches, fresh fruit such as apples or oranges, cucumbers, and drinks. Bring your favorite snacks and drinks and prepare for a good time!
This makes for a fun day because you can relax, eat and snorkel without worrying about finding a place to buy food. Who doesn’t love a good picnic?!
3. Bring your own snorkel gear
As mentioned previously in the post, there are no snorkel gear rentals on Two-Step Beach. I highly recommend purchasing one from Costco or Amazon.
4. Bring an underwater camera if possible
This was one of the best investments I made as it helped me capture all of the remarkable sea life. There is so much to see at Two Step Beach, and your underwater camera will be able to capture it all.
5. Add Reef Safe Sunscreen to your Hawaii packing list
The sun in Hawaii can get pretty hot. Make sure you are well prepared by adding reef-safe sunscreen or a rashguard to your Hawaii packing list.
Two Step Beach Weather
The weather at Two-Step will depend on the time of the year you decide to visit Hawaii. Please make sure you check the weather report before heading there.
Please be aware that Honaunau Bay typically becomes overcast in the afternoon, which results in lower marine life visibility. For this reason, we suggest morning hours as the best time to go to Two-Step.
Captain Cook vs. Two Step Beach
To be honest, I love both Captain Cook and Two Step and wouldn’t necessarily say one is better than the other. I would, however, say that they are both unique and each have something you’ll appreciate.
Here are some of the differences I noticed…
I found the water at Captain Cook’s to be a little clearer, but it also depends on when you go there and what time you snorkel.
In my opinion, Captain Cook was overcrowded compared to Two Step — which took away from the experience.
If you decide to go to Captain Cook, I recommend getting there between 7:00 AM and 7:30 AM if you don’t like big crowds and want to have the place to yourself. The big crowds usually will start coming in around 10:30 AM.
Also, Two Step had slightly more areas to explore compared to Captain Cook.
If I were you and had enough time to visit both places, I would definitely make it happen. They are both fantastic places to snorkel and I highly recommend both of them.
Two Step Beach Surf Report
If you want to plan ahead and view the surf report, you can go to the Willy Weather site for weekly and daily updates. This is what we used and it worked very well.
To Wrap it up..
The Big Island offers a wide variety of snorkeling locations, but the Two Step Beach at Honaunau Bay is one of our favorites. This beach offers a wide variety of aquatic life; you can even see some rare species such as turtles and dolphins if you’re lucky!
If you are visiting the Big Island, I highly recommend coming to Two Step. You’ll want to come back again and again to experience this location’s unique attributes!