Hilo doesn't have the kind of sandbars that you find on the West side of the island. Bayfront (Hilo Bay) is a long black sand beach, but I don't see too many people swimming in the water there. That being said, I love "Richardson's". I've been coming here since I was a kid and it still has drawing power for me.
Younger kinds can hangout at what I call the "first beach." It's not really a beach at all, but the (very) small sand bar directly below the rock wall is great during low tides. If you want to hangout in the water you can wade out at the first beach, or head over the the second beach. There's a narrow entrance to the larger bay that you can usually find many families swimming in. You can also go just a bit farther out to get some elbow room.
For sunbathing the second beach has enough space to lay out, but there are also trees (which I like...). The third beach has less tree cover and enough sand to put your towel down.
Like I said, I still go to Richardson's regularly. We go snorkeling in front of the third beach, near the rocks that enclose the little bay. There are quite a few corals and fish to see. As long as visibility is good it's a great spot. The dive is MUCH better during high tide when you can get further into the rocks.
The grounds are also quite picturesque. There are a number of brackish ponds on either side of the building. You can look out over Hilo Bay and take some nice photos. And that is exactly when the busloads of tourists do. You can also explore the tide pools in the lava rocks or the brackish "marsh" closest to the retaining rocks on the third beach.
One thing to consider is that the currents can be pretty strong. If you're not a strong swimmer, stay close to shore. You don't have to go out very far to see any turtles.
Also parking can get pretty bad later in the day on weekends. I suggest getting out there before 9am if you don't want hunt for a space.
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