A View of Hawaii Valley On The Big Island, One of the Best Things To Do.

37 Best Things To Do On The Big Island, Hawaii: The Ultimate Guide 2021

The Big Island of Hawaii is one of the most diverse, fastest-growing islands in the world. This means that there are always new things to explore and discover, no matter what your interests may be.

To help create the best itinerary possible, we’ve compiled a list of the 37 best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Table of Contents

37 Best Things To Do On The Big Island
Best Things To Do On The Big Island With Kids
Unique Things To Do On The Big Island
Where To Stay On The Big Island
Budget-Friendly Accommodation
Transportation On The Big Island
Tips For Traveling On The Big Island of Hawaii
– What Should I Pack For The Big Island of Hawaii?
– How Long Should I Stay On The Big Island?
The Wrap Up: Best Things To Do On The Big Island

37 Best Things To Do On The Big Island

Our list includes everything from volcanoes and waterfalls to surfing lessons and snorkeling. Whether you’re looking for something adventurous and unique or an activity that is great for kids, our list of the 37 best things to do on the Big Island has it all:

1. Sip On A Beer From Kona Brewery

A trip to the Big Island would be incomplete without a trip to the world-famous Kona Brewery.

Located in downtown Kona, this brewery has everything from fresh beer to fresh catch, so whether you go for a lunchtime snack or a happy hour with friends, stop by for a taste of the Big Island.

Mike & Laura Drinking A Kona Beer At The Kona Brewery On The Big Island.

We recommend getting to the Kona Brewery early since it is such a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. We arrived at around 11am and were able to get a spot at the bar.

Consider visiting on Sunday evenings for weekly live music on the patio, but I suggest making a reservation to secure your table.

While you’re there, try the Koko Brown Ale (for dark beer lovers), the Longboard Island Lager (for light beer lovers), or the Castaway IPA (for hops lovers).

For easy directions to the brewery, use this Google Maps link.


2. Summit Mauna Kea

If you’re up for an epic adventure, summiting Mauna Kea should be added to your Big Island itinerary because it is by far the best thing to do on the island.

For those who don’t know, Mauna Kea is technically the tallest mountain in the entire world. Yes, even taller than Everest!

Standing Near The Summit of Mauna Kea After A Long Hike. Mauna Kea Is Snow-Covered.

You see, when measured from the ocean floor, Mauna Kea extends up over 33,000 feet while Everest stands at 29,000 feet.

Of course, most of Mauna Kea’s mountain is underneath the ocean, but it is still an amazing feat and a crazy hike to complete.

Now before you go off to hike up this massive volcano, be sure to read through our guide here: Mauna Kea Hike. This hike is no piece of cake, so you’ll want to be fully prepared for your attempt.


3. Walk To Green Sands Beach

The first thing you should do on the Big Island is walk to Green Sands Beach.

This incredible beach has often been called one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Hawaii, and for good reason. The sand here is a beautiful green hue because it contains olivine minerals from volcanic eruptions.

The Green Sand Beach Is One Of The Best Places To See And One of The Best Things To Do On The Big Island, Hawaii.

You’ll also find that this beach is perfect for swimming. After a hike out to the beach, you’ll be scorching under the hot Hawaiian sun. Jump in the cool ocean to refresh yourself.

Green Sands Beach Hiking Stats & Tips

Distance: Approximately 5.5 miles roundtrip

Difficult: Easy

What To Pack: Bring at least 2 liters of water per person, sunscreen, and your swimming suit (change into your swimming suit before you get there because there are no facilities at this beach.


4. Cliff Jump At South Point

The next stop on your Big Island itinerary should be the cliff jump at South Point.

These Big Island cliffs are 50 feet high and they overlook the Pacific Ocean, so it’s an amazing place to take in some stunning ocean views while doing something extremely daring.

If you’re feeling brave enough to jump off of these rocks into the water below, make sure you know how to swim and that there’s a crowd there that’s ready to cheer you on.

Once you’re peering over the edge into the ocean, you’ll question your sanity, but it’s a huge rush of adrenaline when you finally take the leap. Don’t worry, people do it all the time.

Be sure to watch our South Point Cliff Jump Youtube video above and subscribe!

How To Find The Cliff Jump Spot At South Point, Hawaii

When we went cliff jumping at South Point, we struggled to find the jumping-off point. With so many fishermen around, it made us feel like we were in the wrong area completely.

After we walked out to the Green Sands Beach, we decided to give it one more shot.

This attempt was successful and we were able to find the small diving plank by asking a friendly local. Luckily, we have the exact coordinates for you so that you don’t get lost like us: Google Maps Location.


5. Walk To Akaka Falls

For a hike that’s a bit less intense than Mauna Kea, consider going to Akaka Falls. As one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the Big Island, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best things to do, too.

The walk itself is only a half-mile roundtrip, but plan to spend 45 minutes (or more) roundtrip thanks to the amazing views. And with very little elevation gain, it’s perfect for all ages.

Sitting Facing Akaka Falls On The Big Island of Hawaii.

Akaka Falls is conveniently located about 25 minutes from the city of Hilo. To find it without issue, use this Google Maps link.

The eastern side of the Big Island has numerous adventures, so be sure to divide your time between both sides.

Note: This is a state park, which means that you must pay to enter. It cost us $5 to park and the parking lot accepts credit cards.


6. Explore Kaumana Caves

Kaumana Caves, located in Hilo, is a fascinating place to explore. Created in the late 1800s by an eruption from the lava spewed from Mauna Loa, these caves are a spectacle to see.

Hike back into the caves to see some of the most incredible landforms in the world. Although the lava tubes continue for more than a mile, the hike will only take you back about a quarter of a mile before the ceiling becomes too low.

Kaumana Caves At The Cave Entrance.

You’ll especially love this adventure because it is completely free to visit and hike into Kaumana Cave. With Hawaii’s high prices, it’s nearly impossible to find budget-friendly activities, so take advantage.

To find Kaumana Caves, use this Google Maps link.

What To Bring To Kaumana Caves

Before you set off on your day trip, be sure to pack the following items:

– Headlamp
– Rain jacket
– A waterproof phone case

Note: Since Kaumana Caves and Akaka Falls are both quick trips, consider visiting both of these places in one day. They are close to each other and it will save you time.


7. Check Out The Black Sand Beaches

Next, we are going to check out the black sand beaches on the Big Island. Hawaii is well-known for its black sand beaches created by volcano eruptions.

Visiting A Black Sand Beach Is One Of The Best Things You Can Do On The Entire Big Island.

But which black sand beaches should you visit during your trip? Here are a few to consider:

Best Black Sand Beaches On The Big Island

Punaluu Beach is one of these special locations where centuries ago, a volcanic eruption created an expansive beach with dark lava rock and waves crashing against it.

The water here is also home to a variety of sea turtles.

Pohoiki Beach was our go-to beach while on the Big Island because not only were we able to gawk at the unique black sand, but we were able to soak in hot springs, too.

Kehena Beach is probably the craziest black sand beach in the world.. why? Well, because swimsuits are optional at this beach.

Tourists and locals alike show up to sunbathe in their birthday suits, so if you’re keen on getting an even tan, this might be the place for you.


8. Hike Down To Waipio Valley

Speaking of black sand beaches, in Waipio Valley, you’ll find a black sand beach that stretches as far as the eye can see.

An Aerial View of Waipio Valley On The Big Island of Hawaii.

In order to get to this beach and viewpoint, you’ll need to hike down or take a high-clearance 4×4. Once you reach the valley, it looks like something out of another planet.

There are plenty of fun things to do in Waipio Valley; here are our favorite activities to do in the area:

Things To Do In Waipio Valley

Hike Up The Other Side of The Valley

Most visitors to the area come for the epic hiking in the valley. Sure, you’ll get a good taste of it once you descend down from the parking lot, but continue across the beach to the other side for even more incredible views.

The hike up the other side of Waipio Valley is not for the faint of heart, but once you reach the lookout point, you’ll know exactly why so many people make the trek.

Have A Picnic

Plan ahead of time and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy once you get to the beach in Waipio Valley. There’s no better location on the Big Island for a delicious lunch and expansive views of the ocean.

Surf

If you’re an experienced surfer, consider bringing your surfboard (or rent one) to Waipio Valley. The swells can be intense here, so I only recommend it for those who know what they’re doing.

Dip Your Feet In The Water

Depending on the time of year, swimming at Waipio Beach might not be the best option due to safety concerns. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dipping your toes in the ocean.

Wade in the water up to your knees to cool off from a sweaty hike down to the valley.

Relax On The Beach

There’s nothing better than laying out under the hot Hawaiian sun. Catch a tan or find a shaded place to relax and let the wind blow through your hair.

If that’s not the ideal vacation activity, I don’t know what is!

Fly Your Drone

Mike thoroughly enjoyed flying his drone at Waipio Beach. Since he was unable to fly it at Akaka Falls (due to park rules), he was itching to get his drone in the sky.

Using his drone, he was able to capture these gorgeous pictures of the valley:


9. Trek To Makalawena Beach

Another one of the best things to do on the Big Island is visiting Makalawena Beach.

This beach is located at the end of a mile-long, shady trail that cuts through forest and meadows to reveal this hidden oasis.

Makalawena Beach On The West Side of the Big Island Is One of the Best Things You Can Do On The Big Island.

The hike isn’t too difficult and there are plenty of great views along the way. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a monk seal hanging out on the beaches during your walk.

In total, the hike is just over a mile, so it can be accomplished by people of various fitness levels.

But, it’s important that everyone wears appropriate footwear on the walk out to the beach. The trail can be slippery and rocky in many places, so flip-flops are not recommended.


10. Watch The Sunset

You can’t go to the Big Island of Hawaii and not designate a night to watch the sunset. It is by far one of the best things to do on the Big Island and it would be a shame to pass up.

Sun Setting In The Distance Behind Palm Trees Looking Out Over The Ocean.

The sunset on the Big Island is so beautiful and the best part is that there are so many great locations to watch it from.

Best Places On The Big Island To Watch The Sunset

Want to find the best location on the Big Island to watch the sunset? Here are our personal favorites:

Over The Lava In Kalapana

There’s no better place to watch the sunset than on top of a lava flow field. Kalapana, located in the southeastern corner of the Big Island, is completely covered by lava from the Kilauea eruption of 1990.

Kalapana is one of the island’s best-kept secrets, so experiencing a sunset here would be unforgettable.

Mauna Kea

Remember how I said that Mauna Kea was technically the tallest mountain in the world (if measured from the ocean floor)?

How incredible would it be to watch a sunset there during your Big Island vacation? The summit of Mauna Kea offers an incredible sunset view with a panoramic landscape that extends across six counties.

Kona

And we can’t forget Kona, one of the best places in Hawaii for amazing beaches. The glow that the sunsets create on this side of the island is remarkable, so don’t miss an evening in this beach town.


11. Night Dive With Manta Rays

One of the most unique and adventurous things to do on the Big Island is to take a night dive with Manta Rays.

As the sun sets, you’ll head out into the coastal waters of Kona for an unforgettable experience. During your excursion, these gentle giants will slowly swim above and around your group of divers while they feed on plankton.

Scuba Diving With Manta Rays At Night On The Big Island of Hawaii.

You can also book a night swim with manta rays as a snorkeling excursion rather than diving if you don’t have your PADI certification.

For the best night diving experience on the island, book your tour with Kona Diving Company.

If you fancy snorkeling, book your tour with Hang Loose Boat Tours.


12. Eat Shave Ice

The Big Island’s signature dessert is a must-try for visitors. I give you.. shave ice.

This treat consists of finely shaved ice on top of a generous portion of ice cream. Top it off with things like condensed milk, coconut shavings, and fresh fruit.

A Bowl Of Shave Ice, A Delicacy In Hawaii.

Not only is this one of the best Hawaiian desserts, but sampling shave ice from different shops is one of the best things to do on the Big Island.

Start your shave ice experience off right by visiting the best sweet shops on the island:

Kula Shave Ice

Kula Shave Ice is located directly next to the Hilo farmer’s market. We got the Chocoholic and it was heavenly.

Note: Portion sizes at Kula Shave Ice are massive, so I suggest splitting a shave ice order with your partner or kids.

One Aloha Shave Ice Co.

One Aloha Shave Ice is located in Kona and it’s by far the best shave ice shop on the west side of the island.

They pride themselves on their selection of fresh organic fruits. Or, for an even better treat, get their specialty Kona coffee flavor.


13. Surf

Surfing on this island is unlike any other surfing excursion; add this sport to your itinerary to experience one of the best things to do on the Big Island.

The waters are warmer and calmer around the Big Island compared to anywhere else in Hawaii, so it’s the perfect place for beginners to learn how to surf.

Surfing On The Big Island With A Wave Collapsing.

There are plenty of great spots to surf, from beginner breaks to big waves that will get your adrenaline pumping.

Here are a few of the best spots to catch a wave on the Big Island:

Banyans

This break is located on the eastern side of the island just outside of Kona. Banyans is a great surfing spot on the Big Island year-round. It’s a clean area but expect many other surfers.

Honoli’i Beach Park

If you’re a bit more experienced on the water, you might want to visit Honoli’i Beach Park for larger swells. Honoli’i Beach Park is a regular surf spot for locals, so make sure to be aware and respect those around you.


14. Take A Chocolate Farm Tour

One of our favorite activities and one of the best things to do on the Big Island is touring a chocolate farm.

Lavaloha was the chocolate farm that we visited while visiting the Big Island and it’s located just outside of Hilo. During our tour, we were shown how the cacao fruits are grown, harvested, and used to make delicious and pure chocolate.

Cacao Fruit Sitting On A Table.

This was a special treat that sparked our interest in natively grown plants from Hawaii. After visiting Lavaloha, make another stop by the Hilo Farmer’s Market for more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Note: A Lavaloha tour costs $40 per person. You’ll do small samplings of chocolate at the end of the tour but bring enough money to purchase more treats in the gift shop before you leave.


15. Visit Two Step

What’s a trip to the Big Island without visiting a beach?

Two Step, located about 45 minutes south of Kona, is a family-friendly beach with calm waves that are perfect for swimming or just relaxing on the shore.

A Sunny Day At Two Step Beach On The Big Island of Hawaii.

But the absolute best thing to do at Two Step? Snorkeling!

This beach is known for its variety of sea life. From turtles to reef fish, you’ll get an up-close view of the underwater world that’s only possible in Hawaii! There are also shallow areas perfect for beginner snorkelers and children.

And the best part is that you don’t need a boat, a kayak, or even a tour group to find the best reefs.

To find Two Step, use this Google Maps link.


16. Go To The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park

Next door to Two Step Beach is Pu’uhonua National Historic Park, a peaceful and serene area inhabited by once-sacred kii, or stone images.

Pu’uhonua means “place of refuge,” a sacred place where the spirits of Hawaiians came to be purified after committing certain offenses against their gods. The park features unique historical structures that have been restored, so you can experience a bit of traditional Hawaiian culture.

An Ancient Wooden Hawaiian Carving In Front of A Palm Tree.

To get into the national historic park, each vehicle will pay $20 and this includes up to 8 people. They also accept the national parks pass if you’ve purchased that.

Not only is this national historic park informational, unique, and interesting, but this area boasts one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.


17. See The Hōlei Sea Arch

We can’t talk about the best things to do on the Big Island without talking about the Hōlei Sea Arch.

This hidden gem, located in Volcanoes National Park, is often overlooked compared to other park activities and sights. But the Hōlei Sea Arch should not be missed.

Holei Sea Arch, One of The Many Things To Do In Volcanoes National Park On The Big Island of Hawaii.

The Hōlei Sea Arch is a natural arch located on the southeastern side of Kīlauea. After driving down Chain of Crater Road, you’ll approach this natural landmark.

Park your car and make the 10-minute walk out to the arch and viewpoint. You won’t be disappointed.

Note: You can also reach the Hōlei Sea Arch from Kalapana however; it will require a very long walk in the sun with no shade. Nonetheless, people still do it and enjoy it.


18. Visit A Farmer’s Market

The Big Island has become a hotspot for unique and diverse food. And that includes local farmer’s markets.

The island is home to over two dozen farmer’s markets, each with its own distinct offerings of locally grown produce, artisans, craftsmen and live music performances.

An Entire Frame Full of Avocados

After spending a month exploring the Big Island, these are the farmer’s markets we recommend adding to your itinerary:

Hilo Farmer’s Market

What makes the Hilo Farmer’s Market so special? It offers all of its produce, meats and poultry from local farmers.

Plus, there are over 200 stalls to choose from. Try some Hawaiian kalua pork BBQ; you likely won’t find this anywhere else on the island.

Note: The best days to visit the market are Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Kona Farmer’s Market

For a smaller but more convenient (if you’re staying in Kona) farmer’s market, consider Kona Farmer’s Market. This market offers its produce from local farmers and has fresh seafood vendors on site. You’ll be sure to find the freshest fish at this market.

Note: Kona Farmer’s Market operates Wednesdays through Sundays.

19. Drive Chain of Craters Road

As one of four national parks across Hawaii, Volcanoes National Park is a can’t-miss on the Big Island. And one of the best things to do in the national park is driving down Chain of Craters Road.

This scenic byway stretches for 19 miles passing by numerous craters belonging to Kilauea.

Chain of Craters Road In Volcanoes National Park on The Big Island.

Bring your hiking shoes on this drive because you’ll want to get out of your car and check out the craters up close.

There are several other stops along your journey that you should consider stopping at, including Hōlei Sea Arch and expansive overlooks.


20. Catch A Sunrise

One of the best things to do on the Big Island is catching a sunrise.

The Big Island has many stunning sunrises, but one that shouldn’t be missed is from Volcanoes National Park near Hilo.

Catch A Sunrise Over The Lava.

Once inside the park, head to the Kilauea overlook point to see if you can catch a glimpse of the glowing lava. Most people have more luck in the early hours of the morning as opposed to later at night and it’s much quieter in the morning.

As soon as dawn approaches, shift your focus to the magnificent golden color that will engulf the sky.

Sure, sunsets are impressive, but sunrises are more relaxing.


21. Drink Kona Coffee

Kona coffee was first planted on this island back in 1828 and has been a staple crop for locals ever since. Today, you can go to any grocery store or restaurant and get your fill of it.

Coffee Beans At Kona Coffee Company.

But the absolute best place to sample Kona coffee is at a coffee farm.

We highly suggest visiting Greenwell Farms, a Kona coffee farm located just south of Kona near Captain Cook Monument.

This farm offers free tours every day and no reservations are needed; simply show up and hop in with a tour group. After your tour, grab some sampler packs from the gift shop to take home with you.

To find Greenwell Farms, use this Google Maps link.


22. Soak In The Hot Springs

With so much volcanic activity, there’s bound to be hot springs somewhere on the Big Island. Just behind Isaac Hale Park, you’ll find the most relaxing hot springs.

Although other places on the internet state that the hot springs at Isaac Hale Park have been demolished by the 2018 Kilauea eruption, they are mistaken. Not all of the hot springs were overtaken and luckily for us, the best one was left for us to enjoy.

How To Get To The Hot Springs On The Big Island

To find these soothing hot springs, drive to Isaac Hale Park (or Pohoiki Beach – they are the same) and park in the parking lot.

As soon as you park, you’ll notice a small pond with a boat ramp; you may even see people swimming in this pond.

Start walking behind this pond toward the woods, where you’ll start to see pathways leading into the woods. Take those pathways and continue to walk in the opposite direction of the parking lot.

Soon, you’ll come across a large hot spring. You’ll know you’re in the right place because there will be a sign asking you to respect the hot springs.

We recommend coming in the early morning hours to avoid any other people. That way, you can soak in solitude.

Note: There are a few different “ponds” that you can technically soak in, but we don’t recommend entering the ponds that have warning signs for dangerous bacteria.

The best hot spring is in the woods, so if you find a hot spring out in the open, you’ve gone to the wrong one.


23. Drive The Kapoho Kalapana Scenic Road

While you’re down near Isaac Hale Park, take a scenic drive down the Kapoho Kalapana Scenic Road.

The road is about 10 miles long and was recently reopened after the Kilauea eruption in 2018 destroyed its route.

Kapoho Kalapana Scenic Drive Road Surrounded By Tropical Trees With Light Shining Through.

This road winds along the southeastern coast of the island with plenty of scenic stops like Kehena Beach and Mackenzie State Recreational Area.

But the true beauty of the Kapoho Kalapana Scenic Drive is the road itself. Trees drape over the road and make it feel like you’re in a gorgeous nature tunnel. When you’re able, stop on the side of the road to take a few pictures.

To find the exact route without issue, use this Google Maps link.


24. Reach Secluded Waimanu Valley Via Muliwai Trail

Waimanu is one of the Big Island’s most remote and pristine valleys and is only accessible by a rugged hike. If you’re a hiker or epic adventurer, add this to your Big Island itinerary because it is by far one of the best things to do on the island.

Remember when we talked about Waipio Valley? Well, this trek will lead you through that valley and up over the cliffs to another valley that is completely secluded and inaccessible to vehicles.

A View of Hawaii Valley On The Big Island, One of the Best Things To Do.

The hike itself is not for the faint of heart. At 15 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of 5200 feet, you’ll need to be experienced and prepared for this journey.

Most people who attempt this hike turn it into an overnight backpacking trip, which is highly recommended so that you can truly experience the desolation of Waimanu Valley.

To better plan your trip, use this AllTrails guide and be sure to ask a few locals that have experience hiking this route.


Best Things To Do On The Big Island With Kids

Thanks to its rugged adventures and expensive tours, it can be difficult to plan a family vacation on the Big Island. To make things easier, here are a few of the best things to do on the Big Island with kids:

25. See The Lava Glow

What child wouldn’t be thrilled to see the glow of lava in an active volcano? Well, on the Big Island, they can!

Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano and it is incredible to see the lava glow from its main crater.

Lava Glowing At Night From The Kilauea Crater.

The best times to see the lava glow are early in the morning before the sunrises or later in the day when the sun has set. We recommend going in the morning because there will be fewer tourists around to spoil the moment.


26. See The Whales

Your kids will go wild about seeing humpback whales while visiting the Big Island. In fact, it is one of the best things to do in Hawaii for any age group.

The Pacific Ocean laps up against the Big Island’s warm, sandy shores and it is a perfect spot to see whales. The best time of year for whale watching is between January and March, when there are more humpback whales in the water.

Two Whales In The Ocean Surrounding The Big Island of Hawaii; One Whale's Tail And Another Whales Blower.

If your vacation to the Big Island is planned for any of those months, book a tour to see these gentle giants as they breach and have fun in the warm waters surrounding Hawaii.

We recommend booking your tour through Captain Zodiac. Budget approximately $120 per person for this excursion.

Whether you’re taking a tour with Captain JC or Captain Ashley from Captain Zodiac, your boat is in good hands.


27. Feel The Steam Vents

One of the craziest things we experienced on the Big Island was feeling the volcanic steam on our skin. At Volcanoes National Park, this is completely possible thanks to their designated steam vents.

Steam Vents At Volcanoes National Park On The Big Island.

Your kids will love this experience, especially if they can understand that this steam is being created by an active volcano.

Stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center before heading to the steam vents so your little ones can learn about volcanoes (Kilauea in particular) and how they can affect the environment.

Note: You can also find steam vents outside of Volcanoes National Park. The most noticeable steam vents are along HI-130 (also known as Pahoa Kalapana Road). Use this Google Maps link to find and experience these free steam vents.


28. Check Out The Lava Fields

Famous for volcanoes, eruptions, and lava, you can’t go to the Big Island of Hawaii without seeing lava fields.

Keep in mind, when you visit the lava fields, you likely won’t see molten lava, but you will see miles upon miles of lava that has covered the land from various Kilauea eruptions.

Lava Field With Rainbow After A Heavy Rainstorm.

There are two places that I recommend visiting if you want to get up close to lava fields:

Kalapana

Kalapana is a hidden gem among destinations on the Big Island. This area was completely covered by lava in 1990 and this is the perfect place to go if you want to be surrounded by lava for as far as the eye can see.

To get here, simply drive down HI-130 until you reach a dirt road. Continue down the dirt road for about a mile and you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of a lava field.

While in Kalapana, you’ll see mainly pahoehoe lava, which is the smooth-looking lava you see in the picture above.

Leilani Estates

Another really great place to see the lava fields is near Leilani Estates.

Leilani Estates was tragically destroyed by the 2018 eruption of Kilauea and the destruction can still be seen today. Drive down the Kapoho Kalapana Scenic Road toward Isaac Hale Park and you’ll get front row seats to the lava fields that ripped through this neighborhood.

Near Leilani Estates, you’ll see mainly a’a lava, which is rough and rocky lava. If you go to Kalapana and Leilani Estates, you’ll be able to see the difference between these two types of lava.


29. Go Snorkeling

All of the islands in Hawaii are surrounded by warm, clear water. The Big Island is no different and offers some of the best snorkeling opportunities in North America.

Snorkeling Spot On The Big Island; Snorkeling Is One of The Best Things To Do In Hawaii.

This is a fantastic activity to add to your Big Island to-do list, especially if you have kids. Thanks to the spectacular reefs and calm waters, snorkeling along the coast is an easy excursion for people of all ages.

Best Places To Snorkel On The Big Island

To help you find the best snorkeling locations on the Big Island, here are our recommendations:

Two Step

Located 40 minutes south of Kona is a popular snorkeling spot among tourists and locals called Two Step.

This nature preserve is teeming with sea life. We recommend getting here early, not only to avoid the crowds, but to see the sea life that is most active in the morning like sharks, turtles, and dolphins.

Here is the Google Maps link that will bring you to Two Step.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

Another snorkeling spot located on the Kona coast is Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.

This is the perfect destination to explore under the sea thanks to its ultra-calm waters. The water is so clear here that you’ll be able to see tons of coral, fish, and other sea life.

Here is the Google Maps link that will bring you to Kealakekua Bay State Park.

Richardson Ocean Park

If you’re staying on the Hilo side and you want to go for a self-guided snorkeling tour, consider stopping by Richardson Ocean Park.

Just 15 minutes from downtown Hilo, this is a very convenient park that has some of the best snorkeling on the island.

Here is the Google Maps link that will bring you to Richardson Ocean Park.

Note: If you don’t bring your own snorkeling gear, simply rent snorkeling gear from one of the many dive shops around town.


30. Eat Ice Cream At Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack

One of our favorite things to do while traveling is to sample all of the destination’s best restaurants and cafes. And after exploring Hilo for a few weeks, we were able to find just what we were looking for: ICE CREAM.

Add a visit to Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack to your itinerary because it is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Laura With A Bowl of Ice Cream From Makani's Magic Pineapple Shack In Hilo.

Choose from a variety of desserts, all with their own unique flavors and toppings.

For a refreshingly fruity dessert, try the Strawberry Explosion Bowl. This is the option that we picked and it was plenty big to feed both Mike and me.

If you’re a chocolate lover, try a chocolate frappe or the Cookie Monster bowl. Or check out their impressive Instagram for even more ideas.

Find Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack in Hilo by using this Google Maps link.


31. Find Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is an easy day hike in Hilo that’s perfect for kids.

This hike is easily accessible from Hilo, which means that the kids won’t have to sit in the car for hours in order to reach the destination. It is also a very easy walk since the waterfall can be seen directly from the parking lot.

Rainbow Falls Surrounded By Tropical Rainforest.

This short excursion will leave your family feeling refreshed, as well as more connected to the natural beauty of Hawaii.

We recommend pairing this outing with another fun excursion nearby. Consider adding Akaka Falls or the Honomu Goat Farm to your itinerary for the day you visit Rainbow Falls.


Unique Things To Do On The Big Island

Hawaii is extremely popular among tourists, so it’s no wonder that it’s difficult to find hidden gems or off-the-beaten-path locations on the islands.

To get the most out of your Big Island trip, we suggest planning some unique things to do. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you’ll get to connect with the island in a different way than everyone else.

Here are a few unique things to add to your Big Island itinerary:

32. Ride In A Helicopter

There’s no better way to see the entirety of the Big Island than to take a helicopter tour.

With plenty of helicopter tour operators on the Big Island and several different routes to take, it can be difficult to plan your excursion.

A Helicopter View of Kilauea Crater On The Big Island.

Here’s what you need to know about helicopter tours on the Big Island:

Volcanoes National Park

Visiting Volcanoes National Park is one thing, but flying over it in a helicopter is an entirely different experience. This epic trip will take you above Kilauea and the lava flow to see the kind of power she actually has.

Be sure to bring your camera because you might even catch a glimpse of the lava’s glow in the crater.

The best company for a Volcanoes National Park helicopter tour is Safari Helicopters. You can find out more information and book your excursion here.

Note: I recommend budgeting approximately $300 per person for this helicopter tour.

Kohala Coast

Another place you should tour from above is the Kohala Coast. This coast is located north of Hilo and I’ll let you in on a little secret.. you’ll start to feel like you’re on Kauai during this tour!

From rugged cliffs to epic waterfalls, you can’t pass up a helicopter tour of the Kohala Coast.

For a Kohala Coast tour, consider booking with Paradise Helicopters; you’ll get a “doors off” helicopter experience.

Note: Plan to pay about $370 per person for this tour.


33. Spot Some Seals

Another unique thing to do on the Big Island is to go monk seal-spotting. We were pleasantly surprised to see these massive creatures just lying out in the sun on the beach near Makalawena Beach.

A Seal Laying Face Up On The Beach Near Kona, Hawaii.

The Big Island works tirelessly to protect these monk seals and conserve their natural habitats.

If you do spot a monk seal, it will likely be roped-off by rangers, but it’s still so much fun to see these giants in real life.

Note: Always respect these wild animals. Since monk seals are nearing extinction, do your part as a traveler to enjoy their presence while still keeping your distance.


34. Find A Nene

The state bird of Hawaii is the Nene, also known as the Hawaiian Goose. These birds are protected by the state and they are fascinating to see in the wild.

Two Nene Geese, The State Bird of Hawaii In Volcanoes National Park.

While driving down Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes National Park, we noticed signs warning us of nene crossings. Since we knew they were in the area, we decided to do a little searching.

Low and behold, we were able to get up close and personal (while still respecting their space) with the nenes, as shown in our picture below.

If you get the chance to encounter a nene, be sure that you have your camera ready for pictures!


35. Take A Kazumura Cave Tour

Kaumana Caves aren’t the only caves to explore while on the Big Island of Hawaii. Add a Kazumura Cave tour to your to-do list because this is one of the best things to do on the entire island.

Mike And Laura Preparing To Go Into Kazumura Cave.

As one of the longest lava tube caves in the world, you don’t want to miss exploring the mysterious unknown (with a guide, of course.. eek!).

Book your lava tube cave tour through Kazumura Cave Tours by calling their number: (808) 967-7208.

Kazumura Cave Tours offers several different tours that accommodate travelers of various experience levels. If you’re new to “caving”, you can book a beginner’s cave tour. More experienced cavers can book an intermediate or advanced tour that involves ropes, climbing, and more.

Prices vary based on which tour you decide to take.


36. Make A Snowman

I bet you wouldn’t believe me if I told you that you could make a snowman on the Big Island of Hawaii, would you? But it’s true!

And if you don’t believe me, take a peek at the picture of me below.

Laura Sitting Next To A Snowman At The Top of Mauna Kea.

This is at the top of Mauna Kea, some 13,800 feet in elevation; no wonder there is snow all the way up there.

You can drive or hike to the top of Mauna Kea, which I would recommend doing whether you want to make a snowman or not. The top of Mauna Kea is an incredible journey and shouldn’t be missed during your Big Island holiday.


37. Kanaloa Octopus Farm

By far the most unique thing to do on the Big Island is to visit the Kanaloa Octopus Farm. This was such an interesting experience for us and truly educational.

Located just 20 minutes north of Kona, the Kanaloa Octopus Farm is close enough to the city for a very convenient day trip.

An Octopus In A Tank.

Above all, Kanaloa Octopus Farm is a research facility that studies sea life and its available resources.

As a guest at the octopus farm, you’ll listen to a short introduction about the research lab and its goals. Next, you’ll be allowed to play with, feed, and touch the octopuses.

Note: It can be terrifying when the octopus grabs at your arms with their suction arms, but it is an experience you won’t soon forget!

Before you go to Kanaloa Octopus Farm, be sure that you have reservations. They sell out quickly, so do this at least a few days in advance.

The entry fee for adults is $45, while kids cost $35. You can make your reservations here: Kanaloa Octopus Farm.


Where To Stay On The Big Island

Now that you know what to do when you visit the Big Island, it’s time to plan where you’ll stay.

Most holiday-goers to the Big Island stay in one of three places:

Kona

If you’re looking for resorts and fancy beaches, you’ll want to stay on the Kona side of the island. Kona is the perfect location if you plan on engaging in a lot of beach-related activities like snorkeling, diving, or simply beach-hopping.

You’ll get the best value for your money by staying at Aston Kona by the Sea, a 4-star hotel located just outside of Kona along the coast.

If you’re looking to splurge, buckle up because Hawaii is the place to do it. Places like the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and Holualoa Inn are gorgeous and highly rated, but they’ll cost you a pretty penny.

Hilo

Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island, but fewer vacationers decide to stay in Hilo.

Why? Well, to be fair, Hilo isn’t as glamorous as the west coast of the island and most people going to Hawaii are looking for a fancy beach holiday.

Standing At The Edge of Kilauea Iki Crater in Volcanoes National Park.

On the flip side, Hilo is a lot less expensive than Kona and you will have access to some of the island’s most incredible and epic adventures. If you’re looking for the best hiking trails, waterfalls, and unique experiences, I recommend staying in Hilo.

For a posh place to stay in Hilo, check out Orchid Tree B&B. Mid-range holiday-goers should consider staying at Hawaiian Ohana Home.

Psst! If you decide to stay on the eastern side of the island, check out the 25 best things to do in Hilo.


Where To Stay On The Big Island On A Budget

Unfortunately, the Big Island (or anywhere in Hawaii, for that matter) is not budget-friendly. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save money here and there.

One of the easiest ways to save money on the Big Island is by staying in the Kalapana area. Kalapana is located 45 minutes south of Hilo and this is where we chose to stay during our month-long trip.

Although this is more of an “alternative community” area, you can still find some incredible places to stay in this neck of the woods.

Take a peek at Lava Lookout, an eco-friendly and unique oasis that sits atop the lava flow that flooded the entire area in 1990.

Experience solitude in this area of the Big Island; watch the stars through the host’s telescope, capture the sunset from your back porch, or simply walk along the dirt road while being surrounded by miles and miles of lava.

Staying at Lava Lookout saved us a LOT of money, but it was also the best part of our trip to the Big Island.


Transportation On The Big Island

Unlike other destinations around the world, public transportation is pretty non-existent on the Hawaiian Islands, which means you’ll need to plan for this prior to arriving on the Big Island.

Here are a few of the most common ways to get around during your Big Island trip:

Renting A Car In Hawaii

For our month-long stay in Hawaii, we decided the easiest option would be to rent a car and most tourists to the island would agree with us.

Renting a car in Hawaii is no easy task, though. Remember how I mentioned prices? Well, if you’re on a budget, this might be a pocketbook-buster for you.

We recommend looking through the rental cars available through Skyscanner if you plan to rent a car in Kona.

If you’re staying in Hilo, save money (and the hassle) by renting from Automotive Solutions Hawaii. This is who we rented through when we spent a month on the island and it was extremely affordable compared to other companies.

Tour Groups

If you aren’t keen on renting a car while visiting the Big Island, you may want to stick to booking tours through tour companies.

These tour companies will pick you up from your hotel (in Kona or Hilo) and take you to the excursions they have planned. Whether you want to join a snorkeling tour group or take a helicopter above Volcanoes National Park, you can find a company that will make all the arrangements for you.

Use Viator.com to book your tours and excursions. This is the site we love and use during all of our travels.


Tips For Traveling On The Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is much, much different than any of the other islands in the archipelago. Therefore, it’s important to know a bit about the island and what you can expect before venturing off.

Here are two vital tips to know before traveling to the Big Island:

What Should I Pack For The Big Island of Hawaii?

This had me completely stumped as I prepared for our Big Island journey. What was I supposed to pack?

Well, in addition to your beach gear, you should also bring warm clothes too. The evenings on the eastern side of the island tend to cool off and if you plan to go anywhere near Mauna Kea, you’ll want layers.

Standing On The Edge of The Kilauea Crater Is One of The Best Things You Can Do On The Big Island.

Personally, I packed for all seasons. I brought my swimsuit, tank tops and shorts, and flip-flops, in addition to my winter hat, a rain jacket, and long-sleeved shirts and pants.

I suggest you do the same.

How Long Should I Stay On The Big Island?

Due to the plethora of activities to do on the Big Island, I would spend at least a week exploring this unique island.

You simply can’t miss out on Volcanoes National Park, the Kohala Coast, and the many state beach parks throughout the island. Not to mention summiting Mauna Kea and taking the plunge at South Point’s cliff jumping spot.

If you only have a few days to spend on the island, you’ll still enjoy it, but you’ll want to come back to finish the journey you started.

The Wrap Up: Best Things To Do On The Big Island

I hope this post has helped you to learn about the best things to do on the Big Island and shows you just how diverse it really is. The Big Island is often overlooked compared to Oahu and Maui, but it shouldn’t be.

Whatever type of adventure or activity you’re looking for, there’s a place on the Big Island of Hawaii that will make your trip one-of-a-kind.

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