Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide.
The Big Island of Hawaii is such a beautiful and diverse island with so many amazing things to do! Whether you’re a surfer, hiker, or beach go-er, the Big Island of Hawaii has something for everyone. Even though it’s the biggest Hawaiian island, it’s a bit more untouched than the other islands, which makes it perfect for a relaxing getaway. You can do everything from swimming with sea turtles and dolphins to hiking waterfalls and playing on beautiful beaches. It’s not as populated as the other islands, so the towns are pretty small and everything is fairly spread out, but the terrain is so diverse and there is so much to do that we absolutely loved spending time there!
We spent most of our time around Kona, because that’s the sunnier side of the island and where the prettiest beaches are. It’s also where the best food on the island is (in our opinion). But we did spend a day on the Hilo side, and it was so worth it to see the waterfalls and jungle over there. The Hilo side is known for being more rainy and it doesn’t have as many beaches, but it’s definitely worth still visiting.
To get around the island, we rented a car. The island is so big and everything is pretty spread out, so there isn’t really any other way to be able to explore. Having a car made it to so much easier to hop around and see so much of what the Big Island has to offer in a short period of time. Tip: If you have a Costco membership, save money by filling up with gas there. We rented a four-wheel drive truck, but if we were to do it again we would have looked for a more fuel efficient four-wheel drive option. After spending ten days on the island, here’s our list of the best things to do, places to eat, and places to stay on the island:
Things to Do:
Waipio Valley: The drive to Waipio Valley is about an hour and a half from Kona and it’s absolutely beautiful. There are green rolling hills all over, and once you get there, the view from the top is unreal. You can either hike or drive down to the bottom. We suggest driving because the hike back up would be very hard, but you’re only allowed to drive down if you have a car with four-wheel drive because it’s very steep. Be sure to check your rental agreement, because some companies specifically say you can’t drive their car down there. Once you get to the bottom, there is a beautiful black sand beach and amazing waterfalls.
Cook’s Monument: This was by far our favorite thing we did on our trip! Hike down the Captain Cook Monument Trail to the most beautiful bay where you can snorkel and swim with dolphins! Be sure to bring lots of water for the hike, because it gets hot and the hike back up is really hard. We’d also suggest going early in the morning, so the hike isn’t so hot and because that’s the best time of day to see dolphins! The dolphins are the most active in the morning, so the earlier you go, the better chance you have of seeing them. We swam out from Captain Cook’s Monument deeper into Kealakekua Bay and swam with several pods of wild dolphins and it was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives! They actually rest from about 10-2 and Hawaii has some pretty strict regulations about harassing or pursuing dolphins, so we recommend you swim out into the bay and let the dolphins come to you. They’re super curious animals! (Be sure to bring your own fins and snorkel masks, because there’s no one down there to provide you with them.)
Snorkel with Sea Turtles: One of our other favorite experiences during our time there was swimming with sea turtles! There are quite a few beaches and snorkel spots where you can find sea turtles. Our favorite was at Kikaua Point Park in Kukio Bay. We also saw them at a few other beaches and every time it was so amazing to see them just gliding through the water so effortlessly!
Explore Waterfalls: The Big Island has so many waterfalls! Spend a day on the Hilo side where there are stunning waterfalls like Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls. Also, take some time to explore, because there are also waterfalls rushing under bridges and just off the side of the road as you’re driving around the area and it’s incredible. Check out the Hilo section below for more details!
Relax on the Beautiful Beaches: The Kona side of the island is known for its stunning beaches and you can’t go to Hawaii without spending some time on the beaches. All of the beaches are different, but equally beautiful. Here’s a list of our favorites:
Manini’owali Beach: Manini’owali was our favorite beach on the island. The sand is so soft, the water is a beautifully clear turquoise blue, and the waves are really fun to play in. There also aren’t as many rocks on the shore break, so it’s the perfect beach to go to if you want to play in the waves.
Makalawena Beach: Makalawena is our other favorite. It’s a little harder to get to, because it’s about a 15-minute walk from where you park. You have the walk past Mahai’ula Beach (which is also a beautiful beach), and then over black lava rocks. The rocks can get rather hot, so bring durable sandals and some water. But once you get to the beach, it’s a lot more secluded and has beautiful blue water and soft white sand to relax on. If you’re planning to spend an entire day just relaxing on the beach, we’d suggest packing snacks and going to this one.
Kukio Beach: Kukio Beach is just to the north of Kikaua Point Park and a beautiful beach. It’s also home to so many sea turtles! We loved watching them swim right up to the shore. Be sure to bring snorkel gear with you, so you can spend some time swimming with them (but don’t touch them) and seeing the beautiful fish around the area too!
Hapuna Beach: Hapuna Beach is one of the more popular beaches and since there is a lot of parking, it’s definitely busier, but it’s still a beautiful beach with lots of sand and room to relax and play on the beach.
Mauna Kea: Mauna Kea Beach is part of Mauna Kea Hotel and has a stunning white sand beach. Because it’s part of a hotel, there’s a restaurant nearby, so you don’t need to pack snacks like you do for some of the other beaches. You can also night swim with manta rays there.
*A lot of the beaches in Hawaii are really rocky and there are a lot of sea urchins in between the rocks, so please be extra careful.
The drive to the Hilo side of the island takes about an hour and a half from Kona. This side is where a lot of the waterfalls are and where Volcano National Park is. It’s also generally more rainy and doesn’t have as many beaches, so we’d suggest spending about a day or two over there.
Rainbow Falls: Rainbow Falls is a beautiful waterfall and it gets its name, because on sunny days, you can generally see a rainbow. It’s a really easy walk to the lookout and the falls are really beautiful. Just above the main lookout area are several giant banyan trees that are worth checking out too.
Akaka Falls: It’s about a 15-minute walking loop to see the falls. It’s very pretty and green and honestly not very difficult. If you want to make it even shorter, when you walk down the initial set of stairs, go to the left and you’ll only be about a 3-minute walk from the Akaka Falls lookout point. Entry for Akaka Falls is $1 per person or $5 per car. If there are less than five people in your car, you can park just outside the gates of the parking lot, so you can save a few dollars and only pay the per person rate.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach: One of the most beautiful black sand beaches on the island is Punalu’u Beach. The beach is lined with beautiful palm trees and sometimes you can see sea turtles relaxing on the beach.
Best Places to Eat in Kona:
Herbivores: Herbivores is a completely vegan restaurant and one of our favorite places we ate on the island. It’s a little outdoor shack and everything they make is so flavorful. We recommend the jackfruit nachos.
Ululani’s Shaved Ice: Our favorite shaved ice on the island was from Ululani’s! The ice is so soft and all of their syrups are made with pure cane sugar and natural flavors. Get it with ice cream, because it’s seriously a game changer.
Scandinavian Shaved Ice: Scandinavian’s is another traditional shaved ice spot on the island. The portions are huge, so a small is probably plenty.
Basik Açai: We love smoothie bowls, and Basik is such a good spot for that. We would suggest asking for less toppings though, because there was a little too much granola for my liking.
Da Poke Shack: If you like poke, Da Poke Shack is a great little spot for fresh fish. The portion sizes are fairly small, but in our opinion, it is slightly overrated.
Loko Wraps: Loko Wraps describes itself as island style mexican food. The nachos looked delicious, but we’d definitely recommend the dragon bowl, because it was unreal.
Hayashi’s You Make The Roll Sushi: Hayashi’s is a local favorite. They make HUGE sushi rolls for about $8 a roll. The make them to order, so be prepared for a little bit of a wait. They’re only open from 11 am - 6 pm, so it’s perfect for a late lunch or an early dinner. Be careful of going at peak times or you’ll be waiting for up to two hours. We went right at 11 and it was empty!
Other Things to Do:
There are so many things to do on the island that we didn’t have time to do them all, but these things all seem like incredible experiences that are definitely on our list for next time.
Night Diving with Manta Rays: If you love swimming with animals, night diving with manta rays is definitely a bucket list experience. Many companies offer a snorkel option so don’t worry if you’re whole group isn’t scuba certified!
Mauna Kea Observatories: The stars on the Big Island are unreal, so stargazing is a must. On our drive from Kona to Hilo, we just got out of the car and just stared at the sky for a few minutes. It was amazing! You don’t have to go to the top of Mauna Kea to see them, but if you do, there’s an observatory up there with telescopes that you can look through. It’d also be a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise or sunset. Be careful though! It gets really cold up there so dress accordingly!
Helicopter Tour: If you love seeing the world from above, a helicopter tour would be absolutely stunning. You’d get to fly over waterfalls, the beautiful beaches, and active volcanoes.
Cliff Jumping at South Point: South Point is known for its cliff jumping. There’s a dedicated jumping spot, which is about 40 feet high, so this is definitely a must for the adventurous daredevils out there. You can also drive down to the southern most point of the United States from there.
Volcanoes National Park: We were hoping to do this one while we were on the Hilo side of the island, but the weather wasn’t that great and from what we heard from friends, all you could see when we were there was some smoke. A couple months ago you could see active lava, which would be incredible to witness. It is an active volcano though, so I’m sure it’s still an incredible experience and worth visiting.
Where to Stay:
Holualoa Inn: Holualoa Inn is located in the charming arts town of Holualoa. It’s up on the hill, so it overlooks the ocean and has incredible views. It’s also a short walk into the adorable village, which has a ton of local art vendors and markets. We loved the quaint and quiet feel to Holualoa Inn. The staff at Holualoa Inn are so incredible and kind and they really make you feel welcome as soon as you arrive. It’s a small bed and breakfast with only six rooms, so it has the most relaxing and friendly vibe to it. We both kept saying how we loved how it felt more like a home away from home than a hotel. They even have boogie boards, snorkels, beach chairs, and other beach items that you can use while you’re staying there.
The property is also on a huge orchard, so all of the breakfasts are farm-to-table and made fresh every morning while taking into consideration any dietary restrictions. They also make fresh snacks every afternoon. We had the most delicious banana coconut pancakes and peanut butter cookies while we were there. They also serve fresh fruit straight from their orchard, which is the perfect touch for your tropical island getaway. Holualoa Inn also hosts weddings, and it would be the most beautiful spot for an intimate wedding overlooking the ocean. We absolutely loved our stay there and would definitely recommend a few nights in the area.
BOOK YOUR STAY AT HOLUALOA INN HERE
Hilton Kings’ Land: Hilton Kings’ Land is part of Hilton Grand Vacations, so it has a large resort feel to it. We loved staying here, because there are a lot of different pools to choose from, including adult-only pools. You can also get access to Hilton Waikoloa Village, so you can enjoy the beach and the pools there as well. If you’re traveling with kids, it’s a great place to stay, because it’s a very family-friendly resort with water slides and a kids club. There’s also a grocery store and a mall as part of the property, so it’s a great place to just relax because you can always get everything you would need. It’s also located in a great spot on the island making it easy to get to all of the prettiest beaches and the jungly coasts on the north side of the island.
We stayed in the two bedroom suite, which has laundry, a dishwasher, and a full kitchen in the room. It is so nice, because then you can cook your own meals, which we’d recommend doing at least a few times, because eating out in Hawaii is expensive. Kings’ Land is perfect for couples or families traveling together as well, because they have plenty of different sized rooms to accommodate whatever kind of getaway you’re looking for. The resort is absolutely beautiful, and it’s truly the perfect place for a vacation!
BOOK YOUR STAY AT HILTON KINGS LANDING HERE
The Big Island of Hawaii is the ideal spot for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or an adventurous trip within the United States! And no matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for, you’ll love spending time on this absolutely beautiful island.