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50 Things to Do on the Big Island
The Big Island is one of the best islands to visit in Hawaii. If you have never been to the Big Island, you may be wondering what you can do there. Well, there are plenty of things to do on the Big Island!
Thanks to the active volcano, Kilauea, the Big Island is the third most popular island to visit after Oahu and Maui. If you’re struggling to figure out which island to visit in Hawaii, I have a blog post just for that! Check out: what is the best island to visit in Hawaii?
If you’ve narrowed down the Big Island as your destination (and if you’re reading this, you probably have!), let me start sharing all the fantastic things to do on the Big Island.
By the way, if you’re visiting the Big Island, you MUST have a rental car! The Big Island is Big and has little public transportation, so you’ll definitely need a rental car. I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best prices on rental cars in Hawaii.
Things to Do on the Big Island
Here are some of the best things to do on the Big Island, in no particular order.
1. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
When clients reach out to me, one of the #1 requests is to see an active volcano. Not all of the islands have one, but fortunately, the Big Island is the one isn’t that does have an active volcano, Kilauea!
Just keep in mind that you may not see active lava flow during your trip as it comes and goes. However, it’s worth visiting the park and seeing lava fields and lava tubes either way. Thurston Lava Tube is a must-see.
Visiting Volcanoes National Park is easily one of the best things to do on the Big Island. You can see both Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes.
Checking out the volcanoes can be done by either driving along the Chain of Craters Road or hiking the trails. I recommend the Kilauea Iki Trail if you’re up for it! It’s easily one of the best hikes on the Big Island.
Check out my complete Guide to Volcanoes National Park.
Most people think of Kilauea as being the only active volcano in Hawaii, but that isn’t the case. There are actually six active volcanoes in Hawaii. In late 2022, there were two erupting at the same time when Moana Loa erupted for the first time in almost 40 years.
2. Visit Akaka Falls State Park
The Big Island offers so much more than volcanoes. You can also see quite a few magnificent waterfalls. Inside this state park, you can see Kahuna Falls and Akaka Falls. It’s a very short hike to the waterfalls, so this waterfall is accessible for most.
The trail is paved, flat, and looped. Most people can easily hike the entire trail in 30 minutes. However, I recommend allowing for more time. This way, you can stop and enjoy the beauty of both waterfalls.
By the way, it’s quite the scenic drive to Hilo if you drive down the Hamakua Coast. Check out the 12 best scenic drives in Hawaii for more scenic drives on the Big Island.
3. Grab a Few Photos at Punalu’u Beach
The black sand at Punalu’u Beach is stunning. It is also hot. You will want to wear shoes while walking on it.
The water is too rough for swimming, so take caution entering the water. Of the black sand beaches on the Big Island, this one is the easiest to access, with a parking lot just off the road. It’s just a short walk from there to this beautiful beach.
You will want to take a few pictures of the black sand. Hawaiian green sea turtles, or Honu, can be seen on this sand. They love swimming up and sunning themselves on the black sandy shoreline.
Make sure also to check out where to find sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii.
4. Tackle the Trek to Papakolea Beach
Papakolea Beach is in a secluded area. It is definitely worth the journey to see the sparkling green sand. The Pu’u Mahana cinder cone continues to erode, causing the sand to stay green.
Checking out this beach is one of the best things to do on the Big Island. It’s one of the few green sand beaches in the world.
You should park at the dead-end road off Highway 11 in South Point to reach this beach. There is a 2-plus mile trail will lead you directly to Papakolea Beach. Please do not attempt to drive or take a ride to the beach! Not only is it illegal, but it is also damaging to the natural landscape.
5. Go Swimming at Hapuna Beach State Park
The water at the Hapuna Beach State Park is nice and calm during the spring and summer months. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches on the Kona coast.
The water is rougher during the winter months. However, there is always a lifeguard on duty. They can advise as to whether swimming is permissible during your visit.
This is also an excellent beach for relaxing. The sand is super soft under your feet. Definitely go for a stroll along the sand. Especially at night as the sun is setting.
I have a blog post with the best beaches on the Big Island if you want to check out more amazing Big Island beaches.
6. Shop at the Hilo Farmers Markets
Vendors from all over the Big Island arrive in downtown Hilo to sell their fresh produce and other items at the farmer’s markets. You must arrive early at this farmers market for the best options.
7. Go Snorkeling at Anaehoomalu Beach
This isn’t the best beach on the island, but it is perfect for snorkeling. You can even paddleboard out in the calm water.
8. Look over Waipio Valley
There are a few different ways to experience and explore Waipio Valley on the Big Island. The easiest way is to enjoy the scenery from the overlook on the southern side.
If you want more than a glimpse, you will need to head out on a hike, horseback ride, or in a vehicle tour.
I have recently heard that Waipio Valley is opening back up to tourists, and I will update this with the latest information.
9. Experience History at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
This historical landmark is where the locals used to go to avoid the punishment of death as a sacred place of refuge. You can see wood carvings, temples, and Hawaiian green turtles during your visit. Add gorgeous scenery, and you may never want to leave this area.
This is one of the historic sites on the Big Island where you can learn more about Hawaiian culture. Please make sure to be respectful here or at any other sacred site on the Big Island.
10. Take a Helicopter Tour
One of the best things to do on the Big Island is to take a helicopter tour. There are quite a few tour companies to choose from. This is one of the best ways to see the island’s volcanoes, rainforests, and waterfalls.
I personally recommend Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. They’re who I personally fly with and who I recommend to my clients. They offer several great tours of the Big Island, including:
- Big Island Spectacular (full island, two hours.)
- Big Island Deluxe Volcano Helicopter Tour
- Circle of fire and waterfalls (Volcano + Hilo waterfalls)
- Kohala Valley and waterfalls (North Shore of the Big Island)
You’ll have to drive to the Hilo side for some tours, but some are on the Kona side too.
11. Check Out Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is a waterfall within Wailuku River State Park. This waterfall flows over the top of a lava cave and is one of the easiest-to-access waterfalls on Hawaii’s Big Island.
According to a Hawaiian legend, the goddess of the moon, Hina, lives within this lava cave.
It is best to schedule this thing to do on the Big Island on a day after a massive rainstorm. That is when the waterfall will be more powerful.
Did you know that Hawaii has some great scenic drives? The 12 best scenic drives in Hawaii.
12. Visit the Family Friendly Kaunaoa Beach
Kaunaoa Beach is also known as Mauna Kea Beach. It is a family-friendly beach that has clear water and soft sand.
Snorkeling is possible a half mile from the beach. You can see lots of marine life swimming around the coral reefs. You can also swim with the manta rays when you are out in the water. Please be mindful of any coral and wildlife. Check out 20 things you should never do in Hawaii to learn what not to do in Hawaii.
Snorkeling gear rentals are available if you don’t bring your own. No snorkeling gear is needed if you only want to swim.
As always, I recommend having your own snorkel gear because I think that renting snorkel gear is kind of gross. 🙂 Don’t forget your reef-safe sunscreen too!
13. Enjoy the Landscape from Pololu Valley
Pololu Valley was created when the Kohala volcano erupted more than 120,000 years ago. It is one of seven valleys that offers extraordinary views of the surrounding landscape.
You can hike to the overlook point to see the views or head down the trail to the black sand beach. Just keep in mind that parking is very limited, so make sure to arrive early to ensure a parking spot!
You’ll also want to make sure to bring plenty of water if you plan to stay for a while.
14. Take a Boat Ride to Kealakekua bay
You can hike or kayak to see the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay. However, the hike can take upwards of 4 hours due to the rocky trail. Kayaking means dealing with the waves of the ocean.
The Captain Cook monument is certainly not the star of the show in Kealakekua Bay, in my opinion, it’s the dolphins! There are almost always spinner dolphins here, and swimming or kayaking with them in the wild is a one-of-a-kind experience!
Seeing the dolphins and tropical fish swimming wild in the pacific ocean is certainly an upgrade from any “dolphin encounter” or another place where they are captive.
Kealakekua Bay is just a short drive from Kona town, but you don’t have to go far on the Big Island for a completely different experience!
15. Go Cliff Jumping
South Point Cliff Jump is a popular spot. You can also use a ladder to climb up to reach the portion of the cliff for jumping. Just be careful and never jump into the water if you’re unsure what is below or how deep it is.
Did you know that South Point is the actual furthest point South in the United States? Key West claims this, but you’re even further south on the Big Island! It’s the perfect place to visit, even if you have no plans of jumping in.
16. Go Hiking at Kaumana Caves State Park
The Kaumana Caves were created when Mauna Loa erupted back in 1881. You can only hike through 2 miles of these caves. As of the last update of this post, there is no volcano activity on Moana Loa, but there was in late 2022, so that could change at any time!
I recommend wearing sturdy shoes to enter the cave. You shouldn’t go any further than what is allowed, either. That area is prone to floods and seismic activity.
17. Wander Through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
These botanical gardens include 40 acres of outdoor plants and flowers. The volcanic soil helps tropical plants grow and thrive.
Amongst all the flowers and plants are waterfalls and streams. You won’t be able to resist the views of the ocean either.
18. Drink Kona Coffee
When you vacation on the Big Island, you must drink at least one cup of Kona coffee. This is the island where Kona coffee is grown.
I recommend taking a Kona coffee tour as well. You can learn how the coffee is grown and made before drinking your first cup. I have a blog post with Kona Coffee Farm Tours so that you can choose the best one for you.
Oh, and make sure when you buy your Kona coffee, it is real Kona. You don’t want any blends to affect the taste! Touring one of the coffee farms is one of the best things to do on Hawaii island.
19. Take an ATV Tour of the Hamakua and Kohala Coasts
One of the best ways to explore these two coasts is by taking an ATV tour. Most of these tours will take you over 10 miles of the coastline. You will stop at historical sites, waterfalls, and scenic lookouts.
These tours are one of the best things to do on the Big Island! I recommend an ATV tour with Aloha Adventure Farms.
20. Go On a Farm Tour
Farm tours are one of the best ways to see how items are grown and produced on the Big Island. Above, I mentioned Kona coffee tours. Well, there are more than coffee farm tours on this Hawaiian Island.
You can choose from tea, chocolate, vanilla, and macadamia nut farm tours. You can also check out the best macadamia nut farms in Hawaii to visit.
21. Go Golfing
Many of my clients are golfers and love what the Big Island offers for golf courses. Some golf courses offer views of the Kilauea Volcano. Others offer views of the shoreline and ocean. All the golf courses are excellent. So, choose the one that you feel is up to par.
I have a blog post with The 15 best golf courses on the Big Island. The Big Island is a great place to golf, with majestic views of palm trees, white sandy beaches, natural wonders, and more.
22. Go Horseback Riding
Waimea is one of the better places to go horseback riding on the Big Island. The area has lots of wide-open spaces. Those spaces are perfect for exploring the countryside.
There are plenty of horseback riding tours available on the Big Island. You can choose the tour group that offers rides through an area you want to see the most. This will ensure you get the views you want and enjoy sitting on the back of a horse simultaneously.
23. Soak in a Hot Spring
You will find the hottest springs within the Puna District. That area is on the east coast of the island. You won’t find many white sandy beaches here, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have beauty in its own way.
The best hot springs in Puna are Pohoiki Springs. You will discover five hot springs there around the black sandy beach.
24. Attend a Luau
Attending a luau is one of the best ways to learn more about Hawaii’s local culture and traditions. You can enjoy local foods while watching people perform the luau during this time.
This is an amazing thing to do on the Big Island when you want to immerse yourself in the local culture. Two popular luaus include:
Also, Kona Inn is my favorite place to get a mai tai at happy hour! Check out The Best Happy Hours in Kona to learn more.
25. Do a Little Stargazing at the Mauna Kea Summit
Seeing the stars light up the sky isn’t easy in many destinations around the world. The bright lights from cities and towns don’t allow the stars to sparkle.
When you vacation on the Big Island, you will have the opportunity to do a little stargazing. The best place to see the stars is the Mauna Kea Summit.
It is best to take a stargazing tour of the summit. This is because cars are not allowed on the road to the summit within a half hour before sunset.
However, you can usually drive to the Visitor Station and view the stars through the telescopes. The stargazing program at the Visitor Center has currently been suspended. It is thought to be in operation once again as more restrictions are lifted.
Until then, you should take one of the stargazing tours at the summit. It is worth the time you will spend getting to the top.
26. Go On a Dolphin Tour
Seeing the dolphins out in the open water during a tour is one of the best things to do on the Big Island. The tour guides are no longer allowed to let people in the water to swim near the dolphins. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their antics next to the boat.
If you really want to be in the water with the dolphins, you must take one of the snorkeling cruises. These cruises go to snorkeling locations where lots of dolphins are known to live. There is never a guarantee that you will get to snorkel near the dolphins. You will see a lot of other marine life if you don’t spot a dolphin.
Again, I like the sail and snorkel tours in Kealakekua!
27. Go Surfing
Maui and Oahu might be the best Hawaiian Islands for surfing. That doesn’t mean you can’t catch a few waves during a vacation on the Big Island!
There are a few popular surf locations in Kona and Hilo. You can sign up for surfing lessons if you have never surfed before. I recommend talking about a small group surf lesson in Kona or a private surf lesson in Kona.
28. Go Whale Watching
The best time to go whale watching on the Big Island is between November and April. This is considered whale season.
Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii at this time every year to mate and give birth. Then they raise their calves in the Hawaiian waters until it is time to return north.
You can see humpback whales from the shoreline. However, it is always better to see them up close from the comfort of a boat. You can always see more of these creatures during a whale-watching tour.
29. Go On a Ziplining Adventure
Does your family love the thrills of flying high above the trees? If you said yes, you want to go on a ziplining adventure on the Big Island!
Some of my favorite places to zipline on the Big Island include:
- Hawaii Zipline Tours over Kolekole Falls
- 9-zipline Experience with Umauma Experience
- Big Island Canopy tour with Kohala Zipline
- Big Island Zip and Dip from Kona
30. Snorkel with the Manta Rays at Night
One of the most popular things to do on the Big Island is snorkeling with the manta rays at night. It is best to do this with a tour guide. They know where the manta rays hang out after dark. A manta ray night dive is a unique experience that is exclusive to the Big Island.
Once the boat arrives at your snorkeling destination, you get to jump in the water. The manta rays will swim right past you. It is an exhilarating feeling you won’t be able to resist. And yes, this is a kid-friendly adventure! If kids don’t feel like getting in the water, they can watch the rays from the boat.
I recommend the manta ray night snorkel with Hang Loose Boat Tours.
31. Visit the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
This is one of the many historic temples on the Big Island. You will find this historic site on the Kohala Coast. This was the very last temple constructed on the island. It symbolizes lasting peace and unification.
I recommend taking one of the guided tours. This will allow you to learn more about the history of the temple. If you visit during whale season, this is an excellent place to watch the whales from the shoreline.
32. Wander Through the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens
This garden full of blooming orchids was founded back in 1974. The Akatsuka Orchid Gardens have approximately 1,000 blooming orchids throughout the year. Garden tours last 45 minutes and include information about many of the orchids, plus the history of the gardens.
Kids will love the scavenger hunt and other hands-on activities at this garden.
33. Tour the Parker Ranch
The Parker Ranch takes up almost 10% of the land on the Big Island. It is the largest cattle ranch in the state.
In addition to the 17,000 plus cattle, your family will enjoy a ton of other attractions. You can tour the house museum, check out the stables, and visit the cemetery. Inside the museum, you will discover more than 100 works of art by famous artists.
34. Purchase a Few Sweets at the Punalu’u BAKESHOP
Sweet bread, baked goods, and malasadas are all the things you must try and purchase at the Punalu’u Bake Shop.
During your visit, you can look into the kitchen and production shop. You can wander through the tropical gardens or enjoy a meal at the outdoor restaurant.
Just don’t forget to grab a few treats to eat later on.
35. Visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is one of the best things to do on the Big Island when you are interested in learning more about tsunamis. There are numerous interactive displays and exhibits within this museum.
You won’t spend all day at this museum. It is a fascinating place to visit for an hour or two.
36. Purchase Candy and Shortbread Cookies at Big Island Candies
Some of the best shortbread cookies you will ever eat are available at Big Island Candies. This is one of the best things to do on the Big Island when you are hungry or need a sweet snack.
Your family can watch candy makers through a glass partition. The milk chocolate dipped macadamia nut shortbread cookie is one of the best options. I recommend enjoying it with a cup of coffee.
37. Visit the Laupahoehoe Train Museum
Train lovers will enjoy spending a few hours at the Laupahoehoe Train Museum. Inside the old station agents’ home, you will find photos and other memorabilia. A replica gauge caboose restored narrow gauge boxcar and diesel switch engine are all out back.
The most popular spot, though, is the model train room. This exhibit is located in what was the old carport. It has been enclosed and turned into a beautiful area to display model trains.
38. Relax at the Kona Brewery
The Kona Brewery is located in downtown Kona. There are quite a few beers on tap. You can enjoy one of them during happy hour or a light dinner.
It is best to arrive early if you want a spot at the bar. Although, Saturday nights are best if you want to listen to live music. Reservations are a must to ensure you have a table. This is also one of the best restaurants on the Big Island.
39. Enjoy the Solitude at Makalawena Beach
Makalawena Beach is considered a hidden oasis on the Big Island. You must walk along a mile-long trail to reach the sandy shoreline.
There are plenty of things to see along the trail. Take your time walking, so you don’t miss anything.
Once you reach the sand, you may see a monk seal. They love relaxing on the warm sand. Give them their space while snapping a few pictures. Then walk along the beach to see what else you can discover.
Please make sure you wear appropriate shoes to walk to this beach. The trail is rocky and can be slippery after a storm.
40. Catch the Sunset One Night
Okay, so you will want to catch the sunset more than once when you vacation on the Big Island. There are so many places to capture the sunset here!
Consider heading to the lava field in Kalapana. Or the summit of Mauna Kea. The beaches of Kona offer spectacular sunsets too.
41. Eat Shave Ice
I hesitated to put eating shave ice on this list because almost everyone knows they must eat this signature dessert. In case someone out there isn’t aware, I knew I needed to add it!
Shave ice is finely shaved ice that is placed in a dish. The entire dish is then topped off with different items. Local favorite toppings include coconut, fresh fruit, and condensed milk.
I recommend trying shave ice from a few different places. This will allow you to choose your personal favorite.
42. Check Out the Hōlei Sea Arch
You cannot forget to check out the Hōlei Sea Arch when creating your list of things to do on the Big Island. You will find this arch inside Volcanoes National Park.
I recommend getting out of your car and walking to this natural arch. It is only a 10 to 15-minute walk.
43. Watch the Sunrise
I know I said you couldn’t miss the sunset while on vacation on the Big Island. Did you also know you cannot miss the sunrise??
I recommend heading over to Volcanoes National Park to catch the sunrise there. Over at the Kilauea Overlook Point, you can see the lava glowing as the sun begins to rise. The soft glow will then move to the sky as a new day begins.
44. Experience the Steam Vents
There are quite a few steam vents scattered throughout Volcanoes National Park. Standing near those vents and feeling the volcanic steam on your body is incredible.
There are other steam vents on HI-130, which is Pahoa Kalapana Road. This will allow you to experience them without heading into the park.
45. Visit the Lava Fields
You won’t see glowing lava when visiting the Big Island’s lava fields. You will see miles of molten lava, though. There are two wonderful places to see lava fields on this island.
Kalapana is the first lava field I recommend. The lava in this field is pahoehoe lava. It looks smooth and continues for miles.
Over at the Leilani Estates, you will see lots of a’a lava. This lava is rocky and rough. If you want to see both types of lava, you will need to stop at both lava fields.
46. Search for a Nene
A Nene is Hawaii’s state bird. It is also called the Hawaiian goose. These protected birds can be seen out in the wild.
One of the best places to spot a Nene is Volcanoes National Park. There are Nene crossing signs along the Chain of Craters Road.
Have your camera ready to snap a picture of these fascinating birds. You can learn more in my post about the most fascinating Hawaiian animals.
47. Experience a Tour of the Kazumura Cave
The longest lava tube cave in the world is Kazumura Cave. This makes taking one of these tours one of the best things to do on the Big Island.
There are a few different tours available. I recommend a beginner’s tour if you have never explored a cave before. If you have, then more advanced tours are available. Just be prepared to use ropes and climb during those advanced tours.
48. Stop at the Southernmost Point of the US
One of the more unique things to do on the Big Island is spending time at the Southernmost Point in the US. The entire southernmost point is a National Historic Landmark. You will discover multiple fishing shrines, temple ruins, and cultural vestiges.
49. Visit the Town of Holualoa
Holualoa is a charming town on the Big Island. It is not too far from the Kona International Airport. Art galleries line the street next to coffee shops.
You can easily wander through the galleries in this town before stopping for a bite to eat in a cafe.
50. Go Shopping in Kailua-Kona
Kailua-Kona (simply called Kona) is a busy destination on the Big Island. Yet, it used to be a sleepy fishing village. The downtown area is where you will find shops and restaurants. Although Kauai is my favorite island in Hawaii, Kona is my favorite town!
It is an excellent place to shop for souvenirs, have lunch, or enjoy the best happy hours in Kona. Your walk through the area will also lead you to the Kailua Pier. The pier is an excellent place to watch the sunset.
Bonus, check out The 12 best scenic drives in Hawaii – several are on the Big Island!
The best things to do on the Big Island
These are just the best things to do on the Big Island. I create a full itinerary for all my clients, so contact me if you’d like a Big Island vacation crafted just for you.
Do you think that the Big Island is the best Hawaiian Island? If not, which island is your favorite? I always go back and forth between the Big Island, and Kauai.
If you need some help planning your Big Island vacation, reach out! I am a Hawaii Travel Agent, and that is what I do. I am selective about how many clients I work with, so reach out as soon as possible for the best availability. You can contact me to learn more.
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