The Big Island of Hawaii, also known as Hawaii Island, is the largest and most diverse Hawaiian island and is home to a wide range of natural wonders and cultural attractions. The island’s diverse landscapes range from snow-capped volcanic mountains to lush rainforests and volcanic deserts.
Big Island is often underrated in comparison to Oahu and Maui, but it has many unique attractions like active volcanoes, sacred valleys, rainforests, waterfalls, unique green, black, and white sand beaches, and historic sites that should be part of your Big Island itinerary.
10 best things to do in Big Island
Big Island offers a wide range of things to do for people of all abilities. Kona town on the western region of Big Island is a popular base for tourists and there are several activities in and near Kona.
Here are some of the top things to do on the Big Island:
1. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular and unique things to do in Big Island. Volcanoes park is home to two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and offers visitors the chance to witness the awe-inspiring power of volcanic activity up close.
In Volcanoes park you can hike through lava fields, explore lava tubes, and take scenic drives through the park. The park also offers opportunities for camping, backpacking, and stargazing.
You can visit the Volcanoes park yourself or take a volcano tour from Kona. Taking a helicopter tour of the volcanoes is also a great option to see stunning aerial views of the volcanoes and rainforests of the Big Island.
The Volcanoes park has many features to witness volcanic activity, including lava flows, steam vents, and volcanic craters. The Kilauea Iki trail is the most unique hike here that is just around 3 miles, but you will walk through a lava crater floor and lush rainforest. You even get to walk inside a really cool Thurston lava tube at the end of this hike.
The active Kilauea volcano can be seen erupting from various viewpoints and overlooks throughout the park. If you stay after dark you can sometimes see the red lava glow or you can participate in stargazing.
2. Enjoy the white sand beaches
Big Island has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world which are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. The western region of Big Island has some of the best beaches and there are several world-class Big Island resorts built around these beaches.
Hapuna beach is one of the most popular family-friendly beaches on Big Island. This beach is located on the Kohala Coast and is known for its soft, white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. The beach is more than half a mile long and has plenty of room to spread out and relax.
Mauna Kea beach is another great white sand beach near Hapuna beach. Maniniowali Beach and Makalawena Beach are popular white sand beaches on the Kona coast. Several of these beaches are also great snorkeling spots and you can often spot turtles and tropical fish swimming in the clear waters.
3. Snorkel with the Manta Rays
The waters surrounding the Big Island are home to an abundance of marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, and colorful fish. Snorkeling with the Manta rays is a bucket list activity and can be only experienced on Big Island. It is an incredible opportunity to witness the beauty and grace of these gentle giants up close and should not be missed!
One of the most popular spots for snorkeling with manta rays on the Big Island is Keauhou Bay, located just south of Kailua-Kona. You can take part in guided snorkeling tours that allow you to swim with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The tours usually take place at night, as this is when the manta rays come to the surface to feed on plankton attracted by underwater lights.
Some other popular snorkeling and diving spots on Big Island include Kealakekua Bay, Puako Bay, and Kahaluu Beach.
The Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay is a very popular snorkeling spot that can be accessed by boat tour. The bay at Captain Cook Monument offers crystal-clear water with an abundance of marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins. You can explore the coral reefs and see a variety of underwater creatures up close.
4. Visit the sacred Waipio Valley
Waipio Valley is a stunning and remote area located on the Big Island of Hawaii and is sacred to the people of Hawaii. The valley is surrounded by towering cliffs and is home to some of the most beautiful scenery on the island.
To access Waipio Valley, you can take a guided tour down the steep and winding road that leads to the valley floor. It is no longer possible to drive down the valley yourself in a rental car. The valley has breathtaking views of rainforests and waterfalls and is home to a remote black sand beach. You will also see some wildlife like horses in the valley.
There is a lookout at the entrance of the Waipio valley that provides a glimpse of its stunning scenery and the black sand beach should you choose not to take a tour of the valley.
5. See the stunning waterfalls in Hilo
Hilo, located on the eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, receives a lot of rainfall and is known for its stunning waterfalls that cascade down the lush green mountainsides.
The most stunning falls are the Akaka Falls at Akaka falls state park. This towering waterfall is over 400 feet tall and is surrounded by lush tropical greenery. You can take a short easy hike through the park to view the waterfall from several different vantage points, including a lookout that provides a stunning view of the entire waterfall.
Another popular waterfall is Rainbow Falls, located just a short drive from downtown Hilo. This majestic waterfall is over 80 feet tall and is named for the rainbow that appears in the mist created by the falling water on sunny days. This waterfall viewpoint is easily accessible from the parking lot.
While in Hilo, make sure to explore the Hilo downtown area and Hilo farmer’s market. Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo is a beautiful Japanese garden that features a large pond, pagodas, and traditional Japanese bridges.
6. Explore the Historic sites
The Big Island has a rich cultural history, and you can learn about the island’s past by visiting historic sites such as the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, the Lapakahi State Historical Park, and the Captain Cook Monument.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park was considered a place of Refuge and is home to a variety of historical sites, including temples, fishing shrines, and sacred burial grounds. It is a really serene place to explore in Kona, with great coastal views.
The various exhibits can be explored by an easy stroll along the coast. You can occasionally spot sea turtles here resting on the beach.
7. Hike the unique green sand beach
Papakolea Green Sand Beach is a unique natural wonder located on the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii.
It is one of only four green sand beaches in the world and a very unique thing to do on Big Island. The beach gets its distinctive green color from a mineral called olivine, which is found in the surrounding volcanic rock.
To access the beach, you must either take a long hike or ride in a four-wheel-drive vehicle for several miles along the rugged coastline. The hike is approximately three miles long each way and can be challenging, especially in the hot sun. However, the payoff is well worth it once you arrive at the beach.
Once you reach Papakolea Beach, you can swim, snorkel, and sunbathe on the green sand. The water here can be rough and there are no lifeguards here so be cautious when swimming. Keep in mind that there are no facilities or amenities on the beach, so it’s important to bring everything you need with you, including food, water, and sunscreen.
8. Experience Stargazing at Mauna Kea summit
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the Big Island, and it is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. At an elevation of over 13,000 feet, the summit of Mauna Kea offers a clear view of the night sky with minimal light pollution, making it the ideal location for stargazing.
The drive to the summit is challenging and up a winding, unpaved road that requires a 4-wheel drive. It is best to take a stargazing tour to Mauna Kea summit and leave the driving to the experts.
Altitude sickness is common, so these tours let you acclimate at the Mauna Kea visitor center which is at 9,200 feet. The tours also provide access to telescopes and other stargazing equipment.
On a clear night, the summit offers a stunning view of the night sky and you can observe stars, planets, and constellations.
Kids under 13 are not allowed to go to the summit for stargazing because of altitude sickness. You can still stargaze from the Mauna Kea visitor center which is at a lower elevation and can be accessed with a regular car.
Remember to bring warm layers as it is very cold at the Mauna Kea summit and even at the Visitor Center!
9. Visit the Punaluu Black Sand beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach, located on the southeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii and is known for its stunning scenery and unique black sand.
The black sand is made of fragments of volcanic rocks created by erosion. The contrast of the black sand against the blue waters of the ocean will definitely mesmerize you!
The beach is a popular nesting ground for green sea turtles, and you can often see them basking in the sun on the sand or swimming in the water! It’s important to keep a safe distance from the turtles and not disturb them in any way, as they are a protected species.
Punaluu Beach is located near the town of Naalehu and is easily accessible by car. There is a parking lot near the beach, but it can get crowded during peak tourist season, so it’s best to arrive early to secure a spot.
10. Visit a Kona Coffee farm and Cacao farm
If you’re a coffee lover, a visit to a Kona coffee farm is an experience you shouldn’t miss. The Big Island is known for its delicious Kona coffee, and you can learn about the coffee-making process and sample some of the island’s best brews by visiting a coffee farm.
Most Kona coffee farms on the Big Island offer tours of their grounds and processing facility. On a coffee tour, you can expect to learn about the history of Kona coffee and observe the coffee trees and harvesting process.
You can also tour the processing facility where the harvested coffee beans are sorted, dried, roasted, and packaged. Finally, you get to sample some delicious Kona coffee blends and then shop for some gifts to take home!
Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation and Greenwell Farms are some of the best coffee farms in the Big Island that offer tours of their facilities.
Additionally, you can also tour a cacao farm and learn about how cacao beans are processed into fine chocolate. Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is a popular cacao farm that offers tours. This is a great family-friendly thing to do in Kona and everyone will enjoy sampling the delicious types of chocolates!
Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, explore the volcanos, rainforests, valleys, and hikes, or immerse yourself in the island’s rich cultural heritage, the Big Island of Hawaii is a truly unique and unforgettable destination.
With so many amazing things to do in Big Island you are sure to have an epic Hawaii vacation!
Author Bio: Anu Agarwal
Anu, despite having a full-time job, loves to vacation with her family to destinations all over the world. She is obsessed with doing endless research for her trips. She has been to several destinations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and India. With her vacation travel blog Destination Checkoff, Anu is excited to share her destination itineraries and travel guides, and help you check those dream destinations off your list!
We try our best to keep travel guides updated as often and accurately possible. However, there's no guarantee that what you find on our site will be 100% correct or current at any given time - so please make sure to cross-check the information with credible sources.
What can you not miss on the Big Island of Hawaii? ›
- Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay. ...
- Mauna Kea star party. ...
- Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. ...
- Waipi'o Valley. ...
- Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. ...
- Kona (& Ka'u) coffee farms. ...
- Hapuna Beach. ...
- Merrie Monarch Festival.
1. How many days do you need for the Big Island? At least five days. As the largest Hawaiian island, you'll definitely want time for beaches and snorkeling on the Kona side and waterfalls and rain forest on the Hilo side with a stop at Volcanos National Park.What makes the Big Island so special? ›
Its massive size lends itself to an incredible diversity of landscapes and climates, from lush jungles and cascading waterfalls to high mountains, white sandy beaches, and dramatic volcanic landscapes with lava flows for as far as the eye can see.What does the Big Island in Hawaii have to offer? ›
No other island gives you a place to swim with manta rays, horseback ride and whale watch, all on the same visit. No other island lets you see a fiery volcano, a 420-foot waterfall and a black-sand beach. No other island offers so many cultural treasures in so many varying environments.What Hawaiian island does not like tourists? ›
Niihau, also known as the Forbidden Isle, is a beautiful small island in Hawaii spread across 180 sq km. The island is off-limits to outsiders and only the Robinson family, their relatives, invited guests, government officials and US Navy personnel are allowed here.Can you drink the tap water on the Big Island of Hawaii? ›
Tap water on Big Island is safe. The water is percolated through porous volcanic rock, so ideally, you shouldn't have to filter your tap water using a home filtering system.What is the best month to visit Big Island? ›
The best times to visit the Big Island of Hawaii, taking into consideration the weather, how crowded, or not, the island is, and demand for accommodations are the month(s) of April, May, August, September, and October. Some call these Hawaii Island's 'off-season periods' or the 'shoulder months.Can I see volcano in Big Island? ›
You can see [the Mauna Loa lava flow] from Hilo. You can see it from Kona. You can see it from Kau." In order to see both the Kilauea and Mauna Loa eruptions at the same time, you'll have to go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP), atop Kilauea.Is the Big Island Expensive? ›
The Big Island, on the other hand, is one of the cheapest Hawaiian islands in terms. The Kona side is more touristy and has cheap (for Hawaiian standards) beach resorts and hotels, while near Hilo you can find several small local inns which makes them a great option to visit the Volcanoes National Park.Do any celebrities live on the Big Island? ›
Surfer and musician Jack Johnson was born on Oahu and still lives there today. It is easy to imagine how his laid-back sounds have been shaped by his island home. Comedienne Roseanne Barr purchased a macadamia farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Where do rich people live on the Big Island? ›
Carved into the lava of the Big Island's Kona coast, Kukio is Hawaii's most exclusive neighborhood. The enclave grew out of the adjacent development to the north called Hualalai, when property owners decided they wanted to form an even more restricted community.Where do the rich live in the Big Island? ›
Kohanaiki: Where the Mega-Rich Hide Away on Hawai'i.Who owns Big Island Hawaii? ›
The State of Hawaii owns land on every island, including 127.1 acres on Niihau and over 1 million acres on Hawaii Island (the Big Island).Who owns 98% of a Hawaiian Island? ›
Larry Ellison is the co-founder of Oracle.
Billionaire Larry Ellison owns an island in Hawaii. 98 per cent of the island of Lanai is his property.
Life With Larry. This is Lanai, Hawaii's sixth-largest island. Larry Ellison owns 98% of it—everything except what's shown here in black.What is the funnest island in Hawaii? ›
Oahu is the best island for nightlife. Honolulu, the capital of Oahu, has the best nightlife options in all of Hawaii.Which Hawaiian island is the friendliest? ›
Among the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is known as the Friendly Isle, and those who live there would consider it the best island to live on by far. With many longtime families and few visitors living on remote Molokai, it is one of the most secluded Hawaiian Islands.What is the least visited island in Hawaii? ›
LANAI ISLAND - THE PLACE TO RELAX Lanai entices the sophisticated traveller with a handful of exclusive luxury resorts and championship golf courses. It's the least visited Hawaiian Island, small in size and slow in pace those that travel to Lanai, by air or on the ferry from Maui, are forced to rest and relax.Do I need water shoes for the big island of Hawaii? ›
So, with that said, what are the best shoes for Hawaii? Pack a pair of water hiking shoes, flip flops, flat sandals, sneakers, and water shoes. You should bring water shoes if you don't plan on doing extensive hiking and therefore, don't need to pack of pair of water hiking shoes.Can you drink Hotel water Hawaii? ›
Yes, it is safe to drink and use tap water on the island of Oahu including in Waikiki. The Board of Water Supply in Hawaii works in conjunction with State and Federal agencies, such as the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaii State Department of Health, to ensure the water in Hawaii is safe to drink.
Can you swim in the ocean of the Big Island of Hawaii? ›
Located on Kua Bay in Kona, Maniniʻōwali Beach is sometimes called “The Caribbean of Hawaiʻi,” thanks in part to its fine white-sand beaches that gently slope toward the crystal-clear water. The crescent-shaped beach is one of the best places for swimming when the water is calm, usually during the morning hours.What is the prettiest part of the Big Island? ›
Kailua Bay is among the prettiest places on the leeward side of Big Island, from where you can catch charming sunsets. This small bay in the Kailua-Kona area has only tiny stretches of golden sand with most of its coastline covered in dark lava rocks giving it an exotic, photogenic appeal.What is the rainiest month on the Big Island? ›
November and March are the wettest months, whereas during the summer months the amount of rain can decrease up to half the peak rate.Which part of the Big Island is the best? ›
- Hilo - Big Island's Capital: Tropical, Rainy, and Laid Back.
- Kailua-Kona: Beaches, Outdoor Adventures and Kona Coffee.
- Waikoloa - Charming, Resort Area: Great Snorkeling and Stunning Beaches.
- Waimea: Rolling Green Hills, Starry Nights and Dramatic Ocean Cliffs.
Undoubtedly, the best place to see nighttime lava glow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is at the Keanakako'i Overlook. This area is at the end of the now closed portion of Crater Rim Drive. Seismic activity closed the road and now it's been turned into a pedestrian walkway to the overlook.What is the safest lava zone on the Big Island? ›
Zone 9, considered the least hazardous region, consists of Kohala, a volcano that has not erupted for 60,000 years. Sources/Usage: Public Domain. Lava-flow hazard zones map, Island of Hawai'i.What should I wear to the Big Island volcano? ›
- Stay alert. ...
- Don't be in a rush to get from Point A to Point B when visiting. ...
- Buckle up! ...
- Always be aware of pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycles.
Kona offers better weather, the best beaches and snorkeling, newer resorts, more vacation rentals, and more nightlife compared to Hilo Town. Hilo is worth a visit but may not be worth staying for more than a night.Which side of the Big Island has better beaches? ›
The most popular area to stay is the Kohala Coast. This area is home to the nicest resorts, the most beautiful weather and the best beaches.Does Oprah have a house on The Big Island? ›
Aside from owning over 60 acres of land in East Maui, Oprah also bought the historic Thompson Ranch near Keokea in 2005 and turned the place into a charming modern farmhouse.
Where does Matthew McConaughey live on Big Island? ›
Matt decided to buy a $7.85 million single-level vacation property on Hawaii's Kohala coast in December 2020. The sprawling estate is located in Kauai Kona's Beach and Golf Club neighborhood, which radiates “barefoot elegance.” Paul Bleck, a Kona architect, created the Kaupulehu Residence.What is the most expensive island in Hawaii? ›
Maui is the most expensive island to visit, coming in nearly $1,000 more expensive, with a total cost of $3,600. The Grand Wailea in Maui, a luxury resort.Where do millionaires live in Hawaii? ›
Kahala - Located on the eastern end of Diamond Head, this iconic elite neighborhood has some of the most expensive real estate on the entire island--think opulent mansions and oceanfront properties with unobstructed views.Do any billionaires live in Hawaii? ›
EBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who spent part of his childhood in Hawaii, is now back as a full-time Honolulu resident. Salesforce boss Marc Benioff holds court on the Big Island, along with Starbucks capo Howard Schultz. Oprah is over in Maui, as is Jeff Bezos.Where do billionaires vacation in Hawaii? ›
The exclusivity and VIP vibe of Lanai is unlike any of the other Hawaiian Islands. Let's start with the fact that 98 percent of Lanai is privately owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle.Does the Big Island have a homeless problem? ›
With a rate of 44.9 homeless people per 10,000 people, Hawaii now has the second highest per capita rate of homelessness. New York leads the nation.Who is the richest family in Hawaii? ›
Below are the richest people in Hawaii. As of December 2022, the richest person in Hawaii is Pierre Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar lives in Honolulu.How many billionaires live in Hawaii? ›
|Rank by number of billionaires (9/15/20)||State or federal district||Billionaires/ State's 10M pop. (7/19 census) (9/15/20)|
Zuckerberg and wife, Priscilla Chan, paid $17 million last month for 110 acres of agricultural land on Kauai, bringing their total Hawaii property holdings to more than 1,400 acres, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.Which Hawaiian island is owned by Bill Gates? ›
|Nickname: The Pineapple Isle|
|Location in the state of Hawaii|
|Location||North Pacific Ocean|
What is the biggest town on the Big Island of Hawaii? ›
1 Hilo — The largest city of the Big Island.How much land does Oprah have in Hawaii? ›
The billionaire media mogul purchased a whopping 870 acres of land in several sales for a total of $6.6 million in the Kula area of the island of Maui, KITV4 reported.How many Costco's are there on the Hawaiian Islands? ›
With four locations on Oahu alone and one on each of the main islands, it's safe to say that Hawaii residents love Costco just as much as the rest of the country — and not just for bulk-size dish soap and $1.50 hot dogs.Who owns the smallest island in Hawaii? ›
Report: Jeff Bezos Purchases Massive Hawaiian Compound for Estimated $78 Million. The property known as the Carter Estate sprawls over 14-acres and includes a private beach.Who is the richest Hawaiian? ›
Who is currently the richest Hawaiian? There are many rich people in Hawaii. With an estimated net worth of $107.2 billion, Larry Ellison is currently the richest person in Hawaii.Does Jeff Bezos own property in Hawaii? ›
Bezos's latest purchase came in the form of a private Hawaii. The three-building estate, situated on the picturesque La Perouse Bay on Valley Isle in Maui, Hawaii, set the ex-Amazon head back an estimated $78million.How long does it take to drive around the Big Island in Hawaii? ›
What to make a road trip part of your Big Island vacation? Driving around the island takes about six hours – and that's without stopping or running into any traffic. If you're looking to break up your trip a bit, try taking a self-guided tour like the one Action Tour Guide offers.Why are 2 Hawaiian Islands forbidden to visitors? ›
Why are two Hawaiian Islands forbidden? During a 1952 polio epidemic in the Hawaiian Islands, Niihau became known as the “Forbidden Island” since you had to have a doctor's note to visit in order to prevent the spread of polio.What is Kona island known for? ›
One of Kona's most memorable experiences is going on a manta ray boat tour to scuba or snorkel with these gentle, graceful sea creatures. Kona is also famous for its deep-sea fishing, hosting the International Billfish Tournament (August) every year.
Why is the Big Island so cheap? ›
The cost of living is the lowest on Big Island – around 25 % lower than the Hawaiian average. Big Island is relatively affordable due to its large size, lack of infrastructure, and the risks posed by volcanic activity.Which is better Kona or Hilo? ›
Kona offers better weather, the best beaches and snorkeling, newer resorts, more vacation rentals, and more nightlife compared to Hilo Town. Hilo is worth a visit but may not be worth staying for more than a night.What is the biggest city on the Big Island of Hawaii? ›
1 Hilo — The largest city of the Big Island.Are Hawaiians upset with tourists? ›
About two-thirds of Hawaii residents think their "island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people," a number that has held steady for about five years, according to a 2022 state-sponsored survey asking residents about their sentiment toward tourism.Which island in Hawaii is the most expensive? ›
Maui is the most expensive island to visit, coming in nearly $1,000 more expensive, with a total cost of $3,600. The Grand Wailea in Maui, a luxury resort.What is the rainiest month in Hawaii? ›
March and April are the rainiest months in both regions, while mid-May to late July are the driest. Though rainy and dry seasons fall during the same time for both regions, Hilo and Volcano experience almost double the rain of Kailua-Kona during the wet season.Why is Kona so special? ›
What Is So Special About Kona Coffee? Kona coffee is a specialty coffee that differs from other varieties primarily because of its prime farming location and production processes. Kona coffee farms are only in one place in Hawaii called the Kona Coffee Belt, on Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South districts.What food is the Big Island of Hawaii known for? ›
Coffee, Chocolate, Beer and Macadamia nuts
Hawaii is the only state where coffee is commercially produced, which has led to the world famous Kona coffee and the just as tasty but less well-known coffees from the Ka'u, Puna and Hamakua districts. Chocolate is another of the exotic crops that is grown on the Big Island.
Kauai is the winner
In our opinion, Kauai takes the throne as the prettiest Hawaiian island. It has a variety of views and terrain to see. Rocky coastlines, beautiful beaches, lush jungles, and mountains and valleys. There is so much to see and do.
Among the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is known as the Friendly Isle, and those who live there would consider it the best island to live on by far. With many longtime families and few visitors living on remote Molokai, it is one of the most secluded Hawaiian Islands.