The Big Island
The Big Island of Hawai'i is a truly magical place. With it's tropical landscapes, black sand beaches, active volcanoes and historical charm, it offers an unlimited amount of adventures. This Big Island Travel Guide is filled with 80+ of my favorite beaches, snorkel spots, experiences, restaurants, shops and stays on the island.
When To Visit
At A Glance
The Island of Hawai'i - also commonly referred to as the Big Island - is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands spanning more than 4,000 square miles (and still growing). Here you'll find everything from active volcanoes, ancient fishing villages and black sand beaches to beautiful waterfalls, historical sites, and cowboy country.
Best Of The Big Island
Whether it's a morning cruise or a nighttime manta ray snorkel, getting out on the water and exploring the sea life is always a good idea.
What makes Hawai'i truly magical is the history and culture. Be sure to explore the national and historical parks on the island to learn more.
The Big Island offers some of the best snorkeling in the world. My favorite spot is Ho'okena beach! Tip: enter from the left-most side of the beach to avoid the sharp rocks
Best Of The Big Island
If you prefer to relax by the pool instead of the ocean, the Kohala coast offers some of the best resorts in the whole state.
the best beaches
White, black, green, and all the shades in between. The Big Island has nearly every kind of sandy beach imaginable.
Hawai'i is home to some of the most unique fruit in the world. Be sure to visit the local markets and fruit stands on the side of the road to try them for yourself!
This resort sits on the lava rocks of Hawaii’s Kona Coast and is the perfect place to get easy access to popular tourist attractions like the famous Kona Coffee farm and the Kailua-Kona's manta ray feeding grounds.
Experience all the luxury Hawaii has to offer at the Four Seasons. Each room and suite is true to the Hawaiian heritage and mimics the timeless culture of the Islands.
Royal Kona Resort sits off the coast and is a sensory escape for anyone needing a break from life. You’ll experience superior dining services from award-winning chefs and get a close and personal look at Hawaiian culture at their Voyagers of the Pacific Luau.
This hotel invites guests to a special show featuring the dancers of Hula Halau Ke 'Olu Makani 'O Mauna Loa. You can book a zip lining adventure or a trek to find the best waterfalls all in the lobby of the hotel.
This 5 star hotel is located on the white sands of Kauna‘oa Bay and offers luxury style suites, a golf course, a luau, and moonlight snorkeling sessions.
The Fairmont Orchid Hotel is an award-winning location for anyone trying to take relaxation to the next level. They offer a beach club, local Hawaiian dining and a chance to catch a helicopter island tour.
This unique beachfront resort rates 5 stars on every level. They cater to all family members and offer fascinating tours to see humpback whales, historical Hawaiian petroglyphs and turtle nesting sites.
One of the most famous spots on the island for fresh poke, visiting this local joint is a must when you're in Kona. Be sure to get there early as they often sell out quickly.
A great gathering spot right on the water, Huggo's has been serving up some of the best food in Kona for the last 50 years. Stop by here in the evening to unwind with a drink and watch the sunset.
Good beer, great mission. Ola focuses on encouraging growth in Hawaiian agricultural economy by purchasing local ingredients for their beers and ciders. Stop by their tap room to try some local favorites!
Overlooking Kealakekua Bay, this is a great spot to stop at if you're heading to Volcano or spending the day exploring Captain Cook. Grab a cup of their fresh Kona coffee along with some breakfast and enjoy the views!
An Instagram worthy acai bowl that tastes even better than it looks! Located in a small shop above Snorkel Bob's, this hidden gem serves up some of the best acai bowls around.
Located right next door to Magic Sands Beach, this is the perfect place to grab a quick lunch if you're spending the day in the sand or stop by later in the evening for a romantic dinner.
The home of liquid aloha! For the past 25 years, Kona Brewing Co has not only focused on making some of the best craft beers in the world, but doing so in an environmentally friendly way.
You can't come to Hawai'i without trying Hawaiian shave ice and Scandi's serves up some of the best on the Big Island. With over 65 flavors including sugar free and natural options, there's something for everyone.
If you're wanting an authentic Hawaiian mean, look no further than Super J's. This hidden gem serves up some some of the best lau lau in Kona! Other favorites include their Kalua pig and mac salad.
This family owned and operated restaurant serves up the best Thai food on the island (it may also be the best I've ever had, period). In 2018, it was also featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and it's easy to see why.
If you're craving street tacos, Shaka Tacoz has some of the best on the island! They offer free guac with every meal, but what makes their tacos truly unique is their shaka sauce. Be sure to snag a seat on their back lanai for a great view of the ocean.
Located directly across from the ocean in downtown Kona, this popular breakfast spot lives up to the hype. From their cinnamon roles, to their pancakes, they hit the mark every time. Also be sure to try one of their fresh juices (my favorite is the classic orange juice).
The (contested) originator of Hawaii's famous loco moco dish, Cafe 100 is a favorite spot amongst locals and tourists alike. My personal favorite is their teriyaki loco moco dish.
This little hidden shop in downtown Hilo is known for its delicious mochi treats. Their mochi flavors range from strawberry and chocolate, to butter and sweet potato. Order before you go over the phone or you’ll be waiting in line for a while.
The perfect place to grab some lunch after visiting the farmers market, Pineapples serves up island-fresh cuisine daily. Want to try a fun and unique drink? Try their signature pineapple POW!
Suisan Fish market is located in Hilo Bay and is usually teeming with customers as soon as it opens at 9 am. Their most popular dish to serve is the Poke bowls with your choice of the fresh catch of the day.
Tex Drive In in Honoka'a is the most famous spot on the island for malasadas! Their malasadas are second to none and the dough itself is also unique compared to other bake shops, as they make it square instead of round.
Famous for their Portuguese bean soup, this place is also known for its local comfort food. For lunch, pair their soup with one of their loco moco plates - the corned beef hash was my favorite!
If you're driving through or staying at a resort on the Kohala coast, Lava Lava Beach Club is a must visit! While the menu may be limited and the prices on the higher end, what you're truly paying for is the experience. Located right on the beach, Lava Lava offers some of the best sunset views.
While this shop does sell malasadas, they're most famous for their sweet bread which comes in a variety of flavors. Try the original and apple cinnamon!
This palace was once a summer vacation home for Hawaiian royalty, and is now a museum that holds Victorian artifacts, ornaments and tapestry from past royalty. Visit to learn more about the culture and history of Hawaii.
Kamakahonu, also known as Kamehameha the Great, unified the Hawaiian islands and spent his last few years at this historical landmark. You can view it from the outside, but unfortunately no one is to enter any longer.
Located at Honaunau Bay, this 18-acre national historical park once housed ancient lawbreakers who were trying to find refuge. Take a self-guided tour and follow the map through the Great Wall and sacred temples.
Leading adventurers to the monument that commemorates the fallen British soldier who was killed in 1779, this trail is only accessible by boat, kayak or hike. The steep hike back up can be challenging, but before you turn around, enjoy some of the best snorkeling the island has to offer.
This national seaside park not only has beautiful coastal views, but also includes sacred temples and petroglyphs. If you’re lucky you might also catch glimpses of sea life like monk seals and green turtles!
This plantation is a 12-acre farm on the historic Hualalai Ranch. Go on a farm tour to get an up close experience of how this award-winning Kona coffee is harvested and processed.
Beginning their story in 1997, this factory is 100% Hawaiian grown and cared for. You’ll get the opportunity to learn how they harvest, ferment, process, and mold their famous chocolate.
Since 1972, this family operated location has been working to gather honey the ethical way. Not only will they show you how they harvest honey, you’ll get a chance to view their honey body care products and take a walk through their shop to buy gift sets for family and friends back home.
This waterfall is located in the Wailuku river and is easily accessible. In the morning when the sun catches the water, the waterfall creates mini rainbows which is where the famous name comes from.
Kahūnā Falls is a waterfall that’s located in Akaka Falls State Park. These two falls are close to each other and are only a short driving distance from Hilo, located in Hawaii.
This waterfall is not well known because of its location and access point, which actually makes it a great destination for anyone trying to avoid tourists. There’s also a plunge pool below and gorgeous views as you hike to try and find it.
Get close and personal with Hawaii’s volcanic landscape. Explore this lava tube that was created by the 1881 eruption of Mauna Loa. Also the best part about it is that it’s free!
Akaka Falls State Park is a lush rainforest located 20 minutes north from downtown Hilo. It contains a paved path for you to follow and after an easy and accessible one hour hike, you get to reach the gorgeous 442 foot famous waterfall.
This garden was designed as an educational nonprofit in 1984 and has ensured the public, it will never be sold or developed. It spans 4 miles across with wild flowers and plants and a pristine biodome that’s used to inspire and connect us to nature.
Get an insider's look into how Hawaii’s famous nut came to be and all the steps that go into harvesting. During your tour, enjoy free samples and shop from their wide array of Mauna Loa gifts. The perfect souvenir gift to bring back!
Reaching 13,677 feet above sea level, this national park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This site was also named a World Biosphere Site by UNESCO in 1987. Make sure to bring a jacket as the weather can be cold as you climb in elevation.
Kalae gets its name being the southernmost part of the United States.The strong currents below the views off the cliffs are what make this spot a world renowned fishing location. Also if you’re brave enough to cliff jump, you can do so at this famous southern spot.
You can adventure through these caves with a guide that teaches you all about the lava tube inside and how the caves have evolved and been used over time. These caves have been around for over a thousand years and offer a lot to discover as you make your way through the subterranean environment.
This historical area is sitting on ruins from an ancient Hawaiian fishing village. Take a self guided tour through the mile long ruin area and learn about how the Hawaiians lived and survived 600 years ago.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano sitting at 13,803 feet above sea level which is the highest point on the island of Hawaii. It’s been around for over a million years and has passed the active stage making it the perfect location to see the best views of the ocean, catch a perfect sunset, and watch the stars from below.
This is the perfect spot to catch a view of Kīlauea volcano and ancient lava flows. You can also catch sights of tropical birds and plan your trip around a perfect sunset.
The largest ranch in the state of Hawai’i, Parker Ranch operates a sustainable cattle ranch on 130,000 acres. Go on a free self-guided tour of part of the ranch and explore two Victorian homes that remain on the property.
This majestic site can be seen from the road and is one of the last temples built in Hawaii. You can visit the museum and exhibits that highlight the ancient Hawaiann culture and infrastructure.
This monument is the location of a forest of lava trees, lava molds of the tree trunks in the forest when lava flowed to that area in 1790. Bring a picnic and your hiking shoes and make a day out of exploring these lava trails.
Located on the northern coast, this area holds cultural and historical significance. The valley is surrounded by cliffs that are thousands feet high and is now home to less than 100 residents who live among the waterfalls. Be prepared to hike down to the beach, as only 4x4 vehicles are allowed down the steep narrow road.
This trail is made to preserve and protect native Hawaiian culture and natural resources. With 175 miles to explore the natural contours of the land, you’ll get a close encounter with the coastline as you also explore hardened lava flow, steam vents, and cliffs.
Located to the east of Waipio Valley, Pololu Valley offers a breathtaking view of the Big Island's raw beauty. A short and easy trail (compared to Waipio) leads down to the beach where you'll find rope swings and large vegetation covered sand dunes. You can also camp down by the beach, so if you're looking for an overnight adventure, this is it!
Located 15 minutes south from downtown Kona, this small gift shop has been serving the community with unique and locally made gifts since 1914.
This 'ohana owned boutique located in downtown Kona offers unique and handcrafted items. They've also got a great selection of Coco Shade hats.
Filled with island treasures and zero waste products, this locally owned shop is my favorite on the island. Also, if you're in the market for a Hawaiian pāpale hat, this is the shop for you!
As you explore downtown Hilo, be sure to pop into this boutique filled with locally crafted items and unique souvenirs.
While he may not have a local storefront, if you're looking for a koa wood souvenir, visit Ernie Torres at his shop in Captain Cook located near mile marker 101. Ernie is a 78-year old local craftsman who's art ships all over the world. Depending on his inventory levels, you can also find him at the Ho'oulu Community Farmers Market located on the grounds of the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa.
This wide protected park is located 15 minutes from downtown Kona. This is also one of the top 3 snorkeling spots on the entire island. You’ll see all kinds of wildlife like turtles, octopus, eels, and tropical fish.
As its name alludes to, this beach is full of pebbles of all sizes. While the road down can be quite steep, the view is worth it! This is also an excellent spot to spearfish from.
My favorite spot for snorkeling on the island! Be sure to get there early because the small parking lot does fill up fast. Tip: enter the water from the left most side to avoid getting crashed into by rocks and coral.
This area is the largest sheltered natured bay on the island and also serves as one of the best sports for snorkeling. The only way to get to this spot is either via a tour boat or by taking the Captain Cook Monument Trail down.
Getting to this island paradise isn't the easiest, as you'll have to traverse a 20-30 minute hike through lava rock and sand, but I promise it's one of the best beaches on the island! This spot is backed by sand dunes and offers crystal clear water with some of the finest white sand around.
On the east side of the Big Island lies the Wai'olena Beach park which spans several beaches and is the perfect location for watching a sunrise or having a picnic.
Richardson Ocean Park is the closest black sand beach to downtown. The locals frequent this beach and it’s the best for snorkeling spot in Hilo!
Sitting as one of the best family-friendly beaches on the Big Island, this half-mile white sand beach is perfect to let the little ones run wild. They have an on duty lifeguard, and have activities like snorkeling and hiking.
This crescent beach is on the Kohala Coast and is an excellent destination for sunbathing and swimming in calm waters. You can even explore with a kayak, canoe or snorkel.
This is one of only four green sand beaches in the world! This bay is a little challenging to get to but if you’re up for the adventure, the hike is beautiful and the water is worth the trip.
This beach is also on the Kohala Coast and has palm trees that line the beach. There’s a hut in the middle for renting gear and you can even hike around the walking trails to see some basking turtles and tide pools.
This is another popular black sand beach that is also a resting ground for endangered Hawksbill turtles. There are fresh water springs you can visit as well as trails and camping sites you can set up at for the night.
Wednesdays - Sundays
7 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Offers a great selection of local produce and is one of the best markets on the island.
9 a.m. - 2 p.m
Only vendors that offer 100% grown or made in Kona are allowed to participate at this Sunday market.
9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Located on the grounds of the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa, is a great stop if you're staying near the resort.
6 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Fresh local produce, breads, coffee, jams, candy, grass-fed beef, poi, flowers/plants, arts and crafts.
Wednesdays and Saturdays (best days to visit)
6 a.m. - 4 p.m.
More than 200 vendors offer local produce, flowers, plants, crafts, baked goods, and food.
7:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Only locally grown Hawaii Island products are sold.
8 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Hawaiian crafts, plants, produce, jewelry, shells, food, and more from 150 vendors.
7:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Over 40 vendors who offer a wide variety of terrific produce, food and other unique items.
view a customized google map of all the places listed in this guide. tip: save it on your google maps app to reference while out exploring!
Thankfully don't need much when you come to Hawai'i. Keep it simple and just pack a swimsuit, shorts and shirts, light jacket and a raincoat/umbrella.
Only buy reef safe sunscreen! Also if possible opt for a non-spray version. We need to work together to protect the reefs.
Weather-wise, Kona is often dry and sunny and Hilo is usually rainy. The towns themselves differ quite a bit as well, where Hilo feels like old Hawai'i and Kona has all of the big resorts.
It's more affordable than you may think! Check out this post to learn how I moved to Hawai'i for two months.
Hawaii follows Hawaii Standard Time, which is 5 hours behind EST. Hawaii does not observe Daylight Savings, so add 1 extra hour to the time difference during March through November.