30 Best Hawaii Big Island Things To Do On a Vacation

Waterfall flowing over a tropical volcanic cave in Hawaii

The Big Island in Hawaii is without a doubt a dream travel destination. From volcanoes to jungle waterfalls, stunning beaches, and relaxing beach resorts, this tropical paradise offers so much to its visitors. If you’re looking for Hawaii Big Island things to do on your vacation, we have you covered!

We recently returned from a 6-day Big Island trip and have tons of tips, highlights, and destinations to share so you can make the best of your vacation.

For starters, you’ll want to set aside a full day to explore Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, go on a night manta ray snorkel tour in Kona, visit Mauna Kea summit, take a tour of a local Kona coffee plantation, and drive across the island to Hilo town on the east coast.

Here are all of the best things to do on the Big Island to add to your travel itinerary!

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30 Best Hawaii Big Island Things To Do On a Vacation:

1. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Steam coming out of the ground at Kīlauea crater within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of those places that just takes your breath away. From Mars-like landscapes to steaming vents, epic volcano viewpoints, lava tunnels, and other unique volcanic features, this park has a lot to offer its visitors.

On our Big Island trip, we dedicated an entire day to exploring Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Most of the park attractions are located along the main highway so it’s easy to squeeze a lot into one day.

For a guided tour option, we recommend booking Volcanoes Waterfalls Sightseeing And History Tour. During this day excursion, you’ll visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park along with the black sand beach, Akaka Falls State Park, Waipi’o Valley, and many other stops!

If you’d rather go on a self-driving adventure, some of the top Hawaii Volcanoes National Park attractions include:

  • Kīlauea Visitor Center
  • Kīlauea Overlook
  • Steam Vents At Wahinekapu
  • Volcano House
  • Nāhuku – Thurston Lava Tube
  • Chain Of Craters Road
  • Pu’uloa Petroglyphs
  • Hōlei Sea Arch

We also created an interactive Google Map of all the top stops within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park that you can check out here:

Map Tip: Click on the different points of interest to get more information.

2. Night Snorkel With Manta Rays

Manta ray swimming on a tour on the Big Island
Nigh snorkeling with manta rays is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

If you’re looking for a unique experience, swimming with manta rays is one of the most unforgettable things to do in Kona, Hawaii. A manta ray night snorkel tour offers the opportunity to witness these majestic creatures up close – a bucket list experience of a lifetime!

On our trip, we booked a Night Manta Ray Adventure On The Big Island with Hang Loose Boat Tours. This is one of the highest-rated tour operators with over 3100 five-star reviews.

This tour company offers several different departing times. We reserved a time spot just before sunset so we could enjoy stunning sunset colors on the boat ride to the Manta Village snorkeling site.

Group of people night snorkeling with manta rays
There are only a few places in the world where you can night swim with manta rays – and Kona is one of them.

Once we arrived at Manta Ray Village, we got into the water and swam over to floating devices with blue led lights underneath them. These lights attract plankton which is manta rays’ favorite food.

As we floated there for around 40 minutes, the manta rays swam all around us doing belly flips near the lights while eating the plankton. It was such a memorable snorkel adventure and a must do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

3. Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls State Park in Hilo.

Visiting Akaka Falls State Park is one of the best things to do near Hilo Hawaii. This beautiful jungle park features a viewpoint of ‘Akaka Falls, a freefalling 442 feet tall waterfall.

To reach the waterfall viewpoint, you can go on a 0.5-mile-long Akaka Falls Trail. This paved pathway has a slight elevation of 120 feet and some stairs, but it’s doable for all fitness levels and families. Just be sure to watch your step and wear good hiking shoes, especially after a recent rain.

Along this loop, you will get to see tropical plants, green ferns, streams, and a bamboo forest. While you can see some of the original plants at this park, many of the plants are recent introductions to make this location look more like a lush rainforest.

Visitor Tip: It does cost a small fee to visit this State Park. Parking is $10 plus a $5 entry fee per person. You can pay this fee upon arrival at the pay station in the parking lot.

4. Mauna Kea Summit Sunset

Mauna Kea is the highest point on the Hawaiian Islands.

For a memorable sunset experience, book this Mauna Kea Summit Sunset and Stars Tour! As the tallest mountain on Earth (from base to peak), visiting Mauna Kea is one of the top things to do in Big Island Hawaii.

During the sunset and stargazing tour, you’ll be taken up to the summit of Mauna Kea which sits at 13,800 feet in elevation. After watching an epic sunset, you’ll head to the visitor station for star gazing through a professional telescope.

Keep in mind: It is very cold at the summit. On the tour, you will be provided with jackets, gloves, and hot chocolate to stay warm. This is ideal for travelers so you don’t have to worry about packing extra cold-weather gear to Hawaii.

5. Kona Coffee Plantation Tour

If you’re a coffee lover (like me), you can’t visit the Big Island without taking a tour of a Kona coffee plantation! Most local coffee farms are located just a short drive from Kailua-Kona city in a ‘Kona coffee belt’ that stretches across 30 miles of land.

There are over 650 coffee farms on the Big Island, but only a few offer guided tours. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation. This is the location that we visited. They offer free coffee tours every 30 minutes which is great if you need to stay flexible with your schedule. You don’t need to reserve the tour ahead of time – you can just show up and join the next available one upon arrival. They give out free samples of freshly brewed coffee and have a gift shop where you can buy locally made Kona coffee to take back home. Here you can also go on a quick nature walk to a viewing platform overlooking the farm and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
  • Heavenly Hawaiian. This is one of the most popular Kona coffee farms on the Big Island. Heavenly Hawaiian coffee tours are offered every hour from 9:15 am to 4 pm and it is recommended to make reservations ahead of time. These coffee tours are longer, more in-depth, and cost $15 per person.
  • Buddha’s Cup Kona Coffee and Tea Farm. This farm offers a variety of tours from free samplings to deluxe tastings and 30-minute express tours. The tours will take you around the coffee farm in a Polaris ATV (perfect if you’re tired from walking).

6. Stay At a Beach Resort

Outdoor pool next to the ocean at the Mauna Lani Auberge Resorts Collection
Photo by Mauna Lani

One of the best parts about visiting Hawaii is spending time relaxing at a beach resort. While it’s fun to explore the island and various attractions, be sure to set aside at least one full ‘chill’ day to hang out by a pool or on the beach.

Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection is one of the most luxurious resorts to book on the Big Island, especially for special occasions. This beachfront paradise comes with all the top amenities to make your stay as comfortable as possible!

You can spend the day lounging by the 3,900-square-foot resort pool or head to the more-quiet adult pool. The resort also offers a wellness spa, sauna rooms, and a meditation pavilion to regenerate your soul and body.

For dinner, you’ll want to head to the Canoe House restaurant which offers epic sunset meals overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This contemporary restaurant serves some of the best food on the Big Island in a cozy, beachy setting that is sure to wow you!

7. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

At Punalu’u Black Sand Beach you can see giant green sea turtles lounging in the volcanic sand.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is one of the most popular South Big Island things to do in Hawaii. This beautiful beach is surrounded by swaying palm trees and consists of black volcanic sand. Here you can lay out, walk along the shoreline, go swimming, and often spot Hawaiian green sea turtles on the shoreline.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is located along Highway 11 about a 1.5-hour drive south of Kona and over an hour’s drive from Hilo. If you’re planning to visit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, you can go on a short side trip to the black sand beach after.

If you don’t want to spend the day driving in a car yourself, I recommend booking this Big Island In a Day Sightseeing Tour that visits Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

8. Kealakekua Bay Snorkel Tour

A snorkel tour is a great way to see marine life in Hawaii.

The Hawaiian Islands are heaven for underwater adventures. If you are a nature lover, you’ll enjoy this Captain Cook Kealakekua Bay Snorkel Tour. This is one of the highest-rated snorkel experiences on the Big Island with over 1200 five-star reviews.

On the Kealakekua Bay day tour, you will spend 4 hours exploring rugged coastlines, historical landmarks, sea caves, and colorful coral reefs that are full of sea life and fish. You may even spot dolphins swimming in the bay!

The snorkel adventure is operated by Hang Loose Boat Tours (one of our favorites). Plus it includes food, drinks, and snorkel equipment.

The boat departs from Kailua-Kona so it’s ideal for those staying on the west coast of the Big Island.

9. Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

Spending the day at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is one of the best things to do on the Island of Hawaii.

About 40 minutes north of Kailua-Kona you’ll find the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. This is a popular beach park for swimming, laying out, and body surfing.

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area consists of a wide white sand shoreline. Although it’s a bit out of the way from major cities, it’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for a spot to spend a few hours lounging by the beach.

Visitor Tip: There is no shade at this beach so I recommend bringing a portable beach umbrella to avoid overheating and getting a sunburn. Parking for visitors is $10 plus a $5 entry fee per person that you can pay upon arrival.

10. Zipline Experience On The Big Island

Zip lining is one of the most fun Big Island Hawaii activities!

If you’re looking for an epic day full of adrenaline rush, be sure to book this Zipline Experience on the Big Island. The 9-line zipline adventure takes place in a stunning jungle setting soaring across treetops, rivers, and the cascading Umauma Falls.

This zip line adventure allows kids ages 4+ so it’s a great activity for the entire family. If you want to join the group but skip the zip line activity, you can still access the property garden and waterfalls for free.

I’ve done zip lining in Hawaii myself and it’s a great way to enjoy the scenery while flying at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. The Umauma Experience guides are very friendly and will make you feel at ease, even if you’re scared of heights.

11. Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours in nature.

Visiting Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is one of the best things to do in Hawaii Big Island for outdoor lovers. This botanical garden features over 1800 plants along with serene walking paths.

The entrance to Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden costs $30 for adults, $25 for active military, $22 for kids ages 6-12, and is free for kids under 6. The garden is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, with the last entry at 4:00 pm.

If you plan to visit this bioreserve, be sure to set aside a few hours to walk through the pathways and see a variety of colorful tropical plants along the way.

12. Magic Sands Beach Park

Magic Sands Beach Park in Hawaii.

If you’re looking for a relaxing beach escape, head over to the Magic Sands Beach Park just 10 minutes south of Kailua-Kona town. This stunning beach park features a white sand shoreline and crystal-clear turquoise water.

Magic Sands Beach Park is one of the top free things to do in Kona. Here you can lounge in the sand, snorkel amongst colorful fish, explore black rock lava tidepools, and often spot giant turtles in the ocean.

If you plan to visit this beach, I recommend that you bring a beach umbrella to avoid getting sunburned. We also didn’t find any snorkel rentals nearby so it’s a good idea to get your own set of snorkel gear for Hawaii.

13. Drive Saddle Road

Saddle Road is a scenic drive that connects both sides of the Big Island.

State Rte 200, also known as Saddle Road, is one of the most popular road trip routes to drive on the Big Island. This highway stretches for nearly 80 miles and connects Kailua-Kona city to Hilo.

During our visit, we booked hotels on both the west and east coasts of the island so we drove this route a couple of times in between. It takes around 1.5 hours to drive Highway 200 if you don’t make any stops.

The scenery along the way is beautiful with a rugged black lava field surrounded by towering volcanic mountains. The highway itself is paved and easy to drive, but we did not see any gas stations, stores, or restrooms along it.

Before driving it, be sure to fill up your car with gas and get plenty of water & road trip snacks. We don’t recommend driving this route at night since there are many wild pigs and goats crossing the road.

Looking to rent a car in Hawaii for road trips? We recommend and personally use Discover Cars on our trips because they offer the best pricing and free cancellation up to 48 hours before your pickup.

14. Helicopter Tour Of The Big Island

On this helicopter tour, you’ll get to see Kilauea Volcano and other interesting attractions.

If you’re seeking epic things to do on Big Island, it doesn’t get better than taking a Volcano and Kohala Coast Helicopter Tour! During this unforgettable experience, you’ll soar high above rugged mountains, active volcanoes, waterfalls and so much more.

Taking a helicopter tour is a great way to see parts of the Big Island that are otherwise off-limits to visitors. On this helicopter adventure, you’ll land in a remote valley and enjoy the stunning scenery in what feels like a private slice of hidden paradise.  

This is a longer tour that includes 1.5-2 hours of flight time. During the helicopter flight, you might see volcanic activity, wildlife such as whales, deeply carved valleys and pristine beaches.

15. Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahalu’u Beach Park is one of the best snorkeling spots on the Island of Hawai’i.

Kahalu’u Beach Park is another popular beach that’s located close to hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona.

Due to abundant sea life and colorful coral reefs, Kahalu’u Beach Park is an especially great place to go snorkeling and explore the underwater world in Hawaii. Within this bay, you can see over 100 different species including Reef Tigersfish, Lined Butterflyfish, and Black Long-spined Urchins.

For snorkeling, I recommend bringing your own set of snorkel gear. If you don’t have a set, you can rent one from the Kahalu’u Bay Surf and Sea Shop nearby.

Here are a few Hawaii snorkel tips to keep in mind:

  • Only use reef-friendly mineral sunscreens. Corals are very fragile and grow less than one centimeter per year. If you’re not sure whether your sunscreen is safe, this location does have complimentary sunscreen stations.
  • Use a floatation device to avoid stepping on the corals.
  • Give marine life and sea turtles plenty of space.
  • Enter the bay through the channel and avoid walking across the tidal flat.

16. Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube

Entrance into Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube.

Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube is located within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. For many people, this is a destination of its own!

To visit this lava cave you will need to go on a short hike through the jungle which takes around 20-30 minutes. The Thurston Lava Tube Trail is only 0.5 miles long and fairly flat.

It is best to visit this Big Island attraction between the hours of 8:00 am to 8:00 pm when there are lights lit up inside the cave. Outside of these daytime visitor hours, you will need to bring a headlamp or a flashlight to navigate the otherwise pitch-black tunnel.

This lava tube was formed as a scorching hot lava river traveled along the ground with temperatures above 2000 °F. The heat melted the inner tunnel walls that visitors can now walk through. The lava tube itself is pretty short and is now overgrown with lush jungle plants on both entrances.

17. Kaumana Caves

At Kaumana Caves you can explore a massive lava cave that was formed in 1881.

Kaumana Caves Park is another location where you can see volcanic lava tubes on the Big Island. These lava caves are free to enter, but parking is very limited to a small visitor lot across the road.

Kaumana Caves is one of the top things to do in Hilo, Hawaii. This attraction is located next to Highway 200 which connects Hilo to Kailua-Kona. If you plan to drive across the island, Kaumana Caves is a quick stop that you can easily see on the way.

After parking, you can cross the highway and walk down the steep stairs. There are two caves in this beautiful jungle location that you can explore.

If you wish to walk inside the caves, they do continue for a couple of miles, but you will need to bring a headlamp or a flashlight as there are no lights inside.

Visitor Tip: This location is very rocky and wet. I recommend wearing good hiking shoes so you can explore the caves safely without slipping and hurting yourself.

18. Whale Watching Tour

The Big Island is one of the best places to go whale watching in Hawaii.

A whale-watching excursion is one of the top Big Island activities for seeing marine life up close. On this whale-watching tour on the Big Island, you’ll be able to observe migrating pods of humpback whales during a prime breaching season.

As a bonus, you might also spot groups of dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, and other underwater sea creatures. This tour is operated by Hang Loose Boat Tours which also offers manta ray night snorkel tours.

19. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is one of the most stunning locations in Hawaii.

Rainbow Falls is a quick stop that’s situated just a few minute drive from Hilo. This attraction features a viewing platform of a waterfall that you can easily reach from the parking lot.

Rainbow Falls is 80 feet tall and plunges over a large lava cave down into the river below. On sunny days you might get lucky and spot a rainbow in the water from the mist flying in the air.

After seeing the waterfall from the viewing platform be sure to take the stairs to an upper viewpoint or head into the nearby Banyan forest which is full of eerie, unique trees.

20. Boiling Pots

Boiling Pots River in Hawaii.

After visiting Rainbow Falls, head over to the nearby Boiling Pots. This is another quick stop that you can see within Wailuku River State Park.

After rain, the river water rises creating twirls and bubbles that look like boiling water. From this lookout platform, you can also see the nearby cascading Pe’epe’e Falls and lush jungle scenery.

21. Voyagers Of The Pacific Luau

Attending a traditional Hawaiian Luau is a must-do, especially for first-time visitors!

The Voyagers of the Pacific Luau takes place at the Royal Kona Resort where we stayed for a couple of nights after arriving on the Big Island.

This oceanfront Hawaii luau offers great food, music, dancing, and entertainment with beautiful sunset views. The luau also includes an all-you-can-eat dinner with a roasted pig and Mai Tai drinks.

It’s best to book Luau shows early on as they do get sold out quickly. We’ve missed out on this experience in the past by waiting too long to reserve the tickets.

22. Kīlauea Iki Crater Hike

Viewpoint of Kīlauea Iki Crater.

If you’re looking for an epic day hike, set aside a few hours to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail and Crater Rim Trail at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. This unique trail descends 400 feet down into a crater floor where you can walk across Mars-like landscapes.

For the Kīlauea Iki Trail bring plenty of water bottles as there are no water sources nearby. The hike is exposed to the sun so having a hiking hat and mineral sunscreen are essential to stay sunburn-free!

23. Papakōlea Beach

Papakōlea Beach is a beautiful green sand beach in south Big Island.

If you’re seeking unique Big Island Hawaii attractions, Papakōlea Beach should be on top of your list. This green sand beach is located in Mahana Bay on the southern tip of the island.

Papakōlea Beach is known for having a bizarre, green color from the olivine minerals. There are only a handful of green sand beaches in the world and this is one of them!

Getting to the green sand beach is quite an adventure. It’s about 1.5-hour drive south of Kailua-Kona and almost 2-hour drive from Hilo.

Once you arrive you will need to head on a couple-hour trek along the Papakolea Green Sand Beach Trail to reach the cove. This trail is 5.6 miles long, rugged, and has around 350 feet of elevation gain.

This trail is also used by vehicles giving people lifts to the beach so you will need to watch out for incoming cars. It is recommended to walk the trail instead of paying for a ride due to the fragile environment that is being destroyed by the vehicles. It is illegal to drive a car in this area so please opt for a hike instead.

Hiking Tip: Be sure to set aside half a day to a full day for this activity. Bring plenty of water and wear slip-resistant hiking shoes to trek across uneven surfaces.

24. Lava Lava Beach Club

At Lava Lava Beach Club you can enjoy a meal with a view!

If you’re looking for a fun place to spend the afternoon, head over to the Lava Lava Beach Club. This beach club features an oceanfront restaurant, bar, ocean access, live music, and life-side yard games.

We stopped by the Lava Lava Beach Club restaurant for lunch while driving along the west coast of the Big Island. This open-air restaurant has outdoor seating just steps from the beach so you can enjoy stunning views during your meal.

For food, my husband ordered the fish tacos while I tried the pineapple fried rice – so yummy! After the meal, we walked down to the ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach for a quick swim in the ocean.

25. Liliʻuokalani Gardens

Exploring Liliʻuokalani Gardens in Hilo, Hawaii.

Situated next to the ocean in Hilo, Liliʻuokalani Gardens is a hidden little gem that many people overlook. This 30-acre oceanfront park was built in Japanese style in 1917 to honor the Japanese immigrants that worked and lived on the island.  

Liliʻuokalani Gardens was located just a short walk from Grand Naniloa Hotel where we stayed in Hilo so we came here for a serene sunset stroll. The park is free to visit and features walkways, ponds, bridges, and benches for enjoying the scenery.

26. Kona Brewing Company

If you’re looking for a fun place to grab dinner and drinks, Kona Brewing Company is the place to go!

Kona Brewing Company has been brewing craft beers in Hawaii since 1994. While the brewery’s headquarters are located in Kailua-Kona, you may have seen their beers sold at grocery stores and breweries throughout the United States.

We visited Kona Brewing Co for dinner, but you can also book a brewery tour that is offered multiple times a day. The price for a brewery tour is $25 and it lasts for an hour.

27. Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm

Visiting a seahorse farm is a fun experience for the entire family!

If you’re looking for things to do on Big Island Hawaii with kids, be sure to visit the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona. This is one of the most popular Big Island tourist attractions where you’ll get to see sea horses up close and learn more about the farm’s conservation efforts.

These unique sea creatures come in various colors, shapes, and forms. At this farm, you can also feed sea urchins, fish and even have a sea horse wrap its little tail around your finger.

The tour tickets are a bit expensive costing $71 for general admission, $68 for kids (6-9 years old), and $8 for toddlers (under 5 years old) if you buy them online in advance.

The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm is located just a 10-minute drive from the Kona International Airport.  This is one of the top things to do near Kona Airport if you have a couple of hours to spare before your flight.

28. Poke Bowl At Suisan Fish Market

Photo by @suisanfish

One of the best things about visiting Hawaii is all the delicious food you can try! If you enjoy seafood, you can’t go to the Big Island in Hawaii without getting a poke bowl.

For the best of the best, be sure to make a stop at Suisan Fish Market in Hilo. This seafood distributor has been operating since 1907 serving some of the freshest food you can find on the island.

You may have to wait in a long line for your turn to order, but the wait is well worth it. The poke served here is so fresh that it simply melts in your mouth. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, including Ahi Hawaiian poke, lobster salad poke, scallop poke along with many others.

The market is open to visitors from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm most days of the week (except Wednesdays and Sundays).

29. Downtown Kona

Kona Farmers Market in downtown Kona.

As a first-time visitor, taking a stroll in downtown Kona is a Big Island must do. This is the main tourist area in Kailua-Kona where you will find plenty of top-rated restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and boutique stores.

On select days, you can also stop by the Kona Farmers Market which is set up along the oceanfront Ali‘i Drive. We stumbled upon a Kona street market during our visit and had a great time browsing through the different local stands.

After, you can walk down to the Kailua Pier to enjoy views of the turquoise Kailua Bay.

30. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau historical landmark on the Island of Hawai’i.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau is a beachfront archeological park with historical importance to Hawaiian people. It’s about a 30-minute drive south of Kailua-Kona and you can easily combine it with a visit to the nearby Two Step Beach on the same day.

The entrance to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau costs $20 per car or $10 per person for walk-ins which you can pay via credit card upon arrival. We recommend setting aside an hour or two to explore this site, see the various landmarks, reconstructed Hawaiian houses, and learn about its significance.

Upon arrival, you will be given a map of the park grounds with explanations for the different markers and attractions.

This park used to be a place of refuge for local Hawaiian people. Those who made it to the beach could not be harmed in a war or punished for their crimes.

We hope this guide has helped you discover a few amazing Big Island places to visit on your vacation!

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