Taking in the view from the Pololu Valley Lookout, one of the best things to do on the Big island of Hawaii

29 Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii (2024 Bucket List!)

From the smoldering volcanoes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the sparkling black sands of Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, the Big Island of Hawai’i offers a rugged beauty that will captivate you.

There are so many things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii that you’ll find it difficult to fit everything you want to see and do into one trip.

The largest, and youngest, of the main Hawaiian islands, the Big Island of Hawaii is also known simply as Hawai’i Island. It’s a little more than 4,000 square miles in area, several times larger than Kauai, Oahu, or Maui.

Waipio Valley lookout on the Big Island of Hawaii
A view of the fertile Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii

Featuring all but four of the Koppen climate zones, the Big Island is home to the massive volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. There’s often snow at the peak of Mauna Kea!

Kona on the leeward side and Hilo on the windward side are the two main bases for visitors to the island.

Swim at night with manta rays near Kona. Stargaze on Mauna Kea. Marvel at the thundering ‘Akaka Falls. Hike to Papakolea Green Sand Beach. Take a farm tour.

Whether you are looking for a fun-filled family getaway or an adventure-filled couples or solo vacation, the Big Island of Hawaii delivers.

Excited? Let’s get started discovering the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Snorkeling Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay should definitely be on your Big Island itinerary: check out our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkel tours!

Orchids at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden near Hilo on Hawaii Island
See a variety of orchids at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden near Hilo

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Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

1. Snorkel with Manta Rays

One of the most popular attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, a night snorkel with manta rays is an experience you don’t want to miss!

Manta rays are a giant species of fish. The wingspan of the manta rays you see in Kona can be as much as eight to fourteen feet, and seeing these gentle giants in the water is a thrilling experience.

Swimming with manta rays in Kona Hawaii
Swimming with manta rays is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Manta rays are docile and harmless, so you don’t need to worry about being bitten or stung. They are filter feeders: they swim with their mouths open to filter plankton.

On this guided excursion from Kona, you will be taken out by boat to the snorkel spot. Watch a colorful Hawaiian sunset before the snorkeling begins!

Once in the water, you will hold on to a flotation device and look down into the ocean.

Bright lights are shone down into the water to draw plankton, on which manta rays feed. And you’ll be right there to see the giant fish swim up to feed! Sometimes they even pass really close to you as they swim gracefully by in search of food.

Wet suits, snorkeling gear, and flotation devices are included. Most tours guarantee manta ray sightings or you get additional time or go again.

This highly-rated 2.5-hour tour offers you an hour in the water with the manta rays. Light refreshments are included, as well as all equipment. Manta sightings are guaranteed or you get to go again.

>> Check pricing and availability for this Big Island manta ray snorkeling tour now!

Tip: Book the excursion for early in your trip so you have the opportunity to reschedule if weather washes out your tour or you don’t see any manta rays at all (very rare!)

2. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The largest park in the state, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is without a doubt one of the most exciting things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Lava flow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
Watching a lava flow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

The park is home to two of the most active volcanoes on the planet: Kilauea, and Mauna Loa. Kilauea last erupted in 2023!

If you are lucky enough to visit during an active eruption, viewing the lava flow safely is a thrilling experience.

There are two scenic drives in the park, with the major sights accessed from one or the other: the Crater Rim Drive Tour and the Chain of Craters Road Tour.

Hiking trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park let you get up close to the landscapes. The Kilauea Iki Trail to the solid lava lake on the crater floor is hugely popular, as is a shorter hike to see the petroglyphs at Pu’uloa.

Walking through Nāhuku, the Thurston Lava Tube, is another very popular activity in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The Chain Of Craters Road Tour is a beautiful drive that runs all the way to the ocean, where you can see the gorgeous Holei Sea Arch. The Pu’uloa petroglyphs hike is also along this road.

While you will want to allow at least a full day to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, two days will allow you to see the sights at leisure and enjoy some hiking.

3. Enjoy sunset and stargazing at Mauna Kea

At 13,803 feet above sea level, the summit of Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii. The summit of the inactive shield volcano is a coveted spot for both sunrise and sunset on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The summit of Mauna Kea is a world famous astrological viewing site, so if your itinerary allows, opt for a sunset and stargazing excursion!

Stargazing at Mauna Kea, a bucket list activity on the Big Island of Hawaii
Stargazing at Mauna Kea should definitely be on your Big Island bucket list!

Driving to the summit is only possible in a 4WD vehicle, so it’s easier to book a guided tour if you want to go up to the top. Tour operators bring portable telescopes and you can stargaze under the guidance of an experienced tour leader.

>> Check pricing and availability for a Mauna Kea summit sunset + stargazing tour!

The elevation of the Mauna Kea summit means that altitude sickness could be an issue, so watch for signs if you choose to go to the top. Kids under 13 are not allowed up to the summit.

You don’t have to go all the way to the summit for an excellent sunset and stargazing experience on Mauna Kea.

The Mauna Kea Visitor Station, which is located at 9,200 feet above sea level, can be accessed with a regular car, so you can drive up yourself if you like, and bring kids as well. It is a popular sunset viewing location, so arrive early to be sure of a parking spot.

4. Gaze in awe at Akaka Falls

Among the most breathtaking sights on the Big Island of Hawaii, the 442-foot Akaka Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the state.

Must-visit Akaka Falls State Park is located just a few miles north of Hilo. In the park, a paved trail leads from the parking area to the waterfall.

Akaka Falls plunging into the stream-eroded gorge below, Big Island, Hawaii
‘Akaka Falls, one of the Big island’s top attractions, plunges 442 feet into a stream-eroded gorge

One of the best and most scenic short hikes on the Big Island, the trail to Akaka Falls is classed as moderate rather than easy because there are lots of steps along the way.

And if you’d rather not hike the full loop, you can simply walk up to the first intersection and then take the signed shorter walk to Akaka Falls.

But if you have the time and walking isn’t an issue, do the full loop trail to enjoy the wealth of tropical flora (and fauna, if you are lucky) along the way.

Although Akaka Falls is the main attraction in the park, it’s not the only waterfall you’ll see on the trail.

If you visit after rains and it’s flowing well, you can also catch a profile view of Kahuna Falls on this route.

Akaka Falls State Park is open daily from 8.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. For visitors that are not residents of Hawaii, there is a parking fee of $10 per vehicle and an entrance fee of $5 per person over 3 years of age.

Read our complete guide to Akaka Falls State Park!

Don’t have a rental car? Akaka Falls State Park is a stop on this popular Big Island in a Day tour from Kona. The full day tour also includes Rainbow Falls, which we describe below in #8!

5. Take in the beauty of Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

There are several black sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii but perhaps none as well known as Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, easily accessed from Highway 11.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is located between Pahala and Naalehu on the southeastern Kaʻu coast.

Fringed with coconut trees, the black sands of Punalu’u Beach are a stunning sight.

Punaluu Black Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach | Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

But the photo op isn’t the only reason to visit: you may also find Hawaiian green sea turtles, known in Hawaiian as honu, and hawksbill turtles (known as honu’ea), resting on the sands here. You may also see the occasional Hawaiian monk seal.

There are underground freshwater springs here, and the waters mingle with the saltwater in the bay to create a unique aqueous environment.

Punalu’u Beach is lifeguarded, and there are restrooms and showers to wash the sand off your feet.

While Punalu’u isn’t an ideal swimming (or snorkeling) beach, it is worth visiting for the unique scenery. The currents here can be too rough for safe swimming and the waters usually too murky for good visibility.

If you happen to visit on a day when the waters are calm, you may find that the visibility is good for snorkeling.

Get the full scoop on how to visit Punalu’u Black Sand Beach!

6. Visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

One of the top historical sites on the Big Island, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the South Kona Coast makes for a convenient and very interesting visit.

Considered a place of refuge in Old Hawaii, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is one of the best preserved places of refuge in the state.

Sunset at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii
Sunset at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park

If you had broken kapu, the sacred laws that governed the social order, the punishment was almost always death, unless you evaded your pursuers and made it safely to a puʻuhonua.

In a puʻuhonua, you could stay safe from punishment, and eventually return to your home once an ali’i, a high priest, had absolved you.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the four national parks sites on Hawaii Island, is not only historically significant, it also has a lovely setting by the ocean.

Wander the Royal Grounds, admire the Great Wall (much of the original survives even though it was built without mortar), and snap photos of the reconstructed Canoe Hālau.

The Hale o Keawe, a former royal mausoleum, stands by the ocean, guarded by ki’i, wooden statues of Hawaiian gods.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is open daily from 8.15 a.m. until sunset.

Read our full guide to visiting Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park!

7. Spend a beach day at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

A long and expansive white sand beach with turquoise waters, Hapuna Beach routinely makes lists of the best beaches in the USA and is one of the top places to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Located on the Kohala Coast north of Kailua-Kona, Hapuna Beach offers swimming and snorkeling when conditions are calm, sunbathing, and bodyboarding.

Sunset is a spectacular time to be at Hapuna Beach!

Surfers at Hapuna Beach on the Big island of Hawaii at sunset
Surfers at sunset on Hapuna Beach

If you enjoy oceanfront hiking, the Ala Kahakai Trail can be accessed from Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. The full trail is a 15.4-mile loop, but you can easily hike a part of it when you visit Hapuna Beach.

There’s a picnic pavilion and picnic tables at Hapuna Beach, as well as shade from trees that fringe the beach at the back. Great if you want to have a family beach day!

Three Frogs Cafe, on the beach, has food and offers gear rentals. The beach has restrooms and showers.

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. If you are not a Hawaii resident, there is an entrance fee of $5.00 per person and a parking fee of $10.00 per vehicle.

Read our full guide to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

8. Admire Rainbow Falls in Hilo

Rainbow Falls is part of Wailuku River State Park, one of 14 state parks on the Big Island that protect its many sightseeing treasures.

Among the most-visited waterfalls on the Big Island, Rainbow Falls is a darling of landscape photographers for its lush setting.

Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Hawaii
Visiting Rainbow Falls in Hilo is one of the top things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

And everyone can appreciate the ease of access: Rainbow Falls is right in downtown Hilo and can be seen from a viewing area right by the parking area.

No need to lace up your hiking shoes to view the falls, but a short hike, if you choose to do it, takes you also to the top of the falls. The short walk takes you past several mature banyan trees.

Rainbow Falls is a relatively wide waterfall that cascades about 80 feet down into a plunge pool. The cave over which it drops is considered the home of Hina, a Hawaiian goddess.

Want to see the rainbows for which the waterfall is named? You have to visit early in the day on a sunny morning. A sunny day is not very common in rainy Hilo, so you are lucky if you do catch a rainbow here.

Rainbow Falls is open daily during daylight hours and there is no fee to visit.

9. Snorkel at the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay

The Captain Cook Monument is part of Kealakekua Bay State Historcal Park. It’s located on the South Kona Coast, an easy drive from Kailua-Kona.

With a very picturesque backdrop and calm turquoise waters, Kealaekekua Bay is a must-visit snorkeling destination on the Big Island.

Captain Cook Monument at Ka’awaloa Flats, Kealakekua Bay, Big Island, Hawaii
The Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay

So rich is the coral reef here that the bay is the location of a Marine Life Conservation District. You may even see spinner dolphins in the bay.

The most easy to visit part of the park is Nopoʻopoʻo Beach Park, a pebbly beach that offers good snorkeling, and the Hikiau Heiau, an important ancient Hawaiian temple. You can get to this part of the park by car.

But the best snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay is to be found in the waters by the Captain Cook Monument, a white obelisk-shaped memorial to the English explorer that stands at the shore of the bay.

Captain Cook died in this area in 1779 after a skirmish with local Hawaiians.

A steep hike takes you down to the monument, or you can arrive by kayak or on a boat tour. There are several companies that run boat tours to Kealakekua Bay.

By far the most popular means to get to this amazing snorkel spot is on a guided boat tour from Kona.

This 4-hour snorkeling cruise from Kona allows you to snorkel in the waters at the Captain Cook Monument, look for dolphins along the way, and enjoy lunch after snorkeling.

>> Check pricing and availability for this Captain Cook snorkeling cruise now!

10. Tour the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Touring the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, and even visitors with only a casual interest in plants will love wandering the paths here.

Located just a few miles north of Hilo along the scenic Old Mamalahoa Highway, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is home to an impressive collection of tropical plants.

Onomea Falls in Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island of Hawaii
Onomea Falls is a lovely little waterfall in the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The garden was originally established by Dan Lutkenhouse, who bought a 17-acre parcel of land here in the late 1970s and set about clearing it, with an assistant, of all the overgrowth. Then plants were collected and planted over the course of the following decades.

Onomea Falls is a lovey waterfall that was discovered when the land was cleared. Today, Onomea Falls and a second waterfall, Boulder Creek Falls, are showcased in the garden.

Walk the paths to admire the extensive collection of orchids, palms, heliconias, bromeliads, and other tropical and sub-tropical species. The garden also features views of Onomea Bay.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Entrance is $30.00 per adult visitor that’s not a resident of Hawaii, with discounts for residents, active military personnel, and kids.

Read our detailed guide to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden!

11. Take in the views at the Pololu Valley Lookout

One of the most stunning viewpoints on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Pololu Valley Lookout is located on the northeastern coast of the island.

The Pololu Valley Lookout is well worth the 80-minute drive up the Kohala Coast from Kailua-Kona, or a must-stop spot if you are taking the northern route to get from Kona to Hilo or vice versa.

 View of the black sand beach at Pololu Valley on Hawaii Island
Looking down at the black sand beach from the Pololu Valley Lookout

There is a small parking area at the end of the road. Usually volunteers are present to guide traffic and offer trail information.

Park and enjoy the astounding views of the cliffs of Pololu Valley, and the coastline. It’s one of the most photographed views on the Big Island.

If you are up for the challenge of the steep descent and ascent, you can hike the trail down to the black sand beach at the bottom, although the beach is not safe for swimming.

If you choose to hike down, stay on the beach and do not cross into roped off areas. Pololu Valley is a sacred site for Hawaiians and contains a historic burial site.

12. Hike the Kilauea Iki Trail

Hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail is without a doubt one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. You’ll find the trail inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

At 4 miles total length, the out and back Kilauea Iki Trail is classed as a moderately challenging hike and is doable for families with active kids that are not very young.

Kilauea Iki is our favorite Big Island hike: the views are spectacular.

Floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater on the Big Island of Hawaii
On the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater

The trailhead for the Kilauea Iki Trail is on Crater Rim Drive, just a 5-minute drive from the Kilauea Visitor Center. Since the trail is hugely popular, parking tends to fill up early, so plan or arriving first thing in the morning.

The trail starts by going through a forest of ohia lehua trees (when in bloom, their red flowers are gorgeous!) and hapuu ferns, and then descends to the barren crater floor for a complete change of scenery.

In the forested areas, look for native Hawaiian honeycreepers like the i’iwi and the ‘apapane.

13. Visit the Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

For adventure loving visitors, one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii is visit the Papakōlea Green Sand Beach.

There are just a handful of green sand beaches on the entire planet, so it’s not surprising that Papakolea Beach is on the bucket list of many visitors to Hawaii Island.

Green sand Papakolea Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii
Seeing green sand at Papakolea Beach is one of the must-do Big Island activities!

Created by deposits of olivine, a component of lava on the Big Island, Papakolea Green Sand Beach can be found at the very southern tip of the island. It is a picturesque beach, carved in an old cinder cone.

There is only one legal way to visit this remote and beautiful Big Island beach: hiking. Drive to the parking lot at the end of South Point Road, where you can park in the parking lot.

Take the road to the water and then follow the road until you get to the cliffs above Papakolea Beach. Here you can choose to carefully climb down the cliff to the beach or view it from above.

Swimming at Papakolea Beach is iffy because the surf is often too rough. There is no lifeguard, and no other amenities.

The green sand beach hike is 2.5 miles each way and exposed, so it tends to get very hot. Plan to start as early in the day as you can, and use sun protection.

Note: You may find locals offering 4X4 Jeep rides from the public parking lot to the cliffs above Papakolea Beach, but the activity is not legal. And rental car companies forbid you from driving this road in your rental car. So the only legal way to visit is by hiking.

14. Tour a Coffee Farm

Trying Kona coffee in the place where it’s grown is one of the top things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kona Coffee, considered among the best coffee in the world, gets its name from the fact that it’s grown on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts of the Big Island.

Because production is limited, 100 percent Kona coffee is very expensive.

You can order a cup of Kona coffee at a restaurant when you visit the Big Island but for a more immersive experience, you can also visit one of the many farms in the region that offer tours.

On a typical visit, you will walk through the coffee orchards and learn about the cultivation and harvesting process. Then you will visit the mill, where the beans are processed.

Kona coffee trees on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kona coffee orchard | Things to Do on the Big Island

And of course you will taste the coffee! You can usually buy some to bring back, or order coffee to be shipped to your home.

Many Big Island tours include a stop at a local coffee farm. This highly rated tour, for example, combines a visit from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with a stop at a local coffee farm.

As coffee aficionados, we loved this dedicated 90-minute coffee farm experience led by the farm owners. The farm, on the Hualalai volcano, can be accessed via taxi or Uber if you do not have a rental car.

15. Visit the Waipi’o Valley Lookout

The Waipi’o Valley Lookout is a stunning viewpoint on the northeast side of the Big Island, a few miles north of Hilo.

The valley is historically significant as the childhood home of King Kamehameha I, the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. It’s called “the Valley of the Kings.”

The lush Waipio Valley is surrounded by towering volcanic cliffs and a place of breathtaking beauty. Once a valley where many Hawaiians lived, today Waipio Valley is home to under 100 people.

The Waipio Valley Overlook offers a great view down into the valley and the coastline with its black sand beach. It is one of the top photo spots on the Big Island.

Waipio Valley Overlook on the Big Island of Hawaii
Black sand beach seen from the Waipio Valley Overlook

There is a small parking lot where you can park your car for free and then walk down to the vista point. It’s a rather steep walk down, but there are handrails on either side to assist.

There are restrooms and some shade if you want to enjoy a meal here, and boards with information about historic Waipio Valley.

You cannot drive or hike down into the valley at this time: the steep road leading down is currently closed to visitors.

16. Take a helicopter tour over the Big Island

All the Hawaiian islands look gorgeous from the air, and the Big Island of Hawaii is no exception. No wonder a helicopter tour is on the bucket list for so many visitors to Hawaii!

If an eruption is in progress when you visit a helicopter tour is a fantastic way to take in the action from above. And Kilauea eruptions happen quite frequently, so it isn’t farfetched to think one might occur when you plan to visit.

Seeing lava flow from a helicopter tour of the Big Island of Hawaii
See lava flow from a helicopter tour of the Big Island!

But even otherwise, a helicopter tour is worthy of your Big Island bucket list, to see its diverse landscapes spread out beneath you, juxtaposed with the blue of the surrounding Pacific Ocean.

This highly-rated deluxe Big Island helicopter tour has a flight time of one hour and 45 minutes and covers the entire island.

You will see the steam vents of Kilauea, the massive forms of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, waterfalls on the Kohala Coast, and the lush rainforest of the Hamakua Coast.

>>> Check pricing and availability for this Big Island helicopter tour now!

17. Drive the Scenic Hamakua Coast

There are a number of very scenic drives on the Big Island of Hawaii, and the Hamakua Coast drive is right there among the best.

The Hamakua Heritage Corridor stretches from the town of Hilo, on the Big Island’s east coast, to the historic Waipio Valley Overlook (see #14 above!)

This super scenic 40-mile stretch of coast is replete with lush rainforest, waterfalls, and jaw-dropping views of the coastline, with many must-stop spots along the route.

Waves crashing onto shore at Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park in Hawaii
Crashing waves at Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park

Be sure to include the Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive, four miles of spectacular scenery just north of Hilo. You will enjoy beautiful views of Onomea Bay as you traverse the narrow winding road with moss-covered bridges and creeks.

Stop to explore the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and Akaka Falls State Park. Each is a Big Island attraction in its own right.

Further north, Laupahoehoe Point is a must-stop spot for a stunning view over the coastline.

Kalopa State Recreation Area features a lovely hike through a forest of ohia lehua trees, and if you enjoy farm tours, be sure to stop at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

The little town of Honoka’a is another worthwhile stop on this beautiful drive, before you arrive at the Waipio Valley Overlook, the end point of your drive.

18. Attend a Big Island luau

Although other Hawaiian islands like Maui are more known for their luau offerings, that does not mean that you cannot enjoy a luau on the Big Island of Hawaii.

A luau is a traditional Hawaiian celebration that usually combines a feast of local delicacies with entertainment that includes Hawaiian or Polynesian music and dance.

Fire dancers at a Polynesian show
Fire dancing is the typical last act of a Polynesian show

Today’s luaus are large events, so expect your luau experience to be a shared experience with several dozen other visitors.

The Voyagers of the Pacific Luau at the Royal Kona Resort in Kona is held in an oceanfront setting. It is one of the most popular luaus on the Big Island, with an imu ceremony, a buffet feast, and a Polynesian show.

>>> Check pricing and availability for the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau now!

Island Breeze Luau is held in downtown Kona, making it a breeze to attend. The oceanfront luau features a Hawaiian buffet and open bar and a Polynesian show that ends with Samoan fire dancing.

>>> Check pricing and availability for the Island Breeze Luau now!

19. Tour the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

For visitors that enjoy taking in some local history on vacations, a visit to the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park can be both educational and fun.

One of the Big Island national parks sites that’s located an easy drive from Kona, Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park is home to traditional Hawaiian fishponds that offer insight into how Hawaiians used ingenuity to make the most of the resources available to them.

Aimakapa Fishpond on the Big Island of Hawaii
A view of the Aimakapa Fishpond

Several types of fishponds were used by the Hawaiians to capture or raise fish, one of the major food sources on the islands.

The Aimakapa Fishpond in the park used to be a loko pu’uone, a type of fishpond along the shore that made use of seawater and freshwater sources to raise fish.

If you enjoy birdwatching, be sure to bring your binoculars: the Aimakapa Fishpond is habitat for many different species of birds, many of them migratory.

Honokohau Beach is a lovely white coral sand beach in the park. There are tidepools to explore, and the beach makes for a nice stroll. You may see honu, Hawaiian green sea turtles, or a Hawaiian monk seal on the beach.

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park is open daily all through the year. The Hale Ho’okipa Visitor Center and the parking area are open from 8.30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

20. Go ziplining

When our kids were in their teens, we always included a zipline adventure when we visited any Hawaiian island. They loved soaring above the forests and past waterfalls!

If you love the idea of a zipline adventure, you will find lots of zipline tours on the Big Island from which to choose, but we especially like the ones that include waterfalls.

Ziplining past a waterfall on the Big Island of Hawaii
Ziplining past waterfalls is one of the top Big Island experiences for adventure-loving visitors!

This highly-rated zipline adventure over Kolekole Falls starts at Honomu, just a short drive north of Hilo. It’s an amazing ride because you zip right past the waterfall!

The 7-line adventure starts off small and gradually increases in length and height per zipline, making for an amazing ride.

>>> Check pricing and availability for the Kolekole Falls zipline adventure now!

Or consider this 9-line, 2-hour zipline adventure over Umauma Falls, also near Hilo. The experience features four dual lines, so you can even zip along beside a friend or family member.

With views of the Pacific Ocean from every platform, and views over forests, rivers, and waterfalls as you ride, this is one of the most scenic zipline adventures on the Big Island!

>>> Check pricing and availability for the Umauma Falls zipline adventure now!

21. Tour the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

If you enjoy local history, Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site makes for an interesting visit on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

An easy drive north of Kona Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is located just off Hghway 19 and is home to the largest heiau (sacred temple) in Hawaii.

The restored stone heiau at the summit of the hill at the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site on the Big Island of Hawaii
The massive heiau built by King Kamehameha I, now restored, sits at the top of the hill

The restored stone temple was built by King Kamehameha I, credited with unifying the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii. He was reportedly told by his high priest to build the temple in order to gain the spiritual power to control the island of Hawaii.

The rocks used to build the original temple were brought in from Pololu Valley, with people forming a line end to end to pass the rocks by hand.

With walls on three sides (the side facing the sea was left open), the heiau was built without mortar.

A 0.5-mile loop trail takes you through the park. Active visitors can also hike south from the park along the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.

Other than viewing the historic sites, look for marine life in the ocean: sightings of dolphins, sea birds, and whales (in season) are common. The park is also a birders’ paradise, with many species.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is open daily from 7.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and entrance is free.

22. Explore Kona

Kona is a delightful town to explore on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Also known as Kailua-Kona, the town is a popular start point for excursions along the north and south Kona coast, but also allow some time to stroll the town itself.

Visit the Hulihe‘e Palace, located on Ali’i Drive. It used to be a summer palace for Hawaiian royalty and today it’s a museum you can tour. Take the docent-led tour if you can, for a more immersive experience!

Hulihee Palace in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island, Hawaii
Hulihee Palace in Kona Town

If you are a craft beer enthusiast, tour the Kona Brewing Company! You will get an engaging lesson in how the beer is brewed, followed by a tasting of samples.

There are boutique shops and art galleries in town if you enjoy retail therapy. Some of the galleries feature the works of local artists if you want to browse for souvenirs to bring back home while supporting the local economy.

Quilting enthusiasts will want to make a stop at the small Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum and Gallery. We thought the quilts on display were gorgeous.

23. Take a farm tour

A coffee plantation is only one of the types of farm tours you can experience on the Big Island of Hawaii, and one of our favorite things to do is find a new farm to tour every time we visit.

On a tour of the Hawaiian Salt Farm in Kona, you will learn how Hawaiian salt is harvested by hand from the ocean. Walk the lovely grounds by the ocean and sample a variety of Hawaiian salts.

At the Vanillerie, a small vanilla farm in Kona, you can see vanilla growing on the vine. The tour is very informational, and you can sample some vanilla ice cream, made with in-house vanilla. And you can shop for vanilla products to bring home!

Vanilla pods on the vine
Vanilla pods on the vine

Just one hour from Hilo, you can take a guided tour of an edible hibiscus farm and learn how it is used in syrups, teas, and other products. The farm offers great ocean views as well!

Also near Hilo you can visit a coffee and chocolate plantation, to learn about coffee is grown and produced, and to discover the chocolate-making journey from bean to bar. Sample both treats after your tour!

24. Hike the Lava Trees Loop Trail

Lava trees are a unique feature that you have to see when you visit the Big Island of Hawaii!

Protected at the Lava Tree State Monument a little south of Hilo, lava trees are molds left behind after a lava flow has swept through a forest. They look like sculptures, only carved by nature.

An easy family-friendly 0.7-mile loop trail winds through the forest, allowing you to see the lava tree molds up close and snap photos. The trail is paved but it has some rough patches, so watch your step as you walk.

Lava molds in Lava Tree State Monument on the Big Island of Hawaii
Lava tree molds at Lava Tree State Monument

Along the trail, you can also see where new forest growth is coming up.

You will find the trailhead right next to the parking area. If you bring a picnic meal, this is a nice park in which to relax and enjoy a meal.

There are restrooms in the park but no drinking water, so be sure to bring your own.

Lava Tree State Monument is open daily during daylight hours and is free to visit.

25. Enjoy the white sand beach of Kua Bay

From Kona, drive up the coast to Maniniʻōwali Beach, a gorgeous white sand beach that’s also known as Kua Bay, after the body of water on which it is located.

Part of the Kekaha Kai State Park, Maniniʻōwali Beach is the perfect place to enjoy beach time on the leeward side of the Big Island.

You’ll find the water crystal clear here, and the beach is a little more secluded than other white sand beaches nearby that are easier to access.

Fringed with lava rocks, Maniniʻōwali Beach is a picture postcard beach. Even if you do not set foot in the water, it makes for a wonderful place to sunbathe or stroll.

A Hawaiian green sea turtle at Kua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
Visiting stunning Kua Bay is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you plan to visit in the winter, Maniniʻōwali Beach is a spectacular sunset viewing spot. But note that the waves can be strong here in the winter, so it’s not the best time of year to get into the water.

When the waters are calm, though, you can snorkel or swim at Maniniʻōwali Beach. There is a reef to look for marine life, and you may see dolphins or whales (in season) out in the ocean. There is a lifeguard.

Maniniʻōwali Beach offers restrooms and showers. There is no shade, so bring your own. You may find a food truck here, but if you want to eat, bring a picnic lunch.

26. Explore the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail

The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is a 175-mile series of trails that seeks to preserve stunning coastal landscapes and ancient Hawaiian sites. It literally means “path by the sea.”

The trail runs from Upolu Point in the northwest of the island, all along the west side, and up the eastern side to Puna.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the Ala Kahakai Trail on the Big Island of Hawaii
Water views abound along the Ala Kahakai Trail

You can access the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail at many points along its length, but the most popular stretch lies between Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area and Spencer Beach Park on the Kohala Coast.

This stretch of the trail offers spectacular ocean views as it winds through some waterfront residential areas with upscale homes and a golf course.

En route, you will find lots of little beaches and lava rock areas to explore. You can even stop to snorkel or swim if conditions are calm.

Use sun protection, since most of this stretch of trail is exposed. Morning is a wonderful time to enjoy this walk: you may even have the trail all to yourself on a weekday morning.

Wear water sandals that are suitable for hiking on uneven terrain and carry drinking water.

27. Visit the Hilo Farmers Market

Held daily, year round, the Hilo Farmers Market is as much a local attraction as it is a place to shop for fresh fruit or souvenirs.

You’ll find the market in downtown Hilo, at the corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are the “big” market days, with over 200 vendors. The market is open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on these days. On other days of the week, a smaller market is open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Papaya at a Hawaii famers market
Look for fresh papaya at the Hilo Farmers Market!

Vendors run the gamut from local farmers to artisans, retailers, restaurants, and food trucks.

Look for fresh produce, a variety of fresh tropical fruit, local honey, coffee, tropical flowers, and arts and crafts. Enjoy fresh poke and other prepared foods and treat yourself to refreshing shave ice.

Prices are usually reasonable, and if you are lucky, you may find a unique locally-handcrafted souvenir to bring home!

28. Visit the Kaumana Caves

Near downtown Hilo on Kaumana Drive you can explore the Kaumana Caves, a network of underground lava formations. It’s one of the coolest things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Formed during the Mauna Loa lava flows of 1881 that threatened the town of Hilo, the Kaumana Caves feature many interesting lava formations.

Kaumana Caves near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii
The Kaumana Caves

There is no entrance fee, and you can explore as much or as little of the public areas of the underground caves as you like. Some of the site is on private property.

The area right near the entrance has some natural light that you can augment with the light from your phone. The cascading plants are gorgeous!

But to explore beyond the immediate entrance area, wear a headlamp or bring a flashlight, and wear proper footwear, long pants, and a long-sleeved top. And explore with a buddy!

The park offers restrooms, and there are picnic tables. There is a small parking lot across the street where you can park for free.

29. Snorkel at Two Step Beach at Honaunau Bay!

Love snorkeling from shore? Two Step Beach on the South Kona Coast is one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island.

Two Step at Honaunau Bay is a short drive south from Kona, and you can combine snorkeling at two Step with visiting Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park next door.

Two Step Beach at Honaunau Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
Snorkeling at Two Step Beach is one of the must-dos on the Big Island of Hawaii!

There’s no real beach here, but Two Step has a stunning setting with lots of lava rock shelves and an expansive coral reef. The turquoise waters of Honaunau Bay beckon invitingly.

It’s called “Two Step” because of the two-step entry into the water.

While the nearshore waters offer impressive snorkeling, with schools of colorful tropical fish and the occasional sea turtle, also keep an eye out for dolphins cavorting in the deeper waters of the bay.

Two Step Beach is also a popular diving location, and you may see classes for beginners in progress at the northern end of the bay. More advanced divers also set on scuba diving excursions from the beach.

Parking nearby comes with a small fee, but you can also park along the road to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park if there is a spot and then walk to Two Step.

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Discover the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Go stargazing on Mauna Kea. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Swim with manta rays at night, Taste Kona coffee. Our round-up has everything you need for your Big Island of Hawaii bucket list!

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