Aloha! Just got back from a trip to one of my favorite places on Earth, Hawaii! My family has been going to Hawaii almost every year since I was about 12 years old. We typically visit Kauai so that island will always have a special place in my heart but this year we headed to the Big Island!
The Big Island tends to get looked over. It’s not as green and lush as Kauai and it’s not as busy as Oahu. Yet it’s still one incredible place. There’s something extremely surreal about being on an island that is covered in black lava rock from a volcano that could explode at any point.
Because the island is less popular than some of the others, it can be hard to find things to do online. Luckily, I found a few incredible activities and restaurants for you to enjoy during your trip. So here are 11 things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!
Night Snorkel with Manta Rays
Okay, so if there’s only one thing that you do on this list, it’s this which is why I’m putting it first! I have always loved the ocean and feel at home when I’m in the water but I’m also terrified of it at night. The water is pitch black and you can’t see a thing so when we decided to go on a night snorkel with manta rays, I was a bit hesitant. But I swallowed my fear and off we went. It helps that they put lights in the water (and never see sharks)!
We originally went on the sunset snorkel where you enjoy a sunset on the boat before jumping in the water once the sun is down. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a single manta ray. Luckily though, Sea Paradise has a manta guarantee so we went back again later in the week for their night snorkel. There we saw 4 rays swimming around, eating plankton. It was an absolutely unbelievable experience witnessing those beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
Shaved Ice at Scandinavian Ice
What would a trip to Hawaii be without some shaved ice? I’ll let you in on a little secret: get ice cream in the middle. It’s a game changer. I stumbled upon Scandinavian Ice and heard great things so I figured we had to give it a try. And boy did it not disappoint. I had guava, mango, and pineapple with macadamia nut ice cream in the middle and 10/10 recommend.
Snorkel Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook’s)
I am a big fan of taking boat tours any chance I can get and recommend that everyone else does the same. You get to feel the wind in your hair as the boat rocks you back and forth before stopping to snorkel, jump off the boat, and go down the boat’s slide. On the Big Island, we took Fair Wind out to Kealakekua Bay, the spot where Captain Cook was killed and a monument has been placed in his memory. It’s by far the best way to start off your morning. Just be sure to take Dramamine and bring lots of sunscreen!
Relax at Mauna Kea Beach
Mauna Kea is arguably the most beautiful beach in Hawaii, if not the world. The white sand is soft to the touch and the water is about as blue as it gets. The beach stretches for about a half mile and is a great place to soak up the Hawaiian sun and sip on one or two lava flows.
Parking can be a bit of a nightmare. It’s recommended to get there around 8:30 in the morning but we got there around 10:30 and found a spot. We were told the beach lot was full but when we drove down there were 3 or 4 openings. It’s always worth checking and waiting for a spot before committing to valet your car for $45.
Pronounced Ha-vee, this quiet little town is tucked away on the slopes of the Kohala Mountain. The free-spirited little art town is full of shops where you can pick up some souvenirs and restaurants to enjoy some traditional Hawaiian meals. Be sure to stop by the Kohala Coffee Mill where they serve 100% Kona coffee and get a macadamia nut latte.
Hike or 4WD Down Waipo Valley
After picking up some gifts in Hawi, continue to Waipio Lookout on the Hamakua Coast. The view reminds me of Na’Pali Coast in Kauai and in my opinion, it’s the epitome of Hawaiian beauty. We simply stopped and took a few photos but if we were in the right attire, I would’ve 100% hiked the 6.4 miles down to the black sand beach sitting at the bottom of the valley. You can also take a 4WD car down but only do so if you’re comfortable driving steep, narrow roads.
Explore Pu’uhonua O Honaunau
Imagine you had just broken a sacred law and the only punishment is death. And imagine your only chance of surviving is to reach Pu’uhonua, a place of refuge. Today you can visit said place and get a glimpse of what many Hawaiians went through. Taking a self-guided tour will lead you through the remains of a former civilization and the royal grounds. After taking a stroll through the historic site, you can enjoy the nearby Honaunau Beach.
Tour Kona Brewery
You might’ve seen Kona Beer here on the mainland and if you haven’t, stop what you’re doing and go get some at your nearest grocery store. Well during our stay, we took a brewery tour where we got to learn all about how the beers are brewed and how the brewery prides themselves in being as eco-friendly as possible. And at the end of the tour, you get to sample 4-5 beers (a great way too cool off in the Kona heat).
Come with an appetite because once you’re done with your tour, you’re going to want to try the pizza at the attached restaurant. It’s absolutely delicious.
Take a Helicopter Tour
If you’d rather see Hawaii by air than by boat, take a helicopter tour! Flying up in the sky over the Big Island makes you realize just how big it really is. Plus you get to see how much land was destroyed by lava in an explosion that took place in 2018. We left out of Hilo airport and took a tour that focused on the Kilauea volcano.
Walk Around Kona (& Eat at Kona Inn)
If staying on the west side of the island, make a point to walk around Kona Village at least once. It’s home to shops, farmers markets, restaurants, and Hawaii’s nightlife scene. Scandinavian Ice is in Kona so be sure to grab a bite to cool off in between shops. And once the sun starts to set, head to Kona Inn for dinner.
The Kona Inn was built in 1928 to house passengers from steamers that passed by. As the years passed, it became popular with locals and tourists alike & became the reason that Kona is as popular as it is today. Though you can no longer stay there, the waterfront restaurant is still in operation and offers fresh fish and delicious mai tais. There really is no better place to watch the sunset.
Coffee Plantation Tour
Last but not least, it’s imperative that you take a coffee plantation tour to learn about the process behind Kona coffee and what makes it so special. We went on a free tour with Greenwell Farms and it was so informative and our tour guide oozed happiness and pride in what she does. They do complimentary tours every day from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. They also have bags you can buy and take home with you for days when you need a little pick me up and you’re missing days on the island.
Have you been to the Big Island yet? What were some activities that you loved?