Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii: 12 Must-Visit Attractions

by Jen
Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii
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Are you thinking about visiting the Big Island this year? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do on the Big Island. These spectacular sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an exciting travel experience.

Imagine a place where fiery volcanoes meet azure waters, where ancient petroglyphs tell tales of yore, and where every sunset paints a masterpiece across the sky. Welcome to the Big Island of Hawaii, a slice of paradise where Mother Nature showcases her most dramatic performances. The largest in the Hawaiian archipelago, this island isn’t just big by name—it’s big on experiences.

As far as things to do on the Big Island go, there’s countless activities that can make your vacation truly memorable. Dive into a world where rainforests and black sand beaches coexist, where manta rays dance under moonlit waters, and where the spirit of aloha permeates every adventure.

The Big Island is a world unto itself, a microcosm of Earth’s most wondrous landscapes. Whether you’re trekking the lunar landscapes of Mauna Loa or sipping on Kona coffee at its source, the island beckons with an irresistible call. It’s a siren song that lures travelers into its embrace, ensuring they leave with memories as vivid as a Hawaiian rainbow.

Ready to embark on a tropical escapade that will stir your soul and ignite your passion for travel? Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do on the Big Island.

The top places to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii right now
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Best Places to Visit on the Big Island

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do on the Big Island? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this diverse vacation spot. So keep reading to discover all these unique Big Island places to visit.

Are you looking to explore active volcanoes and snorkel in vibrant coral reefs? Or would you prefer stargazing or immersing in rich cultural traditions? Whatever you’re planning, these must sees on the Big Island can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions on the Big Island that you should know about.

1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

One of the best places to go on the Big Island is the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, a realm where Earth’s fiery heart pulses right beneath your feet. Here, the drama unfolds as molten lava meets the sea, forging new land amidst plumes of steam. Walking through its diverse landscapes, from scalded deserts to lush rainforests, you’re witnessing the creation of our planet in real-time.

The Crater Rim Drive is a journey of a lifetime, taking you to the gaping maw of Kīlauea and the mesmerizing Halemaʻumaʻu crater. At the end of the Chain of Craters Road, the lava’s journey to the sea is starkly evident, an ever-changing canvas of blackened rock and fiery flows. Now wonder, visiting this park is one of the best things to do on the Big Island.

For the nocturnal adventurers, a nighttime visit offers a surreal spectacle: the glowing caldera illuminating the dark, like a beacon from Earth’s core. Big Island attractions rarely get as elemental and raw as this. Gear up, wear sturdy shoes, and prepare to be awestruck by the might and majesty of our living planet.

Visiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park: Experience a fiery heartbeat as molten lava meets the sea, a real-time glimpse into planet creation.

2. Manta Ray Night Dive

Diving into the inky Pacific waters at night might sound like the setting of a thriller, yet it’s here that one of the coolest things to do on the Big Island unfolds. Just off the Kona Coast, divers and snorkelers float on the water’s surface with dive lights, creating a spectacle below that attracts graceful manta rays.

These gentle giants, with wingspans that can exceed 15 feet, dance and twirl in the illuminated waters, coming astonishingly close as they feed on the plankton attracted to the lights. The ballet of mantas, gliding and somersaulting, is a heart-stopping sight you won’t soon forget.

For those wondering what to do on the Big Island after the sun sets, this is your answer. It’s an experience that bridges the mysterious world beneath the waves with the human realm, reminding us of the wonder the ocean holds. And while you’re floating there, the starry Hawaiian sky above you, you’ll feel an undeniable connection to the vast universe around you—both above and below.

Dive into the dark Pacific at night for an exhilarating encounter with graceful manta rays attracted by dive lights.
Dive into the dark Pacific at night for an exhilarating encounter with graceful manta rays attracted by dive lights.

3. Waipio Valley Lookout

Stepping up to the Waipio Valley Lookout feels like you’ve uncovered one of the best places on the Big Island. The breathtaking vista from the lookout provides a panoramic view of the deep and verdant Waipio Valley, contrasted against the vivid blue of the Pacific Ocean. This awe-inspiring scene gives a taste of Hawaii’s raw, untouched beauty.

Known as the “Valley of the Kings,” this sacred place is steeped in Hawaiian legends and history. A visit here is a journey back in time. Imagine ancient Hawaiian royals walking the fertile land, tapping into its abundant resources.

Horseback tours and hikes are popular ways to explore deeper into the valley, where taro farms dot the landscape and waterfalls cascade from towering cliffs. For those contemplating where to go on the Big Island to truly soak in its natural splendor, Waipio Valley Lookout should be on the list.

Finish your visit by capturing that perfect photograph. The panoramic beauty combined with the soothing sounds of nature is a clear reminder of Hawaii’s allure, making it a must-see on the Big Island.

At Waipio Valley Lookout, discover a breathtaking panorama of the deep, lush valley against the vibrant blue of the Pacific Ocean.
At Waipio Valley Lookout, discover a breathtaking panorama of the deep, lush valley against the vibrant blue of the Pacific Ocean.

4. Akaka Falls State Park

Eagerly searching for coolest activities on the Big Island? Say no more, because Akaka Falls State Park is about to top your list. Located just a stone’s throw from Hilo, this state park is home to one of Hawaii’s most iconic waterfalls: the magnificent Akaka Falls.

At a staggering height of 442 feet, Akaka Falls plunges into a lush, tropical gorge, a sight that never fails to captivate visitors. The contrast of the white, frothy waters against the deep greens of the surrounding vegetation paints a postcard-perfect picture.

An easily accessible trail, surrounded by wild orchids, bamboo groves, and ferns, leads to the viewpoint of this cascading wonder. Along the way, listen out for the symphony of native birds and the gentle rustle of leaves, complementing the distant roar of the falls.

If you’re wondering Big Island things to do that provide both tranquility and exhilarating visuals, this should be a top contender. And, after experiencing the majesty of Akaka Falls firsthand, it’ll quickly become evident why this spot is among the unique places on the Big Island to immerse yourself in nature’s splendor.

Akaka Falls mesmerizes with its white cascades against lush greenery, creating a postcard-perfect scene.
Akaka Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii mesmerizes with its white cascades against lush greenery, creating a postcard-perfect scene.

5. Mauna Kea Summit

Best places on the Big Island? Oh, you bet Mauna Kea Summit makes the cut. Soaring at a jaw-dropping 13,796 feet above sea level, this dormant volcano isn’t just one of Hawaii’s tallest peaks – it’s an astronomical haven.

Under the velvety cover of the night sky, Mauna Kea becomes a window to the universe. Thanks to the mountain’s elevation and remote location, you’ll be treated to some of the most vivid stargazing opportunities on Earth. Constellations, distant planets, and the ethereal glow of the Milky Way? Prepare to tick them off your cosmic bucket list!

For those seeking unique things to do on the Big Island, a guided tour offers the chance to peek through some of the world’s most powerful telescopes stationed at the summit. Here, science and splendor fuse, with astrophysicists from across the globe drawn to this astronomical utopia.

And as dawn approaches, brace yourself for a sunrise that will redefine spectacular. The sun casting its first golden rays over a sea of clouds is enough to leave even the most seasoned travelers spellbound. There’s no doubt; Mauna Kea is among the top Big Island attractions for those looking to touch the stars.

Experience an awe-inspiring sunrise, making Mauna Kea a must-visit top attraction for those seeking celestial wonders.
Experience an awe-inspiring sunrise, making Mauna Kea a must-visit top attraction for those seeking celestial wonders.

6. Hapuna Beach

One of the coolest activities on the Big Island is simply basking in the sun on a pristine beach. Enter Hapuna Beach, a slice of sun-kissed paradise that will sweep you off your sandy feet. As waves crash on its shores and palm trees sway with the rhythm of the Hawaiian breeze, you’ll know you’ve found your island nirvana.

Stretching half a mile along the coastline, this beach boasts some of the whitest sand you’ll ever see. It’s not just about the relaxation here, though. Diving into the clear waters opens up a world of marine wonders, with snorkeling revealing colorful coral reefs and a myriad of tropical fish. Big Island places to visit rarely come as inviting as this.

For those looking for some adrenaline, the beach becomes a surfer’s playground during the winter months, thanks to its larger waves. On the flip side, summer welcomes families and swimmers with its calm waters.

As the sun sets, painting the sky in hues of orange and pink, there’s no better place for a beach barbecue or a romantic walk. Hapuna Beach is the ultimate destination where to go on the Big Island for ocean lovers and sun-chasers.

Bask in sun-soaked bliss at Hapuna Beach is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Bask in sun-soaked bliss at Hapuna Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii, where waves caress the shores and swaying palms.

7. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Ever imagined stepping onto a beach that feels like it’s straight out of a dream? Big Island attractions surely offer some mesmerizing sights, but Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is in a league of its own. The first thing you’ll notice is the startling contrast – shimmering azure waves meeting the dark, velvety sand. This sand owes its unique hue to the island’s volcanic history, formed when lava met the cool Pacific waters.

Sea turtles often grace the shores of Punalu’u, basking in the Hawaiian sun. It’s an ethereal experience to watch these gentle giants against the backdrop of the inky sands. Of course, while here, you can’t miss out on the things to do on the Big Island: snorkeling. The clear waters around Punalu’u offer glimpses of vibrant marine life that thrives just beneath the surface.

Want a perfect end to your day? Set up a picnic spot and soak in the unparalleled views of the setting sun as it casts golden hues on the waters. Truly, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach stands tall as one of the best places to go on the Big Island for a truly enchanting experience.

Experience a dreamy reality at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, where azure waves meet volcanic black sands.
Experience a dreamy reality at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, where azure waves meet volcanic black sands.

8. Holualoa Village

Where to visit on the Big Island when you’re a fan of art and history? Look no further than Holualoa Village. Perched high up in the Kona coffee belt, this vibrant town is brimming with local art galleries, each showcasing the island’s rich culture and heritage through various mediums.

Meander through streets lined with brightly painted homes and you’ll see artists at work, passionately crafting their next masterpiece. Ceramics, paintings, woodwork – the variety is impressive. Of course, this spot’s not just for art aficionados. The coolest activities on the Big Island often merge with Holualoa’s art scene. You can join workshops, learn the basics of traditional Hawaiian art forms, or even try your hand at pottery.

And while you’re there, let the inviting aroma of Kona coffee guide you. After all, Holualoa is right in the heart of coffee country. Taste the rich, aromatic brews and maybe even take a guided tour of a coffee farm. By the time you leave, you’ll likely have a few more art pieces for your collection and a renewed appreciation for the unique places on the Big Island.

9. Kona Coffee Living History Farm

Let’s talk Big Island attractions that indulge the senses. Kona Coffee Living History Farm does that and more. It’s a captivating walk into Hawaii’s history, diving deep into the legacy of Kona coffee cultivation. And guess what? This is the only living history coffee farm in the nation!

As soon as you step into the farm, you’re transported back to the early 20th century. Experience the daily lives of early Japanese immigrants as they labored on coffee farms to make a living. See traditional houses, explore coffee orchards, and yes, interact with friendly donkeys too!

Cool destinations on the Big Island often involve a taste, right? Get ready to savor authentic Kona coffee – a treat for your taste buds. Delight in the rich aroma and the intricate flavors; it’s a testament to the care and tradition poured into every cup.

To wrap up your day, drop by the farm’s store. Packed with souvenirs, it’s where you pick up coffee to recreate that magical Kona moment at home. What are the things to do on the Big Island for a blend of history and flavor? Kona Coffee Living History Farm has your answer.

Indulge your senses at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, a captivating journey into the coffee legacy.
Indulge your senses at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, a captivating journey into the coffee legacy.

10. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Imagine a sanctuary where ancient Hawaiians once sought refuge, a place humming with centuries-old stories and customs. Welcome to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, one of the coolest things to do on the Big Island!

This sacred site once served as a place of refuge for kapu (ancient Hawaiian law) breakers. If they reached its boundaries before capture, they were granted absolution. Today, you get to witness vibrant wooden carvings, temple walls, and more that resonate with the bygone era.

Best places to go on the Big Island? Here’s a top contender! Take a stroll along the Royal Grounds, where chiefs once resided. Explore Hale o Keawe, a temple that stood as a guardian to the bones of chiefs, ensuring their power stayed intact.

Breathtaking ocean views accompany you throughout your journey, making it as visually captivating as it is historically significant. Dive into interactive demonstrations where traditional games, crafts, and other activities come alive.

To sum it up, if you’re looking for a spot where history, culture, and nature converge, Big Island places to visit like Pu’uhonua o Honaunau should be right on top of your itinerary.

Step into history at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, an ancient refuge humming with centuries-old stories.
Step into history at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, an ancient refuge humming with centuries-old stories.

11. Kealakekua Bay

Dive into the azure waters of Kealakekua Bay and find yourself amidst a vibrant world of corals and marine life. For those wondering what to do on the Big Island that combines both history and natural beauty, this is your answer.

Recognized as one of the best places on the Big Island for snorkeling, the bay offers a clear view of colorful fishes, playful dolphins, and intricate coral formations. The calm and pristine waters make it a delightful experience for both beginners and seasoned snorkelers.

On top of its underwater wonders, Kealakekua Bay holds historical significance. It’s the very spot where Captain James Cook, the British explorer, first set foot on the island in 1779. A white obelisk stands on the shore commemorating this event.

While underwater wonders may draw you here, the surrounding landscape is equally captivating. Big Island attractions like these showcase the island’s unique blend of history, nature, and culture.

Finish your day with a kayak ride across the bay, and as the sun sets, soak in the breathtaking views. Places on the Big Island seldom offer such a delightful mix of history and marine marvels.

Diving into Kealakekua Bay is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Immerse in history and nature by diving into Kealakekua Bay’s azure waters, revealing a vibrant world of marine life on the Big Island.

12. Lava Tube Exploration

Things to do on the Big Island are diverse, but for a journey that feels otherworldly, explore the subterranean wonders of the lava tubes. These tubes form when molten lava flows and then cools on the surface, leaving behind winding channels. Today, they stand as natural relics of the island’s volcanic past.

Kazumura Cave is a prime example, known as the world’s longest and deepest lava tube. Exploring its chambers is like walking through an underground art gallery, with formations created over centuries. Remember to wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be navigating through uneven terrains.

One of the unique places on the Big Island, the lava tubes provide an intimate look at the forces that shaped this land. As you venture deeper, you’ll encounter peculiar lava formations, stalactites, and sometimes even tiny ecosystems thriving in the dark.

Joining a guided tour is recommended to ensure safety and to gain insight into the geology and history of these tubes. Best places to go on the Big Island often boast beauty above ground, but this experience takes you below, unveiling mysteries that few get to see.

Discover the lava tubes—a unique landscape unveiling shaping forces with formations, stalactites, and hidden ecosystems in the depths.
Discover the lava tubes—a unique landscape unveiling shaping forces with formations, stalactites, and hidden ecosystems in the depths.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do on the Big Island

Looking for more content on the top things to do on the Big Island? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Big Island:

How big is the “Big Island”?

The Big Island, formally known as Hawai’i Island, lives up to its name. Spanning over 4,028 square miles, it’s the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago, more extensive than all the other islands combined!

Is the Big Island home to active volcanoes?

Absolutely! The island boasts two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. In fact, you can witness the power of nature with lava flows and volcanic landscapes, especially around the Volcanoes National Park.

How do you spend 2 days on the Big Island?

Spending two days on the Big Island of Hawaii is a short time, but you can still experience some of the island’s highlights with careful planning. Here’s a suggested itinerary for a two-day visit:

Day 1: Explore the West Coast (Kona Side)

Morning:

  • Visit a Coffee Farm: Start your day with a tour of a Kona coffee farm to learn about the coffee-making process and enjoy some fresh brew.
  • Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay: This bay is known for its clear waters and vibrant marine life.

Afternoon:

  • Lunch in Kailua-Kona: Enjoy a meal in the seaside town of Kailua-Kona, where you can try local cuisine.
  • Explore Historic Sites: Visit places like Hulihe’e Palace and Mokuaikaua Church.
  • Beach Time: Relax at a beach like Hapuna Beach or Mauna Kea Beach.

Evening:

  • Sunset Dinner: Have dinner at a beachside restaurant and enjoy the sunset.

Day 2: Explore the East Coast (Hilo Side) and Volcanoes National Park

Morning:

  • Drive to Hilo: Make your way to the east side of the island, stopping at scenic spots like Waipio Valley Lookout.
  • Visit Akaka Falls: Explore Akaka Falls State Park, home to the stunning 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Afternoon:

  • Lunch in Hilo: Enjoy lunch in Hilo, perhaps at a local farmers’ market.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Spend the afternoon exploring the park’s unique volcanic landscapes. Don’t miss the Kilauea Caldera, Thurston Lava Tube, and Chain of Craters Road.

Evening:

  • Dinner Near the Park: Have dinner at a nearby restaurant or lodge.
  • Stargazing: If conditions allow, spend some time stargazing, as the Big Island offers some of the clearest night skies.

What’s the climate like on the Big Island?

Prepare to be amazed! The island is home to 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. From snowy peaks to tropical rainforests, you’ll experience a vast range of climates as you explore different regions.

Hawaii's Big Island is home to lush and enchanting tropical rainforests, a world of vibrant biodiversity and verdant beauty.
Hawaii’s Big Island is home to lush and enchanting tropical rainforests, a world of vibrant biodiversity and verdant beauty.

Which airport should I fly to the Big Island?

The Big Island has two primary airports, Kona International Airport on the west side and Hilo International Airport on the east side. Your choice should depend on your itinerary and accommodation.

Why is the Big Island so cheap?

The perception of the Big Island of Hawaii as being “cheap” depends on what aspects you’re considering. Here are some factors that contribute to the perception that the Big Island is relatively affordable in certain contexts:

  1. Tourism Focus: Other islands like Maui and Oahu, particularly Honolulu, might have a more significant focus on luxury tourism, leading to higher prices in those areas. The Big Island may offer more budget-friendly options in comparison.
  2. Size and Diversity: The Big Island is the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago, and its diverse geography means there are various types of accommodations and activities that can cater to different budgets.
  3. Local Agriculture: The Big Island produces a variety of agricultural products, including coffee, fruits, and vegetables. This local production might translate to more affordable food prices in some cases.
  4. Less Developed in Some Areas: Certain parts of the Big Island are less developed than other tourist-heavy areas in Hawaii, leading to potentially lower costs for accommodations and activities.
  5. Transportation Costs: Depending on where you’re traveling from and the time of year, flight costs to the Big Island might be more affordable compared to other islands.
  6. Seasonal Variations: Like other travel destinations, prices on the Big Island can vary significantly depending on the season. Traveling during the off-peak season can result in substantial savings.
  7. Type of Experience: The Big Island offers a wide range of experiences, from luxury resorts to more budget-friendly options. If you’re comparing luxury experiences across islands, you might not find a significant difference in cost.

Is it safe to swim on the Big Island ocean?

While the Big Island’s beaches are mesmerizing, always be cautious. Some areas have strong currents. It’s always best to swim at lifeguarded beaches and heed local warnings.

What is the #1 thing to do on the Big Island?

The #1 thing to do on the Big Island of Hawaii often varies based on personal preferences, but many visitors prioritize visiting the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where they can witness active volcanoes, stunning lava landscapes, and the raw power of nature firsthand. This unique experience offers insights into the island’s creation and its rich cultural significance.

Is the Big Island worth visiting?

Absolutely! The Big Island of Hawaii offers a diverse range of experiences, from its awe-inspiring volcanoes and lush rainforests to pristine beaches and rich cultural heritage, making it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking both adventure and relaxation.

Concluding Thoughts on Exploring the Big Island

Alright, adventurers, pack those bags and slap on that sunscreen! The Big Island is calling, with its tapestry of experiences ranging from underwater escapades to starry summits. Coolest things to do on the Big Island are often ones you least expect, so stay curious. You’re in for more than just breathtaking beaches; you’re about to dive deep into the heart of Hawai’i’s grandeur. Now, isn’t it about time you ticked the Big Island off your bucket list? Aloha and happy travels!

The top things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii for all types of travelers
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