15 Best Things to Do on the Big Island, Hawaii

Discover the best things to do on the Big Island from its stunning beaches to its unique volcanic scene. The largest Hawaiian island, Big Island, offers the greatest qualities of all the other islands together with an incredible variety of sceneries. You may walk in the snow and swim in the sea on the same day, as the locals say.

The island is home to beaches straight out of paradise, historical and mystical national parks, and active volcanoes. Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Kohala, Mauna Kea, and Hualalai are the island’s five volcanoes.

Even yet, there’s more to do on the Big Island than just see towering volcanoes and national parks. Every hue of the rainbow may be seen along the beaches, which are adorned with black, green, white, and salt and pepper (a combination of black and white) sand.

Take a nap, go hiking, go swimming with manta rays, visit tropical floral gardens, and experience Hawaii’s slow-paced, laid-back lifestyle.

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The Best Things to Do on the Big Island

The Big Island offers diverse activities that cater to every traveler’s dream. If you’re an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or a history enthusiast, this list of the best things to do on the Big Island will help you plan an unforgettable trip.

1. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

23 Things To Do While Visiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, and is a highlight among the best things to do on the Big Island. This park offers a unique opportunity to witness the raw power of nature. These are some of the most striking old volcanoes on Earth, yet you don’t often get to view them up close.

Kilauea volcano, one of the planet’s most active volcanoes, has been erupting on and off since 2018. The goddess Pele is involved without a doubt. Take a trip through charred jungles and explore the lava fields, hike through volcanic craters, and walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube. Wear sturdy shoes and bring water. Check the park’s website for safety alerts and guided tour schedules.


2.  Akaka Falls State Park

This is one Big Island spot you shouldn’t miss, whether you’re an enthusiastic hiker, wildlife enthusiast, or photographer. Since it takes less than thirty minutes to reach there by automobile, the park is a great day trip destination from Hilo. The Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls are two magnificent waterfalls located in the Akaka Falls State Park.

Akaka Falls, the largest waterfall on the island and one of the best things to do on the Big Island, is a 442-foot sight that will leave you in wonder. Bring your camera because there’s a paved trail that leads past the two waterfall sets and up to an overlook with breathtaking views of Akaka! The path is less than half a mile long, paved, and has some steep sections.


3. Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay is a marine life conservation district known for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs, making it one of the best things to do on the Big Island. It’s also the site of the Captain Cook Monument. In the Kealakekua area, there is a memorial to Captain Cook, who passed away in 1779, the year that European explorers came to the island via this particular area.

Snorkelers can expect to see a variety of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles,  occasionally dolphins and its breathtaking views of the steep cliffs around the bay, Kealakekua is among the best places in the world for snorkelling and kayaking.

The island’s largest natural bay, is also a well-liked destination for hikers. Rent snorkeling gear from a local shop and consider joining a guided snorkeling tour for the best experience. Remember to practice reef-safe snorkeling by not touching the coral.

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4. Take a Swim with Manta Ray

Manta rays are exceptionally graceful, serene, compassionate, and stunning marine animals. As you look down, can you see one skimming across the water beneath you? Swimming with the waves at this beach on the Kohala Coast, which is located next to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, is one of the best things to do on the Big Island. Every night, the hotel illuminates the reef with light, drawing plankton and manta rays with it.

It’s convenient because the hotel can arrange for your snorkelling or scuba diving tour immediately. As an alternative, swimming with manta rays under a starry sky is a favourite activity along the Kona coast. You can take a boat excursion that will take you out to sea at night with a small number of people and use its strobe lights to let in the light. Then dive in and go swimming with them.


5. The summit of Mauna Kea

Protecting Mauna Kea, Hawai'i's Tallest Sacred Mountain - Part I

The tallest mountain in Hawaii is this massive one! In a technical sense, it’s the highest building on Earth. Among the best things to do on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Volcano’s elevation is 33,476 feet when measured from the ocean floor! The majority of it is submerged, though, and its 13,796 feet above sea level pale in comparison to Mount Everest.

The Mauna Kea Observatories offer public viewing programs where you can observe distant galaxies, planets, and stars through powerful telescopes. Come capture some of your best vacation photos from the summit, take in some fresh air, and spend some time in the great outdoors. Snow occasionally falls on the peak during the winter.

Dress warmly, as temperatures can drop significantly at the summit. Acclimate yourself to the altitude by spending time at the visitor center before heading to the summit. Reservations may be required for certain programs.


6. Visit Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

This historical park, also known as the Place of Refuge, offers a glimpse into ancient Hawaiian culture and is among one the best things to do on the Big Island. The site was a place of sanctuary for those who broke kapu (ancient laws). The people of ancient Hawaii were subject to kapu regulations. If a kapu was broken, the punishment was death. Reaching Pu’uhonua was the only way out for criminals, though.

Visitors can explore reconstructed temples, fishponds, and sacred sites. The strange and tall wooden Ki’i statues that protect the park’s bay are surrounded by the mysterious Hale o Keawe shrine. Come see this gorgeous national park and get in touch with Hawaii’s past and culture.

Take a self-guided tour using the park’s brochure or join a ranger-led tour to learn more about the cultural significance of the site.

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7. Go to the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

One of the best things to do on the Big Island is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, which is known for its black volcanic sand and frequent visits from sea turtles. The striking visual of the black sand against the blue ocean is awe-inspiring. The beach is amazing, with midnight black sand that’s particularly unusual along the island’s eastern shore. The sand is actually made up of microscopic lava fragments.

Punalu’u beach’s black sand makes it extremely hot, luring green turtles to the shore where they come to rest and warm themselves! Don’t pass up the opportunity to have a close-up look at one as they are an endangered species. The beach isn’t the greatest for swimming and snorkelling because of the erratic weather.

However, it’s a lovelysite to visit to see unique species and have a beach stroll. Respect the sea turtles by keeping a safe distance and not touching them. Bring reef-safe sunscreen and a hat, as the black sand can get very hot. Restrooms and picnic tables are available.


8. Visit the Waipio Valley

In the past, the Waipi’o Valley was home to numerous kingdoms and kings. One of the best things to do on the Big Island is to explore the valley, which is bordered by cliffs and has waterfalls, taro fields, and a beach with black sand. Taro, a mainstay of Hawaiian cooking, is now the main crop farmed in the region. The taro fields stretch for miles in every direction.

The Waipi’o River, which meanders through the valley and empties into the sea, is the source of the valley’s name. Previously, you could go into the valley to reach the rushing waterfalls there. Although the Waipi’o Valley is sadly no longer open, you can still visit the viewing point to take in the most breathtaking views of this amazing area of the Big Island.


9. Visit the Liliuokalani Gardens

In Hilo’s downtown, the Liliuokalani Gardens are located on Banyan Drive, a beautiful Japanese-style garden named after Hawaii’s last reigning queen, offering some of the best things to do on the Big Island. The garden’s history started when Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, gave the land so that it might be developed into a public park.

Now the largest decorative garden in the Edo style outside of Japan, it pays homage to the Japanese immigrants who contributed to the development of Big Island’s agricultural industry as early as 1868. The gardens feature koi ponds, pagodas, and beautiful walking paths.

Come take a leisurely stroll around this charming garden where you may relax to the sound of local birds chirping while crossing little Japanese-style bridges over gently flowing streams. Bring a picnic and enjoy the serene surroundings. The gardens are close to other Hilo attractions, making it easy to explore the area.

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10. Holualoa Village

Holualoa, Hawaii | Art & Coffee on the Big Island

Located atop the Hualalai volcano, the town may be found on the Big Island’s western side. Remain composed; there hasn’t been an eruption in a very long time. One of the best things to do on the Big Island for both art and coffee enthusiasts is to visit Holualoa, which is recognized as the hub of agricultural, coffee, and artistic activities.

The village is in an ideal location to grow some of Hawaii’s greatest coffee because it is situated along the Kona Coffee. Touring the coffee plantation is a must-do. Learn about the coffee-making process, from bean to cup, and enjoy tasting samples of some of the world’s best coffee.

Don’t leave without visiting Mauka Meadows, a local coffee estate on Mount Hualalai. In Holualoa, coffee cultivation dates back to 1828. The Glyph Art Gallery and Magic Sands Beach are two more must-see locations. Hula Daddy, Mountain Thunder, and Greenwell Farms are a few well-known plantations. Visit in the morning for the best tours and tastings.


11. Farmers Market in Hilo

Exploring the farmers market in Hilo is one among the best things to do on the Big Island. You may buy the best local goods, mingle with people, and take in the ambiance at this Wednesday and Saturday neighbourhood market.

There are more than 200 local farmers and artisans present at the market, so you won’t be short of options. Come sample the freshest and ripest tropical fruits many of which you may not be familiar with and purchase mementos to bring back home.

Make sure to sample some of the unique native items available only here, such as rambutan, sweet dragon fruits, and luscious star fruits.


12. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one of the best things to do on the Big Island, an ideal location to escape from your cares and reconnect with the natural world. Approach cascading waterfalls and take cover under lush palms.

Take in the sights, sounds, and scents of the tropical flowers blooming in the botanical garden while standing beneath old trees and getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

To learn everything there is to know about the garden’s most valuable and uncommon wildlife, take a tour led by a local guide. Aim to spot whatever wildlife you come across.

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13. Green Sand Beach in Papakolea

There are very few green sand beaches in the United States, including this magnificent one, that is considered among the best things to do on the Big Island. The beach is located within the 49,000-year-old cinder cone of the Mauna Loa volcano.

The beach gets its name from the olivines, a green crystal that covers the volcano and gives it a green appearance. Sort between the bits of green olivines, white shell, and black lava with your hand as you go through the sand. It will be unlike any sand you have ever seen.

You can swim, but be careful the waves can get really strong! Since there are no stores or other amenities close by, pack light and enjoy a day at this unique beach.


14. Beach Anaehoomalu

The Anaehoomalu Beach, also known as A-Bay, lies on the west side of Big Island and is referred to by locals as such. If you’re seeking for a wonderful beach day, you’ve found it. Come and enjoy the tropical heat while lounging on the glistening white sand beneath a coconut palm.

See the far-off mountain views before diving into the refreshingly clear sea, one of the best things to do on the Big Island. Due to its offshore reef, the beach is a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkelling. When the weather is appropriate, you can also surf and windsurf.


15. Hike the Pololu Valley Lookout

Backpackers hike along the Pololu Valley in the Big Island of Hawaii stock photo

Hiking through the Pololu Valley is among the best things to do on the Big island, located at the end of Highway 270, offers breathtaking views and hiking opportunities. The trail to the valley floor is steep but rewarding, leading to a black sand beach and lush valley. The Pololu Valley Lookout is a hidden gem offering breathtaking views and an unforgettable hiking experience.

It’s a perfect spot for photograph.  Unlike some of the more popular tourist spots on the island, Pololu Valley offers a sense of tranquility and escape from the crowds. At the bottom of the trail, you’ll reach Pololu Beach. This black sand beach is beautiful but not ideal for swimming due to strong currents. Instead, it’s a great spot for a picnic or simply relaxing and taking in the views.

The hike down to the valley floor is about 0.6 miles (1 km) each way. The trail is steep and can be muddy, but it’s well-trodden and easy to follow. It descends approximately 420 feet (128 meters) through a forested area.

For those looking for more adventure, you can continue hiking along the coastline to the next valleys. However, these trails are more challenging and less maintained.

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The Big Island of Hawaii is a destination that offers something for everyone, from adventure seekers to those looking to relax and take in the natural beauty. These activities showcase the best things to do on the Big Island, ensuring that your trip is filled with unforgettable experience.

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