Things to do in Big Island, HI

Get Your Bearings in Big Island

By Jade Eckardt
Big Island Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Natural beauty is what draws visitors to the Big Island, and the majority of the island's attractions are beaches, valleys and beautiful views. Sightseeing will take you all over the island which varies greatly in terrain every few miles. White sandy beaches are mostly found on the west side, and the east side is home to waterfalls, hikes and lava views.

Hot Tips:

Look for the warms ponds on the east side.

Where to Stay

The majority of hotels on the Big Island are in Kailua-Kona, with the largest and most elaborate calling Waikoloa home. There are two hotels on the lush east side of the island in Hilo, and while that side shouldn't be missed, Kona is usually where visitors stay. Hotels in Kona are within walking distance to attractions, restaurants and shopping, and those in Waikoloa have onsite shopping and eateries. However, a vehicle is necessary when visiting the Big Island, no matter where you stay.

Caution:

Book any Big Island hotel well in advance.

Hot Tips:

Look for bed and breakfasts nestled in out-of-the-way locales.

What to Eat

Cuisines vary greatly on the Big Island, where great food can be found island-wide. However, you'll find the most restaurants on the sunny side of the island in Kailua-Kona, where many are within walking distance from hotels and shopping. Look for small, one-of-a-kind eateries that offer Pacific Rim dishes for a unique taste.

Be Sure to Sample:

Hawaiian food.

Places to Party

Party time on the Big Island is reserved for Kailua-Kona, where the nightlife is in walking distance from most hotels. There's not much for partying on the Hilo side of the island, but Kona has some beachfront bars and restaurants that have late night action, dancing and sometimes live music. Most venues are casual and always have a blend of locals and visitors.

Hot Tips:

Big Island nightlife is most active on weekends.

Where to Shop

Big Island shopping opportunities vary greatly between each side of the island. Well-known brand names and high-end shopping are most prominent in Kailua-Kona in the resort areas. On the Hilo side, the best shopping is found at the weekly farmers markets where locally made goods and Pacific-style clothing and crafts can be found.

Hot Tips:

Explore the Hilo Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Best Local Souvenir:

Local arts and handmade crafts.

Big Island Neighborhoods

Things to do in Big Island


Big Island is known for...

Nine of Big Island's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Peace and Relaxation:

If there’s one thing that can always be found on the Big Island, it’s peace and relaxation. Thanks to the huge amount of undeveloped land, there’s no shortage of seclusion and tranquility. If you’re looking for a place in which to be truly alone, or in which to retreat from urban chaos and noise with a partner or family, this is it. On this, Hawaii’s youngest island, it’s not hard to find a secluded camping spot, an uncrowded place to swim, or a beckoning road. Hilo and Kona are the most populated towns: you’ll find shopping, a movie theater, great restaurants, and even a little traffic. But this is definitely the island to visit if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.

2. Lava:

The Big Island is the youngest island in the chain, and it’s still not done growing. Currently in a very active growth spurt, the island has a volcano that is constantly erupting and forming new land. The Big Island usually provides a great nighttime show you can’t find anywhere else: red and orange lava fiercely erupting and slowly creeping across the land. What does vary is how close visitors can get, and access usually depends on safety. What’s great about lava is that it’s gorgeous even from far away, and you can see the glow in the night sky from miles away. But if you can get close, it’s quite a unique experience and great photo opportunity. 

3. Snow:

Yes, you read right. The Big Island has snow and – surprise! - it’s found on top of a volcano. Measuring from the sea floor to the peak, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, and it’s because of this extreme height that it reaches into a climate where snow forms, and falls thickly during winter months. During rainy season - from November till about February - there’s a good chance there will be snow on Mauna Kea. Locals love to drive up to snowboard, build snowmen, and have snowball fights.  You do need a four wheel drive to get to the snowy summit, and it’s a great place from which to watch the sunset. Depending on where you’re from, snow may be nothing to get excited about. But what could be more interesting than snow on a Hawaiian volcano?

4. Natural Beauty:

In addition to lava and snow, the Big Island has black lava deserts, vast steep cliffs, two tall mountains, deep and wide lush valleys, naturally heated hot ponds, ice ponds, black sand beaches, a green sand beach, tide pools, waterfalls, hikes, and even a large swimmable green lake in an old volcano crater. Anything else? A national park, rivers, waves, and rolling green hills.  You get the idea. The Big Island may be lacking in large malls and nightlife, but the natural beauty can’t be beat. If you’re the outdoors type, the Big Island is for you.

5. Snorkeling:

The Big Island is surrounded by live reefs that haven't been fished nearly as much as the other islands, and the vibrant under ocean landscape provides some of the best snorkeling in the islands. Whether it's underwater exploration along the rocky Puna coast on the east side, dolphins along the southern coast, or a wild party of fish at Kahalu`u (one of the best snorkeling beaches on the island), you'll be treated to great snorkeling island wide. Dolphins, whales, green sea turtles, and a multitude of colorful fish - both reef and deep sea - will surround you on the Big Island and create unforgettable memories.

6. Secluded Destinations:

All of the islands fit into the Big Island - twice. That said, it's no surprise that Hawaii's youngest island is home to numerous long roads and less traveled trails that lead to gorgeous secluded beaches, coves, valleys, camp sites, views and vistas. On the Big Island it's not hard to find alone time and peace, far - or even slightly - off the beaten path. If you're the type of traveler who enjoys escaping large noisy crowds, and having beaches, waterfalls, and historic sites to yourself, the Big Island is for you. In comparison to its island siblings, the Big Island is the road less traveled.

7. Hiking:

A seemingly endless amount of largely undeveloped land means one thing- there's a heck of a lot of land to explore! A huge number of different sorts of hiking trails weave through the varied terrain of the island. Some lead from the open ocean deep into valleys where waterfalls cascade down vertical cliffs along the Hamakua Coast, and others leads through dry lava ground to natural steam vents. For those who enjoy high elevation, many trails wind through Volcano National Park through lava tubes and around volcano craters. And of course, it's generally Hawaii's exotic beaches that attract visitors, and it turns out some of the island's best beaches are reachable via a hike.

8. Camping:

Camping is by far the best way to get close to nature and experience all an island in the Pacific has to offer. The Big Island is grate because the huge amount of land offers a variety of places to camp. Cool weather in the high interior elevation around Volcano National Park offers a forested atmosphere. Warm sandy beaches along the dry Kona coast provides a place to camp, swim and surf.Then there's the lush valleys on the Big Island that are a haven from the rest of the bustling world, surrounding by waterfalls and deep green jungle foliage. Camp on the Big Island for secluded serenity. 

9. Volcanos:

Lava. Yep, fresh flowing molten lava straight from the earth's core is a lovely sight you'll find on the Big Island. But fear not! Views of the lava are usually from a safe place - if you abide by the lava viewing rules. Five volcanoes came together to form the Big Island, and although most are extinct (and Mauna Loa is is dormant), Kilauea is still spewing bright red and orange lava each day, adding to the ever growing island. For spectacular views and photos make sure to visit the lava after dark, and for an amazing panoramic view drive to the top of Mauna Kea.