Best Things to Do in Big Island

10 Best Things to See and Do on the Big Island

Hawaii's largest island is big enough to fit the rest of the Hawaiian Islands inside of it - twice. And it's this abundance of land that creates the island's diverse beauty that varies with the changing terrain. Enhancing the diversity is the array of climates - the Big Island has the majority of all the climates in the world, bringing snowy volcanoes, lush valleys, sandy beaches, and a range of flora and fauna.

Whether you're looking for a day alongside a fresh valley river, or sunset atop a volcano, you can find it on the the Big Island, the youngest of the main Hawaiian Islands. To explore a sacred valley with a black sand beach, make the trek to Pololu Valley Lookout or Waipio Valley.

For some spectacular beach time to bask in the sun and sand at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Here you'll be treated to a long crescent shaped beach blanketed in fine white sand. Another option just down the road is 69 Beach. This secluded white sand beach is a more peaceful option to Hapuna.

10 Best can also guide visitors about 13,000 feet up to the Mauna Kea Summit & Onizuka Visitor Center to gaze through telescopes across the island and end the day with the most amazing sunset you may ever see.

No matter what you're looking for - sand and surf, snow and sunsets, or flora and fauna - 10 Best will help you find it on the Big Island.


Over 200 vendors of all kinds frequent the Hilo Farmers Market. This outdoor market is like many restaurants combined into one. Thai food, vegetarian, coffee, desserts, Hawaiian food and other cuisines can be found here. Although it's open daily, the biggest days are Saturdays and Wednesdays from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every other day. At the market you'll find everything from jewelry, to fresh flowers, to clothing and home decor, to food, ready to eat and to bring home and cook. The market is a bustling place to socialize or window and is a classic Hilo attraction.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Hilo Farmers' Market is the most unique and diverse shopping experience on the island.

Jade's expert tip: Bring a reusable shopping bag since plastic bags were banned on the Big Island in early 2013.

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Make it to the end of scenic Highway 270 and experience the majesty of the Big Island's dramatic Kohala coastline. High above waves that crash onto jagged rocks are several lookout areas that offer sweeping vistas of verdant cliffs and sliver-like waterfalls cascading over them. Folks wanting a touch of adventure can make the strenuous hike down to the black-sand beach at the base of the cliffs. Have care, though: the waters are not good for swimming, and no lifeguards are on duty. Those that spend the day in the valley will want to bring water and food to last the day.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Pololu Valley is a beautiful valley with a rich cultural history.

Jade's expert tip: Take the hike down and enjoy time in the black sand.

Read more about Pololu Valley Lookout →

North Big Island

Mahukona Beach Park is a highly unique and intriguing place. Contrary to its name, there's actually no beach. It's a cement laden park along the water that blends naturally beauty and history. The underwater world here is one of the best places on the island to snorkel. Not only because of it's rampant, colorful fish population, but due to underwater archaeological finds. A sort of underwater museum boasts remnants from the plantation and railroad days. Bring snorkel gear and look for the ladder into the water at the north end of the beach. Backing the beach is the near intact structure of the Hawaiian Railroad Company which functioned here for years. Explore the ruins, but be careful. There are shaded picnic areas here but other than that there are no facilities here so bring water. On Highway 270 look for the access between mile markers 14 and 15.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Mahukona is a great place for snorkeling, it has a very busy underwater world.

Jade's expert tip: Bring lunch because the nearest town is far away.

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Volcano National Park
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt

Encompassing 520 square miles, this national park is one of the most photographed locales in the Hawaiian chain. For more than 70 million years, volcanic heat and pressure from inside the earth have molded the dramatic landscape, which includes Thurston Lava Tube, still-active Halemaumau Crater, and the highly active Pu'u O'o vent, which has been spewing lava since 1983. Visitors are able to drive the park's 66 miles of roadways, which wind in and out of dense tropical rain forest, but are encouraged to stay on guard since volcanic activity is commonplace and conditions change often. There is also the option to explore the more than 155 miles of marked trails on foot. The Kilauea Visitor Center sits just inside the park's main entrance. The park was designated a World Heritage site in 1987.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The national park offers insight into the volcanic world and is home amazing hikes and vistas.

Jade's expert tip: Dedicate a full day to exploring the park.

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Hamakua Coast

The Big Island version of the Valley of the Kings, Waipi'o has long maintained a special place in the hearts of locals. Steeped in legend, the deep, narrow valley stretches some 5-plus miles, flanked on either side by towering rock walls. The valley floor is a lush tapestry of tropical flora, and guava, red banana, and taro hide a multitude of natural treasures, like tranquil freshwater streams and waterfalls. Tourists are discouraged from taking cars into the valley. A good alternative, though, is Waipi'o Valley Shuttle (808-775-7121), which offers narrated, 4-wheel drive tours. Visitors not wanting to take the 90-minute trip can experience the valley's beauty from the overlook.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Waipi'o Valley is a gorgeous and sacred part of the island that enhances any visit.

Jade's expert tip: You can only take a four wheel drive down into the valley.

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69 Beach
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt

A long crescent shaped beach with fine white sand, and semi private coves between trees reaching to the water, 69 Beach is a sort of off-the-beaten-path but still popular beach in Kona. It's come a long way over the years, and now has an official (yet still dirt) parking area, cold water showers, and bathrooms. Yet it's still more secluded than other nearby beaches such as Hapuna State Beach Park. Although it's one long beach, there's different coves nestled in between trees that reach into the ocean. Children love to explore the water laden branches. Head down Highway 19 and keep going past Hapuna. You'll see the parking area on your right.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: 69 Beach is a beautiful fine what sand beach with several coves nestled between trees reaching into the ocean.

Jade's expert tip: Bring food and water, it's quite a drive to any stores.

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Hapuna Beach, nestled between Waikui and Puako, is known for being one of the cleanest, most family-friendly beaches on Hawaii. Its smooth, fine white sands extend far out into the surf, so wading in the shallows is easy on your feet. During summer months, the beach is at its widest and stays crowded from sunup to sunset; in contrast, winter months bring unfriendly waters with deadly riptides. (Combined with the fact that lifeguards don't work the beach during this season, swimming is unwise.) Beach facilities include camping areas, men's and women's showers, a snack bar, and a pavilion. Bring enough food and sunscreen to make a full day of it.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Hapuna is a gorgeous beach made of find white sand and is nearly always sunny.

Jade's expert tip: Drive down to the beach to drop everything off before parking back up top.

Read more about Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area →

Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo is a beautiful and tranquil 34-acre Japanese garden. The ornamental gardens are named for Queen Liliuokalani, a Hawaiian monarch and it is dedicated to the many Japanese immigrants living in Hilo. The garden was created in the early 1900s and is said to be the largest Edo style garden outside of Japan. The garden is planned around the Waihonu Pond with bridges, pagodas, and stone lanterns lining walking paths. Bamboo, trees, flowering bushes and acres of green grass make up the park. In addition to many benches and places to sit, a traditional Japanese tea house stands in the middle of the park. Restrooms are on site, and the park is located across the street from the ocean. Local fish and jog here.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: These peaceful ocean side Japanese gardens are a gorgeous place to relax in the grass or enjoy a meal.

Jade's expert tip: Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it at the park.

Read more about Queen Liliuokalani Park and Gardens →

Mauna Kea State Recreation Area

From the ocean floor to Mauna Kea's 14,000 foot summit, this majestic mountain is the world's tallest. Its elevation, combined with its relative isolation from air pollution, also makes it one of the world's foremost locations for stargazing, a fact not lost on astronomers. Indeed, 11 countries, including Japan, France, and scores of American universities, have set up ultra-modern telescopes to peer into the vastness of space. Be sure to stop by the Onizuka Visitor Center, which offers lecture series and nighttime stargazing programs. Dress warmly � at 9500 feet, temperatures tend to drop quickly at sundown, no matter what time of year it is. Most car rental companies prohibit customers from taking cars � even 4X4s � to the summit, so it's best to make alternate arrangements if that's your intention. And make sure to take a full tank of gas.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: What could be more amazing than sunset on top of a volcano?

Jade's expert tip: Go up at sunset for one of the most memorable views of the trip.

Read more about Mauna Kea Summit & Onizuka Visitor Center →


Meet Jade Eckardt

Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and...  More About Jade