29 Incredible Things to Do on the Big Island (map + video included) (2024)

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If you’re coming to Hawaii in search of the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation, the Big Island is the spot for you. From white, black, and green sand beaches to hiking up an active volcano, there are no shortage of adventures waiting for you on this island.

The Island of Hawai’i (or, the Big Island) is large and diverse. The island has 4 of the 5 major climate zones in the world, or 8 of the 13 sub-zones, following the Köppen climate classification scheme. You can experience snowfall, desert heat, and the rainforest all in one day.

While there are enough things to do on the Big Island to last you a lifetime, we’ve highlighted our favorite 29 activities that we’ve enjoyed during our many visits.

For more helpful trip planning information, check out our Big Island Guide — everything you need to know about a vacation to the island, from where to stay to what to do.

Here are a few quick links to some of our can’t miss activities on the Big Island:
1. Go stargazing in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
2. Check out this manta ray night snorkel
3. Pick from one of our favorite coffee farm tours on the Big Island
4. Don’t miss the top 5 snorkel spots on the Big Island
5. If you haven’t already, let us help you decide where to stay on the Big Island

Things to Do on the Big Island — FAQs:

What Should You Not Miss on the Big Island?

I’m about to give you a list of some really great things to do on the Big Island. But if you’re limited in time and just want to know the things that we personally love doing and recommend to all of our friends visiting the Big Island, we have a short list for you.

  1. Manta Ray night snorkeling: my husband Jordan said this was one of the most thrilling experiences of his life. With such high praise, I had to see what the fuss was about. And, it was amazing. Being in the ocean when it’s dark (scary!) and then having a manta ray do flips and swim within inches of your face is pretty awe inspiring. These are beautiful creatures and I feel lucky to have been so close to them multiple times.
  2. Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay: the Big Island is the newest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and while that means they have fewer beaches. Because of this, there is less soil and the water is crystal clear. We really love snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay where you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins. Check out our favorite Kealakekua Bay snorkeling tours.
  3. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park: whether you’re an avid hiker or just want to drive the Chain of Craters road, a visit to an active volcano is high on our list of things to do on the Big Island. Kilauea Volcano is the most active volcano on earth. A trip to see it when it’s erupting is spectacular, but a trip to Volcanoes National Park anytime is a good idea.

29 Amazing Things to Do on the Big Island

1. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you are looking for a unique experience that you’re only able to enjoy on the Big Island, a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is it. Encompassing two of the world’s most active volcanoes — Kilauea and Mauna Loa — the park is a UNESCO world heritage site with hiking trails, crater views, lava tubes, and sometimes, lava viewing. You could spend days exploring the park with scenic drives, wilderness adventures, and learning from the robust education at the visitors center.

If you’re staying on the Kona side, it is possible to visit the park on a day trip, but for an even more immersive experience, consider staying overnight at Volcano House. Waking up to a view of Halema’uma’u Crater is an experience you won’t soon forget.

If driving and touring Volcanoes National Park doesn’t sound like an easy day for you, let a local guide show you around! Enjoy a Kona Coffee Farm Tour, Volcanoes National Park, and end the day with stargazing from Mauna Kea in this Big Island Volcanoes and Stargazing Tour.

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2. Night Snorkel or Dive with Manta Rays

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure that you can’t get on any other island, head out for a night snorkel or dive with Manta Rays. Imagine jumping into the ocean when it’s pitch black and then having a “gentle giant” with a wingspan of up to 16 feet roll past you, inches from your face. It’s one of our favorite activities and something we do each time we head to the Big Island.

Read our full Manta Ray Night Snorkeling guide and also check out our favorite Big Island tour operators.

3. Sample Kona Coffee

Coffee enthusiasts will love exploring the famous Kona coffee country. There are hundreds of coffee farms located around the island, and many of them offer public tours. Head into the hills above Kailua-Kona to take a farm tour, watch beans get roasted, and sample a fresh cup of coffee straight from the farm. Tours are usually free (and come with free samples) and you can take back a bag of your favorite roast to enjoy.

Check out a full list of our favorite coffee farm tours on the Big Island. We’ve done so many, and these really stand out above the rest!

Not sure how to fit a coffee farm tour into your day? Our Big Island itinerary has an excursion day that combines a day of snorkeling with a trip to Kona Coffee Country. It leads you step-by-step through six carefully planned excursion days around the island — all you have to do is download and go!

Only going to Kona? We have a list of our favorite things to do in the Kona region.

If you want to see some of these spots in this article, check out our 21 Things to Do on the Big Island video. We take you around the island (literally) to show you some of our favorite spots. Of course, our Big Island Wayfinder Itinerary shows all our favorite spots.

4. Do a Big Island Farm Tour

Coffee isn’t the only crop grown on the Big Island. While you’re here you can tour a wide range of farms, including Macadamia Nut Farms, Bee Farms, Tea Plantation tours, Vanilla Farm Tours, and more. Visiting a farm and having an agricultural experience on the island is an easy-to-do and memorable activity that will enrich your vacation.

Explore our Big Island Farm Tours for more information.

5. Go to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

The best black sand beach in Hawaii (in our opinion) is Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Located in the Puna District, it’s a great place to stop on the way to or from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. While this isn’t a great beach for swimming, the black sand is stunning, and you can often find Hawaiian green sea turtles hanging out on the sand. Enjoy the beach with food that you’ve picked up from Punalu’u Bake Shop.

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6. See Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

If you’re looking for something truly unique, visit Papakōlea Beach, one of only four green sand beaches in the world. The beach is located on the southern tip of the island in the Ka’u district. The green color is thanks to Olivine sand or crystals. Driving to the beach is illegal and the only way to access it is by hiking 2.5 miles each way. So if you’re planning a visit to this beautiful beach, plan to visit in the morning, before the day gets too hot. Bring plenty of water and reef-safe sunscreen and make a day of it!

Read more about the hike on All Trails.

7. Enjoy a Beach Day at Hapuna Beach

While visiting the black and green sand beaches on the Big Island is an adventure, you may just want a beautiful beach that is perfect for a day of swimming and easy relaxation. Though the Big Island is the youngest island in Hawaii (which means it has fewer sandy beaches), it still has some stunning options.

Our favorite beach, Hapuna Beach, is located on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes north of Kailua-Kona. There’s plenty of paid parking available, A frame cabins if you’re looking to camp, and an unbelievably beautiful stretch of white sand.If you want to spend more time on this stretch of the island, check out our favorite things to do in Waikoloa.

If you’re looking for great, sandy beaches closer to Kailua-Kona, see this list of the five best sandy beaches in Kona.

And if you’re looking for the best beaches located throughout the island, check out this video on the best beaches on the Big Island:

8. Snorkel Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument

The Big Island has some spectacular snorkeling, but the best spot, in our opinion, is snorkeling near the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. There’s no sandy beach to relax on here, which adds to the great visibility (no sand means higher visibility). But this spectacular snorkeling spot isn’t easy to reach. To get there you need to take a boat tour, kayak, or hike. It’s well worth the journey, in our opinion.

Yes, Kealakekua Bay made our #1 spot in our top 5 snorkel spots on the Big Island. See the full list if you plan to snorkel during your visit. We also recommend to our friends to try a guided tour to snorkel Captain Cook Monument on either a Zodiac Raft or a Catamaran Sailboat.

We have a full list of recommended Kealakekua Bay/Captain Cook Monument snorkeling tours so you can find one that works for you.

Bonus, if you are in the town of Kealakekua with kids then check out Keiki and Cope for an indoor playground and coffee shop. Take a break from the Kona Coast for some fresh coffees and smoothies.

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9. See ‘Akaka Falls

Just 11 miles north of Hilo is the famous ‘Akaka Falls. The waterfall plunges 442 feet and is viewable from an easy-to-navigate 0.4-mile walking trail. The trail itself is beautiful as well, winding you through lush scenery and you make your way to the main event.

‘Akaka Falls draws the crowds — it’s one of the most visited sites on the windward side of the island. But there’s a good reason for it: it’s a stunning sight that is easy to get to and view.Hence, it made our list of the 10 Best Big Island Waterfalls.

To talk story with a local and not stress about parking at ‘Akaka Falls check out Big Island Waterfall Adventure for a guided tour that includes a waterfall swim at a private waterfall.

10. Catch a glimpse of Rainbow Falls

If you’re spending time in Hilo, don’t leave before visiting Rainbow Falls. This 80-foot waterfall is located in Hilo and can be viewed from the Wailuku River State Park. The waterfall flows over a lava cave, which is home to Hina, the Hawaiian goddess of the moon. It’s called rainbow falls because in the morning, as the light hits the mist from the falls, you can often see a rainbow.

Looking for other things to do while you’re in Hilo? We’ve got you covered with the perfect one day trip to Hilo as well as 32 of the Best Things to Do in Hilo (+nearby).

11. Visit Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

There are several Heiau (historic temples) on the island, including this one on the Kohala Coast. The Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site is the last heiau built in Hawaii and is a symbol of unification and lasting peace. The Heiau is open year-round and has a visitor center, offers guided talks and tours, and celebrations throughout the year. During whale season, this is also a great place to see the humpback whales that are visiting the Kohala Coast.

The National Park Service website can help you plan your visit.

Want to know how to fit these experiences into your trip? Our Big Island Itinerary has you covered. With six carefully planned excursion days, you’ll visit different parts of the island enjoying unique experiences and great restaurants, all on a pre-planned route.

“We found your YouTube channel back in October then ended up purchasing your Big Island Itinerary. We wanted to share a big ol’ mahalo very much!! Your content is super informational, valuable, reliable, and enjoyable. I printed off your itinerary, put it in a binder to take along the journey, and mapped out our days based on your suggestions. It didn’t go totally according to plan, thanks to 5 teenagers 29 Incredible Things to Do on the Big Island (map + video included) (4), but it made our trip exceptional.”

Kate F.
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The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.

Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).

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12. Drive the Hamakua Coast

The Hamakua Coast is one of the most beautiful spots on the Big Island, with lush mountains overlooking the sea. You can drive the Hamakua Coast from Hilo to Honoka’a and end at Waipio Valley. Along the drive, you’ll see waterfalls, botanic gardens, and the charming town of Honoka’a. Take a detour and drive the Pepe’ekeo scenic drive for one-lane bridges and truly breathtaking views. It’s only a four-mile drive, but it’s one of the most scenic on the entire island.

As you are on the Hamakua Coast, considering visit Hawaiian Vanilla Co. for a farm tour and/or lunch!

13. Visit Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

While you’re enjoying the beauty of the Hamakua Coast, soak in a little more nature and visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden. With over 1800 species of tropical plants, this is a wonderful spot for nature lovers. Take a walk through the gardens and enjoy waterfalls, ocean views, and the lovely sound of birds chirping. It’s pretty much a tropical paradise.

Learn more about Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden.

Big Island Waterfall Adventure tour includes entry to Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve, ‘Akaka Falls, and a private waterfall swim. Learn more here: Big Island Waterfall Adventure.

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14. Learn About the History at Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Located on the south Kona coast, Pu’uhonua O Honauanau is a spiritual sanctuary and was a place of refuge for Hawaiian lawbreakers. Until the 19th century, Hawaiians who broke the law (kapu) would be punished by death. The only way to avoid this fate was to make their way to Pu’uhonua, where their actions would be absolved by a priest.

Learn about Hawaiian history at this 180-acre park that has been beautifully restored. Walk the self-guided trail (0.5 miles) or watch a cultural demonstration. You can also snorkel at the popular snorkeling spot “Two Steps” located just outside of the park. Plan your visit with the park’s website.

15. Outrigger Canoe

Want to marry a cultural outing with adventure? Head out on an outrigger canoe tour. An outrigger canoe was used for exploration and fishing by Hawaiian watermen and is still an important part of the culture in Hawaii. Whenever we do an outrigger canoe tour, we enjoy listening to the guide give a history of the islands, navigation, and fishing. It’s a unique activity to enjoy while you’re in Hawai’i.

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16. Head out Stargazing

The Big Island is a fantastic place to stargaze, whether you’re planning on taking a trip to Maunakea (or Mauna Kea) or looking up at the sky from your hotel.

There are several options for you when it comes to stargazing. You can go to the Maunakea visitor information station and visit the summit of Maunakea. You can head to Maunakea on a 7+ hour tour with an experienced guide. Or, you can stargaze from sea level at hotels on the Kohala Coast with Stargaze Hawaii.

17. Get Fresh Produce at a Farmer’s Market

There is no shortage of amazing local produce being grown on the Big Island, so treat yourself to something you wouldn’t normally find at your local grocery store. There are two great farmers market options for you to choose from, depending on what side of the island you’re visiting. The Ali’i Gardens Marketplace (click for directions) in Kona offers several different stands, selling everything from souvenirs to farm fresh produce. In Hilo, the farmers market is open seven days a week, with the big days (with more stands open) on Wednesday and Saturday.

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18. Visit Waipi’o Valley

The sacred Waipi’o Valley is the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I and is an important site for Hawaii’s culture and heritage. Located at the northern end of the Hamakua Coast, Waipi’o Valley boasts dramatic cliffs, taro fields, waterfalls, and a river. It’s truly spectacular. You can view Waipi’o Valley from a lookout up top, but tours are no longer allowed into the valley.

19. Get Loco Moco from Cafe 100

If you are searching for some comfort food, look no further than a loco moco. A traditional loco moco is made with white rice topped with hamburger, gravy, and a fried egg. It sounds simple but it’s so tasty. And if that doesn’t excite you, there are plenty of different variations to try. You’ll find loco mocos at restaurants across the state, but you can treat yourself at Cafe 100 in Hilo, the home of the loco moco. They have 30 different varieties of loco moco and great prices. If you’re going to have loco moco, might as well go to where the original was created.

20. Go Ziplining at Umauma Falls

If you’re looking for a fun day out, get a view from above of waterfalls, suspension bridges, and a river while you zipline at Umauma Falls. While the zipline is incredibly fun (9 lines!), the scenery makes this spot so enjoyable. Stroll the gardens, kayak the river, or grab a coffee and just take in your surroundings.

If you want to see more of the beautiful spot, check out our video from Jordan’s visit there and you can book directly with Umauma Experience here for their 9 line course.

21. Whale Watching

Visiting the island of Hawai’i between December and April? You’re lucky enough to be there at the same time as the humpback whales. Each year, thousands of humpback whales make the journey from Alaska to the warm waters of Hawai’i to birth their calves or mate. Watch these giants breech, spyhop, or peck slap out on a whale watching tour. You can also view them from the shore. A great place to whale watch from the shore is Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site (number 11 on this list).

22. Stop for Sunset

We love staying on the leeward side of the island, either in Kailua-Kona or on the Kohala Coast. And when we’re staying over there we make sure to take advantage of the stunning sunsets. While you can watch them from anywhere, one of our favorite places to spend an evening is the Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa.

This laid back restaurant features an excellent menu, great nightly entertainment, and some of the tables are located directly in the sand. While it’s located directly on the beach, you get a beautiful, unobstructed sunset view and if you have kids with you it’s a fun place to explore the small tidepools as you wait for your meal. It’s a really fun dinner sunset vibe!

It’s also a very popular spot, located right near the Marriott Waikoloa on A-Bay. So get there early or be prepared to join the waitlist with other diners hoping to secure a sunset spot.

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23. Kulaniapia Falls

If you’ve been looking for a hidden gem of a waterfall on the Big Island, you’re in luck. Kulaniapia falls is just that.

A 120 foot waterfall located on private property, Kulaniapia falls is a gem to visit. As it’s on private property, you need to purchase a pass to visit the waterfall, which means that you won’t find yourself at a crowded spot.

To visit Kulaniapia Falls, you’ll need to purchase a day pass, which is $49 per adult and $29 per child. This gives you five hours on the 42-acre property, where you can go swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding at the falls. You also have the option to purchase other activities, like waterfall rappelling, farm tours, and cooking classes. With so much to do here, you might also consider spending the night in one of the property’s off-the-grid suites or guesthouses.

We spent many trips avoiding this spot because the ticket price seemed too steep to visit a waterfall. Couldn’t we just visit one of the many that dot this side of the island (see our 10 favorite waterfalls on the Big Island). But the private nature of this one makes it really special, as does the ability to swim in the waterfall (if conditions permit).

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We had an amazing day there and the price of admission was worth it to us.

24. Horseback ride

Become a paniolo (a Hawaiian cowboy) for the day and enjoy a horseback ride. For my mom’s birthday, I took her on a ride at Paniolo Adventures up in Kohala. We chose the sunset ride, which was a 1.5 hour ride on a trial on the side of the mountain.

As expected during golden hour, the views were spectacular. In a group of around 15 people with two instructors, we rode our horses through pastures overlooking the ocean and stopped to pose for the most beautiful sunset pictures.

The guides were great — informative and in control the entire time. The location was excellent and the experience was a great way to celebrate something fun like a birthday.

25. Mauna Kea Summit sunrise

While Mauna Kea is popular (and spectacular) for stargazing, sunrise atop the mountain just hits a bit different. You do need to wake up very early, but if you’ve just arrived and your jet lagged, that makes it a perfect time.

To enjoy sunrise from the summit of Mauna Kea, you’ll need to arrive well before the sunrise — at least an hour, but preferably an hour and a half before the scheduled sunrise. You’ll make a stop at the Visitor Information Station (VIS) at 9,200 feet to acclimate yourself before heading up the mountain. Spending a minimum of 30 minutes here is definitely recommended.

Once you leave the VIS, you’ll make the drive up to the summit at 13,803 feet. The drive up is beautiful but once you reach the summit, the view is breathtaking. As the sun comes up and the observatories begin lighting up in the golden sunrise, it really feels almost spiritual. During our time up there, we only saw a few other people up there, so it was a quiet experience.

Tips for visiting Mauna Kea: only 4×4 vehicles are allowed access to the summit, so plan to rent one if you’re making the trip up. And it is very cold! Dress appropriately so you’re able to get out of the car and comfortably enjoy the view.

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26. Enjoy a Luau

I’ll be completely honest here — of all of the islands, the Big Island’s luaus aren’t as popular or varied as the other islands. But the Big Island still has some excellent luaus. Whether you’re looking for a smaller affair like the Signature Luau at the Mauna Kea Resort or you want to experience it in a large venue like at the Hilton Waikoloa with the Legends of Hawai’i Luau.

There are a lot of great options — all of them are located on the leeward side of the island on the Kohala Coast or in Kona. We’re rounded up our list of the best luaus on the Big Island.

27. See How Vanilla is Grown

Hawaii is the only state where vanilla is commercially grown, and let me tell you, the process is so interesting! We’ve toured both of the vanilla farms on the Big Island and we walked away with plenty of fun facts to share (like did you know that vanilla is actually an orchid and it needs to be pollinated by hand?).

Whether you’re on the Kona side or the Hilo side, there is a tour available. Most recently, we toured Hawaiian Vanilla which is just north of Hilo and we enjoyed the experience so much. They offer a farm tour only or a farm tour with lunch (featuring vanilla, of course). With our kids in tow, we opted for the farm tour only, which was an excellent choice.

The tour started with a vanilla lemonade or iced tea and then we headed down to the farm with our guide. We sat while he educated us about vanilla and the growing process, and that was absolutely fascinating. Then we headed back up to the restaurant/gift shop and enjoyed vanilla ice cream. Did you know that vanilla tastes better when it is activated with a fat (like the cream in ice cream)?

We bought a vanilla kit to make our own vanilla extract at home. Now we are patiently waiting the 6-9 months required before we can enjoy it.

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28. Merrie Monarch Festival

If you find yourself on the Big Island in the spring, you might just be there for the Merrie Monarch Festival. This is a week-long festival held in Hilo that features Hawaiian culture and a hula competition. The festival began in 1963 and showcases the best hula dancers in Hawaii.

During the festival there are a number of different performances, many of which are free to the public. There’s also an art festival and culminates in a parade.

29. Volcano Winery

Wine tasting might not be the first thing you think about when in Hawaii but after a visit to Volcanoes National Park it’s worth a stop at Volcano Winery. This is the southernmost winery in the US and one of the few that you’ll find in Hawaii (check out Maui Wine if you’re headed to Maui).

Do a tour and a tasting, grab some light snacks and try something unique like Macadamia Nut Honey Wine.

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Organize Your List of the Best Things to do on the Big Island

If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to fit everything in, let us make this easy for you. Our Big Island itinerary takes you on perfectly planned out excursion days around the island so you can see the best sights and eat at the best restaurants.

“Thank you for your Big Island guide! We just got back from 10 days in Hawaii (Oahu for Pearl Harbor, then to Big Island). We bought your Big Island Guide and used it CONSTANTLY – for restaurant/food recommendations, places to see, and things to do. Seriously – if it was a paper guidebook it would have been shredded for the number of times I opened and scrolled through it. Your recommendations were spot on, and we can’t wait to visit Hawaii again (next up will be Kauai and Maui). I’ll definitely be using your guides, videos and website when we plan that trip.” – Susan A.

  • Big Island Wayfinder Itinerary

    $37.00

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Get The Big Island Itinerary

The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.

Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).

GET Your Itinerary

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