Traveling to Hawaii’s Big Island is an amazing experience that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. I say this because it is truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth. From its stunning beaches and lush rainforests to its active volcanoes and fascinating culture, there is so much to see and do on the island. And whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation, or simply some breathtaking scenery, you’ll find it all here.
I spent two weeks exploring this island, and I absolutely loved it. In this guide, I’ll share with you the 30 best things to do on Hawaii Big Island and helpful travel tips to make your trip even more enjoyable.
Things To Do On Hawaii Big Island
1. Take A Helicopter Tour
If you want to experience Hawaii in all its glory, there’s no better way to do it than from above. A helicopter tour will give you a bird’s eye view of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, including active volcanoes, black sand beaches, and waterfalls.
There are a few different companies that offer helicopter tours on the Big Island, but I recommend Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. They have a base in Hilo and Kona, so you can choose the tour that best suits your itinerary. I did the Hilo Rainforest &Volcano Adventure tour, which was fantastic. The tour takes you to see several different waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls and the active volcano Kilauea.
I highly recommend splurging on a helicopter tour if you have the budget. It’s an unforgettable experience and one of the most fun things to do on Hawaii Big Island.
2. Take A Drive Down The Hawaii Belt Road
The Hawaii Belt Road, also known as Mamalahoa Highway, is one of the most scenic drives in Hawaii. This 260-mile road encircles the entire island and provides breathtaking views of the coastline, volcanoes, and rainforest. And by this, I mean jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, can’t-believe-this-is-real views.
So one of the coolest things to do on Hawaii Big Island is to take a drive down the Hawaii Belt Road. The road itself is pretty straightforward, but there are plenty of things to see and do along the way. Be sure to stop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the lava flows, hike through the rainforest, and take in the views from the crater rim. Then, drive down to the black sand beaches of Punaluu Beach and Green Sand Beach. And don’t forget to stop at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which is one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii.
Although you can technically drive the whole thing in one day, I recommend taking your time and making it a multi-day trip. This way, you can stop at all the different Hawaii attractions and enjoy everything the island has to offer.
3. Watch The Lava Flow Into The Ocean
Seeing an active volcano is definitely one of the coolest things to do on Hawaii Big Island. And there’s no shortage of them here. In fact, there are six volcanoes on this island: Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Mahukona, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kohala.
Of these, Kilauea is the most active and has been erupting continuously since 1983. And the best part is that you can actually see the lava flowing into the ocean. To see the lava flow, you have a few options. You can take a helicopter tour, which will give you a bird’s eye view of the lava flow. Or, you can take a boat tour, which will get you up close and personal with the lava. I did the helicopter tour, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
Address: 1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii National Park, Hawaii.
4. Visit The Kilauea Iki Crater
Also located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Kilauea Iki crater, which is an incredible sight to see in Hawaii. This crater was formed in 1959 during a powerful eruption that sent lava fountains shooting up to 1,900 feet, and the resulting lava lake filled the crater to a depth of 300 feet. Today, the lava lake is long gone, but you can still hike down into the crater. The trail is about 4 miles round trip and takes you through a lava tube and across the crater floor.
Address: 1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii National Park, Hawaii.
5. Visit Green Sand Beach
A green sandy Beach? You might be thinking, “isn’t sand supposed to be… well, sandy?” But at Green Sand Beach, also known as Mahana Beach, the sand is actually a type of green olivine. This olivine is formed from lava that has cooled and eroded over time.
This Beach is located on the Big Island’s South Point, which is about a 2-hour drive from Kona. The best way to get there is by renting a car and taking the scenic route. And since the Beach is located in a remote area, you’ll also have to take a 2.5-mile (4km) hike down a steep and sandy trail. The hike is doable, but it’s not easy, so ensure you’re wearing proper shoes and bringing plenty of water.
Note that there are no facilities at Green Sand Beach, so make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks. Swimming is also not recommended here because of the strong currents. However, I saw people swimming near the protected entrance. I can’t vouch for how safe it is but use your best judgment.
What makes a visit to this Beach truly unique is the fact that it’s one of only four green sand beaches in the world. So, if you’re looking for the most iconic places to go on Hawaii Big Island, this definitely makes the list.
6. Visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful places on Hawaii Big Island. This 40-acre garden is home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants, waterfalls, streams, and various birds.
Winding paths lead you through the different gardens, each with its own unique ecosystem. The palms garden features over 200 varieties of palm trees from all around the world. The heliconia garden is full of brightly colored flowers, and the bromeliad garden is home to over 500 varieties of these beautiful plants.
But the highlight of the garden, in my opinion, is the 500-foot observation walkway that overlooks different parts of the garden and Onomea Bay. This is the perfect spot to stop and take in the beauty of the garden.
A visit here is definitely one of the fun things to do on Hawaii Big Island, especially if you’re looking for a relaxing activity. I suggest you spend at least 2-3 hours here to fully enjoy the different gardens and trails.
Address: 27-717 Mamalahoa Hwy, Papaikou, Hawaii.
7. Go to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is another one of the most iconic attractions in Hawaii. It’s famous for its dramatic black sand, which is created by eroded lava. While this may not be the best Beach for swimming, it’s definitely a stunning place to visit. The sand is surprisingly soft, and it’s a great place to take photos or simply relax and enjoy the view. In addition, the Beach is also a popular nesting ground for endangered sea turtles. So, if you’re lucky, you might even get to see one.
8. Night Snorkel With Manta Rays
Think snorkeling is only for daytime? Think again! One of the most popular things to do in Hawaii is night snorkeling with manta rays. Every night, these gentle giants come to the shores of Hawaii to feed on plankton. As you know, planktons are tiny organisms that glow in the dark. So when the manta rays come to feed, they create an incredible light show.
Several companies offer night snorkeling tours, but the one I did was through Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii at Kaunaoa Beach. The tour includes all of the necessary gear, as well as some lessons on manta ray etiquette (hint: don’t touch them!).
After a short boat ride, we anchored in an area where the manta rays were known to feed. Then, we jumped in the water and waited for the show to begin. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint! The manta rays were so big and so beautiful. At first, I was a little scared, but they were harmless. It was truly an unforgettable experience and one of the coolest things to see in Hawaii.
9. Spend Time in Kailua Kona
Wondering what to do on Hawaii Big Island? Then head to Kailua Kona, a historic town on the island’s west coast. This town is known for its lovely beaches, quaint shops, and excellent restaurants.
One of the best things to do in Kailua Kona is simply to stroll around and explore. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you busy, as well as a number of historic sites. Be sure to visit the Hulihee Palace, an excellent example of Hawaiian architecture.
Kailua Kona is also a great place to enjoy some water activities. The beaches here are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. And there are plenty of tour companies that offer things like scuba diving, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding.
10. Go On A Whale-Watching Tour
One of the best things to do in Hawaii Big Island is to go on a whale-watching tour. From December to May, you have a good chance of seeing humpback whales as they migrate to the warm waters around the island to mate and give birth.
There are a number of companies that offer tours, but I recommend Kailua-Kona Whale Watching Cruise. This tour departs from Honokohau Harbor, which is about a 15-minute drive from Kona. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours, and you have a good chance of seeing humpback whales and other marine life, such as dolphins and turtles.
I had a great time on this tour and would definitely recommend it. We were even given special devices that amplified the sound of the whales so we could hear them underwater. The crew was very knowledgeable and made sure we had a great experience.
11. ATV Ride At Kipu Ranch
Kipu Ranch is a beautiful piece of land located just outside of Lihue. It’s home to acres of lush green pastures, winding dirt roads, and stunning mountain views.
Kipu Ranch offers a variety of ATV tours that allow you to explore the ranch at your own pace. I did the 3-hour tour, and it was the perfect amount of time. We started out with a safety briefing and some practice on a closed course. Then we hit the open trails and started exploring.
The ranch is huge, so there’s plenty of ground to cover. However, the tour’s highlight was seeing the Hollywood-style movie set. This set was used in the filming of Jurassic Park, and you can still see some of the props from the movie.
So if you’re traveling to Hawaii, an ATV tour of Kipu Ranch should definitely be on your list of things to do. It’s a great way to see the island, and it’s definitely an unforgettable experience.
Address; 235 Kipu Rd, Lihue, Hawaii.
12. Go Stargazing At Mauna Kea Summit
Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii and one of the best places in the world for stargazing. At over 13,000 feet, the observatory is above the clouds, providing unobstructed views of the night sky. And with very little light pollution, you’ll be able to see an incredible number of stars.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to go stargazing at Mauna Kea. First, the summit is only accessible by 4WD vehicles. So, if you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, you can either rent one or join a tour. Second, the altitude can be tough to adjust to, so it’s important to take your time and acclimate to the altitude before heading up to the summit. Finally, the temperature at the summit can be quite cold, so make sure you dress warmly.
I suggest going on a tour because they provide transportation and all the necessary gear. And they also take care of everything else, so you can just sit back and enjoy the experience. Either way, stargazing at Mauna Kea is an unforgettable experience and definitely one of the top places to visit on Hawaii Big Island.
Location: Hawaii County, Hawaii.
13. Soak The Sun At Hapuna Beach State Park
There’s nothing like a day at the Beach, and Hapuna Beach State Park is definitely one of the best places in Hawaii to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. With its white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and palm trees, it looks like a postcard come to life.
Hapuna Beach is great for swimming, sunbathing, boogie boarding, and body surfing. The waves can get pretty big here, so it’s definitely not the place for small children. If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, there are plenty of spots on the Beach where you can just sit back and enjoy the scenery.
And if you wish to extend your stay, there are shelter areas with access to bathrooms, electricity, refrigerators, and picnic tables. So, whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, a visit here should definitely be on your list of top things to do on Hawaii Big Island.
Address: Old Puako Road, Waimea, Hawaii.
14. See Akaka Falls State Park
This state park is home to two stunning waterfalls: Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. Akaka Falls is the taller of the two, plunging 442 feet into a pool of water below. Kahuna Falls is also quite impressive, tumbling 100 feet over a lava cliff.
The park features a short, easy-loop trail that takes you to both waterfalls. The trail is paved and relatively flat, making it accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels. Along the way, you’ll also get to see a variety of native plants and birds.
And being one of the points of interest on the Hawaii Big Island, there’s no shortage of things to do here. In addition to the waterfalls, the park also has a picnic area where you can enjoy a scenic lunch. There’s also a small visitor center with exhibits on the history and culture of the area.
Address: 875 Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, Hawaii.
15. Visit The Hilo Farmers Market
The Hilo Farmers Market is one of the most famous places on Hawaii Big Island if you love fresh, local produce. You’ll find an incredible selection of tropical fruits, vegetables, flowers, and more. It’s open every day of the week, but Saturday is by far the busiest day.
One thing that makes this market so special is the fact that many of the vendors are farmers who have grown the produce themselves. This means that you’re getting the freshest food possible, and you can even ask the farmers for tips on how to prepare it. The market is also a great place to find unique gifts and souvenirs, as there are many local artisans who sell their wares here.
Address: Kamehameha Avenue, Mamo Street, Hilo, Hawaii.
16. Take A Drive Down The Hamakua Coast
The Hamakua Coast is one of the most scenic drives on the Big Island. This 45-mile drive starts in Hilo and takes you all the way to Honoka’a, passing through rainforests, waterfalls, and plenty of breathtaking coastline views.
One of the highlights of the drive is Akaka Falls State Park, where you can see Akaka Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls on the island. The park also has a short loop trail that takes you through a bamboo forest. And if you have time, I recommend stopping at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which is just a short drive off the Hamakua Coast.
Although this route is not well known, a drive here is definitely one of the amazing things to do on Hawaii Big Island. This is because you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, without all the tourists.
17. Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
Do you know where Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii? It was actually at Kealakekua Bay, on the Big Island. This bay is also home to the Captain Cook Monument, a white obelisk that marks the spot where he was killed in 1779.
Kealakekua Bay is a beautiful place to visit, with crystal-clear water and plenty of coral to see. It’s also a great place for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. In fact, this is one of the best sites in Hawaii for snorkeling. So you can definitely consider this when thinking about fun things to do in Hawaii Big Island.
Address: 82-6099 Puuhonua Road, Captain Cook, Hawaii.
18. Go Shopping for Souvenirs in Kailua-Kona
Kailua-Kona is the perfect place to find that special souvenir to bring home from your trip to Hawaii. This quaint town is full of shops and boutiques, each offering unique items. Take a walk down Alii Drive and see what catches your eye. One of my favorite shops was Hilo Hattie, which has a wide selection of Hawaiian-themed clothing, home decor, and gifts. There are more than enough things to do in Kailua-Kona, so make sure you leave some time for shopping!
19. Spa Day At The Hilton Waikoloa Village
After a long day of exploring the sights of Hawaii, there’s nothing better than a relaxing spa day. And the best place to enjoy a spa day on the Big Island is at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. This resort is home to one of the most luxurious spas in Hawaii, featuring a variety of treatments inspired by the island’s natural beauty.
Choose from a variety of massages, facials, body scrubs, and wraps. Or, if you’re looking for something truly unique, try the coco mango body scrub. This treatment uses a blend of coconut oil and mango butter to nourish your skin, leaving you feeling soft and smooth. After your treatment, enjoy a poolside lunch at one of the resort’s restaurants. Or, take a dip in the pool and soak up the sun.
This is definitely the place to be if you’re looking for vacation ideas in Hawaii that involve relaxation and luxury. The spa treatments are top-notch, and the resort itself is absolutely beautiful. So if you’re looking to treat yourself, this is the place to do it.
Address; 69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr, Waikoloa Village, Hawaii.
20. Take A Coffee Tour Of Hawaii Island
Did you know that Hawaii is the only state in the US that grows coffee? And what’s even more impressive is that Hawaii Island is home to some of the best coffee in the world. So, if you’re a coffee lover, a coffee tour should definitely be on your list of things to do in Hawaii.
One of the best places to take a coffee tour is the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. This farm is a working coffee plantation that produces some of the finest coffee in Hawaii. The tour takes you through the coffee-making process, from growing the coffee beans to roasting them. You even get to sample some of the coffee at the end of the tour.
Another great option for a coffee tour is at the Greenwell Farms Coffee Plantation. This plantation offers tours, tastings, and even a chance to pick your own coffee beans. I did this tour, and it was a lot of fun. I even got to keep the coffee beans I picked.
21. Take A Horseback Riding Tour Through Waipi’o Valley
One of the things that makes Hawaii so special is its lush, green landscape. And there’s no better place to see this than at Waipi’o Valley. This valley is home to lush jungle trails, curving streams, flowering canopies, and some of the most beautiful waterfalls
There are a few ways to explore Waipi’o Valley, but the best way is on horseback. This way, you can really take in the sights and sounds of this magical place. I did a tour with Waipi’o Na’alapa Stables, and it was an incredible experience. My horse, Ginger, was so docile and sweet. She knew the trails like the back of her hand and seemed to enjoy taking things at a leisurely pace.
The tour takes you down the valley, past waterfalls, and through jungle-like terrain. Our guide taught us about the valley’s history, the people living there, and the farming that takes place. We even got to stop at a lookout point and enjoy the view.
So if you’re looking for the very best in Hawaii attractions, a horseback riding tour through Waipi’o Valley should be on your list. I enjoyed every minute of it and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Big Island.
Location: Waipopo Valley Road, Hamakua Coast.
22. Swim With Dolphins At Dolphin Quest Hawaii
Are you looking for fun things to see and do on Hawaii Big Island? Then you won’t want to miss the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Dolphin Quest Hawaii.
Dolphin Quest offers a variety of programs that allow you to get up close and personal with these amazing creatures. The dolphin swim is the most popular program, and it’s perfect for both kids and adults. You’ll get to swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat and learn about their unique behavior and intelligence.
If you really want to get an in-depth look at these amazing creatures, you can also sign up for the Trainer for a Day program. This program gives you the opportunity to work alongside the trainers and learn everything there is to know about dolphins.
No matter which program you choose, swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Quest Hawaii is an experience you’ll never forget.
23. Visit the City of Refuge (Puʻuhonua O Honaunau Historical Park)
Honaunau is a beautiful historical park that was once a place of refuge for Hawaiian lawbreakers. This was a sanctuary where they could go to escape punishment. Here, they would receive absolution from a kahuna (priest), and then they were free as long as they stayed within the park’s boundaries.
Today, the City of Refuge is a popular tourist destination. It’s home to an ancient heiau (temple) and several other historic buildings and wood carvings. I suggest strolling through the park and learn about the fascinating history of this place. There’s also a beautiful sandy beach where you can swim, snorkel, and relax.
For me, one of the most interesting things about this park is the way it’s been able to preserve Hawaiian culture. I think it’s important to visit places like this to learn about the history and culture of Hawaii. And, if you’re looking for things to see in Hawaii that are both fun and educational, this is a great option.
Address: State Hwy 160, Honaunau, Hawaii.
24. Explore the Kaumana Caves
Away from the hustle and bustle of Hilo town, you’ll find the Kaumana Caves. These caves are actually lava tubes that were formed during an eruption of Mauna Loa in 1881. And they make for a fun and adventurous day trip if you’re looking for things to do near Hilo.
The Kaumana Caves are open to the public, and there is a well-maintained path that takes you to the caves. You’ll need a flashlight to see, but other than that, there’s no special equipment required. The lava tubes are pretty big, so you won’t feel claustrophobic at all. And you might even see some bats! Just be sure to wear closed-toe shoes and watch your step, as the ground can be uneven in places.
And being one of the best tourist spots on Hawaii Big Island, the Kaumana Caves are definitely worth a visit. I suggest taking a guided tour so you can learn more about the history and geology of the area.
Address; 1492 Kaumana Dr, Hilo, Hawaii.
25. Take A Food Tour Of Kailua-Kona
Kailua-Kona is a foodie paradise, with a wide variety of restaurants and cafes to choose from. But with so many options, it can be tough to know where to start. That’s where a food tour comes in.
I did a food tour with Kona Tasting Tours, and it was an amazing experience. We visited six different restaurants, cafes, and food trucks, all within walking distance of each other. We got to try everything from poke bowls and Loco Moco to shave ice and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.
Our tour guide was so knowledgeable about the food scene in Kailua-Kona, and she gave us plenty of tips on where to eat, what to order, and how to get the most out of our dining experience.
My belly was so full by the end of the tour, but it was well worth it. If you love food, then this is definitely one of the best things to do on Hawaii Big Island.
26. Visit Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is home to Hawaii’s largest heiau (Hawaiian temple). This temple was built in the 1700s by King Kamehameha I, who used it to help unify the Hawaiian Islands. But that’s not all that makes Pu’ukohola Heiau so special. There are more historic sites on this property, including the Mailekini Heiau (which is the oldest temple in Hawaii) and the homestead of John Young (one of Hawaii’s first western settlers).
Take a walking tour of the property to learn more about the history and culture of Hawaii. I suggest taking a guided tour, as they are very informative and interesting. You’ll learn about the role of heiaus in Hawaiian society and the significance of Pu’ukohola Heiau in particular.
All in all, Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is a great place to see some of the top tourist attractions on Hawaii Big Island. And being one of the most important historic sites in the state, I suggest spending an hour or two here.
Address; Kawaihae Rd, Waimea, Hawaii.
27. Tour Parker Ranch
Parker Ranch is one of the largest and oldest cattle ranches in the United States. It covers nearly 130,000 acres of land and is home to over 26,000 head of cattle. The ranch was founded in 1847 by John Palmer Parker, a sailor who jumped ship and made his way to the Hawaiian Islands.
Today, Parker Ranch is a working ranch that offers visitors a chance to learn about the history and culture of the Hawaiian cowboy. Tours of the ranch take you to the historic homes of the Parker family, the family cemetery as well as the stables where the cattle are kept. There is also a museum on the property that houses more than 100 paintings and artifacts. The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who are happy to answer any questions you might have.
This is one of the most famous places to see on Hawaii’s Big Island and a great way to get a taste of the cowboy lifestyle. I enjoyed learning about the history of the ranch and seeing how it operates today. So be sure to add it to your itinerary.
Address: 66-1304 Mamalahoa Hwy, Waimea, Hawaii.
28. Attend a Luau
A luau is a Hawaiian feast that typically features a roasted pig, poi (a type of taro pudding), and other traditional dishes. But the highlight of any luau is the entertainment. You’ll see hula dancers, fire dancers, and even some daring acrobats.
There are several luaus to choose from on the Big Island, but I recommend the Island Breeze Luau. This luau takes place at the Kona Beach Hotel, which is a beautiful resort. The setting alone makes it worth attending, but the food and entertainment are also top-notch.
So if you want to experience the best of Hawaiian culture, attending a luau should definitely be on your list of fun things to do in Hawaii Big Island.
29. Enjoy Hawaii’s Nightlife
After a long day of enjoying different activities in Hawaii, there’s nothing better than kicking back with a delicious cocktail in hand. And luckily, Hawaii’s nightlife scene does not disappoint.
One of the best places to enjoy Hawaii’s nightlife is the Beach Bar at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Here, you can enjoy live music and delicious drinks while watching the sunset over the ocean. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind after a long day.
If you’re looking for a livelier scene, Kailua-Kona town is the place to be. This town offers a variety of bars and clubs, including Huggo’s On the Rocks, My Bar, and Dance Hawaii Ballroom Dance Studio.
No matter what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in Hawaii’s nightlife scene. So if you want to let loose and have some fun, be sure to add this to your list of fun things to do on Hawaii Big Island.
30. Learn Bodyboarding Or Boogie Boarding At Magic Sands Beach
Have you ever wanted to learn how to body board or boogie board? If so, then head on over to Magic Sands Beach. This is the perfect place to learn because the waves here are small and gentle.
Even if you’re not interested in learning how to body board or boogie board, Magic Sands Beach is still a great place to relax and soak up the sun. The sand here is white and powdery, and the water is crystal clear.
If you do want to learn how to body board or boogie board, I recommend taking a lesson with one of the many instructors on the Beach. They’ll be able to teach you the proper techniques and help you stay safe while you’re in the water.
You’re sure to have an incredible time no matter what you choose to do. And with this list of the best things to do on Hawaii Big Island, you’re sure to find something that’s perfect for you. Just pick a few things from the list (if not all!) and get ready to have the time of your life. Mahalo!