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Big Island of Hawaii Travel Guide

POSTED
May 13, 2020

Each of the Hawaiian islands has it’s own beauty, energy and uniqueness so it’s quite hard to choose a favorite. Although, I’m a bit biased towards the beautiful big island of Hawai’i where we live if you like wide open spaces and a more off the beaten path feel.

We’ve been here for five years with an avid determination to get out and see the island yet still have so many places we’ve yet to explore. It’s vast, diverse, spacious and full of adventure!

I thought I would share a little glimpse into this truly special destination so that you can enjoy the best of the Big Island when you come visit. Granted, this is only a sliver of all of the incredible things to do on this island (find more in our Full Big Island Travel Guide!).

There are many wonderful, exciting, calming & magical moments to be had here and I hope I capture if only a bit of the charm of aloha. . .

When you step off the plane, walk down the steps and into the immediate humidity and smell of plumeria – it’s like a calm rushes over you, a dear friend hugging you. Every. Single. Time.

With the airport only being twenty minutes out of town, you can head straight for an adventure if you’d like or take it easy and go plant your toes in the sand.

That is the true conundrum of this island – with such expansive beaches (white, black and green sands to choose from) yet also so many different natural beauties up in the mountains to explore – it can be a dilemma to decide what to do.

Kona is known for it’s fun (although a little dated) strip downtown full of restaurants and beach-side bars but I challenge you to think outside of the box – to explore the less explored. Though this destination can be known as a tourist hub, it boasts some of the most beautiful, barely touched beaches and hole-in-the-wall gems – you just have to know where to find them.


If you want all of my Big Island recommendations all in one convenient, organized place, you can check out our Big Island Travel Guide! Our complete guide is focused on supporting local businesses, helping you consciously care for the environment and get off the beaten path.


Here is a glimpse into what this special place has to offer. . . 

PLACES TO STAY ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII

Choosing where to stay here in the islands can set the tone for your visit here. In this post about the best places to stay on the Big Island, I break down a lot of common questions – which side of the island is better to stay on, best resorts & Airbnbs to stay at, and even share campsites and off the beaten path accommodations – to make choosing easier for you!

WHERE TO EAT ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII

MAGICS BEACH GRILL

This newly opened spot is a GEM in Kona! Right on the ocean, overlooking Magic Sands Beach, this place is perfect for lunch, an oceanside cocktail or a romantic dinner. 

BASIK ACAI

Right in the middle of town, just a climb up the steps into a little treehouse-style cafe – something scrumptious awaits you. Their presentation is always beautiful, but unfortunately, their food is also too delicious to wait and get that shot! Seriously, if acai bowls are up your alley – head here for your morning breakfast or mid-day treat! Ask for a plastic-free option to let them know this is in demand.

OLA BREWERY

With a mission of encouraging growth of the agricultural economy here in Hawai’i by purchasing local ingredients and incorporating them into beers and ciders – how could you not love them? Plus, their beers and ciders are DELICIOUS! Definitely stop into their tap room when visiting. 

DA POKE SHACK

One word: YUM! If you love fresh poke, I definitely recommend this local joint! They have awesome poké recipes and sides. Because it’s right in town, you can take it to the beach if you want to have yourself a little picnic! 

VIBE BIG ISLAND

The cutest health conscious cafe with locally grown espresso, unique medicinal beverages and tasty healthy food. It’s so darling! Definitely my favorite spot in Hilo.

SUISAN FISH MARKET

The outside looks unassuming but the food inside is out of this world! They have reasonable pricing & the poké is so fresh with a lot of variety. It can be busy but the line moves pretty quickly. 

For a FULL list of our favorite local food favorites all around the island (Kona, Waikoloa, Waimea, Hawi, Honoka’a and Hilo) be sure to grab your copy of the full Big Island Travel Guide.

BEST BIG ISLAND BEACHES

MANINI’OWALI BEACH

Also known as Kua Bay. Located not far from the airport, this lovely sliver of coastline is all white sand and blue skies. You will see a mix of locals & vacationers and it’s a wonderful place to spend the day.

There is some lava on the edges of the beach (very typical of Hawaiian beaches) but in the middle it’s mainly sand bottom which makes it wonderful to take a dip in the turquoise blue waves!

HAPUNA STATE PARK 

This expansive, beautiful white sand beach is a Big Island favorite. It’s a state beach so there will be quite a few people there & I recommend going early or mid-day and staying for sunset. Great for a relaxing day for all ages! 

BLACK SAND BEACHES

Thinking back to my very first time on the Big Island, I remember the striking nature of the black sand being one of the most unique and captivating things we experienced! My goodness, to someone who’s never seen black sand, it’s so different and exciting! Watching the contrast of the white foam waves kissing the black sand over and over is mesmerizing. I definitely recommend any of these beaches –  Kahalu’u, Punalu’u or Kiholo.  

PLEASE WEAR REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN!
AND PLEASE BE A DECENT HUMAN. 
TREAT THESE PLACES LIKE YOU LIVE HERE.

UNIQUE EXPERIENCES ON THE BIG ISLAND

PU’UHONUA O HONAUNAU – CITY OF REFUGE

This historic spot is a treasured piece of Hawaii history, an opportunity to step back in time. These sacred grounds are a remarkably preserved sanctuary of Hawaii’s past and a wonderful place to explore.

KA LAE – SOUTH POINT

You can take in the view at the southern most point of the United States and on high surf days, watch water shoot out of the blow holes. If you’re into cliff jumping, you can jump off the 40ft cliff at your own risk! Stop into Ka Lae Coffee while you’re down there!

VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK

Seeing a volcano through your own eyes is something that is really unique and incredible to experience when you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii! There’s so much to do in the park: you can hike, bike, ride in a helicopter, walk through a lava tube and even see plants that can’t be found anywhere else on earth!

POLOLŪ LOOKOUT & HIKE

Want to see something awe-inspiring? Something that truly puts in perspective how small we are in this world? Pololū Valley does just that. Truly, the views from the top are spectacular and being merely a pebble on the beach once you’re down there – it’s all an experience. & one that’s certainly worth taking! 

AKAKA FALLS

Exploring the island’s waterfalls is a really magical part of the experience here in the islands! Akaka Falls is an easy way to see a gorgeous waterfall amidst a beautiful rainforest. There’s a fruit stand on the drive up there that’s worth the stop too!

There are almost too many breathtaking places on this island to share here so I outlined all of my favorite beaches, snorkel spots, hikes, adventures and ‘must-sees’ into my Big Island Travel Guide that you can easily download to your phone!

LOCAL SHOPS TO EXPLORE IN HAWAII

I hate to break it to you, but Kona is not a shopping hub! It’s just not. You won’t find designer stores here (and that’s just fine with me) but there are some incredible artisans pouring their hearts into their crafts & I believe that’s worth supporting even more.

FAVORITE LOCAL PLACES TO SHOP

Kepola Design House (at the Waimea Farmer’s Market or online) 

Hana Hou Hilo

Bee Chi Apothecary 

Mana Artisan Botanics 

HOLUALOA

A quaint, sleepy town tucked away in the mountains above Kona. Holualoa offers darling little shops, art galleries along with a coffee shop, restaurant and taco stand. It’s not overstated, but instead a calming reprieve from downtown; a road less traveled.

HAWI (pronounced hah-vee)

Another artisan town, this time a drive north from the mainstream – calling out to the creatives and artists. Up on the north end of the island, colored buildings line the street and you will see small shops, smiling faces & a few quiet places to stop and grab a bite. On your way to Pololū Valley Lookout, make a stop here!

For a full list of all the best local shops, check out my Big Island Travel Guide.

ENJOY & KOKUA THE ISLANDS 

One of the most amazing parts about The Big Island is just getting lost in it. Talk to the locals, find hidden treasures, stay off the beaten path, hike into a beach with a book and just let the beauty soak in.

With gorgeous coastlines all around the island, you can’t help but gasp at every mile-long beach, natural sea arch, tropical jungle or turtle sighting. I could go on for days, although I wanted to leave a little bit for you to explore on your own!

I know it’s easy to slip into ‘vacation mode’ and stop considering this place as someone else’s home but we welcome you to enjoy your vacation while being conscious of your impact on this planet and the ecosystems here in Hawai’i nei! 

‘Kokua’ means to ‘care for’ or ‘help’. When you come to visit, please kokua the islands & care for them as if you lived here. Here are some things to keep in mind: 

PLEASE READ BEFORE YOUR TRIP:

  • Wear nothing but REEF SAFE sunscreen even if you’re not swimming in the ocean. The reefs in Hawai’i are dying rapidly and toxic, chemical sunscreen from booming tourism plays a HUGE role! Whether you’re wearing it and diving in, or wearing it and then showering later on that day, it ends up in our waterways and is extremely toxic to both you and the environment.

READ THIS BLOGPOST IF YOU’RE NOT AWARE OF WHAT REEF-SAFE MEANS

  • Don’t tag specific locations on social media! It’s one thing if the tag is a place of business or well known site like Volcano National Park but we have seen firsthand how social media tagging can very negatively affect a place. Over the past five years, almost every lesser known place within these islands is now overrun with tourists snapping selfies, totally unaware of the sacredness of the place, and is littered with trash. It’s heartbreaking & I can’t even imagine how those who have lived here for generations or a lifetime must feel. Be mindful of the ripple effects of your actions. Keep things under wraps and let those who appreciate and respect nature find it on their own!  
  • Bring reusable water bottles.
    Avoiding plastic water bottles makes a HUGE impact!  
  • Bring reusable cloth bags for groceries. In Hawai’i plastic grocery bags have been banned & many stores will have you carry out your groceries if you don’t bring reusable!  
  • Don’t leave your trash in nature – not on the beaches, on hikes, in parks, out your window or anywhere besides in recycling, composting or trash bins.  
  • Avoid single-use waste by bringing a metal straw, reusable coffee mug & reusable utensils. Bring anything you know you’ll be using a lot of & be sure to ask for no straw when out to eat/don’t ask for to go boxes if you don’t need to!  
  • Recycle what you do use! Sadly, there is a huge gap in our plastic recycling infrastructure so relying on recycling isn’t the answer but if you do use items such as glass, metal or plastic PLEASE recycle properly.

Read these posts for more ideas:

Get The Complete Big Island Travel Guide

If you want the FULL guide to the Big Island for adventurous travelers filled with over 100 personally curated recommendations from our beautiful, beloved island – grab our Big Island Guide! You can easily access it on your smartphone, computer or iPad which is perfect for while you’re out exploring.

The guide includes:

  • The best places to eat & sip coffee, grouped by area: Kona, Waikoloa, Waimea, Honoka’a & Hilo
  • My favorite beaches & Aaron’s favorite surf spots on the island
  • More in-depth information on where to stay, ways to be a mindful traveler & experiences not to miss

Meet the writer

I'M ELANA JADALLAH

Thanks for reading! I'm a photographer, writer & environmental advocate excited to be sharing regenerative solutions, ideas & concepts for our lives & businesses with you. 

MORE ABOUT ME

Read the Comments + 

add A comment

  1. COCO + LITA says:

    Thank you so much for the mention! We are so happy you’ve moved here and look forward to more shopping dates with you ♡

  2. I am just in awh that I stumbled upon your amazing blog, reminiscing over my beautiful home! Did you go to the hilo side at all? (:

  3. Amazing photos you got here! I really love it.. Nice guide as well. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Colleen says:

    I’m so glad I found this post! My husband and I will be there in a week and a half. Let me know if there are any new additions you would like to share. Thank you!

  5. I really need to spend more time on the Big Island and the other neighboring islands. Oahu can seem so small at times.

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