A Traveler’s Guide To The Big Island of Hawaii
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 four 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.
To read ALL of our 100+ all-time favorite island stays, restaurants, cafes, beaches, surf spots, experiences, tropical escapes, shops & tips for traveling this beautiful, big island – check out our Big Island of Hawaii Travel Guide. The intention with the Big Island Travel Guide is to stop the endless scrolling on Instagram, screen-shotting, hours researching and getting lost on TripAdvisor or Yelp! The point of being on vacation is to relax, unplug and immerse yourself in the beauty and culture around you. Our Big Island Travel e-Guide is focused on supporting local businesses, helping you get off the beaten path and truly enjoy this place.
Here is a small glimpse into what this special place has to offer. . .
PLACES TO STAY ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII
If you prefer to feel like you’re staying in a home away from home, I wanted to make sure to mention the Airbnb and VRBO accommodations on the island because there are some spectacular, off the beaten path places (such as this dreamy tropical tree house, cozy curated hale or this yurt)!
Choose legal Airbnbs where the owners live in Hawai’i and are paying taxes here. There is a huge problem with housing affordability and availability throughout the islands which is mainly due to neighborhoods being bought out by foreign buyers leaving completely empty neighborhoods and rising housing costs.
If the owner doesn’t live here in Hawai’i and the property is not taxed as a vacation rental, all of the money leaves the state and is pocketed by someone who does not live in or contribute to the community. Do a little research to make sure the owner is legitimate or stay at an eco-friendly hotel instead.
The west and north sides of the island is home to some of the most beautiful stretches of beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. All different and contrasting. You can check out this site to see if any of the camping sites are available for your stay! This is opportune for the budget-friendly traveler.
There are some really beautiful hotels on this island – and I share my list of island favorites in my Big Island Travel Guide.
WHERE TO EAT ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 (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!
Expansive, beautiful white sand beach with small waves. 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.
AND PLEASE BE A DECENT HUMAN.
TREAT THESE PLACES LIKE YOU LIVE HERE.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES ON THE BIG ISLAND
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.
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!
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!
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. Here are some of my favorite local places to shop:
Kepola Design House (at the Waimea Farmer’s Market or online)
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:
- 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.
- 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 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