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. 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 strip downtown full of restaurants and beach-side bars, although 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 my 90+ all-time favorite island stays, restaurants, cafes, beaches, surf spots, experiences, tropical escapes, shops + tips for traveling this beautiful, big island – check out my Big Island of Hawaii Travel Guide. My intention with the Big Island Travel Guide is to stop the endless scrolling on Instagram, screen-shotting, hours researching on Google and getting lost on TripAdvisor or Yelp! The point of being on vacation is to relax, unplug and immerse yourself in the beauty + culture around you. After getting countless questions from both travelers + friends who live here about my favorite spots – I decided to take the plunge + create this guide! My Big Island Travel e-Guide is a downloadable PDF guide. Easy to bring with you on your smartphone or tablet while traveling (tip: add it to your iBooks!) All recommendations are linked out to a website for further information or directions.
Here is my a small glimpse into my ‘insiders scoop’ if you will. . .
City of Refuge
Also known as ‘Two Step’ . . . If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me post photos from this place before. This cultural + historical site will educate you on the amazing history of the islands, which is so interesting and intriguing, but also provide some of the most beautiful views of Kealakekua Bay! I definitely recommend stopping in, exploring and learning about the inspiring Hawaiian culture. Also, if you love to snorkel – this is one of the best places on the island to do so!
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!
Black Sands 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.
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!
I also absolutely recommend seeing the Volcano – because, I mean, it’s an active volcano! How many people will experience the earth forming right in front of them? This island was formed from lava + the size of the island is constantly growing due to the flow. It’s something incredible + unique to witness!
Lastly, the Green Sand Beach. It’s a three mile hike in but what a view! It’s striking from every angle and if you are up for an adventure this is something you should add to your list!
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 + ‘must-sees’ into my Big Island Travel Guide that you can easily download to your phone!
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!
Da Poke Shack
One word: YUM! If you love fresh poke, I definitely recommend this local joint! They have awesome recipes, it’s right in town + you can take it to the beach if you want to have yourself a little picnic!
For a FULL list of our favorite local spots from Kona, Waikoloa, Waimea, Hawi, Honokaa + Hilo – check out my Big Island Travel Guide for over 40 incredible places.
AirBNB + Vacation Rentals
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)!
The west + north side of the island is home to some of the most beautiful stretches of beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. All different + 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.
A quaint, sleepy town tucked away in the mountains above Kona. Holualoa offers darling little shops, art galleries along with a coffee shop, restaurant + taco stand. Not to mention a pink hotel. 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 Pololu, make a stop here!
Ginger & Koi + Coco & Lita
I hate to break it to you, but Kona is not a shopping hub ;) It’s just not. You won’t find designer stores nor high fashion here (and that’s just fine with me). Although, (via Instagram) I have found a few local places who have injected some style into Kona. One being Coco & Lita, ran by the most darling + stylish woman Lianne and Ginger & Koi – which carries the hottest swim/beachwear brands. Mahalo to both of these stores for giving me somewhere to go when my mainland heart is in search of something new!
For a full list of all the best local shops, check out my Big Island Travel Guide.
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!
Hope this gave you a exciting slice of my island home – one of my favorite places in the world! When you travel here, please respect the earth, clean up your trash, wear reef safe sunscreen & greet locals with ALOHA. Enjoy!
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.
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
+ Tips for where to stay on the island, ways to be a mindful traveler & experiences not to miss