Hawaii - The Big Island Travel Guide

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Courtesy of Sean Davey / Aurora Photos/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Hawaii - The Big Island

Whether you're looking to come face to face with molten lava or kaleidoscopic sand, you won't have trouble finding ways to pass the time on the Big Island. From awe-inspiring volcanoes in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park to the photo-worthy Akaka Falls to the Eden-like Waipio Valley, the Big Island is full of natural wonders. In addition to the Big Island's hiking spots and popular beaches, there's also shopping: Swing by the Hilo Farmers Market for an eclectic mix of Hawaiian treats and crafts.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated November 16, 2018

  • #1
    Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
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    #1 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Four months after closing due to intense and damaging volcanic activity, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park reopened in mid-September 2018. "The Volcano," as it were, loosely refers to two active volcanoes in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park; specifically, it's Kilauea that's the real must-see. A 4,000-foot-tall mountain, Kilauea has been spitting, spewing and oozing since Jan. 3, 1983 and in May 2018, it started erupting, forcing evacuations and destroying entire communities. Although the eruptions have stopped, Kilauea is still at the top of America's list of volcanoes to monitor. 

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  • #2
    Akaka Falls State Park
    View all Photos
    #2 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    A visit to Hilo's Akaka Falls State Park will entail a short, low-intensity hike in northeastern Hawai'i. Its payoff comes in the form of two consecutive waterfalls – cascading Kahuna Falls and the spectacular free-falling Akaka Falls, which earned the park its name. 

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  • #3
    Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
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    #3 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Up until the early 19th century on Big Island, Hawaiians who broke the law could avoid a punishment of death by fleeing to a region of the west coast known as pu'uhonua, or "place of refuge," where they would be forgiven by an area priest. In present day, this place of refuge is a historical landmark preserved by the park service. It's also an extremely popular outing for Big Island vacationers, and the pictures make it easy to see why. Not only will you enjoy Pu'uhonua o Honaunau if you have a penchant for history and trivia, but it's also exploding with eye-catching temples, intricate ki'i (wood carvings) and plenty of the honu, (or Hawaiian green sea turtles) that live on the premises. And the breathtaking scenery, of course – the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is located near some of the best snorkeling beaches of Big Island.

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  • #4
    Waipio Valley
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    #4 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Waipio Valley, translated as "curved water," is named for the river that runs through it, and it's a historically significant spot to the Hawaiian people. Situated along the Hamakua Coast on the island's northeastern side, it was once one of the most fertile valleys on the Big Island and home to an estimated 10,000 people when the navigator captain James Cook first arrived in 1778. It was also home to Kamehameha the Great and many other Hawaiian rulers, earning it the nickname "The Valley of the Kings." 

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  • #5
    Kaunaoa Beach
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    #5 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Beaches, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Kaunaoa Beach is one of Big Island's most picturesque white sand beaches. So, most travelers recommend coming early (around 8:30 a.m.) to Kaunaoa to snag one of the too-few parking spots – and spending most of the day there. 

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  • #6
    Hilo Farmers Market
    View all Photos
    #6 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Local farmers and artisans congregate each day to sell everything from produce to seafood, handicrafts to clothing in downtown Hilo. And most travelers agree there's no better place on the Big Island to sample local produce and purchase local crafts. Hilo Farmers Market sells some of everything, from the run-of-the-mill (like pineapples and bananas) to more unique items (like jaboticaba fruit or bongo drums), but you'll have to arrive early and you can't be afraid to bargain. You can also enjoy some poke and shaved ice while you browse. 

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  • #7
    Anaehoomalu Beach
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    #7 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    One of the Kohala Coast's premier beaches, Anaehoomalu Beach is a favorite haunt for frequent Big Island visitors. Do as they do and call it "A-Bay" – that way you'll truly be in the know. You won't find too many locals on this massive stretch of salt and pepper sand, but you will have lots of opportunities to try some water sports, such as stand up paddle boarding and snorkeling, in the calm and clear water. 

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  • #8
    Hapuna Beach State Park
    View all Photos
    #8 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The deliberately named waters of Hapuna Beach – Hapuna means "spring of life" in Hawaiian – are probably the most loved on all of the Big Island. Both visitors and residents flock to this beach on the South Kohala coast, and encourage you to do the same. If you're not visiting for the soft-as-cotton sand, then you've probably come for the aquamarine water. And if you aren't enjoying the aquamarine water then you've probably come for the unbelievable sunsets. 

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  • #9
    Papakolea Beach
    View all Photos
    #9 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Putting Papakolea Beach on one's travel itinerary is not for the faint of heart. For one, its secluded location makes it tough to reach. Plus, there is little shade and nothing in the way of amenities, and it also experiences rough waters. But intrepid travelers brave the journey because they want to say they've visited one of the world's only green sand beaches. 

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  • #10
    Punalu'u Beach
    View all Photos
    #10 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Some say the waters here are too rough and rocky to really enjoy swimming, but that's not the real reason to visit Punalu'u, anyway. This beach in southern Hawai'i is ideal for its picture-taking potential. For one thing, the onyx-tinted sand here owes its unique hue to the ongoing volcanic activity of Kilauea in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. And for another, this beach is often visited by Honu (or Hawaiian green sea turtles) that like to swim to and sun on the shore. You might also catch a glimpse of a hawksbill sea turtle from time to time. 

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  • #11
    Kealakekua Bay
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    #11 in Hawaii - The Big Island
    Beaches, Recreation, Sightseeing, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Recreation, Sightseeing, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Snorkelers like to visit this remote bay on Hawaii's west coast for the tropical fish, sea turtles and Hawaiian Spinner dolphins that are plainly visible just below the calm, shallow water's surface. History junkies make the trek to Kealakekua for a different reason altogether. 

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  • Dolphin Quest
    View all Photos
    Sightseeing, Swimming/Pools, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Swimming/Pools, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Kona Coffee Living History Farm
    View all Photos
    Museums, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
    View all Photos
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

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