The Big Island Bucket List
The Big Island, also known as the Island of Hawai'i, is a dream destination for adventure seekers and luxury lovers alike. This lush and rustic paradise is the perfect island getaway for those seeking access to bucket list and Instagram-worthy activities and spots. This is the biggest island out of all the other Hawaii's islands, yet the crowds are minimal with nothing but iconic cuisine, snorkeling, white sand beaches, and endless amount of adventure. Experiencing this extremely diverse island is not be missed in your trip to Hawaii!
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Where to stay in Big Island, Hawai'i
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
The Big Island’s standout resort on the quiet Kona-Kohala coast, home to an enormous spa, lauded golf course and raft of family-friendly activities.
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Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection
Royal, family-friendly Hawaiian hotel nestled along the dramatic Kohala Coast, in the center of five great mountains.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
A Hawaii resort and spa located on the Kohala Coast, surrounded by lush tropical gardens, cascading waterfalls and a tranquil white sand beach and lagoon.
$100 food / beverage credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
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Things to do in Big Island, Hawai'i
Kukio Beach: This is a secluded & long white-sand beach located within the Four Seasons Hualalai resort. It will make you think it's a private beach due to no crowds but it's public of course. Keep a look out for green sea turtles and come at sunset for stellar views.
Makalawena Beach: It's one of best beaches in Hawaii, and personally it's my favorite. Just note it's only reachable by a somewhat-intense 1-mile hike after Mahai'ula Beach Park. Be sure to go early so you can have the beach all to yourself.
Kealakekua Bay Park: One of the most amazing places to learn about Hawaiian history and probably the best place for snorkeling on the island. It's home to the famous Captain Cook monument. Green sea turtles are often spotted here. I'd suggest waiting until the tide is higher to observe the turtles closer to the shore.
Papakōlea Green Sand Beach: Located on the southern tip of the island, it's truly one of the most unique beaches. It's one of only four green sand beaches in the world. You can only get to this beach by hiking 2.5 miles each way, as driving to this beach directly is illegal!
Snorkel with Manta Rays at Night
After a long afternoon relaxing on the beach, snorkeling with manta rays at night will be a real treat. There will be manta snorkeling boats attached with lights to the bottom of the flotation devices so they can attract food (plankton). Usually all manta ray tours provide gear for you too.
Although there are more than 600 coffee farms on the Big Island, you will not be disappointed with having their world-renowned Kona coffee practically anywhere there. If you want to enjoy the best views while sipping on your cup of joe, Heavenly Hawaiian Farms will make you feel welcome at home. Not only do they have delicious coffee and snacks, but they also make homemade honey and have a farm side coffee bar to enjoy. Hala Tree Coffee also offers free 1-hour tours of their coffee plantation. The tour concludes in what feels like a tree house and it's incredibly beautiful.
Drive the Hamakua Coast
Everywhere on the Big Island is breathtaking, but driving on this coast is absolutely stunning due to the lush mountains overlooking the sea - and it's only a 4 mile drive. You can make this drive from the town of Hilo to Honoka'a and end your drive at Waipio Valley. Waterfalls and botanic gardens can be seen during this drive, including the town of Honoka'a.
This is a sacred and important site for Hawaii culture. This is located on the northern end of island and you can expect dramatic cliffs, sweeping ocean views, waterfalls, and taro fields. The lookout at the top of Waipi'o Valley is the only way to experience this place as the road into the valley closed in 2022 due to safety concerns.
Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls State Park is in the north of the town of Hilo and attracts many visitors due to the 442-foot-tall plunging waterfall. The hike to the waterfall is very minimal and has guided railings. The scenery is lush and green which gives off Avatar or Jurassic Park vibes!
Volcanoes National Park
For a one-of-a-kind experience, you must visit the park that has two of the world's most active volcanoes! Volcanoes National Park is a nature and hiking lover's dream since it's known for their hiking trails, crater views, lava tubes and even lava viewing (if you're lucky). I would suggest spending at least two days there to get the most out of the park if you are not on the Kona side of the island.
Places to eat & drink in Big Island, Hawai'i
Island Lava Java: Some of the best locally sourced food the Big Island has to offer. The luau omelette is a must try.
Punalu'u Bake Shop: Enjoy warm and satisfying malasadas at this bakery on your way to Volcanoes National Park!
Huggo's: A scenic location on the Kona coast and a great spot after hitting the beach. Enjoy oceanfront dining with their seafood specialties, like their iconic Hook Line and Sinker.
Da Poke Shack: If you didn't eat some poke, did you really come to Hawaii? This place offers the widest selection of poke types, and even have unique flavors like tako (octopus) and shrimp poke.
Ulu Ocean Grill: Located within the Four Seasons Hualalai resort. Enjoy stunning oceanfront views at sunset with killer seafood and steak dishes. The kanpachi there is absolutely incredible.
Merriman's: If you're looking for incredible farm-to-table dishes, this is for you. Their lamb is a must, and they also have a carefully thought-out prix fixe menu that does not disappoint.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Hawai'i.