Updated July 23, 2020.
There are a zillion fantastic things to do and see on Hawaii’s Big Island, and it can be hard to pare it all down and fit it all into one vacation! From luaus to lava, from palaces to mountain peaks, there’s something on the Big Island for everyone! This handy dandy bucket list has all the best and most unique things the island has to offer, and hopefully it will help you plan your best trip yet.
1. See the Lava
Hawaii has everything you could ask for in a tropical island: beauty, flowers, friendly people, gorgeous water, sand in multiple colors, etc. But it has one thing that not every island can boast… an active volcano! Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an absolute must-do when on the Island of Hawaii. In fact, many people take day trips from other islands just to see it! We recommend a whole day in the park. The park rangers are happy to answer questions and are a fountain of information!
2. Hike to Kealakekua Bay
This was our first hike on the Big Island, and it was a beautiful intro! We started early, so we were two of maybe five people on the trail the whole time. I can never get enough of these ocean views! There is also a monument to Captain Cook at the bottom of the trail, and a plaque recounting the grisly historical event he was involved in here. You’ll have to go for yourself to see!
3. Go to a Luau
Okay, so you can go to a luau on most of the Hawaiian Islands, but I can absolutely recommend the one at the King Kam Hotel in Kona! We had a fabulous time, ate amazing food, and got to see the best show highlighting hula from across Polynesia!
Read on: What to Eat at the Luau
4. See the Green Sand Beach
Another amazing hike (or truck ride if you’re not up for hiking six miles round-trip) on the Big Island is Papakolea, to the green sand beach! It’s green because of olivine or peridot deposits in the area. I’d never seen anything like it in my life, and I’m not sure where else you could see it!
Read on: Hiking Hawaii: The Big Island
5. Visit the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park (Place of Refuge)
This national historic site is unlike any other in the United States. This is a sacred place where native Hawaiians could come if they needed to escape a death sentence (something that was common place in Hawaii long ago). If someone reached the borders of this place, they could not be killed, no matter what they had done.
6. Tour Hulihee Palace
There are other palaces in the Hawaiian Islands, but this one wins the prize for the best view. You’ll find it right in the middle of Kailua-Kona, but its peacefulness and tranquility will help you understand why this was a royal Hawaiian vacation home! Marvel at the koa wood furniture and historic artifacts, then get yourself out the the lanai for a view you’ll never forget!
7. Get Your Tsunami Safety On
Hawaii has been struck by many tsunamis, several of which have been devastating. Tsunamis can strike any island or coastal area, but one of the most vulnerable places is Hilo, on the northeast side of the Big Island. There’s a fantastic little museum there that explains how tsunamis happen and what modern technology can do to help warn people when one is imminent. I highly recommend this unique museum!
8. Admire Akaka Falls
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a waterfall! Akaka Falls is easily accessible, beautiful, and one of the tallest freefall waterfalls in the world! It’s just a few minutes north of Hilo, and you’ll be glad you stopped by!
9. Road Trip the Whole Island
I am admittedly not a fan of road trips, but when exploring the Big Island, it’s essential! And truly, it was awesome. The landscape is so diverse–where else can you drive along the coast, through the rain forest, through the desert, and in the snow when you go through the middle?! You will love road tripping the island. I recommend stopping for the night somewhere so you don’t have to rush through it all in one day. There are so many things to see and experience along the way!
Read on: Road Tripping Hawaii’s Big Island
10. Tour a Coffee Farm
You’ve heard of Kona coffee, right? You can see and taste it for yourself here! There are several coffee farms that offer tours, so pick one while you’re driving around the island and get a little caffeine pick-me-up while you’re at it!
11. Explore Waipio Valley
This is one of the most beautiful outlooks in all the world, my friends. The Waipio Valley is striking from every angle. Be prepared for a hike if you don’t have four-wheel drive, though; it’s required for all vehicles due to the incredibly steep incline to get in and out!
We didn’t do this on our trip, but it was a difficult decision not to! If we go back (which I hope we will!), this will be at the top of our list. The summit is 14,000 feet, at which altitude the stars seem a lot closer! Many tour companies offer tours of the summit, but you can also go on your own. Don’t forget to stop at the visitor center for the most current weather updates and safety information. The Visitor Center is at 9,200 feet, which will also give you an opportunity to acclimate to the altitude!
13. Catch a Rainbow at Rainbow Falls
The weather conditions and time of day (around 10:00am) have to be right for the rainbow to be visible, but definitely give it a try while you’re in Hilo! It’s an easy walk from the parking lot to the waterfall, and if there are swarms of people on tour groups around, just wait a few minutes and they will be on their way! A little patience will let you get this view almost all to yourself!
14. Hike to Kamehameha I’s Birthplace
King Kamehameha I was born on the tip of the Big Island, and he eventually went on to conquer and unite all the Hawaiian Islands into one Kingdom. His birthplace is a bit difficult to get to, but worth the off-road drive and the hike to get there! I loved visiting all the royal sites on the Big Island, including this one!
Read on: Hawaii’s Big Island Royalty
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