Big Island is predictably the biggest of the Hawaiian islands, and thanks to its size and incredible diversity of landscapes it offers the best of every Hawaiian island all in one. As the locals put it, you can walk in the snow and swim in the sea on the same day!
The island is home to active volcanoes, national parks infused with history and mysticism, and beaches straight out of paradise. There are five volcanoes on the island: Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Kohala, Mauna Kea, and Hualalai.
But even then, there are more things to do on the Big Island than exploring national parks and sky-high volcanoes. There are shorelines of every color decorated in black sand, green sand, white sand, and salt and pepper sand (a mix of black and white).
Relax, hike, swim with manta rays, escape into tropical botanical gardens and delight in Hawaii’s laid-back culture and slowed-down pace of life.
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Papakolea Green Sand Beach
This spectacular beach is one of just two green sand beaches in the United States. The beach is within the Mauna Loa volcano cinder, which is 49,000 years old!
The volcano is covered in olivines, a green crystal, that make the beach look green – hence its name. Pass your hand through the sand and sort through the bits of black lava, white shell, and green olivines. You won’t have seen sand like it before.
You can swim, but watch out because the waves can get a bit rough! There aren’t any shops or facilities nearby, so bring everything you need and enjoy a day on this one-of-a-kind beach.
13. Liliuokalani Gardens
The Liliuokalani Gardens can be found along Banyan Drive in downtown Hilo. The garden’s history began when the last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani, donated the land for it to be turned into a public park.
It’s now the largest Edo-style ornamental garden outside of Japan, and it serves as a tribute to the Japanese immigrants who helped shape Big Island’s agricultural sector as far back as 1868.
Come and stroll around this incredibly cute garden where you can walk over little Japanese-style bridges above slow-moving streams and relax to the sound of nearby birds chirping away.
12. Holualoa Village
The village sits on the western coast of Big Island, along the slope of the Hualalai volcano. Don’t worry – the volcano has been dormant for a long time!
Holualoa is known as the island’s epicenter for coffee, farming, and art. Because the town is along the Kona Coffee Belt it is the perfect place to cultivate some of Hawaii’s best coffee.
Don’t leave without exploring a local coffee farm on Mount Hualalai, like Mauka Meadows. Coffee farming began in Holualoa as far back as 1828. Other top attractions include Magic Sands Beach and the Glyph Art Gallery.
11. Anaehoomalu Beach
The Anaehoomalu Beach along the west shore of Big Island is known by locals as A-Bay for short. If it’s a majestic day on the beach that you’re looking for – you’ve found it.
Come and laze on the glowing white-sand under a coconut palm and soak in the tropical sun. Catch a glimpse of the mountain vistas in the distance before jumping into the cool, clear sea.
The beach boasts an offshore reef that has made it very popular for snorkeling and scuba diving. You can also windsurf and surf when the weather is right!
10. Kealakekua Bay
There’s a Captain Cook monument in Kealakekua Bay that commemorates his place of death in 1779, the same year that European explorers first arrived on the island along this very bay!
Kealakekua is one of the world’s best snorkeling and kayaking spots thanks to the clear turquoise water that is home to colorful tropical fish, and the spectacular views of the rocky cliffs around the bay accompany your kayaking trip out at sea.
Kealakekua is the largest natural bay on the island, and it’s a popular hiking spot too.
9. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
The Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is considered sacred to local Hawaiians, and is intricately tied to their native history. In ancient Hawaii, the people were governed by laws known as kapu.
If a kapu was broken, the penalty was death. But there was one salvation for criminals – reaching Pu’uhonua.
The park’s bay is guarded by towering and spooky wooden Ki’i statues and a mystical temple is within its bounds, the Hale o Keawe temple. Come and connect with Hawaii’s past and traditions at this enchanting national park.
8. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Along the eastern shore of the island there is an awe-inspiring beach with a particularly unique feature, dark black sand. The beach’s sand is, in fact, tiny pieces of lava!
Punalu’u beach gets very hot because of its black sand, which attracts green turtles who come onto shore to rest and heat up! They’re an endangered species, so don’t miss the chance to see one up close.
It’s not the best beach for swimming and snorkeling because the weather can be quite rough. But it’s a great place to come and spot rare wildlife and stroll along the beach.
7. Mauna Kea Summit
This enormous mountain is the tallest in Hawaii! Technically, it’s also the tallest in the world. The Mauna Kea Volcano, if measured from the sea floor, stands at 33,476 feet! However, most of it is underwater, and the 13,796 feet that are above water can’t compete with Mount Everest.
You can drive up to the Mauna Kea Observatory on the summit, hike around the summit, or go on a late-night stargazing trip. There are lots of ways to explore Mauna Kea.
Come take some of your best holiday shots from the top, and enjoy a breath of fresh air and some time in nature. Occasionally the summit gets snow in the winter.
6. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is the perfect place to come and disconnect from your worries and get in touch with nature again. Walk up to gushing waterfalls and hide in the shade of leafy palms.
Stand beneath ancient trees, delight in the smells and colors of the tropical flowers growing in the botanical garden, and escape the busyness of daily life.
Take a tour with a local guide if you want to find out all about the garden’s rarest and most treasured fauna. Keep a look out for wildlife along the way.
5. Hilo Farmers Market
This local market runs on Wednesday and Saturday and is a great chance for you to chat to locals, soak in the atmosphere, and buy the best local produce.
Over 200 local farmers and craftsmen attend the market, so you won’t be stuck for choice. Come and taste the ripest and freshest tropical fruits, many of which you won’t have heard of before, and buy souvenirs to take back home.
Make sure you try local products you can’t get back home, like juicy star fruits, sweet dragon fruits, and rambutan.
4. Swim with Manta Rays
Manta rays are elegant and serene marine animals that are gentle-natured and breathtakingly beautiful. Imagine looking down and seeing one gliding through the water beneath you?
You can head to the Kohala Coast and swim with the rays at this beach that sits along the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The hotel floods the reef with light each night, attracting plankton and in turn manta rays. Conveniently, you can book your scuba diving or snorkeling tour directly through the hotel.
Alternatively, the Kona coast is a popular place to swim with manta rays beneath the starry sky. You can go on a boat tour that will take you and a small group of others out to sea at night and shine its strobe lights to bring the rays in. Then jump in and swim alongside them!
3. Waipi’o Valley
The Waipi’o Valley was once the home of kings and populous kingdoms. Now, the land is mostly used to grow taro, one of Hawaii’s staple foods. The taro fields stretch out for miles in every direction.
The valley was named after the Waipi’o River which snakes its way through the valley and down to the sea.
There are overflowing waterfalls within the valley that you could once access by hiking into the valley. Sadly, the Waipi’o Valley is now closed, but you can visit the Waipi’o Valley lookout and soak in the best vistas of this spectacular piece of Big Island!
2. Akaka Falls State Park
Whether you’re a nature fanatic, a keen hiker, or a photography enthusiast – this is a destination you can’t skip on Big Island. The park is less than half an hour’s drive away from Hilo making it the perfect day trip from town.
The Akaka Falls State Park is home to two spectacular waterfalls, the Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. You’re going to be in awe when you see Akaka Falls, a 442-foot waterfall – the tallest on the island!
There’s a paved trail that takes you past the two sets of waterfalls and up to a viewpoint that has spectacular vistas of Akaka (bring your camera)! The route is paved and less than half a mile long, but it is steep at points.
1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This mystic and sacred park on Big Island has not one, but two active volcanoes – the Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. It’s not often you can get up close to ancient volcanoes, and these are some of the most spectacular in the world.
The Kilauea volcano is considered one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, and it has been erupting on and off since 2018. No doubt the goddess Pele has something to do with it.
Come and hike through volcanic craters and singed rainforests, and awe at the barren and cracked earth below your feet – you’re walking on lava!