Things To Do On The Big Island, Hawaii

This is an adventure from LeAnn, and I’s time with things to do on the Big Island, Hawaii. I’ve compiled a small list of things to do on the Big Island, Hawaii.

We flew Delta with a purposeful layover in Seattle. I’ve previously traveled to Hawaii through Los Angeles (LAX) and prefer the trip through Seattle better. Less chaotic but approximately the same amount of flight time. This layover allows you to stretch your legs, take a break from the plane, and grab a meal. Otherwise, MSP to KONA, it’s approximately a 10-hour flight if you choose to do the non-stop flight.

Day 1: We grabbed our checked bags and headed to the car rental place when we arrived in Kona. I use Hotwire to rent a car. With limited cars for rent on the island, it made it interesting because the options were limited, aka they had no cars. They upgraded us to a Jeep Wrangler with 4×4 off-road capabilities. Their policies share that you are not to go off-roading with the vehicles. Keep reading.

On our way to the resort – we saw some wild hog road kill on the shoulder and herds of wild goats. Yes… like farm goats we have in WI, but they are wild. 

We stayed at the Hilton Grand Vacations Resort – King’s Land—great reviews, quiet, and all within the heart of the attractions but not within the city. Got checked in with no hiccups, and the staff was very pleasant. We flew all day and then grabbed dinner at A-Bays restaurant in Waikoloa Village (inside King’s shops), which is close to King’s Land. This is a locally owned restaurant chain with good food and good reviews. Their second location is in Kona. The fish tacos were pretty good! I ordered the catch of the day plate but didn’t care for it all that much. The catch of the day was ono. I’ve personally never had it before, but it was good.

There are many things to do on the Big Island, Hawaii. We wanted to cover as much ground as possible and see what the island is about. You do not have to follow our itinerary to a T. But if you want to see what the island is about, we did it without grinding hard every day, but we didn’t lallygag along.

Day 2: We drove to Kona and checked out the Kona Brewery area. We ordered a flight of beer at Kona Tap Room. This brewery was busy during lunch/dinner, so we checked the nearby shops while waiting for a table. They had good food – I highly recommend the Artichoke Parmesan pizza (I think that’s what it was called?). After food and drinks, we adventured around the local area. The wind was picking up, and the waves were fairly big, so we watched local surfers catch some waves from the shore. This was super fun to see – knowing that many movies created with surfers are usually filmed around Hawaii. The area we watched the surfers was the Kailua Beach area.

Towards early evening, we returned to our hotel and found a national park alongside the road with a beaten path of rough lava rock. While taking the rental cars off-roading is usually not recommended, we drove to the end of the road in the Jeep Wrangler until we got to a blacktop parking lot.

Perfect time to watch the sunset at Ka’elehuluhulu Beach, which was stunning. It was a pretty secluded beach, and we watched several airplanes come in for landing as the airport wasn’t too far from this park. It was a rough drive through the lava rock, but you should have no issues if you rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The gate closed around 7 pm for the national park – double check the sign when you drive in so you don’t get locked in. With the rough terrain, you will do okay if you take your time on the off-road trail. Definitely, an off-road vehicle is required. Otherwise, you will most likely damage your vehicle.

Day 3: We started this day out with no plan. We had a direction of travel in mind but no plan of where we may end up. Stumbling upon some things to do that are worth sharing; I hope you find our adventures fun!

We drove north on highway 19 to 270 through a town called Hawi. Just keep driving all the way til highway 270 ends. Yes, the road does end… and it’s an interesting and secluded drive. 

You’ll find a yellow gate and a small (6-vehicle size) parking lot at the end. There’s plenty of road parking. This was a BEAUTIFUL hike with a secluded black sand beach at the bottom (Pololu Beach). Totally worth the 1/2 mile hike with some vertical change. Easy to do, take your time.

When we adventured, it was very foggy and rainy. It has some elevation change, and I recommend some hiking shoes/tennis shoes with grips. The walk-up was easier because it wasn’t so slippery – take your time going down and you will be safe. The terrain is very rocky, and you do not have any cell service. The locals said they usually must call the rescue helicopter yearly from injuries on the terrain path down/up. Just be careful, but it’s worth it. And there are free-range cattle that you may be surprised to see like we were. Oh, and maybe bring a jacket with a water bottle.

Once we returned to Hawi, we turned left onto Hawi Road (Highway 250). Sightseeing at its finest through some hills with farmland (surprisingly beautiful). The land on the other side/away from the Kona side of the island is much like the Midwest farmland. It’s mixed with rainforest. This highway takes you down to Hwy 19. We headed west towards Waimea, where we pit-stopped for coffee—super cute shops with a random pitstop we made. Then we continued on highway 19 into a town called Honokaa. We took a left onto highway 240 to get to Waipi’o Valley Overlook

Once we arrived at Waipi’o Valley Overlook, we found closed roads to get closer to the big waterfall because of the construction. The overlook was pretty cool to see (it’s a popular attraction). After the overlook, we drove back towards Hilo and stopped at the local fruit stand called Waipi’o Fruit stand. A Mom and Pop fruit stand with local fruits we don’t have access to on the mainland. We ordered the fruit variety plate and a water coconut. Highly recommend both to try a bunch of different fruits here! Some of the fruit looked odd/ugly but was so so so delicious!! It’s a mind-over food game… but WORTH IT! Definitely, something memorable when it comes to food.

Are you done drinking the coconut water? Ask the fruit stand attendant to split your shell so you can eat the coconut meat. Super good too, and very healthy for you. 

After the Waipi’o Valley area, we started heading toward Hilo. The drive there was through a rainforest (amazing scenery and waterfalls). I highly suggest taking the scenic route vs. Highway 19 the entire way. You will see signs “scenic route” along the road, so you know where to turn. On the scenic route, keep your eyes super peeled for natural waterfalls on the side of the roads. If you see a bridge, slow up. You never know what you’ll see on either side of the road or bridge. When crossing a bridge, be on the lookout for waterfalls. Stunning scenery but a total bummer as there’s usually no place to pull over on the two-lane road. Literally stunning! 

Before we got to Hilo, we stopped at Akaka Falls. This was highly recommended through the reviews and must-dos we found throughout the Big Island. There were a couple of different waterfalls here, and all were easy hikes. They have railings, cement stairs, and a paved path to walk the entire way. Learning Tip: When you get to Akaka Falls, you must pay for parking and an entry fee. Scan their QR code on a sign and pay on your phone. They confirm that you have a confirmation, but that confirmation doesn’t share the details.

Akaka Falls took about an hour to adventure through – if you are into photos and waterfalls, this is a MUST. Pretty busy when we were there in the afternoon, but not overly crowded. The waterfalls are tall and stunning.

After Akaka Falls, we headed towards Rainbow Falls, which is in Hilo. There is no hike to see these, just an overlook next to the parking lot. It’s just a large waterfall, nothing elaborate. After the waterfalls, we had dinner at Pineapple Island Fresh Cuisine. Reservations are recommended on their website, but we risked it and got a table quickly. We ordered a decent chicken plate and the Parmesan-crusted fish (highly recommended). They had many different flavored Mai Tai’s that you could order. The flights were 4 different flavors – 2 people could easily split this. Super fun and something different as their Hawaii Mai Tai’s are made with dark rum usually. This is different than mainland Mai Tai’s.

At night we drove back to the King’s Land resort and took Saddle Broke Highway. This is the highway that gets you up and over the mountain. It’s a mostly straight shot in the middle of the island. It takes you from Hilo back to the Waikoloa area. Watching the sunset below the mountain horizon shows the beautiful view of our drive back. Even watching the sunrise or sunset is another thing to do.

Things to do in hawaii is finding stunning sunsets full of orange, blues, and purple hues of the sunset sky

We also saw a TON of wild goats alongside the road which were fun to watch. Just be careful of goats crossing the road (just like watching for whitetail deer back in the Wisconsin and Minnesota area where we live. 

This was the biggest day with the most we did—a long day but all worth the miles we put on.

Day 4: We rented snorkel gear from Snorkel Bob’s and snorkeled at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Note: You must pay for parking and admission here and put the parking ticket on your dashboard. We arrived in the afternoon, parking was VERY busy. Pro tip: the earlier you get to the beaches, the better for a seat on the beach and parking options.

The parking lot accommodates approx 100 vehicles share the size of the lot. We attempted to snorkel here, but it was pretty windy this day. The waves were high, making it difficult to snorkel and see anything. With sightings of sea turtles and a few fish, it was challenging not to be tossed around by the waves. We didn’t have enough time left in the day but wished we could have gone to Two Step Beach to snorkel. This is a hot spot for snorkeling we heard, and worth the drive!

Later in the day, early evening, we went to Legends of the Luau at the Hilton Waikiki Resort. The show was good, and the food was good with unlimited drinks. I recommend ordering 2 drinks per person once you get in line because the lines get long once other guests enter the theater area. The free shuttle service to and from Kings Land was super easy for this luau! Get on one of the first buses as the general admission line got super long fast. Many people come to this same luau from different resorts around the island and the neighboring communities. 

Day 5: We still had our snorkel gear and went to the Hilton Waikoloa Beach Resort lagoon early that morning, just down the road a piece. We snorkeled for a few hours and saw various tropical fish in the lagoon, sea turtles, and some cool-looking eels. We walked over the walk bridge to see even more variety of sea life from above near the entrance to the ocean which was pretty incredible. 

After snorkeling, we checked out some local coffee farms and plantations. Depending on which day of the week you do this, not all the coffee farms are open so check their website for info, etc. Hawaii is a HUGE coffee producer for the mainland country. We were there on a Saturday and went to two farms that offered free tours – Mountain Thunder Coffee & Greenwell Farms. Both places offered free coffee samples and free tours. We preferred the Mountain Thunder Coffee tour because they showed you the start-to-finish process of a coffee bean. At Greenwell Farms you only saw parts of the farm from a distance and many different plants and fruit trees in their fields.  

For lunch we went into Kailua and ordered drinks and food at Huggo’s On The Rocks – I highly recommend going, good food and service! We ordered the pork nachos with fast service, and no reservations were needed when we arrived.

We went Manta Ray Snorkeling at night and booked through Kona Snorkel Trips at 6:15 pm. You meet the crew and captain in Kona at their dock and have a ~30-40min boat ride to the location. I would highly recommend taking motion sickness pills (non-drowsy) if you’ve never been in a boat in the ocean for long periods. It might look smooth from afar, but far from smooth once you are out there. It’s an ocean. With winds, it can get rocky and choppy. Multiple people on our boat got sick on the drive back home because of the choppy waves. Tip: if you are feeling seasick at any point, do some deep breathing and find the horizon and stare at the same thing on the horizon. Overall, this was an EPIC trip; a MUST DO if you do anything on the Big Island. 

Oh… and what the experience was like! Kona Snorkel Trips was fabulous. Female captain & tour guide… superb! And we saw 5-6 Mantas, with the largest having a 15’ wing span. EPIC and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Manta rays do not have stingers and are safe to be around. They eat the plankton at night & were bumping bellies (aka barrel rolls) with you as you float on the surface. Check out some of the Youtube videos about Manta Rays in Hawaii.

Day 6: We drove down the south shoreline to check out Green Sand Beach and Black Sand beach. We stopped at a Macadamia nut farm called Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm. They had over 25 different flavored macadamia nuts, chocolates, and sweets. All the samples were free! As we continued onto South Point Road towards the green sand beach, we took a right onto Ka Le Road where we saw local fishermen fishing off the cliffs. There is even a spot where you can go cliff-jumping into the ocean. This was super fun to hang out with the locals and see how they fish off the shoreline but 300’ out, using garbage bags: talent and creative ways to fish.

What’s so great about Green Sand Beach? – A common mineral creates the green sand in Big Island lava called olivine. Olivine stays deposited on this beach because it is heavier than the other components of the lava. The adventure to get to the Green Sand beach is interesting.

You have three options –

1 – you drive back there with your 4×4 off-road vehicle (it’s very rough, so you are doing some smooth crawls over some rocks).

2 – you can pay a local who has a POS vehicle to take you back there for $20 or so

3 – you can walk the 1.5 miles back there (and bring plenty of water for out to the beach and back).

Once you are there, there’s some adventuring around on the cliffs, veg in the sand, or checking out the sand dunes you travel/walkthrough on the way to the beach.

Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach is another very cool place, and you will likely see some amazing creatures; the sea turtles bellied up on the beach, getting their tan on, and an afternoon snooze. We adventured around this beach area and enjoyed seeing the sea turtles because you rarely experience them outside of water.

At night we headed towards Volcano Village – Volcano National Park. Once in the park, it was rainy and cool—low clouds and some fog, but definitely something to experience. We got in and parked to experience the lava flow and hundreds of others.

Day 7: A much-needed day spent at the pool. It was relaxing, from the cool waters of the regular pool to some fun socialization in the hot tub. There’s a bar next to the pool where you can order drinks. Depending on your order, we experience drinks ranging from $5 to $10 per drink. They also have a little cafe area to grab a wrap or a bag of snacks.

Later in the evening, we had an early dinner at Lava Lava Beach Club, with Happy Hour from 3-5. We recommend getting there early to beat the dinner rush. Then once you’re done with dinner, grab a dinner drink from their beverage bus (in their waiting section and near the yard games) – or hit the beach. FYI, beverages are not allowed on the beach but enjoy them at your own risk. Anaehoomalu Beach & Waikoloa Beach are both right by Lava Lava Club. This is a perfect location to watch the sunset, a very popular spot for sunsets from what we experienced that evening. Beach had a few photographers and a hundred guests enjoying the beautiful experience as the sun hit the ocean horizon.

Day 8: We hung out by the pool before check out (11 am) and the remainder of the time before our Red Eye flight to head back to the mainland. Hilton allows guests to reserve a hospitality room so they can shower before our flight that evening and prep for travel home. This was super great after some time at the pool.

Before arriving at the airport, we stopped to refill the vehicle with gas and ate a bite!

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