40 Things to Do on the Big Island, Hawaii in 2021

Table of Contents

Heading to Hawaii and looking for things to do on the Big Island?

Well get ready for an island adventure!

The Big Island is a volcanic and tropical paradise; though it’s the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, it’s also the biggest!

Here are 38 of the best things to do on the Big Island, from waterfalls and beaches to food and activities!

Mahalo for reading and get ready to experience the spirit of aloha!

Map of Things to Do

Below is a map of all of the different locations.

If you open the map, you can click on specific categories to show only the locations of the places within the category.

The map is color coded as follows:

  • Waterfalls in dark blue
  • Beaches in light blue
  • Parks & scenic overlooks in green
  • Activities in purple
  • Lodging in red
  • Food in orange

Waterfalls

1. ‘Akaka Falls

There is a 0.4 mile loop hike that will take you to ‘Akaka Falls from the parking lot.

Please keep in mind that the trail closes before it gets dark, so if you’re planning on hiking to these falls, leave plenty of time for the hike.

No swimming is allowed in these falls.

2. Umauma Falls

Photo source

This tri-level waterfall is part of the Umauma Experience- you need to stop at the visitor’s center to access these private falls.

Once you pay the $12 entrance fee (2019 pricing), you can do a self-guided tour to these falls.

The entrance fee also covers their gardens if you want to explore the area even more.

Visiting hours for these gorgeous falls are from 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day.

3. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow falls is easily accessed via the road- no hike is required to get this view!

Swimming is not permitted in the water.

However, there is a 0.2 mile round trip trail that you can do to get a closer look!

4. Pee’pee Falls & Boiling Pots

Located just a bit upriver from Rainbow Falls, Pee’pee Falls is on my list because it’s a waterfall to see in the Big Island, but please note that you are no longer able to hike to the waterfall from the Boiling Pots parking lot.

I asked one of the park employees why; he explained that a lot of people have died in the river because it is easy to get sucked into long lava tubes and caves.

Some parts of the river actually have turbines in them as well- so you can understand just how dangerous that would be!

However, you can see a bit of the waterfall from the overlook.

The main purpose of the overlook is for Boiling Pots, which is named after a legend involving the demi-god Maui fighting a giant lizard!

If you look closely when you’re there, you’ll notice the “boiling pots” in the river below the overlook.

5. Kulaniapia Falls

This is by far my favorite waterfall on the Big Island!

It also is one of the only waterfalls you can actually swim in!

It’s well worth booking a stay at the lovely Inn at Kuliniapia Falls, as this is a private waterfall!

You can easily swim in the pool all the way up to the stunning falls.

Beaches & Bays

There are plenty of beaches to be found on the Big Island.

Note that I mention the “swimming condition” for each beach; please remember to check the weather and play it safe. Currents and rough waters can occur, especially in the wintertime.

Without further ado, here’s a list of the most popular beaches, divided up by sand color!

Black Sand

6. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Photo source

This is Hawaii’s most iconic black sand beach.

It is easy to access and there’s a good chance you’ll see some sea turtles during your visit!

It’s also great for snorkeling!

Swimming condition: good for swimming.

7. Pololū Beach

David Kent via Flickr

To access this black sand beach, you’ll need to hike or drive down from the Pololu Valley Lookout.

Swimming condition: not good for swimming.

8. Pohiki Black Sand Beach at Isaac Hale Beach Park

Via Go Hawaii

This is Hawaii’s newest black sand beach, formed in August 2018 as a result of the lava flows from the 2018 Lower East Zone eruption.

Yep- all of the sand on this beach was once lava!

Before you go, check on its status as beaches that form like this can also end up receding in a few years if the supply of black sand fades away.

As of 2019, it is accessible.

Swimming condition: swim at your own risk! There is a shore break and the potential for strong ocean currents.

9. Makolea Black Sand Beach

Via Kamloops Trails

While it’s not the best black sand beach in Hawaii, Makolea is the only one on the Kona coast.

Created by the 1801 lava flow, it stands out among the many white sand beaches surrounding it in Kekaha Kai State Park. (The beach itself is not in the state park, but the trailhead is.)

To reach the trailhead, follow Hwy. 19 north of the airport until you see the road to Mahai’ula Bay (located between mile markers 90 and 91).

You’ll find restrooms and picnic benches here.

At the four way intersection, continue on the main road heading west. As you approach the water, you’ll find a rough lava trail spray painted white.

You’ll follow it for about 0.6 miles along the coast until you reach Makolea Black Sand Beach.

Swimming condition: not very good.

Gray sand

10. Ho‘okena Beach Park

Ho'okena Beach Park sunset
Photo source

I’m giving Ho’okena it’s own category of gray sand since it doesn’t quite qualify as a black sand beach.

Swim beyond the sand to find coral reefs that edge the beach- which means you’ll find great snorkeling here!

Swimming condition: good for swimming.

Green Sand

11. Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Thomas via Flickr

There are only four green sand beaches in the world- so this one is worth checking out!

However, visiting this green sand beach is not for the faint of heart.

It requires a three mile hike or a vehickle with 4WD. Alternatively, there are local families that will drive you down for a fee.

If you do choose to drive down yourself, BE CAREFUL. Locals warned us of a lot of unexpected giant pot holes and edges that you can’t quite see.

The best bet would be to follow a local’s car down the road to make sure you avoid any dangerous spots.

If you choose to hike, plan to leave the beach at least two hours before sunset because you won’t want to hike back in the dark!

Swimming condition: good.

Classic Beige Sand

12. Hapuna Beach State Park

This beach is one of my favorites on the Big Island.

With soft, fine white sand, this beach really reminds you that you’re in paradise!

You’ll find the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort situated on this beach, and it’s a truly wonderful place to stay- click here to learn more.

Swimming condition: good.

13. Waialea Beach “Beach 69”

(This photo I took looks like the sand is black, but it’s closer to a yellow/brown color.)

Waialea Beach is situated right next to Hapuna Beach State Park and is a local favorite.

There is a $5 entrance fee to Waialea Beach for non-locals.

Swimming condition: good, but be careful of rocks in the water.

14. Makalawena Beach

Eli Duke via Flickr

Locally known as one of the best beaches in Kona, this brilliant white sand beach is a must.

Located in Kehaka Kai State Park, you’ll need to hike a bit (roughly 20-30 minutes) to access these sandy shores.

Alternatively, you can drive on a rough road with 4WD.

Swimming condition: good, but be careful of rocks in the water.

Bays

15. Kua Bay

Only in Hawaii

Manini’owali Beach sits at Kua Bay, and is a secluded beach with gorgeous white sand and very blue waters.

This is a popular spot, so either go early in the day or on a weekday as the crowds favor Kua Bay on the weekends.

Parking is limited and you’ll have to cross over lava rocks to reach the sand.

Swimming condition: good in the summer.

16. Kiholo Bay

We walked around Kiholo Bay in search for the sea turtles that often rest on its shores, and found this guy relaxing on the sand.

Known for it’s frequent sea turtle visitors, you’ll want to stop here for the chance of spotting these adorable creatures!

Please note, however, that you need to keep your distance from sea turtles, so feel free to bring a zoom lens if you want to get a close up shot.

Many websites recommend that we stay at least 10 feet away so that we do not disturb them.

17. Kealakekua Bay & The Captain Cook Monument

Snorkel Around the World

Kealakekua Bay is one of the best snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii.

Here you’ll find marine life that is found nowhere else in Hawaii such as the flame angelfish and lizard fish (source).

If you’re lucky you’ll even spot spinner dolphins, sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals!

Kealakekua Bay is also known for the Captain Cook monument.

Captain Cook was the first Western explorer to reach Hawaii, and he happened to arrive during a sacred festival. The native Hawaiians mistook him for the Hawaiian fertility god, and he was welcomed with feasting and celebration.

On his second trip to the island, the festival had ended and he was unfortunately killed in skirmish in Kealakekua Bay.

Now you’ll find a white obelisk there commemorating his death.

Parks and Scenic Overlooks

18. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

For sweeping landscapes of lava and volcanoes, Volcanoes National Park is where it’s at!

Be sure to stop by the Kīlauea Visitor Center at the entrance to find out if there are any active lava flows.

19. Chain of Craters Road

While you’re at Volcanoes National Park, drive down the Chain of Craters Road until you reach the Holei Sea Arch pictured above.

You’ll pass multiple stop offs where you can see old lava flows and some cool views.

Note that it is extremely windy at Volcanoes National Park!

20. Pololu Valley Lookout

Pololu Valley is located at the top of the Kohala Coast and you can get to the overlook pretty easily by car.

If you want to drive down further, you’ll need 4WD or some sturdy shoes.

And even if you don’t feel like hiking the whole way down, you can hike one or two turns to get an epic view of the valley.

21. Waipio Valley Lookout

For another awesome overlook, head to Waipio Valley!

Just as with Pololu Valley, you’ll need 4WD or hiking shoes if you want to descend to the valley.

22. Mauna Kea

Matt Biddulph via Flickr

This is definitely the best place on the Big Island for epic views or stargazing!

Unfortunately, when I visited, it was when visitors weren’t allowed go to the summit or even drive any part of the road that heads up to the top.

Fortunately, those protest are over and you can resume the incredible drive up to the top of Mauna Kea.

Activities

23. Cliff jumping

Eli Duke via Flickr Cliff jumping from South Point.

There are a few places to go cliff jumping in Hawaii.

South Point

Known as Ka Lae or South Point, this spot is actually the southernmost part of the United States!

The cliffs are about a 40 foot drop into water that is roughly 20 feet deep.

The good news is there are ladders here so climbing back up is *relatively* easy.

Be sure to check weather conditions and only attempt this jump if you are confident that you’ll be able to climb the ladder back up.

The End of The World

For a scarier jump, you have The End of The World.

These cliffs are absolutely epic- named some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world!

You’ll find a great cliff jumping spot with great views of the ocean and the cliffs.

Jump at your own risk though, and be sure to heed warnings of strong currents, etc.!

Also if you jump, just note that you’ll have to scale the rocks back up!

I couldn’t find directions to this place on Google Maps, so if you want to drive here, you can enter in Lekeleke/Kuamo’o Burial Grounds.

24. Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii

Snorkeling with manta rays is an absolute MUST when you’re on the Big Island!

It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do in Hawaii.

There are actually manta rays on multiple Hawaiian islands, but the Big Island boasts the most of these gentle giants.

We joined Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii on our trip and had such a wonderful experience!

But a note to those who get seasick easily- wear a sea sickness patch because a few people lost their dinner on our trip since the waves were especially rough that day (and this is common occurrence).

25. Helicopter Tour

Via Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours

A helicopter tour is a great, albeit expensive, way to see the island with some incredible views!

Tours usually run about $150/hour.

There are three main types:

  • A flight that circles the island
  • Waterfalls and cliffs
  • Lava and volcanoes

To make the decision harder, there are a few helicopter companies that operate out of Kona.

The good thing is, from reviews and ratings, it seems like you can’t go wrong with any of these:

26. Watch the sunset

#nofilterneeded on Hawaiian sunsets! There are literally no filters on these, the sunset was this stunning!

These photos were taken in Hilo, but for sunsets where you can see the sun set into the water, head to Kona where the beaches face west.

27. Horseback Riding

Via Hawaii Aloha

One of my favorite ways to see a new place is on horseback!

Check out Paniolo Adventures if you want to horseback ride closer to Waimea, or Waipio on Horseback if you want to explore Waipio Valley on horseback (hence the title).

Both have stellar reviews and ratings.

28. Waterfall rappelling

A few waterfalls in Hawaii offer rappelling experiences.

You can rappel down Kulaniapia Falls if you are staying at the hotel.

Umamu falls is also available if you book with Umamu Experience.

Book your stay at Kuliniapia Falls here, and the Umamu Falls experience here.

29. Ziplining & ATVing

While you’re at Umamu Falls, they also offer ziplining and ATVing; book the experience here!

30. Whale watching

Each winter, pods of humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii to have their babies and raise them.

You can book a whale-watching cruise on the Big Island to watch these majestic whales!

Here are some tours you can book to see these gentle giants:

Lodging

31. Five Stars: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

For a luxurious stay at a resort that has so much to offer, check into the Four Seasons Hualalai.

It comes with a higher price point (about $1000+/night as of August 2019), but trust me, this place is one for the books!

Read my full review of the Four Seasons Hualalai here.

32. Four Stars: The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

Head to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort for a relaxing stay in Hapuna Beach State Park.

(It’s technically rated four stars but truly feels like a five star hotel!)

From their welcoming staff to incredible resort amenities (we’re talking multiple pools, restaurants, etc.), you’ll feel so welcome when you step into the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.

The resort’s contemporary decor and architecture is a beautiful contrast to the tropical oasis it sits on.

From the award-winning 18-hole golf course to the Hapuna Spa, there are plenty of ways to spend your time here.

And when it’s time for a dip in the ocean, the hotel is right on my favorite beach on the Big Island- Hapuna Beach!

Book it here!

33. Three Stars: Kona Coast Resort

Kona Coast Resort via Booking.com

While we didn’t actually stay at this hotel due to sponsored stays with other hotels, this would’ve been my choice based on price point and great reviews on Google and on Booking.com!

Check it out here.

34. Hilo Coast: The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls

We did a non-sponsored stay at the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls and enjoyed our time at this unique inn.

It’s very much a family-style inn, where you get a welcome tour of the grounds, enjoy an intimate breakfast, and have a room in one of their guest houses.

The rooms are modest and they provide you with the necessities, but the main highlight is the access to their pristine waterfall.

Kulaniapia Falls was our favorite waterfall on the Big Island- and the only one we were actually able to swim in!

You can book your stay here!

Food

35. Huggo’s

Via Huggos

Huggo’s is famous on the Kona Coast for its fresh seafood and beautiful ocean views!

It has been open since 1969- so they’ve been serving up over 50 years of tasty food!

36. Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill Hilo

If you’re looking for some tasty food on the Hilo Coast, look no further than Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill!

37. Da Poke Shack

Via Only in Your State

For a tasty lunch of delicious poke, stop into Da Poke Shack.

38. Meridia

Meridia is at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and serves up some tasty entrees with a gorgeous ocean view.

Our waitress, Elizabeth, was so kind and helped us choose the most delicious things on the menu. (But let’s be honest, I bet everything on the menu is unbelievably good!!)

39. Scandinavian Shave Ice

When in Hawaii, you simply must have some shave ice!

And the best spot on the Big Island is Scandinavian Shave Ice, about 15 minutes south of the Kona airport.

40. Beach Tree Restaurant, Bar and Lounge

The Beach Tree is located at the Four Seasons Hualalai.

Stop in for some absolutely decadent food; you don’t need a hotel reservation to enjoy this place!

In conclusion…

You’ve got a list of 38 things to do on the Big Island… how many of these can you cross off?

Comment your favorite things to do in Hawaii that didn’t make my list below so that I can check them out on future visits!

Mahalo!

Jasmine

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