Akaka Falls, Big Island Hawaii

Top 18 Things To Do On The Big Island Hawaii In 2024

Are you looking for a list of top things to do on the Big Island? This article’s for you.

The Big Island is one of the most underrated Hawaiian islands in terms of the diverse activities it has to offer. Not only does it have idyllic white sand beaches with beautiful sunsets, but it has waterfalls, historical parks, volcanoes, lava tubes, and much more. 

I’ve visited the Big Island three times now, and spent 10 days exploring the island on my last trip. If you love nature or have an interest for Hawaiian culture and history, I have no doubt you’ll fall in love with the Big Island. 

I’ve put together this list of 20 fun things to do on the Big Island to cross off your bucket list. From walking through lava tubes to chasing waterfalls in the rainforest, there’s something on this list for everyone!

Here are 18 things to do on the Big Island that you won’t want to miss. 

1. Explore Kona’s Beautiful Beaches

Kona’s coast has many beautiful beaches, with soft white sand, and bright turquoise blue waters. Some of the most gorgeous white sand beaches with amazing sunsets are Hapuna Beach and Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay).

Hapuna Beach, Kona Hawaii
Hapuna Beach, Kona Hawaii

Kahalu’u beach park is the best beach for snorkeling, with calm waters filled with a variety of tropical fish species.

Magic Sands beach is a good beach for boogie boarding and swimming, but you can expect most of the shore to be gone when the tide’s high.

Magic Sands Beach, Kona Hawaii
Magic Sands Beach, Kona

2. Swim With Manta Rays At Night

Kona is one of the best places in the world to go swimming with manta rays. If you’re looking for a bucket list activity to experience on the Big Island, this is it.

You’ll get to cruise out to a manta ray feeding site at night, and snorkel within inches from huge manta rays.

Manta rays are up to 29 feet wide, weighing thousands of pounds. But, unlike stingrays, these gentle giants aren’t dangerous to humans. 

3. Go Stargazing On The Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea observatory
Mauna Kea observatory (Photo by: Peter Luo)

The Mauna Kea summit is one of the most fascinating places to visit on the Big Island. It’s the tallest mountain from base to peak in the world, sitting at an elevation of 13,803 feet!

At the top of the summit, there’s 13 large telescope observatories, and it’s an incredible place to go stargazing.

Driving to the summit requires a 4×4 vehicle, but any vehicle can drive to the visitor center. Most rental car companies don’t allow you to drive to the summit, so going on an observatory tour is the best way to get there. 

On the tour, you’ll get to see the sunset above the clouds, and use professional telescopes to view the stars at night. 

If you’re not interested in astronomy, driving to the visitor center is still worth it for the view.

The visitor center is at an elevation of 9,803 feet, and has restrooms, a gift shop, and a park ranger on site to answer questions about the summit.

Astronaut ice cream sold at Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center gift shop
Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center gift shop

Across the street from the visitor center, you can hike the “sunset hill trail”. This is a short 10 minute hike up a small hill with an amazing view of the sunset over the clouds.

Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail
Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail

Just remember to wear warm winter clothes, since the mountain’s very cold due to elevation. 

Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail
Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail

4. Chase Waterfalls

Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

The Big Island has many beautiful waterfalls nestled in the rainforest. Akaka Falls is a spectacular 422 feet tall waterfall you can stop by on the road trip from Kona to Hilo.

Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

The waterfall is located in a state park, so there’s an entrance fee of $5 and a parking fee of $10/hr to visit. 

Another must-see waterfall is Rainbow Falls in Hilo. It’s completely free to visit, and has plenty of free parking.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii
Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii

If you visit this waterfall early in the morning on a sunny day, you may get to see a rainbow form underneath the fall!

After seeing the waterfall, make sure to walk up the stairs to the left of the waterfall to see the magnificent ancient banyan trees. 

Banyan trees at Rainbow Falls
Banyan trees at Rainbow Falls in Hilo Hawaii

A lesser-known, underrated waterfall to check out is Wai’ale falls in Hilo.

Wai'ale Falls, Hilo
Wai’ale Falls, Hilo

This is a 2–tier waterfall located right off of a bridge. It’s a short hike to the waterfall, but the path is muddy and not well–paved. See the Wai’ale Falls trail description for detailed directions on parking, and how to get there.

5. Visit The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (VNP)

Volcanic crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Crater Rim Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park makes up over 50% of the landmass on the Big Island, and is home to both the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa (world’s most active volcanoes)!

You can easily spend 1–2 days exploring the park, with the variety of day hikes available. I spent a day at the park, hiking Sulphur Banks Trail, part of Crater Rim trail, and walking through the Thurston Lava tube.

Sulphur Banks Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Sulphur Banks Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We got to see steam vents, sulfur deposits, and lava flowing from the Kilauea summit caldera. 

Sulphur Banks Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Sulphur Banks Trail

If you have more time, I recommend hiking the Kilauea Iki trail, and driving down Chain of Craters Road. The Kilauea Iki trail is a 3.3 mile trail, where you’ll get to walk over a hardened lava lake!

Chain of Craters Road is a fascinating 19 mile road with views of volcanic craters, petroglyphs, and a unique sea arch created from a lava flow years ago. 

6. Stroll Around The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden, Big Island Hawaii
Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden

Located along the scenic Hamakua coast, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens I’ve ever visited.

Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden
Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden

The gardens have over 2,500 tropical plant species, with waterfalls, and pathways leading out to the ocean. There’s an entrance fee of $30 per person, but it is worth it if you love nature. 

7. Tour A Kona Coffee Farm 

Greenwell Farms, Kona Hawaii
Greenwell Farms, Kona

If you love coffee, touring a Kona coffee farm is a must. Kona has several coffee farms that offer tours, so you can see how some of the world’s most expensive coffee is made.

I visited Greenwell Farms in south Kona for their free coffee tour. We were able to walk around their farm, see how they grow coffee and other produce, and sample coffee at the end of the tour. They offer free tours daily from 9am-3pm, that don’t require a reservation. 

Mountain Thunder Coffee also offers free tours, daily from 9:30am-3:30pm that don’t require a reservation. You’ll get to walk through their farm and factory to learn how they grow, dry, and roast coffee. 

If you prefer a more in-depth tour, see our article on the best Kona coffee tours for a full list of options. 

8. Visit Historical Sites In Kona

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

The Big Island has a rich and interesting history, being the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great. King Kamehameha I was the first king of Hawaii, who unified the Hawaiian islands into a royal kingdom in 1795!

In Kona, you can visit many interesting historic parks to learn about the history of the Big Island and King Kamehameha.

The Pu’ukoholā Heiau National Heritage Site is an excellent visitor center that’s free to visit, with a film on the story of Kamehameha.

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

It has a short trail overlooking the ocean that leads to an ancient temple site, built by Kamehameha and his warriors. This site is also known as the “temple on whale hill”, because it’s a great viewpoint to spot whales during peak migration season (November-April)!

Another must-see historical park in Kona is the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Set along the coast in south Kona, this park historically served as a sanctuary for ancient Hawaiians who broke the law. It’s considered a very sacred place, and there are a variety of ancient structures throughout the park.

Structures at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

It costs $20 to enter the park for a 7 day pass but it’s well worth it. Just remember to stop by the visitor center to watch a film, and grab a brochure so you can identify the structures while strolling along the park. This park is also within walking distance to Two Step Beach (Honaunau Bay), one of the Big Island’s best snorkeling beaches. 

The next historic park I discovered on my last trip is Kaloko-Honokōhau, National Historical Park.

This historic park has a one mile trail surrounded by petroglyphs that leads down to a sandy beach with ancient fishponds.

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Big Island Hawaii
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

If you want to spot green sea turtles, this is the place to go. The fishponds are filled with dozens of sea turtles. Just make sure to stay at a viewing distance of 10ft, since it’s against the law to touch or disturb sea turtles in Hawaii.

If you want to avoid the hike, you can park at the Honokōhau small boat marina instead of the visitor center. From the marina lot, it’s just a short 5 minute walk to the beach area. 

The last historic site you won’t want to miss is the Hulihe’e Palace in downtown Kona.

Hulihe‘e Palace, Kona Hawaii
Hulihe‘e Palace

This is a historic Hawaiian royalty summer home built in 1838, where you can learn about the history of the royal family. They offer guided tours by reservation Wed–Sat, as well as self guided tours during regular hours. 

The last historic park I didn’t get the chance to visit was the Lapakahi State Historic Park in Waimea. It’s tucked along the coast, and has a visitor center, with a short trail that leads out to an ancient Hawaiian fishing village.

This is another amazing place to spot whales from the shore, so it’s well worth visiting during whale migration season (April-December). 

9. Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay

If you’re wondering where the best place to snorkel on the Big Island is, look no further than Kealakekua Bay. This is a serene deep water bay that’s home to spinner dolphins, and has crystal clear waters filled with coral and tropical fish.

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay
Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

Also home to the Captain Cook monument, this is one of the most historically significant sites on the Big Island.

Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay
Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay

This monument marks the site where the first westerner that visited the island (Captain James Cook) was killed in a skirmish with Hawaiian natives in 1779.

Right by the monument, there’s an abundance of coral reefs filled with colorful tropical fish.

The bay is secluded, so it’s only accessible by hiking, or going on a snorkeling tour. To save money, I hiked the Ka’Awaloa trail down to the bay.

Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii
Captain Cook Monument Trail

This is a 3.9 mile round trip hike, with an elevation gain of 1,272 feet, that took me around 2 hours to hike in total. For more details on the hike, see our article on hiking the Ka’Awaloa trail

If you’re traveling on a budget and snorkeling is high on your priority list, the hike can be worth it.

However, I recommend going on a snorkeling tour for most people. The hike is strenuous, and may not be suitable for people with mobility issues and young children. 

10. Try Malasadas From Punaluʻu Bake Shop

Punaluʻu Bake Shop is a must-stop place on the way from Kona to Volcanoes National Park. This is the southernmost bakery in the United States, and they’re famous for their malasadas – a delicious, fluffy Hawaiian yeast donut.

They also sell sweet bread, lunch plates, sandwiches, a variety of pastries, and souvenirs. 

11. Visit Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach

Punaluʻu Beach, Big Island Hawaii
Punaluʻu Beach

Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach is the most stunning black sand beach on the island. Located just 20 minutes outside of the VNP, this is the perfect place to cool off.

The shore is fringed with green coconut palm trees, and I got to spot a few sea turtles basking on the warm black sand when I visited. 

12. Walk Through A Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Thurston Lava Tube

The Thurston Lava Tube and Kaumana Caves are two fascinating lava tubes that you can walk through. The Thurston Lava tube is a 600 ft long cave, located in the VNP, created by a Kilauea eruption from 500 years ago.

This lava tube is lit up during the day from 8am-8pm, so make sure to bring a flashlight if you visit at night.

The Kaumana Caves is an over 2 mile cave, located in Hilo, that was created by a Mauna Loa eruption from 1881. It’s just off the side of Saddle Road, and is not lit up during the day, so you’ll need to bring a flashlight to explore the inside. 

13. Visit Hilo’s Farmers Market

Hilo’s Farmers Market is the largest and best farmers market on the Big Island. It’s open daily from 7am-3pm, and has vendors selling local produce, arts and crafts, and more.

Here you can get fresh coconut water, and try interesting tropical fruits like mangosteen and breadfruit. 

14. Stroll Around Hilo Bay 

Liliʻuokalani Gardens, Hilo Hawaii
Liliʻuokalani Gardens

The Liliuokalani Gardens and Coconut Island are two peaceful places to stroll around for free in Hilo Bay.

The park is full of greenery, and has fishponds, stone bridges, and lanterns, being designed after Japanese gardens.

Coconut Island, Hilo Hawaii
Coconut Island, Hilo Bay

Just to the right of the park, across a small bridge is Coconut Island. This is a tiny island where many local families go to swim or picnic, that has a beautiful view of the ocean. 

Coconut Island, Hilo
Coconut Island, Hilo

15. Snorkel At Hilo’s Beach Parks

Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo
Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo

Hilo’s beach parks are not as popular as Kona’s beaches, but they’re very peaceful and family-friendly. Onekahaha beach park is a great family-friendly beach park with a large sheltered tide pool with shallow waters.

Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii
Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii

Carlsmith Beach Park is a natural lagoon with clear, gentle waters ideal for snorkeling.

Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo
Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo

Richardson Ocean Park is the closest black sand beach to Hilo, and a great place for spotting sea turtles.

Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo
Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo

Hilo’s beach parks are all free to visit and have free parking. Just remember to bring water shoes to protect your feet while exploring the tide pools. 

16. Go Ziplining At Umauma Falls

The Umauma Experience Visitor Center
The Umauma Experience Visitor Center

If you love an adventure, go ziplining at Umauma Falls. The Umauma Falls experience is a tour company that offers ziplining, kayaking, ATV tours, and more.

On their zipline tour, you’ll get to zip over 14 waterfalls in the middle of the rainforest, at over 60mph! Their zipline tours start at $229 per adult, and $219 per child. 

17. Visit The Waipio Valley Lookout

Waipo Valley Lookout
Waipio Valley Lookout (Photo by: Madeline Onassis)

Around a 45 minute drive from Waimea, the Waipio Valley Lookout is an amazing viewpoint of the Waipio Valley and coastline. It’s free to visit, and has a small free parking lot.

The Waipio Valley trail is closed to the public, so you can only get into the valley by tour. The Waipio Valley Shuttle offers van tours down to the valley to see the waterfalls and cliffs, for $67 per person. 

18. Attend a Luau

Luaus are a fun way to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture before leaving the island. They begin around sunset at many Kona resorts, and involve live music, dancing, entertainment, and a feast of traditional Hawaiian foods. 

There are many Kona resorts that host luaus throughout the week, starting at over $100+ per person. Here is a list of some of the most popular Big Island luaus: 

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