ALOHA!

 

The main islands in Hawaii are the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. Most people go to one of these Hawaiian islands for their first trip to Hawaii.

The Big Island is also called the Island of Hawaii (or Hawaii island). So the Big Island and Hawaii Island are the same thing. The County of Hawaii is just the Big Island. The State of Hawaii includes all of the Hawaiian islands!

If you’re making a return trip to Hawaii for your first trip to the Big Island, then the Big Island also has some unique experiences to offer you that you didn’t experience on other islands! (Like lots of places to see old lava flows all over the island!)

Below will give you ideas for how to spend your time on the Big Island! It’s a list of over 40 things to add to your Big Island bucket list!

 

Big Island Hawaii: Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii on a budget with cost of activities for Hawaii vacation bucket list. Big Island travel guide with Big Island itinerary planning tips for first trip to Hawaii. Places to visit on Big Island for free and paid tickets. Backpacking Hawaii travel blog

 

The order of the things on the list below more or less (but not exactly) goes around the island in a loop with these general areas and the surroundings:

 

There will be a little bit of hiking

A little bit of snorkeling

A little bit of volcanoes and lava fields and craters

A little bit of Hawaiian culture…

A few Hawaii state parks

And TONS of amazing views!

 

The bucket list of Big Island activities starts below!

 

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🌴

 

 

 

Stargazing on the Big Island

The Big Island is known as one of the best places in the world to see the night sky and look for stars! A very unique Big Island experience can be to go stargazing on the tallest mountain in the world! What? Yes that’s right! As they say, the tallest mountain in the world, when measured from the ocean floor to the top of the mountain, is located on the Big Island! That mountain (volcano) is Mauna Kea!

You can go on a Mauna Kea stargazing tour!

Although, keep in mind, you can only see stars if the sky is clear, so there is a chance that clouds can obscure your stargazing experience.

 

 

Now…

40+ things to do on the Big Island on your first trip to Hawaii

 

 

1 . Kailua Bay

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. kailua bay, kailua pier. Hawaii travel blog

 

Kailua-Kona’s iconic bay!

This is also around the main part of Kona.

It can be a nice walk along Alii Drive starting at Kailua Pier and heading south down towards the Royal Kona Resort.

Along the way, you’ll pass restaurants and bars that will give you ocean views.

Kailua Bay is a mandatory walk along here if you’re a triathlete. 😉

This is where the swim start is for the Ironman triathlon world championship… as well as where the race ends!

This bay is open to swimming.

 

 

2. Hulihee Palace

Cost: $10

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. hulihee palace. Hawaii travel blog

 

Make a stop here for a glimpse of how Hawaiian royalty lived in the past.

 

 

3. Magic Sands Beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Magic Sands Beach. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is known as one of the best beaches near Kona town for boogie boarding.

 

 

4. Kahaluu Beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Kahaluu Beach. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is known as one of the best beaches near Kona town for snorkeling.

 

 

5. Captain Cook Monument Trail

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. captain cook monument trail hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

A hike with amazing views that will take you to another one of the top snorkeling spots (next) on the Kona coast.

See more about this Big Island activity: Captain Cook hike

 

 

6. Kealakekua Bay snorkeling

Cost: $0-$100+

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. kealakekua bay snorkeling spot. Hawaii travel blog

 

Kealakekua Bay is considered one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island.

So it is possible to snorkel here for FREE by hiking to Kealakekua Bay.

This bay is also accessible by road from the other side, but that’s not the side of the snorkeling cove.

See more about this Big Island activity: Kealakekua Bay hike

Or, if you’re not interested in a hike and snorkel kind of day, and instead would prefer a cruise and snorkel kind of day in Hawaii for a day out on the water… then a popular tour on the Big Island is a snorkeling boat tour to Kealakekua Bay.

See more about sailing to Kealakekua Bay: Here is a 3 hour snorkeling sailboat tour that starts from the Keauhou Bay Pier which is near the Sheraton.

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And speaking of tours, snorkeling with manta rays is a thing on the Big Island!

Among THE most popular tours on the Big Island is snorkeling with manta rays at night along the Kona coast.

There are different tour starting times that can range from a start time of 6:30pm or a start time of 9pm, or somewhere in between. So you can do your daytime Kona activity, and then in the evening go swimming with manta rays! There are many places along the Kona coast to start this kind of boat tour.

See more about snorkeling with manta rays: Here is a manta ray snorkeling tour that starts from Honokohau Harbor near the Kona airport.

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7. Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Cost: $20

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. puuhonua o honaunau national historical park. Hawaii travel blog

 

To get a glimpse of the Hawaiian past with a visit to the “place of refuge.” This can be FREE with a Hawaii national parks pass or U.S. national parks pass.

 

 

8. Two Step Beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. two step beach snorkeling. honaunau bay. Hawaii travel blog

 

Another one of the best snorkeling spots on the Kona coast.

This is right next to the national historical park.

Snorkeling at Two Step can mean a lava rock entry!

See more about this Big Island activity: Two Step Beach snorkeling

 

 

9. Hookena Beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. hookena beach hawaiian village. Hawaii travel blog

 

This area is considered one of the last active Hawaiian canoe fishing villages in Hawaii.

 

 

10. Honomalino Beach hike

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. honomalino bay beach hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

A hike that has a water crossing (in the ocean!) to get to a relatively quiet beach.

 

 

11. Kula Kai Caverns

Cost: $30-90

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Kula Kai Caverns lava tube caves. Hawaii travel blog

 

If you’re on the Big Island for the volcanoes, a tour of these caves formed by lava flows will probably be worth it to you! You will learn a lot.

 

 

12. Pohue Bay Beach hike

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. pohue bay beach hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

Hike through lava fields on the southern part of the Big Island to get to a pretty secluded beach.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

13. South Point

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. south point, southernmost point in united states. Hawaii travel blog

 

Visit the southernmost point of the United States of America.

 

 

14. Papakolea green sand beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. papakolea green sand beach hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

Visit one of the 4 green sand beaches in the world. (So they say!)

There is a likely illegal shuttle you can take to get there, but make it a coastal hike to the green sand beach (the free way to get there) instead!

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

15. Punaluu black sand beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. punaluu black sand beach to see turtles. Hawaii travel blog

 

See a black sand beach AND see turtles!

Well, you’ll definitely see a black sand beach. (One of the many black sand beaches on the Big Island!)

There’s never a guarantee, but there’s a good chance you’ll see turtles at Punaluu black sand beach!

 

 

See more about Big Island activity: Punaluu black sand beach

 

 

16. Mauna Loa Road

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Mauna loa road trail. Hawaii travel blog

 

Mauna Loa is one of the main volcanoes on the Big Island.

And, it’s possible drive up part way on the slopes of Mauna Loa by taking the Mauna Loa Road near the main entry of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (The summit isn’t accessible by car.)

This takes you on a narrow road as you make your way up.

Once you reach as far as you can go by car, you can then also do a little bit of hiking on the Mauna Loa Trail.

You can’t do the whole Mauna Loa Trail as a day hike (it’s a 3-4 day overnight backpacking trip from here) but you can hike part of it!

Once you reach the top of the road, this is the start of a trail to a multi-day backpacking hike.

But it can be fun to get started on this trail.

You can walk for an hour or so and then turn around.

 

 

17. Kilauea Iki crater

Cost: FREE with $30 national park pass

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. kilauea iki crater trail hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

Located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Crater Rim Drive, you can see the crater from the overlook above, and then take a trail that will allow you to see the crater floor from below.

If you’re feeling up to it, you can hike across the entire crater floor too.

You would be hiking into a former lava lake!

This is one of the best hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

See more about this Big Island activity: Kilauea iki crater trail

 

There is a national park entry fee for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can expect this to be around $30 for a 7 day pass. (There is no one-day pass.) If you’ll be visiting other national parks within a year, you may consider getting the Hawaii national park pass or the U.S. national park pass. These are both annual passes so you’ll get unlimited entry into the national parks for a year.

 

 

18. Chain of Craters Road

Cost: FREE with $30 national park pass

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. chain of craters road, hawaii volcanoes national park. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is the main road that goes through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

It’ll take you on a scenic drive through vast lava fields (get out of the car and walk across them at some point!) and it will also take you to the coast for some great views.

Right off of Chain of Craters Road is also the largest field of petroglyphs in Hawaii.

See more about this Big Island activity: Chain of Craters Road

 

 

19. Old Chain of Craters Road

Cost: FREE with $30 national park pass

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. old chain of craters road alanui kahiko. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is the “old” road because it was covered by lava.

Stop at the Old Chain of Craters Road so you can see these old lava flows across the road.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

20. Holei Sea Arch

Cost: FREE with $25 national park pass

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. holei sea arch. Hawaii travel blog

 

This lava rock formation is at the end of Chain of Craters Road.

See it before it gets destroyed by nature! (aka from the waves crashing against it!)

On Maui, there was a famous rock creation that got destroyed by nature in early 2020, and it could be only a matter of time before the same happens to the Holei Sea Arch!

The observation area for the sea arch has even been moved recently, and this is another indication of how vulnerable of an area this is! So don’t miss it!

 

 

21. Kaimu black sand beach trail

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. new kaimu black sand beach. Hawaii travel blog

 

Take a black sand trail to get to a black sand beach!

This is a beach to just look at (not swim at) on the Puna coast, and the views are amazing!

There are lava fields around here too that you can walk around.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

22. Red Road

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. red road scenic drive. Hawaii travel blog

 

One of the best scenic drives on the Big Island along the Puna coast.

It’s a pretty short drive – point to point might be 30 minutes, but you can make stops along the way.

 

 

23. Pohoiki black sand beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. pohoiki black sand beach in isaac hale beach park. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is at one end of the Red Road for another one of the black sand beaches you can see along the Puna coast.

 

 

24. Leilani Avenue

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. leilani estates, leilani avenue. Hawaii travel blog

 

Maybe you saw on the news about the 2018 volcano eruption on the Big Island that destroyed homes.

That’s the neighborhood of Leilani Estates.

Not all homes were lost in this neighborhood, but you can see where the lava flows stopped with a drive to what’s now the end of Leilani Avenue.

If you go here, keep in mind that not all residents like tourists visiting their neighborhood.

 

 

25. Lava tree state monument

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. lava tree state park. Hawaii travel blog

 

See lava-formed tree molds.

 

 

26. Rainbow Falls

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. rainbow falls waterfalls. Hawaii travel blog

 

Waterfalls near Hilo that’s easy to visit. This can be a quick stop.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

27. Kaumana Caves

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. kaumana caves lava tubes. Hawaii travel blog

 

Walk through caves formed by lava!

You can make this a quick stop by just visiting the cave entrance without going in, but the fun is in walking through these caves!

You light your own way, so be sure to come prepared if you’re going to venture further than the immediate cave entrance.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

28. Carlsmith Beach Park

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. carlsmith beach park. Hawaii travel blog

 

This can be a good spot to test your luck on seeing turtles near Hilo.

 

 

29. Richardson Ocean Park

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. richardson ocean park black sand beach. Hawaii travel blog

 

If you’re looking for a black sand beach near Hilo, this is it!

If you’re looking for a beach where you might be able to see turtles near Hilo, this is another beach that’s known for turtle sightings.

 

 

30. Akaka Falls

Cost: $1

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. akaka falls waterfalls. Hawaii travel blog

 

One of the best waterfalls on the Big Island.

Be sure to take the Akaka Falls loop trail for a more dramatic approach to the waterfalls. (And for the chance to walk in baynan trees!)

 

 

See more about this Big Island activity: Akaka Falls loop trail

 

 

31. Waipio Valley lookout

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. waipio valley hike, 4wd jeep drive, or lookout overlook. Hawaii travel blog

 

A famous overlook on the north side of the island.

You can head down to the beach by taking a steep walk there, or this is one of the Big Island drives that required a 4×4 since it’s a steep drive there.

 

 

See more about this Big Island activity: Road to Waipio Valley beach

 

 

32. Pololu Valley lookout

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. polulu valley hike or lookout overlook. Hawaii travel blog

 

Another famous lookout on the north side of the island.

You can also hike to the Pololu Valley black sand beach.

Locals living near Pololu Valley would like you to know that there are no bathrooms near the Pololu Valley Lookout. They ask that you stop by  Keokea Beach Park on your way to Pololu Valley where there are bathrooms, just in case. This is around a 5 minute drive from the Pololu Valley Lookout.

 

See more about this Big Island activity: Hiking to Pololu Valley beach
 

 

33. Lapakahi village trail

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. lapakahi state historical park ancient hawaiian village trail hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

A coastal trail at a state park with a walk though an ancient Hawaiian village.

 

 

34. Lapakahi Beach snorkeling

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. lapakahi beach snorkeling. Hawaii travel blog

 

At the same state park as the ancient Hawaiian village is a good snorkeling spot too.

 

 

35. Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. puukohola heiau national historic site. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is said to be one of the largest ancient Hawaiian temples (aka heiau) in Hawaii.

There’s a coastal trail here you can walk along as you take in the history.

 

 

36. Hapuna Beach

Cost: $5

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. hapuna beach. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is said to be one of the best white sand beaches on the Big Island.

 

 

37. Waialea Beach

Cost: $5

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. waialea beach 69. Hawaii travel blog

 

This is a good snorkeling spot right near Hapuna Beach.

 

 

38. Kua Bay

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. kua bay, kekaha kai state park. Hawaii travel blog

 

One of the 3 white sand beaches at Kekaha Kai state park.

Kua Bay aka Maniniowali Beach is the easiest of the 3 to access and comes with a scenic drive to the beach parking lot.

This is just north of the Kona airport.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

39. Puu Kuili hike

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Puu kuili hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

As you’re driving towards Kua Bay from the south, you’ll see a hill that’ll stand out along the coastline.

That’s the Puu Kuili cinder cones, and you can hike to the top of Puu Kuili too for some coastal views from higher above.

You can park at Kua Bay and then walk over to the base of this hill.

The start of the trail can be a bit challenging to find, but when you see it, you’ll know! It’s an obvious looking trail… once you see it!

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

40. Mahaiula Beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. mahaiula white sand beach, kekaha kai state park. Hawaii travel blog

 

The second easiest white sand beach to access that’s a part of the state park. It’s a partly dirt road to get to Mahaiula Beach.

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

41. Makalawena Beach

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. makalawena white sand beach, kekaha kai state park. Hawaii travel blog

 

The third white sand beach in the state park.

This requires a little bit of effort. You can either off-road drive to the beach (aka one of the Big Island drives that requires a 4wd) or hike across lava fields to the beach.

 

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. kekaha kai state park beach to beach hike. Hawaii travel blog

 

Walk through lava fields to get to a white sand beach with amazing blue water color?! What a perfect Big Island activity. 😉

See more pictures of this Big Island activity.

 

 

42. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

Cost: FREE

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. Hawaii travel blog

 

Aside from more Hawaiian culture experiences, this historical park is on a beach that’s known for frequent turtle sightings.

To get to this part of the park, you can look for the Honokohau Harbor and Aiopio fish trap.

This is also near the Kona airport, but just south.

 

 

43. Mauna Kea Road

One of the other main volcanoes on the Big Island is Mauna Kea.

You’ll probably see visiting the Mauna Kea summit by driving up on many lists of top things to do on the Big Island.

When I was on the Big Island in September 2019, the Mauna Kea Road was closed. (It had been closed since July.)

 

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii. Mauna Kea access road closed. Hawaii travel blog

 

I was hoping to do at least part of the Mauna Kea summit trail when I was there.

This seems like it’s a hard day hike, so I had been looking at maybe just going to the high-altitude lake of Lake Waiau that’s along the trail. I wasn’t sure if it was reasonable to even make it to this lake though because of the difficulty of trail.

But, I had no chance to do any part of the trail since the road that leads to the start of the trail was closed.

You can check for updates here on the status of the Mauna Kea Road closure as your Big Island arrival date gets closer.

 

And those are some of the best things to do on the Big Island!

 

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Renting a car on the Big Island in 2021

As of spring 2021, there are reports of there being a car rental shortage on the Big Island.

If you’re planning your trip to the Big Island for later in the year, then you might consider looking up availability for a car rental FIRST before you book your flight to the Big Island.

And book your car sooner rather than later!

If you already have your flight to the Big Island booked, but not yet your car rental… book NOW!

 

See the Big Island lists:

 

And now…

How to make some of these top Big Island activities a part of your Hawaii vacation?!

If you have 3 weeks on the Big Island, then you might be able to do all of these things.

But otherwise…

If your time on the Big Island is (much) less, then see ideas for how to put some of the highlights into a 7 day Big Island itinerary!

 

 

For the visual of where these places are located around the island, be sure to check out the Big Island travel planning map!

 

Things to do on the Big Island map with attractions and towns

 

HAPPY DOING YOUR BIG ISLAND BUCKET LIST!

 

Best things to do on the Big Island Hawaii on a budget with cost of activities for Hawaii vacation bucket list. Big Island travel guide with Big Island itinerary planning tips for first trip to Hawaii. Places to visit on Big Island for free and paid tickets. Backpacking Hawaii travel blog

 

 

There are affiliate links on this page. Among other partners, as an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from this.

Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!

The ultimate beach towel for travel?!
Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
Possibly among the best Big Island maps for tourists!
The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip to Kona!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phone
You can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!
Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!
Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.

PLUS...
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of these amazing tours on the Big Island:


ALOHA!