Ah, the Big Island of Hawaii – an island so dynamic and diverse that every visit feels like a brand new adventure. It’s a place where fire meets water, ancient traditions meet modern hospitality, and every turn on the winding road brings you face to face with nature’s marvels.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, a history buff, or someone who just loves to soak up the sun on a pristine beach, the Big Island has something spectacular in store for you. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll journey through the best experiences the Big Island offers, from the fiery heart of volcanoes to the serene, turquoise embrace of the Pacific.

The Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI

1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Within the rugged landscapes of the Big Island lies a place where nature’s power and beauty are on full display – the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site isn’t just a park; it’s a testament to the raw, untamed forces that shaped our world. Here, you can witness the awe-inspiring sight of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, and Mauna Loa, the largest shield volcano in both mass and volume on Earth.

Walking through the park, you’ll traverse paths that meander through rainforests and deserts, past steam vents that hiss with the breath of the earth, and to the edge of craters that house the glowing red of molten lava. The park offers various hiking options, from leisurely walks to more challenging treks, each unveiling the park’s unique volcanic features and landscapes.

For those enchanted by the idea of Volcano tours on Big Island or planning a Volcanoes National Park visit, remember to check the park’s current conditions and available tours, as Kilauea’s activity can influence access to certain areas. This living, breathing landscape promises an unforgettable adventure, reminding us of the earth’s potent creativity and destruction.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | @jyc2

2. Mauna Kea Summit

Rising majestically above the clouds, Mauna Kea stands as the highest peak in Hawaii, offering not just unparalleled views but also a window into the heavens. The journey to the summit of Mauna Kea is one of the most breathtaking adventures the Big Island offers, marked by the stark, lunar-like landscape that stretches out beneath a blanket of stars at night.

Stargazing from the summit is an experience like no other, with some of the clearest night skies due to the mountain’s elevation and the island’s remote location. The Mauna Kea Observatories, perched at the summit, are considered the world’s premier astronomical research facilities. While the observatories are not always open to the public for nighttime stargazing, the visitor information station at a lower elevation offers telescopes and guided star tours that illuminate the cosmos in ways you’ve never imagined.

The views from Mauna Kea Summit - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
The views from Mauna Kea Summit | @sgmehlinphotography

3. Hapuna Beach State Park

Imagine a stretch of white sand that seems to merge seamlessly with crystal-clear waters under the Hawaiian sun – that’s Hapuna Beach State Park for you. Recognized as one of the Big Island’s largest and most beautiful white sand beaches, Hapuna offers a paradise for swimmers, snorkelers, and sunbathers alike.

The beach’s gentle slope into the warm Pacific makes it ideal for swimming, while its clear waters offer a vibrant underwater world for snorkelers to explore. Facilities at the park, including picnic areas, showers, and lifeguards, ensure a comfortable day out for families and solo travelers.

For those searching for the best beaches on Big Island, Hapuna Beach is a must-visit. Its expansive, sun-kissed shores are perfect for those leisurely beach days or engaging in water sports. And if snorkeling is on your to-do list, Big Island snorkeling tours often feature Hapuna Beach as a prime location for encountering the island’s diverse marine life.

4. Akaka Falls State Park

No visit to the Big Island is complete without witnessing the majesty of Akaka Falls. Plunging 442 feet into a lush, tropical gorge, Akaka Falls is one of Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls. Located within Akaka Falls State Park, the falls are accessible via a short, pleasant hike through a verdant rainforest teeming with wild orchids, bamboo groves, and draping ferns.

This easy, family-friendly loop trail not only leads you to the spectacular viewpoint of Akaka Falls but also offers a glimpse of Kahuna Falls, a smaller yet equally enchanting waterfall within the park. The sound of the water cascading into the pool below, surrounded by the vibrant greenery of the rainforest, creates a serene and almost mystical atmosphere.

For adventurers and nature lovers, Big Island hiking trails like the one at Akaka Falls State Park offer an immersive experience into Hawaii’s natural beauty. And for those compiling their list of must-see sights, an Akaka Falls visit” stands out as a highlight, showcasing the awe-inspiring power and grace of nature on the Big Island.

Akaka falls - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
Akaka falls | @bantre5

5. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Step back in time at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a sacred site that once served as a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiians. This serene park, with its beautifully restored temples and ki’i (wooden statues), offers a glimpse into Hawaii’s rich cultural and spiritual past. Walking through the grounds, visitors can feel the mana (spiritual power) of this sacred place, where lawbreakers and defeated warriors once sought sanctuary to avoid certain death.

The park’s dramatic oceanfront setting enhances its solemn beauty, offering stunning views alongside a deep dive into Hawaiian history. For those interested in big Island historical sites, a visit here is essential. It’s not just a tour; it’s an experience that connects you to the ancient traditions that continue to shape Hawaii’s identity. Engage with cultural experiences in Big Island by participating in one of the park’s interactive programs, giving you firsthand insight into the skills, crafts, and stories of Hawaii’s ancestors.

Pu’uhonua | @hawaiitravel

6. Waipi’o Valley Lookout

The breathtaking Waipi’o Valley, with its steep, verdant cliffs and the sparkling blue ocean, is a sight to behold from the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. Known as the Valley of the Kings, this sacred place offers panoramic views that inspire awe and a deep respect for nature’s majesty. For the adventurous at heart, the descent into the valley reveals hidden treasures — wild horses roam freely, taro fields stretch across the valley floor, and the powerful Hi’ilawe Falls cascades in the distance.

Embarking on a Waipi’o Valley adventure means preparing for steep hikes or a challenging 4WD journey down to the valley floor. However, the rewards are unparalleled: a chance to explore a landscape that feels untouched by time. Big Island nature tours often feature Waipi’o as a highlight, offering guided experiences that respect the valley’s cultural significance and delicate ecosystem.

Waipi'o Valley Lookout - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
Waipi’o Valley Lookout | @livelaughloveworkout2

7. Kona Coffee Living History Farm

Coffee enthusiasts and history buffs alike will find common ground at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, where the rich heritage of Kona coffee comes to life. As the only living history coffee farm in the nation, this immersive attraction takes visitors through the daily lives of early 20th-century coffee farmers, demonstrating the traditional methods that made Kona coffee world-famous.

Sampling the farm’s coffee is a must, as the rich, aromatic flavors tell a story of tradition, hard work, and the unique volcanic soil that nurtures these beans. For those looking for more unique Big Island experiences, a visit to the farm offers not just a taste but an understanding of the passion behind Kona coffee. The Kona Coffee farm tour is more than a simple tasting; it’s an appreciation of the art and science that goes into every cup.

Kona Coffee
Kona Coffee | @philipstarkcoffee

8. Manta Ray Night Snorkel

Among the myriad of water activities on the Big Island, the Manta Ray Night Snorkel stands out as an otherworldly experience. Floating on the ocean’s surface at night, you’ll watch as these gentle giants glide beneath you, their enormous wingspan illuminated by underwater lights that attract plankton, their favorite meal.

This unique interaction with marine life is conducted with the utmost respect for the manta rays, ensuring their safety and well-being. Big Island snorkeling tours rarely offer such a magical experience, blending the thrill of nighttime snorkeling with the mesmerizing dance of the manta rays. It’s an unforgettable adventure that highlights the island’s commitment to eco-tourism and marine conservation.

Manta Ray Dive
Manta Ray Dive | @paditravel

9. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a marvel of volcanic activity, where the ocean meets a shore of jet-black sand. This stunning beach is not just a place for sunbathing and picnics; it’s a habitat for the endangered Hawksbill and green turtles, often seen basking on the sand. Visitors are reminded to keep a respectful distance, allowing these magnificent creatures to rest undisturbed.

The beach’s striking black sand is created by lava cooling rapidly as it touches the ocean, a reminder of the island’s volcanic origins. For those seeking unique Big Island experiences, Punalu’u offers a rare opportunity to witness the beauty and power of nature’s transformations. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is more than a destination; it’s a natural phenomenon that encapsulates the island’s essence.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach | @mouse_hawaii

10. Lava Tree State Monument

Lava Tree State Monument offers visitors a surreal landscape, where a forest was once engulfed by a lava flow, leaving behind hollow, lava-cast molds of the trees. Walking the park’s trail, you’re transported to a time when molten rock reshaped the land, creating these natural sculptures that stand as eerie reminders of the earth’s dynamic forces.

This unique geological feature provides a fascinating look at the processes that continue to shape the Big Island. For hiking enthusiasts the park offers an easy yet profoundly moving walk through a landscape that bridges the past and present. Lava Tree State Monument is a testament to the island’s ever-evolving nature, inviting contemplation and awe in equal measure.

11. Rainbow Falls

Located in the heart of Hilo, Rainbow Falls is a natural masterpiece that embodies the lush beauty of the Big Island. This impressive waterfall cascades 80 feet over a lava cave, the legendary home of the ancient Hawaiian goddess Hina. On sunny mornings, a vibrant rainbow appears in the mist created by the falls, giving the site its name and a magical aura.

Visiting Rainbow Falls offers not just a spectacular view but a moment of tranquility amidst the rush of water and the rich greenery that surrounds it. It’s a reminder of the island’s capacity for natural beauty, easily accessible and eternally captivating. For those compiling a list of Big Island waterfalls to visit, Rainbow Falls is an essential and unforgettable stop.

Rainbow falls
Rainbow falls | @photography_by_leighton

12. Kohala Coast

The Kohala Coast, with its luxury resorts, pristine beaches, and world-class golf courses, represents the Big Island’s more polished side. Here, the water is as clear as crystal, the sands as soft as silk, and the landscapes meticulously manicured to perfection. This stretch of coastline is a haven for those seeking relaxation and recreation in equal measure.

For guests of the Kohala Coast luxury resorts, the promise is not just in the opulence of their accommodations but in the natural beauty that envelops them. This area is a testament to the island’s ability to cater to every taste, offering a slice of paradise with a touch of elegance. Whether you’re here for the best beaches on Big Island or the championship golf, Kohala Coast delivers an exquisite escape from the everyday.

Kohala Coast
Kohala Coast

13. Pololu Valley Lookout

The journey to Pololu Valley Lookout is one of ascending beauty, culminating in a view that captures the heart and soul of the Big Island’s northern tip. From this vantage point, the dramatic cliffs, deep valleys, and the powerful ocean waves crashing against the shore tell a story of nature’s relentless creativity and power.

A hike down from the Pololu Valley Lookout to the valley floor reveals secluded beaches and a closer look at the raw, untouched beauty of the island. It’s an adventure that requires a bit of effort but rewards with unparalleled views and a profound sense of peace. Big Island adventure tours often highlight Pololu as a must-visit for those seeking to immerse themselves in the island’s natural splendor.

Pololu Valley - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
Pololu Valley Lookout

14. Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay stands as a monument to both natural beauty and historical significance. It’s here that Captain James Cook first landed on the island in 1779, marking a pivotal moment in Hawaii’s history. Today, the bay is renowned for its clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life, making it a premier destination for snorkelers and kayakers.

The Kealakekua Bay snorkeling experience is among the best on the island, offering up-close encounters with colorful fish, sea turtles, and occasionally, spinner dolphins. Accessible only by boat, kayak, or a challenging hike, the bay’s isolation has preserved its beauty and serenity, making it a jewel in the Big Island’s crown. For those seeking adventure on the water, Big Island kayaking tours to Kealakekua Bay offer an unforgettable journey through history and natural wonder.

Kealakekua Bay - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
Kealakekua Bay

15. Green Sand Beach (Papakōlea)

One of the Big Island’s most unique natural attractions is Papakōlea, more commonly known as Green Sand Beach. This rare gem, one of only four green sand beaches in the world, owes its extraordinary color to the mineral olivine, found in the enclosing cinder cone’s volcanic material.

The trek to Green Sand Beach is not for the faint of heart – it’s a rugged journey, whether on foot or via a local shuttle service. Yet, those who make the effort are rewarded with a stunning, almost otherworldly beachscape that’s as beautiful as it is rare. Visitors are reminded to respect this unique environment, ensuring it remains pristine for generations to come.

For a truly unique Big Island experience, a visit to Papakōlea is a must, offering not just a beach day but an encounter with the extraordinary forces that shape our planet.

Green Sand Beach (Papakōlea) - Best Things To Do on Big Island, HI
Green Sand Beach (Papakōlea) | @hansal_foto

16. Hamakua Heritage Corridor

Driving the Hamakua Heritage Corridor feels like stepping into a living postcard, where every turn unveils panoramas of lush landscapes, plunging gulches, and the vast, blue Pacific. This scenic drive along the northeastern coast of the Big Island offers a glimpse into Hawaii’s sugar plantation past, with charming towns like Honokaa serving as gateways to history and natural beauty.

Highlights along the Hamakua Coast scenic drive include the breathtaking Waipio Valley Lookout, the enchanting Akaka Falls, and the serene Laupahoehoe Point. Each stop offers its own unique story and vista, making the Hamakua Heritage Corridor a journey through both time and nature. It’s a must-do for anyone interested in Big Island historical sites, blending the island’s cultural heritage with its unparalleled scenic beauty.

Hamakua Heritage Corridor
Hamakua Heritage Corridor

17. Kalapana Lava Viewing Area

The Kalapana Lava Viewing Area provides a rare opportunity to witness the primal process of creation and destruction that shapes the Big Island. Here, visitors can observe lava from Kilauea Volcano as it flows into the ocean, creating new land and sending up clouds of steam. This mesmerizing spectacle is a reminder of the island’s ever-changing landscape and the raw power of nature.

For those seeking the thrill of Volcano tours on Big Island, a visit to Kalapana offers an unparalleled experience. Access to the viewing area varies based on volcanic activity, so it’s essential to check conditions before planning your visit. Witnessing the lava flow at night provides a particularly dramatic view, with the glowing lava illuminating the dark landscape—a stark, beautiful contrast that captures the essence of the Big Island’s volcanic heart.

Kalapana Lava Viewing Area
Kalapana Lava Viewing Area | @one.million.places

18. Holualoa Village

Nestled in the heart of Kona coffee country, Holualoa Village is a haven for artists, coffee enthusiasts, and those seeking a slice of authentic Hawaiian life. This quaint village, with its galleries, coffee shops, and boutiques, offers a peaceful retreat from the island’s more tourist-centric spots. Walking through Holualoa, visitors can feel the community’s creative spirit, with local art and crafts showcasing the island’s rich cultural heritage.

A visit to Holualoa Village isn’t complete without sampling the locally grown Kona coffee, renowned worldwide for its rich flavor and aroma. Coffee farms in the area offer tours and tastings, providing insight into the meticulous care and tradition behind every cup. For those interested in Kona Coffee farm tours, Holualoa is a destination that blends the arts with the artistry of coffee production, offering a taste of the Big Island’s diverse flavors.

19. Imiloa Astronomy Center

The Imiloa Astronomy Center, located in Hilo, offers a fascinating convergence of Hawaiian culture and cutting-edge science. Through interactive exhibits, a planetarium, and native gardens, Imiloa makes the wonders of the universe accessible to all ages, showcasing the navigational skills of the ancient Polynesians alongside the astronomical discoveries made from Mauna Kea.

Imiloa Astronomy Center provides a unique educational experience, highlighting the connections between land, sky, and sea that have guided the Hawaiian people for centuries. For families and anyone interested in astronomy, a visit to Imiloa adds depth to the Big Island adventure, illuminating the island’s role in exploring the final frontier—space.

20. Waikoloa Petroglyphs

The Waikoloa Petroglyphs offer a direct link to the Big Island’s ancient past, with thousands of petroglyphs etched into the lava rock, telling stories of Hawaii’s early inhabitants. These carvings, found in the Waikoloa area, range from simple cupules to complex figures and scenes, offering insights into the daily lives, beliefs, and history of the Hawaiian people.

Exploring the Waikoloa Petroglyphs is a journey into history, where each carving opens a window into the island’s soul. Visitors are encouraged to tread lightly and respect this sacred site, preserving its stories for future generations. For Big Island historical sites, the petroglyphs are a must-visit, offering a tangible connection to the island’s rich cultural tapestry.

Waikoloa | @lostcoastexplr