Things to Do On the Big Island of Hawaii
My husband and I chose the big island of Hawaii for our combined honeymoon/first anniversary trip last year, and loved it so much we decided to take the whole family back this year. To be honest, I’d never really been interested in traveling to Hawaii, but my husband was very keen to travel to somewhere neither of us have ever been, so off we went to Kona! While I don’t claim to be an expert on this part of the world, I wanted to write this post to share some of our favorite things to do on Kona.
If you’re looking for good food, than you will not be disappointed on the Big Island! While our resort was in Kailua Kona, we traveled the entire island, and tried out food in Hilo as well.
- Bongo Ben’s Island Café– We received a recommendation for this bustling eatery from the concierge at our hotel, and I’m so happy we took his word for it! In truth, my husband and I ate here just about every day because the food was so good! Our favorite was the Bacon Cheeseburger plate with a few slices of avocado added to it! The meat is perfectly cooked, the bun fresh and soft, and the fries are perfect! Other recommendations for this spot include: the P.O.G. mimosa, Longboard Lager, and teriyaki steak platter.
- Splasher’s Grill– Another spot with a great view, Splasher’s offers tasty, reasonably priced food, and we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast there one morning. According to my mother in law, the best Eggs Benedict on earth can be found here, so if you like this dish, try it out!
- TJ’s BBQ By The Beach– My husband found this BBQ restaurant totally on a whim one day, and the coupe that run it are fantastic. While my husband is partial to the ribs, I was sold after one bite of the Volcano burger! OMG, what a treat! If you’re a connoisseur of rib rubs and BBQ sauce, then check out TJ’s site. They ship their rub and sauces, and are definitely worth the price!
- The Volcano House– Uncle George’s Lounge and The Rim are two wonderful eateries located within the Volcano House Hotel. On our first visit to Kona, my husband and I were able to eat at The Rim, and had a delicious bento box (get one if you stop by!). Due to the time we arrived during our second trip, we ate at Uncle George’s Lounge which shares the same magnificent view of the active crater located next to the hotel. I’m hoping (and plotting) to one day have a romantic getaway to the actual hotel with the hubby!
- Habaneros Grill– The photo above is actually from my Carne Asada platter at this fun restaurant in Kailua Kona. My husband and I did not rent a car our fist time in Kona, so we had to walk everywhere. As we were passing this restaurant, we could smell the amazing food, and decided to have dinner there instead of continuing our trek into town. My husband and I toasted a beautiful dinner with a Mexican Mai Tai, and truly enjoyed our visit.
- Scandinavian Shave Ice– I love this place!! After walking around in the hot tropical weather, there’s nothing better than grabbing a shave ice and sitting along the water to people watch. There are several sellers of this icy treat all over the island, but I truly enjoy this one the best!
- Big Island Candies– Watch out this place is dangerous! My husband and I first visited this factory during an all day island tour we took last year. Landing there with the kids this year, there was no way that we could deny them the opportunity to see the treats we brought back for them being made. As soon as you walk in the front door, you’re offered a sample (like three luscious pieces) of the cookies, chocolate and brownies. Make your way through and try some delicious Kona coffee, then wander over to the huge window into the factory to watch the workers make all the yummy treats. If you’re going to be anywhere ear Hilo, then you should really stop here!!
- Hamakua Macadamia Nut Factory– Macadamia nuts are everywhere is Hawaii, and while there are several different factories that offer tours, I personally recommend this one. Clean, bright, and staffed with excellent people, this spot has samples of their wares all over the store. You can also go into the back, and see displays of how the nuts are harvested. We’ve seemed to always end up here right before closing, and I love how quiet the shop is. The view on this side of the island is truly breathtaking, and if you’re there during the right time of year you may be able to see breaching whales!
One of the best things about the Big Island is that you can alternatively do everything or do nothing. Although we had activities scheduled most days, I did not feel like I did not get a chance to rest. Here are some of the best activities we got up to:
- Snorkeling– My husband is an expert swimmer, so snorkeling was something he was determined to do while on our vacation. On our first trip, we took the Deluxe Morning Adventure with Sea Quest, and absolutely loved it! The second time around, we took the Body Glove Deluxe Snorkel & Dolphin Watch, and it was perfect for our family of 6! There are several other companies offering a similar service, but these two offer great food, commentary and scenery.
- Luau– The Voyagers of the Pacific Luau takes place against the backdrop of the beautiful Royal Kona Resort, and is one of the top luaus on the island. I think this is a great option if you’ve never been to a luau, but also a fun treat if you have. The performers are fun and the food is delicious (try the coffee cake!), plus you get to sit under the stars and listen to the waves crash against the beach.
- Markets– If you love shopping for fresh local produce, than I recommend the Kona Farmer’s Market on Ali’i Drive. Open Wednesday to Sunday, this spot has some of the freshest fruit and vegetables I’ve ever had! While there are several souvenir stands in the market, keep in mind you can also find similar items at the local Walmart. I recommend heading to Walmart for souvenirs if you’re bringing back gifts for a lot of people, as it really does cut down on the overall cost.
- Beaches– One thing to know about the beaches on this island is that those beaches on the West side (Kona) are usually less rough than those on the East side (Hilo). With that being said, the family and I recommend the Old Kona Airport Beach Park (site of our vow renewal ceremony) because of the secluded feel you can get there at the right time of the day. Another one to mention is the Magic Sands Beach Park, but beware if you’re one of those people that hate fine sand! The sand at this beach will get everywhere!! However, it is a lovely white beach, and so is usually crowded. Kahaluu Beach Park is a perfect place to go if you’re looking to snorkel on your own without a guide. My kids saw turtles and plenty of fish there, but beware because the entry to the water is very rocky! If you’ve never been to a black sand beach, then a stop at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a must! Watch out for the huge sea turtles that nap on the beach, and beware that the surf can be a little rough, but what a beautiful stop!
- Falls, Lookouts, and Harbors– The picture above is of the gorgeous Rainbow Falls in Hilo, and I definitely think a stop there is worth it. You’ll honestly feel like you’re in the middle of a rainforest, even though the city is literally down the street. The featured image for this post is from a stop at the Waipio Valley Lookout, and this photo does not do it any justice! Laupãhoehoe Beach Park is a beautiful location for pictures and picnics, but the rough surf can make it a dangerous spot to swim.
I love this island, and plan to go there as often as I can in the future. I think no matter your personality you’ll be able to find something to enjoy on this wonderful island. The people are fun, warm and don’t treat tourists as a burden! If I were to leave you with one major suggestion it would be to rent a car! While there are great tour operators in Kona, you’ll see so much more if you just use your GPS, and travel the island by yourself. I decided to download the Gypsy Guide App for the whole island, and it was totally worth it! We named our guide Bob (or Robert as my husband insisted on calling him), and just turned him on as soon as we pulled out of our resort. “Bob” advised us to stop at so many amazing stops, and I know we would not have been able to see them from a tour bus. Taking the saddle road across the island is not only convenient, but is a beautiful drive only a practically brand new road. In short, I love Hawaii island, and hope you will too!!