The island of Hawaii offers so much diversity—after all, it is the biggest island in the Hawaiian Islands. Whether it’s your first trip to Hawaii and you’re looking for more of a “sampler platter” of what this paradise has to offer, or you want a bunch of different experiences on one trip, the Big Island has it all! From lava fields to lush gardens, delicious food, and adventures, prepare to experience a little bit of everything in Hawaii.
What to Expect in Hawaii
Language: Hawaii is the only US state to have two official languages. Both English and Hawaiian are spoken on the Big Island. The Hawaiian language is a Polynesian language that is named after Hawaii, the island where it was developed.
Currency: Because Hawaii is a US state, its official currency is the US dollar.
Credit Cards and Banks: Credit cards are widely accepted all over the island. This includes Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. If you would like to have cash on hand for tipping for excursions, you will find ATMs all over the island as well, making withdrawing money a piece of cake.
Climate: Because of its proximity to the equator, the Big Island’s temperatures are mild and pretty consistent throughout the year. Summer is typically known as the dry season and winter is the wet season. However, surprise rainstorms do happen year-round.
Rainfall also depends on what part of the island. The east side of the island (Hilo) receives the most rainfall whereas the area between Waimea and Kona is the driest. No matter which side of the island you visit, temperatures average anywhere from 80-90°F all year long.
Getting Around on the Big Island
Getting around the Big Island is extremely easy with a rental car. Because it is the largest island of the Hawaiian Islands, getting around can be time-consuming. You’ll find that island is split into large towns, with each having different things to offer.
Kona: Kailua-Kona is a town on the west coast of the island that stretches almost two-thirds of the entire west side. This is one of the most popular regions to stay in and is home to shops, restaurants, nightlife, coffee farms, and historic Hawaiian landmarks.
Hilo: On the northside of the island lies Hilo, a region blessed with waterfalls, lush jungle, and blooming gardens. Much different than the volcanic side of Kona. It’s conveniently located on the way to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and is a charming town full of museums, art galleries, shops, and restaurants. To get from Kona to Hilo, you’d need to drive about 1.5 hours.
Puna: South of Hilo sits Puna, a district full of black sand beaches, eclectic shops, and a free-spirited vibe from the locals. Its most dramatic and well-known spot is Kalapana, where lava engulfed the land.
Kohala: The Kohala Coast is where you’ll find some of the island’s nicest resorts. Amongst the red and black lava rock sit resorts that are home to fine dining and some of the world’s best golf courses. Drenched in sun, this side of the island is the best place to get a tan, ATV, and horseback ride.
Read all about why you should be traveling with reef-safe sunscreen here!
Read all about why you should be traveling with reef-safe sunscreen here!
Where to Stay on the Big Island
There’s no bad place to stay on the island of Hawaii, so there are a lot of amazing options to choose from! The Hawaiian Islands are home to luxury resorts, boutique properties, as well as great budget accommodations. So, I’ve outlined my favorite places to stay on the Big Island!
The Big Island has beautiful vacation rentals available across the island, and in some cases, are cheaper than hotel accommodations. Don’t miss my favorite boutique properties and vacation rentals in Hawaii here!
In the heart of a quiet village only a mile outside of Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea Lodge offers miles of scenic views and romantic rooms and cottages. There are also two restaurants within the lodge that offer tasty bites that can’t be missed. A stay here will have you feeling like you’ve transported back to old Hawaii.
Known for its family-friendly environment, the Royal Kona Resort offers everything you need as a guest. From flat-screen TVs to large rooms with comfortable beds to pools that sit right next to the ocean. During your stay, don’t forget to go to Don’s Mai Tai Bar and enjoy a mai tai flight!
If you’re looking to splurge a bit, the Muana Lani is the perfect place to stay. Located on 32 expansive oceanfront acres, this resort combines contemporary touches along with old Hawaiian traditions. Complete with fish ponds, lush gardens, golf courses, and pools sitting right on the shore of the ocean, once you arrive, you’re never going to want to leave.
With a range of affordable accommodation, Arnott’s Lodge houses backpackers and families alike. Located only 1-mile from the Hilo airport, its location is prime for getting around. Plus, its walking distance from sea turtles and swimming beaches.
Located on the Kohala Coast, the Mauna Kea opened in 1965 and is Hawaii’s first resort. Nestled on 60 acres of secluded coast, the 252 guest rooms offer sweeping views of the crystal blue waters. Staying here means not only experiencing the definition of luxury but also experiencing true Hawaiian history.
Located near downtown Hilo, this no-fluff hostel has everything from housekeeping to internet to a common room where you can mingle with other travelers. A private room will cost you less than $100 a night but you can get a shared room for as low as $55 a night!
Where to Eat on the Big Island
When visiting Hawaii, you must try the local favorites! I’ve outlined 10 Local Foods to Try in Hawaii if you’re visiting for the first time! From restaurants famous for their poke, farm-to-table dishes, fresh seafood, and grilled specialties, there are so many opportunities for authentic Hawaiian cuisine. Here are some of my favorite cafes and restaurants on the Big Island!
Ka’aloa’s Super J’sHawaiian
Known for its authentic Hawaiian food, Ka’aloa’s Super J’s is the perfect place to enjoy laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaves), macaroni salad, and sticky rice. It’s loved by tourists and locals alike!
Hawaiian Style CafeHawaiian
Located in Waimea, Hawaiian Style Cafe is one of the best places to get a Hawaiian breakfast. Ever had loco moco? The traditional Hawaiian breakfast consists of white rice, hamburger, and gravy, all topped with an egg. They’re also known for their pancakes (which happen to be about the size of my head).
Da Poke ShackPoke, Seafood
What would a trip to Hawaii be without some fresh fish? This take-out style shop specializes in poke bowls and plates made with freshly caught ahi-tuna. For those who don’t eat fish, you can also find traditional laulau and kalua pulled pork. Get there early as they tend to sell out daily—yes, it’s that good.
The Coffee ShackCoffee, Cafe
With sweeping ocean views, the Coffee Shack is a small restaurant that specializes in breakfast and lunch. You can enjoy everything from mahi-mahi eggs benedict to yogurt stuffed papaya to a corned beef reuben. Just don’t forget to end your meal with a slice of coconut cream pie or lilikoi cheesecake.
Jackie Rey's Ohana GrillGrill, Farm + Sea-To-Table
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill is a casual joint with two locations on Hawaii. They are loved by locals! What was once an old bank is now a great spot for lunch or dinner. Enjoy fresh seafood, steak, pasta, and more. Wash it down with a Lava Flow (a pina colada with strawberry) for a true Hawaiian experience.
Specializing in vegetarian, vegan, and organic food, this sustainability-focused cafe is set in a garden + art studio. It’s extremely affordable yet the portions are generous, something that is hard to come by in Hawaii.
Basik AcaiCafe, Breakfast
Acai bowls make for incredible breakfasts or snacks and Basik Acai does not disappoint. Here you can enjoy a deliciously healthy and vegan meal while listening to reggae on the beach. It doesn’t get more Hawaiian than that.
Merriman’s is one of Hawaii’s most well-known restaurants and is a great spot if you’re looking to enjoy a nicer, more formal, meal. The menu consists of local produce, beef, and fish and every dish is handcrafted perfectly.
What to Do on the Big Island
It’s no secret that the Hawaiian Islands offer a lot of opportunities to get outdoors, and hit the beach. My favorite things to do on the Big Island include exploring their many walking and hiking trails, checking out the beautiful waterfalls, scuba diving, relaxing on the beaches, and of course, eating my way through the local markets!
Located on the Hilo Coast, a short 0.4-mile hike will bring you to two beautiful waterfalls known as Akaka Falls. The falls plummet 442-feet into a gorge that is surrounded by lush greenery.
Home to Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s active volcanoes, the Volcanoes National Park allows you to experience these wonders up close and personal. Within the park, there are 150-miles of hiking trails, volcanic craters, desert and rainforests, and more.
Regarded as one of the most memorable dives on Earth, the Big Island is one of the only places in the world where you can night dive with manta rays. Using lights brought by tour guides, plankton is attracted to the shores of Kona, bringing the manta rays along with them. You have the ability to swim or dive with these majestic creatures as soon as the sunsets. Read about my Manta Ray Night Swim experience here!
Mauna Kea, the highest volcano in the state, is one of the best places to watch the sunset or stargaze. In the evening, local volunteer astronomers set up telescopes outside of the visitor center.
To visit the summit to watch the sunset, you will need a 4WD vehicle and you’ll want to take a break at the Visitor Center before reaching the top to help you acclimate to the altitude. When up there, just remember to be respectful as the locals view the summit as sacred. It is said to be the place where Poli’ahu (a snow goddess) resides.
There are so many amazing local farms throughout the Hawaiian Islands, so their Farmer’s Markets are a must-see if you’re staying more than a few days. The Big Island has a few weekly markets—you can find them in Kona, Hilo, Volcano, and Waimea!
Waipi’o Valley was once home to old Hawaiian kings and was extremely populated. These days it’s home to taro fields and a small handful of residents. Here you can take a 6.5-mile (difficult) hike down to a black sand beach or you can simply enjoy the view at the lookout. There are also tours that drive you down to the bottom of the valley if you’re looking to experience it without the hike!
Taking a day tour is one of the best ways to see the island. You can find tours that take you to volcanoes, waterfalls, coffee plantations, black sand beaches, and snorkeling. The options are endless.
Kiholo Bay, located in the Kona District, is one of the island’s largest bays and one of the best places to spot sea turtles. Green sea turtles love the Wainanali’i Pond aka Hawaii’s Blue Lagoon, located at the northern end of the bay. Recent conservation efforts have helped protect the animals.
The City of Refuge (aka Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park) is one of the best places to experience Hawaiian history. In ancient Hawaiian times, commoners were not allowed to get too close to the chief nor were they allowed to come anywhere near his possessions or grounds. The penalty for breaking this kapu (taboo) was death. That is unless they reached puuhonua or a place of refuge.
The City of Refuge is the island’s most famous and most well-maintained place of refuge. Here you’ll experience ancient homes, temples, traditional Hawaiian games, and more.
Hawaii has two famous black sand beaches, a product of volcanic eruption. Waipi’o Valley is home to one but there is also Punalu’u Beach, located on the southeastern coast, about 67-miles south of Kona. On your drive to the beach, you will pass by Ka Lae, the southernmost point of the US. This one-of-a-kind beach is a great place to swim or snorkel.
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