Big Island Hawaii is home to two of the world’s greatest mountains, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones, Hawaii’s greatest king, and the wettest city in the United States, the Big Island of Hawaii is an island like no other. It is an island of such proportions that all of the other islands in the main Hawaiian chain could fit inside it twice. It is often called the “Big Island” (or “Big I”) to help distinguish it from the 1,500-mile-long archipelago with which it shares its name (Hawaii). Sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Big Island is approximately 4,050 square miles, and is still growing daily thanks to Kilauea Volcano on the eastern coast of the island.
Visitors here will marvel at the dramatically different temperatures and scenic beauty that span across each distinct area, ranging from the warmth found amid balmy coastal jungles in Puna to the snow-capped peaks dotting the slopes of Mauna Kea. Beach goers get their fill of sunshine and sand at any of the five star resorts located along the Big Island’s Kona coast and within the resort area of Waikoloa, while those seeking a more quiet, casual experience will adore Hilo, a sleepy little bayside town. The must-do on Hawaii Island is a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Weather (When to Go)
The best time to visit Hawaii’s Big Island is between September and November. That’s when the island’s generally reasonable room rates take the most significant plunge. Temperatures remain constant throughout the year – generally in the high 70s or low 80s – so you might want to avoid the priciest season, from December to March, unless you like to surf. From December to March the Big Island’s rates are lower than some of the other popular Hawaiian islands, so you might find a room for less than $200 a night. Keep in mind that this can be a rainier season on the island. And although surfing isn’t as popular as on Kauai or Maui, you will still find the best waves in this peak season. Plus, prime whale-watching season runs from January to early April. From April thru May you’ll almost definitely find a reasonable room rate in this tiny pocket of time. Just be sure to avoid a Memorial Day trip – some people like to plan extended time off around built-in holidays in their work calendar, so there could be more crowds. There’s a bit of a jump in airfare June thru August and hotel rates as families begin to arrive on the Big Island. There’s also a slight (but most likely, unnoticeable) rise in temperatures in summer; highs can reach the low 80s.
Getting Around the Big Island Hawaii
The best way to get around Hawaii’s Big Island is by car. The island is simply too large to affordably and conveniently navigate without one. You can pick up a rental car at either the Kona International Airport (KOA) or the Hilo International Airport (ITO), or if you want to let go of some serious cash, you could take a taxi from the terminal to your hotel. Once near your lodging, you might be able to get around town on the island bus system, just keep in mind that its schedule is not always convenient for tourists. Taxis are expensive on Hawaii’s Big Island, even by tourist standards. In fact, the meter starts at $3. Coincidentally, flagging one doesn’t seem to be that much of an option, anyway. The best spot to find them is around the airports; otherwise, your hotel will assist you in calling for one.
Big Island Hawaii Attractions
Four months after closing due to intense and damaging volcanic activity, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park reopened in mid-September 2018. “The Volcano,” as it were, loosely refers to two active volcanoes in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park; specifically, it’s Kilauea that’s the real must-see. A 4,000-foot-tall mountain, Kilauea has been spitting, spewing and oozing since Jan. 3, 1983 and in May 2018, it started erupting, forcing evacuations and destroying entire communities. Although the eruptions have stopped, Kilauea is still at the top of America’s list of volcanoes to monitor.
A visit to Hilo’s Akaka Falls State Park will entail a short, low-intensity hike in northeastern Hawaii. Its payoff comes in the form of two consecutive waterfalls; cascading Kahuna Falls and the spectacular free-falling Akaka Falls, which earned the park its name. Those who’ve hiked the flat, paved loop trail say it’s more of a “walk” that’s easy enough for just about anyone, even young children. You’ll most likely be able to make the loop through the park in 20 to 30 minutes, and is one attraction you don’t want to miss.
Kaunaoa Beach is one of Big Island’s most beautiful white sand beaches. So, most travelers recommend coming early (around 8:30 a.m.) to Kaunaoa to snag one of the too-few parking spots, and spending most of the day there. This eggshell-colored sand beach on the central, Kohala coast has plenty to do. Snorkeling is popular, especially at either end of the beach, but you can also try body boarding, or a pickup volleyball game.
One of the Kohala Coast’s premier beaches, Anaehoomalu Beach is a favorite for frequent Big Island visitors. You won’t find too many locals on this massive stretch of salt and pepper sand, but you will have lots of opportunities to try some water sports, such as stand up paddle boarding and snorkeling, in the calm and clear water. There are limited beach chairs, so you might want to bring your own chairs and umbrellas. You can also visit at about any time of day you want as there are no set hours of operation and there’s ample parking in a public parking lot.
Both visitors and residents flock to this beach. If you’re not visiting for the soft-as-cotton sand, then you’ve probably come for the aquamarine water. And if you aren’t enjoying the aquamarine water then you’ve probably come for the unbelievable sunsets. Hapuna Beach’s calm waves are really only calm for part of the year; in the wintertime the tide might be too rough for swimming (though you may spot migrating whales from the shore). And this beautiful beach is understandably crowded much of the time, but doesn’t have many concession stands or beach-side restaurants. Still, there’s almost always a lifeguard on duty, and there’s plenty of parking. You’ll also find plenty of picnic benches, showers and restrooms.
Big Island Hawaii Things to Do
Hang Loose Boat Tours offers unique experiences on the newest and safest boat on the Big Island. This modern 24 passenger luxury catamaran is designed for open oceans conditions that will allow passengers to sit back, relax, enjoy breathtaking views, and learn about the history of the Kona coast. Boat is operated by experienced and licensed Captain. For more information call +1 808-345-4262, or visit them on the web at Hang Loose Boat Tours.
Dolphin swim – Manta Rays- Whale Watch – Kealakekua Bay – Reef Snorkel – Private Charters – Semi-Private Charters – Aloha from their Ohana (family) to yours! Join them on a private or semi-private charter on the Kona Coast. They are an Eco-minded, green-listed company that is locally owned and operated. They specialize in making their boat yours! For more information call +1 808-326-2682, or visit them on the web at Hawaii Oceanic.
Kayak with them along the west coast of the Big Island. They offer 2 – 4+ hour tours to incredible places where you can snorkel among coral teeming with colorful tropical fish in crystal clear waters with clarity of 70-100 feet. They feature tours that offer dolphin watching, turtle cleaning station, cliff jumping, sea caves, underwater arches and much more! They take very small groups (Avg 2-6 people) on tours to insure the best experience. Private Tours of 1-24 people are also available and can be designed to your preference. For more information call +1 808-756-1854, or visit them on the web at King Kayak Hawaii.
Kona Hawaii excursions including Hop-on & Hop-off bus tours serving tourists & cruise ship passengers. Their reasonably priced and quality tours feature Hawaiian culture & history, coffee farms, beach transportation & snorkeling starting from $15, cruise ship passenger discounts available. Located across the street from the Kailua-Kona pier in the heart of Kona town. For more information call +1 808-960-1261, or visit them on the web at Clark’s Hawaii Tours.
Morning Dolphin charters take you up the Kailua Kona coast to a pod of wild dolphins, usually 100 plus. Snorkel with them right next to you. Lunch & snacks included. Rated as #1 Night Manta Ray snorkel company by all the review web sites. These are the most exciting activities you’ll do here. All gear included. These 2 activities with marine life will be a highlight of your trip. They take children of all ages. For more information call +1 808-987-1584, or visit them on the web at Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures.
Best Ilha Grande Restaurants
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$$ – $$$ Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill
A place that is extremely popular, Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill is set a little way out from the main strip, perfect for visitors seeking a little time away from the seafront. The food here is fantastic; the fish is cooked perfectly and is paired with chargrilled vegetables and sweet purple potatoes, and the wasabi crusted calamari is out of this world. A laid back shack that gets extremely busy at the weekends, this is a top spot to enjoy some seafood in a convivial atmosphere. For more information call +1 808-327-0209, or visit them on the web at Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill.
$$ – $$$ Kenichi Pacific
Kailua Kona, Kenichi Pacific is a venue with cozy couches, friendly staff and super fresh, authentic sushi, sourced all the way from Japan itself. A great place in which to satisfy a sweet craving, don’t miss the top dessert choices of the banana foster and the dreamy molten lava cake. There’s a daily happy hour held here offering customers an array of flavorsome sushi options for half the price; don’t miss it. For more information call +1 808-322-6400, or visit them on the web at Kenichi Pacific.
Merriman’s is a fun spot emanating a simple and refined atmosphere. The expertise of the staff here is unbeatable, with friendly waiters and waitresses always on hand to give knowledge about how the food here is prepared and where it is sourced from. Take a stroll through the herb garden before entering, and choose from an array of dishes such as flame-grilled crab and the signature coconut crème brulee. A great place for a top tipple too, colorful cocktails abound here, with the margaritas made using tropical lemonade and ultra-fine grain salt and making for a fantastic choice. For more information call +1 808-885-6852, or visit them on the web at Merriman’s.
$$$$ Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill
Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill is an establishment offering a combination of cuisines deriving from both Asia and the Pacific Rim. Must-try dishes include the char-grilled fish specials, the edamame appetizer and the chocolate mousse soufflé. The outdoor tables here overlook the pond at the Kings Shops, offering customers an idyllic view to enjoy whilst tucking into some hearty fare. For more information call +1 808-886-4321, or visit them on the web at Roy’s Wailoloa Bar & Grill.
$$ – $$$ Da Poke Shack
Da Poke Shack is a laid back local favorite for high quality takeouts. Must try dishes here include a Hawaiian dish of raw cubed seafood, most often tuna, dressed with soy and other seasonings, as well as the garlic sesame edamame beans. A top spot for authentic cuisine on the Kona coast, the house made spicy mayo and Korean sauce provide the perfect accompaniments to any meal here. For more information call +1 808-329-7653, or visit them on the web at Da Poke Shack.
Best Big Island Hawaii Bars
Hugo’s On The Rocks
The younger, wilder sibling of the famous seafood eatery next door called Huggo’s, this spirited joint is a terrific place to wind down the day and usher in the evening. Indeed, Huggo’s on the Rocks is a popular outdoor bar and dance club under a thatched roof whose specialty drinks and beautiful clientele always ensure a great time. A light bar menu features fajitas, salads, sandwiches, and tasty appetizers and offers a cure for the late night munchies. Watch the sunset, and whales jump in season. Located in the heart of Kailua, you can easily walk to other bars and clubs and explore the town. For more information call +1 808-329-1493, or visit them on the web at Hugo’s On The Rocks.
Humpy’s Big Island Ale House
“For beer lovers, by beer lovers” is the slogan at Humpy’s Alehouse where a huge array of beers on tap and really good bar food make for happy days and fun filled nightlife. Humpy’s is the new spot in Kailua Kona for live music and nighttime entertainment. Located on Kailua’s main and front street along the ocean, the pub is centrally located to be enjoyed while shopping, at the beach, or eating elsewhere along the strip. It’s a popular hangout with both locals and visitors alike so you’ll get the best of both worlds. Any night of the week you can stroll in and find a crowd. For more information call +1 808-324-2337, or visit them on the web at Humpy’s Big Island Ale House.
Tropical drinks, beautiful scenery, and a short walk to the water – if the world were a fair place, every town would have a joint like this. At the exotic little cabana bar, you can sip your favorite mixed drink (mai tais and margaritas are always the biggest hits), get a bit of sun, and feel the sand between your toes. Since this bar is on the west side of the island, guests will be treated to the best seat on the island for the spectacular sunsets. Dress up or go casual here, either way it’s all about the sunsets and the exotic drinks. For more information call +1 808-325-8000, or visit them on the web at Beach Tree.
Blue Dragon Restaurant & Musquarium
Blue Dragon Coastal Cuisine & Musiquarium is known for giving guests a really good time. Always crowded with locals and visitors alike dancing away the evening and taking breaks for bites of delicious food. The menu is locally based and presents local fish, meats and produce. The menu also notes which items are vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free. The live music is a big draw here, and often times the place turns into a club like atmosphere. Children are welcome and there’s a keiki menu, but it’s best to bring them earlier on in the night before the party scene gets going. For more information call +1 808-882-7771, or visit them on the web at Blue Dragon Restaurant & Musquarium.
Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar
Any west side morning should start with the breakfast buffet at Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar. This is the place for long, leisurely breakfasts and chit chat over made-to-order waffles and omelets, fresh tropical fruits and juices, healthy whole grain cereals and various delicacies from the pastry kitchen with a cup of Big Island coffee. This is the Mauna Kea’s breakfast buffet, with its ocean-overlook and birdsong symphony, and this is what your family will remember. Later on in the day venture to the exquisite crescent shaped white sand beach out front. You won’t have to venture any further for great food or beach time. For more information call +1 808-977-4589, or visit them on the web at Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar.