The Big Island – Fun Activities Not To Miss On Your Visit

What should you not miss on the big island

One of the top reasons that the Big Island of Hawaii is such a sought after destinations in the State of Hawaii is that it provides a wide array of things to do and attractions to see. Being the biggest island, it just has so much to offer. That fact is also what makes it the best island to visit for family travel. There is something for everyone: jungles, volcanoes and waterfalls for the adventurers and beaches and parks for the kids to enjoy. Yes, it's also a foodie heaven! 

While it is still very attractive to tourists, it doesn't have the "touristy feel" of O'Ahu and while it has plenty of adventure and romantic places to go, it's still not as busy as Maui and Kauai. I would call it the "Goldilocks" of the Hawaiian Islands.  

Experience The Unique Beaches 

Magic Sands Beach Park is a nice, centrally located beach that is easy and convenient to get to. We went to this beach often because it was so close to where we were staying and allowed us to get home quick for baby naps and meals. The waves are a bit choppy hear, but it's still a great beach to lay out on and plash around in the water. It's not very big but doesn't really ever feel crowded (when we were there during December).

Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay) is a very large beach a bit north on the Big Island. There was plenty of space on this beach to run around and the water was a bit calmer. Two things we loved about this beach: beautiful water and sand with an amazing sunset and spotting whales in the distance!

to do in big island Hawaii - Maniniowali Beach

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach is on the south-eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii and well worth the visit. Aside from the sand being completely black and creating a unique beach experience (at least we thought so) you may be able to spot sea turtles occasionally!

It is an easy beach to get to and parking is super close by which made it very convenient for us going with a baby!

black sand beach in Hawaii

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach is one of the very few beaches in the world that is made up of green-looking sand. This incredible beach is on the southern tip of the Island of Hawaii. It is not easy to get to this beach, but still worth it if you have the time and energy!

We were lucky that we could get a babysitter to be able to go an experience this place. It is certainly not a place you can easily take young kids. 

You have to hike about 2 miles and it is not a very easy hike down (then you also have to come back up!) Since it is a bit harder to get to, there is barely anyone ever down at this beach. The sand color is more like an olive green since it is made up of many different colors when you look at it up close. It's one of those places that are hard to find around the world!

Green sand beach Hawaii

Snorkel: Spot Sea Turtles and Other Wild Sea Creatures

Going to the beaches of Hawaii is certainly great but getting in the water is even better! There is so much sealife to see and you don't even need to go too far from shore. I have to admit that I was actually surprised to see so many fish so close to shore when I went snorkeling.

Snorkeling was one of the most memorable experience we had on Hawaii. We had one particularly exceptional snorkeling activity that we'll go into later. While people have spotted sea turtles on Black Sand beach, We never saw any there, but we did see them while snorkeling! Let's get into where the best place is to go snorkeling on the Big Island: 

snorkeling in Big Island

Kahalu'u Park Beach Park

We loved how convenient this beach and park was to where we were staying so we made sure to visit a few times during our two week stay. This was where we spotted sea turtles in the water on multiple occasions. Every time we went snorkeling here it was like going to the better than that!

Getting to this beach and parking was a breeze. It was also very baby friendly in that it wasn't too crowded and there was also a side of the beach that offered shallow tide pools which were great for Petra to splash in!

We had research places to go snorkeling on the Big Island and Two Step was one of the locations that a lot of people also recommend. In looking into it, we thought that it may not have been so baby friendly. I think it probably is a great place to snorkel but the rock and depth were just not what we wanted with a one year old around.

Jungles and Waterfalls

From the coats we move a little inland to discover more natural wanders in the Big Island. The jungles are lush and vibrant with foliage. If you are a fan of greenery, you'll be able to get your fix of trees and tropical plants in the thick jungles of Hawaii. Here are just a few of the places you must go when on the Big Island:

Akaka Falls State Park

An excursion to Akaka Falls is a breath of fresh air! The "hike" down is a comfortable stroll down a paved path with the occasional stairs. While it's not stroller friendly, it was easy taking Petra with us in the carrier. The way the park is set up makes it a breeze to enjoy this luscious jungle. It would have been worth it even if there wasn't a gorgeous waterfall to see! If you only have time to see one waterfall on your visit, make it Akaka waterfall!

Akaka Falls State Park - Big Island

image of waterfall at Akaka State Park - what to see in Big Island Hawaii

Rainbow Falls

An hour and half drive through to the other side of the Big Island is where you can find Rainbow falls. This is a good opportunity for those who want to go check out the Hilo side of the island. We went to see Rainbow Falls and just drove through Hilo. It was well worth the visit because it gave us an idea of what the other side of the island was like as well as a chance to see this amazing waterfall! We never pass up an opportunity to see waterfalls, especially the time we visited Costa Rica!

Rainbow Falls - Hawaii Big Island attractions

Makaula O'oma Trail

Just a 20 minute drive up the mountain from Kona you'll be able to walk the pristine cloud forest trails of Makaula O'oma. The trail is narrow and lush with ferns and bamboo on either side. It's a place where you can really get away and feel like you are miles away from any civilization!

jungle hiking on Big Island Hawaii

Hike A Volcano - Steam Vents & Lava Flows

We made a whole day out of visiting Mount Kilauea and the Chain of Craters Road. You will want to set aside a good day or, at least, better part of a day for visiting the Volcanoes National Park. Here are some things we recommend you don't miss while there:

  • Steam Vents
  • Kilauea Volcano Overlook
  • Crater Rim Drive
  • Lava Tree Molds
  • Hike Kau Desert Trail
  • Drive down Chain of Craters Road (stop at Kealakomo Overlook)
Crater in Hawaii Big Island

Drive To The Southern Coast

Make sure to add Holei Arch to the same day you plan on driving down the Chain of Craters Road as it will be at the end of it and a convenient way to visit.

The coastline on this side of the island is drastically different from the rest and it is very visible how the island was created from the sea! The waves smash into the enormous cliffside  that have been created by the lava flows and it is quite jaw dropping to say the least.

Holei Arch - Big Island places to see

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park

This park has a lotto offer visitors. Aside from being right by the ocean where you can observe the Hawaiian sunset, your visit can also grant you a glimpse into the history of the people and culture of the Hawaiian people, but you'll also be able to see some fantastic nature as well. There is a pond in the park where we saw goats roaming on the other bank and if you stay at night, you may even see the bats that come out!

what to see in Big Island Hawaii

Go On Unforgettable Adventures On The Big Island

Still wandering what is there to do on the Big Island of Hawaii? If you really want to get your heart pumping, we have two amazing experiences for you to try out. We did both and they are truly unforgettable!

If you've never parasailed before, you might be thinking it's a bit scary. I will say that it is more like a thrilling swing than it is anything like parachuting out of an airplane (trust me, I've done that before!) I have been fortunate enough to go parasailing in many different places around the world, most recently when we were staying in Mexico for over a a month. I got a chance to go during our last day in Cancun and loved it there, too! 

 Here's what happens: you get on a boat and sail a bit away from the shore (but you can still see it), then you get your harness on, get attached to the parachute that is connected to the boat, and as the wind picks up the parachute and pulls you away from the boat they release the rope slowly (like flying a kite). The experience is breathtaking as you slowly rise up.

Parasailing in Big Island Hawaii

Before you realize it, all you can hear is the sound of the breeze high up above the ocean. The scenery is mesmerizing and the feeling is pure peace. Enjoy panoramic views of the Kona coastline from 1200 feet and have a cool story for your friends when you get home!

We went with UFO Parasailing and were very happy with the staff and service they provided.

Another Must-Do activity on the Big Island is the snorkeling at night to see manta rays. At first, I was quite skeptical of this because, while I love snorkeling, the idea of doing it at night was a bit scary to me. I just didn't think manta rays would be that interesting.

Man, was I so wrong!

night snorkel with manta rays - Hawaii things to do

Seeing the huge manta rays was an absolute highlight of our trip to the Big Island. In fact, I would say it is one of the top 5 best things we ever did on a trip!

They take you on a speedboat ride out to where the mantas usually like to gather. Once, you arrive, you jump out of the boat and snorkel toward a surfboard that has a handle for each person to hold. While you float, holding on to the surfboard, they shine a light so that plankton are attracted and the manta rays come by to feast on them.

Once you see them "fly" over like dreamy little sea angels, you'll be blown away!

Food and Snack 

We really enjoyed all of the food on the Big Island of Hawaii and wanted to share some of our favorites so that you can add them into your itinerary. Of course, our favorite food destination in North America is New Orleans, but Hawaii has some great food that you really can't get anywhere else!

Aloha One - Best Hawaiian Ice

eat Hawaiian shaved ice in Big Island

DaPoke - Delicious Poke

Herbivores - Amazing vegan food

Punalu'u Bake Shop – Famous Hawaiian Sweet Bread

eat Hawaiian Sweet bread In Hawaii

Is it better to stay in Kona or Hilo When Visiting The Big Island?

Our first question, when planning our trip to the Big Island, was whether to stay on the Kona or Hilo side of the island. The quick answer is: Kona.

Having spent 2 weeks there we can confidently say that choosing our accommodations on the Kona side was a wise idea. We did visit the Hilo side as well. To be honest, there is just more available on the Kona side, not to mention the best beaches. If you plan to do activities and go to beaches, we recommend staying on the Kona side for convenience. It is just more "user friendly" for visitors. Additionally, during the winter months, the Hilo side can get pretty wet and rainy. So, you want to be on the Kona side in order to enjoy better weather as well.

How To Plan Your Big Island Itinerary for A One Week Visit

Day 1: Hike Makaula O'oma Trail and snorkeling at Kahalu'u Park Beach Park

Day 2: Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park, and Rainbow Falls

Day 3: Kilauea, Chain of Craters

Day 4: Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park and Hilo Arch

Day 5: Spend the day relaxing at Manini'owali Beach

Day 6: Hike down to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach and spend the rest of the day at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach (grab a sweet at Punalu'u Bake Shop in between)

Day 7: Go Parasailing and then do a night time snorkel to see manta rays

This is a great Hawaii itinerary for 7 days whether you are traveling as a couple or with a family and kids. The days are packed with fun things to do but not too ambitious that you (and the kids) would get totally wiped out. We mixed some relaxing activities in with some adventure and physical stuff to do to make it more balanced. All of these are great things to do on the Big Island and are sure to make your trip memorable!

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Taiss Nowrouzi

About the Author

Taiss Nowrouzi

Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!

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