17 Unmissable Things To Do on The Big Island of Hawaii for 2023

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Hawaii is an archipelago of islands known for its wild, untamed nature, some of the world’s most active volcanoes, and thriving marine life. 

While each of the Hawaiian islands offers something different and unique, for me, the Big Island is all about adventure.

orange Sunset in Kona, Big Island of Hawaii
Sunset in Kona

There are so many things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii and each of these attractions offers incredible wow moments – you might just spend your entire vacation with your jaw on the floor!

While the Big Island’s official name is Hawaii, and as such, people have often mistaken Hawaii as singular and not plural, but there are over 137 islands in Hawaii so we’ll refer to the Big Island by its nickname to avoid confusion.

If you’re not sure what to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, then allow us to introduce to you the top Big Island attractions…

The Top Things to Do on The Big Island of Hawaii

1. Explore the Misty Akaka Falls

The Akaka Falls plunges 442 feet into a stream-eroded gorge and is possibly one of the most gorge-ous waterfalls in Hawaii, if not the USA. It’s certainly the most famous waterfall on the Big Island and is frequently visited by tourists.

It’s located in the Akaka Falls State Park which is a great area to go hiking. The trails here are pretty easy and it only took us 30 minutes to get to the falls.

Akaka Falls - things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

Also in the park is the 100-foot Kahuna Falls which you can see on a looped walk. It was closed for us when we visited, but if you get the chance to see it then it’s said to be beautiful.

Since it’s one of the most popular things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, parking can be a nightmare. You can park up the road as we did and nab a cheaper price than the official car park!

  • Hours: 8.30am – 5.00pm daily
  • Address: 875 Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, HI 96728

HOT TIP – Plan your visit for the morning. We went in the afternoon and the sun was in the worst position behind the falls. It made it hard to see anything let alone get a good photo.

2. Visit the Stunning Rainbow Falls

Just outside Hilo Town Center is Rainbow Falls. It’s smaller than Akaka Falls but no less pretty.

Rainbow Falls - things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

There is also a short trail from the parking lot that takes you to a viewpoint over the waterfalls summit. 

Then from the lookout point, you will see some steps into an exquisite rainforest that takes you to the bottom of the waterfall and the river. 

The steps are quite slippery so be careful on your descent. 

When you’re at the bottom, you might be lucky enough to see how the waterfall got its name. 

  • Hours: opens at sunrise, closes at dusk
  • Address: 967 Waianuenue Ave, Hilo

Warning – it is not advised to go swimming anywhere on the island of Hawaii that’s not the beach. This is because of unseen lava tubes which could be anywhere on the island. Sadly, lives have been lost because of this.

3. Dine at The Booch Bar

When we asked our online community for advice on things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, we were flooded with places to eat and drink. 

Lunch at Conscious Culture Cafe on the Big Island of Hawaii

One name that was recommended multiple times was The Conscious Culture Cafe in Hilo, which is now known as The Booch Bar.

It had everything I loved, from ginger and turmeric kombucha, healthy smoothies with bee pollen, and organic, vegetarian meals. 

The vibe was also great. We heard music from the 60’s Vietnam era, such as White Shades of Grey to If you’re going to San Francisco.

This place was one of our hidden gems in Hawaii. The staff were so helpful and gave us suggestions on places to visit.

  • Hours: 8.00am – 8.00pm
  • Address: 110 Keawe St, Hilo, HI 96720

4. Visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island

Of course, no trip to the Big Island would be complete without visiting the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Family Travel Blog Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island Hawaii (1)


Visiting Volcano National Park has been my favorite homeschooling lesson for our daughters so far. Mostly because I didn’t have to do anything! I let Mother Nature take over and teach the girls about land formation, growth, and ecosystems.

There are not many places in the world where you can get close (but not too close) to an active volcano. This was certainly one of the most educational things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Some ways to see the park are to take an 8-mile return hike to see the active lava flow, or you can take a boat tour. When we visited, visibility at the time wasn’t good, so it really is a stroke of luck whether you see them or not.

We were also warned that it’s not a good idea to hike or take a boat to the lava flows with young children. This was because of the high sulfur content which can damage their developing lungs. For us, not worth the risk.

We drove along Crater Rim Drive, stopping off in places to see craters, giant fields of lava rock, and observing their textures and shape. 

Family Travel Blog Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island Hawaii (2)

The girls were fascinated by the rock, especially Savannah who started writing a story about volcanoes and lava from what she learned.

We also visited the Jaggar Museum & Overlook and learned more about earthquakes and the formation of volcanoes, as well as to see the bubbling lava in the crater.

It is said that Pele, the Hawaiian Fire Goddess and creator of the Hawaiian Islands lives inside the Halema’um’a Crater at the summit of Kilauea. The locals believe she is the one who sends lava from the volcano, which grows the island chain. 

You can see some of Pele work spurting up during the day, but it’s best to come back at night when the volcano is really on fire.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718

One of the best ways to see the Volcanoes National Park is to take one of the helicopter tours which flies over the craters. It’s the best way to see the lava activity from a safe distance.

5. Witness the Lava in Kilauea at Night

One of the most incredible things to do on The Big Island at night is to witness the lava spewing out of Kilauea. 

Night time view of lava in Kilauea - Volcanoes National Park, Big Island Hawaii
Night time view of lava in Kilauea

It was amazing to see it moving around and see the lava lake in the crater. We were lucky that it was a bubbly day when we visited, and we saw lava bubbles fill up and spew over.

If you look carefully, you might even find strands of Pele’s hair, which are actually glistening golden threads of fragile volcanic fiberglass. These are formed when lava is thrown into the air and small droplets get caught by the wind and cools into thin strands.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718

6. Witness the Thurston Lava Tube: A Lava Cave

Just outside the Volcanoes National Park, South of Crate Rim Drive is the Thurston Lava Tube. This is a network of underground lava caves, known as Nāhuku, or Thurston Lava Tube.

The cave is said to be more than 500-years-old and was formed by rivers of lava which gradually cut through the rock and built a solid wall and ceiling. 

Thurston Lava Tube

The caves vary in size and length and there are several that you can visit, but Nāhuku is the most easily accessible.

The cave is 600 foot long and 20 feet high in places. It’s the perfect example of how the liquid lava and all its molten force can create this fascinating and unique rock structure. 

It’s not one for the claustrophobic, but if you can stomach caves, it’s pretty cool.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: #52, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718

7. See the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles at Punalu’u, Black Sand Beach

Another recommendation from our community on the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii was to visit the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

Punaluu Beach (Black Sand Beach) on the Big Island of Hawaii
Punaluu Beach

Not only is the Black Sand Beach interesting to look at, but it’s also where you can see the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles who nest here.

We were lucky to see one lying in the sand at the water’s edge when we visited.

This provided another great homeschooling opportunity. We had lessons on how volcanoes shape the land and talked about how the jet-black sand was formed.

It was formed by molten lava from Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes, which flowed into the water, cooled, and then washed ashore in little fragments.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Punaluʻu Beach

Hot tip: When visiting the sea turtles, please remember to respect the turtle’s space. They get distressed when humans get too close, and you’ll see plenty of signs reminding you to keep your distance.

It’s sad to see people still continue to stick their cameras inches from their face.

Get a camera with a zoom lens – that’s what we used to get this photo whilst still keeping a respectful distance away.

See turtles on Black Sand Beach - things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

8. Hike to Papakolea Beach, Green Sand Beach

Green Beach, otherwise known as Papakolea Beach, is considered one of the best beaches in Hawaii. 

No, it’s not like the white sand beaches of Hapuna Beach or those along the Hamakua Coast and Kohala coast, but it’s no less beautiful.

Papakolea Beach, Green Sand Beach

The beach is stunning and is accessible by a picturesque 2.5 mile hike (one way) and takes 2-3 hours depending on how fast you are. The beach almost remote so it’s possible you could have it to yourself.

We would say that a visit to Papakolea Beach is a full-day trip because of this hike, so plan ahead.

Top tip: Pack plenty of water as it can get deceivingly hot when hiking in Hawaii.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Papakolea Beach

9. Snorkel at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Even though we couldn’t pronounce Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, even after the park ranger gave us a lesson on it, we still think it’s one of the best things to do on the Big Island.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is a 180-acre historic park that the former royal grounds and a place of refuge for Hawaiian lawbreakers.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park - Hawaii

It is said that if a lawbreaker was able to make it here, they were absolved of their sins. As such, the Pu’uhonua is considered a sacred site because of the air of forgiveness and peace it projects. 

The location is beautiful, overlooking Honaunau Bay. This is where the Kings once resided so you can be sure it’s one of the most stunning parts of the island. 

We visited the Hale o Keawe temple where the bones of the chiefs are laid to rest. 

It’s also considered the second best snorkeling spot on the Big Island. So pack your snorkel and fins when you visit!

You have to pay for your vehicle to enter, but if you combine your ticket with the park’s pass from the Volcanoes National Park then it’s essentially free.

  • Hours: 8.30am – 4.30pm
  • Address: State Hwy 160, Hōnaunau, HI 96726

Top tip: If you’re traveling during the winter months of December – February, you’re in luck, because it’s humpack whale season! While there are many tours that take you out to see the whales, you can see them from the shore if you have some patience.

The best places to see the whales are on the North side of the Big Island or in Hilo, but our personal favorite place to see them is the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Of course, as with all wildlife, seeing them in the wild really comes down to luck. But while you’re in the park, keep an eye on the ocean to see if these allusive mammals make an appearance.

10. Swim with Manta Rays on a Boat Tour

Remember those wow moments I mentioned earlier? This is definitely the biggest wow you’ll have on your trip to Big Island.

swim with manta rays big island of hawaii
Incredible experience. Photo: Deposit Photos

This was definitely our favorite thing to do on the Big Island of Hawaii with kids. I wasn’t sure I wanted my five-year-old to do it, but she did it and I was so proud of her.

We set off on a traditional Hawaiian 40-foot double-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe with Eka Canoes as the sun was setting. 

The best time to see the manta rays is in the dark, because the light from the boat attracts plankton which the manta rays eat.

The rays are like gentle butterflies of the sea, and it was amazing to get close to them without feeling intrusive. It was definitely one of the best wildlife encounters I’ve had.

It’s difficult to get great photos due to it being nighttime and the illuminated lights, but the memories will be lodged in our brains forever.

  • Hours: Sunset
  • Address: Departs from Keauhou Bay finger pier

You can book your manta ray boat tour in advance to avoid disappointment.

11. Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay

How does sliding down a slide into a gorgeous marine bay filled with colorful fish and coral sound? 

Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay
On the way to Kealakekua Bay

Snorkeling and swimming in the ocean is undoubtedly one of the most fun things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, and Kealakekua Bay is the perfect place to do just that. 

Kealakekua Bay is an underwater marine sanctuary just a short drive south on the Kona Coast. It’s famous for its pristine beauty, as well as for being the place where Captain Cook lost his life.

Being Australians, we have a deep historical connection to Captain Cook, and were in awe of seeing the place where he was murdered.

If you’re traveling with kids, the boat tours offer flotation devices for unconfident swimmers and small children. 

The best place for snorkeling is the area near the Captain Cook monument. Since it’s illegal to land a vessel along the shore near the monument, this is the best way to see it.

Plan ahead and book your Captain Cook snorkeling tour ahead of time!

Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay on the Kona Coast of Big Island Hawaii
Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii

 12. Explore Kona Town

One of the relaxing things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii is explore Kona town.

It’s only really one street and it runs along the water’s edge, but it still has plenty to see and do. We saw plenty of cafes and restaurants and a few boutique shopping places.

It’s a historical town and was once a place to retreat to for Hawaiian royalty, so a lot of the history is reflected in the Hulihee Palace and the Mokuaikaua Church.

If you’re visiting in October, you can catch the famous Ironman World Championship here!

Kona is also a great place for stand up paddle boarding. 

You can hire a SUP from Kona Boys and enjoy your time out on the waves. You might also be greeted by some dolphins.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Kona, Big Island

If you’ve never SUPed before, consider getting a lesson. You can also take surfing lessons here, too.

13. Watch the Sunset at Huggo’s Bar

Huggo’s on the Rocks was another recommendation to us by our community, and is definitely the best place to go for sunset views in Big Island. 

Sunset drinks at Huggos Bar in Kona - Big Island Hawaii
Sunset drinks at Huggos Bar in Kona

They also serve food here, and you can dine al fresco style in their outdoor seating area. 

Or you can just hang hear and drink some cocktails and watch the sunset. 

  • Hours: 4.00pm – 9.00pm
  • Address: 5308, 75-5828 Kahakai Rd, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

14. Walk the Lava Tree State Monument

Lava Tree State Monument

If you want to take a short, easy hike, there’s a stunning 0.7 mile loop trail in the Lava Tree State Monument.

The park is known for its lava trees, which are unusual volcanic phenomena caused by lava flow that swept through the forest. The result is these unique lava molds of tree trunks.

They are truly a weird but wonderful sight to see. You can walk the loop trail or have a picnic at one of the picnic sites.

  • Hours: 7.00am – 8.00pm
  • Address: HI-132, Pāhoa, HI 96778

15. Visit the Hilo Farmers Market

One of the best things to do on Big Island is to sample some of the local produce. All fruit and vegetables are grown on the island, and here you can buy fresh produce that’s organically grown. 

Hilo Farmers Market

Make sure to head over to Abundant Life Natural Foods just across the street from the market to pick up some Kona Coffee. There are only a few places in Hawaii that sells 100% pure Kona Coffee from the Kona Coffee Farm and this is one of them!

The Hilo Farmers Market was founded in 1988, and started with just four farmers who sold their produce from their parked cars and trucks.

Now the market has over 200 vendors selling everything from organic island fruit and vegetables to native tropical flowers. You can also find special Big Island products, handmade crafts and gifts with that Aloha spirit.

It’s certainly the best place to pick up souvenirs before heading home. It’s considered one of the best open markets on the Big Island.

  • Hours: 7.00am – 3.00pm Monday – Friday, 8.00am – 4.00pm Saturday, 10.00am – 4.00pm Sunday
  • Address: Corner of Kamehameha Avenue and, Mamo St, Hilo, HI 96720

16. Swim with the Rays from Muana Kea Beach Hotel

If you don’t want to get a boat tour to swim with the rays, then there’s also a chance to swim with them from the shore.

There are few places where the rays come close to the beach, but one such place is from the Kaunaʻoa Beach, which can be directly accessed by Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. 

At night, the hotel turns on floodlights into the water which attracts plankton, and by extension, manta rays. 

You do need to stay at the hotel for this access, but the public can access the beach by a 0.9 mile hike.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Mauna Kea Beach Dr, Waimea, HI 96743

Top tip: Apparently, parking is not so good in this area, so allow time to find a space.

17. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens are located on the historic Onomea Bay outside of Hilo. 

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Onomea Bay was one of the Big Island’s first natural landing areas and became a port in the 1800s. The ships bought in materials and exported raw sugar from the Onomea Sugar Mill that once stood on the site of the botanical garden. 

The traders also came with plants. Some of the plants from this history still remain in the garden, such as palm trees, wild bananas, mango, coconut, guava, and monkey trees.

When the Onomea Sugar Mill closed, the area was overgrown with wild, invasive trees, until it was bought more than 40 years ago and turned into this Botanical Garden.

The garden aims to restore and maintain the beauty of this historic land. It’s a relaxing thing to do in Big Island before flying home from Hilo airport.

  • Hours: 9.00am – 4.00pm
  • Address: 27-717 Mamalahoa Hwy, Papaikou, HI 96781

Video Playlist: Big Island of Hawaii with kids

Click play to watch videos of our adventures on the Big Island of Hawaii

Where to Stay in Big Island

Awesome pool overlooking the coean at Sheraton Kona, Hawaii
Sheraton Kona Hawaii

We have hand-selected a couple of top rated hotels in The Big Island for you to save you time researching. These are places we have stayed at ourselves.

Explore the map below to find other hotels and vacation rentals on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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turtle and sunset big island

Did we miss anything? Do you have any tips for things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii? Let us know in the comments.

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