The Getaway
25+ Can't Miss Things to Do on the Big Island

Aloha! Welcome to the Big Island of Hawaii, a paradise that offers the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure. From the unique hues of white, black, and green sand beaches to the thrill of hiking up an active volcano, the Big Island is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. This island is not just large in size, but also in its diversity, boasting 4 of the 5 major climate zones in the world. Imagine experiencing snowfall, desert heat, and the rainforest all in a single day! While there's enough to do on the Big Island to last a lifetime, we've handpicked twenty top attractions that are sure to make your visit unforgettable. So, let's dive in and explore the wonders of the Big Island!

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01 Exploring the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-visit for anyone seeking a unique experience that's exclusive to the Big Island. Home to two of the world's most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, the park is a UNESCO world heritage site teeming with hiking trails, crater views, and lava tubes. You could spend days exploring the park's scenic drives and wilderness adventures, and learning from the robust education at the visitors center. For an immersive experience, consider staying overnight at Volcano House and wake up to a breathtaking view of Halema’uma’u Crater. The park also offers guided tours, where knowledgeable rangers share fascinating insights about the park's geology, flora, and fauna. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, a thrill-seeker, or a casual traveler, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park promises an unforgettable experience.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Art Wolfe / Getty Images

02 Unwind at Punaluʻu Beach

Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach is arguably the best black sand beach in Hawaii. Located in the Puna District, it's a great pit stop on your way to or from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. While it may not be the best spot for swimming due to strong currents, the stunning black sand and the frequent sightings of Hawaiian green sea turtles make it a sight to behold. The beach is lined with coconut palms, adding to its tropical charm. It's also a great spot for picnics, with facilities like picnic tables and restrooms available. The beach's unique beauty and tranquility make it a must-visit spot on the Big Island.

Punaluʻu Beach Philippe FLEURY / Getty Images

03 Discover the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

As you enjoy the beauty of the Hamakua Coast, make sure to visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden. Home to over 1800 species of tropical plants, this is a haven for nature lovers. Walk through the gardens, enjoy the waterfalls, take in the ocean views, and listen to the birds chirping. It's pretty much a tropical paradise. The garden also offers guided tours, where knowledgeable guides share interesting facts about the various plant species. The garden's serene ambiance and stunning beauty make it a perfect spot for relaxation and nature photography.

Beautiful pond in Hawai'i Tropical Bioreserve and Garden Faina Gurevich / Shutterstock

04 Swim with dolphins

For a thrilling adventure that you can't get on any other island, consider going for a swim with dolphins. The Big Island offers several tours that allow you to swim with these friendly creatures in their natural habitat. It's a magical experience that brings you closer to nature and leaves you with unforgettable memories. The tours are led by experienced guides who ensure your safety and provide you with insights into the behavior and characteristics of dolphins. Whether you're an experienced swimmer or a beginner, swimming with dolphins on the Big Island is an adventure that's suitable for all ages and skill levels. It's not just about the thrill; it's about connecting with nature and experiencing the joy and intelligence of these magnificent creatures.

Dolphin kissing woman's cheek avid_creative / Getty Images

05 Visit Akaka Falls State Park

Just 11 miles north of Hilo, you'll find the famous 'Akaka Falls. Plunging 442 feet, this waterfall is easily viewable from a 0.4-mile walking trail that winds through lush scenery. It's one of the most visited sites on the windward side of the island, and for good reason: it's a stunning sight that's easy to get to and view. The trail itself is a pleasure to walk, with tropical plants, bamboo groves, and smaller cascades along the way. The park also offers picnic areas, making it a great spot for a relaxing day out with family or friends. Don't forget your camera, as the falls provide a perfect backdrop for some memorable photos!

People walking leading to Akaka Falls, Hawaii Birdiegal / Getty Images

06 Snorkel with manta rays

The Big Island offers some spectacular snorkeling, but nothing compares to the experience of snorkeling with manta rays. These gentle giants, with wingspans reaching up to 16 feet, glide gracefully through the water, often coming close to snorkelers and divers. The best time to see them is during a night snorkel or dive, where the rays are attracted to the lights used by tour operators. It's an otherworldly experience that's both thrilling and serene. The tour guides are well-trained and ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience. If you're looking for an underwater adventure that's truly unique, snorkeling with manta rays on the Big Island is a must-do.

Snorkeler photographing a manta ray Bernard Radvaner / Getty Images

07 Experience South Point Cliff Jump

For the adrenaline junkies, South Point Cliff Jump is a must-try. The southernmost point in the United States, this spot is famous for cliff jumping. Take a leap into the clear blue waters below and feel the thrill of a lifetime. The cliffs vary in height, offering options for both beginners and experienced jumpers. The area is also rich in history and offers stunning views of the ocean. It's not just about the jump; it's about the exhilaration, the freedom, and the connection with the raw beauty of nature. If you're looking for a thrill that's both exciting and scenic, South Point Cliff Jump is the place to be.

People gather on the cliff of South Point, Hawaii Ty King / Shutterstock

08 Stargazing at MaunaKea Summit

The Big Island is a fantastic place for stargazing, and the MaunaKea Summit is the crown jewel. Standing at 13,796 feet above sea level, it's one of the best astronomical sites in the world. The summit is home to several international observatories, and the lack of light pollution makes it an ideal spot for stargazing. You can join guided tours that take you to the summit and provide telescopes for a closer look at the stars, planets, and galaxies. The guides also share fascinating insights into astronomy and Hawaiian culture. Whether you're an astronomy enthusiast or simply curious about the night sky, stargazing at MaunaKea Summit is an experience that's both educational and awe-inspiring.

Mauna Kea Milky Way Night Sky Mountain Silhouette Kona Hawaii Lorraine Boogich / Getty Images

09 Enjoy a Big Island Farm Tour

Coffee isn't the only crop grown on the Big Island. Tour a wide range of farms, including Macadamia Nut Farms, Bee Farms, Octopus Farm Tours, Tea Plantation tours, Vanilla Farm Tours, and more. It's an enriching experience that adds a unique flavor to your vacation. These tours offer a behind-the-scenes look at farming practices, processing methods, and even tasting sessions. You'll get to meet the farmers, learn about sustainable agriculture, and enjoy fresh produce right from the source. A farm tour on the Big Island is not just about tasting; it's about understanding the love and labor that goes into producing some of the finest products in Hawaii.

Cacao Plants with Chocolate Fruit Pod on Tree YinYang / Getty Images

10 Explore Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Visit Papakōlea Beach, one of only four green sand beaches in the world. The green color is thanks to Olivine sand or crystals, which are remnants of a once-active volcano. Accessible only by hiking or taking a local guide's vehicle, this beautiful beach is a unique treasure worth the effort. The hike itself is a rewarding experience, offering stunning views of the coastline and the opportunity to learn about the geological features of the area. Once you reach the beach, the sparkling green sand and the turquoise waters create a mesmerizing sight. It's a place of natural wonder that captures the essence of the Big Island's diverse landscape.

Papakōlea Beach Praveen P.N / Getty Images

11 Snorkel Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument

Kealakekua Bay offers spectacular snorkeling near the Captain Cook Monument. The clear waters and vibrant marine life make this spot a snorkeler's paradise. The bay is also historically significant, as it's the site where Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii. You can reach the spot by taking a boat tour, kayaking, or hiking, each offering a unique perspective of the bay. The guides often share interesting historical facts and ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable snorkeling experience. With its blend of natural beauty and history, snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay is a multifaceted experience that's sure to be a highlight of your trip.

Aerial view of the Captain James Cook Monument, Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii, USA imageBROKER/Thomas Lammeyer / Getty Images

12 Visit Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Explore the Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, the last heiau (historic temple) built in Hawaii, symbolizing unification and lasting peace. It's a place rich in history and culture, offering insights into ancient Hawaiian traditions and beliefs. The site includes not only the massive stone temple but also a visitor center with exhibits and guided tours. The guides are knowledgeable and passionate about sharing the significance of the site and its role in Hawaiian history. Whether you're a history buff or simply interested in learning about Hawaiian culture, a visit to Pu’ukohola Heiau is both enlightening and engaging.

Hawaiian temple ruins GeorgeBurba / Getty Images

13 Drive the Hamakua Coast

The Hamakua Coast is one of the most beautiful spots on the Big Island, with lush mountains overlooking the sea. Enjoy waterfalls, botanic gardens, and breathtaking views along the drive. The road takes you through charming small towns, where you can stop and explore local shops and eateries. The scenic beauty of the coast is complemented by its rich history, with sites like the Laupahoehoe Train Museum and the Honokaa People's Theatre. Whether you choose to drive yourself or join a guided tour, the Hamakua Coast offers a delightful blend of natural beauty, culture, and history.

Waipio Valley of Hawaii Yiming Chen / Getty Images

14 Try an Outrigger Canoe Tour

Experience Hawaiian culture and adventure by heading out on an outrigger canoe tour. Learn about the history of the islands, navigation, and fishing from experienced guides. These tours often include traditional Hawaiian chants and stories, adding a cultural dimension to the adventure. Paddling an outrigger canoe is a hands-on experience that connects you with the Hawaiian way of life. It's not just about physical activity; it's about embracing the spirit of Aloha and understanding the deep connection between the Hawaiians and the sea.

Man and Woman Kayaking in the Ocean EpicStockMedia / Getty Images

15 Explore Waipi’o Valley

The sacred Waipi’o Valley, the boyhood home of Kamehameha I, boasts dramatic cliffs, taro fields, waterfalls, and a river. It's a spectacular sight that resonates with Hawaiian culture and heritage. The valley is accessible by hiking, horseback riding, or taking a guided tour. The journey offers stunning views of the valley and the opportunity to learn about its history and significance. The valley is also home to a community of people who live off the land, preserving the traditional Hawaiian way of life. A visit to Waipi’o Valley is a journey into the heart of Hawaii, offering a glimpse into its past and a deeper understanding of its present.

Hiking woman contemplating Waipio valley by the beach, Hawaii swissmediavision / Getty Images

16 Ziplining at Umauma Falls

Get a view from above of waterfalls, suspension bridges, and a river while you zipline at Umauma Falls. The scenery and the thrill of the 9-line course make this spot incredibly enjoyable. The guides are well-trained and ensure your safety while providing interesting facts about the area. The zipline course takes you through beautiful landscapes, including tropical forests, streams, and waterfalls. It's an exhilarating experience that combines adventure with the natural beauty of the Big Island. Whether you're an experienced zipliner or a first-timer, ziplining at Umauma Falls is a fun and exciting way to explore the island.

kid during a Zip-line Tour THEPALMER / Getty Images

17 Go Whale Watching

If you're visiting between December and April, don't miss the chance to see thousands of humpback whales that migrate to the warm waters of Hawai’i. It's a breathtaking sight, whether on a tour or from the shore. The tours are led by experienced guides who share interesting facts about the whales and their migration patterns. The sight of these majestic creatures breaching the water is a spectacle that's both thrilling and humbling. It's a reminder of the rich biodiversity of the Hawaiian waters and the importance of conservation efforts. Whale watching on the Big Island is not just a tourist activity; it's an experience that deepens your appreciation for nature and its wonders.

Humpback Whale Blueroomuwp / Getty Images

18 Marvel at Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls in Hilo is an 80-foot waterfall that flows over a lava cave. In the morning light, the mist from the falls often forms a rainbow, giving this waterfall its name. The falls are located in a lush rainforest, adding to their enchanting beauty. The site also includes a trail that leads to the top of the falls, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Nearby, you'll find the Boiling Pots, a series of pools connected by underground flow or surface waterfalls. A visit to Rainbow Falls is a refreshing experience that showcases the natural beauty of Hilo and the power of water in shaping the landscape.

Rainbow Falls in Hawaii Png-Studio / Getty Images

19 Explore Kaumana Caves

For the adventurous, the Kaumana Caves offer a chance to explore lava tubes and witness the geological wonders of the Big Island. Formed by a lava flow in 1881, the caves are a part of the island's volcanic history. The entrance to the caves is a skylight, a hole formed by the collapse of the roof of a lava tube. Inside, you'll find unique formations like lava stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are also home to various species of insects and plants, adding a biological interest to the geological exploration. A visit to the Kaumana Caves is a journey into the heart of the Big Island's volcanic landscape, offering a unique perspective on the forces that shaped this paradise.

Adventure in the rain forest N8tureGrl / Getty Images

20 Visit Pahoa

Discover the charm of Pahoa, a small town with a unique vibe. Known for its wooden boardwalks and old Western-style buildings, Pahoa offers a glimpse into the island's past. The town is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and art galleries, making it a great place to explore and relax. Nearby, you'll find the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, the only tropical zoo in the United States. The zoo is home to various tropical animals, including the endangered Hawaiian State bird, the Nene, and a white Bengal Tiger named Namaste. The zoo also features a botanical garden with over 100 varieties of palm and other tropical plants. A visit to Pahoa and the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo is a delightful experience that combines history, culture, and nature.

Scenic Empty Dirt Road in Rural Tropical Kona Hawaii USA Lorraine Boogich / Getty Images

21 Explore Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo

The Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, located just outside of Hilo, is a unique attraction that combines a zoo and a botanical garden. Spread over 12 acres; it's home to over 80 animal species, including the endangered Hawaiian State bird, the Nene, and a white Bengal Tiger named Namaste. The zoo is set in a lush rainforest, making it a beautiful place to explore. The botanical garden features over 100 varieties of palm and other tropical plants, adding to the zoo's charm. The zoo also offers educational programs and interactive experiences, making it a fun and educational outing for families. Whether you're an animal lover, a plant enthusiast, or a family with kids, the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo offers a unique and enjoyable experience.

Big talking parrot in the reserve, zoo. subjob / Getty Images

22 Puukohola heiau

Puukohola Heiau The National Historic site of the Kohala coast in Hawaii Big Island. Heiau were sacred places of worship for Native Hawaiians.

Standing majestically on the northern shores of the Big Island, Puukohola Heiau whispers tales of ancient Hawaii. Constructed by King Kamehameha I in a formidable effort to unite the Hawaiian Islands, this sacred temple offers more than just a glimpse into the past; it's an invitation to connect with the spirits of those who walked before us. Explore the grounds where history was made, and feel the mana (spiritual power) that permeates this sacred place.

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23 Pololu Valley overlook

Pololu Valley view in Big island, Hawaii

At the edge of the Big Island, where the land stretches out into the sea, lies the breathtaking Pololu Valley Overlook. Gaze out over the dramatic cliffs and lush valleys that cascade down to the deep, azure waters below. This is a place of raw beauty, where the power of nature is on full display, and the vast, open sky meets the rugged heart of Hawaii. Take a moment to breathe in the beauty, for views like this are where memories begin.

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24 Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Lush tropical vegetation of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden of Big Island of Hawaii, USA

A haven of tranquility and beauty, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a living museum nestled in the heart of the Hamakua Coast. Wander through paths flanked by over 1,800 species of tropical plants, towering palms, and cascading waterfalls. Here, every step reveals a new marvel, from the delicate dance of orchids in the breeze to the soothing sounds of the ocean in the distance. It's a symphony of nature's finest, inviting you to lose yourself in its melody.

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25 ʻAkaka Falls State Park

Home to the awe-inspiring ʻAkaka Falls, this state park is a jewel in the crown of the Big Island's natural wonders. Plummeting 442 feet into a lush ravine, the waterfall is a spectacle of nature's force and beauty. Follow the winding trail through a rainforest teeming with ferns, bamboo, and orchids, and stand in awe as the falls reveal themselves, a testament to the island's volcanic and erosive powers, creating something profoundly beautiful.

26 Kaumana Caves Park

Kaumana Caves in Hilo Hawaii

Venture into the depths of the earth at Kaumana Caves Park, where the darkness holds secrets of the island's fiery past. Formed by the lava flows from Mauna Loa, these caves offer an adventure into the heart of Hawaii's volcanic landscape. Don a headlamp and descend into the cool, shadowy world beneath the surface, where stalactites and rare formations tell the story of the land's ever-changing nature. It's a journey not just into the cave but into the heart of the island itself.

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