Cool Things To Do On The Big Island In Hawaii: From Kona to Hilo


arnold on Dec 09, 2019

This guide is going to show some of my favorite things to do in Kona.

It is the biggest island in Hawaii and has the most stuff to do, so everything on this list comes after many trips to the Big Island. Based on my experience here is my TL;DR of everything I would do if visiting the Big Island for the first time.

  • The hike across the crater of an old volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes national park (Kīlauea Iki Hike).
  • The Mauna Kea Observatory where they set up 20+ telescopes at night so you can see Mars, the rings of pluto, etc. with your own eyes.
  • Swim with the Monster sized Manta Rays at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
  • Relax at the greatest beach in all of Hawaii: Mauna Kea beach  or its neighbor Hapuna Beach.
  • Enjoy a day at the pools in a resort. My favorite resort is the Hilton Waikoloa village followed by the Hapuna Beach Resort. Check out Resort Pass for availability.
  • Happy Hour at Lava Lava.
  • Volcano Lava Flow Viewing:  You never know when the lava will be flowing but my favorite thing I ever did on a vacation was hike to a lava river flowing into the ocean on the Big Island back in 2016. If there is lava flowing on the island this should be your priority. 

LAva Flow HAwaii


Multi Day Big Island Itinerary:

There is ton of smaller and fun things to do  besides my list of 7 above. Here is a possible Multi-day itinerary that can be done in any order from the Kona side of the Island.

Day 1:  Resort day at the Hilton followed by Happy Hour at Lava Lava.

Day 2: Trip To Hilo to visit Volcano National Park.  Allow 5 hours to hike and check out some volcano vents. Nearby in Hilo there are several smaller hikes to choose from to see Waterfalls and such. Also there is a free abandoned zoo which we always like to visit when in Hilo.  Hilo could easily be a two day trip. Also… bring food to HNP. It will rain in Hilo so bring warmer clothes if needed.

Day 3: Coffee Plantation tour in the morning and then visit the city of Kona. Park near the brewery as the city isn’t that great and the brewery is awesome.  Eat at the brewery but if you want some good takeout, check out Broke Da Mouth Grindz for Hawaain BBQ.

Day 4: Morning Hike at Keokea Beach Park or Waipao Valley then late lunch in Waimea. After that head over to the Mauna Kea visitor center early.  There are some easy hikes to watch the sunset and then check out the visitor center. 

Day 5: Head South past Kona. There are a bunch of coffee plantations you can grab some amazing coffee to break up the drive.  You can stop to hike at the Green Sand Beach which is a lot of fun (allow 3 to 4 hours if you hike). But you can hire a car to take you for $10. Do not drive your car to the beach.  It is an hour hike in sandy conditions or 14 minute ride in a 4×4. After leaving the Greeen beach parking, nearby is the southernmost point in the US where there is a cool cliff jumping spot with lots of locals. (Bring some beer to share).  You can continue driving east if you are motivated and can stop at the southernmost bakery in the USA (it’s pretty good) and onto Volcano Winery to try some wines made from the grapes of volcanic soil.  If you make it this far you are going to be more than 2 hours from Kona by car. You can continue up through Hilo to get home and it will be an original drive.  Leave early for this day as it is a long one. This is a good trip if you have a day full of rain. 

Day  6: Beach Day at Mauna Kea Beach or Hapuna Beach. These are right next to each other but Mauna Kea Beach is better. Do this early in your trip as you might want to do it again. The time I enjoyed Mauna Kea Beach while staying at the Mauna Kea resort, I cancelled all my planned hikes for the rest of the week just for more beach days. 

Kīlauea Iki Hike:  You walk across the floor of a dried up crater of a volcano.  It is still smoking sometimes. Hike is awesome. You follow the pile of rocks to find the other side. You have to do a fairly steep hike down to the Crater and then back up.

Kilauea Iki hike

It is in Hawaii Volcanoes national park and the entire hike takes about 3 hours. There are other cool things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park besides Iki so spend the day.

Volcano Winery

Volcano Winery Wines And Food

This is a fun winery to visit and it is located in a town called Volcano. The wine is decent and it is a cool place to do a tasting. The wine tasting costs $15 and it includes six 1-ounce pours. They also offer house made cheese platters and some estate tea and coffee tastings. There is not a lot nearby so make sure you get some food in you!

GPS Directions:


Hilo Hikes: I am including these because they are near Volcano national park which is near Hilo. (These can all be done in one day total for all). It rains about everyday in Hilo but it is worth stopping by for a day or two.  There are some great places to eat around town.

Akaka Falls State Park: Fun hike to view a huge waterfall from a distance. Research how to pay for parking. Bring cash.

Rainbow Falls: Park and walk a few feet to the waterfalls.

The Abandoned Zoo (free):  Not really abandoned but it is always empty. Cool place to walk around if you have kids…  There are animals but almost no other people there… kind of eerie.

More Hikes Around The Island:

Green Sand Beach: You park and then have to walk about 3 or 4 miles. It is a sandy hike to get to the green beach. Sand is green and it is a pretty cool beach. Not a beach you would spend more than an hour or two at but worth the adventure. You can hire a car in the parking lot to drive you for $10 each way.

Nearby: The southernmost point in the US. Cool cliff jumping spot and view.  Bring beers!  GPS: 18.911470100730664, -155.67670863407892

Two cool half day hikes at top of Island:

Pololū Valley LookoutQuick steep hike down and a fun beach/forest to explore. Nearby towns are cool.

Waipi’o Valley: Very steep long walk down to beach. Wild horses and cool black sand beach. Don’t look for waterfall. The trail is blocked. We tried. Not too much nearby but you could explore Waimea which is nearby and is a cowboy-ish town with good food.

Best Beach on the Big Island

The Best Beach on the island is Mauna Kea Beach.  The water and sand are perfect. However, there are only 5 public parking spots and a manned gate you need to get through. There are ways to talk your way through the gate such as reservations at one of the restaurants at the Mauna Kea hotel.  Then you can park at the hotel and just pay.

Otherwise you could park at another really nice beach (Hapuna Beach: State Recreation Area) and walk a mile to Mauna Kea Beach. Hapuna Beach is a pretty cool beach with decent parking.  But Mauna Kea is much better.

Bonus Adventure:

At the Mauna Kea Beach hotel, if you stay there until dark they put lights in the water and the manta rays come to the hotel.  They charge $100 a person to swim with them but we just brought our own snorkle gear and swam out from the beach. A few other people did this while we were there. The Manta Rays are huge and this is a very cool experience!

Best Hotels:

Westin Hapuna: New hotel with awesome beds and a super cool gigantic property with great pools.

Maun Kea Beach Hotel: THE place to stay on the Big Island.  A little dated in the rooms but the beach and their beach chairs are so relaxing. Pool sucks though.

Hilton Waikoloa hotel: Very cool property. Rooms can be cheap or nice depending on what you spend. The resort is awesome. Crazy pools and a bay you can snorkel in. Easy access to Dolphins.  Easy to spend a couple days here and not be bored.

Other Cool things to do on the Big Island:

Swim with Manta Rays: See above.

Mauna Kea Star Gazing: This is where all the big telescopes of the world are located because of how high up it is and how clear the skies are.  If the visitor center is open, they will set up a bunch of telescopes pointing at planets like Pluto, where you can see the rings, and Mars, etc.  It is cold but awesome.  You can also go to the very top near the telescopes, but you need a 4×4 and it is a bit of a crazy ride. There are some short hikes nearby if you get there before dark.

Coffee Plantation Tour:  Kona is the most valuable coffee in the world.  There are a lot of very cool plantations you can tour and do coffee “cuppings”

Kona Brewing:  I love their beer.  It was reasonably priced, and the food was really good. Try the pizza rolls for happy hour. Downtown Kona is busy and not that great. Parking is expensive. If you want to see downtown, then use Kona brewing as an excuse.

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