Cody standing on the beach on The Big Island of Hawaii by a palm tree.

23 Best Things to Do on the Big Island Right Now

Are you looking for the best things to do on the Big Island?

If so, you’re in luck, as we have done all the research and compiled a list of the top things to do on the island. From beaches and snorkeling to exploring volcanoes, there’s something for everyone.

With its diverse landscape and many activities, the Big Island is an excellent destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers.

Even if you’ve been here before, there is something new and exciting waiting for you around every corner. 

Don’t have time to read about all the activities on this list? No worries—we have shortlisted the top three things to do below to make things easy for you.

Our Top Picks

Manta Ray swimming in the ocean on The Big Island of Hawaii.

Snorkel with Manta Rays

Snorkeling with Manta Rays is a must-do activity in Hawaii, offering the incredible experience of nighttime encounters with these majestic, friendly, harmless creatures.

Cody zip lining in Hawaii with gorgeous lush scenery.

Zipline Over the Umauma River and Falls

Ziplining over the Umauma River and Falls is an exciting and thrilling adventure that allows you to enjoy incredibly breathtaking panoramic views of waterfalls and the surrounding natural beauty.

Fish swimming in the ocean during a snorkeling trip on The Big Island.

Snorkel at Captain Cook Monument

The Captain Cook Monument is the ultimate spot for snorkeling on the Big Island, providing the perfect chance to discover the underwater world, see different kinds of sea creatures, and learn about the monument’s important history.

Top Things to Do on The Big Island of Hawaii

(1) Manta Ray Night Snorkel or Dive

Not many places in the world offer the opportunity to swim with manta rays. On the Big Island, you can do just that! Imagine the thrill of being in the presence of these incredible creatures, witnessing their graceful movements up close.

The Big Island is home to a large population of manta rays, and going on a manta ray night snorkel or dive tour is the perfect way to experience their world.

It’s an adventure that will leave you with lifelong memories and foster a deep appreciation for the wonders of marine life. This is by far one of our favorite things to do on the island.

The best way to see these majestic creatures is with an experienced guide via a tour.

Manta ray swimming in the ocean on The Big Island of Hawaii seen during a snorkeling tour.
Manta Ray swimming in the ocean in Kona with gorgeous blue waters.

(2) Zipline Over the Umauma River and Falls

Prepare for an adrenaline-fueled adventure as you zipline over the Umauma River and Falls on the Big Island.

Ziplining high above the lush tropical landscape, you’ll take in breathtaking panoramic views of the cascading waterfalls and surrounding natural beauty.

Expert guides will ensure your safety and provide interesting tidbits about the area’s history and ecology.

Guests can choose from the 9-line, 2-mile zipline or tackle the 4-line zipline tour.

This zipline reminds us of our zipline adventures in Kauai with its stunning views and thrilling ride.

Cody hiking in Hawaii enjoying the gorgeous lush scenery.

(3) Snorkel at Captain Cook Monument

For the best snorkeling on the Big Island, head to the Captain Cook Monument off Kealakekua Bay. This area was declared a Marine Life Conservation District in 1969 and is home to many vibrant sea creatures, including green sea turtles and a large variety of fish.

The area has excellent visibility year-round, making it an ideal spot for snorkelers of all ages. Be sure to wear reef-safe sunscreen!

There are three main ways to get to the monument: 

Take a Boat Tour

If you don’t want to kayak or hike, a boat tour is the way to go. This is the fastest and easiest way to get to the monument.

Many tour companies offer trips to Kealakekua Bay, but make sure to choose a company that follows the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii guidelines. We recommend booking with Sea Paradise.


Kayaking takes about 15 to 25 minutes one way. The best way to get there is to join a guided tour. There are three companies that have been issued permits by the Division of State Parks to operate guided kayaking tours to the monument:

  • Adventures in Paradise
    • Deluxe Morning Kayak & Snorkel Kealakekua Bay
    • Deluxe Afternoon Kayak & Snorkel Kealakekua Bay
  • Aloha Kayak Co.
  • Kona Boys, Inc


The hike into Kealakekua Bay is 3.7 miles roundtrip and is considered intermediate. The trail is open, so you’ll want to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

We don’t recommend this option unless you just want to hike. The trail is not scenic, and you’ll be exhausted hiking back after a long day of snorkeling.

Fish swimming in the ocean seen during a snorkeling trip on the Big Island of Hawaii.

(4) Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

No trip to Hawaii would be complete without visiting the unique and incredible Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s a beautiful place to witness some of nature’s most powerful forces, explore lava caves, and hike through lush rainforest.

The park is home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Here you can see lava flow (when flowing), hike trails with unique and exciting views, such as the Crater Rim trail, explore steam vents and lava tubes, learn about Hawaii’s fascinating geology and more.

The drive to the park is about 2 hours from Kailua-Kona and 45 minutes from Hilo, so plan plenty of time for your visit here. We usually spend the day at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park while staying in Hilo. It’s one of the many reasons why we always say visiting Hilo is definitely worth it.

Me at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii enjoying the gorgeous views.
Hiking over a dried lava field
Me at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park enjoying beautiful ocean views.
Hōlei Sea Arch
Me about to enter the Thurston Lava Tube on The Big Island of Hawaii with lush scenery around me.
Thurston Lava Tube Entrance

(5) Visit the Mauna Kea Summit

The Mauna Kea Summit is one of the most popular attractions on the Big Island and is home to some of the world’s most advanced astronomy research facilities.

At the summit, you’ll be amazed by the surreal landscape above the clouds.

Whether you’re a stargazing enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a unique adventure, visiting the Mauna Kea summit promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you with a profound sense of wonder and appreciation for the beauty of our planet and universe.

Just remember to plan your visit accordingly, considering the altitude and weather conditions.

Note: a four-wheel drive vehicle is required to drive to the summit. Two-wheel drive vehicles are not allowed past the end of the paved road by the visitor center.

Cody and me at Mauna Kea Summit on The Big Island right before sunset.
Cody enjoying the gorgeous views at Mauna Kea summit on the Big Island.

(6) Take a Helicopter Tour

Taking a helicopter tour to witness the Big Island’s breathtaking beauty from a whole new perspective is one of the top things to do in Hawaii.

This experience is an adventure of a lifetime, allowing you to fly above dramatic volcanic landscapes, cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests, and pristine coastlines.

From the comfort of a helicopter, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the island’s diverse terrain, capturing stunning aerial photographs and memories that will last a lifetime.

Experienced pilots will guide you through the island’s most iconic landmarks, sharing interesting facts and stories along the way.

Whether it’s your first time in a helicopter or you’re a seasoned flyer, a helicopter tour offers a unique and unforgettable experience that shows the remarkable natural wonders of the Big Island.

(7) Enjoy Gorgeous Views at Waipi’o Valley Lookout

The breathtaking beauty and stunning views of Waipi’o Valley are not to be missed. This dramatic landscape has been part of the Big Island’s cultural history for centuries and is now a popular tourist destination.

The panoramic vistas from the lookout point are simply incredible, offering a glimpse into the raw and untouched nature of the Big Island.

From the lookout, you can see cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests, and cliffs. You can also watch vibrant waves crashing against the beautiful black sand beach.

The valley is no longer open (as of February 2022) to the public for safety reasons, but you can still enjoy the views from the lookout point.

Me enjoying gorgeous views of Waipio Valley from the lookout with views of the black sand beach and lush scenery.
Gorgeous views of Waipio Valley from the lookout with perfect blue waters and the black sand beach.

(8) Go Whale Watching

If you are lucky enough to visit the Big Island in winter (November to March), you must add whale watching to your itinerary.

Hawaii’s humpback whales migrate here annually, and it’s an incredible experience to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

The best time to go is during peak season, from mid-January through March, when they are most active.

There are many boat tours that take you around the ocean to watch these gentle giants. Here is an article we wrote about our favorite whale-watching tours in Hawaii.

Of course, you can also see whales while on land without a tour. The best places for whale watching from shore are along North Kona, North Kohala, and Hilo coasts. Many people have reported seeing whales before at Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site.

If you want to increase your chances of spotting a whale though, we recommend taking a tour.

Whale swimming in Hawaii seen during a whale watching tour.

(9) Spend a Day at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Arguably the best black sand beach on the Big Island, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a must-visit for anyone looking to explore some of Hawaii’s unique natural wonders.

Punalu’u is renowned for its resident honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles), often seen basking on the beach or swimming nearby. Make sure to respect their space and observe these magnificent creatures from a safe distance.

We usually go to Punalu’u after visiting the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park since it’s only a 19-minute drive from the park.

With its unique landscape, abundant wildlife, and serene ambiance, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a must-visit destination that promises an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and beach enthusiasts.

Note: the currents here can be strong, so practice safety when swimming.

The gorgeous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on The Big Island of Hawaii.
Me walking on the gorgeous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on The Big Island of Hawaii.

(10) Visit the Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach)

If you are looking for a fun adventure that will take you off the beaten path, visiting the Green Sand Beach is an absolute must!

Located near South Point, Papakolea Beach is one of the few green sand beaches in the world, boasting a distinctive olive-green hue created by the presence of a mineral called olivine.

You need to take a scenic 2.5-mile (one-way) hike to reach this gem. Unfortunately, the land between the parking lot and the beach is fragile and culturally significant, so driving a car is illegal as it damages the road and ruins the landscape.

There are, however, local operators that often advertise a “4×4” ride to the beach. This is reportedly illegal, though.

We took this hike, and yes, it was hot! But the stunning views of the coastline and crashing waves make it worth it. Bring plenty of water, a hat, reef-safe sunscreen, and sturdy shoes.

Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by beautiful sights—the contrast of the green sand against the deep blue ocean is breathtaking.

Note: the waves here can be rough and unpredictable, so please use caution when swimming.

Gorgeous view of the Green Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii with blue waters and people in the water.
Me enjoying gorgeous views of the green sand beach on The Big Island with some cliffs.

(11) Sample Kona Coffee

The Kona region of the Big Island is renowned for its ideal climate and volcanic soil, creating the perfect conditions for growing exceptional coffee beans. 

If you are a coffee lover, visit a local coffee farm or plantation to learn about the traditional coffee-making process and sample some of the world’s finest brews. 

We recommend taking a farm tour to get an up-close look at the production process and taste the various varieties.

Our favorite coffee tours are Kona Coffee Farm Tour and Hala Tree Coffee.

(12) Go to a Luau

No trip to the Big Island is complete without attending a traditional Hawaiian luau.

You will experience a spectacular show filled with dancing, drumming, music, and more while enjoying authentic local cuisine during the luau.

The Legends of Hawaii Luau and Hawaii Loa Luau are the top two luaus on the Big Island that we recommend. Book your reservation in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly!

Man preforming a fire dance show at a luau in Hawaii.


(13) Polulu Valley Lookout and Beach

Polulu Valley is one of our favorite places on the Big Island. The lookout offers stunning panoramic views of the valley and crumbling sea cliffs below.

Once you’re done taking in the views from the lookout point, you can go down to Polulu Beach. The hike is short (0.6 miles) but very steep and can get muddy after heavy rainfall. It took us about 22 minutes to reach the beach.

Once you get to Polulu Beach, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful black sand beach and spectacular cliffs.

The currents here can be strong, and we don’t recommend swimming here unless you are an experienced swimmer. Even so, don’t venture out too far.

We mainly come here to enjoy the views and relax. If you’re looking for one of the best spots on the island to watch a sunset, the Populu Valley Lookout is a fantastic spot.

Gorgeous views of Polulu Valley from the lookout with perfect blue waters and some cliffs.
The spectacular Polulu Valley with perfect blue waters, some cliffs and lush scenery.

(14) Spend the Day at Hapuna Beach or Mauna Kea (Kauna’oa) Beach

Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea Beach are two of the most stunning white sand beaches on the Big Island, offering a perfect day of sun, sand, and relaxation.

With its wide stretch of soft white sand and perfect turquoise waters, Hapuna Beach is a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling (when the water is calm), and sunbathing.

Mauna Kea Beach, located about a 17-minute walk from Hapuna Beach, is known for its picture-perfect white sand beach. During the summer, when the water is calm and the visibility is clear, this beach is a popular spot for snorkeling.

Mauna Kea Beach is also a popular location to spot manta rays at night. There is a lookout called Manta Ray Point, where you can spot them from the shore if you are lucky.

Note: Mauna Kea Beach is on the Mauna Kea Resort property, so you will have to pay for parking if you are not a guest. Parking is $20, and they only have 40 parking spots available. Parking is competitive, so get there early or park at Hapuna Beach and walk over to Mauna Kea Beach.

Gorgeous white sand beach and perfect blue waters at a Beach on The Big Island of Hawaii.
Perfect sunset on The Big Island of Hawaii on the beach.

(15) Explore Kaumana Caves

If you’re looking for a fun adventure, then Kaumana Caves is a must-visit. Located in Hilo, these lava tubes were formed during an eruption of Mauna Loa in 1881 and offer a unique glimpse into the island’s volcanic history.

The caves are conveniently located 10 minutes from Hilo town, so it’s easy to fit into your itinerary if you are already on that side of town.

The caves are easy to find and don’t require a guide. The hike is 0.5 miles roundtrip. Remember to wear sturdy shoes as the terrain is quite rocky. And, of course, bring a flashlight!

Cody entering Kaumana Caves in Hilo, on The Big Island of Hawaii.
A beautiful tree at Kaumana Caves in Hilo by the parking lot on The Big Island of Hawaii.

(16) Hike to Akaka Falls

The Akaka Falls Trail is a short, easy hike that takes you through the lush rainforest to a beautiful waterfall. As you make your way along the path, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking vistas and the spectacular sight of Akaka Falls plunging 442 feet into a pool below.

Take a moment to pause and appreciate this magnificent waterfall’s sheer power and beauty.

The well-maintained trail and viewing platforms are a safe and enjoyable experience for hikers of all ages.

This is by far one of our favorite waterfalls on The Big Island. If you are staying in Kona, it makes the drive to Hilo that much more worth it. Since they are close, we usually combine seeing Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls on one trip.

Cody hiking at Akaka Falls in Hilo on The Big Island of Hawaii with a gorgeous view of the waterfall.
Majestic views of Akaka Falls in Hilo Hawaii.

(17) Stop By Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is another must-see waterfall for anyone visiting the Big Island. Located in Hilo town, Rainbow Falls plunges 80 feet down a lava cave, offering stunning views.

The name “Rainbow Falls” derives from the rainbows that often form in the mist, adding a touch of magic to the scene.

While you are there, take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty from the viewing platform, which offers an unobstructed view of the falls and the lush surrounding foliage.

If you want to increase your chances of spotting a rainbow, visit in the morning.

With its accessibility (no hike required to see the falls) and stunning beauty, Rainbow Falls is a must on your Hilo itinerary.

Side note: Going to The Big Island and need recommendations on where to get malasadas? Our review has a list of the top places to get malasadas on The Big Island.

Cody admiring the gorgeous views of Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Hawaii.
Gorgeous views of Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Hawaii with a pool below.

(18) Visit the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park 

The Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, located on the south Kona coast, right next to Two Step Beach, is a must-visit site. It’s known as the City of Refuge and was once an important place for Hawaiians seeking refuge from punishment or death.

As you explore the park, you’ll encounter restored temples, fishponds, and carved statues that showcase the craftsmanship of ancient Hawaiian culture.

The coastline here is also stunning and offers beautiful views of the bay and surrounding landscape.

You can take a peaceful walk along the coast to enjoy the serene ocean views and rugged shoreline. You can also learn about Hawaiian customs and traditions through informative exhibits and signs.

We usually stop here before going to Two Step Beach to snorkel or relax.

Me at the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park taking a photo by the carved statues.
Cody walking around the the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on the lava rock.

(19) Visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

Located in Oneamea Valley, about 5 miles north of Hilo, this lush garden showcases a variety of exotic plants from around the world.

If you love nature and want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, this is a great place to visit.

You can take a leisurely stroll through the gardens and enjoy the scenery and beautiful views of tropical flowers, plants, streams, and waterfalls.

View of the ocean from the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve on the Oneamea Hike in Hilo.

(20) Explore Pahoa Town

Take some time to explore the charming town of Pahoa on the Big Island. This vibrant community offers a unique and laid-back atmosphere that embodies the spirit of old Hawaii.

We come here to wander through the colorful streets and discover an array of eclectic shops, local boutiques, and art galleries showcasing the talent of the island’s artisans.

There is also a diverse culinary scene, with many restaurants, food trucks, and cafes offering everything from farm-to-table delights to international cuisine.

If you are also on a tighter budget, Pahoa is a great place to stay. We have rented an Airbnb here multiple times and found lots of great deals.

Me entering a market in Pahoa Town on the Big Island.

(21) Liliuokalani Park and Garden

Named after Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, this park is a tribute to her love for gardens and is a perfect spot for relaxation, contemplation, and watching the sunrise.

Come stroll through the park’s meticulously manicured Japanese-style gardens filled with vibrant flowers, serene ponds, and graceful bridges. 

There are multiple benches to sit on and enjoy the beautiful scenery or a picnic surrounded by lush greenery.

Liliuokalani Park and Garden offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, inviting you to unwind and appreciate nature.

Cody taking a walk at Liliuokalani Park in Hilo Hawaii by the lake.
Cody taking a walk at Liliuokalani Park in Hilo Hawaii.

(22) Hike to Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach is one of the best white sand beaches on the Big Island and one of our favorite beaches in Hawaii. This secluded beach has miles of pristine white sand and beautiful turquoise waters, perfect for swimming when the water is calm.

The only downside is that there is no easy way to access this beach—you have to hike 2.7 miles total, but it’s worth the effort!

Once you’ve reached the beach, grab a spot under some shade and enjoy its natural beauty.

A 4WD is recommended for the drive, especially since most rental cars do not allow you to drive on the road that takes you to the Mahai’ula Beach parking lot. This is where most people park.

We usually rent a 4WD for part of our trip to explore locations that require one, such as Mauna Kea Summit and Makalawena Beach. After we are done, we rent a sedan for the remainder of the trip.

Cody running on the perfect white sand beach with blue waters at Makalawena Beach on the Big Island.
The perfect white sand beach with blue waters at Makalawena Beach on the Big Island.
Me in a Jeep we rented in Hawaii on the beach with views of some palm trees and blue water.
We rented this Jeep for 3 days only. This photo was taken at Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. 

Note: Some people drive the road with normal-sized and non-4WD vehicles. However, we also saw them struggling to drive through parts of the rough road. Can it be done without a 4WD? Yes, but is it worth the risk if you are renting the car? Probably not!

(23) Go to a Farmers Market

The Big Island is full of delicious local produce, and the most convenient way to get it all in one place is at the farmers’ markets.

Whether it’s fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, or prepared foods, you’ll surely find something you’ll love here! You can also pick up handmade souvenirs like jewelry and art.

Exploring the farmer’s markets is one of our favorite things to do when visiting the Big Island. We love trying all the different varieties of fruits and vegetables and bringing home some goodies to share with family and friends.

You can also find many other local treats like coffee, tea, honey, jams, sauces, and more.

The Ali’i Gardens Marketplace in Kona and the Hilo Farmers Market are two of the best markets on the island. Make sure to check them out if you get a chance!

Assorted fruits on a table at a farmers market in Hawaii.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Days Are Ideal on Big Island?

The Big Island is the largest of Hawaii’s islands, so it takes more time to explore all that it offers. We recommend staying for at least five days, but 7-10 days would be ideal if you have more time.

This will give you enough time to explore different areas of the island and experience both the Hilo and Kona sides.

How Long Does It Take to Drive Around Big Island?

Driving around the Big Island takes about six hours, from Hilo to Kona and back. Of course, that doesn’t include any stops or detours along the way.

We recommend slowing down and taking your time to explore each of the different areas and towns on the island. Kona and Hilo are so different, and both are worth visiting. This will make your experience more memorable and give you a deeper understanding of Hawaii Island.

What Are Some Unique Things to Do on Big Island?

The Big Island offers lots of unique experiences, from exploring green sand beaches to visiting active lava flows (if flowing). Here are some of the top things that you can only do on the Big Island of Hawaii:

  • Manta Ray Night Snorkel or Dive: This experience is a must-do on the island. You can witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat at night as they feed and swim around you.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: The landscapes here are just spectacular. If you are lucky, you may even see some lava flow if you visit during an eruption.
  • Mauna Kea Summit: You’ll be above the clouds, and you can even stargaze here after watching a perfect Hawaiian sunset.

Is It Worth Going to the Big Island?

Absolutely! The Big Island is full of unique experiences and beautiful scenery. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, there’s something here for everyone.

From swimming with manta rays to exploring the lush landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this island has so much to offer. And don’t forget its many white sand and spectacular black sand beaches!

Final Thoughts

The Big Island of Hawaii is one of our favorite Hawaiian Islands. From its diverse landscapes and natural beauty to its unique culture and delicious food, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Whether you’re looking for adventure or rest, the Big Island has something for everyone. So come explore—you won’t be disappointed!