Big Island Travel Itinerary & Tips to Make The Best of Your Big Island Hawaii Vacation
There are so many unique activities on Hawaii Big Island to see and do. Make the best of your Big Island Adventure by using this guide to plan out your trip. We are conveniently located in a great location to do day trips to many locations.
There are also a lot of tips to help you while you’re planning your trip. Since a lot of information on the internet is misleading, we have created this page to help you get the most out of your Big Island Hawaii Vacation! Most people book their hotel in Kailua-Kona and do not realize how far they have to drive to see everything on the Hilo, Puna and Kau side of the island.
Disclaimer: If you want to sit on the beach or by the pool with a Mai Tai, this itinerary page is NOT for you! Also, this page is constantly being updated to help give you the best information on planning your trip.
Visit Hawaii’s #1 Attraction!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open! Come see the amazing new summit caldera! There was huge changes that occurred in the park during May – August, 2018. Now you can come and experience the new vibes and all the changes that has occurred in 2018. The Hawaii Volcanoes national park reopened on September 22nd 2019. Park fees apply.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is HUGE and stretches from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa (13,000 ft!). It encompasses a wide range of ecosystems and climates and can take a couple days to fully explore, especially for those avid hikers and national park enthusiasts. The absolute best place to start your National Park adventure is at the Kilauea Visitor Center. They provide excellent driving maps and information, and offer free ranger-guided activities.
Suggested Itinerary per day on the Big Island:
You can spend one full day exploring Hilo on the Big Island . In Hilo is the famous “Mauna Loa” Macadamia Nut Factory where you drive through a 3 miles of nut orchards to get to the visitor center. Visiting historic Hilo Town gives you a sense of the small town vibes here in Hilo. This includes checking out the Farmer’s Market, checking out unique shops and restaurants at Bay front.
Just up the road from Downtown Hilo is Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots. These are two different spots along the Wailuku River. Continuing up Kaumana drive, you will get to the Kaumana Caves. This is a park where you can freely explore a big lava tube! Bring some light. Connected to the UH Hilo campus is the Imiloa Astronomy Center who has a great planetarium show!
Hilo Bay front and Hilo Beaches
Just past the Hilo airport, you can turn right into Keaukaha. Keaukaha has a bunch of little areas along the ocean that are beautiful! There is a popular beach park called Richardson’s Black Sand Beach (among other beaches) where you can perch and enjoy the beach. Down the road you can drive through the Old Banyan Drive over to Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens along Hilo Bay.
The Liliuokalani Gardens is a beautiful park with lots of picnic tables to enjoy a lunch on the Hilo Bay. There is also a large park right on the Hilo Bay known as “Bay front”. In the afternoon, canoe paddlers station their practice here, so if you want to see canoe paddling in real life, check it out! Don’t forget to cross singing bridge, driving a few more minutes will take you to check out the waves at Honolii Beach Park.
A really great spot for dinner in Hilo is called “Moon and Turtle“, a locally owned restaurant with a small, changing menu. If you’re looking for the freshest fish in Hilo, go straight to Suisan Fish Market. You can get a poke bowl (pronounced po-kay) with delicious raw fish. They also have other side dishes and delicacies. Hilo’s Farmers market has a great local variety including food trucks and local snacks.
You can spend a full day to visit the East Portion of the Big Island. This includes visiting the East Point of the Island (Kumukahi), Kapoho Tide Pools, Champagne Pond, Ahalanui Warm Pond, Lava Tree State Park, Issac Hale Beach Park (Pohoiki) and Boat Ramp, Walking out to Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Snorkeling at Waiopae Fish Reserve, and on Wednesdays there is the big night market with food and entertainment at Uncle Roberts Awa Bar.
You can spend one full day exploring the South Portion of the Big Island. This includes hiking out to the Green Sand Beach (Papakolea), seeing the scenic Southern Tip of the Island (Kalae; South Point), the famous “Punalu’u Bakery” for delicious treats in Na’alehu town, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to see turtles, and Ka’u Coffee Mill in Pahala town.
A portion of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park known as “Kahuku” is open from Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. At Kahuku, there are about 5 different hikes to do. Some days you can catch the rangers for a guided hike, check ahead for their schedule of guided hikes here.
Another Must See in the Kau district is the Green Sand Beach. Since this is uncommon, there are only 4 green sand beaches in the world! You could hiking out (or driving if you have a 4WD vehicle) to the Green Sand Beach. The sand is actually made up of small, green olivine crystals that is brought up from the inside of the earth through a big lava eruption.
See the Southern Most Point and the Southern Most Town in USA
In that same area, you can see the Southern Tip of the Island and USA (known locally as Kalae, South Point). From here you can cliff jump into the Pacific Ocean at your own accord.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Another great, must-see spot in the southern portion of Big Island is the Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Here you may see Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) or Endangered Hawksbill turtles (honu ‘ea) basking on the black sand. Punalu’u Beach Park has restroom facilities as well as showers to rinse off.
Did you know that Kau Coffee is Hawaii’s Most Underrated Coffee Crop? For those coffee lovers out there, stop by the Ka’u Coffee Mill in Pahala town, and see an article published by Hawaii Magazine here.
Plan to spend a full day exploring the 40 miles between Hilo and Waipio Valley that make up the Hāmākua coast. The spectacular waterfalls and incredible canyons lined by lush rain forest will make you want to stop at every overlook! Don’t forget your camera, and enjoy the extremely scenic drive of beautiful Hamakua coastline. There is a lush, 4 mile scenic drive where you can slow down and enjoy the views. Pullovers will show views of waterfalls and rivers. In Honomu, you can turn up that road to get to Akaka Falls. This is one of the most famous waterfalls on island with a short walk to get to the viewpoint.
Continuing along the Hamakua coastline…
There are many historic towns, including Laupahoehoe. You can visit the Laupahoehoe Train Museum and even drive down to the Laupahoehoe Point Beach park for stunning views with a tragic past. Next is the Kalopa State Recreation Area where you have beautiful Native scenery and a beautiful forest trail, also a nice spot for a picnic lunch. Next on Hwy 19 will be Tex’s Drive in for the best malasadas (Portuguese bread dessert) and out to the Famous Waipio Overlook for beautiful views of the valley and bay. For those avid hikers, Waipio valley is the steepest road in the United States. For those up for and intense adventure, you can run or hike the 20 mile trip from Waipo all the way to Waimanu and back, some people even do it in one day! There is a beautiful black sand beach in the valley.
Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, if you are counting from the sea floor. Its height is 33,500 feet (10,210 meters), nearly a mile taller than Mt. Everest. You need either one morning (for sunrise) or afternoon/evening (for sunset and star gazing) to see Mauna Kea. From Hilo side, you follow HWY 200 (Saddle Road) for about 30 minutes to the Mauna Kea Access Road. Follow that road for another 15 minutes and you will arrive to the Mauna Kea Information Station. Driving to the summit from the visitor center will take another 30-40 minutes, where you can see the different observatories, and get a view from above the clouds. In the evening, the visitor center does star gazing from 6pm – 10pm. Check out more about sunset at Mauna Kea summit here.
Hawaiian Cultural Connection
Mauna Kea is short for its original name, Mauna a Wakea, or “Wakea’s Mountain” In Hawaiian culture, Wakea is known as the great expanse of the sky. In other cultures he is known as “Sky Father”. It was said that this was Wakea’s Mountain because it was so tall it connected the sky and the earth. From the summit you are above the clouds, many people like to watch the sunrise or sunset from here.
Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone
If you have some extra time before or after visiting Mauna Kea, there is a really cool trail called Puu Huluhulu. The parking lot is just across the Mauna Kea Access Road. You follow the trail up a forested cinder cone where you can get 360 degree views of the area. It is also an amazing viewpoint to see how the lava flowed right around the cinder cone. Additionally, there are many native plants complete with songs of native birds in this area.
Walk in the Footsteps of a King, Explore Kohala, Hawaii
You can spend a full day exploring the vast Kohala district. This is where King Kamehameha was born and raised. It is “country” out there, so do not expect a large city.
Puu Kohola National Historical Site
In Kohala you can see one of the impressive structures built and created by Kamehameha and his people. This structure, called Puu Kohola, was built using a human chain passing rocks from Pololu Valley. It is one of the last structures built before Western Influence in Hawaii, built without using mortar.
If you drive to the end of the road in Kohala, you will arrive to Pololu valley with another beautiful black sand beach. The hike into Pololu is about a half mile with a 300′ elevation change. The trail has switch back trails, making it easy to hike in, as long as you do not have any walking problems. The beach is beautiful and pristine. You can stop in Kohala town to see the memorial statue of Kamehameha in his home town.
Another cool thing only available in Kohala would be to take a Kayak Tour with Flumin’ Kohala. This experience gets you into the “Kohala Ditch” which was hand drilled and blasted to provide water to Kohala town. This offers you a rare opportunity to explore this remarkable hand-wrought wonder and the pristine Hawaiian landscapes it crosses.
Waimea “Cowboy” Town
Stopping in Cowboy Town Waimea is a great place to stop for food if you don’t have a picnic lunch planned. There are many shops and restaurants in Waimea. Another huge part of Waimea is the paniolo or cowboy culture. You can stop by Parker Ranch where they do horseback riding, hunting and self guided tours. They are open Monday – Friday, 8am – 4pm.
- Kilauea Volcano is the Most Unique and Biggest Tourist Attraction in Hawaii
- Majority of the tourist attractions are on the East Side of the Big Island (It is easier to drive to Kona for a day trip instead of wasting 6+ hours driving to East Side daily)
- Allow at least three nights to see East Side of the Big Island, 4-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary
- The primary things to see in Kona is the City of Refuge (Puuhonua o Honaunau) and Puukohola Heiau (North of Kona).
- If you need to stay in Kona because of a late/early flight in or out, try our friends at the Kona Tiki Hotel (reserve far ahead). For a last minute reservation, try the cheap Manago Hotel for a taste of old funky Hawaii
Explore the Artsy Historic Volcano Village
Historic Volcano Village is a cute, artsy village. There are many in-home galleries as well as some business ones. Next door to us is a world heritage site called “Volcano Garden Arts” where the art selection ranges from fresh, fun collectibles to works of significant impact, from pocket-sized to larger-than-life.
Volcano Art Center
Down the road from Volcano Inn is the beautiful Volcano Art Center. They have an amazing Native Hawaiian Rainforest Loop trail, which is available to do at your own leisure.
They offer guided hikes on this loop trail on Monday mornings at 9:30am. There are also daily events and free Hawaiian cultural workshops or hula shows on Fridays. Additionally, Rangers are scheduled at the VAC from Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm to answer questions and relay current eruption information.
Just a mile south, there is the Volcano Winery and they do tours of their property too. Also in that area is the Volcano Golf Course where people watched the ash events at the summit.
Akatsuka Orchid Garden
About 5 minutes from us is the incredible Akatsuka Orchid Gardens where they have a huge selection of different orchids and the worlds first ever Orchid Maze. Learn more about the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens here!
Since Volcano is located at 3,800 ft elevation level, it tends to be 10-15 degrees cooler than Hilo. Temperatures can range throughout the year anywhere between 45 degrees F in the winter to 78 degrees F in the summer. There is about 100+ inches of rainfall per year in this area. We love the rain here! It provides us with all the water we use to keep our business running. Bring a light raincoat and enjoy the natural beauty of the rain forest.
Food Recommendations in Volcano Village Area
- TukTuk Thai Food Truck
Open Tuesday – Saturday
11AM – 6PM
- Ohelo Cafe
Open Wednesday – Monday
5:30PM – 8:30PM
- Eagles Lighthouse Cafe
Open Monday – Saturday
7AM – 5PM
If you want to know more about what to do on the Big Island, check out Top 33 things to do on the Big Island & Big Island Hawaii Map.
If you need an accommodation as your home base while you tour around the Big Island, check out Volcano Inn or Top 10 reasons why you should stay at Volcano Inn. It sits atop of Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano. Nestled amidst the Hawaiian rain forest, Volcano is famous for its picturesque beauty. The different rooms will give you a lush experience of Hawaii forest.
Transportation: We recommend getting a rental car during your Big Island stay. There is a public bus system, but it is very limited and unreliable. There are also taxi services like Uber & Lyft, which can get pricey and be undependable in more remote areas.
- Top 33 things to do on the Big Island
- 4 day trips you can take during your stay at Volcano Inn
- Big Island Itinerary (5 Days)