Including an active lava lake, a green sand beach, dolphin-filled coves, and more, you are about to discover the best places to visit and what to see on the Big Island of Hawaii.
In a state as beautiful as Hawaii, Big Island is the most diverse and unusual of them all. Scattered in such a small place are several unique ecosystems that give life to a variety of natural wonders and photogenic marvels.
Read on for photos, descriptions, and travel information for the top 25 best places to visit on the Big Island.
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Top 25 Best Places to Visit Big Island, Hawaii
1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Imagine walking the rim of a giant caldera while gazing into an active volcano as a lava lake bubbles and churns below.
This is the opportunity that awaits you on the Crater Rim Trail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
Few places in the entire world offer as unique and humbling an experience as the one that awaits you within the Kīlauea caldera.
When deciding what to see on Big Island, put a night visit to Volcanoes NP at the top of that list!
Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring your Annual National Parks Pass!
2. Captain Cook Monument
Considered the best snorkel spot on the Big Island, Captain Cook Monument is home to a resident dolphin pod, a handful of honu (Hawaiian for sea turtle), and an impossibly beautiful coral garden.
While this destination is accessible by land, getting there requires a long hike and some major prep.
If you are visiting Big Island on holiday with precious little time, the best way to explore the waters of Captain Cook Monument is with a snorkel tour.
3. Mauna Kea Summit
Did you know they get snow in Hawaii?!
Mauna Kea is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in all of Hawaii, particularly with a fresh snow dusting.
If you consider yourself the adventurous type, plan a trip to the summit of Mauna Kea for sunset and then venture to the Visitor Information Station after dark to enjoy the best stargazing in all of Hawaii.
The summit is at 13,803 feet (4207m) and the temperatures can often be around 32ºF/0ºC. Additionally, reaching the summit requires 4WD.
You may wish to consider booking a tour to Mauna Kea. By visiting with a tour you will have transport taken care of. Most tours will also provide parkas and thick gloves to keep you warm, snacks, and water.
4. Papakolea Green Sand Beach
One of the true must-see places to visit on Big Island is the remote, unusual gem known locally as Papakolea, but more commonly referred to as Green Sand Beach.
Like so much of Hawaii, this unusual sight owes its distinctive character to a volcanic origin. The olive-green sand gets its unique hue from the olivine mineral abundant nearby.
In addition to being a visual rarity, Green Sand Beach is one of the best places to visit on Big Island for a beach day as well. It is the softest sand you will find anywhere on the island.
5. Hapuna Beach
Nearly every visitor to Hawaii has one thing at the front of their mind and top of their to-do: beaches.
Hapuna Beach is widely considered the best beach on the Big Island.
Sheltered by Kohala Mountain, this stunning piece of paradise is a state-managed white sand beach with calm, tropical water and full facilities.
6. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
The Big Island is home to more black sand beaches than any other Hawaiian island. Among them, the most impressive and beautiful is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.
You will find this oasis and turtle sanctuary near Papakolea (Green Sand Beach), mentioned above. If you are planning a visit to one, you will definitely want to include the other on your Big Island itinerary too.
What makes Punalu’u so impressive is the lush, vibrant greenery that lines the jet-black shore.
This interesting juxtaposition of dark and colorful, along with the thriving population of sea turtles that frequent the shores, make it one of the best places to visit on Big Island.
7. Kua Bay
Kua Bay is arguably the best beach on the Kona side of the island, though Hapuna tends to receive that award.
Rankings aside, visitors will discover a quiet, idyllic cove with powdery-soft white sand and tropically-colored water.
If possible, plan your visit to coincide with sunset as Kua Bay provides a particularly impressive scene to savor a Hawaiian sunset.
8. Waipio Valley
The Waipio Valley might just be the most stunning region of the Big Island. Every new vista feels like discovering a lost land where dinosaurs may yet roam.
Unfortunately, as of 2022, the access road to Waipio Valley has been closed to non-residents. However, it is hoped that it will be reopened following road repairs and, in the meantime, the viewpoint is still accessible.
Additionally, scenic helicopter tours are still available. This is one of the most enjoyable things to do on Big Island and offers a unique insight to Hawaii’s diverse landscapes.
9. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Among the list of what to see on Big Island and the best places to visit, none provide as immersive an experience as the one found at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.
The culture and history of Hawaii is a rich tapestry. Nowhere on the Big Island is this more beautifully brought to life than at the ancient Royal Grounds now protected and preserved by the NPS.
Walk amongst a palm tree haven while learning about a time not so long ago when Hawaii was a very different place.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring your Annual National Parks Pass!
10. Boiling Pots & Peepee Falls in Hilo
The Hilo region of Big Island is most renowned for its rainforest and natural beauty.
Of all the places to visit in Hilo, Peepee Falls is the most beautiful of them all. While Akaka Falls may be the most famous waterfall in the area, we rate Peepee even higher.
This stunning location feels like a picture of Eden. It features inviting green waters surrounded by lush vegetation that beckon like the forbidden fruit, enticing visitors to lose themselves in nature and aloha.
11. Makalawena Beach
Kekaha Kai State Beach is home to two of the best beaches to visit on the Big Island in Makalawena and Mahai’ula.
Reaching this postcard-worthy Kona shoreline requires a rough road and some walking over lava rock, but it is worth all the effort.
Awaiting visitors who make the trek are abundant palm trees, white sand, and contrasting lava rock, all of which come together for one of the most photogenic scenes you will visit on the Big Island.
Waikoloa is located along the Kohala region on the north coast of Kona. It is widely considered the best place to stay on Big Island as this region features most of the best beaches and resorts available.
If your time to explore is limited, make sure to see Waikoloa Beach, aka A-Bay (short for ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay).
A spit of pristine white sand separates a large lagoon from a calm cove that feeds into the Pacific Ocean. It is a great place to visit on Big Island with families, or for a relaxing day on the beach.
13. Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park protects a beautiful, shallow-reef cove that is excellent for fishing.
It is most known, however, for the thriving turtle population that lives and eats just off the shore of the Aiopio Fish Trap. Visitors on their first trip to Hawaii are all but guaranteed their first turtle sighting at Kaloko-Honokohau.
For a little extra magic, attempt an evening arrival. This is one of the best places to visit on Big Island for sunset, when the turtles bob about the water enjoying dinner under a beautiful red Hawaiian sky.
14. Kailua-Kona Town
Most of the items on the What to See in Big Island List are natural wonders, and perhaps a historic or cultural site in between.
Kona town is the most modern thing on the list, but just as deserving as any other.
Kailua-Kona is the major city on the Big Island, if it can be called a city. It is where you will find a mix of old Hawaii, local artisan shops, modern conveniences, and yes, even some beautiful white sand beaches along the road!
15. Rainbow Falls
Despite the name, seeing a rainbow at Rainbow Falls is far from a given!
Even when the Rainbow State fails to deliver, a trip to this beautiful jungle waterfall will always be worth it.
Rainbow Falls is located near Hilo and is one of the most popular places to visit in the area.
16. Puako Bay
Puako Bay is a hidden gem on the Big Island… for the eyes, anyway.
A palm tree grove lines a lava-rock and coral shoreline, making for beautiful scenery but rather uncomfortable beach-going.
Two Step is the best free, accessible snorkel spot on the Big Island. It is located directly adjacent to the Royal Grounds of Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.
There is not much to see from land, but the underwater world here is one of outrageous beauty.
This calm cove shelters an array of colorful and extravagant coral blossoms, vibrant tropical fish, and is even home to a resident pod of spinner dolphins.
18. Kikaua Point
Kikaua Point may just be the best place to visit on Big Island for sunset.
Located at the south end of Kukio Beach in Kona, Kikaua Point offers swimmable tide pools that are perfect for small children. For this reason, locals often refer to it as “Keiki Beach”, which means kids’ beach.
Just behind the lava rock-lined natural pool are soaring palm trees that will make you think you’ve fallen asleep and woken up on a Hawaii vacation brochure cover.
19. Beach 69
Beach 69 is another one of the best places to see on Big Island if you are interested in snorkeling specifically.
This is one of the few places where you can comfortably walk from shore to reef and discover an underwater planet teeming with life.
20. Pololu Valley Lookout
The Kohala Forest Reserve is home to two stunning valleys that are a dream come true for trekkers and nature lovers visiting the Big Island.
While the Waipio Valley is considered the more scenic of the two, its beautiful western counterpart of Pololu Valley should not be underestimated.
While the Waipio Valley remains closed, the Pololu Valley is open for exploration and features beautiful black sand beaches, lush greenery, and miles and miles of nature trails.
21. Lone Palm
The aptly named Lone Palm Beach is a lava rock, black sand beach known for one lonely palm that has managed to grow and survive in a seemingly impossible place.
The beach is not particularly soft nor inviting. Access requires a lengthy hike, there is no sand but instead only pebbles, and it is a poor place to swim as well.
So why is it on the list of what to see on Big Island? Well, in short, because it is one of the most Instagrammable places on the Big Island.
What Lone Palm lacks in comfort, it makes up for in measures with photographability.
22. Magic Sands
Magic Sands is the most popular beach in the Kona town area.
This is mostly due to its proximity to town, but also because it is just a lovely beach to pack in for the day while having restaurants and facilities nearby.
To be clear, Magic Sands is fairly small and often crowded which can turn some people off. However, few if any beaches on the Big Island are as accessible as this one, and only a handful have the same tropical, aloha vibes.
23. Ho’okena Beach
Ho’okena Beach is known mostly by the locals, but is one of the best places to visit on the Big Island for anyone willing to get off the beaten path.
This grey-ish beach has softer sand than most beaches of the young Big Island. Picnic tables, restrooms, and shelters are available for small group events.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit Ho’okena Beach is that each morning, a pod of dolphins typically swim by. While you are not allowed to swim within 50m of them, they aren’t as familiar with Hawaiian laws and often will swim to you out of curiosity.
24. Carlsmith Beach aka 4-Mile Beach, Hilo
The Hilo region is absolutely one of the best places to visit on Big Island, though the beaches mostly leave a lot to be desired.
In an area more renowned for its rainforest, waterfalls, and natural beauty, the one beach to add to your must-see on the Big Island list is Carlsmith Beach, also known as 4 Mile Beach.
25. Kiholo Bay
In one of the remote parts of the Kona coast lies Kiholo Bay; one of the most beautiful, albeit least comfortable, beaches on Hawaii.
Rather than sand, stone pebbles make up the shoreline which creates a less-alluring beach day destination.
However, Kiholo Bay makes the list of what to see on Big Island due to its aesthetic beauty and the incredible underwater life that inhabits this protected cove.
Planning a Visit: Big Island Travel Guides
If you are reading this because you are planning a vacation, you may want to browse some of our most popular Big Island travel guides below.
These useful resources will help you learn everything you need to know, plan, and prep prior to arrival.
- The Perfect 5-7 Day Big Island Itinerary
- 101 Best Things to Do on Big Island
- Where to Stay on the Big Island: Best Areas, Hotels, & Resorts
- How to Plan a Visit to the Big Island from Start to Finish
- Top 25 Best Beaches on Big Island
- Big Island Photography Guide
- Kona’s Best Beaches Guide
We also have a few resources available to help take the stress out of packing. Regardless of whether you are a seasoned travel veteran or a novice preparing for your first Hawaiian vacation, you will find value in these packing guides:
- Hawaii Packing List: Printable checklist + 25 items you haven’t thought of.
- Travel Packing Tips: 15 tips to ensure everything goes smoothly for your holiday.