๐Ÿ“ธ 25 Best Places to Visit on Big Island for Epic Photos (2024)

Best Places to Visit Big Island Hawaii blog post cover image.  Text overlaying an image of lava bubbling at night at Kilauea Crater.

The Big Island of Hawaii is a truly unique destination, boasting erupting volcanoes, green sand beaches, and thriving underwater coral gardens.

Before becoming travel bloggers, we made our living as professional landscape photographers. Wherever we go, we are always looking for unique, picturesque natural wonders to photograph, and the Big Island of Hawaii has so much more than most people ever realize!

In this guide, we will provide photos, locations, and information on the top 25 best places to visit on the Big Island for photographers, nature lovers, and the casual visitor who wants to see it all.

These destinations include an active lava lake, a green sand beach, dolphin-filled coves, and so much more.


๐Ÿ Top 25 Best Places to Visit Big Island, Hawaii

At no cost to you, we receive a small amount for any bookings made using the links below.

๐ŸŒ‹ 1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Night photo of a glowing lava lake, one of the best places to visit on Big Island within 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 Kฤซlauea caldera.

When deciding what to see on Big Island, put a night visit to Volcanoes NP at the top of that list!

๐Ÿฌ 2. Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

A pod of spinner dolphins swim under our Sea Paradise tour boat while snorkeling at 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 by traveling to Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and hiking in from there, this approach requires a long hike and some major preparation.

The best way to explore the waters of Captain Cook Monument is by booking a snorkel tour, which will save considerable time and energy.

๐Ÿคฟ 3. Manta Ray Village

Underwater photo of a manta ray coming up to eat.

The manta ray night snorkel is the activity we most highly recommend everyone do on their visit on Big Island.

There is something spiritual about the experience that cannot be described; it simply has to be experienced.

Numerous operators provide tours to Manta Ray Village, a spot in the ocean near the Outrigger Kona Hotel & Resort (formerly the Sheraton).

We recommend Sea Paradise as the original and still the best provider. They also offer a manta ray guarantee.

๐ŸŒŒ 4. Mauna Kea Summit

Snowy Mauna Kea summit is one of the best places to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii

Did you know they get snow in Hawaii?!

Mauna Kea is one of Hawaii’s most awe-inspiring sights, particularly with a fresh snow dusting.

If you consider yourself adventurous, plan a trip to the summit of Mauna Kea for sunset. Then, after dark, venture to the Visitor Information Station to enjoy the best stargazing in all of Hawaii.

The summit is at 13,803 feet (4207m), and the temperatures can often be around 32ยบF/0ยบC. 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 also provide parkas and thick gloves to keep you warm, as well as snacks and water.

๐Ÿ– 5. Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Sophie poses in a swim suit on the shore of Papakolea Green Sand Beach, one of the best places to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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 much of Hawaii, this unusual sight owes its distinctive character to a volcanic origin. The olive-green sand gets its unique hue from the abundant olivine mineral.

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.

๐ŸŒ… 6. Hapuna Beach State Park

Cloud cover over Mauna Kea behind Hapuna Beach and North Kona from a drone.

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.

๐Ÿ–ค 7. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

A turtle rests on the shore of one of the best beaches on Big Island at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach during a magical sunset.

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.

โ˜€๏ธ 8. Kua Bay

Sunset on the white sand Kua Bay Beach in the Kona region of Big Island.

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.

๐ŸŒˆ 9. Waipio Valley Overlook

Drone photo of a waterfall spilling into the Pacific Ocean in the 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.

Waipio Valley Road has been closed to non-residents since 2022. However, it is now possible to visit Waipio Valley via a tour.

The Waipio Valley Lookout is still open to all.

๐Ÿ—ฟ 10. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

A traditional Hawaiian hut sits under towering palms on a sunny day at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, one of the best things to see on Big Island and a top historic site to visit.

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!

๐Ÿ’ฆ 11. Boiling Pots & Peepee Falls in Hilo

Photographing Peepee Falls on the wet side of the Big Island 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 location resembles Eden with its inviting green waters and lush vegetation, tempting visitors to lose themselves in nature and aloha.

๐Ÿ„ 12. Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park

Sophie Marland and a friend share a hammock at Makalawena Beach in Kona.

Kekaha Kai State Beach is home to two of the best beaches on the Big Island, Makalawena and Mahai’ula.

Reaching this postcard-worthy Kona shoreline requires a rough road and 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.

๐Ÿน 13. Waikoloa Beach

Drone photo showing the lagoon, beach, and shoreline of Waikoloa in Kona 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 สปAnaehoสปomalu 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.

๐ŸŒฟ 14. Kahuna Falls in ‘Akaka Falls State Park

A photo of Kahuna Falls in 'Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kahuna Falls is located in ‘Akaka Falls State Park and is probably the most visited waterfall on the Big Island.

It is accessible via a short 0.4-mile loop trail that leads to a picturesque overlook of this jungle falls.

The lush rainforest of Hilo provides a photogenic backdrop to this tall but slender cascade.

๐Ÿน 15. Mauna Kea Hotel Beach

One of the best beaches in Kona is Mauna Kea Beach, seen here with Mauna Kea hotel, tropical greenery, and beautiful white sand.

Mauna Kea Beach is considered by many to be the ultimate place to spend an entire Big Island vacation.

The Mauna Kea Hotel has created the perfect ecosystem for visitors whose idea of a Hawaiian holiday is to be on the beach with a beverage, without a care.

Even if this is not you, it is certainly worth scheduling an afternoon to soak in some sun on this white sand beach.

๐Ÿ›– 16. Kaloko-Honokลhau National Historical Park

A sunset photo of a fishing hut between two palm trees at Kaloko-Honokลhau National Historical Park, home of the Aiopio Fish Trap and one of the best places to visit on Big Island.

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.

๐Ÿ 17. Kailua-Kona Town

The beach outside of a hotel staying in the Kailua-Kona area on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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!

๐ŸŒˆ 18. Rainbow Falls

A photo of Rainbow Falls in the Hilo region of Big Island.

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.

๐Ÿฌ 19. Two-Step

Underwater photo of a Sophie Marland snorkeling while photographing tang fish at Two Step.

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.

๐ŸŒ… 20. Kikaua Point

Sunset photography capturing swaying palm trees in one of the best places to visit on Big Island at 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.

๐Ÿง— 21. Pololu Valley Lookout

Polulu Valley in the Kohala Forest Reserve is one of the most beautiful places to visit on Big Island.

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 is only accessible via tour, the Pololu Valley is open for exploration and features beautiful black sand beaches, lush greenery, and miles and miles of nature trails.

๐ŸŒด 22. Lone Palm

Adam Marland sitting under a tree at Lone Palm, considered one of the most photogenic places to visit on Big Island best things to see.

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 or inviting. Access requires a lengthy hike, and there is no sand- only pebbles. It is also a poor place to swim.

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 of photographability.

โœจ 23. Magic Sands

A busy day at the popular Magic Sands beach in south kona.

Magic Sands is the most popular beach in the Kona town area.

This is mostly due to its proximity to town and 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.

๐Ÿ 24. Ho’okena Beach

Drone photo showing the colorful tropical shoreline of Ho'okena Beach Park, one of the best beaches in Kona.

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 the pod of dolphins that typically swim by each morning.

While you cannot swim within 50m of them, they aren’t as familiar with Hawaiian laws and often will swim to you out of curiosity.

๐ŸŒบ 25. Carlsmith Beach aka 4-Mile Beach, Hilo

Carlsmith Beach is featured as one of the best beaches on the Big Island in the Hilo region and one of the best places to visit on Big Island.

The Hilo region is absolutely one of the best places to visit on Big Island, though the beaches 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.

๐ŸŒด Honorable Mention: Puako Bay

Travel blogger Sophie Marland is seen napping in a hammock under palm trees on the Big Island at Puako Bay Beach.

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.

This place deserves a look if you are interested in doing some postcard-worthy photoshoots, but the pictures tend to be better than the experience.

๐ŸŸ Honorable Mention: Kiholo Bay

Aerial photo of Kiholo Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii

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.

โ›ฑ More Places to Visit & Things to Do on Big Island

Big Islands most famous brewery is Kona Brewing Co.

If the 25 best places to visit on Big Island already featured aren’t enough to fill up your schedule, consider some of these other popular destinations as well:

  • Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm
    Conservation experts take visitors on a guided tour of a seahorse farm and marine life sanctuary.
  • Kona Coffee Living History Farm
    Coffee is important to most of us, but no one cares more deeply about it than the people at Kona Coffee Farm. Learn about its rich history and taste the divine bean at its source.
  • Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
    A 40-acre garden and nature preserve, the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is a nonprofit botanical garden that protects and showcases a vibrant floral world.
  • Kona Brewing
    Craft beer lovers may recognize this as the most popular and widely distributed beer from the Hawaiian islands.
  • Hilo Farmers Market
    Taste the freshest island fruit and vegetables in Hawaii and discover a different pace of life at the Hilo farmers market.

๐Ÿ“– Planning a Visit: Big Island Travel Guides

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

๐Ÿ’ฌ Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Visit on Big Island of Hawaii

Travel photographer Sophie Marland is seen swimming underwater with a sea turtle while snorkeling in the Big Island of Hawaii.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below ๐Ÿ™‚

We truly hope you have found this guide useful as you plan for your Big Island vacation.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

Was there anything you think we left off the list? Information that needs updating? Was it absolute perfection?!

Let us know your thoughts and help us help others by leaving a comment below!

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Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's โ€œChief Exploration Officerโ€ in 2021.

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