🐬 101 Best Things to Do on Big Island: Bucket List for 2024

Best things to do on Big Island blog cover image.  Text overlaying an under/over image of dolphins swimming beneath a boat.

Swimming with giant manta rays, gazing at a glowing lava lake, and strolling along a green-sand beach are just some of our favorite things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

We have traveled to many magical places, but many of our fondest memories and most incredible experiences have come from the Big Island of Hawaii.

We visit the Big Island about once per year and still discover new things to see and do every time we come back.

In this guide, we will present the 101 best things to do on Big Island. We will start with the Top 10 must-do items for first-time visitors, then separate the remaining activities by type for easy browsing.

You will also find our top recommendations for tours when necessary.

🏝 Top 10 Best Things to do On Big Island

  • Underwater photo of a manta ray coming up for food on our night snorkel in Kona.
    1. Manta Ray Night Snorkel

What makes the items in this list so remarkable and noteworthy is that they are truly unique things to do that can only be done on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Each of the activities listed is sure to become a lifetime memory and remind you of your vacation in paradise.

For each item, you will find descriptions and direct links to the highest-rated companies that provide them.

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

🀿 1. Swim with Manta Rays on a Night Snorkel or DIve

Underwater photo of a manta ray coming up to eat captured during our night snorkel on Big Island.

It is hard to overstate the feeling of watching these ghost-like giants swimming toward you, then majestically rolling as they go belly-to-belly for a mouthful of dinner.

Of all the activities available on the Big Island of Hawaii, a night snorkel or dive with manta rays is the one true must-do.

No snorkeling experience is required! If you only book one tour on the Big Island, make it this one!

πŸŒ‹ 2. Admire A Lava Lake at Hawaii Volcanoes NP

One of the best things to do on Big Island is to witness the incredible lava lake at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, seen in this night photo.

It is impossible to witness a lava lake bubbling and flowing against the dark of night and not feel humbled by the savage power of Mother Nature.

Be sure to plan a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In particular, the lava lake within the KΔ«lauea Crater is an absolute must-see

While a tour isn’t necessary, it is the easiest way to find the best viewpoints, especially at night. This also means you won’t have to worry about driving back to Kona late at night.

🐬 3. Snorkel at Captain Cook Monument

A pod of spinner dolphins swim under our Sea Paradise tour boat while snorkeling at Captain Cook Monument.

Snorkeling is one of the best things to do on the Big Island, and Captain Cook Monument is considered the best on the entire island!

A resident dolphin pod is nearly certain to poke around, as are some friendly turtles as you explore an unbelievable coral garden.

Most tours will deliver you to a couple of incredible snorkel spots and provide breakfast and refreshments as well.

πŸ– 4. Discover Hawaii’s Only Green Sand Beach at Papakolea

A view of green sand beach, one of the best things to do on Big Island of Hawaii.

Papakolea Beach gets its strange color from the olivine mineral, a byproduct of the Big Island’s volcanic legacy.

This small cove is in a remote region on the island’s southeast coast. Getting there can be challenging, but the reward is the softest sand on the Big Island.

Whether you are an intrepid explorer wanting to see something marvelous or a casual vacationer needing a beach day, Papakolea Beach will surely delight you.

🌺 5. Attend Big Island’s Best Luau

Dancers perform at a traditional Hawaiian luau, one of the best things to do on Big Island

Attending a traditional luau should definitely be on your Big Island bucket list. Combining Hawaiian cuisine with dance, culture, and storytelling, it is a feast for the eyes, ears, and stomach.

Several resorts in Kona offer luaus. However, the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau is widely considered the best on the Big Island, with spectacular ocean views.

🌌 6. Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea or Volcanoes NP

A milky way photo we captured from the Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.

The Big Island is known for having the darkest skies in Hawaii, particularly at the elevated destinations of Mauna Kea and Hawaii Volcanoes NP.

City dwellers, in particular, will be amazed at the clarity and brilliance of our celestial world. The naked eye can spot planets, countless stars, and even the Milky Way from these dark sky reserves.

Use the button below to find the top-rated tours for viewing and/or photographing the night skies.

β˜•οΈ 7. Taste Kona Coffee at the Source

The best place to have coffee is fresh from the source in Kona.

Coffee lovers won’t need any further explanation as to why visiting a Kona coffee farm is a must-do item on any Big Island bucket list.

The volcanic soil and tropical climate of the Big Island combine to create ideal growing conditions for some of the best coffee in the world.

Go on a bean-to-cup tour on an active coffee farm and taste Kona coffee at the source.

🌴 8. Discover the Waipi’o Valley

Sophie Marland walks the stunning shoreline of Waipio Black Sand Beach on Big Island north shore, also known as Poiolu Valley Beach.

The remote, savage beauty of the north Waipio Valley is indescribable.

Widely considered the most beautiful region on the Big Island, the Waipio Valley is home to thriving greenery, thundering waterfalls, and volcanic black sand beaches.

*2024 Update*
Waipio Valley Road was closed to non-residents in 2022. However, it is possible to visit Waipio Valley via a tour.

The scenic Waipio Lookout is still open to all and provides spectacular views.

πŸ—Ώ 9. Walk Ancient Royal Grounds at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park

A sunset visit to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area in South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.

One of the best things to do on the Big Island is to immerse yourself in the rich culture and storied history of the native Hawaiian people.

Perhaps the best place to learn about the ancient times and beliefs of the natives is by visiting the royal grounds at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area, maintained by the NPS.

Few places in Hawaii offer more insight into a time slowly being forgotten and paved over than the royal grounds at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau.

🌳 10. Explore the Rainforest and Waterfalls of Hilo

Peepee Falls flowing through a beautiful valley in Hilo.

While most visitors are looking for the best Hawaii beaches, the Big Island also provides a unique rainforest ecosystem that will delight nature lovers.

Located on the Hilo side of the island is a thriving wetland with flowing rivers and waterfalls begging to be adored.

In particular, Rainbow Falls and Peepee Falls are considered two of the best waterfalls on the Big Island.

πŸ„ Top 101 Best Things to Do on the Big Island

Sophie is seen snorkeling with a sea turtle in the coral reef at Captain Cook Monument, one of the best things to do on Big Island of Hawaii.

We have already detailed the top 10 unmissable Big Island activities. Below is an extensive list of all the other items to consider adding to your Big Island itinerary.

As you will notice, the diversity of these unique activities is wide-ranging, and an entire book could be dedicated to this topic alone.

The top 101 best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii are:

  1. Manta Ray Night Snorkel or Dive
  2. See a Lava Lake at Volcanoes National Park
  3. Snorkel the Coral Reef at Captain Cook Monument
  4. Visit a Green Sand Beach & Black Sand Beach
  5. Attend Big Island’s Best Luau
  6. Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea or Hawaii Volcanoes
  7. Take a Kona Coffee Tour
  8. Explore the Waipio Valley
  9. Β Visit the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Royal Grounds
  10. Chase waterfalls in the Hilo rainforest
  11. Look for humpback whales
  12. Find Akaka Falls
  13. Visit a War Temple at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
  14. Kayak to Captain Cook Monument
  15. See Petroglyphs at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
  16. Explore North Kohala by UTV
  17. Go horseback riding on Kohala mountain
  18. Watch the turtles at sunset from the Aiopio Fish Traps
  19. Visit Botanical World Adventures
  20. Walk and shop in historic Kailua-Kona Town
  21. Road Trip around the Hamakua Coast
  22. Discover historic Hilo and its thriving art scene
  23. Stay overnight in Volcano Village
  24. Taste the culinary delights of Pahoa town
  25. Discover a Marine National Monument at Papahanaumokuakea
  26. Tour through coffee country
  27. Learn about Polynesian culture at Polynesian Adventure ATV
  28. Reconnect with yoga on the beach
  29. Heal yourself with traditional “laau lapaau herbal healing” at Waikoloa Resort Spa
  30. Take part in “May Day Lei Day”
  31. Golf a world-famous course in paradise
  32. Go hiking in the Waipio Valley
  33. Catch your dinner with a fishing charter
  34. Learn to surf
  35. Ride the waves on an ocean raft
  36. Take a sunset sail
  37. Learn to windsurf
  38. Go ocean kayaking
  39. Admire spinner dolphins (from 50 meters)
  40. Go paddle boarding
  41. Swim with turtles
  42. Go light-up paddle boarding at night
  43. Dive or snorkel the amazing Pawai Bay
  44. Discover King Kamehameha Country
  45. Time travel through Kona
  46. Explore an ahupua’a
  47. Drive the scenic road to Hawi
  48. Learn the ukulele
  49. Experience a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe
  50. Enjoy the spirit of the hula
  51. Zipline through the jungle
  52. Learn to dive
  53. Soar over the Pacific Ocean in a parasail
  54. Take a scenic helicopter tour
  55. Watch for “the green flash” at sunset
  56. Go skydiving over paradise
  57. Take a scenic fixed-wing flight
  58. Go hang gliding over the ocean
  59. Walk the historic Crater Rim Trail
  60. Learn to kitesurf
  61. Discover a private waterfall with Umahuma ATV Tours
  62. Wade in a tide pool at Kikaua Point Beach
  63. Tour an octopus farm
  64. Visit the only tropical rainforest zoo at the Hilo Zoo
  65. Wish on a rainbow at Rainbow Falls
  66. Photograph the Boiling Pots
  67. Explore Saddle Road
  68. Look for the Milky Way from Mauna Kea
  69. Attend a photo safari
  70. Learn about the world-famous Hawaiian macadamia nut
  71. Roast your own Hawaiian coffee
  72. Enjoy dinner with a view at Canoehouse
  73. Attend a traditional, local “slack-key guitar” performance
  74. Go wine tasting in the tropics at Volcano Winery
  75. Taste traditional Hawaiian shaved ice
  76. Get your sweet tooth on at Big Island Candies
  77. Try the Hawaiian dish of poke
  78. Take a tree-to-chocolate tour
  79. Tour the world-famous Kona Brewery
  80. Picnic under coconut trees
  81. Stroll Waipio Black Sand Beach
  82. Visit the “Lone Palm”
  83. Look for an endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal
  84. Hike to secluded Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park
  85. Wade in the waters of Queens Bath
  86. Fall under the enchantment of Magic Sands
  87. Snorkel at Two-Step
  88. Learn to “snuba”
  89. Play the original stone version of Checkers at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Park
  90. Experience a Kona sunset
  91. Go craft beer tasting at local Ola Brewing Co.
  92. Go craft beer tasting at Big Island Brewhaus
  93. Find the hidden beaches of Puako
  94. Go shopping in Waikoloa Village
  95. Craft beer tasting at Hilo Brewing Co.
  96. Take a volcano tour
  97. Have a cocktail with a view from the Four Seasons Resort
  98. Discover the thriving, protected sea life at Kiholo Bay
  99. Read ancient stories at the Waikoloa Petroglyphs
  100. Walk the best beach on the Big Island at Hapuna Bay.
  101. Picnic on the beach at Kua Bay

πŸŠβ€β™€οΈ Top 10 Big Island Things to Do With Family

If you have the little ones with you, you may be looking for Big Island activities you can all enjoy together!

These are the Top 10 things to do on the Big Island for families that are fun and appropriate for all ages.

  1. Family snorkel tour to Captain Cook Monument
  2. Wade in the Queens Bath at Keiki Beach, Hawaiian for Kid’s Beach
  3. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  4. Attend Kona’s best luau
  5. Visit sea turtles at Aiopio Fish Trap (Alulua Beach)
  6. Picnic on the beach (recommend Hapuna Bay)
  7. Go on a whale-watching cruise
  8. Explore the waterfalls of Hilo (Rainbow Falls, Peepee Falls)
  9. Do a tasting tour of Kailua-Kona
  10. Take a tree-to-chocolate tour

🐠 Top 10 Free Things to Do on Big Island

We get it; budgeting for a trip to Hawaii can get expensive! Luckily, there are a plethora of fun adventures and spectacular sights that you can experience for free!

The best free things to do on the Big Island are:

  1. Wade with turtles at Aiopio Fish Trap
  2. Hike to Papakolea, Hawaii’s only green sand beach
  3. Snorkel at Two Step
  4. Take the short walk to Rainbow Falls
  5. Go stargazing at Mauna Kea
  6. Hike the Waipio Valley
  7. Swim with dolphins at Ho’okena (50m distance required by law)
  8. Find a secret beach at Puako
  9. Look for whales from the Kona or Kohala coast
  10. Explore the historic towns of Kailua-Kona and Hilo

🌈 More 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 πŸ™‚

If you found this guide useful and want more help planning your Hawaii vacation, you will discover everything you could possibly need to know in the following Big Island travel guides.

Printable Hawaii Packing List
Click to get your printable Hawaii packing list.

We also have a few resources available to help relieve packing stress. 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:

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Written by
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 β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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