Swimming beside giant manta rays, gazing upon a glowing lava lake, and strolling along green sand are just some of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii you can experience on your visit!
Of all the Hawaiian islands, none offer more diverse, one-of-a-kind experiences than the Big Island. It is home to a variety of unusual ecosystems and natural wonders that are guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.
We visit the Big Island about once per year and never feel like we have enough time to see and do all that is available.
In this guide, we will present 101 of the best thing to do on Big Island, but don’t worry about being overwhelmed! For those short on time, we also feature an in-depth look at the top 10 absolute must-do activities along with tours, recommendations, and information for each.
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🏝 Top 10 Best Things to do On Big Island
What makes the items in this list so special and noteworthy is that they are truly unique things to do that can only be done on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Every one of the activities listed are sure to become lifetime memories 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, when applicable.
🤿 1. Swim with Manta Rays on a Night Snorkel or DIve
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!
🌋 2. Admire A Lava Lake at Hawaii Volcanoes NP
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 Kīlauea 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.
Pro tip: Bring your Annual National Parks Pass to get free access to the park.
🐬 3. Snorkel 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.
🏖 4. Discover Hawaii’s Only Green Sand Beach at Papakolea
Papakolea Beach derives its strange color from the olivine mineral, a byproduct of the volcanic activity of the Big Island.
This small cove is located in a remote region on the south coast of the island. Getting there can be a challenge, but the reward is the softest sand you will find 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 is sure to delight.
🌺 5. Attend Big Island’s Best Luau
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 and ears, as well as the stomach.
Several resorts in Kona offer luaus, however, the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau is widely considered the best luau on the Big Island, with spectacular ocean views.
🌌 6. Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea or Volcanoes NP
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. From these dark sky reserves, the naked eye can spot planets, countless stars, and even the Milky Way.
Use the button below to find the top-rated tours for viewing and/or photographing the night skies.
☕️ 7. Taste Kona Coffee at the Source
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
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.
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.
🗿 9. Walk Ancient Royal Grounds at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park
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.
Pro tip: Bring your Annual National Parks Pass to get free access to the park.
🌳 10. Explore the Rainforest and Waterfalls of 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.
🏄 Top 101 Best Things to Do on the Big Island
Below is a listicle look at the 101 best Big Island things to do.
As you will notice, the diversity of these unique activities are wide-ranging and an entire book could be dedicated to this topic alone.
We have already covered in detail the Top 10, most unmissable Big Island activities. Below is an extensive list of all the other items to consider adding to your Big Island itinerary.
The top 101 best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii are:
- Manta Ray Night Snorkel or Dive
- See a Lava Lake at Volcanoes National Park
- Snorkel the Coral Reef at Captain Cook Monument
- Visit a Green Sand Beach & Black Sand Beach
- Attend Big Island’s Best Luau
- Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea or Hawaii Volcanoes
- Take a Kona Coffee Tour
- Explore the Waipio Valley
- Visit the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Royal Grounds
- Chase waterfalls in the Hilo rainforest
- Look for humpback whales
- Find Akaka Falls
- Visit a War Temple at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
- Kayak to Captain Cook Monument
- See Petroglyphs at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
- Explore North Kohala by UTV
- Go horseback riding on Kohala mountain
- Watch the turtles at sunset from the Aiopio Fish Traps
- Visit Botanical World Adventures
- Walk and shop in historic Kailua-Kona Town
- Road Trip around the Hamakua Coast
- Discover historic Hilo and its thriving art scene
- Stay overnight in Volcano Village
- Taste the culinary delights of Pahoa town
- Discover a Marine National Monument at Papahanaumokuakea
- Tour through coffee country
- Learn about Polynesian culture at Polynesian Adventure ATV
- Reconnect with yoga on the beach
- Heal yourself withtraditional “laau lapaau herbal healing” at Waikoloa Resort Spa
- Take part in “May Day Lei Day”
- Golf a world-famous course in paradise
- Go hiking in the Waipio Valley
- Catch your dinner with a fishing charter
- Learn to surf
- Ride the waves on an ocean raft
- Take a sunset sail
- Learn to wind surf
- Go ocean kayaking
- Admire spinner dolphins (from 50 meters)
- Go paddle boarding
- Swim with turtles
- Go light-up paddle boarding at night
- Dive or snorkel the amazing Pawai Bay
- Discover King Kamehameha Country
- Time travel through Kona
- Explore an ahupua’a
- Drive the scenic road to Hawi
- Learn the ukulele
- Experience a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe
- Enjoy the spirit of the hula
- Zip line through the jungle
- Learn to dive
- Soar over the Pacific Ocean in a parasail
- Take a scenic helicopter tour
- Watch for “the green flash” at sunset
- Go skydiving over paradise
- Take a scenic fixed-wing flight
- Go hang gliding over the ocean
- Walk the historic Crater Rim Trail
- Learn to kitesurf
- Discover a private waterfall with Umahuma ATV Tours
- Wade in a tide pool at Kikaua Point Beach
- Tour an octopus farm
- Visit the only tropical rainforest zoo at the Hilo Zoo
- Wish on a rainbow at Rainbow Falls
- Photograph the Boiling Pots
- Explore Saddle Road
- Look for the Milky Way from Mauna Kea
- Attend a photo safari
- Learn about the world famous Hawaiian macadamia nut
- Roast your own Hawaiian coffee
- Enjoy dinner with a view at Canoehouse
- Attend a traditional, local “slack-key guitar” performance
- Go wine tasting in the tropics at Volcano Winery
- Taste traditional Hawaiian shaved ice
- Get your sweet tooth on at Big Island Candies
- Try the Hawaiian dish of poke
- Take a tree-to-chocolate tour
- Tour the world-famous Kona Brewery
- Picnic under coconut trees
- Stroll Waipio Black Sand Beach
- Visit the “Lone Palm”
- Look for an endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal
- Hike to secluded Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park
- Wade in the waters of Queens Bath
- Fall under the enchantment of Magic Sands
- Snorkel at Two-Step
- Learn to “snuba”
- Play the original, stone version of checkers at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Park
- Experience a Kona sunset
- Go craft beer tasting at local Ola Brewing Co.
- Go craft beer tasting at Big Island Brewhaus
- Find the hidden beaches of Puako
- Go shopping in Waikoloa Village
- Craft beer tasting at Hilo Brewing Co.
- Take a volcano tour
- Have a cocktail with a view from the Four Seasons Resort
- Discover the thriving, protected sea life at Kiholo Bay
- Read ancient stories at the Waikoloa Petroglyphs
- Walk the best beach on the Big Island at Hapuna Bay.
- Picnic on the beach at Kua Bay
🏊♀️ 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.
- Family snorkel tour to Captain Cook Monument
- Wade in the Queens Bath at Keiki Beach, Hawaiian for Kid’s Beach
- Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Attend Kona’s best luau
- Visit sea turtles at Aiopio Fish Trap (Alulua Beach)
- Picnic on the beach (recommend Hapuna Bay)
- Go on a whale watching cruise
- Explore the waterfalls of Hilo (Rainbow Falls, Peepee Falls)
- Do a tasting tour of Kailua-Kona
- 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:
- Wade with turtles at Aiopio Fish Trap
- Hike to Papakolea, Hawaii’s only green sand beach
- Snorkel at Two Step
- Take the short walk to Rainbow Falls
- Go stargazing at Mauna Kea
- Hike the Waipio Valley
- Swim with dolphins at Ho’okena (50m distance required by law)
- Find a secret beach at Puako
- Look for whales from the Kona or Kohala coast
- 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 🙂
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.
- The Perfect 7 Day Big Island Itinerary
- 5 Days on the Big Island Itinerary
- 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.