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15 Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii: Volcanoes, Black Sand Beaches, and More!

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The island of Hawaii is arguably the best Hawaiian island and one of the best places to vacation. The natural beauty will melt your stress away as soon as you step foot on the island. This island is a great spot for all types of visitors. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the green luscious forests, black lava fields, and of course, the ocean’s calm water.

When you’re exhausted from visiting the best white sand beaches and exploring the Hawaiian culture, it won’t be hard to find mouthwatering food to top off your day. This is the perfect vacation for groups, family, or a romantic getaway for a couple. Keep reading to find out the 15 best things to do on the Big Island, Hawaii!

When to Visit the Big Island, Hawaii

Is there ever really a wrong time to visit Hawaii? There’s an incredibly diverse amount of agriculture and activities that would appeal to just about any type of traveler. On average, Hawaii is tropical and warm throughout the year, with the average temperatures varying from 69°F to 86 °F.

The temperature doesn’t often drop below 65°F, but it can get chilly at higher elevations. So if you’re planning some evening adventures to some of the summits, I suggest packing a little heavier for that!

The months of November and March are considered the rainy season, but the rain is typically concentrated in one region, so you wouldn’t have to travel far to find a sunny spot to hang out!

As expected, the island gets a bit more crowded during the months of June and July, because people are planning their summer vacations. So if you’re hoping to avoid the crowds and still get beautiful sunny weather, I suggest going during April, May, August, or September!

Not sure where in Hawaii you want to vacation? Check out this awesome guide for the top things to do in Maui.

Getting Around the Big Island, Hawaii

The island of Hawaii is big, so you want to have a game plan for how you’re going to get around. Renting a car is going to be the most convenient option for you if you plan to venture outside of your resort and explore the island. 

Hertz is a reliable company to rent a car from, but if you like to compare prices, you can do that here. You want to have your transportation arrangements set up before your arrival, so be sure to book in advance.

If this is your first time on the island and you’re not comfortable with driving yourself in an unknown area, taxis and Ubers are always an option. However, these can get expensive so if that’s your plan be sure to budget for it so that you don’t have to compromise on the activities you want to do. 

Also planning a visit to Oahu? Check out the best things to do in Oahu here.

red jeep sitting amongst brush and palm trees on the side of the road next to the ocean in hawaii

Top Things to Do on the Big Island, Hawaii

There is something to do for everyone on the Big Island of Hawaii, so don’t worry. Whether you’re a family, a couple on a romantic getaway, or traveling solo, there is something for everybody!

The Big Island is super popular, you want to pre-book activities as best as you can, especially if you’re visiting during the high season. My advice is to identify which activities you definitely don’t want to miss out on and pre-book those so that you don’t end up disappointed. Keep reading to see the top 15 things to do on Hawaii’s Big Island.

1. Night snorkel with the peaceful manta rays. 

Bring your sense of adventure and night snorkel with the manta rays gliding beneath you. One of the most beautiful places to experience this is going to be right off of the Kona coast. On your journey out to the manta site, you can enjoy a beautiful sunset before immersing yourself in the water and observing these amazing creatures swooping just below you.

It is truly an amazing experience snorkeling with the manta rays during the evening. Manta rays feed on plankton and when you create an alternative light source, it attracts the plankton. This gives visitors the perfect opportunity to observe the manta rays feeding in their natural habitat. 

If you’re lucky maybe a manta ray will barrel roll right up and greet you personally – but try not to touch them. It can disorient them and throw them out of their natural element. 

Book an incredible snorkeling experience with manta rays here.

manta ray swimming in the open ocean best things to do big island hawaii
Images provided by the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau

2. Take in Hawaii’s incredible scenery with a ziplining tour.

If you’re not afraid of heights and love the thrill of adventure, you may want to book a ziplining tour. Feel the wind on your face and appreciate Hawaii’s beautiful agriculture as you’re soaring through the lush tropical greenery. 

Most ziplining tours offer incredible sights that you normally wouldn’t get to experience. One ziplining tour takes you right over the 250 ft KoleKole waterfall!

Ziplining is an activity for any kind of traveler. This is a perfect way to create amazing memories with family and friends. No experience is required and it’s not a physically challenging activity – so it truly is an incredible experience for anybody to enjoy.

Book your exhilarating ziplining experience here.

3. Dazzle at the stars on a volcano stargazing tour.

Okay, night owls – this one’s for you. Looking at the stars has always been a romantic activity for couples and perfect for solo travelers and families. Don’t miss out on your chance to stargaze while taking in some of Hawaii’s most mesmerizing sights! 

You may be lucky enough to visit while Kilauea is erupting. Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. If you do visit while there is volcanic activity, you’ll have an incredible opportunity to see the glow of the red lava clash with the blackness of the night sky. 

You always have the option to take your rental car to stargaze, but if a tour sounds more like your thing then you can book one here. There’s also an opportunity to enjoy this experience in a 4×4 luxury van with dinner offered by booking here.

If you are going to book a tour, they are likely to sell out, so make sure that you book in advance! 

Book your luxurious stargazing adventure here.

astrophotograph of the milky way and stars above mauna kea on the big island of hawaii
Image provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority

4. Get a taste of Hawaiian coffee by visiting Greenwell Coffee Farms.

The coffee connoisseurs will love getting a taste of Kona coffee by taking a guided tour of Greenwell Farms. Greenwell Farms was voted Hawaii’s best farm tour in 2021 and also won a Traveler’s Choice Award in both 2021 and 2022.

Greenwell Farms actually grows its own coffee from seedlings planted in the nurseries on its property. After six years, the coffee beans are carefully harvested and then hulled and separated to keep the flavors consistent. Finally, the beans are dry-roasted, bagged, and sealed for coffee lovers to enjoy.

The only way to visit Greenwell Farms is to book a tour. The tours last about 45-60 minutes and even though it’s a short walk, you’ll be walking over uneven terrain so I suggest bringing your good shoes.

 5. Enjoy Hawaiian sweet bread from Punalu’u Bake Shop.

You can’t go to the island of Hawaii and not taste some authentic Hawaiian sweet bread! I suggest heading over to the Punalu’u Bake Shop – the southernmost bakery in the United States. There you’ll be able to taste samples of their famous sweet bread and take a peek into their kitchen and production shop.

This is definitely a perfect activity if you’re traveling with your family. Couples and solos will enjoy it too. You can make a day trip out of it and listen to live music by local musicians while exploring their 4-acre filled with Hawaiian exotic flora. 

The Punalu’u Bake Shop doesn’t just have sweets, you can also visit their outdoor restaurant and choose from a selection of sandwiches, salads, vegetarian options, and more. When you’re done eating, head over to the visitors center and get a souvenir for your loved ones. The diversity of this activity makes it one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

6. Spend the day exploring Volcanoes National Park.

You can’t visit Hawaii and not go to Volcanoes National Park! Take advantage of learning from the expertise of a local geologist who can answer all of your questions. This is a great family activity, because the tour groups are small, but also perfect if you’re traveling as a couple, or even solo. Don’t miss your chance to see a bunch of historical landmarks, like the Thurston Lava Tube.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is actually open 24/7, so if you choose to do a nighttime tour, you can knock out the park and stargazing in one activity. If Kīlauea or Mauna Loa is active when you visit, I do recommend visiting at night so you can see the lava flow glowing from the volcanic eruptions.

These tours typically do get congested, so expect to spend most of your day there. If you’re interested in doing a self-guided tour, you can download the free National Park Service App and DIY it by renting a car and taking a scenic drive. If you’re nervous about visiting an active volcano, you also have the option to visit the dormant volcano Mauna Kea!

Reserve your chance to visit the incredible Volcanoes National Park here.

hot lava flowing amongst charred and cooled lava

7. Explore the Big Island’s unique black sand beaches.

There are a lot of black sand beaches on the island of Hawaii to choose from. It’s also one of the cheapest and most family-friendly activities you can do, but always be cautious when entering unknown waters.

Black sandy beaches are created from volcanic activity flowing into the ocean where it explodes and cools down. Over time, weather and erosion create fine black sand for visitors to enjoy. So when you go – know you are standing on what was once volcanic lava!

One of the most popular black sand beaches on the island is Punaluu Beach. This beach has a section that’s very popular with sea turtles, so you just might get lucky enough to see some sea turtles while visiting.

If you’re interested in seeing something really unique, you can also visit Papakolea Beach, one of the few green sand beaches! There is a little bit of a hike to get there and sometimes the tide can be rough, so be cautious about getting in the water, especially because there are no lifeguards around.

8. Experience the underwater world with a submarine tour.

Observe the magnificence of the undersea world by booking a submarine tour. As you’re descending to the ocean floor, 100 feet deep, you’ll witness the beautiful 18,000-year-old, 25-acre coral reef, where you can observe all of the tropical fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and maybe even a shark through the portholes!

The submarine tours have been in business for 30+ years and operate with environmentally safe submarines. They don’t excrete any pollutants into the water because they are battery-powered. Additionally, they slowly and quietly move through the water, so no marine life is disturbed. 

You’ll be happy to know that they have also created artificial coral reefs in their Waikiki and Maui sites to bring back vibrant habitats to support the fish and marine life.

Book here to experience the incredible underwater adventures of Hawaiian marine life.

a coral reef and lots of fish swimming in front of a submarine in the ocean, best things to do big island hawaii
Image provided by Atlantis Submarine Adventures

9. Soar over the Big Island’s tropical green valleys in a helicopter.

One of the best things to do on the Big Island is going on a helicopter tour! On this amazing adventure, you will truly get to experience seeing one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea, unlike anyone else. 

You’ll witness the steam vents and fiery lava tubes as you’re being flown through the tropical green valleys of the Kohala mountains. You’ll also get to view more than a dozen waterfalls as you soar over the rainforest of the Hamakua coast.

Helicopter tours typically book out fast, so I recommend booking in advance if this is something you’d really like to do.

Pre-book your chance to soar over Kilauea here.

aerial view of cooled lava on the big island of hawaii, with the black lava meeting the blue ocean
Image provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority

10. Snorkel with Hawaii’s tropical fish and colorful coral.

It’s no surprise that the Big Island has some of the best snorkeling sites. You can experience the underwater world, which is full of life, especially around the coast of Hawaii. Not only will you be able to observe tropical fish in their natural habitat, but marvel at the brightly colored coral as you float above it 

Snorkeling is a fantastic adventure to explore the world in a whole new way. One of the best things about snorkeling is that you don’t have to have any specialized training, so it’s very beginner friendly. 

You can choose to snorkel in Kealakekua Bay, which has earned the title of one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii for its underwater state park, Captain Cook monument, clear water, and marine life. You can also opt for a tour to snorkel with dolphins

Reserve your spot to snorkel in Kealakekua Bay today.

11. Visit the famous Captain Cook Monument.

If you’re interested in history, I suggest visiting the Captain Cook Monument. This statue was built in 1878 in honor of Captain James Cook, a British explorer who visited the Hawaiian Islands three times before being killed there by the natives. 

Captain Cook was a traveler who dedicated his life to mapping uncharted waters. The 27-foot-high monument marks the spot where Captain Cook met his end. Initial relations with the indigenous people of Hawaii were positive, but when Cook’s crew began to feud with them, a fight broke out and Captain Cook and his crew suffered their fate on the beach. 

The monument isn’t exactly easy to visit, but there are ways to see it. One of the best ways is by hiking the Captain Cook Trail. The hike takes about 2.5 hours, but it has amazing views along the way. You also have the option to snorkel at the monument, which attracts many visitors. You also have the option of booking a boat tour that can take you there. 

Book your chance to snorkel with Captain Cook here.

group of people walking and swimming around the captain cook monument on the big island of hawaii

12. Join a whale watching excursion.

Don’t miss out on the incredible experience to witness humpback whales near the Big Island on this amazing whale watching tour. If you’re visiting between the months of November and May, you may get the chance to see some of the over 8,000 humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii from Alaska to give birth to their calves in the warmer waters during the months of December to March.

If you have an underwater hydrophone, you’ll be able to hear the whales singing. You may even get the opportunity of seeing other marine life, like manta rays, sea turtles, and spinner dolphins.

If you’re interested in a closer view of the whales that also comes with a bit of a thrill, you can choose to take a tour on a high-speed raft. Some visitors say that the whales swam right up to their boat, so maybe you’ll get lucky!

Take advantage of this incredible whale watching opportunity by clicking here.

whale tail splashing out of the ocean in hawaii

13. Try Hawaiian salt by taking a farm tour. 

Are you a savory or sweet kind of person? If you love savory flavors, you might be interested in this unique experience of touring Hawaii’s only salt farm! The Kona Sea Salt Farm is a 7-acre farm that harvests Hawaiian salt from the deep ocean waters, about 2,200 feet below the surface.

You can learn about the harvesting process and the different flavors of salts they make. You’ll also get the chance to learn about the ancient Hawaiian settlement of Ho’ona. Of course, you’ll be provided samples of the salt variations they produce so you can try it yourself!

If you love the idea of learning about the process of harvesting, I recommend also taking a look at the vanilla farmsbee farms, and nut farms that the island has to offer.

Learn about the significance of salt in Hawaiian culture by reserving a spot today.

several different varities of sea salt produced in kona on the big island of hawaii laid out on a plate with fruits and veggies
Image provided by the Kona Salt Farm

14. Spend the day walking through Akaka Falls State Park.

Learn about the Akaka archeology and the history of Akaka Falls State Park while you enjoy a peaceful self-guided hike through the tropical Hawaiian greenery. Your hike will lead you to a breathtaking view of the cascading Kahuna Falls and Akaka Falls.

The short hike is a 0.5-mile paved loop that includes stairs in some places. If you pay close attention to your surroundings, you may have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the unique marine and land-based wildlife.

If you’re visiting with a group and would like to request a field trip, visit their website here to fill out the request form. I suggest doing it about 45 days in advance so that you can secure your arrangements well in advance.

If you’re traveling alone or with your family, you’re able to pay an entrance fee of $5 per person, so this is a very cost-friendly activity. They do have fees for the parking lot depending on how close you want to be to the park.

15. Explore Hawaiian culinary culture with a walking food tour.

Get a taste (literally) of Hawaiian culture by taking a walking food tour around Kona’s best culinary spots. Foodies, this tour could possibly be the best time spent on your trip.  

One of the best things about visiting Hawaii is getting a taste of the traditional Hawaiian food. An added bonus is that a lot of the food you’ll be sampling actually comes from local farms on the island.

You won’t only get to enjoy food, but learn an abundance of history and culture while you visit the historic sites of Hulihe’e palace and Mokuaikaua Church. Food tours are unique and one of the best things to do on the Big Island. They are likely to sell out, so I recommend having reservations in place well in advance.

Get a taste of Hawaiian culture by reserving a food walking tour here.

16. Learn to surf the beautiful Hawaiian waves.

Easily one of the most popular and fun things to do on the Big Island is surf! Sure, you can surf almost anywhere where there’s an ocean, but who wouldn’t love to surf on the best beaches of Kahalu’u Bay? The best thing about surfing is that it’s an activity for all skill levels.

If you’ve never surfed before or still consider yourself a beginner, I recommend booking surfing lessons to help you get started. Instructors will be able to provide you with tips and tricks that will increase your chance of riding a wave by the end of your trip. This is the perfect excuse to spend some time on the beach with your family or friends. 

Learn to surf on the Big Island with surfing lessons here.

surf break at a black sand beach in hawaii, with lots of palm trees in the backdrop, best things to do big island hawaii
Image provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority

17. Spend a day exploring the local Farmers Markets.

If you’re interested in picking up some fresh, locally grown produce, then you should definitely check out some of the local farmers markets on the Big Island. These markets are a really great place to learn about Hawaiian culture by exploring the produce and artisan creations from local vendors. 

Farmers Markets are the perfect place to find a souvenir for every member of your family. You can find the freshest tropical fruit, jewelry, wooden carvings, clothing, and a variety of meats, nuts, breads, jams, and more.

Below is a list of some of the island’s farmers markets and their opening days and hours.

Ho’oulu Community Farmers Market & Artisans Fair
Open Wednesdays from 9 AM to 2 PM
Come here for organic farm-grown fresh produce, seasonal fruit, fresh tropical flowers, and artisan creations. 

Keauhou Farmers Market
Open Saturday from 8 AM to 12 PM
Come here for local farmers’ produce, honey, Kona coffee, nuts, meats, breads, jams, and more.

Kailua-Kona Village Farmers Market
Open Wednesday – Saturday from 7 AM to 4 PM
Come here for local coffee, fruits and vegetables, and artisan creations like jewelry and wooden carvings.

Most farmers markets are free to browse through, but some may have a small entrance fee. Either way, this is a great thing to do while visiting the Big Island of Hawaii.

fruits sitting on a table at a farmers market on the big island of hawaii
Image provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority

Read More About Hawaii

Planning a trip to Hawaii and interested in learning more information? Check out the below list full of free resources about traveling to Hawaii.

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