Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Beach

33 Things to Do on Big Island

Spencer Lowe

There are plenty of things to do on the Big Island from outdoor hiking adventures to relaxing escapes. It remains a huge favorite among repeat visitors to Hawaii because of the vast experiences that are available on the island. Here are some of our favorite things to do on the Big Island.

1. Visit Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

If you’re coming to Hawaii, you’re probably already planning to spend a good amount of time lounging on the beach to work on your tan. But did you know that one of the most popular things to do on the Big Island includes a visit to its famous black sand beach, Punaluu?

The color of this famous beach comes from the black volcanic rock that has rubbed down to sand over the years by the power of the ocean's waves. It's a very unique experience to walk barefoot on a black sand beach and we encourage you to drive out to this gem.

2. Explore Shipman's Beach

Shipman Beach Shaka Guide Big Island Shipman Beach | Thomas Tunsch
Shipman Beach, Photo by Thomas Tunsch, CC BY SA 3.0, via Flickr

One of the most underrated beaches on the Big Island is Shipman Beach. Also known as Haena Beach (and not to be confused with Haena Beach on Kauai), Shipman Beach actually requires a 2.5-mile hike that includes jungle vines and gorgeous coastal views. The hike itself is relatively easy and you'll be rewarded with a secluded beach that never has a crowd.

RELATED: According to our Research, Shipman Beach is Big Island's Most Underrated

3. Snorkel At Kealakekua Bay

Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

If you love to snorkel, make sure to include Kealakekua Bay on your itinerary for things to do on the Big Island. Not only is sea life abundant here, but the bay is well protected and it's a great spot for both beginners and seasoned snorkelers to explore the Big Island's ocean wildlife.

RELATED: The Best Snorkel Spots On The Big Island

4. Papakolea (Green Sand Beach)

Papakolea "Green Sand" Beach

One of the coolest things to do on the Big Island is to hike to Papakolea, Big Island's Green Sand Beach. The sand comes from the green olivine crystals, which gives the beach a green hue that's especially noticeable farther away. The waves at Papakolea are usually on the rough side, but the coastal hike has beautiful views.

5. Hike Pololu Valley

Polulu Valley Hike Big Island Shaka Guide
Sure, the Pololu Valley overlook is breathtaking, but there’s more to be admired on the hike! Photo by Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

Located on the Big Island's North Kohala Coast, the valleys in this area have remained largely untouched. Pololu Valley is a gorgeous hike into a lush rainforest where you'll cross a stream that was once used to grow taro. If you aren't interested in hiking, you can still see a great view from the Pololu Valley Lookout.

RELATED: If You Only Have Time for One Big Island Hike, Make is Pololu Valley

6. Ziplining

Woman looking down zipline.
Ziplining in Hakalau on the Big Island. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

There are quite a few zipline adventures available on the Big Island, but the majority of them are on Hilo where there's plenty of rain to keep the trees and plants fresh and green. Each company offers something a little different such as ziplining over a botanical garden or even a waterfall.

7. Helicopter Tours

Aerial view of Puna and the lava path.
Aerial view of the lava path in Puna. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

By far one of the most popular things to do on the Big Island is to see it in its entirety from up above! The Big Island is largely uninhabited with a wide range of environments and climates so the things you can see from one tiny island on a helicopter is pretty amazing. You can also tour adjacent islands, go whale watching, and view lava when conditions permit.

8. Manta Ray Night Dives

Diving with manta rays. Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Seeing a squadron of migrating manta rays might be one of the most surreal experiences of your life. Watching these gentle giants as they glide through the water like air is indescribable. On the Kona-side of the Big Island, there are options for certified scuba or snorkeling excursions that will take you to swim with these special creatures.

RELATED: 5 Manta Dives in Kona

9. Whale Watching

A humpback whale in Hawaii's waters. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) /Joe West

You don’t even have to make the trip undersea to experience Hawaii’s breathtaking marine life. From November to May you can humpback whale watch by land, boat, or even helicopter, but the peak of the season is January through March. There are several businesses that specialize in whale watching or you can just pick a spot on the beach and watch them from ashore. 

10. Golfing

Couple golfing.
A couple golfing on the Kohala Coast. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / John Hook

If you’re a golfer, there are plenty of opportunities to hit the links on the Big Island. You’ll have a few options on the Hilo side, and many more near Kona. Several resorts on the Kona Side are also geared towards golfers. 

11. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder - 
Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park could be a vacation all itself, it’s just a bonus that it happens to be surrounded by one of the most beautiful places on earth. The park features two of the world’s most active volcanoes and is often one of the best sites for lava viewing. There’s also camping, hiking, backpacking, and petroglyphs inside the park’s boundaries.

Check our Shaka Guide's Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour! We've done the work for you and will take you to our favorite stops in the park. 

12. Laupahoehoe Train Museum

Laupahoehoe Train Museum in North Hilo. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kirk Aeder

A fun side trip for kids, train enthusiasts, and history buffs. There are a lot of old photographs at this museum that explain the Big Island's history during its plantation and railroad days.

13. Stargazing

A starry night over the Big Island. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Anna Pacheco

One of the most underrated things to do on the Big Island is to go stargazing. The island is so big and the population is so sparse, that it's relatively easy to find someplace that's dark enough where you can fully enjoy the starry night sky with your own eyes.

14. Kulaniapia Falls

Rappelling down Kulaniapia Falls. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

Kulaniapia Falls is Hawaii's largest privately-owned waterfall where you can book rappelling sessions, stand-up paddleboard in the pool, lodge in off-the-grid accommodations, and even enjoy farm-to-table meals prepared by private chefs. Check out The Inn At Kulaniapia Falls for more information.

15. Go On A Cruise

A catamaran cruises along in Kealakekua Bay. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

If you're looking for a relaxing thing to do on the Big Island, a short cruise along the coast may just be for you. Each one offers a different experience but the most popular cruises center around activities such as snorkeling, whale watching, and even sunset and dinner experiences.

16. Mauna Kea

Snow-capped Mauna Kea in the distance. Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Due to the observatories on Mauna Kea, the Big Island has laws and regulations that help prevent the light pollution that makes stargazing so difficult in other regions. You can also head up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, where they host a stargazing program with their impressive telescopes.

17. Horseback Riding

A group of horseback riders in Waimea. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

There are a few companies that offer horseback riding throughout the island. You can ride along beaches, through jungles, or into the Big Island’s beautiful valleys. For more information, check out a few of the stables and agencies that offer rides.

18. Lili?uokalani Park and Gardens

Things to Do Big Island_Shaka Guide
Japanese gardens at Lili?uokalani Park and Gardens. Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Hawaii is home to several world-renowned botanical gardens. In Hilo, the Lili’uokalani Park and Gardens is 24 acres, open to the public, and features a lovely Japanese garden. Elsewhere, you might check out Hawaii Tropical Gardens north of Hilo, Akatsuka Gardens near the town of Volcano, or Sadie Seamore Botanical Gardens in Kona.

19. Drink Big Island Coffee

Enjoy some fresh coffee from the Big Island. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

While Kona coffee is probably the most famous coffee both on the Big Island and in the State of Hawaii, 

20. Visit a Farm

Cutting the cacao pod for farm visitors. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

There are so many coffee farms on the Big Island that it gets hard to keep track of them all. But in addition to coffee, there are also the more common vegetable and fruit farms that you can explore via a guided tour. There are even abalone, winery, and vanilla farms, too.

21. Puako Petroglyph Archeological Preserve

Petroglyphs at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

We mentioned Hawaii Volcanoes National Park earlier as one of the best things to do on the Big Island, but in addition to hikes and lava tubes, there are also petroglyphs to explore! Make a stop here because there are over 3,000 rock etchings here!

22. Taste Locally-Brewed Beer

A flight of locally-brewed beer. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

If you enjoy trying out different beers, Hawaii might be a good place to sample some local brews. Tropical fruity beers such as pineapple or passion fruit are popular choices and if you don't feel like going to a restaurant or eatery, you can always head to the local grocery to pick up a few bottles.

23. Learn About Kamehameha The Great

Kamehameha statue at the North Kohala Civic Center. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Blake Bronstad

Two of the four commissioned Kamehameha I statues are located on the Big Island, which is the birthplace of this historical figure in Hawaiian history. Kamehameha the Great united all of the islands under one nation and was known as a just and fair leader.

RELATED: King Kamehameha The Great And His Conquest To Unite Hawaii

24. Hulihe?e Palace

Entrance to Hulihe?e Palace. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

If you're a history buff or are interested learning more about the lives of Hawaiian royalty, consider a visit to Hulihe?e Palace. There is a unique collection of Victorian furniture, artwork, and artifacts from the time of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.

25. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Walking to the entrance of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

There are a number of great botanical gardens on the Island of Hawaii, but the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one where you can sit and relax in the loving care of nature. The flowers are plentiful and the variety of plant life is stunning.

26. Hilo Farmers' Market

The Hilo Farmers' Market. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas

Want to do some grocery shopping at a decent price? Curious about the local fruits and vegetables available on the Hilo side of the Big Island. Visit the Hilo Farmers' Market for a look into where many of the local residents shop local.

RELATED: Best Big Island Farmers Markets

27. Cherry Blossoms

The cherry blossom trees in South Kohala are a sight to be seen. Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Usually during the months of January to February, the cherry blossoms in South Kohala on the Big Island come to full bloom and the bright pink blossoms float and flutter like a gentle snowfall in the wind. If you're lucky enough to catch them on the right day, you'll be taking pictures all day left and right!

28. Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach. Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

As the Big Island's largest white sand beach (and consistently in the international Top Ten Beaches lists), Hapuna Beach is one beach you should put on your itinerary. The beach is not only gorgeous but great for families and kids.

RELATED: Family-Friendly Activities On The Big Island

29. Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Located in Akaka Falls State Park, you'll get to see both Akaka Falls and Hapuna Falls via a very short and easy hike on a paved pathway. Nestled along lush greenery and a steep cliff, the water falls 422 feet into a pool of water down below.

30. Pu?uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Pu?uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

This "City of Refuge" was a place where ancient Hawaiians who broke kapu (the old laws of Hawaii punishable by death) could escape to and receive a second chance of life. It's a unique exploration outdoors where you can walk on the sand and pathways to see the different buildings and learn about this sacred site devoted to Lono, God of Life.

RELATED: 5 Must-Visit Historic Sites on the Big Island 

31. Lava Tree State Monument

Lava Tree State Monument. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Enjoy a fun and easy hike through Lava Tree State Monument, where you can see the tree molds the lava created back in a 1790 lava flow. The formations are an interesting look into the destruction of lava, but you'll also see an abundance of plant life in the area, too.

RELATED: Lava Trees - The Rare Natural Phenomenon Found In Hawaii

32. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kirk Lee Aeder

One of the most popular things to do on the Big Island is a morning visit to Rainbow Falls in Hilo. Come early and when the sun shines through, you'll see a rainbow in the midst of the falls.

33. Shaka Guide Driving Tour

Shaka Guide Driving Tour App

The last activity we will offer you are our audio driving tours. Shaka Guide has five audio driving tours on Big Island that can show you both well-known and off-the-beaten-path attractions. Consider our Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tour, if you’re interested in exploring two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Or, take our Kohala Coast Backcountry Tour to get to know some of Kona side’s unique history and beautiful country roads. We also offer three other tours that cover most parts of the island including the jungles to the north, beaches to the south, and the Kona coast.  

Other Things To Do On The Big Island

Here are a few more honorable mentions to keep you busy on the Island of Hawaii:

  • Hawaii Plantation Museum
  • H.N. Greenwell Store Museum
  • Pu?ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
  • Lapakahi State Historical Park
  • Click here for seasonal events

No matter what you choose to do on the Big Island, you're bound to have an amazing vacation. As you can see from this list, there are plenty of activities and attractions to fill your vacation with unforgettable memories. 

Need help deciding which Shaka Guide Big Island driving tour is best for your visit? Send us an email or message us on Facebook or Instagram! 


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