Make The Best of Your Big Island Hawaii Vacation
We have created an itinerary for separate places on the Big Island of Hawaii. There are also a lot of tips to help you while you’re planning your trip. Since a lot of information on the internet is misleading, so we have created this page to help you get the most out of your Big Island Hawaii Vacation! Most people book their hotel in Kailua Kona and do not realize how far they have to drive to see everything on this side of the island. We specifically made this page to help you see all the attractions and activities on this side of the island while you make your itinerary!
We invite you to make the most of your vacation by using our guide of all the must-see attractions nearby.
Disclaimer: If you want to sit on the beach or by the pool with a MaiTai, this itinerary page is NOT for you! Also, this page is constantly being updated to help give you the best information on planning your trip.
Here are some helpful tips for making the best of your Big Island Vacation-
-Kilauea Volcano is the Most Unique and Biggest Tourist Attraction in Hawaii, and we are just one mile from it.
-Majority of the tourist attractions are on the East Side of the Big Island, therefore, it is much easier to drive to Kona for a day trip instead of staying in Kona and driving DAILY to all the different attractions on the other side of the island.
-The primary things to see in Kona is the City of Refuge (Puuhonua o Honaunau) and Puukohola Heiau (North of Kona). You will hear about things like swimming with dolphins & manta ray dives, but most of these things are can be done on the other islands.
-If you need to stay in Kona because of a late/early flight in or out, try our friends at the Kona Tiki Hotel (reserve far ahead). For a last minute reservation, try the cheap Manago Hotel for a taste of old funky Hawaii.
-Allow at least three nights to see East Side of the Big Island, 4-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary
Suggested Itinerary per day:
Day Trip Itineraries from Volcano Inn
There are so many unique activities on the Hawaii Big Island to see and do. Make the best of your Big Island Travel Adventure by using this guide to plan out your trip. We are conveniently located in a great location to do day trips to many locations. Our location is also great because we are probably experiencing some of the most pristine air quality on the island, whereas other places on the island like Kona have been getting elevated levels of VOG. Here are some travel options to help you plan your trip to Hawaii around the lava activity.
-VIEWING THE CURRENT LAVA ACTIVITY
The current volcanic activity is not accessible to the public right now for safety reasons. Good news is that the Hawaii State Civil Defense is working on a safe public viewing location. For now, you can take an air or boat tour to check out the current activity. There are helicopter tours that will show you the aerial view of the vast amount of lava that has erupted and continues to erupt in the lower east rift zone since May 3rd, 2018. This aerial perspective is incredible! Another perspective would be from the ocean view, and setting up a boat tour. This shows you where the massive flow is entering the ocean in Lower Puna. Boat tours leave out of Hilo. We recommend that you book ahead as they have been very busy.
– Explore the Artsy Historic Volcano Village
Historic Volcano Village is a cute, artsy village. There are many in-home galleries as well as some business ones. Next door to us is a world heritage site called “Volcano Garden Arts” where the art selection ranges from fresh, fun collectibles to works of significant impact, from pocket-sized to larger-than-life. Down the road from Volcano Inn is the beautiful Volcano Art Center. They have an amazing Native Hawaiian Rainforest Loop trail, which is available to do at your own leisure. They offer guided hikes on this loop trail on Monday mornings at 9:30am. There are also daily events and free Hawaiian cultural workshops or hula shows on Fridays. Additionally, Rangers are scheduled at the VAC from Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm to answer questions and relay current eruption information. Just a mile south, there is the Volcano Winery and they do tours of their property too. Also in that area is the Volcano Golf Course where people watched the ash events at the summit. About 5 miles towards Hilo from us is the incredible Akatsuka Orchid Gardens where they have a huge selection of different orchids and the worlds first ever Orchid Maze.
– See the Greenest Desert in the world! Explore the natural wonders of Kau District, Big Island Hawaii
You can spend one full day exploring the South Portion of the Big Island. A portion of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park known as “Kahuku” is open from Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. At Kahuku, there are about 5 different hikes to do. Some days you can catch the rangers for a guided hike, check ahead for their schedule of guided hikes here. Another Must See in the Kau district is hiking out (or driving if you have a 4WD vehicle) to the Green Sand Beach (Mahana Bay or Papakolea). The sand is actually made up of small, green olivine crystals that is brought up from the inside of the earth through a big lava eruption. Since this is uncommon, there are only 4 green sand beaches in the world! It can be hot and windy down there, so be sure to go prepared for that type of weather.
See the Southern Most Point and the Southern Most Town in USA
In that same area, you can see the Southern Tip of the Island and USA (known locally as Kalae). From here you can cliff jump into the Pacific Ocean at your own accord. Of course you can’t forget to stop by the famous “Punalu’u Bakery” for delicious treats in Na’alehu town.
A couple other great, must-see spots in the southern portion is the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to see Hawaiian sea turtles basking on the black sand. Did you know that Kau Coffee is Hawaii’s Most Underrated Coffee Crop? For those coffee lovers out there, stop by the Ka’u Coffee Mill in Pahala town, and see an article published by Hawaii Magazine here.
-Explore the Simple Small Town Beauty of Hilo
You can spend one full day exploring the Eastern Hilo Portion of the Big Island. Right in Hilo is the famous “Mauna Loa” Macadamia Nut Factory where you drive through a cool little tour of the 3 miles of nut orchards to get to the visitor center. Visiting historic Hilo Town gives you a sense of the small town vibes here in Hilo. This includes checking out the Farmer’s Market, checking out unique shops and restaurants at Bayfront. Just up the road from Downtown Hilo is Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots. These are two different spots along the Wailuku River. Continuing up Kaumana drive, you will get to the Kaumana Caves. This is a park where you can freely explore a big lava tube! Bring some light. Connected to the UH Hilo campus is the Imiloa Astronomy Center who has a great planetarium show!
Hilo Bayfront and Hilo Beaches
Just past the Hilo airport, you can turn right into Keaukaha. Keaukaha has a bunch of little areas along the ocean that are beautiful! There is popular little Richardson’s Black Sand Beach (among other beaches) where you can perch and enjoy the beach. Or check out Carlsmith Beach Park where the turtles off stop in for a swim too! Down the road you can drive through the Old Banyan Drive over to Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens along Hilo Bay. The Liliuokalani Gardens is a beautiful park with lots of picnic tables to enjoy a lunch on the Hilo Bay. Don’t forget to cross “singing bridge” to drive north of Hilo town, check out the waves at Honolii Beach Park, and get in on some Zipline Fun!
There are also boat tours out of Hilo to some of the waterfalls and coastal features, especially popular during whale season. Check out Hilo Ocean Adventures who are the only dive shop taking people out for snorkeling and dive trips on the Hilo side.
A really great spot for dinner right in Hilo town is called “Moon and Turtle” a locally owned restaurant with a small, changing menu.
If you’re looking for the freshest fish in Hilo, go straight to Suisan Fish Market. You can get a poke bowl (pronounced po-kay) with delicious raw fish. They also have other side dishes and delicacies.
-Explore Scenic Hamakua Coast
Plan to spend a full day exploring the 40 miles between Hilo and Waipio Valley that make up the Hāmākua coast. The spectacular waterfalls and incredible canyons lined by lush rain forest will make you want to stop at every overlook! Don’t forget your camera, and enjoy the extremely scenic drive of beautiful Hamakua coastline. There is a lush, 4 mile scenic drive where you can slow down and enjoy the views. Pullovers will show views of waterfalls and rivers. In Honomu, you can turn up that road to get to Akaka Falls. This is one of the most famous waterfalls on island with a short walk to get to the viewpoint.
Continuing along the Hamakua coastline…
There are many historic towns, including Laupahoehoe. You can visit the Laupahoehoe Train Museum and even drive down to the Laupahoehoe Point Beach park for stunning views with a tragic past. Next is the Kalopa State Recreation Area where you have beautiful Native scenery and a beautiful forest trail, also a nice spot for a picnic lunch. Next on Hwy 19 will be Tex’s Drive in for the best malasadas (Portuguese bread dessert) and out to the Famous Waipio Overlook for beautiful views of the valley and bay. For those avid hikers, Waipio valley is the steepest road in the United States. There is a beautiful black sand beach in the valley.
-Walk in the Footsteps of a King, Explore Kohala, Hawaii
You can spend a full day exploring the vast Kohala district. In Kohala you can see one of the impressive structures built and created by Kamehameha and his people. This structure, called Puu Kohola, was built using a human chain passing rocks from Pololu Valley. It is one of the last structures built before Western Influence in Hawaii, built without using mortar. If you drive to the end of the road in Kohala, you will arrive to Pololu valley with another beautiful black sand beach. The hike into Pololu is about a half mile with a 300′ elevation change. The trail has switch back trails, making it easy to hike in, as long as you do not have any walking problems. The beach is beautiful and pristine. You can stop in Kohala town to see the memorial statue of Kamehameha in his home town. Another cool thing only available in Kohala would be to take a Kayak Tour with Flumin’ Kohala. This experience gets you into the “Kohala Ditch” which was hand drilled and blasted to provide water to Kohala town. This offers you a rare opportunity to explore this remarkable hand-wrought wonder and the pristine Hawaiian landscapes it crosses.
Waimea “Cowboy” Town
Stopping in Cowboy Town Waimea is a great place to stop for food if you don’t have a picnic lunch planned. There are many shops and restaurants in Waimea. Another huge part of Waimea is the paniolo or cowboy culture. You can stop by Parker Ranch where they do horseback riding, hunting and self guided tours. They are open Monday – Friday, 8am – 4pm.
-Explore Mauna Kea,
Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, if you are counting from the sea floor. Mauna Kea is short for its original name, Mauna a Wakea, or “Wakea’s Mountain” In Hawaiian culture, Wakea is known as the great expanse of the sky. In other cultures he is known as “Sky Father”. It was said that this was Wakea’s Mountain because it was so tall it connected the sky and the earth. From the summit you are above the clouds, many people like watching the sunrise or sunset from here. You need either one morning (for sunrise) or afternoon / evening (for sunset and star gazing) to explore the beauty of Mauna Kea. From Hilo side, you follow HWY 200 (Saddle Road) for about 30 minutes to the Mauna Kea Access Road. Follow that road for another 15 minutes and you will arrive to the Mauna Kea Information Station. Driving to the summit from there will take another 30-40 minutes, where you can see the different observatories, and get a view from above the clouds. In the evening, the visitor center does star gazing from 6pm – 10pm.
Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone
If you have some extra time before or after visiting Mauna Kea, there is a really cool trail called Puu Huluhulu. The parking lot is just across the Mauna Kea Access Road. You follow the trail up a forested cinder cone where you can get 360 degree views of the area. It is also an amazing viewpoint to see how the lava flowed right around the cinder cone. Additionally, there are many native plants complete with songs of native birds in this area.
-Things you can ONLY do on Big Island, Hawaii:
See Kilauea, the worlds most active volcano! The newest flow is mezmerizing and can be seen through helicopter or boat tours.
Backcountry hiking and camping at Waipio Valley and Muliwai trail to Waimanu Valley
Horseback ride on the edge of Waipio Valley
Kayak through the Kohala Ditch with Flumin Kohala