My family and I have now been on the Big Island for nearly 7 years at the time of writing this post. I’m originally from Oahu but hadn’t been to the Big Island more than once as a kid. Living here now, I love it so much more than Oahu! It is a much slower pace of life that I have really come to appreciate. In these past 7 years, we’ve hosted many friends and family and have had a chance to suggest and participate in a ton of fun, unique Big Island activities.
If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island, I hope you plan to stay for at least a week. This is because the Big Island is… well… BIG. Things are far apart and unless you plan to spend hours (and hours and hours) of your day driving in the car between activities, it’s really best to pick one main activate a day and spread them out over the course of your visit. I wanted to share with you our top 10 Big Island activities that we personally love and recommend to our friends and family!
If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t miss out on this experience! I personally have a bit of a fear of the ocean at night but my husband absolutely LOVED this night dive experience. It’s extraordinary and these gorgeous creatures come right up to the surface to feed. The way it works is bright lights get shined down into the water to attract plankton, and then the manta rays feed on this plankton and come very close to the water surface while feeding.
No visit to the Big Island is complete without a trip to the summit of Mauna Kea. This is a sacred place to native Hawaiians and also a revered location to the astronomy world. In fact, this location has become one of the most important in the astronomical world because of its outstanding observational conditions. In short: the best stargazing in the world! I recommend planning your visit so you can be at the summit just before sunset. You do need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get up here and don’t forget to account for 30 minutes at the visitor center to acclimate to the rapidly changing altitude. But the best way to experience Mauna Kea is with an official tour (we love Mauna Kea Summit Adventures!) if you can swing the price.
We were taken aback by how much we loved this experience. If this isn’t on your Big Island activities radar, we strongly recommend adding it! We’ve now gone 3 different times with friends and family and it remains just as magical as the first time. Plan to spend at least 1.5 hours here, longer if you fall in love with it as we did! We can easily kill 3 hours simply walking around and enjoying the gardens. They have a great website with tons of information on how to plan your visit to the gardens. Please support this local treasure! https://htbg.com/plan-your-visit/
You simply can’t miss out on Kona coffee while on the Big Island. And sure, you can grab a great cup of coffee at any local coffee shop. But it’s pretty dang amazing to see where it all comes from, how it’s grown, and meet face to face with the small farm owners who grow these treasured beans. We love Sunshower Farms coffee tour and cupping as well as Greenwell Farms.
This one is a newer experience for us, but very very cool! Especially for any food lover and chef in the family, you’ll love this tour! You’ll learn about the history of Hawaii sea salt as well as the salt-making and harvesting process. Oh, and there is a very cool tasting of their salts at the end of the tour. The location is right by the ocean so you get to enjoy the ocean breeze while learning about a seasoning we all use and love but may not understand the history of. Overall, great experience to add to your Big Island activities itinerary! https://konaseasalt.com/pages/kona-sea-salt-farm-tours
Maybe you were picturing yourself by the beach for the entirety of your Big Island vacation. If so, rock on! But you’d be missing out on a key part of the Big Island experience in my opinion. The Waimea and Kohala Coast of the Big Island are truly unique treasures. Just 25 minutes North of the best beaches and you’ll find yourself in sprawling green hills and ranch land. It’s a bit confusing if you aren’t expecting it! Learn about the rich paniolo (cowboy) Hawaiian history while taking one of the most scenic horseback tours you’ll ever go on. The views of the island are unbeatable. Even for me, a person with ZERO horseback riding experience, this Big Island activity was a true treasure. The tour we love to do is: https://www.panioloadventures.com/index.php
Our favorite snorkeling spot on the island is Beach 69 (Waialea Bay) in Waikoloa. Go early in the morning (the beach opens at 7am) and enjoy the quiet calm of the ocean! Other amazing snorkeling spots are Kahaluù Beach Park and Kealakekua Bay in Kona.
Tip: Snorkeling in Hawaii is a leading cause of tourist deaths. Be aware of rip tides, currents, and general ocean safety before going in. Stay close to shorelines and have a snorkel buddy.
You can’t visit the Big Island without visiting our active Volcano. Volcano National Park is open and operating and there is a visitor center where park rangers are ready to help you choose a hike or adventure in the park that best suits your group. If you’re staying in Kona or Waikoloa and driving to visit the Volcano, then we strongly suggest making a full day of it and visiting nearby Hilo town while you’re there! Plan to grab at least one meal in Hilo and enjoy the quiet, old-school Hawaiin town on the Big Island.
Once a royal residence, Huliheè is now a museum open to the public. Fun fact! When we first visited the Palace grounds, we fell so in love with it that we ended up getting married there in 2017!
Tip: One Sunday out of the month, the Hulihe‘e Palace features an Afternoon at Hulihe‘e Palace, a cultural day with hula and mele. Bring your whole family and celebrate Hawaiian culture on the lawn of the Palace. Check out their event calendar for upcoming fun events at the Palace. https://daughtersofhawaii.org/events-calendar/
In our humble opinion, no vacation is complete without a photoshoot to document the trip! Yes, we’re totally biased. But especially if you are always the documentarian of the family and never IN the frame, this is a great chance to document your entire family together. Leave it to the professionals, and we’ll be sure to capture beautiful photos of your family with the beautiful Big Island as the backdrop of your photos. Drop us a link to book your Big Island photo session! https://wildesparrow.com/contact
Wilde Sparrow offers vibrant couples, maternity, and family portraits in Big Island, Oahu, and Maui, Hawaii. They specialize in creating a fun photography experience to enjoy on your Hawaiian vacation.