A Week on the Big Island Hawaii

  • Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide: What to eat, see, and do

    Aloha! Welcome to the Big Island. Official named Hawaii, this is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands (and it continues to grow due to volcanic activity). Kailua-Kona on the west and Hilo on the east are the island’s two main cities. The island has a very diverse landscape with lava rocks on the west and lush greens on the east.

    I’ve visited the Big Island of Hawaii twice in the past two years and this is a complication of all my favorite eats and activities. If you are planning on island hopping, I also have guides for (72 hours in) Maui and (72 hours in) Kauai.

    Transportation:

    • There are two major airports on opposite ends of the Big Island: KOA- Kona International Airport and ITO-Hilo International Airport.
    • You will definitely need to rent a car. Car rentals are available at both airports. TIP: Book your car through CostcoTravel for the best deals.
    • Lyft is non-existent on the island and Uber is very limited.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    The Kona side (west side) of the island is full of lava rock. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Driving from Kona airport up to the resorts near Puako and Waikoloa you will see several signs for donkey crossings as well as bare stretches of lava rocks.

    Food and Drinks:

    There are four things I look forward to the most when visiting any island in Hawaii: 1.) fresh fish, 2.) loco moco 3.) shave ice and 4.) local fruits and foods from the farmers’ market.

    Hawaii Big Island Travel Guide | the little epicurean

    • Da Poke Shack 76-6246 Ali’i Drive, Kailua-Kona, open 10am-6pm or until they run out of food

    This was the most delicious thing I had on the Big Island. Weeks later and I still think about this magical meal. Get here early, before the good stuff runs out. And yes, they do run out of food before closing time. They catch their fish fresh every morning. If you arrive early enough, you can watch them break down the catches of the day. (Umeke’s is another place popular for poke, but I love Da Poke Shack SO MUCH MORE.)

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    They have 8 varieties of loco moco! The one photographed above is the kalbi moco. It was so delicious that I ate it twice on one week. You must order the Mac Nut Pancakes with Mac-Nilla Sauce. They also have daily specials like adobo fried rice and dinuguan (Filipino pig blood stew).

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    My favorite shave ice is still Ululani in Maui, but this one comes at close second. You can ice cream (or pineapple dole whip!) in the center of your shave ice. They have tons of flavor options. My picks are: tamarind, lychee, and guava.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Hilo’s Farmers’ Market is the largest in all of Hawaii. It’s open everyday. Try to visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays when there are over 200 vendors selling local produce, prepared foods, and crafts. The other days are a bit slower and there are only around 20 vendors available.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    • Basik Acai, 75-5831 Kahakai Road, Kailua-Kona, open 9am

    Nothing beats acai bowls and fresh fruit smoothies with an ocean view. If you can’t make it to this location, they have outposts in San Francisco, Portland, and Reno.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    When you need a break from rice mixed plates and poke bowls, Conscious Culture is the place to go. They have all sorts of omnivore and vegan/vegetarian options. Best of all, they have kombucha on tap! From kombucha flights, fresh coconut, and a great assortment of teas, you’ll be well hydrated.

    Hawaii Big Island Travel Guide | the little epicurean

    I love fried foods, especially sweet fried foods. I recommend the creme brulee donut and the glazed pineapple fritter. If you want malasadas, see the next location below.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Make a stop at this bake shop on the way to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. They’re most famous for their sweetbreads and shortbread cookies. I come here for their malasadas. They have a variety of flavors, but the taro one is my fav! If you come during the summer, be sure to order an iced coffee to go!

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Take the brewery tour and sample all their beers! Then, take a seat at their restaurant for pupus and pizzas. They have indoor seating available, or you can sit outside in the garden.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Located within the Waikoloa Beach Resort, this is my favorite place to grab and drink and watch the sunset. It’s right on the beach and you can even request to have a table on the sand. This place gets packed in the afternoon. Be sure to make reservations if you have a large party. Lava Lava, Huggo’s, and On The Rocks are all related to each other.

    If you’re in the mood for fine dining, Huggo’s is the perfect dinner spot for celebrating special occasions. Request a table by the water for the best views. I always order the catch of the day!

    Located next door to Huggo’s, On The Rock is a very casual lively bar. They have a wide assortment of tiki cocktails and mixed drinks, as well as some festive souvenir glasses for you to take home. They usually have live music at night.

    Things to see and do:

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    I had so much fun on this snorkeling tour. I’ve tried the other snorkeling companies, but Fair Wind is my favorite. They take you to two different snorkeling spots. We saw a ton of fish, some dolphins, and even met a few sea turtles! Unlike the other boats, this one has a restroom on board. And surprisingly, the bbq lunch is super ono!

    This is a crazy and memorable experience. As soon as the sun sets, the boats take you out into the ocean for manta ray feedings. You get up close and personal with these giant manta rays. It was unreal. Word of caution- the waves are much stronger at night. If you are prone to seasickness be sure to take motion sickness medication ahead of time.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    You could spend several days exploring this vast national park. From lava tube caves to forest trails, there is plenty to see and explore. It costs $25 per car to enter the parks. This grants you access to the park for one week. There are over 150 miles of hiking trails, as well as several biking options, campsites, and guided tours. Best of all, the park is open 24 hours! Go to the Jagger Museum and observation area at nightfall to see the volcano light up with glowing lava.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    • Waterfalls

    There are several waterfalls on the Hilo side of the island. Three big ones to see: Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Pe’epe’e Falls. Word of caution: BRING BUG SPRAY when you hike to these locations. There will be mosquitos.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    • Tour Kona Coffee Plantations

    There are several Kona coffee farms with drop-in free tours and tastings. Popular ones to visit include Hula Daddy Kona Coffee and Greenwell Farms. For more detailed coffee activities, check out this guide.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    During my first visit to the Big Island, we took this 12-hour Epic Island Volcano Journey tour. It was a wonderful comprehensive introduction to the various areas that make up the Big Island. The tour takes you around the entire island with numerous spots and breaks at the most iconic locations of the area. I highly recommend it. Take a tour at the beginning of your vacation and ask the tour guides everything you want to know about the island.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    You will pass this beach while driving to Volcanos National Park from Kailua-Kona. It’s a beautiful black sand beach known for giant Hawaiian sea turtles. The beach is a bit rocky and not the most ideal place for swimming.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    • Mauna Kea Beach 

    Enter though the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel driveway and follow signs to the free beach parking area. Arrive early morning or late afternoon for parking. The small lot fills up fast, especially on the weekends. If no beach parking is available, you’ll have to pay $45 to park at the hotel. This public beach has access to restrooms and showers. It’s the perfect white sand beach for swimming and relaxing.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    This beautiful tropical garden is filled with exotic foliage and blooms. There’s also an aviary and numerous lookout points along the beach. It costs $18 for adult admission and it’s totally worth it to be surrounded by all the lush greens. (And you’ll see the cutest little pink pineapples!) It takes about 75 minutes to stroll through all the different areas, however, you’ll want to spend some time absorbing it all in. If you get tired of walking, there are golf carts available to drive you back to the entrance.

    Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

    No Hawaiian vacation is complete without experiencing sunset at the beach. My favorite spot for unobstructed sunset viewing is at Lava Lava Beach Club at Waikoloa Beach Resort. What’s better than watching the sunset with a tasty cocktail in your hand?


    Interested in other Hawaiian Island travel guides? See Maui and Kauai!

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    Comments

    Ursula

    Nice trip!

    Christa

    I want to retire to Hawai’i…it’s the most beautiful, relaxing, best smelling place I’ve ever been…and the pulled pork? To die for!

    Luzel

    Maybe at the top you should put a disclaimer: do not read when hungry! But I just had dinner and this made me hungry all over again!

    Wonderful blog, I can’t wait to go to Hawaii!

    Lauryn

    I’m so hungry after seeing all the delicious food on the island!

    Olivia Stacey

    I really enjoyed reading your travel guide, thanks for sharing! I’ve never been to Hawaii, but it’s on my list of places to travel in the near future. I’m definitely going to keep this post in mind.
    xoxo,
    Liv
    http://www.livslookbook.com

    Michael @ Super Millennial

    Serious food porn this looks awesome! I can’t wait to go next year, thanks for the helpful guide!

    ASA

    This looks amazing! I plan to visit the Big Island in November. Any idea what the weather will be like?

      Maryanne Cabrera

      It’ll be around 70s-80s. It’ll probably rain a lot more on the Hilo side during that time.

    Amber Mamian

    I love Hawaii we travel there yearly bc we were married in Maui and my father in law still lives there and we always try hitting at least one other island while we are there. Loved this guide and definitely taking notes for future visits.

    heather (delicious not gorgeous)

    looks like you had an awesome time!! wrong island, i know, but ice garden on oahu is my favorite shaved ice place, maybe because the line is so much shorter than all the other places and it’s delicious despite the lack of hype and attention around it.

      Maryanne Cabrera

      Yes! It’s so hard returning from vacation. My mind is still elsewhere. I haven’t tried Ice Garden. I’ll be sure to check it out next time I’m in Oahu!

    Beth Cole

    Coming to Hawaii with 8 other family members in December and staying in the Big Island 5 nights. Your insights are very helpful and getting me excited to go. Thank you!!!!!

      Maryanne Cabrera

      That’s wonderful! I hope you and your family have a great vacation!

    Shelley

    You shoukd update your article as Lyft is very much here as well as Uber. I am a driver for both on Kona side up north in Waikoloa area. The downside is people think it is not available here because they cannot use the app when they land, it says no drivers available. It is blocked, until you get to the top road highway. Help spread the word, it is here! Mahalo!