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The Ultimate Big Island Visitor Guide (2023)

big island visitor guide

Congratulations on your upcoming trip to Hawaii. I’m sure it’s a dream come true for you like it was for Felicia and I when we first visited in 2020. I see a lot of people questioning where they should eat, visit, go, and how they should spend their time on the Big Island of Hawaii. Here’s the Ultimate Big Island Visitor Guide!

The Ultimate Visitor Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii

Traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii

To get to Hawaii, you’ve got two options. Flying or a cruise. Let’s assume you’re not cruising to Hawaii, so a flight is is!

Flying to the Big Island of Hawaii

  • Kona Airport (KOA) located in Kailua-Kona
    • Kona Airport is on the west side/leeward of the island located near the dryer resort areas of Waikoloa Village and Kailua-Kona.
  • Hilo Airport (ITO) located in Hilo
    • Hilo Airport is on the windward/east side of the Big Island, which is the rainier and more tropical side.

Rental Cars on the Big Island of Hawaii

You’ll have your choice of rental cars from both airports on the Big Island.

The cheapest rental cars on the Big Island

  • Dollar/Thrifty Car Rentals
    • Typically the cheapest major brand option.
    • Pro-tip, rent directly through their site. Expedia and Priceline may save you $20. BUT Thrifty and Dollar have reward programs. These rewards don’t save you money but do allow you VIP access for FREE to bypass the line. KOA car rental wait times typically average over an hour for pickup.
      • Dollar Express Rewards
      • Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards
  • Turo Car Rental
    • Another popular choice is Turo Car Rental. This is a car rental app and website that allows locals to rent their cars.
    • Always check the reviews.
    • Check with your insurance to see if they cover this type of rental.
    • Turo does offer their own insurance.
    • Some car rentals come with add-on options such as beach chairs, surfing gear, etc.

Best Places to Stay on the Big Island | The Big Island Visitor Guide

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The Big Island of Hawaii has a variety of stay options that range from economical to highly luxurious. Where you stay will depend on the budget and amenities you prefer. Here are a few of my top pick stays.

Best Hotels in Waikoloa

Best AirBnBs in Waikoloa

Best Stays in Kona

Best Stays in Hilo

Best Beaches on the Big Island | The Big Island Visitor Guide

The Big Island has so many different types of beaches including black sand, white sand, and even one of 4 green sand beaches in the world. So whatever your taste is, whether it be for adventure, hiking, or just plain relaxation, there’s a beach for everyone. Since the Big Island is well…an island, I’m going to split the beaches up by location.

Northwest Coast of the Big Island (Waikoloa and Kohala Coast)

big island visitor guide beaches
  • Anaeho‘omalu Bay
    • family friendly
    • great for swimming
    • beautiful palms line the beach
  • Hapuna Beach State Park
    • 1/2 mile of white sand beaches
    • lifeguards on duty
  • 49 Black Sand Beach in Mauna Lani Resort
    • shower access
    • beautiful volcanic rocks
    • located in a gated location but public access is granted
  • Beach 69
    • Soft white sands and lots of tree cover
    • Great for swimming as its in a bay
    • Cost to park is $10-$15
    • Clean bathrooms and shower area

Kona Coast Beaches

Kona is home to different types of beaches but many aren’t the type you’d think of with white sands and great swimming. Since Hawaii is a volcanic island, there are lots of lava rocks in this area. But there is a great surfing and an opportunity to see Manta Rays in this area!

  • Old Kona Airport Beach
    • free parking
    • long beach with white sands
    • no shade
    • great place for sunset
  • Makalawena Beach
    • secluded
    • 20 minute walk to the beach
    • beautiful sunsets and great snorkeling

The North and Northeast Coast of The Big Island Beaches

travel guide big island waipio lookout

The North and Northeast coast of the Big Island is home to beautiful cliffs and epic views of Maui (on the north shores). As you continue more east you’ll find yourself on Hawaiian sacred ground where King Kamehameha III was born and raised for his youth before uniting the Hawaiian islands. Tread respectfully!

  • Polulu Valley
    • Requires a hike down and up
    • Epic rocky beach for sunrise
    • 1.5 hours from Kona/60 miles
  • Waipio Valley
    • Requires 4×4 or a tour to get to
    • Steep access road (max 40 degree tilt)
    • Epic vistas
    • Black sand beaches await
    • Home to the Waipio Valley lookout! (worth a stop on its own!)

South Coast and Hilo Beaches

papakolea green sand beach big island

The South coast is home to the most “interesting” beaches. Due to the volcanic activity, many of the beaches on the South coast of the Big Island are brand new, some as young as 30 years. But new beaches aren’t your typical beaches. Much of the access will be guarded by lava flows and will require a short or long walk to them. Most beaches in Hilo will be access to access and have modern amenities.

  • Kaimu Beach Park
    • Formed in 1990!
    • Requires a lava rock walk 5-10 minute (bring shoes)
    • Visit a beach literally formed in the 90s!
  • Richardson Beach Park
    • In southern Hilo
    • Lifeguard on duty with restrooms and showers
    • Marine sanctuary
  • Papakolea Beach – GREEN SAND BEACH
    • Only 1 of 4 in the world
    • Requires a 2 mile walk/hike = 1 hour one way
    • Can get a ride with locals (in their truck bed $20 round trip/pp)
    • Requires a little shimmy down the side of the extinct volcanic cone to access it.
    • Sand is made of olivine
  • Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
    • Home to lots of green sea turtles (honu)
    • Easy access, lots of parking, bathrooms and showers
    • Epic for sunrise and sunset
travel guide big island poke

The Big Island Visitor Guide to Restaurants! and Grindz!

Visiting Hawaii and not enjoying the local cuisines would be truly a travesty. Hawaiian culture is so rich and so is the food. So be sure to budget at least $150 a day per couple (if not more for fancier feasts).

Best breakfasts on the Big Island

Best Lunch and Dinner on the Big Island

The Best Things to Do on the Big Island | The Big Island Visitor Guide

See a luau.

Seriously, there’s nothing more special than living your Lilo and Stitch/Moana fantasy all while being entertained, eating amazing food, and learning about the culture and history of Hawaii. A luau typically takes place in the evening and has traditional Hawaiian festivities such as hula dancers, fire spinners, and singing, all in one. To top it off, they serve traditional Hawaiian foods such as poi, poke, huli huli chicken or kalua pork, and of course beer and mixed drinks.

The Best Luaus on the Big Island | Big Island Visitor Guide

  • Legends of Hawaii Luau
    • At the Hilton Waikoloa
    • $140 per adult
    • Amazing food including kalua pork, local honey, and great drinks
    • Includes education, fire dancing, hula, and live music
    • Unlimited drinks at the walk-up bar!
  • The Mauna Kea Luau
    • Mauna Kea Hotel
    • $112 per adult
    • Great buffet
    • Excellent music and fire dancing
  • Sunset Luau
    • Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
    • Local foods prepared by a high-end chef
    • $117 per adult

Luaus are an amazing way to experience and learn about the rich culture and heritage of Hawaii. It’s also a great way to spend an evening with your favorite person eating amazing food! Try everything!

Fun Things To Do in the Big Island Visitor Guide

The Big Island is so different from the other islands of Hawaii because of its active volcano and beautiful but rugged shorelines. The Big Island is truly a look at what Hawaii is like when all the tourists go home and just the locals remain. It’s peaceful, serene, and totally perfect.

In this Big Island Visitor Guide, I’m going to share some of my favorite things I’ve done and experienced on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Go surfing!

Whether you’re athletic or not, surfing is for everyone! You’ll want to be sure to book in a lesson with some local pros! You can jump on AirBnB to find reservations with locals or go through a local company. Here are some of the best surf lessons on the Big Island

Visit some epic locations! | Big Island Visitor Guide

big island beach travel guide

Of course Hawaii has an abundance of beautiful beaches but there are a lot of other amazing and hidden gems all over the Big Island. Take that rental car and head out early to see more than just some epic sunsets.

Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii is Southern most National Park in the US. It’s also home to the only active volcano in the US. While the volcanoes aren’t always spewing forth lava, when they do, people fly in from all over to see the glow of Pele!

You heard that right! You can hike through a 500 year old lava tube called Thurston’s Lava Tube in the Volcanoes National Park! It’s a quick trek through but very cool!

big island travel guide snorkeling
  • Go snorkeling or scuba diving!

The lava flows of the Big Island have created a beautiful and unique ecosystem above and below the water. Try snorkeling along the west side of the Big Island for beautiful reefs and to spot color fish, dolphins, and sea turtles!

  • Visit a Farmer’s Market!

Waimea is home to one of the best Farmer’s Markets on the Island. In fact, they have 3! This is a great opportunity to support the locals, get amazing and unique souvenirs, and eat tasty food!

  • Take a historical tour of the Big Island
    • From the native Hawaiian history of King Kamehameha III being born there before uniting the Hawaiian islands to Captain James Cook’s “discovery” and death. The Big Island holds a lot of amazing sites for visitors.
    • See Petroglyphs on the western shores of Hawaii
elopement in hawaii sunrise

Get Married on the Big Island!

Eloping or having a destination wedding on the Big Island is a great way to start your new adventure together. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered with all things weddings and elopements on the Big Island. You can read more about it here!

hawaii elopement on beach

If you’re already married, no worries! We can set up an epic vow renewal for you during a sunrise at the black sands of Punalu’u or during a golden sunset at South Point. Just send us a message and we’ll create something custom and amazing for you!

Let me just share this. The Big Island of Hawaii is magical in a way that I cannot put into words. It has a piece of my heart that I wish I could sometimes get back because I know that we probably will never move there. But, if I can help you through my Big Island visitor guide, I feel good knowing that I’m helping someone else see the most beautiful place on the planet.

Don’t hesitate to reach out and follow me on Instagram for all things Hawaii, elopement adventures, and sass! Cheers!

If you’re a photographer, be sure to follow along with our New Adventure Workshop page and Instagram because we’ll be posting and sharing lots of beautiful destination elopement marketing and images from the Big Island of Hawaii January 27-31st, 2022!


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New Adventure Productions is owned by Nate Dale, a Lafayette, Indiana wedding and elopement photographer. We travel nation and worldwide to capture beautiful and intimate weddings and elopements while providing a guidance, love, help along the way. 
He is married to the love of his life, Felicia with their two doggies, Pika and Princess.