The biggest island of Hawai’i, also known as “Big Island”, is celebrated for its epic volcanoes, beautiful hiking, crystal-clear stargazing, world-class snorkeling, and of course: Kona Coffee.
While most visitors to the Hawaiian islands head to O’ahu or Kaua’i (which are smaller and easier to navigate) the Big Island is a true gem for outdoor enthusiasts and those interested in getting a sense for “old Hawaii”– the slower-paced laid-back living that continues to define island life here.
The best times to visit the Big Island are between September and February, when the weather is nicest, around 75-80 degrees F every day on average.
In the Summer, it can get really hot on the Big Island, and in the winter, higher elevations atop Mauna Kea and parts of Hilo can get somewhat cold at night (as low as in the 50s). Be advised that beaches on the big island are very rocky, so don’t expect white sand beaches like those you’ll see on O’ahu or Kaua’i.
Rocky beaches do, however, make the Big Island a fantastic place to snorkel, so consider booking a tour or renting gear during your trip. Black lava fields make a stark contrast to the majestic blue coastline.
Ultimately, the Big Island is the most rugged and extreme of all the Hawaiian islands– and with its size comes an intriguing landscape that is beautiful beyond measure, in many different ways.
Below, we spotlight the best things to do, see, eat, and explore on the Big Island of Hawaii– a mix of quintessential experiences and hidden gems you don’t want to miss. Scroll this guide to the bottom to get a sense of the highlights (it’s very thorough). Even if you only do a few things from this list, you’re sure to have a great time.
Bookmark this list for easy reference later. Enjoy your trip!
The Best Things to Do on The Big Island
The Big Island of Hawaii is known for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park– home of the only active volcano in the Hawaiian islands. But there are also several other reasons to visit the island, from Kona coffee tastings and black sand beaches to snorkeling, chocolate farm tours, and world-renowned stargazing.
Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is perhaps THE biggest reason why people travel to the Big Island of Hawai’i, as opposed to the other islands. It is an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site whose pristine landscape is described by park rangers as “an island within an island”.
This charred landscape full of craters and lava tubes is surrounded by lush endemic flora that represents the rich tapestry of ancient Hawaiian life.
Traditional Hawaiian folklore dictates that Pele resides in Halema’uma’u, the pit crater within the Kīlauea caldera at the summit of Kīlauea volcano (THE volcano that the national park is known for).
Today Kīlauea and Moana Loa– also on the Big Island– are two of the world’s most active volcanoes, which continue to add land to the island of Hawai’i. Unlike explosive continental volcanoes, however, the more fluid eruptions of Kīlauea and Mouna Loa most often produce lava rivers than expand landmass into the ocean, rather than fiery, airborne explosions.
According to the US Geological Survey, Kīlauea is one of the best-understood volcanoes in the world, in part because of the unparalleled access that the park provides. Research within the park is ongoing and continues to shed light on the origin of the Hawaii islands and the evolution of the planet itself.
Moana Loa, meanwhile, is the earth’s largest mountain, with an estimated volume of 19,000 cubic miles. The summit of Moana Loa stands at 56,000 feet above a depressed sea floor. That’s over 27,000 feet taller than Mount Everest!
The hiking in this park is phenomenal– Crater Rim Drive brings you past steaming vents and lush rainforest to over 150 miles of trails. The trail network is broad, circuitous, and well-marked. It’s great for groups, but also safe for solo hikers.
Just remember that lava fields are shadeless and hot. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat– especially if you’re sun sensitive. Always stay on marked trails and obey all signs. As the Hawaiian saying goes, Hele malie— walk softly. Be respectful of this beautiful land.
Sadly, introduced animals and invasive plants are threatening the survival of this precious landscape, so honoring park rules will help prevent further destruction.
Also, be sure to begin hiking before 3:30 PM to allow for a safe return in daylight.
At minimum, I recommend hiking in the morning before making the 38-mile roundtrip drive down Chain of Craters Road to the Holei Sea Arch. (<– Making this classic pilgrimage is sort of a rite of passage. As Chain of Craters Road descends over 3,700 feet to the coast, there are endless photo opportunities. You might even see a nēnē, an endangered Hawaiian goose.)
Ultimately, the landscape along Chain of Craters Road is ruggedly majestic. Expect high winds and steep cliffs along the drive, and be sure to check-in with the park staff on the day’s volcanic activity before making the drive. Also note that there aren’t any food, water, or fuel stops along this road. Come prepared.
Swimming is never recommended, either, as these beautiful landscapes are the result of magnificent but often unpredictable and violent forces like flash floods, rock falls, rough surf, and strong ocean currents.
On your way out of the park, Volcano House is also good for late lunch with views of the Kīlauea caldera, or dinner with sunset cresting over the crater.
Example 2-Day Itinerary in Volcanoes National Park
If you got up early, you could probably fit in a visit to Volcanoes National Park in one day, but I recommend spending at least 2 days in the area for the full experience.
On the first day, hike the entire Kilauea Iki overlook in the morning. Pro Tip: Do the hike counter-clockwise for a more gentle approach that takes you down big steps and up a series of forested switchbacks at the end. This way, we can avoid seeing other people during peak hours, and you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. (Plus, it’s easier on your joints!)
Wear long pants or high socks, and wear closed-toed shoes. Bring enough water for a full day in the sun. (The hike itself is under lush forest canopy, but the stretch that crosses the caldera is fully exposed to the sun. See picture, above.)
Then, linger to explore the shorter one-off loops and walking trails around the caldera. Afterward, go for brunch/late lunch at nearby Kilauea Lodge, which is casual for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, so you can go there in your gear– just be sure to rinse off your shoes first. It’s super cozy, and their homemade banana bread– as well as dishes like forest mushroom omelet with local greens and local mango hot sauce– exhibit the flavors of the surrounding environment beautifully.
On the second day, drive Chain of Craters Road to the Holei Sea Arch and make a day of it: stop along the 19-mile drive to marvel at steam vents, petroglyphs, take selfies within the landscape, and marvel at the sheer scale of the 2003 eruption remnants.
Then, head back to civilization for sunset dinner at Volcano House, where you can take in striking views of Hawaii’s most famous volcano. (Be sure to make a reservation in advance if you want to dine at sunset.)
Ultimately, “Volcano”– as this area of the island is called– represents over 70 million years of volcanism. Before planning to visit or hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, check the National Park Service’s website to see what’s open with regard to recent volcano eruptions, or to check for closures.
You can also scan this QR code to check the current conditions:
Punalu’U Black Sand Beach
On the South Point of the Big Island, visitors can find Punalu’U Black Sand Beach, one of the island’s only black sand beaches that’s also a common nesting ground for Hawaiian green sea turtles. The black sand here is made of pulverized basalt– once-hot lava that cooled and exploded when it came in contact with cold ocean water.
It’s not uncommon at this small, popular beach to see a few large sea turtles sunning themselves on shore, so expect to see a few gawking tourists.
There’s also a lovely, contemplative lily pad-filled pond to the left of the beach, behind the concession, that’s worth checking out.
Explore The Wonderful Farmers Markets
I love the Kamuela Farmers Market (North side of the Island) and the Hilo Farmers Market (East Side of the Island). These are easily the two best markets on the Big Island, ideal for trying epic local tropical fruit and other locally-made curiosities, like breadfruit cinnamon rolls.
The Kamuela Farmers Market takes place on Saturdays from 7:30 AM to Noon. Hundreds of different banana varieties grow on the Big Island, and this market has the widest variety for banana lovers. Also be sure to look for Kulani Lani Bakery‘s organic Ulu (aka breadfruit) sourdough bread, as island-specific treat. They also make delightful ulu-sourdough baked goods, like cinnamon rolls and pizza.
Ultimately, even if you can’t make it to either of these, there are still a number of great farmers’ markets all over the island, depending on where you’re staying and what you’re willing to travel for.
For more information, read our guide to The 5 Best Farmers Markets on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
(^ No matter what farmers market you go to, be sure to look for rare white pineapple, local chocolate and/or cacoa pods (when they are in season, usually September-November), locally-grown Kona coffee, sunrise papayas, macadamia nuts and specialty items like macadamia nut yogurt, and giant butter avocados, which can be the size of a small watermelon. These are quintessential products of the Big Island!)
Kona Coffee Plantation Tour & Tasting at Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation
Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is easily the best place to get your Kona coffee fix on the Big Island.
Kona coffee, of course, is one of Hawaii’s most famous exports. Much like champagne wine, which is only champagne if it was grown and produced in Champagne, France, Kona coffee is only Kona coffee when it comes from Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, where the rich volcanic soil gives the beans a unique terroir. (Much like wine at a vineyard.)
Accordingly, this real Kona coffee farm in the cloud forest of Hualalai Volcano is great for families and very hands-on– which is why you shouldn’t wear nice shoes.
^ Here, they offer free coffee plantation and mill tours of their facilities, as well as complimentary tastings of their award-winning 100% Kona Coffee. It’s a great “bang for your buck” so-to-speak, and advanced reservations are not necessary, which we love.
You’ll get up close and personal with coffee trees, beans, the roasting process– and you’ll learn why Kona coffee is so rare and expensive. (Spoiler alert: it has to do with the fact that Kona’s coffee trees grow on steep slopes, so all the beans have to be harvested by hand.)
Plus, the drive up to Mountain Thunder is a gorgeous exemplar of the Big Island’s lush botany and ever-changing micro-biomes. Keep an eye open for colorful red ‘ohi’a lehua trees on way up to the 3,200-foot cloud forest.
Once you arrive at Mountain Thunder, don’t miss their incredible retail store! (We love their Pure Coffee Hydrosol Mist for Face, made with Mountain Thunder’s own Kona coffee. And their dark chocolate-covered Kona Coffee peaberries are the best in the world!)
Tour A Chocolate Farm at The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory
We love The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory‘s quaint little cacao farm, which is nestled on the lush slopes of Hualalai Mountain in Kona. This all-in-one chocolate farm and factory tour is so informative and fun!
Even for people who aren’t that “into” chocolate, it’s fascinating seeing how the cacao pods are harvested, cured, roasted, conched, and tempered into chocolate directly from the trees where they grow.
Here, visitors can walk through the factory’s 1-acre cacao farm and see cacao pods and flowers on the trees. Then, you’ll get to take a look at the inside of the raw pod, and learn about the process of harvesting, sweating, sun-drying, and conching the beans inside.
This is particularly impressive as The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is the only chocolate farm in Hawaii that grows, processes, and makes its chocolate, from tree to bar, all in one facility.
Later, you’ll tour the facility where cacao nibs are ground, sweetened, and poured into plumeria molds to make the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory’s signature shiny chocolate flowers. (As you will learn on the tour, you know they are well-made because they have a satin sheen and a brisk snap.)
They also sell the world’s only 100% Hawaiian-grown Criollo dark chocolate, made exclusively from the earthy Criollo cacao bean, a rare variety. Next to Kona coffee, this criollo chocolate is one of the best souvenirs to bring back from the Big Island.
Visit Akaka “Rainbow” Falls
Akaka Falls State Park— aka “Rainbow Falls”– is a classic place to see rainbows on the rainy west side of the Big Island.
Because Hilo and the surrounding areas are wet and frequently rainy, they are also blessed with an abundance of beautiful rainbows. Akaka is a great spot to see one, which is likely on any given day. There are a few easy trail loops on site that are great for a pleasant stroll through the park’s lush vegetation, as well.
Before you go, be sure to check the park website for the latest info on flood-related closures or other local weather events.
Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay
The Hawaiian islands contain over 410,000 acres of coral reefs, the so-called “rainforests of the sea.” The pristine turquoise blue waters of Kealakekua Bay offer some of the Big Island’s best snorkeling– period.
For the best experience, explore this underwater paradise with a respected tour company that focuses on ocean stewardship, like Fair Wind Cruises. (They offer morning and afternoon snorkeling tours with food included, as well as Manta Ray night snorkels.)
Located on the center West side of the island, this beautiful marine reserve also has a wide variety of colorful fish and spinner dolphins hanging out close to shore. Across the Bay, look for the Captain Cook Monument, a controversial obelisk that memorializes the spot where the storied voyager was killed in 1779.
Reefs provide critical ecosystems that provide shelter and habitats for fish and marine life, while also protecting the shoreline from wave and sand erosion. This is what results in Hawaii’s glorious white sand beaches.
Above all, be sure to only wear physical sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone, avobenzene, or octinoxate, which are toxic to coral reefs. (We like Thinksport’s SPF 50+ Safe Sunscreen and TropicSport’s SPF 30 Sport Formula the best, but we have a comprehensive list of the safest options here.)
Visit The Vanillerie (One of the Few Places in the World Where You Can See How Vanilla is Made!)
The Vanillerie is one of the few vanilla bean farms on the Big Island– and in the world. Most people don’t know that vanilla comes from an orchid. Fewer understand how rare it is: the only way to get vanilla beans from these orchids is to hand-pollinate them when the blooms are open, within a narrow 3-hour window of time!
This usually takes place from March to June, with a peak bloom season in April.
Thus, it’s a real labor of love. At this small farm in Kona, you can wander through what I like to call the Vanilla Cathedral– an elaborate greenhouse filled with vanilla plants and knots of vines creeping from floor to ceiling.
Here, a guide can explain and demonstrate how the locally-grown vanilla bean pods are cured, processed, and transformed into everything from vanilla extract to vanilla ice cream, both of which you can purchase at the on-site vanilla-filled shop. (They also have custom-blended spices as well as bath and body products– but the real must-try here is the house vanilla ice cream, made with their own vanilla beans and sold in dainty to-go cups.)
For plant lovers, the Vanillerie offers a quick but super-unique experience that you can have almost nowhere else in the world. This is because Hawai’i, like Madagascar and Tanzania, is one of the few bioregions of the world where the unique conditions necessary for the vanilla plant to thrive can come together in one place.
Ultimately, even though vanilla is such a common flavor around the world, it’s extremely rare, and it takes five years to make vanilla from start to finish. This is why real vanilla– which is now more expensive than silver!— is so pricey.
Also, for what it’s worth: the vanilla curing room smells SO amazing!
2-Hour Hike to Green Sands Beach Near South Point
It’s a two-hour hike to get to this beach, but if you’re looking for a good Big Island hike outside of Volcano, Papakolea Green Sands Beach is worth it for adventurers. The beach’s “green” sands are the result of a substance in the sand called olivine, a common mineral found in Big Island lava that is so heavy it stays in the sand after other minerals are washed away by the tides. (Thus, the “green” color.)
In addition to the green sand, striated erosion patterns cut into the side of the Puʻu Mahana cinder cone that encircles the beach, making for a striking backdrop.
Ultimately, it looks like something that you’d be more likely see in Ireland than Hawai’i– and that’s part of the majestic charm.
Each of the Hawaiian Islands offers it’s own unique geologic attractions, and this one can only be found on the Big Island.
Also, nearby Ka’u is a great place to catch sunset at any point along the beautiful coast.
Honey + Bee Art at Big Island Bees Apiary & Museum
Driving out to this clifftop apiary is a lovely experience, if only for the ocean views and verdant flowers blooming all along the drive. Big Island Bees Apiary & Museum is a “sweet” place to learn about the island’s most precious pollinators while enjoying free honey tastings and world-class beeswax and hive art.
If you book in advance, you can take a proper beekeeping tour. Get suited up and explore the actual on-site honey farm and hives, while being guided through a bespoke honey tasting of the farm’s six unique varietals of raw honey.
Otherwise, if you just want to explore local honey products and see some epic beeswax art, their on-site bee museum is free to enter and features lots of vintage beekeeping artifacts and information about bee nectar, how honey is made, and the unique terroir of Big Island’s pollinator-friendly flowers.
Ultimately, since the 1980’s Big Island Bees’ honey has been one of the most recognizable souvenirs in all of Hawai’i. It’s sold on every island, and seemingly every native Hawaiian has some of this honey in their pantry.
Plus, it’s organic, raw, direct-from-the-farm honey. Look for the special ‘ohi’a lehua tree honey, which is a local tree endemic to the Big Island that holds a special place in Hawaiian folklore.
The Story of the ‘Ohi’a Lehua Tree
It’s said that the Hawaiian goddess Pele fell in love and proposed to a warrior named Ohia, who refused because he had already pledged his love to a woman named Lehua.
In a fit of rage, Pele turned Ohia into a twisted tree. Lehua, meanwhile, was heartbroken, so the other gods took pity on her and turned her into a flower on the tree so that the lovers could be united forever in the wild form.
Today, it’s said that if you “separate the two lovers” by picking the flower, it will rain.
Because of its sprawling size and dirth of light pollution, the Big Island is the best island in Hawaii for stargazing. If you stay in Hilo, you’ll likely be able to see the Milky Way from your bedroom window. Keep your eyes peeled!
Near the summit but not quite at the top, you can stargaze at the Onizuka Center after enjoying a perfect sunset from the Big Island’s highest point. If you do decide to venture to the top of Mauna Kea, be sure to pack warm clothes (it’s frequently covered in snow, year-round) and know that altitude sickness can occur. Go slowly and avoid going higher than the Onizuka Center if you are pregnant, under 16 years old, or in poor health.
Depending on which geographic definition you follow, Mauna Kea is considered the tallest mountain in the world. (If you measure from its base below sea level to the top.)
Where to Stay on the Big Island (4 Cool Recommendations)
General Overview of Different Areas to Stay on Big Island
The glitzy Western side of the Big Island encompasses the sunny Kohala and Kona coasts, which are known for massive, sprawling resorts.
Hilo, on the East Side, is rainier and less “fancy”, but closer to Kilauea and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where many of the Island’s most popular attractions reside. As a result, it’s often cheaper to stay here (and it feels more private, especially if you stay at an Air BnB like the one we recommend, below).
Very few people stay in South Point, meanwhile, as there are fewer attractions here. The accommodation options on the lush North-western side of the Big Island are beautiful, but few and far between.
People often debate which side of the Big Island is better (East or West), so a great way to break up your trip is to try both with a 2-3 night stay on each side of the island. (That’s what I recommend if you have the time.)
The Fairmont Orchid (Kohala Coast)
The Fairmount Orchid is an award-winning luxury hotel situated on the beautiful Kohala Coast on the sacred grounds of Kalahuipua’a, the name given to the oasis by ancient Hawaiian royals who used to gather here for rest and relaxation.
Surrounded by lava fields and the glistening Pacific Ocean, this hotel offers 5-star luxury including local cuisine prepared using produce and seafood from local farms and the neighboring ocean.
The on-site Spa Without Walls also offers the only opportunity to get a beachside massage on the island, as well as cool exotic treatments like Kona Coffee Body Scrubs and the Island Coconut Polish, which uses raw Hawaiian sugar cane and coconut oil to moisturize and exfoliate the skin.
The hotel also offers a great luau under the stars, and they have equipment for standup paddling and snorkeling in the reef on their private white sand beach. The hotel also offers opportunities to learn how to do distinctly Hawaiian activities like paddling an outrigger canoe or weaving a coconut leaf basket.
Golf-lovers will also enjoy the fact that the hotel is located directly adjacent the award-winning 36-hole Francis H. I’i Brown Golf Course championship golf course, which offers stunning views of five volcanic mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and breathtaking stretches of palm tree-lined greens. The hotel also has 10 tropically-landscaped plexipave tennis courts, too, with private lessons available for kids and adults.
As far as dining options go, guests at the Fairmont never really need to leave the property. The award-winning Brown’s Beach House is a go-to destination for beachside fine dining on the Big Island, which is why it is frequented by locals and patrons alike.
Here, you’ll find sumptuous dishes that highlight local produce and seafood, with a rotating menu that features items like Kampachi Crudo made with Hawaiian aguachile, Kona Lobster, Big Island Ka’u Coffee Venison, and Island Bouillabaisse.
Meanwhile, the The Orchid Court, set amidst waterfalls in a tropical garden setting, offers al fresco style breakfast. Choose between made-to-order, continental, and buffet-style breakfast options featuring “local style” cuisine and pan-asian influences (they’re also known to have unique local offerings like taro pancakes and macadamia nut buns).
Other times of the day and night, guests can enjoy lunch or dinner at any of the resort’s other restaurants, including Norio’s (Japanese restaurants with fresh sushi), Hale Kai (for beachside cocktails and light bites), and Luana Lounge (for great sunsets and pupus, aka appetizers).
Either way, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a long, luxurious sunset near the beach, drink in hand. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive on the Kohala Coast, this is the perennial fan-favorite.
The Holualoa Inn (Holualoa)
The Holualoa Inn is a lovely (if pricey) Bed & Breakfast overlooking the Kona Coast up in the mountains of Holualoa.
This gorgeous, intimate property has a very homey vibe and doesn’t skimp on the luxury– which is why it’s a perfect place to stay if you’re for more of a lived-in (yet still upscale) vibe. The impeccably manicured 30-acre property offers sweeping ocean views and is also a working coffee farm!
Homemade breakfast is included, and the vintage cottage interiors are styled in the local fashion. (Think: Polynesian art, thatched wood interiors, and lots of woven textural elements.)
This Amazing AirBnB on a Coffee Plantation (Hilo)
We love this property! This Amazing Air BnB near Hilo is located on a privately-owned coffee plantation– and it’s a great price. The home is airy and spacious, with beautiful white linens, a nice kitchen and prep area, and a color-changing hot tub that overlooks rows of coffee trees.
Most importantly, the coffee maker inside the home comes fully stocked with fresh roasted beans grown right outside. It’s amazing.
Nights are cool in Hilo, and you can hear frogs, crickets, and birds chirping throughout the night– it’s like a beautiful, natural built-in white noise.
In November-December, the trees here will burst with bright red coffee “cherries” that the owner has roasted at a local mill so that you can enjoy them in your coffee in the morning.
This is also a great home base for exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (detailed above), which is only about a 25-minute drive away.
Kilauea Lodge Country Inn (Volcano Village)
Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant is a charming place to stay right outside of Volcanoes National Park. This romantic country inn offers a premiere location to stay right next to the park– ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who want to spend multiple days hiking there.
They also have a lovely farm-to-table restaurant on site, as well as a gift shop featuring a wide variety of locally-made handicrafts, like hand-sewn purses, jewelry, artisan candy, textiles, art prints, and more.
Overall, this no-frills inn is a true camping lodge, replete with cozy wicker furniture, wood floors, fireplaces, and exposed wood ceilings. The suites are very spacious, clean, and homey– a very different feel from a resort or home rental, but one that nevertheless captures the unique qualities of each.
Where to Eat on the Big Island
The Big Island is not really known for its food scene, with the exception of the amazing farmers markets. There are, however, a number of places to enjoy a nice meal– as long as you know where to go.
Laid-back comfort food is the name of the game.
- Conscious Culture Cafe in Hilo, for grab-n-go. Look for amazing Big Island Booch kombucha, as well as fresh sandwiches, great salads and sauerkrauts, large egg dishes, heaping fruit plates, and inventive island tacos.
- Puka Puka Kitchen was once featured in the New York Times even though it’s something of a dive. Here, you’ll get no-frills homestyle Hawaiian plate lunches with surprisingly inventive curry rice and fresh salad.
- Kula Shave Ice is one of the best places to get shave ice on the Big Island, though admittedly shave ice on the Big Island isn’t as popular or notable here as shave ice is on O’ahu. It’s all organic and homemade with fresh fruit, though!
- Pineapples Restaurant is a popular dining spot in the center of town that offers fresh-caught fish, island-inspired burgers, locally crafted beer, and fresh fruits and vegetables in a colorful setting. On any given day it will be bustling, with shaded open-air seating that tends to draw a crowd.
Kona is situated on a spectacular stretch of elevated coastline on the West Side of the Big Island. Known principally for its coffee, which is grown faithfully on the nearby slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa, it is also home to charming little towns with some of the best down-home cooking the island has to offer.
- Broke Da Mouth Grindz – This popular diner and plate lunch-style eatery has been featured on Food Network and in other pop-culture-y outlets, largely for its over-the-top portions and unique menu offerings, like Chicken Skin Nachos (yes, you heard that right), Pork Adobo Fries, and Avocado Coleslaw. (“Grindz” is a local Hawaiian term for big, hearty eats; “broke da mouth”, meanwhile, is a loose pigeon expression that roughly means “it was so delicious it broke my mouth”). Ultimately, you won’t go hungry here! Order the short rib or the signature Garlic Furikake Chicken and you could eat from it for days. They also make yummy Ulu salad– a breadfruit-based analog to potato salad.
- Kamana Kitchen – This wonderful Indian Restaurant is one of the few places to get good Indian food in all of Hawai’i (including other islands!). What makes Kamana really unique, however, is that they work with local farmers to grow many of spices used in their dishes on the island. It’s amazing, and terroir really comes through in the food. They also have lovely ocean views from the deck where their outdoor seating is located.
- Island Naturals Kona – This is a great all-natural foods store and deli to pick up items for a picnic. Local kombucha, fresh fruit–including local white pineapple, deli items, and baked goods await.
- Kona Coffee and Tea in Kailua-Kona serves locally-grown and artfully crafted coffee, with a great vibe, good food, and a loyal customer base. They’ve earned many local awards. For a unique experience, try their mamaki tea (made from a local herb) and mango bread. Otherwise, if you need a fast caffeine fix en route to another adventure, this is a good place to get it.
The sunny Kohala Coast is known for its spectacular white sand beaches, world-renowned golf courses, and sprawling resort-spas with chic restaurants on site.
- Brown’s Beach House – Brown’s Beach House is easily one of the nicest, fanciest seafood restaurants on the Big Island. If you’re going to dine in the heart of the resort area, this is your best bet for fresh local seafood and more. (And if you’re a hospitality-oriented foodie, this restaurant has lots of accolades.)
- Merriman’s Big Island is a farm-to-table Hawaii staple.
Near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The rugged, desolate landscape surrounding Volcanoes National Park is magnificently beautiful. Because it’s so huge and sprawling, there are only a few close-by restaurants, but these ones are great.
- Volcano House – This delicious eatery at The Volcano House Hotel is conveniently located at 1 Crater Rim Drive, right inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Come for no-frills lunch staples (burgers, salads, etc) with a striking view of the caldera by day. For dinner during sunset, be sure to book in advance.
- Kilauea Lodge Restaurant – This lovely lodge-style restaurant at the ever-charming Kilauea Lodge Country Inn is also the site of the International Fireplace of Friendship– and their welcoming, hospitable vibe lives up to that premise. We love their weekend brunch menu, which has a farm-to-table focus, and the cute gift shop. This is easily the best place to eat near Volcanoes National Park!
Other Cool/Useful Things to Note About The Big Island
- Wild Mountain Apple, an exotic fruit native to Hawai’i, grows wild on trees around Hilo. Foragers: here’s what to look for.
- If you’re renting a car, opt for a big one! Some rugged roads on the interior of the island can be dark and quite rural, so it’s good to have something sturdy with all-wheel drive. (Dainty convertibles are more of a Kauai thing.)
- The avocados in Hilo are massive! Most of the produce grown in Hawaii comes from the Big Island, which is why there are so many farmers’ markets and agro-tourism opportunities on the island (including chocolate farm tours, honey farm tours, coffee plantation tours, and the Vanillerie– all detailed above). When grocery shopping or ordering food at a restaurant, be sure to try a wide variety of local fruit. Look for varieties that are hard to find outside of Hawaii, like Mangosteen and Chocolate Sapote. Even international staples, like papayas, taste differently here! Again, I refer you to our Big Island Farmers market guide. Don’t miss out on the Big Island’s bounty of wonderful fruits! Basically, if you haven’t seen it before, buy it and try it!
What To Buy on the Big Island
Don’t miss these iconic Big Island products, which are perfect for enjoyment during your stay on the island or as a souvenir.
- The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory chocolate (specifically, look for the company’s 100% Hawaiian grown Criollo chocolate, in their gift shop. You can’t find this variety of chocolate anywhere else!)
- Kona Coffee (and/or Hamakua coffee or Hawaiian cloud forest coffee)
- Fresh moringa (for tea or cooking/baking/making body products)
- Koa wood fish hooks and other Koa wood products
- Fresh vanilla bean pods or vanilla extract (bakers love it as a gift!)
- local honey
- mamaki tea
- mango bread
- koa wood products and crafts
- Peanut Butter Chocolate from the Puna Chocolate Company (they have locations in both Hilo and Kona) Also worth noting are the local macadamia nut and coconut and the black walnut praline bars. (<— Yes, this bar sounds more like something that you’d find in Asheville than Hawaii, but still.)
- Locally-grown Ceylon cinnamon
- Hawaiian Grown Flavors‘ Lilikoi Fruit Rollups, which you can buy at the Kamuela Farmers Market on Saturdays. It’s like a 90’s-style fruit rollup, only it’s made from dried local fruit!