Are you searching for the best botanical gardens on Oahu? This guide from an Oahu, Hawaii local has everything that you need to know.
Visitors to Oahu tend to have a love of nature, so it’s no surprise that the botanical gardens on Oahu are becoming beloved attractions. From stunning mountains to plants of the world and even a few animal visitors, these Oahu botanical gardens are prime little pockets of nature.
Just a quarter mile off the shore of the famous Kailua Beach lies Popoia Island, also known as Flat Island. Want to make your way out to this little piece of paradise? Here’s everything you need to know!
Are you looking for the best things to do in Kailua, Hawaii? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!
The picture-perfect town of Kailua, Hawaii is known for its stunning beaches, but there are so many other things to do in Kailua! From delicious food spots to fantastic hikes to beautiful botanical gardens, you’ll easily be able to find activities that pique your interest.
To help you figure out what else to do in this amazing town, here are 24 incredible things to do in Kailua.
Are you looking for the best Oahu scenic drives? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!
Oahu, Hawaii is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you can see a ton of the island’s nature beauty on casual Oahu scenic drives. You don’t have to go on difficult hikes or pay expensive tour companies to get some of the best views. This guide has nine of the most stunning Oahu scenic drives.
Before I get started, I want to clarify something. While you can drive around the entire island of Oahu in one day, I don’t recommend it. As a matter of fact, one of the most popular Hawaii FAQs is, “How long does it take to drive around Oahu?”
In theory, without the island’s horrendous traffic, it only takes three and a half hours. But this means that you’ll miss all of the excitement in the middle, and you won’t make any stops. Instead, I recommend picking and choosing your favorite Oahu scenic drives from the list below and centering a day-long itinerary around that area, rather than trying to cover the entire island in one day.
Are you looking for a list of the best things to do in Hilo, Hawaii? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything that you need to know!
The sleepy town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii is a hidden gem. There are so many wonderful things to do in Hilo, from waterfalls to active volcanoes to beaches. Here are 49 awesome things to do in Hilo, Hawaii.
*Note: This list of things to do also includes Hamakua, Puna, and Kau.
Things to Do in Hamakua
Get the Best Malasadas on the Island at Tex Drive-In
Malasadas are Hawaii’s replacement for the typical American donut. For a long time, Hawaii was severely lacking on donut joints. But we always had the puffy, fried, sugar-coated rounds of deliciousness that actually originated in Portugal. If you’re looking for the best malasadas on the Big Island, head to Tex Drive-In in Honokaa.
Check Out the 13th Tallest Waterfall in the World
At 2,600 feet, Waihilau Falls is the thirteenth tallest waterfall in the world and the third tallest in Hawaii! It is still kept in pristine condition, because Waihilau Falls is MUCH more difficult to access in comparison to the rest of the waterfalls on this list.
Located in the greenery-filled, cliff-ridden Waimanu Valley, Hilo locals are pretty much the only people with the knowledge to access this breathtaking Hilo waterfall. So if you’re a skilled hiker with a local friend, consider adding Waihilau Falls to your Hilo bucket list.
Learn About Vanilla Farming at Hawaiian Vanilla Co.
First established in 1998, the Hawaiian Vanilla Co. has found its place in Hilo. While there, you can walk through the vineyards, purchase some product from their gift shop, and even partake in a vanilla experience luncheon. This vanilla experience luncheon incorporates vanilla into every aspect of the meal – from vanilla lemonade to garam masala shrimp with vanilla butter to, of course, vanilla bean ice cream.
Things to Do in Hilo
Take in the Beauty of Akaka Falls
One of the most famous Hilo waterfalls is Akaka Falls. Because of that, the state of Hawaii has created the Akaka Falls State Park. That means there are tons of paved paths for you to wander around, making it the most kid-friendly waterfall on this list!
Kahuna Falls is also in the park, but, if I’m being honest, it doesn’t stand a chance in comparison to the 442-foot Akaka Falls. If you want to make the most of your time at the falls, try to get there before 5 p.m., as the parking lot closes at 6 p.m.
Because it is a state park, it has a $5 parking fee per car (if you have a Hawaii State ID, just show it to the parking attendant.) They also offer umbrellas (for an optional donation), so don’t let a little rain cancel this adventure!
Stock Up on Hawaii’s Best Cookies at Big Island Candies Factory
Even though the treats from Big Island Candies are some of the most popular ones in the islands, their factory is located in the sleepy town of Hilo. Not only can you stock up on their delicious cookies, but you can watch the cookie-making in progress!
Watch the Best of the Best Perform at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival
The most esteemed hula festival in the world is the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii. Each April, the best of the best hula halau (hula groups) are invited to participate in the Merrie Monarch Festival. Tons of people from across the globe hope to watch these hula masters in action.
Tickets for this renowned hula festival typically sell out in just a few days! If you would like a glimpse of authentic Hawaiian culture, check the Merrie Monarch website for instructions to get tickets.
Trek Down to Onomea Bay
Onomea Bay is Hilo’s local secret. Because its off of Hilo’s main road and it requires a short hike, most visitors don’t even have the chance to stumble upon it! The bay’s deep blue ocean, lush green plants, and dark black lava rock resemble old Hawaii, before the state became such a popular tourist destination.
Taste Some Tea at Onomea Tea Company
Looking for a tea tour or tasting? Onomea Tea Company is the place to go! Learn about how tea is grown, prepared, and turned into a delicious warm drink! Do note that these tours and tastings are by reservation only, so refer to the Onomea Tea Company website to learn more or to book your experience.
Or, Instead of Tea, How About Beer?
If tea isn’t quite your thing, head over to Hawaii Nui Brewing. Also known as Mehana Brewing Company or Hilo Brewing & Beverage Co., (there’s a merger happening so it’s a bit confusing), this beer company claims the title as the FIRST brewery on the Big Island. Sample all seven of the beers that they offer for just $6, and maybe even purchase some to take home!
Learn About Hawaii’s Plants at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Plant-lovers, scientists, and photographers alike all find their way to the beautiful Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. This 40-acre valley is home to over 2,000 different species of plants, many of which can only be found in Hawaii! As a matter of fact, this lovely botanical garden has over 2,000 reviews on TripAdvisor and is still a solid five stars! So this seems to be a must-visit on your trip to Hilo.
Spot Baby Hammerhead Sharks in Hilo Bay
Hilo Bay is a well-known “pupping ground” for hammerhead sharks. In other words, if you get lucky, you can see little baby hammerheads swimming around Hilo Bay!
Snorkel at Richarson Beach Park
Just a short fifteen minutes outside of the city of Hilo, Richardson Beach Park is a hidden haven. Besides its sparkling black sand, Richardson Beach Park is also the best place to snorkel south of Hilo. There is a fantastic array of fish and turtles that like to visit this black sand beach. Combine this with calm waters and shallow tide pools, Richardson Beach Park is one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii for children.
Get Hawaii’s Best Mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen
Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo took the Japanese dessert known as mochi and added little local twists. Traditionally, Japanese mochi is a sticky dessert made of rice flour. While Two Ladies Kitchen is known for its strawberry-filled mochi (that’s right – there’s a whole fresh strawberry inside), they have also created mochi in dozens of flavors like lilikoi (passion fruit), persimmon, nectarine, ube (sweet purple potato), and even brownie!
*Note: Two Ladies Kitchen is a CASH-ONLY establishment.
Enjoy Dinner at Moon & Turtle
Located in downtown Hilo, Moon & Turtle is considered to be not just one of the best restaurants in Hilo, but one of the best restaurants in all of Hawaii. This small restaurant consistently has high-quality, delicious food, despite the fact that their menu changes daily. While on one day you might have the option to order wild boar puttanesca, on another day, miso chili yaki udon might be the star of the menu.
If you do plan on dining at Moon & Turtle, you should definitely make reservations! The restaurant only has a few tables, and, because of the delicious food, these tables get filled quickly!
Check Out Pe’epe’e Falls
Just upstream from Rainbow Falls on the Wailuku River is Pe’epe’e Falls. Pe’epe’e Falls (pronounced peh-eh peh-eh) is one of the local favorite Hilo waterfalls. Many days, you’ll find a group of teenagers hanging out by the falls, enjoying the water. However, visitors tend to just view Pe’epe’e Falls from the viewpoint.
Venturing closer to Pe’epe’e Falls can be quite the dangerous encounter. While the locals know what to look for, visitors tend to be ignorant of the natural patterns in the area, which can put them in danger. Waikulu River can rise quite quickly, and, therefore, can cause flash floods. These can prove to be extremely dangerous to visitors who do not see these flash floods coming. Therefore, I would not recommend venturing closer to Pe’epe’e Falls without a local.
*Note: If you are using Google Maps, plug in “Boiling Pots” instead of “Pe’epe’e Falls”. Even though the two sites are right next to each other, if you plug in “Pe’epe’e Falls,” Google Maps takes you to a place with no access and no view of the falls.
Pop by the Boiling Pots Next Door
Boiling Pots, which is right next to Pe’epe’e Falls, is a portion of Wailuku Falls that appears to be boiling. On really calm and low flow days, you’ll see some locals simply floating in the pools.
Take a Ziplining Tour of Umauma Falls
Umauma Falls has capitalized on Hilo visitors’ love of waterfalls. This three-tiered waterfall has been coupled with zipline, rappel, and ATV experiences! During the popular 90-minute zipline tour, guests have the chance to tackle two miles of zipline, zip over 14 different waterfalls, and experience stunning views!
If you would simply like to check out the waterfall, the entrance fee is $10. The falls close at 5 p.m., so be sure to get there by 4:30 p.m. to have enough time to enjoy Umauma Falls.
Learn About Space at the Imiloa Astronomy Center
If you’re into astronomy, be sure to add the Imiloa Astronomy Center to your list of things to do in Hilo. This astronomy center teaches its visitors how the Polynesians viewed the stars, including information on Polynesian constellations and how they used the stars to navigate. There are also several space-themed shows to enjoy in their planetarium, including “Mauna Kea: Between Earth and Sky” and “Earth, Moon, & Sun.”
Learn About One of the Strongest Natural Phenomena at the Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Tsunami Museum acts as both a museum and a memorial. While you can learn a ton about this natural phenomenon, you can also pay your respects to those who have passed away due to tsunamis as well as recognize those who survived such a natural disaster.
Stare in Awe at Rainbow Falls
Officially located in Wailuku River State Park, Rainbow Falls, also known as Waianuenue Falls, is just a few minutes away from the city center of Hilo. The best time to visit Rainbow Falls is in the morning, as the sun may shine on the falls and make it look like it is wrapped in a rainbow! But, honestly, this 80-foot waterfall is breathtaking at any time of day.
There are two viewpoints of Rainbow Falls. One has a beautiful clear view of the falls just a few steps from the parking lot, and one has a view of Rainbow Falls from above. Personally, I prefer the view near the parking lot, because it is quite difficult to see the falls from the upper viewpoint. There isn’t really much to see from the above lookout point.
Explore the Kaumana Caves
The Kaumana Caves are part of a 25-mile-long lava tube in Hilo. Due to some of the lava tube being on private property, only a couple miles on either end of the lava tube are open to the public. If you turn your back into the lava tube while inside of it, it creates a pretty cool skylight filled with the natural greenery in the area.
Hike to Waiale Falls
Everyone knows, where there’s a river, there might be more waterfalls. The Wailuku River not only hosts Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, and Pe’epe’e Falls, but it is also home to Waiale Falls.
If you’re looking for a Hilo waterfall with a short hike, Waiale Falls is for you! This 0.6-mile hike takes you to the two-tiered Waiale Falls. While this hike is rather short, it can get quite muddy due to Hilo’s frequent rain, so make sure you are prepared with the proper clothing and footwear before heading out! Also, just like Pe’epe’e Falls, a flash flood can strike at any time, so be aware of the weather and your surroundings!
Visit the Free Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens
As the only natural-occurring rainforest zoo in the U.S., the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is quite a treat – especially considering that it’s free to visit! Check out their eighty different animal species, including a white Bengal tiger named Tzatziki and an orange Bengal tiger named Sriracha. You’ll also be able to get a chance to see some of Hawaii’s endangered bird species, including the io (Hawaiian hawk), pueo (Hawaiian owl), and the nene goose (Hawaii’s state bird).
Stock Up on Fresh Produce and Local Finds at Hilo Farmers Market
Visiting a farmer’s market is just a part of getting the true feel for Hawaii. That’s why it made it onto our Hawaii Bucket List. Stock up on new fruits like rambutan, yellow dragon fruit, lilikoi (passion fruit), mountain apples, and guava. Try locally-produced honey and meat. Maybe even purchase locally-created jewelry made of flowers or shells. While the Hilo Famers Market is open every day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., the “big market days” are Wednesday and Saturday.
Spend Some Time at Four Mile
Four Mile, also known as Carlsmith Beach Park, is a great place to snorkel and swim! The lava rock and reef create a natural wall-like barrier from the ocean, protecting the swimming area from strong currents and creating a sort of giant tide pool. In addition to the schools of colorful fish, it’s not uncommon to see a turtle (locally known as honu) or two!
Check Out the 100-Foot Waterfall at the World Botanical Gardens
If you visited Hilo more than a decade ago, there’s a good chance you had no idea about Kama’e’e Falls. Located within the World Botanical Gardens, this beautiful piece of scenery only opened in 2009. This 100-foot waterfall is unique, because its water actually comes from a lava tube, rather than from rainwater.
Cliff Jump at Coconut Island
Coconut Island, also known as Moku Ola, is a popular cliff jumping location in Hilo. There is a 20-foot, manmade stone tower on the northern tip of the island that is great for kids who want to try out cliff jumping! If you’re little one is a bit too nervous for the 20-foot one, there is a 10-foot jump that can be used instead.
Stay at an Inn with a Natural Waterfall in the Backyard
The only way to see Kulaniapia Falls is to stay the night The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls. This particular waterfall is the largest privately accessible waterfall in Hawaii. But I mean, who else can stay that they’ve stayed at a hotel with a 120-foot natural waterfall in the backyard?
If you’re looking to stay the night at The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, room rates start at $199 per night, depending on season and availability. There is also the farm cabin accommodation option, which starts at $79 per night.
Things to Do in Puna
Visit the Newest Black Sand Beach: Pohoiki Beach
Located on the Hilo side of the Big Island, Pohoiki Beach, also known as Isaac Hale State Park, is the most recently created (or I suppose recreated) black sand beach in Hawaii. In October 2018, the lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano created the beautiful black sand of Pohoiki Beach.
The highlight of Pohoiki Beach is the fresh black sand. In comparison to other black sand beaches on the island, the sand at Pohoiki is significantly darker, because it is much fresher. The sun hasn’t had time to make it grayer. If you want the blackest of sand, brush away the top level of sand with your foot. The sand beneath the surface hasn’t even seen sun before, so it’s the blackest it can get!
Check Out the Makuu Farmers Market
If you’re looking for another bustling Hilo farmers market to check out, the Makuu Farmers Market is a fantastic option. Open every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., find almost anything you could want at a Hawaii farmers market from eight different varieties of mangoes to stunning seashell jewelry.
*Note: There is a $2 entrance fee for the Makuu Farmers Market.
Check Out the Puu Loa Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs were the ancient Hawaiian form of pictorial writing. Just as the ancient Egyptians had hieroglyphics, the ancient Hawaiians had petroglyphs. Typically, the petroglyphs were carved into lava rock, allowing them to still exist today.
Located within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Puu Loa Petroglyph trail is 0.7 miles (1.4 miles round trip). If you do plan on exploring this trail, bring a lot of water and sunscreen, because there isn’t any shade.
Get Your Fill of Mac Nuts at Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm
The most popular macadamia nut company in Hawaii (and maybe even the world) is Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. Take a couple of hours to visit their factory in Hilo on the Big Island, and you won’t be disappointed! Drive through three miles of macadamia nut trees, learn about the macadamia harvesting process, munch on some free samples, and perhaps even buy some to take home with you!
Take a Horseback Riding Tour at Paani Ranch
The 1.5-hour Horseback Riding Tour at Paani Ranch allows you to ride through the 220-acre ranch. Discover the ranch’s history, learn about the culture of the Big Island, and take in all of the beautiful natural sights while on your friendly horse.
Things to Do in Kau
Hike to the Green Sand Beach
That’s right. In addition to 12 black sand beaches, Hawaii also has a green sand beach for you to visit. Papakolea Green Sand Beach located on the Big Island of Hawaii boasts this green sand beach of green crystals known as olivine (which also came from the volcanoes’ lava).
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
One of the most famous things to do in Hilo is visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are two volcanoes located within the park: Mauna Loa and Kilauea. While Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, Kilauea has pretty much been active ever since then! There are also 150 miles of hiking trails, a museum, and ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs (the ancient Hawaiian pictorial form of writing) in the park.
And While You’re There, Warm Up by the Steam Vents
The Kilauea Volcano is constantly emitting heat – although not necessarily through lava. This volcano also emits heat through steam vents! And you can actually access these steam vents and warm your hands up, because it can be quite chilly at such a high altitude.
*Note: it smells like rotten eggs at these steam vents because of the sulfur that is being released.
And Walk Through the Thurston Lava Tube
A lava tube is pretty much what it sounds like: a tube (usually made out of hardened lava rock) that lava from a volcano once flowed through. Pretty cool, right? By far, the most popular and well-known lava tube is the Thurston Lava Tube, also known as Nahuku, on the Big Island. This is one of the only lava tubes that you can easily walk through.
Maybe Even Catch a Glimpse of Some Lava Flowing
Currently, across all of the Hawaiian Islands, there is only one active volcano: Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. That means, if you’re going to have any chance of getting a glimpse of lava, you’ll have to go there.
While some risky adventurers attempt to hike to see the lava, that sounds like a lot of work with a questionable amount of reward. I mean, what if the lava is flowing two miles away from where you expected it to be? That’s a lot more extra walking. Instead, there are both boat tours and helicopter tours that can get you to safely get a glimpse of this glowing hot lava from Kilauea.
Visit the Volcano Winery
Just a five-minute drive outside of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Volcano Winery. So why not pair your trip to the volcanoes with a quick wine tasting?
Embrace the Art of Hula at the Hula Arts at Kilauea Series
The Hula Arts at Kilauea Series combines Hawaii’s natural beauty and cultural beauty. This monthly event includes hula performances, Hawaiian cultural demonstrations, discussions of hula genealogy, and even classes on Hawaiian language!
Visit the Most Popular Black Sand Beach: Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii. Located on the southeastern coast of the Big Island, Punaluu Black Sand Beach is often visited in conjunction with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
*Local Tip: If you want to snorkel at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, walk over to the Ninole Cove area.
While You’re There, See If You Can Spot Some Turtles
The black sand at Punaluu Black Sand Beach is already stunning. But imagine this black sand with a turtle or two relaxing on it! Punaluu Black Sand Beach is known for having turtles basking. If you do see a turtle, please give it some space! If you were relaxing, you wouldn’t want anyone getting in your bubble, right? Same for the lovely turtles.
The Kilauea Iki Trail allows visitors to access a volcano crater that is still warm to the touch! It’s such a unique experience! Before reaching the crater part of the trail, there is also quite a lot of greenery in the area to admire as well.
*Note: Due to the lava flow in 2018, the Kilauea Iki Trail is no longer a loop and is instead an out-and-back trail. So that means, whatever you go down (including into the crater), you must go up!
Take a Helicopter Tour Over the Volcano
If there is one thing that you MUST do in Hilo, it’s take a helicopter tour. The Big Island of Hawaii is filled with so many unique terrains that only become even more beautiful from the air. Get glimpses of an active volcano, black sand beaches, stunning coastlines, powerful waterfalls, and lush jungles. Is there anywhere in the world where you can take a more jaw-dropping helicopter tour? Probably not.
Baked at the southern-most tip of the United States on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Punaluu Bake Shop sells sweet bread in a variety of my flavors. My favorites are definitely traditional, guava, and taro.
Hike in the Desert
So far on this list of things to do in Hilo, we’ve recommended hiking to waterfalls, on lava rock, and to green sand beaches. But could you imagine hiking in the desert on the same day? The Big Island of Hawaii boasts ten of the fourteen climate zones, according to the Koppen Climate Classification System. In practical terms that means that in Hilo, you can hike in both a jungle and a desert in one day. So why not tackle the Kau Desert Trail and make that challenge happen?
Things to Do Anywhere in Hilo
Take a Drive Along the Hamakua Coast
Sometimes a scenic drive can be the highlight of a trip. In this case, a drive along the Hamakua Coast may be one of the best things to do in Hilo. This 40-mile drive cuts through Hilo and Hamakua. It has stunning waterfalls, breathtaking ocean views, and even a glimpse of a black sand beach! If you’d like to make sure that you don’t miss any of the must-see stops, consider taking a guided tour.
To drive along the Hamakua Coast from Hilo, plug-in “Waipio Valley Lookout” into Google Maps.
If you have ever been in Hilo after dark, you’ll be familiar with the sound of the coqui frogs. Originally from Puerto Rico, these itty bitty frogs are only about an inch long. Even though they are tiny, by the thousands, they make quite a lot of noise. The high-pitched noise they create could easily be mistaken for birds – but don’t be fooled! That’s the call of the coqui frog.
Do a Hike or Beach Clean-Up
It’s important to give back to the places that bring you so much joy. After surfing, hiking, relaxing, and eating your heart out, consider doing a hike or beach clean-up to help out the nature in Hilo. Not only does this activity have the potential to be a fun, fulfilling experience, but if you spend so much time on your vacation enjoying this beautiful trash-free environment, why not help the islands stay that way? Just grab a trash bag (and perhaps some gloves) and pick up anything that doesn’t belong. Thank you for your help in advance!
Are you looking for a list of the best things to do in Kona? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know about the wonderful west side of the Big Island.
There are so many amazing things to do in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. From animal encounters to black sand beaches to delicious food, there’s no shortage of activities to do there! Here are 45 spectacular things to do in Kona, Hawaii.
The Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii consists of a few different regions, including North Kohala, South Kohala, Kailua-Kona, South Kona, and Parts of Hamakua.
Things to Do in North Kohala
Do a Kohala Zipline Tour
If you’re an adrenaline junky, a Kohala Zipline tour should be high on your list of things to do in Kona. There are a couple of different zipline adventures for you to choose from: the Kohala Canopy Adventure and the Kohala Zip & Dip. The Kohala Canopy Adventure is three hours of nearly non-stop ziplining and stunning views! The Kohala Zip & Dip includes a bit of ziplining, views of three waterfalls, and even a quick dip in one of those waterfalls!
If you’ve done a bit of diving in the past, consider adding diving to see the shipwreck at Mahukona Harbor.
Things to Do in South Kohala
Relax at Hapuna Beach
Hapuna Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Kona Coast – and rightly so. Between its sunny weather, prime snorkeling, and glowing white sand, what’s not to love?
Ride the Tram and the Boat at Hilton Waikoloa Village
The Hilton Waikoloa Village, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is one of the most elaborate hotels in the world, not just on the Big Island of Hawaii. The resort has the several pools, the Legends of Hawaii Luau, a fantastic spa, and a lagoon for kayaking and other boat-related activities.
But the kid-favorite of the Hilton Waikoloa Village are the trams and the boats. That’s right: the resort is so large there are trams and boats that are used to transport the guests from one point to another for free. And kids (and adults) love it.
Unbeknownst to many people, Hawaii has their own version of cowboys called paniolos. Parker Ranch is the largest community of paniolos in the islands. Take a tour, learn about the history of the ranch, and wander around the paniolo museum at the ranch.
Things to Do in Kailua-Kona
Spend a Day at Kua Bay
As a Hawaii local, Kua Bay has made it into my top three favorite beaches across the Hawaiian Islands. From the picturesque water to the made-for-bodyboarding waves to prime snorkeling to seashell hunting, Kua Bay is an ocean lovers dream!
Visit the Kanaloa Octopus Farm
The Kanaloa Octopus Farm is committed to the preservation of octopi. On the whole, humans have a difficult time preserving sea creatures that they also consume, including octopi. Kanaloa Octopus Farm is working to find a solution to that problem by researching the effects of certain variables on the octopi’s living conditions.
If you plan on visiting the Kanaloa Octopus Farm, do note that the tours are only offered twice a day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. In addition, for accurate directions, use the farm’s website, rather than Google Maps or Apple Maps.
*Note: For the safety and health of the animals, you are only allowed to visit one sea creature farm per day.
Or the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm
If you love seahorses, the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm will be a dream for you! This is the only aquarium or farm in the entire United States where you can pet a seahorse! What’s even better is that the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm’s main priority is to help prevent seahorses from becoming extinct through both education and propagation. Because of this mindset, Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm provides the seahorses with facilities that are perfect for them.
If you fall in love with the seahorses from your visit, you can actually purchase a seahorse for your home! These seahorses can cost anywhere from $75 to $400 each. (Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm does NOT sell seahorses to residents of the Hawaiian Islands.)
*Note: For the safety and health of the animals, you are only allowed to visit one sea creature farm per day.
Or the Big Island Abalone Farm
Abalone, a type of edible mollusk, is considered to be a delicacy in some parts of the world. As a matter of fact, the abalone from Big Island Abalone is used in dozens of restaurants on the Big Island, Oahu, and even parts of the mainland U.S. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12:15 p.m., you can take part in a guided tour of the abalone farm!
*Note: For the safety and health of the animals, you are only allowed to visit one sea creature farm per day.
Perhaps Even Kona Cold Lobsters
Seahorse, octopi, and abalone – oh my! Why not add lobster to your list of sea creatures to see in Kona at Kona Cold Lobsters!
*Note: For the safety and health of the animals, you are only allowed to visit one sea creature farm per day.
Fill Your Tummy with Hayashi’s Hand Rolls
“You Make the Roll,” locally known as Hayashi’s, is the place to get hand rolls! The demand for the sushi at Hayashi’s is so high that sometimes the workers will have to close the shop for an hour just to catch up on orders! Despite this wait time, customers consistently say that Hayashi’s is worth it.
Visit a Kona Farmers Market
Visiting a farmer’s market is just a part of getting the true feel for Hawaii. That’s why it made it onto our Hawaii Bucket List. Stock up on new fruits like rambutan, yellow dragon fruit, lilikoi (passion fruit), mountain apples, and guava. Try locally-produced honey and meat. Maybe even purchase locally-created jewelry made of flowers or shells. This list of all of the Kona farmers markets, their locations, and their hours should be helpful.
Soak in the Sun at Mahaiula Beach
If you’re looking for a beach on the Kona coast with amazing swimming and snorkeling conditions, Mahaiula Beach is the beach for you! Or if you prefer to stay dry, you can simply soak up the sun and the views.
Snorkel with Manta Rays at Night
If you’re looking for one of the most unique things to do in Kona, snorkeling with manta rays at night is an awesome option. The plankton that the manta rays eat is attracted to light, so at night the plankton grows in the pockets of light provided by hotels and other buildings. In the case of the manta ray snorkel tours, the tours have a floating device that creates this light.
Learn about Hawaiian History at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Many visitors come to Hawaii and get caught up with the relaxing beaches, stunning hikes, and delicious food. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park encourages visitors to take a break from that to learn about Hawaiian history and culture. Check out petroglyphs (the ancient Hawaiian form of pictorial writing), learn about the engineering feats of the ancient fishponds, and even catch a glimpse of some of Hawaii’s wildlife.
Watch the Local Surfers at Banyans
Banyans is one of the best places to surf in Kona. Because of the huge waves and the other ocean dangers, it is recommended that only locals and pros surf there. That said, watching the surfers at Banyans can be almost as awe-inspiring at experiencing the waves yourself!
Visit the Summer Home of Hawaiian Royalty: Hulihee Palace
In the past, Hulihee Palace was used as the summer home of Hawaiian royalty. It now a museum that showcases Victorian artifacts from the time period of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.
Get Your Hands on Some Ululani’s Shave Ice
Time and time again, I’ve written about how Ululani’s has the best shave ice in the Hawaiian Islands. The fresh, real flavors and the soft ice texture of Ululani’s makes it undoubtedly the one you should try.
Get Caffeinated at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
If you happen to be in Kona in November, you can pump even more caffeine into your bloodstream at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. Choose coffee from over 30 different Kona Coffee farms, learn about the history of Kona Coffee, watch an international panel of judges pick the best cup of Kona Coffee, and even take part in a Kona Coffee Lantern Parade.
In order to attend the event, you must purchase a souvenir festival button for $3.
Go on a Petroglyph Walk
Petroglyphs were the Native Hawaiians’ pictorial form of writing. Think of them as like the hieroglyphics of the Native Hawaiian people. The best place to see petroglyphs is on the Big Island of Hawaii, as many of these images have been carved into lava rock.
Kona Brewing Co. is one of the most popular beers brewed in the Hawaiian Islands. This particular company puts in huge efforts to be sustainable and to encourage people to go outside and experience nature! You can also take a one-hour tour of their brewery in Kailua-Kona (which includes four 4-ounce beer samples for those 21+). Be sure to reserve your tour in advance!
*Note: If you would like to visit the Kona Brewing Co. factory, children under 15 years old are not permitted.
Take a Sustainability Tour
Kona is one part of the Hawaiian Islands that has made a clear effort towards sustainability. From algae growing to ocean conservation, the community is doing what they can to keep the Hawaiian Islands – and the world – as beautiful as possible. If you are interested in Kona’s sustainability efforts, Friends of NELHA (Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority) offers tours every Tuesday through Friday beginning at 10 a.m.
Things to Do in South Kona
Check Out The Coffee Shack
Located just above Kealakekua Bay, The Coffee Shack has stunning views, in addition to fantastic food, coffee, and service. Until the mid-1980s, The Coffee Shack roasted coffee for the many local coffee farms in the area. Now, it has become known for its ono eggs benedict, Hawaiian French toast, various cheesecakes, and, of course, the coffee.
Kayak at Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay is actually a Marine Life Conservation District, making it a popular place for ocean creatures to hang out. In addition to the colorful coral and fish, you may also see some dolphins hanging out! So grab a kayak (or a snorkel mask) and explore Kealakekua Bay!
Between 1899 and 1904, Belgian artist-priest John Berchmans Velge painted the entire interior of St. Benedict’s Painted Church. Murals of biblical stories painted in bright colors fill the walls and the ceiling of this quaint church just a few miles outside of Kona.
Spend a Day at Big Island Bees
The workers at Big Island Bees (including the 120 million bees) put a TON of work into creating single-floral raw and organic Hawaiian honeys. In other words, each of their jars of honey is made from the pollen of just one rare Hawaiian flower.
When you visit their facility in Kona, you’ll be able to take a beekeeping tour, sample different types of honey, and visit their honey museum. You’ll also be able to purchase their special local honey! Personally, I highly recommend the Ohia Lehua honey. It’s so good that I included it in Part 2 of the Hawaii Food Bucket List!
Discover the Place of Refuge: Puuhonua O Honaunau National Park
Puuhonua O Honaunau National Park was a place of refuge for the ancient Hawaiians. If you had broken the laws or if there was simply a war in progress, no one could be hurt within the boundaries of Puuhonua O Honaunau. Today, it serves a place to learn about the Puuhonua as well as Hawaiian culture.
Spot Some Turtles at Honaunau Bay
Spotting turtles in Hawaii is a must in my opinion. The best place to spot them in Kona is at Honaunau Bay. Honaunau Bay is known to locals to have some of the best snorkeling on the islands. It’s not uncommon to see not only turtles, but even dolphins in Honaunau Bay!
Check Out the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay
In 1779, Captain James Cook became the first westerner to land in the Hawaiian Islands – and that just happened to be at Kealakekua Bay. Now the beautiful Kealakekua Bay hosts a monument of the famous explorer.
Things to Do in Hamakua
Stare in Awe from Waipio Valley Lookout
Similar to Pololu Valley Lookout, Waipio Valley Lookout also boast stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, a black sand beach, and flourishing greenery. This section of land on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast is one of the most isolated parts of the island, making it a remote paradise.
Take a Horseback Riding Tour through Waipio Valley to Reach a Black Sand Beach
In order to get to Waipio Valley, you must either hike or drive a 4WD down one of the steepest roads in the U.S. – and this road is unpaved. Or you can take a horseback riding tour. With experienced guides and horses, a horseback riding tour may actually be the safest way to get into Waipio Valley. Companies including Waipio on Horseback, Naalapa Stables, and Paniolo Adventures are all great options.
Stare in Awe at Hiilawe Falls
Hillawe Falls is the most famous waterfall in the Waipio Valley. For years, it was estimated to be 1,400 feet high! However, recently the waters that once supplied Hiilawe Falls have mostly been redirected for agricultural purposes. That said, if you do happen to catch the falls after a drenching rain, you may be able to catch Hiilawe Falls in its former glory.
Take in the Views from Pololu Valley Lookout
Located on the northern tip of the Big Island, the Pololu Valley Lookout provides some of the most stunning views of the island. Just take in the breathtaking picture of the blue Pacific Ocean, black sand beach, and plant-laden cliffs.
Hike through Pololu Valley for the Stunning Views and the Black Sand Beach
If you get inspired by the view at Pololu Valley Lookout and want a closer look, why not hike through Pololu Valley? In order to get to reach the black sand beach, you’ll start at Pololu Valley Lookout and then take Pololu Trail (also known as Awini Trail) down to the black sand beach shore. While this hike is just over half a mile, you’ll go down 500 feet in altitude! And remember: what you go down, you must come up!
Although the Hilo side of the Big Island is known for its waterfalls, Kona has a few that are worth your time. If you happen to be lucky enough (in other words, if it has rained enough recently), Kaluahine Falls might be flowing in Waipio Valley. Even better, it might be flowing right into the ocean! AND it’ll be flowing right into the ocean directly next to a black sand beach and bright green cliffs. It’s one of the most picturesque scenes in the world!
Do note that getting to Waipio Valley can be quite the challenge. Between the 4WD, extremely steep roads, hikes, and rainy weather, there are a lot of factors that may not work in your favor.
See SNOW in Hawaii
Mauna Kea is one Hawaii’s most amazing mountains. Because the summit is nearly 14,000 feet high, the altitude makes the Hawaii weather cool enough for snow!
If you would like to drive to the summit yourself, there are a few things you should know. Harper Car and Truck Rental is the only car rental company that allows you to summit Mauna Kea; however, know that their inspections upon returning the car are VERY thorough. Also, remember to dress warmly! Just because it’s Hawaii, doesn’t mean it’s warm everywhere.
The other option is to take a tour to the summit of Mauna Kea. These tours are usually for stargazing, but you will likely reach the peak just before sunset. So you’ll still be able to see the snow in Hawaii before it gets dark! For Mauna Kea stargazing tours, please refer to the next point. Or if you’re more of an early bird than a night owl, there are Mauna Kea sunrise tours as well.
Not only can you see SNOW in Hawaii on Mauna Kea, you can also do some of the best stargazing in the world! There are two options for stargazing at Mauna Kea: at the visitor center or at the summit.
Personally, I recommend the visitor center. Most car rental companies do not allow you to go to the summit of Mauna Kea, according to the rental car contracts. However, you can go all the way to the visitor center. In addition, there is a free stargazing program at the visitor center four nights per week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
If you prefer to try to go to the summit for your stargazing experience, there are a few things you should know. As mentioned previously, Harper Car and Truck Rental is the only car rental company that allows you to summit Mauna Kea. (Don’t forget about their VERY thorough inspections.) Once you get to the top, there are NO telescopes available for public use, and you will not be able to enter the buildings.
If you are set on stargazing from the summit of Mauna Kea, your only option is to take a tour. These tours, which average around $225 – $250 per person, typically last around seven to eight hours.
*Note: because of the altitude change, you should not go scuba diving and reach the summit of Mauna Kea within 24 hours of each other.
If you love astronomy, you definitely should add the W. M. Keck Observatory to your list of things to do (along with stargazing on Mauna Kea). Every Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers are available to explain the ins-and-outs of the W. M. Keck Observatory, as well as the other observatories on Mauna Kea. You’ll also be able to view models of the twin 10-meter Keck Observatory telescopes and even learn about their most recent discoveries!
Find the Secret Waterslide in the Middle of Nature
Yes, there is a 35-foot waterslide in the middle of the Big Island forest. Are you up for trying to find it?
*Note: many reports have made it clear that trying to find this secret waterslide is not wise. The path to get there requires following an unclear path, navigating on the side of a very steep cliff, and even marching through a tunnel filled with water.
Things to Do Anywhere in Kona
Go to a Luau
Luaus first came about in 1819, when King Kamehameha II decided to abolish the practice of men and women eating separately. In celebration of this declaration, King Kamehameha II planned a huge feast with both men and women. If you’re looking for a luau in Kona, check out either the Mauna Kea Luau at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel or the Legends of Hawaii Luau at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.
Hawaii is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with dolphins in the wild. They can enjoy their beautiful natural home, and you can watch them enjoy it! On the Big Island, the dolphins enjoy Makako Bay, Kealakekua Bay, and Honaunau Bay.
While you can attempt to find these dolphins on your own, you’ll have a much better chance of finding them if you take a tour.
If you do choose to swim with dolphins in the wild, please give them their space. When you see them, it’ll most likely be during daylight hours, when they’re resting. If you disturb them when they’re resting, they might act in more aggressive ways then they usually would, because their brains are actually half shut off when they rest! (It’s kind of like humans in the morning – we need a little time to wake up too!)
It’s important to give back to the places that bring you so much joy. After surfing, hiking, relaxing, and eating your heart out, consider doing a hike or beach clean-up to help out the nature in Kona.
Not only does this activity have the potential to be a fun, fulfilling experience, but if you spend so much time on your vacation enjoying this beautiful trash-free environment, why not help the islands stay that way?
Just grab a trash bag (and perhaps some gloves) and pick up anything that doesn’t belong. Thank you for your help in advance!
Do you have any other recommendations for things to do in Kona that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!
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Are you looking for the best Hilo waterfalls (and a map to go with it)? This article from a Hawaii local has everything that you need to know!
If you’re looking for things to do in Hilo, checking out all of the waterfalls should be at the top of your list. Hilo is one of the rainiest parts of the Hawaiian Islands, and that means that there are a ton of spectacular waterfalls in the area. Here are eight unreal Hilo waterfalls for you to explore.
The black sand beaches in Hawaii are one of the coolest natural sights to see in the islands. These natural wonders made of crushed lava rock are rather rare on a global scale, and people travel all over the world just to catch a glimpse of one. However, there are twelve black sand beaches in Hawaii alone!
Are you trying to figure out where to stay on Oahu, Hawaii? This guide from a an Oahu local has everything that you need to know.
Even though this amazing Hawaiian Island is rather small, it can be quite daunting to try to determine where to stay on Oahu. There are simply so many options!
Do you want popular Waikiki? Kid-friendly Ko Olina? Or perhaps the lazy North Shore? Considering staying at a vacation rental? Or just want to opt for the usual Oahu hotel? This guide to where to stay on Oahu will explore all of these areas and more, so you can decide on exactly where to stay on Oahu.
Going to a luau is a must-do on any trip to Hawaii. However, it can be quite difficult to find one that has preserved traditional Hawaiian culture. To help you out, here are four spectacular luaus on Oahu.