We are often asked about recommendations about what to see on the Big Island. There is so much to see and do it really depends on how active you want to be and your interests.
Here are some links that lists a lot of the must see sights on the Big Island:
Activities and Places To See:
Volcano National Park
Volcano is about a two hour and 15 minute drive from Kona (depending on weather and traffic.) About half of our guests visit Volcano as a day trip. The other half spend a night at Volcano – or tie it in with an extra night at Hilo. If you want to see lava flowing at night then a stop over is recommended. The Visitor Center is the place to start. There is a lot to see just there and they have the latest information about lava flows outside the park. For those so inclined we would suggest a hike into the crater if possible. At some point a drive down the “Chain of Craters” road is also quite good- but it is about an hour down and an hour back. This is the road that people used to view the active lava from. It is now cut off by that flow but it is a beautiful drive and the view of the ocean at the end is fantastic. Sometimes it is closed due to SO2 levels. To view the active lava you need to go outside the park. The road that you now use to see this flow was recently closed because of a new flow over it – it is in a constant state of flux over there. You can also see it from the ocean side by boats.
The elevation at Volcano is up there and therefore it can be very cool at night. It also can be quite humid. So bring something a bit warm for night and some house slippers as well. If you hike the Volcano floor make sure you have good hiking shoes, plenty of water and a hat – it can get quite toasty in the mid of the day.
Hilo is about a two hour drive from Kona via the “Saddle Road”. When in Hilo you can visit the Hawaii Botanical Garden – if you are interested in flora – really an amazing collection of tropical beauties:
Akaka Falls is quite a site and is near town. A bit further up the coast is Umauma Waterfalls and Gardens.
At about an hour drive, Waimea is also an easy day trip from Kona. They have a lovely Farmers Market on Saturday. Check out Merriman’s restaurant featured in the dinning section.
Not too far from Waimea is Waipio Valley and it is pretty incredible. While the road legally requires a 4 wheel drive car I would not suggest you taking your rental 4 wheel rental SUV down this road- it averages a 25% grade and is said to be 45% in one spot (making it the steepest maintained road in the world for its length). There are tour operators who can take you down and back – (that’s the real problem when you try to do it yourself – and the tow out of there will set you back half of your trip here!):
The Saddle Road
The “saddle road” that links Kona and Hilo (a shortcut of sorts) is an incredible drive in and of itself. It is usually the quickest route to Hilo. It is not suggested, however at night or during bad weather. There are no gas stations and if you experienced car trouble at night you would be on your own. Some guide books list it as under construction but the construction has finished and it is a beautiful drive most of the way. The road on Kona side is a bit rough for the first few miles (this is also the part that can be occasionally – and seriously – socked in with fog) – then it turns into a very newly paved road. The sight of weaving in between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes is breathtaking in good weather and is really other-worldly – the road is a “destination” unto itself! With the vastly improved road you can be in downtown Hilo (weather permitting) in about 2 hours.
If science minded consider visiting the Observatory. Atsumi has been there as well as several guests and they all rave about it. It is best to go with a tour group rather than try to drive it. It can get booked up as there are only 8 tour groups allowed to go there – so it is suggested to make reservations as soon as possible. General Information here:
Here is a list of the 8 permitted tour companies.
We have not been to a luau on the Big Island. Guests of our have and have had good comments to make about:
Mauna Kea Oceanfront Luau
This Luau is on the oceanfront and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a lovely setting:
The Trip Advisor Reviews:
We can give you much more detailed information about beaches – just ask us. Here is a link that lists many of the beaches with good instructions on how to find them:
The Kohala coast has some of the most incredible beaches in the state.
Our favorite is our “secret” beach (not really secret but a bit of a hassle to get to),
We feel that this beach is the best in the state and ranks right up there with any beach we have seen worldwide. The beach is about 25 minutes from us heading north on Queen K Highway. The airport is at mile marker 93 – the numbers go down as you head north. Make a left turn into Kekaha Kai State Park which is about halfway between mile markers 91 and 90. There is partially paved road in very bad condition that leads to the parking lot near the beach. It takes around 15 minutes traveling at 5 MPH or so to reach the end. You do not need a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this road but a car with some extra clearance is a plus. There is a beach right near the parking lot that is lovely- lots of shade in a protected cove. There is a porta-potty at the parking lot – the only one for all of the beaches. Makalawena beach is a 25 minute walk from the first beach over A’a’ lava. Sneakers or shoes are a must here – it is not advisable to take this path wearing flip-flops. After reaching the end of the trail you will cross over sand dunes and find a beach with large boulders in it. Continue on to the second beach – this is the best beach of the lot. If the surf conditions are rough the right side is the safest. The quality of the sand, the setting that offers a beautiful 360 degree undisturbed panorama and the isolation make this beach a real treasure. While there is plenty of shade be sure to bring enough drinking water. You can leave your snorkel gear behind as the surf conditions usually preclude snorkeling and there is no offshore reef. This link gives more information about it:
There is another way to get to the beach over a very radical 4-wheel drive “road” that is a bit further to the north. It is not advisable to bring a rental 4-wheel vehicle here as this road is best traveled in a monster truck with fat tires and a lifted bed. You still have a bit of a hike to the beach from the end of this road as well.
Hapuna Beach State Park
Hapuna is a world renowned beach and is well worth a visit. While not a snorkeling beach is has very decent snorkeling along the lava flows to the south of the beach in the mornings. It has restrooms, showers and a food stand. At the north end of the beach is the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel that serves alcohol and normal hotel priced lunches. The sand is super fine and the beach seems to stretch forever. While this beach can get “crowded” on the weekends – it is an enormous stretch of beach and even with the parking lot full we have never felt that the beach was overloaded with people.
Snorkeling – Kona
Kahalu’u Beach Park is a great snorkel spot at the south end of Alii Drive. You can rent snorkel gear there. The entry is very shallow but a bit slippery. There are often turtles to be seen here as well as lots of fish. A very popular place that can get a bit crowded:
South of Kona
Captain Cook Monument
Getting there can be a bit of a problem but the snorkeling and the frequent dolphins in the bay make it a great site. You can hike down (only advised for very fit people – the trail is about 2 miles down (and back) with a vertical drop of around 1,200 feet).
You can also book a tour with Fair winds
The ability to kayak in is in a state of flux – check with us about the situation.
Honaunau Bay – “Two Step”
This delightful spot is located next to the City Of Refuge – Pu’uhonau o Honaunau National Park – which is worth a visit in its own right. It is probably the premier snorkeling spot other than the bay in front of the Captain Cook Monument – and a lot easier to get to.
North of Kona
Puako Bay is located just south of Hapuna Beach. While there are no real beaches here there are 8-10 places to enter the water. This is a favorite dive spot with SCUBA divers. We have had guests who spent an entire week snorkeling here. Very good snorkeling in a spot you will seldom see a crowd. By some it is quietly considered the best snorkel spot on the Big Island. It is west facing and has little protection so if there is a swell it can be a bit rough.
The list here is too extensive to go into but includes, parasailing, sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, sport fishing, surfing, stand up paddle boards etc.
Snorkel & SCUBA Equipment
There are many places to buy or rent snorkel equipment in Kona and along Alii Drive. One place that we can recommend is Jack’s Diving Locker which is a favorite of serious divers. Staffed by a very knowledgeable staff they will take extra time to insure a good fit for a mask. They also offer dive boats.
The Humpback whales start arriving around December 1 and continue to be here through about April 15. We have found February to be the best month. We can highly recommend Ocean Sports out of Kawaihae. While you can go whale watching out of Kona we feel that it is often better up along the Kohala coast. If interested you should book early as they get filled up when the season is at its height:
Many people say that the helicopter tour of the volcano – especially when she is putting on fireworks was the highlight of their trip.
The 35 minute dive to 100 feet allows non-divers to see the beauty of our coral reefs.
All of the big Kohala resorts have fantastic golf courses, with prices to match. Several guests have golfed at Makalei Golf Club –(quite near to us up here) and were impressed with the course and the reasonable prices:
There is also Kona Country Club that has a nice course and is not in the same upper price range as fancier courses up the coast. They have two courses, the Ocean Course and the Mountain Course:
The also have a restaurant called the Vista Restaurant. There is more information about it further down the page.
Kona Farmer’s Market
A great place to stock up on fresh fruit and local produce at a fraction of the cost found in the supermarkets. On Alii Drive at the intersection of Hualalai road – across from Bubba Gumps. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Of course the quaint town of Holualoa (just 2.5 miles south from us) is well worth a visit. It has many arts and crafts stores and gives a glimpse of a simpler time in Kona. Many shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
LOCAL RESTAURANTS (favorite with locals and not upscale):
The Holuakoa Cafe in Holualoa makes an excellent stop for lunch if you are up exploring the Kona Coffee Belt or just want a place close by Kona View Estate for lunch or dinner (2.4 miles from us). The food is excellent and they feature as much local fare as possible (which is always excellent.) The restaurant is closed for Sunday dinner. Here are some reviews at Trip advisor:
Up here past Holualoa – about 15 minutes down our same road is Teshima– the lady who runs it is 103- it is not “authentic” Japanese but it is very popular with locals and the food is not at all bad:
Harbor House, – Quite a local favorite – overlooking the marina.
OLD INDUSTRIAL AREA (near Target and Sports Authority)
Killer Tacos– This not a fancy restaurant by any means but quite good tacos:
Ultimate Burger– Serves Big Island grass fed beef. Excellently done.
Kona Brewing Company
This microbrewery and makers of “Longboard” and other favorite local beers have a very nice Pub. The Restaurant is just off of the junction of Palani and Kuakini Hwy (at the Southern end of Alii Drive) – at the bottom of the old industrial area (From Kuakini turn right on Kaiwi Street, then right on Pawaii Place – follow the signs to the brewery parking lot.)
Daylight Mind Coffee Company
Daylight Mind opened in September, 2013. It is a restaurant, a bakery, a high-end coffee bar, a coffee school, a roastery and an event space. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (7 am- 9 pm) and is excellent. All seatings always have an affordable entre and the prices are moderate by Kona standards. Kona for all of its world renown as one of the best single origin coffees did not have a high-end coffee bar – until now. The coffee bar equals anything found in LA, San Francisco or Seattle – so I have no problem in saying that this place offers the best coffee and espresso drinks in the Pacific! It is a perfect place for a brunch, an early breakfast or a romantic dinner. With out a doubt the venue is the best of all of restaurants on Alii drive. The bakery also is fantastic – Kona does not really have an equal. As a disclaimer – we are friends of the people who opened the space (world renowned and respected in the coffee world) and actually are partners – so pardon if we are a tad bit biased!
When stopping by please consider ordering an espresso drink “upgrade” to Sweet Waves – a 100% Kona Coffee Single Origin espresso. Sweet Waves features coffee from our estate. Atsumi and I combine three different roasts of our beans to build complexity and sweetness in this locally popular espresso roast. The beans are roasted right here at the Kona View Coffee Roastery. We also roast the Featured Farm program for Daylight Mind – so when trying a Kona coffee there please consider asking for the Featured Farm – we feature a different Kona Coffee farm every few months. We have Concierge Cards here for Daylight Mind that offers a 10% discount on entres.
Island Lava Java
Lava Java is a very popular restaurant with locals and tourists. It is situated on Alii Drive South of the Farmers Market. Avoid it on Wednesdays when the cruise ship is in port.
Humpy’s Big Island Alehouse
With almost 50 beers on tap and in bottles, along with very palatable food and a great view of the bay we can recommend it – (on Alii Drive at the Coconut Grove Market Place – just South of Lava Java):
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill
This restaurant is always highly rated on Trip Advisor for Kona and is a favorite with locals. No ocean view but quite good food and a place that locals love.
The island famous chef Sam Choy just opened a restaurant above the Keauhou Shopping center called Kai Lanai.
We have eaten there a few times and generally were happy with the food. We thought his Seared Poke appetizer was about the best we have had anywhere.
Here is the TripAdvisor page of ratings:
The Royal Thai Cafe
We find this to be the best Thai food in town. It is located at the far end of the Keauhou Shopping Center – just beyond the movie theater.
The restaurant/bar overlooking the Manta Ray (night) viewing area has been remodeled and named Rays On The Bay. This was part of a 20 million dollar facelift for the hotel. The space is beautifully redone and is quite large. There is a main dining section but you can also eat at the bar and a lounge area. We recently visited and had pupus and drinks at the bar and the food was good and reasonably priced. We have not dined there formally so we can’t comment on the dinner menu. The local tour boats have their own lights at night to attract the Manta Rays. When the boats leave – around 8:30PM or so the Manta Rays come in closer to the lights that the hotel shines underwater and you can usually see several.
While it might not be worth the drive just to dine (one hour or so) – if you are up on the coast (near Hawi) around lunch-time they serve very good regional food. They also have a sister restaurant in Hilo.
Kawaihae – Kohala Burger & Taco
This small primarily take out place with a few inside seats is on the second floor of the same complex where Café Pesto is located. The burgers and the tacos both are excellent. It has gotten a lot of rave reviews. Fancy it is not but the food is quite good.
Tex Drive In
They are famous for their malasadas – a local variant of a donut without the hole! If you are heading to Waipio Valley you could stop there for lunch. They also serve burgers and the like.
Often very pricey but some of the locales overlooking the ocean are fantastic – with food to match. Here are our favorites:
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai – Ulu Ocean Grill
The Four Seasons is the closest of the upscale Kohala coast Hotels to us – about 30 minutes. The Ulu Ocean Grill + Sushi Lounge replaced the former restaurant Pahu I’a – and follows in the footstep with great food and prices to match. It has the best ocean front setting of all of the upscale restaurants in our opinion. Reservations are recommended.
Hilton Waikoloa – Roy’s Waikoloa Bar and Grill
The Hilton Waikola is a bit further up the coast from us – about 40 minutes or so. The Kings and Queens Shops offer many restaurants. Roy’s, in the Kings Shops is one of the best. Chef, Roy Yamaguchi has dozens of restaurants around the US and he specializes in “Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine.” It tends to get quite noisy – not a quiet place for a conversation over dinner.
Mauna Lani Hotel and Bugalows – The Canoe House
Mauna Lani is a bit further up the coast from us – about 45 minutes or so. We have dined at the Canoe House twice and both times it was a superb experience. The setting is on the beach and it really spectacular. Reservations are recommended.
Waimea – Merriman’s
Many consider this to be the best restaurant on the Big Island. We have eaten there 5 or 6 times for both lunch and dinner and we would tend to concur. Merriman’s serves 90% locally grown produce, locally raised livestock, locally caught wild boar, and locally caught fish. By he way, all of these local ingredients are about as good as it gets anywhere. They serve lunch Monday – Friday and dinner every day. Reservations are recommended.