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7 Days on the Big Island

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This 7 days on the Big Island itinerary + guide is full of tips on where to stay, what to eat, the top beaches, and the best things to do on the Big Island!

After visiting the state of Hawaii 5 times, including two trips to Maui, two trips to Oahu, and one trip to Kauai, we finally made it to the Island of Hawaii (nicknamed “The Big Island”) and it was absolutely magical! Although we named our dog Kona after our love of Hawaii and coffee, we for some reason kept putting off visiting the Big Island. Maybe it was because its size seemed daunting or maybe we just didn’t know much about it, but regardless of why it took us so long, we are so glad we finally made it there.

We spent 7 days on the Big Island and had so much fun visiting different colored beaches, exploring waterfalls, eating our favorite Hawaiian treats, learning about volcanoes, taking a shelter pup out on a field trip, wandering around towns, touring a coffee farm, and so much more. To see all of our adventures, watch our Big Island vlog series!

The island is incredibly diverse and has something for everyone. While we still cannot pick a favorite island (they are all amazing!), we did love how less busy this island felt and how much nature it had to offer. One day we were driving through lava fields and the next we were in a rainforest. It made everyday feel new and exciting!

We’re excited to share a 7 days on the Big Island itinerary + guide, filled with our favorite things we did while we were there. Normally our guides are 5 days or less, as we want to help those who have limited time off experience different places, but for the Big Island, we are doing 7 days as we believe you really need that much time to see the main sights.

If you don’t have 7 days on the Big Island, don’t worry! You couldn’t go wrong with just doing a portion of this guide. 

A few disclaimers before we jump in:

We are not lay out at the beach all day type people. We like to spend our days doing a mix of beaches, hiking, eating, and exploring towns, so our guide definitely caters more to our travel style, but it still will give you tons of ideas even if you prefer to travel differently!

This guide involves a decent amount of driving as the island, as the name implies, is big! The drives are all beautiful though! We tried to organize the days so you stick to one area to reduce the total driving, as well as not put too many long driving days together so you get a little break 🙂

If you have any questions about the island or our guide, please shoot us an email or send us a message on Instagram

Heading to Oahu, Maui, or Kauai? Check out our other Hawaii guides:

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the Big Island

The island of Hawaii, more commonly known as The Big Island, is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands. In fact, all of the other islands could fit in it almost twice! The island is constantly growing due to two of the five volcanoes on the island being active, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

There are 6 regions on the Big Island, which we will refer to often in this guide so you have a better understanding of where you’ll be. These regions are: Kona, Kohala, Hamakua Coast, Hilo, Puna, and Kau.

Map of the Big Island - Island of Hawaii | 7 Days on the Big Island

The island has 12 climate zones, from rainforest to frozen tundra to the desert and the rainfall across the island varies dramatically based on where you are. Kona on the West side, for example, receives 25 inches of rain a year, while Hilo on the East side gets about 125 inches. 

While the island is known for its volcanoes, it is also known for Kona coffee. Only coffee grown in the Kona region of the island can be called Kona coffee. The coffee grows well in this region because of the volcanic soil, sunny weather, and occasional rain. Kona coffee is pricey to buy, but that’s due to the manual nature of picking and roasting the coffee, as well as US labor laws and the rarity of the coffee since it can only be grown in one region.

There is so much more to the Big Island than volcanoes and coffee though, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, the beaches were beautiful, and there was so much nature to explore. While a bit more laid back than Oahu, it still had many activities to choose from. We loved the island so much and we hope you do too!

Need more ideas for the Big Island?
Best Beaches on the Big Island
Things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

10 Foods you Must Eat on the Big Island (coming soon!)

General Big Island tips

Between weather, the language, and what to bring, here are a few things that are good to know before you visit!

  • We found that the best weather website for the Big Island (and Hawaii in general) is Hawaii Weather Today. Typical weather websites said we would have rain every day of our trip (this happened to us last time on Maui too!) and on both trips, we only got rained on maybe once. So don’t panic if it says it’ll rain!

    This website is great because you can view the weather by region, which is crucial since the islands have many different ecosystems and weather patterns!
     
  • Speaking of rain, bring a rain jacket! Ideally you won’t need it, but it’ll be a lifesaver if you have one!
     
  • Learn some Hawaiian words before you go! Not only does this help you understand some of the words you’ll see often, but it helps you get immersed into the culture more. And it’s nice to know how to pronounce them too!

Getting to the Big Island

Island of Hawaii - The Big Island | 7 Days on the Big Island

There are two main ways to get to the Big Island: by airplane or by cruise ship

Cruise

While this is the less common way to visit the Big Island, it’s a good option if you want to see all of the islands. Norwegian Cruises offers a variety of Hawaiian cruises, all of which stop in Hilo and in Kona! This option doesn’t give you as much time on the island and wouldn’t allow you to fully use this guide, but it should still help you plan your days on the island!

Airplane

The Big Island has two airports, one in Hilo and one in Kona. We flew into the Kona airport, as that’s where we found the best flights. This is the more popular of the two airports, but definitely check both when booking your flights, as Southwest and Alaska (two of our favorites!) fly to Hilo.

Getting around the Big Island

7 Days on the Big Island

Renting a car is a must on the Big Island! There are so many things to do all over the Big Island and while they do have public transportation, the freedom of having your own car is so worth it!

We rented a Jeep in order to have 4×4, which helped us on the road to Makalawena Beach and would’ve been necessary for Mauna Kea had we gone. If you want to access some trickier spots, we highly suggest renting one. 

Where to Stay

7 Days on the Big Island | Where to stay on the Big island

Choosing where to stay on the Big Island is tough because it’s so big! The two main areas to stay in are Kona and Hilo, with Kona being the more popular option. Here is a quick rundown of the two areas based on our experience and opinions:

Kona: 

  • Pros: White sand beaches, lots of shops and resorts, close to snorkeling and coffee farms, more of a beachy vibe, close to the main airport
  • Cons: Touristy in some areas, not very walkable

Hilo: 

  • Pros: More walkable, more character and local boutiques, close to the National Park and waterfalls, less touristy feeling, super lush and green
  • Cons: Some areas are more industrial, no white sand beaches, few resorts

The distance between Kona and Hilo is about 1.5 hours, so traveling back and forth to those areas everyday can get a bit lengthy.  We split our trip between Kona and Hilo and while having to change Airbnbs midway through wasn’t 100% ideal, it was totally worth it to maximize our adventure time and not have to drive hours everyday! 

If you want to see the entire island, we suggest splitting your time, but it’s also doable to stay in Kona and drive more everyday. Below are some options of where to stay in the two main regions of the island, as well as some smaller areas that have cool places to stay. We will put under each day where we suggest staying that night to maximize your time on your vacation.

Places to stay in Kona

Airbnb

Hotels

Places to stay in Hilo

Airbnb

  • Option #1: this is where we stayed! It is a super old Plantation house with lots of cool quirks, a beautiful yard, a washer and dryer, and a grill. Warning: the only TV in the house is in the Master bedroom and the downstairs bathroom isn’t glamorous.
  • Option #2: Note- no kitchen
  • Option #3
  • Option #4

Hotels

Other areas to stay on the Big Island

Kohala 

Puna

Unique places to stay on the Big Island

PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!

7 days on the Big Island Itinerary

This 7 days on the Big Island itinerary covers all of the main regions of the island and includes delicious food, gorgeous beaches (including three different colors!), and the best things to do!

Day 1: Kona

For your first day on the Big Island, enjoy some Hawaiian treats and relax at two of the most beautiful beaches!

Things to do on the Big Island | 7 Days on the Big Island
Broke Da Mouth Grindz | Things to do on the Big Island | 7 Days on the Big Island
  1. Kick off your trip with coffee at Kona Coffee & Tea! This spot is super nice on the inside and has some great drinks. We recommend a coconut or macadamia nut latte or just a plain cup of delicious Kona coffee.
     
  2. Grab acai bowls for breakfast at Basik Cafe or Barefoot Zone (Closed Monday & Tuesday).
     
  3. Spend the morning and afternoon at Kua Bay or Makalawena Beach, or both! We loved both of these beaches and highly recommend checking both out. Kua Bay is super easy to access, but not huge and can get busy, while Makalawena Beach is harder to access, but you’ll have a lot more space to yourself. We suggest packing a lunch to enjoy on the beaches! And don’t forget a boogie board 🙂
     
    For more details on getting to Makalawena Beach or to learn more about Kua bay, check out our Best Beaches on the Big Island (coming soon!) blog post!
     
  4. Enjoy shave ice at Scandinavian Shave Ice in Kailua-Kona. This spot is sooo delicious!
     
  5. Walk around Kailua-Kona, which is full of souvenir type shops and ocean views!
     
  6. Grab dinner at Broke Da Mouth Grindz. This spot has great Hawaiian food, from laulau to kalua pork to shrimp, but one of the top items to get here is their furikake chicken! The restaurant has recently changed locations and is now located at 75-5864 Walua Rd, which is different than what this Yelp page says.
     

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Kona this night. See our recommendations above!

Day 2: Kohala 

Explore more beautiful beaches, eat more delicious Hawaiian food, and if you’re lucky, see tons of stars from the tallest mountain on the island (and depending on how you measure it, the world)!

Things to do on the Big Island
  1. Grab breakfast at 808 Grindz in Kona (Closed on Mondays). This is a traditional Hawaiian breakfast joint with delicacies like loco moco, portuguese sausage, spam, and pancakes with coconut syrup!
     
  2. Spend the rest of the morning at Hapuna Beach State Park. It costs $5 to park here, but the beach is very large and has great sand and water.
     
  3. Head up the road to Mauna Kea Beach, which we regrettably didn’t visit due to a lack of time, but we have heard it’s incredible and many people’s favorite on the island. While you’re there, enjoy a picnic lunch!
     
  4. After a day of relaxing, spend the rest of the day driving up Mauna Kea and at the summit! Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world if you’re measuring from the bottom of the ocean floor. While it is only 13,796 feet above sea level, the majority of the mountain is underwater and from the ocean floor to the top it is over 33,000 feet (Everest is 29,035 feet!)
     
    A few things to know about visiting: It is about a 2 hour drive from Mauna Kea Beach, but once you reach the Visitor Information Station (VIS) at 9,200 feet, you need to stay there and acclimate to the elevation for at least 30 minutes to avoid altitude sickness. According to the VIS, pregnant women, persons in poor health, and children under 13 should NOT venture above the VIS.
     
    To continue to the summit at 13,796 feet, you will need a 4WD vehicle, as the road is not paved past the VIS. You should leave the summit 15-20 minutes after sunset so you can make it to the VIS before it gets completely dark out.
     
    Once you return to the VIS, we recommend going stargazing! The stars are supposed to be beautiful up here. There are tours you can do that will take you to Mauna Kea for stargazing or you can go on your own. This website has tons of info about visiting Mauna Kea.
     
    IMPORTANT NOTE: As of posting this guide on November 27, 2019, Mauna Kea is not accessible due to the road being blocked. We are still including it on this guide because it should eventually be accessible again and this is a must-do on the island! Unfortunately we didn’t get to experience it, but we really hope you can!
     
  5. After spending time on Mauna Kea, drive back to Kona, which is about a 2 hour drive.
     
  6. For dinner, head to either Umekes Fish Market Bar, Kona Brewing Company, or Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill!

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Kona this night. See our recommendations above!

Day 3: Kau + Kona

Visit one of the 4 green sand beaches in the whole world, learn about the process of making Kona coffee, and have some amazing tacos!

Things to do on the Big Island
  1. Visit the Green Sand Beach, also known as Papakolea or Mahana Bay. The beach is 1.5 hours from Kona and we highly recommend getting there early to avoid the heat and crowds! It’s about a 2-3 mile walk to the beach and the walk is mostly on dirt/sand.

    It’s pretty easy, just a bit tedious, but you have ocean views the whole time. Some say the effort isn’t worth it, but we disagree, we thought the beach was very cool! We arrived around 7:30 AM and got back to the car around 10:00 AM. We only stopped at the beach for a little bit due to crazy wind, but you could definitely spend more time there.
     
    Read more details about this beach, including where to park, why it’s green, how to get down to the beach, and more on our Best Beaches on the Big Island (coming soon!) blog post!
     
  2. Grab lunch at Kaaloa’s Super Js Authentic Hawaiian. This family run spot is known for having the best laulau, which is pork wrapped in taro leaves and then either steamed or cooked in an imu (underground oven). 
     
  3. Go on a Kona coffee tour at Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee Farm. A coffee tour is definitely one of the top things to do on the Big Island and with so many options to choose from, we went with Heavenly Hawaiian based on reviews and it was such a great choice!
     
    The team working there is incredible, knowledgeable, and make you feel like family! The tours are around 1 hour long and run every hour on the hour until 4 PM. We ended up spending 3 hours here going on the tour, drinking coffee, and talking with the employees–it was one of the biggest highlights of our trip! While most probably don’t stay that long, we loved every second of it.
     
  4. If you have time after your coffee tour, check out Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, which is home to some of the most significant traditional Hawaiian sites in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is a pretty quick stop, but a great place to learn about Hawaiian history!
     
  5. For dinner, enjoy some killer tacos at Shaka Tacoz. We loved this spot! We tried all of the meats and they were all delicious and the guacamole is FREE (when does that ever happen?!) The view from the patio in the building behind the truck is so beautiful and is full of cute geckos that like to join you for your meal 🙂 
     
  6. End the day with ice cream at Gypsea Gelato!

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Kona this night. See our recommendations above!

Day 4: Kona

More food and beaches (because that’s one of the best things about Hawaii!), but today’s big activity is one of the coolest things we have ever done.

Things to do on the Big Island | 7 Days on the Big Island
7 Days on the Big Island
  1. Head a little south for breakfast at The Coffee Shack! This spot is known for having breakfast with a killer view and just like Shaka Tacoz, watch out for the hungry geckos!
     
  2. Spend the rest of your morning at Magic Sands Beach! This smaller, but beautiful beach is one of the few white sand beaches close to town. It is named Magic Sands because in the winter the surf will take away some of the sand, revealing the lava rocks below. When we went there was plenty of sand to enjoy though!
     
  3. Have lunch at Da Poke Shack! This poke spot is one of the best on the island, but they can sell out, so try to arrive early! (It’s pretty close to Magic Sands if you want to hop over there for lunch and then go back to the beach). They also have some options for non fish lovers, like Kalua pork! 
     
  4. After spending your morning and afternoon at the beach, cool off with some shave ice from One Aloha Shave Ice in Kona! (Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) We are pretty crushed we didn’t make it here during our trip (we were too full for more food), but we hear it’s one of the best spots on the island for shave ice!
     
  5. Want to experience one of the coolest things ever?! Go night snorkeling with Manta Rays! This was one of the highlights of our trip and definitely one of the best things to do on the Big Island.
     
    There are 240 manta rays that call the Kona coast home and they have all been identified and named due to black and white markings on their bellies that allow you to tell them apart, similar to human fingerprints. They can grow up to 16ft long and 1,600 pounds, but are considered one of the safest large animal encounters since they have nothing that can bite or sting you.
     
    We went night snorkeling with Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii and they were the best! The crew was awesome and we saw at least 6 manta rays (this varies every night). The waves were very rough and choppy when we went and a good chunk of the boat felt sick, but we still had a blast!
     
  6. For dinner, head to either Umekes Fish Market Bar, Kona Brewing Company, or Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill!

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Kona this night. See our recommendations above!

Day 5: Kohala + Hamakua Coast

Today you’ll be hiking, eating more delicious food, and seeing the stunning northern coastline of the island!

7 Days on the Big Island
7 Days on the Big Island
  1. Head to Waimea, about an hour from Kona, for coffee at Waimea Coffee Co!
     
  2. After enjoying some coffee, head across the street to Hawaiian Style Cafe for some breakfast! This spot is super delicious and we highly recommend getting their massive macadamia nut banana pancakes! Their loco moco is also super popular and we loved their homemade portuguese sausage.
     
  3. Go for a hike at Pololu Valley! You can view the valley from the parking area, but the view is amazing if you hike down to the beach, which is only around 1.2 miles and goes down 420 feet in 0.6 miles. We loved this beach because it wasn’t too crowded due to the hike and it had black sand! Make sure to bring water because we got super hot hiking back up.

    We share more information about the hike in our Best Beaches on the Big Island (coming soon!) blog post!
     
  4. After a nice hike and some beach time, have lunch at The Fish and the Hog. Their BBQ sampler and tacos were really good!
     
  5. Enjoy some delicious shave ice at Original Big Island Shave Ice. This shave ice was different than any we have had before. It felt more decadent and the flavor combinations were so unique. The Kimrah Special with ube and the Trini Chantilly were incredible!

    The location changes based on the day, so check their website to see where they’ll be!
     
  6. Venture to the Hamakua Coast to see Waipio Valley. This overlook is a quick walk from the parking area, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can either drive down to the bottom (4×4 required!) or walk down to the bottom (6.5 miles round trip) to see the black sand beach.

    Warning: The road down to the valley is very steep. The average grade is 25%, but some parts are 40%. If you do decide to hike down, you’ll be sharing the road with cars. We opted not to drive down due to bad weather coming our way, but the view from the overlook was still amazing!
     
  7. After exploring Waipio Valley, we suggest driving to Hilo and making it your home base for the rest of your Hawaiian adventures.
     
  8. Grab dinner in Hilo. A few good spots to check out: Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine (Closed Mondays), Puka Puka Kitchen (Only open for dinner Tuesday-Friday), or Moon & Turtle.

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Hilo this night. See our recommendations above!

Day 6: Hilo

Hilo is the oldest city in Hawaii and the largest city on the Big Island. Today you’ll be seeing waterfalls, exploring lava tubes, and eating tons of delicious food!

7 Days on the Big Island
  1. Start the day with coffee at Waipuna Coffee (Closed on Sundays)
     
  2. Check out Rainbow Falls, which is quite a bit smaller than ‘Akaka Falls at 80 ft tall, but if you arrive early on a sunny morning, you’ll be treated to a rainbow over the falls! This is a super quick spot with two overlooks of the waterfall (and it’s free!).
     
  3. Explore the Kaumana Caves. These free to access lava tubes are from an 1881 lava flow from Mauna Loa! You can explore quickly, or go deeper into the caves (some spots get narrow). No matter how much you want to explore, make sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp…it’s super dark!
     
  4. Get a beautiful acai bowl at Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack. We got ours in a pineapple and it was massive and oh so good!
     
  5. Explore the town of Hilo! We like the older character and authentic Hawaiian feel in Hilo. There were also way more local boutiques in Hilo vs. Kona. Some good spots to check out while you’re there (most of them are food related and we recommend being hungry so you can try lots of treats!): 
     
  6. Visit ‘Akaka Falls! This 442 ft tall waterfall is gorgeous and is a super quick, but lush and beautiful walk from the parking lot, which costs $5 to park at.
     
  7. Drive the scenic route back to Hilo. We made a quick stop at Onomea Bay and it was beautiful!
     
  8. Grab dinner in Hilo. A few good spots to check out: Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine (Closed Mondays), Puka Puka Kitchen (Only open for dinner Tuesday-Friday), or Moon & Turtle.
     

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Hilo this night. See our recommendations above!

Day 7: Puna + Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Learn all about volcanoes! From the history of the volcanoes on the island, to walking on a crater, prepare to be mind blown by how crazy nature is!

Things to do on the Big Island | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | 7 Days on the Big Island
Things to do on the Big Island | 7 Days on the Big Island
  1. Get an early start and head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about 45 minutes from Hilo. This is one of two national parks in the state of Hawaii and the only one on the Big Island. It is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
     
    There was an eruption and lava flow last year that impacted the island as well as changed the park. At the time of our visit in November 2019, there was no lava flow or glow to see and many sights were closed.
     
    View our Hawaii Volcanoes National Park guide for more details on the park and ideas of things to do! (Coming soon!) 
     
  2. We recommend starting your day at the park with the Kilauea Iki Trail. This hike is about 3 miles round trip and a 688 ft elevation change. You start the hike at the top of the crater and then go to the crater floor, which is a crazy experience. You then hike back up the other side. The parking area has a good amount of spots, but the hike does get busier as the morning goes on, so start the hike early to beat the crowds and the heat (the crater part of the hike has zero shade!).
     
  3. Swing by the Visitor’s Center to learn more about volcanoes! We walked up as the ranger was talking about the history of the island’s volcanoes and it was sooo interesting! The ranger was very entertaining and engaging and we ended up listening to him for 20 minutes or so. It was a great way to learn about the park!
     
  4. Across from the Visitor’s Center is Volcano House, which is a hotel with a beautiful balcony overlooking Kilauea. It’s definitely worth a stop for the view!
     
  5. Walk along the short Sulphur Banks trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), which takes you by steam vents and colorful mineral deposits, which are signs of volcanic activity. Warning: it may smell a bit 😉
     
  6. Park by the Desolation Trail and then walk along Crater Rim Drive to Keanakakoi Crater. This road is now closed to vehicles due to the earthquakes that happened in 2018, but you can either bike or walk along the road to a certain point. Along the way there are viewpoints to see Kilauea Crater, as well as chances to see the cracked road due to earthquakes.
     
  7. Drive Chain of Craters Road down to Hōlei Sea Arch. Along the way you’ll have ocean and lava views, some of which have signs saying which year the lava flow was from. There are also other quick stops you can make if you have time, but we focused on getting down to the arch, as the weather was a bit crazy.
     
  8. Have lunch at Cafe Ono (Closed Mondays) or Aloha Mix Food Truck (Closed Mondays and Saturdays).
     
  9. Visit Punalu’u Beach, which is a beautiful black sand beach full of palm trees and if you’re lucky, turtles! We saw 5 turtles total on the sand, as well as a couple turtles swimming in the ocean. There is free parking and the beach is a hop and a skip from the parking area, making it much easier to access than Pololu or Waipio Valley’s black sand beaches.
     
  10. Grab dinner in Hilo. A few good spots to check out: Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine (Closed Mondays), Puka Puka Kitchen (Only open for dinner Tuesday-Friday), or Moon & Turtle.
     

Where to stay: We recommend staying in Hilo this night. See our recommendations above!

If you have extra time…

If you have more than 7 days or are just looking for more things to do on the Big Island, here is a list of food and activity suggestions, with the region of the island they are in!

Food

Sweets

Coffee

Activities

Ready to explore the Big Island?

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2 Comments

  1. Suzanne on November 29, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    Great guide full of wonderful suggestions!

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