This year started on a super fabulous foot – on the Big Island of Hawaii. Can I get a “hell yea!”? My boyfriend and I joined his parents and his brother for 10 days in Hawaii to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I had never been to Hawaii before, so I was so anxious to check out all the Big Island had to offer.
From dry beaches and gorgeous snorkeling to volcanoes and rainforest-covered valleys, the Big Island has seriously everything a paradise seeker could hope for. Granted, I don’t have any other Hawaiian Islands to compare it to, but I’d give it 100 thumbs up!
Rather than inundate you with an insane amount of photos (I’ll save those for future posts about my favorite activities, I’ve decided to make an award-winning vlog of my trip. I hope you enjoy the video and my recommendations for your Big Island stay below!
Where to stay
We stayed on the northwest side of the island in the Villages at Mauna Lani. Rather than stay in a hotel, we opted for a condo, which gave us more space and allowed for us to cook for ourselves (when we felt like it) and do our laundry.
Our location was perfect – we were able to stay by the beach while still having an easy drive to all of the main spots on the island. Granted the island isn’t huge, but it was nice to be relatively close to most things. Plus, it’s always a great thing to be able to bike to the beach in five minutes.
Where to eat and drink
I want to preface this with saying that anyone I talked to said that restaurants on the Big Island are subpar. While this wasn’t exactly the foodie vacation I typically look for, we did find a good spots that would be worth revisiting.
- Hawaiian Style Cafe – Waimea – If you’re looking for a super-clean, five-star restaurant, this spot is not for you. Hawaiian Style Cafe is a salt-of-the-earth diner with pancakes LITERALLY bigger than your head. What sane person can finish their pancakes in one sitting, I don’t know, but I do know I want to meett them. Take me back.
- Two Ladies Kitchen – Hilo – If you love mochi, you MUST head to Hilo to check out Two Ladies Kitchen. They have so many varieties of mochi, all delicious, that are made on site. It’s like a dream come true.
- Kona Pub & Brewery – Kailua-Kona – To be fair, I didn’t love my food here. But, it has a large selection of local beers and a substantial menu, so it’s a good spot to please all sorts of folks while visiting Kailua-Kona.
- Lava Lava Beach Club – Waikoloa Village – This spot is right on the water, which means you can go for a dip between meals. It’s not the most gourmet restaurant, but I loved my Kalua Pig sandwich and the Tipsy Tots. Plus, the pina coladas weren’t half bad. In fact, they were fully delicious. We actually went twice – once for lunch and once for dinner. Both were great, but lunch service was much better.
- Canoe House – Villages at Mauna Lani – This restaurant was a bit pricier but totally worth it. With seats right on the beach, Canoe House boats lovely views (especially at sunset) and delicious food. I had the special of the night – red snapper with sweet potatoes – and am still dreaming about the dish.
- Scandinavian Shave Ice – Kailua-Kona – Shave Ice is apparently a thing in Hawaii, so you have to check it out at least once. We stopped by Scandinavian Shave Ice while in Kona and I got coconut-flavored ice with a chocolate ice cream center. It was more or less the same as a snow cone, but I also hear that you should NOT say that. So, whoops.
What to do and see
- Watch the sunset from the top of Mauna Kea – Technically, Mauna Kea is the largest mountain in the world. The base of Mauna Kea is under sea, so most people consider Mount Everest the tallest since it’s completely above water. For a spectacular site, drive (or hike if that’s your thing) to the top of Mauna Kea for sunset. You’ll be above the clouds with nothing to obstruct your view of the sun. To get all the way to the top, you’ll need a AWD car, but there is a point just below the summit where you can stop and take in the sights if you can’t make it to the top. Our rental car agreement wouldn’t let us take the car all the way to the summit, but the view from the visitor center just below the summit was amazing nonetheless.
- Hike Waipio Valley – This hike was one of my favorite activities during our 10 days in Hawaii. The views are breathtaking, the wild horses are stunning and the flora makes you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park. Plus, the black sand beaches are so unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s a very steep hike down and up, so be prepared to be tired once you make it back up at the end of the day. You can drive down with an AWD car, but it was so nice to take things slow and be able to stop at any time to examine the surroundings. On the way back up I hiked barefoot, so I felt very hip, cool and like Cheryl Strayed from Wild. The water at the beach is very rough, so be careful, and a community of Native Hawaiians live in the valley, so be respectful of their privacy.
- Hike Volcano National Park – We hiked through Kīlauea Iki crater, which was like hiking on the moon (I imagine). It was an awesome hike without being too strenuous. Afterwards, we drove down to the lava flow on the coast and walked on some more lava for another hour. Hooray lava!
- Take a helicopter ride – There are about a million helicopter options on the island. We settled for an hour-long ride over the volcano and Hilo with Safari Helicopters. We couldn’t have been happier – we saw lava, waterfalls and the ocean from above. Plus, our pilot was so kind and informative.
- Swim with the dolphins and manta rays – These excursions were AMAZING! We took a boat out at night to the spots the mantas frequent, hopped in the water with an under-lit board and scoped out the mantas. Sadly, they didn’t say hi the night we were out, but I hear it’s an amazing sight. In the morning, we took the boat out to where the dolphin pods hang out, hopped in the water and swam along with more dolphins than I could count. It was such a breathtaking experience to be with such beautiful creatures in their natural habitat without any cages, trainers or traps.
- Beach it up – Any resort village has its own beach, all of which are great options. Hapuna Beach is a great spot to relax and play in the ocean without getting washed out to sea. The beach a the bottom of Waipio Valley is gorgeous, but the surf is really rough, so I wouldn’t recommend going for a dip.
- Walk around Kailua-Kona and Hilo – both towns have much more going on than other parts of the island, but neither of them require more than a day to explore. Kona is much more touristy (where a lot of the ocean excursions leave from) while Hilo is where many more of the locals seem to live.
Where to shop
We didn’t do a lot of shopping during this trip. Each resort village has its own shopping center, but most were pretty generic and over priced. If you walk around the main streets in Kailua-Kona and Hilo, you’ll stumble on a few gems. I didn’t take notes of any the shops I stopped in, so this paragraph is basically no help. You’re welcome.
What to know
- If you can get an AWD car, do it. It will help you get up and down Mauna Kea and Waipio Valley. Check your rental car agreement, though. Some will have it written in that you can’t go to the Mauna Kea summit or drive down to the Waipio beaches.
- Hawaii has become so overrun with tourists, there can sometimes be tension between the tourists and the Native Hawaiians. The island is rich with religious history that most tourists ignore or disrespect, so just try to not be an ass when enjoying this beautiful island. It will go a long way.
- You can’t take fruits, veggies or plants off of the island, so don’t waste your money on these things that will get confiscated before boarding your plane.
- Hilo is the rainiest city in the U.S., so if you plan to spend time there, pack some sort of rain gear.
- The island gets insanely dark after sunset. Like pitch black. No real tips about this, just thought you should know.
It was such a fabulous 10 days in Hawaii and I can’t wait to go back to check out the rest of the island in the (hopefully near) future.
Tell me: Have you visited the Big Island or any other Hawaiian islands before?