The Ultimate Big Island, Hawaii Travel Guide

You guys already know I LOVE alllll the islands of Hawaii! I grew up visiting the islands at least once a year, and my husband Kenny and I got married in Hawaii, babymooned on Maui, and have now taken a few family trips to Hawaii with our son in tow, too. There’s just nothing quite like an island vacation to Hawaii. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, adventure seeker, golfer, or simply looking for a little R&R on the beach, this Hawaii Travel Guide has it all. 


Lots of travelers immediately flock to Maui and Oahu as they are the most well-known islands. But let me tell you – the Big Island of Hawaii has soooo much to offer! It is truly a paradise on earth that you cannot miss. It has everything from natural wonders (volcanoes!!!) to cultural gems to beautiful beaches and thriving marine life. And the best part is that it caters to solo travelers, couples, families, and a group of friends alike! I grew up going to Kona, so the Big Island holds a special place in my heart. So here are all of the Jetset-approved must-dos and must-sees on the Big Island, from activities and tours I love, to the best places to stay and eat, what to pack, and useful travel tips for planning a trip to Hawaii!


Beach view when travelling to Big Island, Hawaii


Get to Know the Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaii is often referred to as the “Paradise of the Pacific,” and is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Comprised of eight main islands, Hawaii’s beauty and culture allure travelers from all over the world for everything from honeymoons to family trips. Among these stunning islands, the largest is the island of Hawaii, commonly known as the “Big Island” (such a clever name!). But why is it called the Big Island, and what makes it stand out in the Hawaiian archipelago?

This massive island boasts an incredibly diverse landscape that includes active volcanoes, lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and miles of stunning coastline! The Kona side of the island is also one of the driest areas in all of Hawaii, making it a popular choice among travelers hoping to avoid tropical rain (or hoping to enjoy a great island brew – ever heard of Kona Big Wave golden ale?!).


When Is the Best Time to Visit the Big Island in Hawaii?

In my opinion, the best time to visit the Big Island is from April to June and September to early December. During these months, the weather is nice, and you can avoid the crowds that come during the peak summer and winter seasons (always a plus!). April to June offers comfortable temperatures and lower hotel rates, while September to early December provides warm waters for snorkeling and fewer tourists. Be sure to check for any specific events or festivals happening during your chosen travel dates! These are always so cool to experience while you’re on the island.


Where to Stay in Hawaii: The Best Hotels and Resorts

With its luxury island resorts, the Big Island promises an unforgettable experience, every single trip. Whether you’re searching for a cozy beachfront retreat or a luxurious escape, here are my best picks of hotels to stay at when you’re traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii!!


1. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai 

A personal favorite, this luxurious oceanfront resort offers a blend of Hawaiian elegance and natural beauty. This resort features upscale dining options, a world-class golf course, and an exquisite spa! The best feature is the King’s Pond, a 1.8-million-gallon saltwater aquarium where you can snorkel with tropical fish (so cool!!). Read more about our stay at this beautiful resort here.

Check rates for your dates here



2. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

This iconic Hawaii hotel offers luxurious accommodations, golf, and access to one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches. My family loves this resort! Many travelers come here every single year, and we can see why!! We loved it so much that we even designed a Kenny Flowers print in collaboration with the resort! It’s almost sold out, so snag yours before they’re gone!

Check rates for your dates here

Read more about staying at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel here


3. The Fairmont Orchid

Enjoy the serene ambiance and oceanfront location of this upscale resort, complete with a lagoon-style pool and exceptional dining. Be sure to experience the “Sushi Under the Stars” event for a unique culinary adventure!

Check rates for your dates here


4. Hilton Waikoloa Village

We stayed here a ton growing up – Hilton Waikoloa Village is a sprawling family-friendly choice resort featuring waterfalls, pools, and a dolphin encounter program! Kids will LOVE this place. Take the canal boat or the monorail within the resort for a memorable journey.

Check rates for your dates here

A view of the ocean while dining in the Hilton Waikoloa Village

Photo courtesy of Hilton Waikoloa Village

5. Holualoa Inn

Craving a more quaint, unique experience? Stay at this charming bed and breakfast nestled in the coffee country hills. Enjoy daily homemade breakfast on the lanai with panoramic ocean views and explore the onsite coffee farm.

Check rates for your dates here

A stunning overlooking view with a pool in the Holualoa Inn

Photo courtesy of Holualoa Inn



What to do on the Big Island in Hawaii: Top 10 Things to Do When Traveling to the Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii offers a ton of things to do. But how do you choose? Here are my top 10 things to do on the Big Island if I had to pick!!

1. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Everyone should visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! Here, you can check out Kilauea and Mauna Loa, both active volcanoes! While there, take a guided lava tour to witness lava flowing in action!!!!!



2. Relax on Stunning Beaches

Soak up the sun on the Big Island’s beautiful beaches. Hapuna Beach, with its powdery white sands and crystal-clear waters, is ideal for swimming and sunbathing (is there anything better?!). And Waialea Beach, located on the Kohala Coast, is great for snorkelers to explore vibrant underwater life!


3. Snorkel and Dive with Allllll of the Marine Life

Dive into the wonders of the Big Island by snorkeling or diving!! Kealakekua Bay, a marine sanctuary, offers spectacular snorkeling experiences with pristine waters and teeming marine life. For divers, check out the underwater lava tubes!



4. Experience a Traditional Luau

Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture at a traditional luau. I recommend attending events like the Island Breeze Luau or the Royal Kona Luau, where you’ll witness captivating hula dances and live music and indulge in a feast of local delicacies!


5. Hike to the Waterfalls

Where are all of my active vacationers at?! Go waterfall chasing if you’re on the Hilo side!


6. Go Golfing

The Big Island is home to some of the world’s most stunning golf courses. I recommend Mauna Kea’s golf course or the Hualalai golf course (pictured above!) – it is one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen!! Oh, and if you need some island-inspired golf gear for men and women, shop my favorites here!



7. Indulge in Alllllll the Hawaiian Food

There is no shortage of incredible restaurants in Hawaii (just take a look at the list above!). From some of the best farm-to-table restaurants to markets with fresh Hawaiian classics such as poke bowls, macadamia nuts, and Kona coffee, you can’t go wrong.


8. Stargaze on Mauna Kea

Head to the top of Mauna Kea for a stargazing experience like no other! You can join guided stargazing tours and observe the awe-inspiring night skies through powerful telescopes while guides provide insights into the cosmos. Remember to dress warmly if you do this since temperatures drop a ton at night!!



9. Take a Helicopter Tour

Elevate your adventure by embarking on a thrilling helicopter tour. Soar above the island to witness panoramic views of volcanic landscapes, cascading waterfalls, and lush valleys.



10. Relax!!!

My favorite thing to do on the Big Island? Relax! Whether I’m beaching it up at the resort, treating myself to a spa treatment, or diving into my favorite beach read poolside with a mai tai in hand, relaxing is an important part of any Big Island vacay. So don’t plan too too much!!! Be sure to leave some time for some Big Island R&R! 


How to Get Around the Big Island

Once you’ve arrived on the Big Island, you’ll want to explore!! But how do you get around on Hawaii’s Big Island? 


Rental Cars

Renting a car is the most convenient and flexible way to explore the Big Island. It gives you the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want, and to access remote areas, snorkel spots, and beaches.

JETSET TIP: Reserve your rental car in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure the best rates and availability. Consider an SUV or 4WD vehicle if you plan to explore off-road areas or visit locations like Mauna Kea, where the terrain can be challenging.


Taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts 

Most people rent a car on the Big Island, but taxis and rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are available in some parts of the Big Island (mainly in and around larger towns like Kailua-Kona and Hilo). There aren’t a ton of rideshare app drivers on the island, so don’t over-rely on them, but if you need to use them to get to the airport and back, you can definitely call for one (it just may take a while). 


Guided Tours and Shuttles

For hassle-free exploration, I’d recommend a guided tour or two during your trip! Some attractions, like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, offer ranger-led programs and shuttles that provide guided transportation within the park.


Domestic Flights

I usually only visit the Kona side of the Big Island and fly into Kona International Airport (KOA). If you want to visit both sides of the island, flying between Kona International Airport (KOA) on the west coast and Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the east coast can save you quite a bit of time vs. driving (it IS a Big Island, after all!). 

JETSET TIP: Be sure to check flight schedules and book in advance as there are limited daily flights between KOA and ITO. You also need to keep in mind that you will need transportation on both sides of the island, so consider renting a car or using other modes of transportation upon arrival!


Where to Eat on the Big Island: The Best Restaurants on the Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii offers a diverse foodie scene that reflects the island’s unique blend of cultures and abundant local ingredients. Whether you’re seeking farm-to-table cuisine or traditional Hawaiian dishes, this Hawaii Travel Guide lists some of my go-to restaurant recommendations in different major areas of the island!!


Where to Eat in Kailua-Kona (Western Coast)

Copper Bar at Mauna Kea


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I absolutely LOVE Copper Bar at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for a casual dining option in Kona! The sushi is amazing (and well priced), and the pizza/flatbreads are SOOOO GOOD!! Seriously could eat here every night.


Huggo’s on the Rocks

This casual waterfront restaurant is famous for its stunning sunset views and fresh seafood. I also like it for lunch! You’ve got to try the Huggo’s mai tai!!


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ULU Ocean Grill and Sushi Lounge

Located at the Four Seasons Hualalai, this restaurant offers a delightful fusion of Hawaiian and Asian flavors, including freshly caught seafood. The Hualalai tasting journey is a must-try culinary experience!!


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Manta at Mauna Kea

Located at Mauna Kea Beach Resort, Manta is a stunning fine dining option in Kona for sunset views and delicious food.


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Lava Lava Beach Club

My favorite! Lava Lava is a must on any trip to the Kona side of the Big Island, but be sure to get there early (right before sunset is a great time, unless you want to go for brunch)!! They don’t take reservations, but the sunset views are incredible and the food is so good. You’ll love the cocktails and mai tais, too!!! This is such a fun spot for a group and a memorable FUN dinner in Hawaii!


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Where to Eat in Kohala Coast (Northwest)



Head to the Mauna Lani resort for breathtaking ocean views at CanoeHouse! CanoeHouse offers a fantastic menu highlighting Hawaii’s diverse culinary heritage. Try their Hawaiian-inspired cocktails (yum!!).



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Photo courtesy of Merriman’s

Savor farm-to-table cuisine with a Hawaiian twist at Merriman’s, where you can enjoy dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Try the Paniolo ribeye for a taste of the island’s ranching history!


Brown’s Beach House

This upscale restaurant, located in the Fairmont Orchid, offers an oceanfront setting and a menu focused on fresh seafood and island-inspired dishes. Don’t miss the seafood tower!


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Where to Eat in Hilo (Eastern Coast)


Moon and Turtle

Known for its creative and ever-changing menu, Moon and Turtle offers a farm-to-table dining experience in Hilo!


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Pineapples Restaurant

Pineapples is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, serving Hawaiian comfort food with a modern twist! You have to try their lilikoi BBQ short ribs!!


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Café Pesto Hilo Bay

Located right on the bay, Café Pesto offers a mix of Mediterranean and Pacific Rim-inspired dishes (a winning combination if I’ve ever heard of one!). I recommend the pesto garlic chicken.


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Where to Eat in Waimea (Kamuela – Interior)


Red Water Café

A cozy and intimate spot, Red Water Café features a menu with a strong focus on regional and seasonal ingredients. 


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The Fish and The Hog

Known for its creative dishes and use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients.


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Where to Eat in South Kona (Southwest)


Basik Acai

The best Acai in the world – I repeat, the best Acai in the world!!! If you rented a car, this is WELL worth the morning drive if you’re an acai bowl lover like I am!


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Da Poke Shack

For an authentic taste of Hawaii, try this Kailua-Kona eatery known for its mouthwatering poke bowls! Mix and match your favorite fish and toppings for a customized poke bowl.


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Holo Holo Koloa

A charming coffee shop and café in Holualoa Village offering a selection of coffee, pastries, and light bites in a tranquil setting.


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Additional Travel Tips for Hawaii

What to Pack to Hawaii if You’re a First-Time Traveller

I have a full blog post on what to wear in Hawaii, but here are my top tips for a first-time traveler!

  1. Lightweight Clothing: Pack breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics like cotton and linen. Shorts, tank tops, sundresses, and swimwear are ideal for warm Hawaiian days!
  2. Footwear: Comfortable walking shoes or sandals are essential for exploring. If you plan on hiking or exploring the volcanoes, be sure to pack some sturdy, closed-toe shoes.
  3. Sun Protection: Don’t forget sunscreen (and make sure it’s reef-safe!), sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat (my favorite sun hats are linked here!), and rash guards for water activities.
  4. Beach Essentials: Pack a beach towel, beach bag, and a good beach read. Snorkel gear can also be handy if you have it, but most hotels and resorts will provide it for you.
  5. Hiking Gear: If you plan on hiking, bring a daypack, reusable water bottle, and bug repellent. Quick-dry clothing is ideal for hiking.
  6. Rain Gear: If you’re visiting the Hilo side, a light rain jacket or poncho can come in handy, but if you’re on the Kona (the dry) side of the island, there is no need!

Cute outfits for Hawaii


PEIXOTO Esti Top in Campo Azul

BEACH RIOT Salty Wrap in Palm

Marbella Studs the cutest earrings!

The cutest swimwear for a trip to Hawaii:

Good American Varsity Triangle Bikini Top in White001

Active Resort-wear

If you’re planning on doing any resort sports, this exercise dress works great for golf or tennis or pickleball! it has a high-quality full-body spandex lining that makes it oh-so-comfy to wear all day long!


Cute family matching vacation outfits for Hawaii

Big Island inspired Hawaii dress with pretty turtle print

As you prep for your trip to the Big Island and pack your bags with all of the essentials, you can dream of all of the sunny days, salty breezes, mai tais, poke bowls, and maybe even a turtle sighting or two. Enjoy all that this gorgeous island has to offer and let me know how your trip goes!!!! Safe travels, and aloha! 

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Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.