The Top 10 Places Your Family Needs to Explore When Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii
After nearly a year of careful planning and saving, my family and I finally made it to the Big Island of Hawaii this past August! It was the first of four stops through the Hawaiian island chain. And, it was, without a doubt, our most favorite.
Why? Well, for starters, the island offered so much in terms of varying topographies, Hawaiian culture, and adventure. It’s also the place where our daughter, Mallory Grace, fell in love with snorkeling.
Best of all, in just five days, we were able to experience a rainforest climate, 440-foot waterfall, lava fields, Kona coffee country, and a traditional luau. We also held baby seahorses and swam with sea turtles. And those were just some of the highlights!
If you’re already feeling inspired to get away with your family to the Big Island, to save you some time, I’ve put together our top ten island picks for you below. Enjoy!
1. Hapuna Beach
When a local gives you a recommendation, you take it. In this case, they sent us on a picturesque adventure to Hilo on the east side of the island. Our first stop? Hapuna Beach. It’s a public beach located about 45 minutes north from Kailua-Kona. And, it features perfectly calm waves, reef snorkeling right off the shore, and a serene paradise-like setting.
The locals consider this the best beach on the island. Personally, this spot stood out as one of my family’s favorites on the spent the Big Island. And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s the exact spot where MG fell in love with snorkeling.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Heading back to the west from Hilo, make sure to take Highway 200 through the sweeping lava fields and past Mauna Kea volcano. I can promise this is a sight you’ll never forget!
2. Tex Drive-In
Stop for an after-swim treat at Tex Drive-In in Honokaa. It’s been a local’s tradition since 1969! Be sure to load up on some malasadas. They’re deep-fried, sugar-coated donut balls that you can get with a variety of fillings.
And, if you’re craving something a little heartier, there’s also burgers and other Hawaiian food choices you can choose from.
3. Akaka Falls State Park
Just another 45 miles up the road towards Hilo is where you’ll find Akaka Falls State Park. For only a simple $3 entrance fee and .40 mile hike (on a concrete-paved path with a decent amount of stairs), you’ll be amongst a 442-foot waterfall wonder! Oh, and a considerable amount of other tourists. 😉
We enjoyed the jungle-like hike with spectacular flora and fauna, and giant trees just as much as the waterfall. There were plenty of kids on this “hike,” and we only experienced a moderate amount of whining from our 8-year-old. So, all in all, it was totally worth the experience.
Additionally, Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is located another 30 minutes away. It’s home to a white tiger! The small, but charming zoo offers free admission and great play areas, which may be worth an hour or so of your time if you’ve got some to spare. But, it’s not an absolute must see.
4. Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm
The Big Island is doing some seriously important work in the world of sustainable aquaculture, which is the rearing of aquatic animals or aquatic plants for food. Everything from lobsters to abalone and seaweed, and even mussels are thriving on Hawaii’s marine farms.
Luckily, visitors like yourself can get an up-close, interactive tour of the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. The entrance fee will set you back $45 per adult. But, your “donation” helps them to achieve their mission of domesticating seahorses to save those in the wild.
Besides, what other opportunities will you have to get a seahorse to wrap around your fingers?
Tripbound Traveler Tip: You can also take a seahorse home as a souvenir (following a two week online training course)!
5. Royal Kona Luau
No trip to Hawaii would be complete without a traditional luau. And, the Royal Kona Luau was a perfect choice! We bought fresh mother-daughter leis from the local Walmart for $9 each to make the night a little more special. If you come expecting that this is at its essence a buffet and dinner show with a couple of hundred friends, then you’ll leave pleasantly surprised.
Think all-you-can-drink mai tais, truly delicious kalua pig cooked all day in the IMU (Hawaiian earth oven), talented hula girls, and a brazen fire dancer set against a fiery sunset, and voila! We transported to the South Pacific of years past.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Grab a drink at the bar beforehand at Royal Kona Resort. It’s home to the original mai tai, and you can also avoid the pre-luau line. There’s not a bad seat at the luau, so there’s no need to stand in the long line for seats. In fact, there’s actually a clear view to the luau show from the Royal Kona bar if you want to stay put and avoid the $70 entrance fee. The show starts at 6:30.
6. Huggo’s on the Rocks
Huggo’s on the Rocks was our watering hole and dining spot of choice throughout our family vacation. We didn’t find a place that could beat the ambiance, waterfront setting, and happy hour and menu options during our four-night stay. So, we just kept going back. You know how the saying goes, right? If it ain’t broke…
7. Honaunau Bay
Honaunau Bay is an absolute must-see on your Big Island adventure. It’s affectionately called Two Step Beach because the large volcanic rock formation includes two perfectly situated “steps” into the ocean for some spectacular snorkeling with uber-easy access.
We spotted and swam with a sea turtle after being in the water for just a few brief minutes!
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Be sure to bring your own snorkel gear.
8. Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Park, which is just a minute up the road, offers a truly picturesque and interesting journey through Hawaiian history. We loved the totem poles, and the carefully preserved village exhibits that genuinely transported us back in time. The palms and the ocean views didn’t hurt either.
I recommend inquiring about the Junior Ranger program that is offered at all the national parks (including Honaunau). Kids can participate and receive their very own ranger badge and patch at the end of the quick 30-45 minute self-guided tour. We started this with Mallory years ago, and she loves collecting her badges throughout our park visits. It really keeps her engaged throughout the experience and (fingers crossed) gives her an appreciation for our national parks.
9. Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach was one stop I didn’t want to miss. After all, I had heard photogenic green sea turtles could be found bathing there. Sure enough, it lived up to the hype! And, right there on the beach, giant sea turtles were ready to have their pictures taken.
The beach itself was worth the trip alone, though. It’s such a unique experience to walk and lay on the black sand, which is really more like teeny tiny pebbles.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Don’t come to this black sand beach without water shoes. The beach bottom is too rocky to swim in without them. The kids will love playing in the small tide pools that have naturally formed! But, your travel crew needs to be prepared to avoid having your feet cut up on the rocks.
And, on your way to Black Sand Beach, be sure to stop at The Coffee Shack for lunch.
There’s not another place to eat for another 45 minutes if you’re coming from Kona. The views of Kona Coffee Country were magnificent, and the food was super yummy and well priced. Keep an eye out for the geckos that reside throughout the restaurant!
Wondering where you should stay on the Big Island? We chose the town of Kailua-Kona, located on the west coast of the island. It offered the perfect jumping off point for island adventures, beautiful ocean cliff views, a charming seaside village, Huggo’s on the Rocks (#6 above), and affordable resort options.
It’s also home to the start and finish of the annual Ironman Championship. The pier in town also serves as the cruise port for the Big Island. We found some of the best and most easily accessible snorkeling spots right off the beach and near the pier.
We talked to other tourists staying at the “more popular” Big Island resort chains, and they all said they’d spent more time in Kailua-Kona than their own resort or other areas of the island. That just served to reassure us we had made the perfect choice on where to stay!
We split our time between two resorts. The first of which was Wyndham Royal Sea Cliff. The show stoppers at this resort were the landscaped center atrium filled with Hawaiian flora and fauna, along with its seaside location. The resort gets its name because of the literal sea cliff views, which are just off the resort-style pool and visible from some of the suites.
And, while the beach is swimmable, you’ll need to navigate a rocky entry. The views, however, are to die for! Our two-bedroom suite was very spacious, well-appointed, and worthy of a solid recommendation!
Our second stop was right down the road, across the street from the ocean, at Wyndham Kona Hawaiian. This resort gave us all the Hawaiian feels! We were feeling the “Aloha” spirit the moment we checked in with the friendly locals at the open-aired thatched roof reception area.
We also loved the traditional Polynesian architecture throughout the resort, amenities, and interior of the suites. The carefully-preserved areas throughout the resort, which were once a part of old Hawaiian villages from the mid-eighteenth century, made this resort extra special. And, adding to the Hawaiian vibes, the resort offered free family-friendly activities such as hula dancing lessons and lei making!
So, what do you say? Are you ready to make this Big Island Hawaiian getaway a reality for your family so you can set your sights on each must-see on this list? Your Tripbound Resort Specialists are here to make it happen! Give us a call today at 1-888-816-5214, and we’ll match you with the perfect family vacation.
Have a favorite on the Big Island that we missed sharing? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!