We put together recommendations for the best activities and restaurants for five different day excursions on the amazing Big Island of Hawaii. This is by no means a comprehensive list!
Hapuna Beach in the morning, followed by snacks and dinner at the Shops at Mauna Lani.
Hapuna Beach is the largest white sand beach on the Big Island, and is an excellent place to spend the morning, or the entire day. With plenty of open space, the beach is great for outdoor sports, body boarding, exercising, or even just napping to the gentle sounds of the lapping surf.
Consistently clear waters lead to excellent snorkeling, particularly on the southern edge of the beach where more rock formations exist. Waves can be large in the winter months, so appropriate caution is needed.
For a mid-day smoothie or healthy snack, the Shops at Mauna Lani offers several enticing locally sourced options, including Under the Bodhi Tree and Juice 101. For dinner, the Mauna Lani Shops has some of the best food on the Kohala Coast. Ruths Chris, Tommy Bahama’s and Monstera’s Noodle & Sushi are popular options.
Take a day trip to North Kohala.
North Kohala is an excellent place to explore the Big Island's natural beauty. From the resorts on the Kohala Coast, the drive to the town of Hawi is approximately 30 to 40 minutes. The climate changes drastically in only a few miles as you round the tip of the Big Island and enter the lush paradise of North Kohala, where occasional light drizzle and rainbows are commonplace. Hawi’s charming downtown area offers excellent options for a healthy lunch, including the Bamboo Restaurant and Bar and the Kohala Coffee Mill. Hawi and the nearby town of Kapa’au both have fascinating souvenir shops and local galleries that are worth a look, including Ackerman Gallery.
Pololū Valley is located four miles past Hawi at the end of Akoni Pule Highway. The beautiful valley can be viewed from a scenic overlook, and the more adventurous can take a 15-minute hike down the slopes of the valley to the breathtaking black sand beach at the valley floor. Other North Kohala activities include the Kohala Zip Line ands local ATV tours.
If you are curious to try Kava - a relaxing drink that was used by Hawaiian royalty and originates in the Polynesian islands - then Kava Kafe in Hawi is your go-to place. The effects of kava are described as a milder and more relaxing version of alcohol without the same degree of impairment. The staff at Kava Cafe are friendly and very knowledgable about their products, and night-time at the cafe is often a lively gathering place for locals and visitors alike.
Visit Kiholo Bay, then explore the nightlife and city-vibes of Kona’s Ali'i Drive.
Kiholo Bay is a beautiful natural inlet located between the Kohala Coast and Kona. The bay, which contains an assortment of beautiful lava features and brackish water tide pools, is a big open space with plenty of areas to explore. The bay-front is one of the best places to see turtles in Hawaii, with often a dozen or more sea turtles basking in the afternoon in one place. A hiking trail just south of Kiholo Bay follows the beautiful, rugged coastline and passes directly by several swimming holes and water filled caves.
Later in the day, Kona offers the largest night-life scene on the island. Ali’i Drive is the focal point of the activity - where popular bars and clubs like On the Rocks, Laverne’s and Oceans draw crowds on Friday and Saturday nights. Restaurants along the waterfront offer the perfect scenery for a sunset dinner.
Until the new highway expansion opens in the Fall of 2018, it is highly recommended that you drive into Kona before or after the hours of 2pm to 6pm to avoid rush-hour traffic.
Spend the day at Beach 69, then head to Queens Marketplace and Lava Lava Lounge for dinner and drinks at sunset.
Waialea Beach is one of our favorite beaches on the Big Island. Unlike Hapuna or Mauna Kea Beaches, Wailea Bay is divided by trees and rocky outcrops into a series of sandy coves that offer both privacy and ample shade. Waialea Bay contains some of the best snorkeling on the Kohala Coast, with rocky offshore islands, coral reefs and plenty of aquatic life. The beach is an excellent place to enjoy the water, relax on the sand and watch our famous Hawaiian sunsets.
For dinner, the Queens Marketplace at the Waikoloa Resort offers the largest assortment of restaurants along the Kohala Coast. Sensai Seafood is renowned for their sushi and steak, and Bistro at the Cinema is a great place to spend the evening if you enjoy live music and an upbeat, social atmosphere.
Near the Queens Marketplace is Lava Lava Lounge, a beachside bar and restaurant that has become one of the hottest spots in Kohala over the past five years.
Grab a drink, order some appetizers (or a full meal), and watch the sunset from your beachfront table. Turtles often congregate south of the restaurant in the afternoons along the rocky shoreline and sandy coves.
Plan a day excursion to Hilo.
Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island and a historic community with a very different look and feel from the dry Kohala/Kona side of the island. From the Kohala Coast, Hilo is approximately a 90-minute drive and can be reached by either the Saddle Road (some rental car companies prohibit driving on the Saddle Road) or the main Hawaii Belt Road that passes the scenic Hamakua Coast.
Whereas the driest place on the Big Island is the South Kohala coast, the wettest area is just uphill from Hilo — between 150 and 250 inches of rain fall here each year. The upslope precipitation creates a tropical landscape of streams, sharp valleys and hundreds of incredible waterfalls. ʻAkaka Falls and Rainbow Falls are two popular destinations, as well as Boiling Pots along the Wailuku River - the largest and longest river in the state. Stream beds offer enchanting places to explore, but exercise caution when hiking close to streams, even if they appear dry. It is best to not hike anywhere near streams when dark clouds or rain is visible uphill due to the risk of sudden surges of water.
For oceanfront excursions, Carlsmith Beach Park (also known as “Four Mile”) is one of the best areas near Hilo. The park offers a playground of smooth volcanic rocks for lounging, active tide pools and excellent snorkeling in the shallow waters of the bay.
Downtown Hilo offers a wide variety of both shopping and dining options, from vegan eateries to local ice cream shops and popular locally-sourced restaurants. After dark, a Hawaii-style night-life scene develops in the city center - with Joann’s Lounge and Hilo Town Tavern being popular after-hours destinations.