The Ultimate Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii in 2021

Your 2021 guide to things to do, places to eat, where to drink and beaches to check out on the Big Island of Hawaii.


If you were to ask me what my number one focus is when planning a trip, it usually isn't planning out my food spots. Sure, I'll save a few that were recommended to me, but it's not the driving force being my trips! However, my husband loves to eat so I have gathered a bunch of really good places to eat! I have been to the Big Island at least five times now so this is a culmination of those trips. I have had to make a few updates to my list due to some closures in 2020.

Click to jump to the following Big Island topics:

Click to jump to the following Big Island locations:

✈️Traveling to the Big Island in 2021


Travel requirements are changing rapidly, so I always recommend checking this site for the most current requirements for traveling to the Big Island. I am simply sharing what was required for me and how it went upon arrival.


The State of Hawai‘i requires that all guests - even those that plan to quarantine - have a Safe Travels profile with trip details and a completed health questionnaire. You will not be able to exit the airport in Hawai’i without this. What was required for me to enter the Big Island (March 2021):

  • I created a Safe Travels profile

  • I added all flight details and lodging info to the Safe Travels site

  • I took a Covid-19 test with negative test results within 72 hours of travel (Hawai'i is very strict with where you can take the test. Be sure to carefully review the approved list)

  • I then uploaded the negative test results from a trusted testing partner as a PDF to the Safe Travels site.

  • 24 hours before my flight, I received an e-mail to take a mandatory travel health questionnaire on the Safe Travels site. I was then provided a QR code that allowed Alaska Air and the state of Hawaii to see that my Safe Travels site was filled out correctly.

  • It is also recommended to bring printed copies of your test results and lodging confirmation with you. I ended up bringing 3 copies of my test results and one copy of my lodging.

Upon my arrival on the Big Island:

It was all very organized and we were able to get through within 10 minutes.

  • We were first handed a little laminated colored dot. We weren't sure what they were for until we had our temperature checked. As long as you don't have a temp you will hand back that dot after the check.

  • Next stop was to fill out a form with our information

  • We then got into another short line where we then showed our QR codes

  • We were directed to another table where they took the sheet we had filled out and then gave us labels with our names and DOB

  • We then took those labels outside where we then were given a shallow nasal swab rapid test.

  • We were informed that if we didn't hear from them without roughly 2 hours then we tested negative for the rapid test as well.

As mentioned, this is simply my experience in March 2021. This could change any time, so please be sure to check the current requirements on the GoHawaii website.

🚗How to get around the island


The Hawai'i Island (also referred to as the Big Island) is the largest of the island chain. The Big Island is also the most diverse as it has about 12 different climates on the island. With that being said, if you really want to be able to experience the entire island and all that it offers, then you need to rent a car! Even from the airport, Kailua-Kona is about a 15 minute drive. We ended up using our car every single day. If you like to hang out at the beach, you will want a car to be able to drive to the beaches.


I always recommend renting a car from Costco travel. We booked about four months in advance with this most recent trip and ended up only paying $333 for a 7 day rental. This is an insane deal. We paid over $600 for our trip in 2019!


Travel Tip: It is highly recommended to book your car ahead of time. Car rental companies cleared out a lot of their rental fleet in 2020 so inventory is currently limited. Just walking up to a counter without a reservation will not guarantee you a car.

🌴Kailua-Kona area


Izakaya Shiono Kona

Address: 74-5599 Pawai Place B4 & B5, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Mini ramen, chicken katsu with curry, any of the sushi rolls and dumplings

This ended up being the last meal we had on the trip and it was so good! Why hasn't everyone put a mini ramen on their menu! I have such a small stomach and always get way too full on ramen. This way I was able to still enjoy it and eat other things!


Willie's Hot Chicken

Address: 74-5599 Pawai Pl, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Chicken tenders (I got southern style, but order spicier if you like it hot) with Mac n cheese


This is a newer spot in Kona and is a great new addition. The chicken was super tasty and you can order a drink from the full bar.


Kona Coffee & Tea

Address: 74-5588 Palani Rd, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Cold brew, everything bagel with lox, cucumber and tomato, breakfast sandwich


We had breakfast at Kona Coffee & Tea almost every morning! It is also always crowded so I definitely recommend ordering off of the Joe app. (Get $5 off your first order when you download the Joe app onto your smartphone!)


Hi-Co - Hawaiian Coffee

Address: 74-5599 Pawai Pl #B3, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Chai tea latte, cold brew, avocado toast (just order 1 piece if you are sharing food), spicy crab musubi


Shimaichi Sushi Kona

Address: 75-5742 Kuakini Hwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Hot green tea, scallop roll, kona sunset roll, sweet escape roll

One of my friends from college lives in Kona and is a trainer at a gym there. One of his clients owns this sushi spot and it was delish! You really can't go wrong with any of the rolls on the menu. It is a smaller restaurant and with the social distancing rules, there can be a small wait.


Pine Tree Café

Address: 73-4040 Hulikoa Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Get the loco moco!

This is usually my first stop when leaving the airport since it is just a few minutes down the road! I discovered this spot about 8 years ago on a family trip to Hawaii and now stop there for the nostalgia of it all.


Costco

Address: 73-5600 Maiau St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to get: Alcohol, poke!

Why Costco?! A travel hack I always suggest when going to Hawaii is to buy a few containers of their poke. They generally have 3-4 varieties to choose from and for $15 for a lb. of poke, that is a pretty good price. You can also pick up their seaweed salad. We ended up grabbing the little minute rice individual containers and were set with our own poke bowls.


Ola Brew Co.

Address: 74-5598 Luhia St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: try the Dragonfruit cider and the Ola IPA. Order the avocado tacos and the beet salad.

New things are happening at Ola since we were there in 2019. They now have a great outdoor patio setup (two decks) where you can enjoy a beer and watch the sunset. They are now also serving their own food with a full menu!


Humpy's Big Island Alehouse

Address: 75-5815 Alii Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: We ordered a few of their salads and then ordered beer. They have a bunch on tap so you have a lot of choices.


Voted as one of the best places to have a drink + watch the sunset in Kona, this spot has a great location right on Ali'I drive which is the main waterfront street in Kona. We started out sharing one of the picnic tables with another couple and once they left we upgraded our views! If you are set on the best view for sunset get there 45 minutes early to allow time to get the best seat! Oh, they also have a bunch of beers on tap which was another plus.


Daiichi Ramen

Address: 74 -5452 Makala Blvd, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Tonkatsu Ramen, Chicken katsu curry rice, gyoza

Naturally, half way through our trip I ended up craving ramen. There is only one true ramen restaurant on the island and one opening in the next few months. This one is in a shopping center across from target. They had so many ramen options and even curry dishes. The ramen ended up being delicious and was even better as leftovers later that night!


Kona Brewing Company

Address: 74-5612 Pawai Pl, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: I always love to order the pork and rice! My husband got the seasonal fish sandwich. Any of their beers are good. We have had almost all of them.


If you are a beer lover, chances are you have had a Kona beer sometime in your life. On our first visit, we got invited in to their 25 anniversary celebration. We felt so spoiled as we got to try all of their beers including some that aren't normally on tap. Expect a wait here as this is one of the more popular spots in the Kona area. If you don't want to eat at KBC, you can purchase beer to go from the window right in the front of the restaurant.


Green Flash Coffee

Address: 75-6000 Alii Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Salmon lox bagel and iced vanilla or iced coconut latte.

We got breakfast almost half of our vacation...or maybe more. It was a convenient one minute walk from our Airbnb. I highly recommend the salmon and lox bagel. Best bagel I have ever had. It wasn't an overwhelmingly doughy bagel and the salmon was fresh. Also their iced coconut latte or iced vanilla lattes are amazing. Be warned that the lines here can be long! They are that popular. We went at 9:30AM and didn't even try and another day went at 7:30AM and it was still crowded!


Broke da Mouth Grindz

Address: 74-5565 Luhia St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Kahlua pork plate with mac salad as a side!

I didn't know this until we stumbled on a crowded restaurant that they were featured on a food show.


Gypsea Gelato

Address: 75-5817 Alii Dr F-16, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

What to order: Get half and half: Lilikoi and Tom Kha. Lilikoi is passionfruit and the Tom Kha is ginger, lemongrass, coconut and turmeric.


Kekaha Kai ( Mahai'ula) Beach Park

Address: HI-19, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

If you don't feel like hiking, this beach is a great place to spend the day. It isn't far from downtown Kona. Beware, the 2 mile drive to the parking lot can get pretty rocky and bumpy. If you aren't in a slightly lifted 4WD vehicle, drive slowly. There is only a short walk to get to the beach. I love that the beach isn't too crowded and the water is pretty calm. You will find a nice, sandy beach here.

  • About 15 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • No hiking involved

  • No bathroom facilities

  • Free parking on site


Makalawena Beach

Address: HI-19, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

This was one of my favorite beaches on this trip. The best part is that it either requires a mile walk across a lava field or requires a raised 4WD vehicle to cross the super bumpy road to get right to the beach. These two options usually filter out a majority of the people thus you will find a pretty empty beach! Keep in mind there are no bathroom facilities and you have to pack out your trash. Make sure you wear your tennis shoes. Those lava rocks are no joke.

To get to this beach: walk through the gate through a lava field. You will come to Kekaha Kai beach. Walk on the beach side of the red buildings. You will walk through some palm trees and up to the right toward the lava field. Now walk for about 20 - 25 minutes until you reach the sand dunes. You have arrived! Walk about ten minutes further and you will come to a part of the beach where you can go in the water.

  • About 15 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • 1 mile hike from Kekahi Kai Beach Park

  • Wear appropriate shoes to walk 1 mile over lava rock

  • Not a shaded hike

  • No restroom facilites

  • Pack out your garbage

  • Free parking on site


Kua (Manini'owali) Bay

Address: Kalaoa, HI 96740

I was taken here by my friend who moved to the Big Island a year ago. He said it is where his boyfriend proposed so he was excited to show it to me. As most beaches are on the Big island, the beach area in the winter is small but the landscape and views are stunning. You can sit in the lava rock and still get plenty of sun! This was my favorite spot to take photos!

  • About 20 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • Restroom facilities on site

  • Free parking on site

  • Short walk down to the beach from the parking lot


Kona Bay Bookstore

Address: 74-5487 Kaiwi St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

I've never seen so many bookshelves here! This is a great bookstore that has a ton of used books for sale. It looks like tourists sell their books to this bookstore! They are currently in the process of moving locations.

🌴Keokea area


Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Address: State Hwy 160, Hōnaunau, HI 96726

Entrance Cost: $20 per vehicle. Save the receipt - your entrance is good for 7 days. If you plan to visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park then purchase the Hawaiʻi Tri-Park Annual Pass for $55.00.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is an important Hawaiian ceremonial site bounded on its southern and eastern sides by a massive L-shaped wall, known as the Pā Puʻuhonua (Great Wall), and on its northern and western sides by the ocean. In addition to the Great Wall, within the Puʻuhonua are several other important ceremonial structures including the Hale o Keawe, ʻĀleʻaleʻa Heiau, and the Ancient Heiau. The grounds are great to wander around. They have structures on site that you can wander in to see how the people lived back in the day.

🌴South Point area


Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

Address: Ninole Loop Rd, Naalehu, HI 96772

Of all the beaches I have visited in my lifetime, this was the first black sand beach I have seen in person! It was just as amazing as I could have imagined. Because of the constant volcanic activity, the sand on this beach is black! There are picnic benches, bathrooms and... TURTLES! On this trip, this was the only time I got to see turtles. They are here all the time and can usually be found in the same spot as there are now rocks placed as a human barrier to give the turtles space. Punalu'u is best visited if you are already down in the South Point area or making your way from Kona to Hilo via the scenic, long route.

  • About 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • No hiking involved

  • Bathroom facilities

  • Picnic area

  • Not safe to swim or snorkel

  • Free parking on site

Green Sand (Papakōlea) Beach

In my opinion, this beach is a must. This is one of four known green olivine sand beaches in the entire world! There are two ways to get to this beach: hike two miles each way on sometimes rough terrain with no shade. The views are amazing, which make it worth it! The second option is to get a 20 minute ride in the back of a 4WD vehicle. There are people who have created an unofficial business by doing this. Expect to pay $20 per person round trip. The landscape and views make this beach worth it! The waves are insane so be cautious if you aren't a strong swimmer.

  • About 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • Free parking on site

  • Portable Toilets at the parking lot

  • No bathrooms at the beach

  • Pack out your garbage

  • Bring lots of water and sunscreen if you are hiking

  • Cash is required if you are catching a ride


Punalu'u Bake Shop

Address: HI-11, Naalehu, HI 96772

What to order: We have ordered some of the cream filled malasadas. I also recommend the ube, guava and traditional ones.

You can find this popular bakery on the way to Hilo if you choose to drive the scenic route. Get there early so you can grab the best malasadas.

🌴Volcanoes National Park area


Volcano Winery

Address: 35 Piimauna Dr, Volcano, HI 96785

A winery on a volcano…in HAWAII?! Yes! One of the first things I researched for the trip was where all the breweries and wineries were. Come to find out this is actually the ONLY winery on the Big Island and only one of two on all the islands. This is the first stop where you may want your jacket. When we were visiting, it was around 58 degrees! The tasting room is a pretty good size. For $8 you can try their: Symphony Mele, Pinot Noir, Volcano Red, Symphone Mele, Volcano Blush, Hawaiian Guava-Grape, Macadamia Nut Honey Wine, Infusion Tea Wine, and Volcano Winery Estate Teas. These wines will not be like anything you have ever tried! Since they are utilizing more local ingredients to make these wines, you will not only get different liquid consistencies with some of these wines and also different flavors than you may be used to! We ended up LOVING the Hawaiian Guava-Grape wine and bought one to take home! They also bragged about their cheese platters, however, we were saving our appetites.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Address: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718

Entrance Cost: $30 per vehicle. Save the receipt - your entrance is good for 7 days. If you plan to visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park then purchase the Hawaiʻi Tri-Park Annual Pass for $55.00.


What to check out with just a few hours:

Kilauea Overlook: Apparently if you come here at dusk, this is the best place to see the glow of the lava. We were here during the day though, but it is still a cool overlook.


Steam Vents: There are about 4 spots in this area that you can see Sulphur steam coming out of the ground. There are also a few places you can look out into the volcano too.


Kilauea Iki Trailhead: This is a quick .5 mile one way walk that includes some amazing lookouts to the crater. It will end at the Thurston lava tube! We did this one in flip flops, which is doable, but just be aware that it can be muddy in some spots.


Thurston Lava Tube: The lava tube will take you about 3 minutes to walk through, but it is fascinating as it is wide and tall enough to fully stand as you walk through. This tube was formed by an ancient lava flow.

Holei Sea Arch: From the lava tube, it will take you roughly 30 minutes to drive all the way down the mountain to the sea arch. However, the only way to see this arch is by visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The viewing point is a ways from the arch, but it is pretty cool to see.

🌴Hilo


Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center

Address: 16-701 Macadamia Road, Keaau, HI 96749

You know those little blue cans of nuts you see in ALL the ABC and Hilo Hattie merchandise stores? Well you can visit the visitor center and even take a tour of the factory. This is the ONLY site that they are picked, produced and shipped to stores! In the gift shop, you can also try all the flavors of the nuts before you buy. My absolute favorite is the chocolate covered with toffee. We also purchased a few of the nuts with spices.


*At the time of writing this (4/2021), the visitor center is closed. Be sure to check their website for current hours.

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

Address: 800 Stainback Hwy, Hilo, HI 96720

Entrance cost: Free, but please leave a donation in the box

I visited this zoo ten years ago! It is a small zoo but it has exotic animals. It's worth the stop if you have the time.


*At the time of writing this (4/2021), the zoo is closed. Be sure to check their website for current hours.

Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack

Address: 54 Waianuenue Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

What to order: They have a huge menu of options and a lot of items shared on their Instagram page. I decided to get ube soft serve with rainbow mochi and strawberries. It was delicious.


Kuhio Grille - Home Of The Famous 1lb Laulau

Address: 80 Pauahi St, Hilo, HI 96720

What to order: Laulau plate or kahlua pork

The laulau ended up being my husband's favorite meal out of this whole trip!


Hilo Brewing Company

Address:

What to order:

If you know me, you know I am a beer girl at heart. I had to go all the way to Hilo to try the last brewery on my list. I didn't really drive JUST for this brewery but I was able to try all the breweries on the Big Island.


Hilo Burger Joint

Address: 776 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

If you find yourself in Hilo, definitely check this place out! It has one of the best burgers I have ever had! Again, you can read all about it in last week's blog post!


Richardson Ocean Park

Address: 2355 Kalanianaole Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

This is my lone recommendation for the Hilo side of the island. I have been here about 10 times and every time enjoyed snorkeling. More often than not, I would see a turtle while snorkeling! There is plenty of beach (black sand!) and even park space to hang out for the day and have a picnic. This is also a beach frequented by the locals so it can get crowded.

  • About 2 hours 20 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • Free parking on site

  • Restroom facilities on site

  • Picnic area on site


Rainbow Falls

Address: Hilo, HI 96720

No hiking needed to see this waterfall. You can easily view from the viewing platform!


Boiling Pots

Address: 1766 Wailuku Dr, Hilo, HI 96720

Boiling Pots is a succession of big pools connected by underground flow or cascades and whose waters roll and bubble as if boiling. When I used to visit these, I always thought they were more of a local spot, but I think a lot more people know about them now.


Akaka Falls

Address: 875 Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, HI 96728

Tropical rainforest park offering a .4-mile loop footpath leading up to a 442-foot scenic waterfall. It is a pretty easy hike. There are many different waterfall viewpoints along the way.

🌴Mauna Kea


Mauna Kea State Park - Halepōhaku Area

If you don't plan to go all the way to the top, I recommend coming to the visitor center area for either sunrise or sunset!


Mauna Kea Observatory

Mauna Kea is 33,500 feet from base to summit and over 13,800 feet above sea level. You can go to the very top with a tour group as some rental car policies don't allow you to drive to the very top. I do recommend stopping at the visitor center for at least 45 minutes. If you don't, you will experience some very serious altitude sickness.

🌴Waikoloa


Hapuna Beach State Park

Address: Hawaii 96743

This trip was my fourth time to the Big Island and my third time to Hapuna Beach. I have memories of volleyball and man-o-war jellyfish warnings. I took my hubby here to give him the white sand beach experience. This will be the most crowded beach you will visit.

  • About 40 minutes away from Kailua-Kona

  • $5 parking on site unless you are a HI resident

  • Restroom facilities on site

  • Short walk from the parking lot to the beach

  • Picnic facilities on site


Lava Lava Beach Club

Address: 69-1081 Ku'uali'i Pl, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738

If you are looking for a more upscale restaurant, but with an amazing beach front vibe, then check out Lava Lava Beach Club. We chose not to spend a lot here, but rather went for a beer, some chips and guac and the views.


Spencer Beach Park

Address: 62-3461 Kawaihae Rd, Waimea, HI 96743

We stumbled upon Spencer Beach Park on our way back from our hike at Pololu Valley. We had over an hour to kill while we waited for Big Island Brewhaus to open. This is more of a local beach park with a nice, shallow beach area.


ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach

Address: 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738

We visited this beach at Waikoloa Village on our last full day. It has a nice bathroom facility and also is different than many of the other Big Island beaches. There is a more narrow part of the beach where one side is a small pond (that you can't swim in) and the other side is the beach. You get a nice breeze so the sun doesn't feel to hot. Be careful though, the sunburn can creep up quick if you don't keep applying sunscreen.

🌴Waimea


Big Island Brewhaus

Address: 64-1066 Mamalahoa Hwy, Waimea, HI 96743

What to order: Try the fish bites and the falafel sandwich. You also can't go wrong with any of their beers.


This brewhaus isn't exactly in the middle of Kona. It is about an hour and 15 minutes north of Kona. Want a reason to go to the brewhaus? Hang out at Hapuna Beach, or Waikoloa Village. You can then drive just 25 more minutes to the Big Island Brewhaus because you really can't miss it! It is right in the middle of a little town called Waimea. A tip when visiting Waimea (or anywhere in the mountains), bring a jacket! The temperature difference can decrease by 20 degrees on some days. We loved the Brewhaus so much that we took our cousins there after one of our excursions the next day!

🌴Kohala


Pololu Hike

Address: Pololū Trail, Kapaau, HI 96755

Located at the end of the road in Kohala, this is a quick hike (about 1.1 ish miles round trip) with a 450 foot elevation gain so the hike back up isn't as easy. I highly recommend getting here early as there is limited parking and not a great way to turn around on this dead end road. We arrived at about 8:15AM and there were about 4 spots left (out of 10). The hiking path is groomed and wide enough for the most part to accommodate traffic both ways.


When you get to the bottom, you will find a river with some rope swings and then the rocky beach. It is recommended that you don't swim here as the current is strong and tiger sharks are known to be in this area, but enjoy the beach. There were only about 6 people down at the beach when we got there.


Bring lots of water with you as a lot of the hike isn't shaded and the elevation gain can be tiring. I also recommend you wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes. There are also no restrooms at the top or bottom so plan accordingly.


Float the Kohala Flume

Address: 55-517 Hawi Rd, Hawi, HI 96719

Website: https://fluminkohala.com/

You can check out my full review on my blog post about the Kohala Flume here.


Lapakahi State Historical Park

Address: HI-270, Waimea, HI 96743

If you are looking for more Hawaiian history, then you have to visit this state park! Not only do you get amazing beach views, but you can explore a large area of ruins from an ancient Hawaiian fishing village! This is a partially restored example of what life was like back then.

  • About 1 hour away from Kailua-Kona

  • Free parking on site

  • Restroom facilities on site

*At the time of writing this (4/2021), the park is closed. Be sure to check their website for current hours.

Pin for Later



never miss another post!

Thanks for submitting!