Top 10 Places You Can NOT Miss on the Big Island


Who needs a guide book when you have seasoned explorers who live here! I have been on fire in taking visiting family members and friends around the island since 2010. (We have explored MANY of the nooks and crannies of this amazing island and done more than most people who have lived here their  entire lives!)

Why just let them enjoy our favorite places when I can also share this information with you, my readers!? So, let’s start with #10 and end up at the BEST place you HAVE to experience while you are here. Ready?

#10-Volcanoes National Park-Most people would put this closer to the top as we have the only live volcano you can visit safely on the islands. It’s a VERY long drive from Kona and basically takes 11 hours to fully enjoy the trip down and back.

I suggest this trip if you can spend the night in Hilo or in Volcano..or have some very patient friends who don’t mind desperately trying to stay awake while they drive the long dark road home back while you snooze peacefully in the back seat.  (Check out Volcano House, or Kilauea Lodge).

#9-Makelewena Beach. This is further down the list simply because it is so hard to get here. The beach is BEAUTIFUL and since hardly anyone is there, you may only see 10 people on the entire beach. The swimming is perfect, with some reefs for snorkeling and my kids just love the little bays they have to play in. You need a 4WD to get there from either of the two access roads, but we made it with our van on the easier road that leads to Mahaiʻula Bay. (Kekakai State Beach.) You can park your car and walk about 20 minutes to the beach across the lava. Like I said,,it ain’t easy, but it sure is worth the effort.

#8- Two Step/Honaunau Bay This is the bay right next to the Place of Refuge (Pu’uohonua O Honaunau). (The picture shows Kealekekua Bay, which is right nearby) We take our friends who have at least SOME experience with snorkeling here. The entry and exit from the water is a bit of a challenge if the surf is up, but the swimming, snorkeling and fish are EXCEPTIONAL. The coral is 20 feet down, so tourists can not ruin it by stepping on it, so the reefs are AMAZING and pristine. That means you can not stand up and readjust your mask or get a lay of the land like you can do at Kahalu’u Beach Park. You can see vast arrays of tropical fish here and if you come in the morning, the dolphins are usually in the bay, as well. We have had friends FREAK OUT when the 20 foot water gradually descends to 50 feet and all you see is deep blue. If you are intimidated by deep water, just don’t go out to the middle, stay around the edges and you will be entertained for as long as you can swim. Children will enjoy the small shallow bay there.

#7 Pupus and Drinks at Huggo’s On the Rocks. At least for one night of everyone’s trip, we have to hit Huggo’s on the Rocks. The happy hour menu which goes from 3-5 lets you enjoy some specials and sets you up  to watch the sun set with your feet in the sand. Great for that picture with your friends that you post to Facebook and make people jealous.

If you are staying on the Kohala Coast, you can get a great experience at Lava Lava Beach Club, too!

Pololu Valley

#6-Pololu Look Out and Valley hike-Another GORGEOUS view and fun hike down to see the island’s stunning beauty. Located about 15 minutes out of Hawi, the trip down to the valley should be given most of the day to fully enjoy. If you can get here in the later part of the day and stay until sunset, you will not be disappointed. A photographer’s dream. (Also there is a sense of “sacred” there. Go to meditate!) Here is a video we did to show you what it looks like to hike down and the fun you can have while down there. 

#5-Waipio Valley-Another all day adventure, and a place only accessible by 4WD. The beauty of the taro fields with the mountains as the backdrop will be etched in your memory for a very long time. Go with respect as the number of tourists down there have increased and so has the abuse on the roads.

Waipio Valley

We usually see the wild horses on the beach or on the road and the wildness and serenity of this valley are unmatched anywhere else on the island. The waves can be unpredictable and the terrain UNDER the waves is especially unpredictable. The river that feeds into the ocean has a way of changing the landscape around the entry point into the ocean, so go in carefully. I had the time of my life one time here body surfing and wish it was like that every time. Call Waipio Valley Tours to take you down and walk to the beach from there if you can’t stomach the 25% grade hill!

#4-Green Sand Beach-We just love this place. It takes a 4WD to get here and the road is an adventure unto itself.  For the adventurous traveler, the climb down, the feeling of being on the only green sand beach in the islands and the waves crashing against the sandstone walls of the small bay is fantastic. We are experienced swimmers and body surfers and have quite a time here sometimes. Don’t go in if the waves are up and you feel unsafe. We have entertained a few friends who decided to sit it out and just watch us enjoy ourselves in the waves. There are now folks who are shuttling visitors from the parking lot to the beach for $20 round trip.  The state may take the ability to drive here away from us, so don’t wait too long!

Green Sand Beach

Four Seasons Hualalai Lagoon

#3-The Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai. My guests were VERY impressed with the elegance, landscaping, pools and views from this resort. I love this place because the beach is NEVER crowded, so even if you are hanging at this swanky property, everyone is in the pool, not at the white sand beach or the little protected bay in front of the hotel. You can grab a beer here for $7 and just lounge and people watch and enjoy the sun and view. (You can also easily order a $20 glass of chard here, as well!) I would suggest checking out the fresh/salt water lagoon which has all kinds of tropical fish. Dining here is exceptional and this is where celebrities often come to get away from it all. Sunset from the chairs on the beach..amazing.

#2-Mauna Kea Resort beach view. The bay is gorgeous and the view from the lobby and terrace are stunning. I could lounge here all day enjoying the view. You can get tasty cocktails at the beach bar and go swimming here in the bay as a non-guest. You have to tell the guard at the gate you want to visit the beach and they will give you a guest pass. There are only 28 passes, so go early. If not, you have to pay for valet.   Great place to lounge and if you like to hike a bit, follow the trail on the far south of the beach and it takes you to Hapuna Beach! (The mac nut pastries and Kona coffee at the Copper Bar are amazing if you go in the morning)

Kauna’oa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach

#1-Kua Bay. Since I wrote this post originally, TripAdvisor has named it one of the most beautiful beaches in America.  I would have to agree. LOTS of fine white sand, BLUE water, plenty of room to put your towel down, sets of waves that challenge body surfers, but kids can play in the surf, too. Bathrooms and showers are available, and the beach JUST got a lifeguard tower.   Easy access from the highway, parking without a guard scrutinizing you, and during whale season, this is a great place to whale watch, as mommas and calves hang out off shore. (Each March I go here and dive under the waves and hover at about five feet under the water and I can hear the whales sing. HEAVEN!)

Speaking of beaches, my husband and I created this video in early 2018 to show you the top beaches in West Hawaii! 

As more and more people find our island for the first time, I created a “5 Tips for taking care of yourself and our island” post. Please read and take to heart, so we can preserve this island for everyone to enjoy for years to come.  Mahalo!




(If you find yourself considering a move here after visiting, come on back and we can help you will a referral to a trusted Realtor and mortgage broker and I have written a book, “How to Move to Kona” and “The Insiders Guide To Buying A Home On Hawaii Island”.  Only available to folks who truly care for the well being of the culture, the aina and show Aloha!)

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at and and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • Art says:

    Aside from the beach cove of Mauna Kea Hotel for Manta Ray snorkeling, any other beach location at the Big Island to snorkel and see these creatures?

    • Aloha Art:
      There are three ways to see the Mantas. Go on a charter boat to the airport at Keahole Bay (where they are and you can NOT jump in from the shore there), see them either by charter or some big cajones to swim out in front of the Kona Sheraton where they show up most nights if the waves are not too crazy, and the Mauna Kea. That is about it!